« PreviousContinue »
which are often subjected to a similar process of distortion. It is a common trick of the new philosophy to smuggle its contraband doctrines into the regions of decent discussion, by clothing them in phrases stolen from the beliefs which they assail. The Paris workmen may possibly have a religion which involves a disbelief in God, and in that they may be fervent: and it is likely that all the atrocities of which they have been guilty for the last eighty years are strictly in accordance with the morality of that religion. But, to the minds of those who believe in God and His morality, they will appear the most fearful curse that ever afflicted a civilised land. Their capricious turbulence, at once frivolous and ferocious, have made any rule but that of the sword almost impossible in France. If they had not rebelled successively against every known form of Government, their disorders might have been ascribed to the force of their political opinions. If they had not cast off leader after leader, in each case leaping from maudlin adulation to savage hatred, some part of the blame of their excesses might be laid upon
evil counsellors. But since the day when they dragged Louis XVI. and his Queen in brutal triumph from Versailles to Paris, they have tried every gradation of limited monarchy, every variety of despotism, republics of every shade and tint-and they have raised the barricade equally against all. The only motive that has ever reconciled them to peacefulness and order has been that of overwhelming fear. Under the heavy hand of the Empire, while its strength remained, they were well conducted. As soon as an enemy's triumph enabled them to overthrow it, they returned to their old turbulence. Neither the republicanisin of the statesmen of the 4th of September, nor the presence of the enemy outside the walls, restrained them from making repeated efforts to overthrow the Government they had just set up. They were treated with excessive leniency: but impunity only ericouraged them to renewed attempts which were at last successful. They were not to be won by faithful service, any more than by a conciliatory policy. Chaudey, Clement Thomas, Jules Favre, had stood by the republican cause in its darkest hours. Chaudey and Thomas had suffered exile on its behalf. But they were shot with a ferocity as vigorous as if they had been an Archbishop and a Judge. If Jules Favre was only slandered and not shot, it was because his opportune flight lest no other weapon but that of slander in the hands of the Paris workmen. It is significant of their spirit that poor M. Bignon, who had given evidence fifty years ago in the case of the four sergents who were executed under Louis XVIII., was condemned to the fate of M. Chaudey. The friend of yesterday and the enemy of half a century ago were doomed to death with callous impartiality.
The traditions of 1793, as well as the incomplete experiences of 1871, are sufficient to warn the French nation never again to suffer the Paris workmen to usurp supreme power in France: and it is abundantly clear from the recent elections that ability to keep this demoniac chained up is the one title to confidence which the peasantry require in their rulers. M. Thiers has no other claim upon their support. He represents no cause or sentiment: he heads no party: he has never been personally popular. But he has put down a Socialist revolution in a thorough-going manner,
and that claim is all sufficient. It seems to be the principles, quite as much as the practice, of the Parisian mob which alarm the rural districts. The peasantry do not look upon existence from the one stand-point of weekly wages. Their little properties bring them into contact with the affairs of life on many sides. They and their neighbours are lessors as well as farmers, employers as well as labourers, creditors as well as debtors. They know that the doctrines of systematised plunder to which the Internationale gives the name of solidarity,' would simply mean the dissolution of human society, the resignation of all the conquests over barbarism which make the people of Europe to differ from the rudest savages. They are not simple enough to believe that industry can be enforced if the hope of enjoying its fruits is taken away. They know that the outcry against capital, if it could possibly succeed, would in reality be the doom of all labour known to civilised communities. Unless there be capital to purchase the seed and the plough, and to nourish the ploughman until the time of harvest, even the rudest agriculture would not be carried on; and of that amount of political economy the most unlettered of the peasantry are able to convince themselves. The dream that labour and enterprise and ingenuity will continue when the stimulus of individual interest is withdrawn, is not likely to be found among the unsophisticated dwellers in the country. It requires the moral atmosphere of the factory and the cabaret for its support. It may have had an attraction for some fanatical minds of a higher cast, who have taught themselves to believe that optimism is philanthropy. But in the mass of minds, it either springs from the crassest ignorance, inspired by absinthe, or it is a thin cloak for projects of simple rapine. It evidently does not commend itself to the rural population as the possible belief of sane men. They look upon the whole movement as nothing but a decorous form of pillageand, as regards the mass of its adherents, they probably think right. Can any one blame them for resisting the expropriators' as they would resist any other robber who came to do the same work under a shorter name? But this is not the entire sum of the offences of the Socialists in the eyes of the peasantry. To a large mass of the people in the rural districts the abolition of property is not the most perilous portion of their doctrines. The religion of the people of Paris, which consists in believing in no God and no man,' finds no favour with the French peasantry, who are still a religious people in the older sense of the term. Christianity, in spite of all the efforts of the press of Paris, is still with them a living force. Its ministrations are to their eyes a priceless treasure: and any attack upon it will rouse a more implacable indignation than an attack on their property or their independence. They honour and love their clergy, who, whatever we may think of some portion of their creed, fully deserve by their lives the affections they have won. The avowed atheism of the Commune, the obscene blasphemy of its literature and its mob, the desecrated churches, the persecutions, imprisonments, murders to which the ministers of religion, for no other crime but their office, were exposed, has left a mark upon the minds of all Frenchmen who live outside the great cities which the lapse of a generation will not efface. The conflict has left far behind it the boundaries of ordinary political discussion Forms of government, rights of franchise, are questions simply trivial compared to the vast issues which this new alliance between fanaticism and ruffianism has raised. A new sect, claiming to number millions in its ranks, powerful enough to hunt out a Government and to set its heel on a great city for two months, wielding for the time a force of 150,000 armed men, schemes to eradicate from among human institutions at once marriage, property, and religion. Are the representatives of the French nation to be blamed for thinking that with such an enemy there can be neither truce nor compromise? They give no quarter to all that humanity values most: and when once they have commenced the shedding of blood they must look for the measure they have ineted out to others. The usages of war are for adversaries who recognise the possibility of adjusting their hostile claims, and have not extinguished the hope of living some day side by side in peace. The conflict between Socialism and existing civilisation must be a death-struggle. If the combat is once commenced, one or other of the combatants must perish. It is idle to plead that the schemes of these men are their religion. There are religions so hostile to morality, so poisonous to the life-springs of society, that they are outside the pale of human tolerance. The Thugs had a religion of their own, with a goddess to preside over it: and its tenet was this—that any body who possessed anything they wished to have, must die. In truth, if self-devotion to their cause is to be the only test, they might have been fairly described as the most religious body of men in the
world. Yet they had the benefit neither of belligerent rights, nor of the clemency which modern usage dictates towards political offences. The conspirator against human society, who has proved that he will use any opportunity and commit any crime in furtherance of his aim, can no more be classed with national antagonists, or political culprits, than the pirate or the brigand. The events of last May were undoubtedly terrible enough: and the retribution inflicted was stern and sweeping—though professedly limited to murderers and incendiaries, and mutineers who had fought against their fag. But deeply as modern feeling shrinks from the infliction of the punishment of death on a large scale, public opinion, both in this country and abroad, has refused to condemn the severities of the French Government against men whose brief success had been stained with innocent blood, and whose permanent triumph would have been the deathblow of civilisation.
