« ZurückWeiter »
IMPROVIDENCE OF HONEST REFORMERS.
It would be the excess of injustice, we have already said, to impute those disastrous consequences to the moderate and virtuous individuals who sat in the Constituent Assembly: But if it be admitted that they might have been easily foreseen, it will not be easy to exculpate them from the charge of very blameable imprudence. It would be difficult, indeed, to point out any course of conduct by which those dangers might have been entirely avoided : But they would undoubtedly have been less formidable, if the enlightened members of the third estate had endeavoured to form a party with the more liberal and popular among the nobility; if they had associated to themselves a greater number of those to whose persons a certain degree of influence was attached, from their fortune, their age, or their official station ; if, in short, instead of grasping presumptuously at the exclusive direction of the national councils, and arrogating every thing on the credit of their zealous patriotism and inexperienced abilities, they had sought to strengthen themselves by an alliance with what was respectable in the existing establishments, and attached themselves at first as disciples to those whom they might fairly expect speedily to outgrow and eclipse.
Upon a review of the whole matter, it seems impossible to acquit those of the revolutionary patriots, whose intentions are admitted to be pure, of great precipitation, presumption, and imprudence. Apologies may be found for them, perhaps, in the inexperience which was incident to their situation ; in their constant apprehension of being separated before their task was accomplished ; in the exasperation which was excited by the insidious proceedings of the cabinet; and in the intoxication which naturally resulted from the magnitude of their early triumph, and the noise and resounding of their popularity. But the errors into which they fell were inexcusable, we think, in politicians of the 18th century; and while we pity their sufferings, and admire their genius, we cannot feel much respect for their wisdom, or any surprise at their miscarriage.
The preceding train of reflection was irresistibly sug
CHARACTER OF BAILLY.
gested to us by the title and the contents of the volumes now before us. Among the virtuous members of the first Assembly, there was no one who stood higher than Bailly. As a scholar and a man of science, he had long stood in the very first rank of celebrity: His private morals were not only irreproachable, but exemplary; and his character and dispositions had always been remarkable for gentleness, moderation, and philanthropy. Drawn unconsciously, if we may believe his own account, into public life, rather than impelled into it by any movement of ambition, he participated in the enthusiasm, and in the imprudence, from which no one seemed at that time to be exempted; and in spite of an early retreat, speedily suffered that fate by which all the wellmeaning were then destined to expiate their errors. His popularity was at one time equal to that of any of the idols of the day; and if it was gained by some degree of blameable indulgence and unjustifiable zeal, it was forfeited at last (and along with his life) by a resolute opposition to disorder, and a meritorious perseverance in the discharge of his duty.
The sequel of this article, containing a full abstract of the learned author's recollections of the first six months only of his mayoralty, is now omitted ; both as too minute to retain any interest at this day, and as superseded by the more comprehensive details which will be found in the succeeding article.
MADAME DE STAËL.
Considérations sur les Principaux Evénemens de la Révolution
Françoise. Ouvrage Posthume de Madame la Baronne de Staël. Publié
par M. LE DUC DE BROGLIE et M. LE BARON A. DE Staël. En trois tomes. 8vo. pp. 1285. Londres : 1818.
No book can possibly possess a higher interest than this which is now before us. It is the last, dying bequest of the most brilliant writer that has appeared in our days; - and it treats of a period of history which we already know to be the most important that has occurred for centuries; and which those who look back on it, after other centuries have elapsed, will probably consider as still more important.
We cannot stop now to say all that we think of Madame de Staël : — and yet we must say, that we think her the most powerful writer that her country has produced since the time of Voltaire and Rousseau - and the greatest writer, of a woman, that any time or any country has produced. Her taste, perhaps, is not quite pure ; and her style is too irregular and ambitious. These faults may even go deeper. Her passion for effect, and the tone of exaggeration which it naturally produces, have probably interfered occasionally with the soundness of her judgment, and given a suspicious colouring to some of her representations of fact. At all events, they have rendered her impatient of the humbler task of completing her explanatory details, or stating in their order all the premises of her reasonings. She gives her history in abstracts, and her theories in aphorisms : - and the greater part of her works, instead of presenting that systematic unity from which the highest degrees of strength and beauty and clearness must ever be derived, may be fairly described as a col
MADAME DE STAËL—HER GREAT MERITS.
lection of striking fragments — in which a great deal of repetition does by no means diminish the effect of a good deal of inconsistency. In those same works, however, whether we consider them as fragments or as systems, we do not hesitate to say that there are more original and profound observations—more new images - greater sagacity combined with higher imagination — and more of the true philosophy of the passions, the politics, and the literature of her contemporaries—than in any other author we can now remember. She has great eloquence on all subjects; and a singular pathos in representing those bitterest agonies of the spirit, in which wretchedness is aggravated by remorse, or by regrets that
partake of its character. Though it is difficult to resist her when she is in earnest, we cannot say that we agree in all her opinions, or approve of all her sentiments. She overrates the importance of literature, either in determining the character or affecting the happiness of mankind; and she theorises too confidently on its past and its future history. On subjects like this, we have not yet facts enough for so much philosophy; and must be contented, we fear, for a long time to come, to call many things accidental, which it would be more satisfactory to refer to determinate causes. In her estimate of the happiness, and her notions of the wisdom of private life, we think her both unfortunate and erroneous. She makes passions and high sensibilities a great deal too indispensable; and varnishes over all her pictures too uniformly with the glare of an extravagant or affected enthusiasm. She represents men, in short, as a great deal more unhappy, more depraved, and more energetic, than they are — and seems to respect them the more for it. In her politics she is far more unexceptionable. She is everywhere the warm friend and animated advocate of liberty — and of liberal, practical, and philanthropic principles. On those subjects we cannot blame her enthusiasm, which has nothing in it vindictive or provoking; and are far more inclined to envy than to reprove that sanguine and buoyant temper of mind which, after all she has seen and suffered, still leads her
GENERAL CHARACTER OF HER HISTORY.
to overrate, in our apprehension, both the merit of past attempts at political amelioration, and the chances of their success hereafter. It is in that futurity, we fear, and in the hopes that make it present, that the lovers of mankind must yet, for a while, console themselves for the disappointments which still seem to beset them. If Madame de Staël, however, predicts with too much confidence, it must be admitted that her labours have a powerful tendency to realize her predictions. Her writings are all full of the most animating views of the improvement of our social condition, and the means by which it may be effected—the most striking refutations of prevailing errors on these great subjects — and the most persuasive expostulations with those who may think their interest or their honour concerned in maintaining them. Even they who are the least inclined to agree with her, must admit that there is much to be learned from her writings; and we can give them no higher praise than to say, that their tendency is not only to promote the interests of philanthropy and independence, but to soften, rather than exasperate, the prejudices to which they are opposed.
Of the work before us, we do not know very well what to say. It contains a multitude of admirable remarks—and a still greater number of curious details; for Madame de Staël was not only a contemporary, but an eyewitness of much that she describes, and had the very best access to learn what did not fall under her immediate observation. Few persons certainly could be better qualified to appreciate the relative importance of the subjects that fell under her review; and no one, we really think, so little likely to colour and distort them, from any personal or party feelings. With all those rare qualifications, however, and inestimable advantages for performing the task of an historian, we cannot say that she has made a good history. It is too much broken into fragments. The narrative is too much interrupted by reflections: and the reflections too much subdivided, to suit the subdivisions of the narrative. There are too many events omitted, or but cursorily noticed, to give