Volume 09:European Statesmen(txt+pdf+epub+mobi电子书下载)

作者:John Lord

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Volume 09:European Statesmen

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MIRABEAU.

A.D. 1749-1791.

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

Three events of pre-eminent importance have occurred in our modern times; these are the Protestant Reformation, the American War of Independence, and the French Revolution.

The most complicated and varied of these great movements is the French Revolution, on which thousands of volumes have been written, so that it is impossible even to classify the leading events and the ever-changing features of that rapid and exciting movement. The first act of that great drama was the attempt of reformers and patriots to destroy feudalism,--with its privileges and distinctions and injustices,--by unscrupulous and wild legislation, and to give a new constitution to the State.

The best representative of this movement was Mirabeau, and I accordingly select him as the subject of this lecture. I cannot describe the violence and anarchy which succeeded the Reign of Terror, ending in a Directory, and the usurpation of Napoleon. The subject is so vast that I must confine myself to a single point, in which, however, I would unfold the principles of the reformers and the logical results to which their principles led.

The remote causes of the French Revolution I have already glanced at, in a previous lecture. The most obvious of these, doubtless, was the misgovernment which began with Louis XIV. and continued so disgracefully under Louis XV.; which destroyed all reverence for the throne, even loyalty itself, the chief support of the monarchy. The next most powerful influence that created revolution was feudalism, which ground down the people by unequal laws, and irritated them by the haughtiness, insolence, and heartlessness of the aristocracy, and thus destroyed all respect for them, ending in bitter animosities. Closely connected with these two gigantic evils was the excessive taxation, which oppressed the nation and made it discontented and rebellious. The fourth most prominent cause of agitation was the writings of infidel philosophers and economists, whose unsound and sophistical theories held out fallacious hopes, and undermined those sentiments by which all governments and institutions are preserved. These will be incidentally presented, as thereby we shall be able to trace the career of the remarkable man who controlled the National Assembly, and who applied the torch to the edifice whose horrid and fearful fires he would afterwards have suppressed. It is easy to destroy; it is difficult to reconstruct. Nor is there any human force which can arrest a national conflagration when once it is kindled: only on its ashes can a new structure arise, and this only after long and laborious efforts and humiliating disappointments.

It might have been possible for the Government to contend successfully with the various elements of discontent among the people, intoxicated with those abstract theories of rights which Rousseau had so eloquently defended, if it had possessed a strong head and the sinews of war. But Louis XVI., a modest, timid, temperate, moral young man of twenty-three, by the death of his father and elder brothers had succeeded to the throne of his dissolute grandfather at just the wrong time. He was a gentleman, but no ruler. He had no personal power, and the powers of his kingdom had been dissipated by his reckless predecessors. Not only was the army demoralized, and inclined to fraternize with the people, but there was no money to pay the troops or provide for the ordinary expenses of the Court. There was an alarming annual deficit, and the finances were utterly disordered. Successive ministers had exhausted all ordinary resources and the most ingenious forms of taxation. They made promises, and resorted to every kind of expediency, which had only a temporary effect. The primal evils remained. The national treasury was empty. Calonne and Necker pursued each a different policy, and with the same results. The extravagance of the one and the economy of the other were alike fatal. Nobody would make sacrifices in a great national exigency. The nobles and the clergy adhered tenaciously to their privileges, and the Court would curtail none of its unnecessary expenses. Things went on from bad to worse, and the financiers were filled with alarm. National bankruptcy stared everybody in the face.

If the King had been a Richelieu, he would have dealt summarily with the nobles and rebellious mobs. He would have called to his aid the talents of the nation, appealed to its patriotism, compelled the Court to make sacrifices, and prevented the printing and circulation of seditious pamphlets. The Government should have allied itself with the people, granted their requests, and marched to victory under the name of patriotism. But Louis XVI. was weak, irresolute, vacillating, and uncertain. He was a worthy sort of man, with good intentions, and without the vices of his predecessors. But he was surrounded with incompetent ministers and bad advisers, who distrusted the people and had no sympathy with their wrongs. He would have made concessions, if his ministers had advised him. He was not ambitious, nor unpatriotic; he simply did not know what to do.