Distracting as is the confusion of French politics at the present moment, it is evident that their prospect is all the brighter for the check which the Communists have brought upon themselves. The abuse which has been lavished upon M. Thiers by the English friends of the Commune, far exceeding the extremest licence commonly accorded to political criticism, shows how grave the check has been. It is not merely that a dangerous gang of conspirators has been exterminated or dispersed. The moral discomfiture has been equally complete. A number of fallacies bred during a period of delusive tranquillity have been dissipated for ever. The rose-water theory of revolutions in which the Parisian middle-class specially delighted, has received its death-blow. From the time of excellent, imbecile, Louis XVI. down to the time of the equally excellent General Trochu, this theory has exercised a strange fascination over the minds of all the successive rulers of France, except Cavaignac and the Bonapartes. Its leading doctrines are—first, that the best way of reducing to order a mob of insurgent Parisian workinen is to issue complimentary proclamations; and secondly, that, even if the worst comes to the worst, any revolution is better than ordering the troops to fire upon the mob. Louis XVI. owed to this belief his death; it paralysed the energy of the Girondins ; Louis-Philippe clung to it in the critical hours of February, 1848; and Trochu allowed it to make his nominal government a gilded slavery, and to baulk even the long-cherished, celebrated,
plan.' But its reign is over now. French statesmen have satisfied themselves by hard experience that the phenomena of 1793 were not exceptional; and that—terrible as the employment of a military force in street warfare must always be—it is better to do that, and more also, than risk a Parisian revolution. It is
no longer a necessary mark of Liberal opinions to speak of the ruffians who raise a barricade as • le peuple ;' and the literary pity, of which they have hitherto been the unworthy objects, will now be better bestowed on the victims they have slaughtered and the industries their turbulence has ruined.
The Commune has fortunately acted the part of the Helot in the political education of France. It has done much to bring into discredit the theory of revolutions altogether. There was a strong tendency at one time, arising out of the contradictiousness of human nature, especially of literary human nature, to throw a halo round the atrocities of the first Revolution, and to make heroes of the criminals it produced. The following reflections, from the pen of M. Henri de Pene, Liberal journalist, which we will not weaken by translating, indicate the kind of impression which this year's experience has happily left upon cultivated minds in France. Unhappily, it is the reckless writings of these cultivated journalists that have bred much of the confusion from which French statesmen find it so difficult to extricate their country:-
• Cette révolution du 18 mars, qui eut d'un bout à l'autre de son existence le caractère d'une orgie, l'ut extrême, elle aussi, dès son premier pas.
• En cela, elle a bien mérité de nous. C'est seulement en étant horrible qu'elle pouvait nous servir. A force d'être châtiés, peut-être serons-nous corrigés. Ce sont les révolutions et les révolutionnaires à l'eau de rose, comme disait Champfort, qui nous ont perdus. Rien n'est dangereux comme de ne pas être étrillé quand on s'asscoit à une table de roulette, et le feu qui ne vous brûle pas d'abord jusqu'aux os vous induit dans la tentation fatale de jouer avec lui. On s'imaginait que les crimes révolutionnaires étaient désormais impossibles; on vantait la douceur de nos mæurs; on se flattait d'avoir canalisé le torrent. Que de fois n'avons-nous pas entendu déraisonner sur ce thème : la meilleure garantie de l'ordre, c'est la démocratisation de la rente! Qui voudrait le désordre, quand tout le monde est intéressé à l'ordre ? On a armé, il est vrai, quelques mauvaises gens dans la masse; mais comme les honnêtes gens ont des armes aussi, nous défions bien les coquins de bouger.
Il est curieux de suivre la liste des historiens célèbres de notre révolution mère et modèle des autres. C'est d'abord MM. Thiers et Mignet, dont l'admiration ne va pas au-delà de Mirabeau et de la Constituante ; M. de Lamartine pousse jusqu'aux Girondins; M. Michelet a pris pour dieu Danton; M. Louis Blanc préfère Robespierre; un autre n'a pas reculé devant l'apothéose de Marat. Après ce dernier, il faut tirer l'échelle.
' Ce changement successif de héros chez les historiens divers de la Révolution est intéressant à noter au passage, parce qu'il coïncide exactement avec la marche de l'esprit public et les progrès de son ascension jusqu'au sommet de la montagne. Peu à peu les crimes