Page images
PDF
EPUB

into the heart of the monarchy, and he had hoped to decide, and which fluog it bleeding at the foot of the his fall gives over to the enemy. statue of Jacobinism. His oratory The lives of both those great spiwas the great instrument by which rits of the Revolution are still to be this singular ascendency was achie. written; but it must not be for fifty ved. It had no rival and no suc- years to come. We must wait une cessor in France. Surrounded as he til their monuments are freed, by the was from the beginning of his career natural course of time, from all the by a multitude of able and accom- temporary memorials raised round plished minds, all equally emulous them to insignificant parties and of his distinctions, and all struggling men, by vanity or friendship, or that to rise by the same appeals to popu. fraud upon history which gives fame Jar passion, all not merely fell short to the creatures of popular clamour, of his influence, but shewed them. It may be still longer before they selves unable to wield his weapons. are written ; for they must find a The eloquence of the Girondists was kindred genius, and one not merely the eloquence of the schools, contrast, kindred, but initiated in the same ed with the daring and concentration career. No man but a warrior can of Mirabeau ; theirs were the light- write the history of Napoleon; no ning and thunders of the stage; all man but a statesman can write the could distinguish them from the history of Mirabeau ; and none but true flash and peal, the true birth of a mind of the highest penetration the tempest of the mind. Happier into human motives, of the keenes; in one instance than Napoleon, he sensibility to all the impulses thai died in the fulness of his fame; he stir powerful natures, and capable of was not left to dig his own grave, all their triumphs, and perhaps of and see his renown buried in it, be all their errors, can do historic jus. fore it closed over his corpse. Hap. tice to either. Genius alone can pier still, if it be true, that in his last mould that perfect stamp and idenhours, he reviewed his triumphs with tity of character, which alone de. human regret, and determined to serves a place in the gallery of the make the restoration of the throne illustrious dead, and compels every the price of his repentance. But he passer-by to exclaim, This was the was denied so glorious a conclusion man! to a life stained by habitual error. The simple outline of Mirabeau's There was to be no serene and even career shews how broad a field is ing splendour for a day of such per- open in his biography. He was the petual cloud and whirlwind. Na descendant of a line in which oppopoleon died, after the final failure of a sition to the existing order of things project for the tyranny of all nations, seems to have been hereditary. His the condensation of all power in his ancestors, the Riquetti family, had person, and the ruin of all liberty fled, or were exiled, from Florence, among mankind;-a project, for the in the fourteenth century. They vastness of its ambition, and the settled in the south of France, then depth of its selfishness, worthy less much connected with Italy and Itaof a mortal than of the prince of the Jian politics. His father, Victor power of the air. He perished, and Riquetti, Marquis de Mirabeau, dis. his work followed him. He was tinguished himself, about the middle broken by a blow which sent his of the last century, by his adoption empire rolling in fragments over his of the theories of the Economistes, head. He fell from his throne, “like his adherence to the reveries of the the lightning falling from heaven;” ingenious and visionary Quesnay, to -the only figure that could express whom France owed so much real his height, his splendour, and his mischief, and the world 80 much malignity. The last hours of Mira. baseless speculation, and pushed his beau were on the field of the great zeal to the hazardous extent of asbattle for monarchy, and he died sailing the Ministry in a work on with the lamentations of a chieftain taxation, of which the result was an who finds himself mortally wounded imprisonment in the Bastile. in the heat of the conflict, and finds He died, on the eve of seeing the life ebbing from him drop by drop, consummation of all his fantasies; in while the battle is still raging, which the memorable year 1789, the first of the Revolution. His more fa- in the British Legislature, and by mous son, Honore Gabriel Riquetti, the violent struggles of the French Comte de Mirabeau, was born in Provincial Parliaments against the 1749, Like all the nobles of France, royal prerogative. Mirabeau felt that he commenced his career in the his time was come. The career which army, and served in Corsica. But neither the army, nor philosophy, nor no man was less made for the rou- dissipation, had opened to his natu. tine of a regimental life; he soon ral powers, was open in faction, and grew weary of the service; and he instantly took his side. The seized, probably, with the rage for a nobles of Provence, scandalized by philosophical life, and the French his life, and justly suspecting his fashionable vanity of imitating Cin political tendencies, had refused to

