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For MAY, 1833.

Art. I. 1. The Causes of the French Revolution. 8vo. PP

274. London. 1832. 2. Quarterly Review, No. XCVII. Art. Lord John Russell on the

Causes of the French Revolution. THIS 'HIS lively, amusing, and not uninstructive brochure is from

the pen of Lord John Russell. It has been stigmatised in the Quarterly Review, with that gentlemanly and impartial feeling which characterises the pages of that Journal, as 'an impudent

catchpenny. We believe that we must call it an indiscretion. When a cabinet minister becomes an author, he may expect to find political critics, in whom the rancour of party, if not of personal animosity, shall be superinduced upon the spirit of detraction which too much pervades modern criticism. We think that the noble Writer should have refrained from thus putting himself into the power of a clever, malignant, unscrupulous, personal adversary. The volume can add little to his literary reputation, even with those who estimate it the most favourably; and unless some very obvious purpose could be answered by the publication, we must think that it would have been discreet to withhold it.

We believe it is Lord John Russell himself who has made the remark, that the French Revolution is ascribed to every

thing, and every thing is ascribed to the French Revolution.' Upon no subject has so large a portion of shallow philosophizing and flippant declamation been vented by littérateurs, great and petty. What is meant by 'Causes of the French Revolution? Are we to understand by the phrase, the causes which necessitated some revolution in France, or the causes which led to such a revolution, and which determined its character ? The originating causes were mainly politiVOL. IX.-N.S.


cal: they are matter of history. The governing causes were moral, and these are not so much the matter of history as the key to it. The real causes seem to the Quarterly Reviewer

very obvious'; and first, the feeble character of Louis XVI.' Can any thing be more absurd ? Could the feeble character of Louis XVI. have caused a revolution, if he had not been the successor of Louis XV.? His indecision, his weakness, his half-measures, led to his own ruin, and to the downfall of the monarchy, because it rendered all timely compromise impossible, and, in the conflict of the new opinions with the old, which constituted the revolution, prevented what Necker forcibly styled, the 'august mediation of the crown. The benign but incompetent character of Louis XVI., which precluded the efficient intervention of the monarch, may be said to have ruined the Revolution, rather than to have caused it. There was a time in France, when the monarch was every thing. Although that time was past, there was no period during the whole first assembly ', M. Dumont remarks, when the king, could he have changed ' his character, might not have re-established his authority, and ‘formed a mixed constitution. But would not the formation of a mixed constitution have been a revolution, a decided and a happy one? If this is all that the king could have done, this is but to make him the negative cause of what was not effected. He caused a bad revolution, merely by hindering a good one ; but a revolution was confessedly inevitable.

T'he Quarterly Reviewer, after having exhibited the feeble character of Louis as the chief cause and mainspring of the Revolution, proceeds to express his persuasion, under the sanction of M. Dumont, that the king might, if a firmer man, have stayed the revolution in its course. We believe, in fact, they say, 'that there never was a revolution which might not have 'been arrested by a proper policy on the part of the government, '-by a sufficiently steady resistance or sufficiently liberal con

cession. This is, indeed, oracular wisdom. Every revolution might, it seems, have been stayed, if the policy of the government had been just the opposite to what it was : if it was the policy of concession, it ought to have been resistance; if that of resistance, it ought to have been concession. Can any thing be more ingenious and satisfactory ? In a word, there never was a revolution which might not have issued differently, had the causes been different ! But the question before us is, not whether Louis XVI. might have stayed the Revolution, but whether he can be said, by his feeble character or temporizing conduct, to have caused it. His ill-timed concessions were but the last steps of that fatal series of political blunders by which the misguided monarch 'ruined every thing.' At the proper time he had refused to accede to the reasonable wishes of France. By nothing did he

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so much contribute to produce the Revolution, as by his selection of his ministers. His choice of the frivolous, selfish, and incompetent Maurepas, was his own act. That intriguing courtier commenced the work of disorganization, which Necker, when recalled too late, vainly attempted to remedy, and which Calonne, by his desperate charlatanism, consummated.*