In his perplexity, he called together the principal heads of the nobility,--some hundred and twenty great seigneurs, called the Notables; but this assembly was dissolved without accomplishing anything. It was full of jealousies, and evinced no patriotism. It would not part with its privileges or usurpations.

It was at this crisis that Mirabeau first appeared upon the stage, as a pamphleteer, writing bitter and envenomed attacks on the government, and exposing with scorching and unsparing sarcasms the evils of the day, especially in the department of finance. He laid bare to the eyes of the nation the sores of the body politic,--the accumulated evils of centuries. He exposed all the shams and lies to which ministers had resorted. He was terrible in the fierceness and eloquence of his assaults, and in the lucidity of his statements. Without being learned, he contrived to make use of the learning of others, and made it burn with the brilliancy of his powerful and original genius. Everybody read his various essays and tracts, and was filled with admiration. But his moral character was bad,--Was even execrable, and notoriously outrageous. He was kind-hearted and generous, made friends and used them. No woman, it is said, could resist his marvellous fascination,--all the more remarkable since his face was as ugly as that of Wilkes, and was marked by the small-pox. The excesses of his private life, and his ungovernable passions, made him distrusted by the Court and the Government. He was both hated and admired.

Mirabeau belonged to a noble family of very high rank in Provence, of Italian descent. His father, Marquis Mirabeau, was a man of liberal sentiments,--not unknown to literary fame by his treatises on political economy,'--but was eccentric and violent. Although his oldest son, Count Mirabeau, the subject of this lecture, was precocious intellectually, and very bright, so that the father was proud of him, he was yet so ungovernable and violent in his temper, and got into so many disgraceful scrapes, that the Marquis was compelled to discipline him severely,--all to no purpose, inasmuch as he was injudicious in his treatment, and ultimately cruel. He procured lettres de cachet from the King, and shut up his disobedient and debauched son in various state-prisons. But the Count generally contrived to escape, only to get into fresh difficulties; so that he became a wanderer and an exile, compelled to support himself by his pen.

Mirabeau was in Berlin, in a sort of semi-diplomatic position, when the Assembly of Notables was convened. His keen prescience and profound sagacity induced him to return to his distracted country, where he knew his services would soon be required. Though debauched, extravagant, and unscrupulous, he was not unpatriotic. He had an intense hatred of feudalism, and saw in its varied inequalities the chief source of the national calamities. His detestation of feudal injustices was intensified by his personal sufferings in the various castles where he had been confined by arbitrary power. At this period, the whole tendency of his writings was towards the destruction of the ancien régime, He breathed defiance, scorn, and hatred against the very class to which he belonged. He was a Catiline,--an aristocratic demagogue, revolutionary in his spirit and aims; so that he was mistrusted, feared, and detested by the ruling powers, and by the aristocracy generally, while he was admired and flattered by the people, who were tolerant of his vices and imperious temper.

On the wretched failure of the Assembly of the Notables, the prime minister, Necker, advised the King to assemble the States-General,--the three orders of the State: the nobles, the clergy, and a representation of the people. It seemed to the Government impossible to proceed longer, amid universal distress and hopeless financial embarrassment, without the aid and advice of this body, which had not been summoned for one hundred and fifty years.

It became, of course, an object of ambition to Count Mirabeau to have a seat in this illustrious assembly. To secure this, he renounced his rank, became a plebeian, solicited the votes of the people, and was elected a deputy both from Marseilles and Aix. He chose Aix, and his great career began with the meeting of the States-General at Versailles, the 5th of May, 1789. It was composed of three hundred nobles, three hundred priests, and six hundred deputies of the third estate,--twelve hundred in all. It is generally conceded that these representatives of the three orders were on the whole a very respectable body of men, patriotic and incorruptible, but utterly deficient in political experience and in powers of debate. The deputies were largely composed of country lawyers, honest, but as conceited as they were inexperienced. The vanity of Frenchmen is so inordinate that nearly every man in the assembly felt quite competent to govern the nation or frame a constitution. Enthusiasm and hope animated the whole assembly, and everybody saw in this States-General the inauguration of a glorious future.