cero in his Tusculum, or Cincinna- return him as a deputy to the States· tus at his plough, he withdrew, to General. But a resolutiou like his, labour in the cultivation of his fields equally regardless of its means, and in the Limousin. But the conversa fixed in its determination, was not tion of the sages of the farm-yard to be thus baffled. What he could was found to leave a blank, which not accomplish as a noble, he accomcould be filled up only by a return plished as a roturier. To the astonishto the world. He flew to Paris, fell ment and indignation of his order, he in love, and, though remarkably up. opened a linen-draper's shop, and by prepossessing in his exterior, captivirtue of his trade was returned for vated an heiress, one of the hand the Commons of Aix. Once in the somest women of the Court. He National Assembly, his course was now plunged into dissipation; and inevitable. In the midst of all that foremost in all things, outshone Pa- France boasted of intelligence, he ris, and in less than three years was suddenly assumed the highest rank, a bankrupt. His extravagance now and his supremacy was scarcely approceeded so far towards final ruin, proached, to the last never shaken. that his father, adopting a parental if France shall ever erect a pillar to privilege, common in the families of the Revolution, its base should be the the nobles, yet strangely adverse to tomb of Mirabeau. It was by him his own theories, applied for an ore that the famed and fatal decree was der for his exile from Paris, which carried, which produced the coaliended in a lettre de cachet to confine tion of the Nobles and Clergy with him in one of the royal castles. After the Commons, thus throwing the successive transfers from fortress to whole Government into the hands fortress, he was suffered to go at of faction. By him was pronounced large in Franche Comté; where he the memorable answer to the King's signalized his liberty by carrying off command for the dissolution of the the wife of the President of the Par- Assembly-an answer which, by deliament of Besançon, and fled with nying the royal right, virtually aboher to Holland. Justice was now let lished the monarchy. In all the peloose upon him, he was convicted rilous revolutionary tactique of the par contumace, and sentenced to lose time, he was the acknowledged lead. his head in effigy. The French power er; and he supported his rank by was too influential on the Continent a succession of the most powerful to be safely defied even in Holland, speeches ever heard under the roof and Mirabeau and his Sophie pre- of a French Assembly. It has been pared to escape from Amsterdam to asserted that the materials of those that New World which, once the re. distinguished efforts were supplied fuge of the saints, has since opened by others, and the late publications its expansive hospitality to so many of Dumont seem to point out some of the sinners of Europe. He was of those sources. But what is the arrested on the eve of his flight, and history of all the great labours of imprisoned from 1777 to 1780 in the public men ? That the ruder work Castle of Vincennes. He came to is done by others; but, to give orLondon in 1784.

der, dignity, and beauty to the pile, At this period the public mind of is the work of the master-mind. As France was agitated by the rebel well might the slaves who quarried opinions of the soldiery who had re- the stones of the Acropolis, assume turned from America, by the debates to themselves the perennial glory of the architecture. As well might the established puppet-show. The Enggrinder of Michael Angelo's colours lish Sunday is " dull beyond all vindicate to himself the immortality bearing,” because the shops are shut, of the Sistine Chapel. The true the troops are not reviewed, the question in all cases of mental pre- public gardens are not especially eminence is, not the means, but the lighted up, and all the playhouses result; not by what levying and are not fourishing with all their equipment of the troops the battle trumpets for that night above all was gained, but the extent of the others. The Frenchman comprevictory. Of all talents, the talent hending nothing of the grateful feelmost distinctive of great men, is this ing of a day's rest after a week's lafaculty of absorbing the thoughts, bour,-of the necessity of having a studies, and labours of others into period of tranquillity for the mind to their own, till they give them a new look to higher concerns than the essence and power; not a new shape, mere toil and traffic of the world, but a new nature; and send forth of the real pleasure of gathering the the feeble, the various, the contra domestic circle in peace, and the dictory, and the inapplicable, con duty of rendering some portion of densed and assimilated into force, gratitude and duty to the actual and singleness, and utility. This was the only source of happiness and secuwork of the mind to which Dumont, rity. But all these are nothing withand the crowd of men like Dumont, out the pleasure of gazing on the administered; the powerful, intellec- shop-windows on the seventh day, tual alembic which sublimated all which we have been gazing on for their various infusion, and out of the the six days before. The walk into dross and compound, forced upwards the country is triste, for no Frencha spirit, fit alike to invigorate or mad- man ever walks further than the cofden nations.