In the judgement of an acute witness of the initial movements of the Revolution, who was personally acquainted with the leading members of the National Assembly, the character of the king had less to do in causing the overthrow of the monarchy, than the character of the queen. • The king', says Jefferson, in his autobiographical memoir, ‘now become a passive machine in the hands

of the National Assembly, had he been left to himself, would “have willingly acquiesced in whatever they should devise as 'best for the nation. A wise constitution would have been 'formed, hereditary in his line, himself placed at its head, with powers so large as to enable him to do all the good of his station,

limited as to restrain him from its abuse. This he would have faithfully administered ; and more than this, I do not be‘lieve he ever wished. But he had a queen of absolute sway over his weak mind and timid virtue, and of a character the reverse of his in all points. This angel, as gaudily painted in the rhapsodies of Burke, with some smartness of fancy, but no sound sense, was proud, disdainful of restraint, indignant at all obstacles to her will, cager in the pursuit of pleasure, and firm enough to hold to her desires, or to perish in the wreck. Her inordinate gambling and her dissipations, with those of the * Count d'Artois, and others of her clique, had been a sensible item in the exhaustion of the treasury, which called into action the reforming hand of the nation ; and her opposition to it, her 'inflexible perverseness, and dauntless spirit, led herself to the

guillotine, drew the king on with her, and plunged the world into crimes and calamities which will for ever stain the


of modern history. I have ever believed, that had there been no queen, there would have been no revolution. No force would ‘have been provoked nor exercised. The king would have gone hand in hand with the wisdom of his sounder counsellors, who, guided by the increased lights of the age, wished only, with the same pace, to advance the principles of their social constitu

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tion.' +

* I repeat,' remarks Madame de Stael, 'that no individual can be accused as the author of the Revolution ; but, if an individual is to be named, it is upon the misconduct of M. de Calonne that the charge must be fixed.' + Jefferson's Memoirs, Vol. I., p. 86.

Another of the real causes of the French Revolution, the Quarterly Reviewer thinks, was the previous exertions of the philosophers. Upon this point, we shall transcribe the following sensible remarks from the volume before us.

• It is not necessary to dwell longer among the so-styled philosophers. Lay aside their pretensions, and we shall see them to be merely a club of authors, living in a vicious age, and joining the sins of a corrupt society to the errors, and weaknesses, and vanities of the literary profession. Yet all the time, because they professed deism or atheism, they fancied themselves superior to the just, and the wise, and the good. They were swine running down a precipice, and thought themselves eagles mounting above the clouds.

• Much has been said and written of the conspiracy formed by the philosophers to overturn religion and monarchy. If by conspiracy is meant a plan which was to end in action, it is clear, from the private correspondence of the leaders, that no conspiracy of that kind existed. But it is equally clear, that the design of changing the religious faith of France was digested into a system, and carried on by regular steps. Voltaire considered himself, and was duly acknowledged, as the patriarch of the philosophers; and although his authority was scoffed at by a large number, on account of his superstitious belief in the existence of a God, the two parties combined joined their forces against the national religion; and whatever their form of doubt might be, all agreed in rejecting Christianity. Voltaire was earnest in promoting the union. « Let us march under the same standard," he wrote to the Abbé Morellet, “ without drum or trumpet: encourage your allies, and let our treaties be secret." Writing to D'Alembert concerning his Examen de Lord Bolingbroke, he says, “ Women and children will read this work, which is sold cheap. There are now more than thirty tracts which have been circulated in Europe during the two last years: it is impossible that in the end this should not produce some change in the administration of public affairs.”

• It appears that these tracts were printed at the expense of a club or committee in Paris ; that they were furnished at a low price, or gratis, to the hawkers, who sold them in the country for ten sous a volume. The secretary of the club, Le Roi, declared, in 1789, that these works were all composed either by members or under the orders of the society; that when brought to the committee they were abridged, enlarged, made more discreet or more bold as they thought fit. The work then appeared under a title chosen by the society, and was often attributed to an author lately dead. When we had approved of these books,” continues the secretary, “we printed on fine or ordinary paper a sufficient number to pay the expense of printing, and afterwards an immense number of copies on the cheapest paper: we sent these last to booksellers or hawkers, who had them for nothing or almost nothing; but they were enjoined to sell them to the people at the lowest price."

It was impossible, as Voltaire said, that this practice should not in the end produce some change in the administration of public affairs; but what that change was to be, he seems to have been utterly unable

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