One of the most brilliant and impressive chapters in Carlyle's "French Revolution"--that great prose poem--is devoted to the procession of the three orders from the church of St. Louis to the church of Notre Dame, to celebrate the Mass, parts of which I quote.

"Shouts rend the air; one shout, at which Grecian birds might drop dead. It is indeed a stately, solemn sight. The Elected of France and then the Court of France; they are marshalled, and march there, all in prescribed place and costume. Our Commons in plain black mantle and white cravat; Noblesse in gold-worked, bright-dyed cloaks of velvet, resplendent, rustling with laces, waving with plumes; the Clergy in rochet, alb, and other clerical insignia; lastly the King himself and household, in their brightest blaze of pomp,--their brightest and final one. Which of the six hundred individuals in plain white cravats that have come up to regenerate France might one guess would become their king? For a king or a leader they, as all bodies of men, must have. He with the thick locks, will it be? Through whose shaggy beetle-brows, and rough-hewn, seamed, carbuncled face, there look natural ugliness, small-pox, incontinence, bankruptcy,--and burning fire of genius? It is Gabriel Honoré Riquetti de Mirabeau; man-ruling deputy of Aix! Yes, that is the Type-Frenchman of this epoch; as Voltaire was of the last. He is French in his aspirations, acquisitions, in his virtues and vices. Mark him well. The National Assembly were all different without that one; nay, he might say with old Despot,--The National Assembly? I am that.

"Now, if Mirabeau is the greatest of these six hundred, who may be the meanest? Shall we say that anxious, slight, ineffectual-looking man, under thirty, in spectacles, his eyes troubled, careful; with upturned face, snuffing dimly the uncertain future time; complexion of a multiplex atrabilious color, the final shade of which may be pale sea-green? That greenish-colored individual is an advocate of Arras; his name is Maximilien Robespierre.

"Between which extremes of grandest and meanest, so many grand and mean, roll on towards their several destinies in that procession. There is experienced Mounier, whose presidential parliamentary experience the stream of things shall soon leave stranded. A Pétion has left his gown and briefs at Chartres for a stormier sort of pleading. A Protestant-clerical St. Etienne, a slender young eloquent and vehement Barnave, will help to regenerate France,

"And then there is worthy Doctor Guillotin, Bailly likewise, time-honored historian of astronomy, and the Abbé Sieyès, cold, but elastic, wiry, instinct with the pride of logic, passionless, or with but one passion, that of self-conceit. This is the Sieyès who shall be system-builder, constitutional-builder-general, and build constitutions which shall unfortunately fall before we get the scaffolding away.

"Among the nobles are Liancourt, and La Rochefoucauld, and pious Lally, and Lafayette, whom Mirabeau calls Grandison Cromwell, and the Viscount Mirabeau, called Barrel Mirabeau, on account of his rotundity, and the quantity of strong liquor he contains. Among the clergy is the Abbé Maury, who does not want for audacity, and the Curé Grégoire who shall be a bishop, and Talleyrand-Pericord, his reverence of Autun, with sardonic grimness, a man living in falsehood, and on falsehood, yet not wholly a false man.

"So, in stately procession, the elected of France pass on, some to honor, others to dishonor; not a few towards massacre, confusion, emigration, desperation."

For several weeks this famous States-General remain inactive, unable to agree whether they shall deliberate in a single hall or in three separate chambers. The deputies, of course, wish to deliberate in a single chamber, since they equal in number both the clergy and nobles, and some few nobles had joined them, and more than a hundred of the clergy. But a large majority of both the clergy and the noblesse insist with pertinacity on the three separate chambers, since, united, they would neutralize the third estate. If the deputies prevailed, they would inaugurate reforms to which the other orders would never consent.

Long did these different bodies of the States-General deliberate, and stormy were the debates. The nobles showed themselves haughty and dogmatical; the deputies showed themselves aggressive and revolutionary. The King and the ministers looked on with impatience and disgust, but were irresolute. Had the King been a Cromwell, or a Napoleon, he would have dissolved the assemblies; but he was timid and hesitating. Necker, the prime minister, was for compromise; he would accept reforms, but only in a constitutional way.

