« ZurückWeiter »
HISTORY OF FRANCE.
CHAP. I. 1792–1793.
THE CONVENTION, To THE DEATH OF LOUIs XVI.
THE French revolution is apt to present itself to the eye as a hideous spectre. We behold and tremble. We are appalled by its monstrous aspect, and too deeply stricken with horror to regard it fixedly, with scrutiny and patience. Could we but do so, the phantom would lose much of its shadowy character; and although naught can wash away its crimes and blood, it would at least appear but an earthly and human phenomenon, the nature and causes of which we might perceive and store up as the precious materials of wisdom. Hitherto, however, the revolution has been treated as the spectre, and considered beyond the pale of humanity. The imagination alone has seized upon its prominent horrors. Even those, who have deigned to seek for a cause, have found it in some collateral or subordinate circumstance. Philosophy in the opinion of some, the duke of Orleans or Pitt in that of others, prepared and brought about the great catastrophe; whilst others again are satisfied to cast the entire blame on the fickleness and cruelty of man born upon the French soil. Scarcely has a distinction been made betwixt the revolution and its excesses. Freedom itself has been included in the general stigma, and made answerable for that mass of guilt and folly, which its enemies were mainly influential in producing. The most fatal circumstance of the epoch was foreign inerference, fatal alike in the hopes and the fears which it occasioned. Reliance on foreign support caused the emigration of the noblesse, as well as the temporizing, and at intervals the insincere, policy of the unfortunate Louis XVI. Had king and aristocracy been obliged to confine their views to France, they would either have from the first submitted frankly, in which case power could never have descended lower than the ranks and opinions of the constitutionalists; or they would have stood forth in open and in civil war, an alternative preferable to flight, conspiracy, and massacre. The monarch, obedient to the moderation of his character, pursued an uncertain career, a kind of medium between the extremes, by which he excited irritation and popular hatred, and compelled the successive parties, which in the assembly advocated the cause of freedom, to call in the popular force, first to their support, and then to their mastery. Finally came invasion; it produced the 10th of August, and rendered possible the massacres of September, which the panic and anticipated vengeance of an expiring cause could alone have executed. By these judgments the prudence of the actors is arraigned, not the honesty or justice of their conduct. Louis cannot be considered criminal for endeavoring to recover a share of his authority, or even for leaguing with foreign sovereigns for this end. Yet the consideration which thus spares him from censure must also tend to excuse, though certainly not to exculpate, those who counter-intrigued in the cause of freedom. . The interference of the Austrian and Prussian monarchs was most fatal as a measure; but who can say that it was not warranted by just fears for themselves, by just and generous sympathy for Louis? Previous to the breaking out of the revolution, the old alliance formed under Choiseul betwixt the houses of Austria and Bourbon still subsisted. England, Holland, and Prussia were the powers in the opposite balance; whilst Russia, which had lately made an abrupt and giant intrusion into the European confederacy, stood among them in an attitude of sullen and selfish independence. This power had compelled the first partition of Poland, and was now menacing to appropriate to herself the rest of that ill-fated kingdom. Austria and Prussia, filled with congenial alarm at the encroach. ments of Russia on one side, and the moral plague of jacobin. ism rising and reflected towards them like a mephitic exhalation from France on the other, agreed to sink their mutual jealousies, and come to a closer understanding. The emperor Leopold could not but be anxious to relieve his sister, Marie Antoinette, and her royal consort, from the cruel position in which the revolution had placed them. Frederick William, less touched with sympathy, was still anxious to profit by the supposed weakness and disorganization of France. The kingdom of Prussia had not yet reached its natural development; its numerous and well-disciplined army inheriting the renown of the great Frederick, was an instrument of power too su
1792. CONFERENCES OF PILNITZ. 9
preme to be allowed to remain idle. Whilst Leopold, there. fore, was anxious to form a wide alliance, in which all Europe was to join, in order, by its imposing force, without an actual war, to fright back France into the ways of moderation and loyalty, the king of Prussia aimed at unfolding the banner of the great Frederick, and carving for himself new territories with the sword. The sovereigns met at the castle of Pilnitz in the summer of 1791. The count d'Artois, together with one or two leading emigrants, were present. And hence was issued the famous declaration in which the finger of menace was held up against France, and which sought to awe a great nation with such significant reproof as is used towards a froward child. This served but to rouse the pride of the national assembly, and to afford the demagogues of Paris an ample theme of declamation against the tyrants of Europe. The mild menace of Leopold produced an effect precisely the contrary of that intended. The French ministry was compelled to assume a tone of arrogance equal to that of its enemies. Explanation was sought and answered by demands to which no king, much less a republican government, immediately responsible for any insult allowed to be offered to the national pride, could possibly submit. War was the consequence. It was declared; but active measures for prosecuting it were not taken, until the emperor Francis succeeded to his father Leopold in the spring of 1792. - . In the commencement of this same year, Dumouriez, then minister, conceived the bold plan of assuming the offensive, and invading Belgium, a country in which insurrection had been but lately quelled and imperfectly extinguished. The French, he reasoned, would rally to them the powerful body of the malcontents; and the weak state of the Flemish fortresses, dismantled by the emperor Joseph, presented no obstacle to invasion: Luxembourg and Namur were in fact the only towns capable of making serious resistance. If the project of Dumouriez was bold, the mode in which he purposed to execute it savored of the inexperience of the time. The military critics of Napoleon's school smile with pity on his plan of dividing his small force into four columns, which he called armies, each to invade upon a different point. This was still more faulty with young troops, who gather confidence, when acting in numbers and in mass. Then the generals charged to execute Dumouriez's orders were little inclined to them; neither Rochambeau nor La Fayette approved of the plan of campaign. The result was total failure. Two of the divisions, struck with a panic at sight of the foe, turned