The knot was at last cut by the Abbé Sieyès, a political priest, and one of the deputies for Paris,--the finest intellect in the body, next to Mirabeau, and at first more influential than he, since the Count was generally distrusted on account of his vices. Nor had he as yet exhibited his great powers. Sieyès said, for the Deputies alone, "We represent ninety-six per cent of the whole nation. The people is sovereign; we, therefore, as its representatives, constitute ourselves a national assembly." His motion was passed by acclamation, on June 17, and the Third Estate assumed the right to act for France.

In a legal and constitutional point of view, this was a usurpation, if ever there was one. "It was," says Von Sybel, the able German historian of the French Revolution, "a declaration of open war between arbitrary principles and existing rights." It was as if the House of Representatives in the United States, or the House of Commons in England, should declare themselves the representatives of the nation, ignoring the Senate or the House of Lords. Its logical sequence was revolution.

The prodigious importance of this step cannot be overrated. It transferred the powers of the monarchy to the Third Estate. It would logically lead to other usurpations, the subversion of the throne, and the utter destruction of feudalism,--for this last was the aim of the reformers. Mirabeau himself at first shrank from this violent measure, but finally adopted it. He detested feudalism and the privileges of the clergy. He wanted radical reforms, but would have preferred to gain them in a constitutional way, like Pym, in the English Revolution. But if reforms could not be gained constitutionally, then he would accept revolution, as the lesser evil. Constitutionally, radical reforms were hopeless. The ministers and the King, doubtless, would have made some concessions, but not enough to satisfy the deputies. So these same deputies took the entire work of legislation into their own hands. They constituted themselves the sole representatives of the nation. The nobles and the clergy might indeed deliberate with them; they were not altogether ignored, but their interests and rights were to be disregarded. In that state of ferment and discontent which existed when the States-General was convened, the nobles and the clergy probably knew the spirit of the deputies, and therefore refused to sit with them. They knew, from the innumerable pamphlets and tracts which were issued from the press, that radical changes were desired, to which they themselves were opposed; and they had the moral support of the Government on their side.

The deputies of the Third Estate were bent on the destruction of feudalism, as the only way to remedy the national evils, which were so glaring and overwhelming. They probably knew that their proceedings were unconstitutional and illegal, but thought that their acts would be sanctioned by their patriotic intentions. They were resolved to secure what seemed to them rights, and thought little of duties. If these inestimable and vital rights should be granted without usurpation, they would be satisfied; if not, then they would resort to usurpation. To them their course seemed to be dictated by the "higher law." What to them were legalities that perpetuated wrongs? The constitution was made for man, not man for the constitution.

Had the three orders deliberated together in one hall, although against precedent and legality, the course of revolution might have been directed into a different channel; or if an able and resolute king had been on the throne, he might have united with the people against the nobles, and secured all the reforms that were imperative, without invoking revolution; or he might have dispersed the deputies at the point of the bayonet, and raised taxes by arbitrary imposition, as able despots have ever done. We cannot penetrate the secrets of Providence. It may have been ordered in divine justice and wisdom that the French people should work out their own deliverance in their own way, in mistakes, in suffering, and in violence, and point the eternal moral that inexperience, vanity, and ignorance are fatal to sound legislation, and sure to lead to errors which prove disastrous; that national progress is incompatible with crime; that evils can only gradually be removed; that wickedness ends in violence.

A majority of the deputies meant well. They were earnest, patriotic, and enthusiastic. But they knew nothing of the science of government or of constitution-making, which demand the highest maturity of experience and wisdom. As I have said, nearly four hundred of them were country lawyers, as conceited as they were inexperienced. Both Mirabeau and Sieyès had a supreme contempt for them as a whole. They wanted what they called rights, and were determined to get them any way they could, disregarding obstacles, disregarding forms and precedents. And they were backed up and urged forward by ignorant mobs, and wicked demagogues who hated the throne, the clergy, and the nobles. Hence the deputies made mistakes. They could see nothing better than unscrupulous destruction. And they did not know how to reconstruct. They were bewildered and embarrassed, and listened to the orators of the Palais Royal.

The first thing of note which occurred when they resolved to call themselves the National Assembly and not the Third Estate, which they were only, was done by Mirabeau. He ascended the tribune, when Brézé, the master of ceremonies, came with a message from the

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