fee-house; and the gentle social During Mirabeau's residence in evening round the fireside is more England, he had corresponded large intolerable still, for no Frenchman ly with his friends in France; and ever has any other fireside than the bis letters contain the irrefragable stove in the billiard-room, or any evidence, that no Frenchman can other society but the card-party, or ever comprehend English habits, the pit in the theatre. Even on the principles, or feelings. One reason question of national melancholy, we for this singular anomaly is, that may fairly doubt whether the Frenchno Frenchman is ever satisfied with man is not much the more melanseeing things as they are. He al- choly personage of the two,-for ways adds or diminishes, he always which is the more melancholy, the labours to find theatrical effect, he man who, when alone, can forget his always scorns the light of day, and loneliness in some vigorous employdesires to see life through the glare ment of his mind, or the man who of the stage lamps. Thus, even the cannot endure his own company for strong understanding of Mirabeau five minutes together; the man who, imputed to the whole English nation in this vigorous tension of the intela character of profound melancholy, lect, can absolutely do without the which he branches instantly into all external world, or the man who, the conduits of national action; to when left to himself, dies of ennui, is their melancholy be imputes their miserable the moment he feels devirtue, their vice, their force of pendent on his own thoughts, and thought, their eccentricity, their pa- Aies to every trivial resource, a vautriotism, their venality, their wealth, deville, a mime, or a monkey, to their poverty, their patience, their escape the wretchedness of his suicide, their every thing. Their empty and frivolous appetite for exreligion is the grand source of their citement? We might as well promelancholy, because it does not give nounce the man who cannot live them shows, festivals, pictures in the without perpetual drams the gayest churches, embroidery on the priests' of mankind. As far as the question garments, and forbids plays and of true sociality goes, the English balls on Sunday evenings; religion are the most sociable people upon in the mind of the foreigner being, earth in reference to their means. of course, nothing more than an The taxes, and other expenses of

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

living in England, are the true bar to landed nation, among whom trade English association. But there is enlivened agriculture, and agricul. not one household in ten in London, ture yielded immense products for that does not expend more in actual trade. Lastly, the period of these hospitality in a month, than many a various circumstances coming into Peer of France expends in a year. play, was at a time when the rival The Englishman does not feel grati- nations bad passed the meridian of fied by gathering a crowd round him their grandeur, so that England was for an hour in the evening, and dis- the rising, France the setting sun. missing them with a smile and a glass No other power arose to dispute the of eau sucré. He gives his friends the palm of equality. She had not then best entertainment that he can, and a France succeeding Spain in great while they are with him, enjoys power, to draw her off, and waste their society, and returns the enjoy- her strength with fresh contests. ment with ten times the genuine “All these are reasons for conjec. gaiety of a rambler from one coterie turing that this country will, in her to another, the lounger in the dress- turn, be the first power of the Chrising-rooms of actresses, or the eternal tian world. She cannot aim at uniconteur of a circle of dilapidated versal monarchy; and that moderabelles, who have dropped from being tion will save her from efforts bethe subjects of scandals into being yond her strength, and from alliances their propagators.

from the rest of Europe to pull down But when Mirabeau talks of Eng- her power. It will, therefore, be lish politics, be talks of a subject to more stable, and far more prosperwhich the prejudices of a French- ous than that of either France or man had not been turned; and his Spain. This view of the affairs of opinions exhibit the force of his na. Britain does not take notice of her tural faculties. In one admirable internal state,' particularly her letter, he states his reasons for con. debts, and some other circumstances, cluding the prosperity of England to from which newspaper politicians be more secure of permanency than are always predicting her ruin. The that of France or Spain. To give national debts of this country are due credit to the writer's sagacity, certainly very considerable. But it we are to remember that this letter seems preposterous to predict ruin was written fifty years ago.

to the State, because the right hand “ The maritime power of England owes to the left. And, as for the debt is not the wayward child of an abso- due to foreigners, it is comparatively lute monarch, who determines to be little. The power of England is potent in every element; it is the much too great to have any thing to slow natural growth of more than fear from the united force of all her two hundred years, which has stood enemies. And they must be shallow many an attack, and weathered many politicians who are deceived by mi. a storm. Another circumstance nutiæ into an opinion, that she is in which has continued and increased any danger of falling under the power every advantage, is the peculiar fe- of France. I cannot by any means licity of the English constitution. subscribe to the opinion, that the All the great kingdoms of Europe, public revenues of Eugland are carexcept England, have lost their li ried to the utmost height of which berty. Liberty has carried her trade, they are capable. On the contrary, agriculture, manufactures, wealth, I apprehend that there are several and navy, to a pitch which they reasons for supposing them capable could otherwise never have attained. of great increase, without burdenAnother point of vast importance is ing the people, so as to destroy inthe uncommon union of trade with dustry. There is an uncertainty in agriculture. The amazing commerce every thing that concerns taxation, of England is equal to that of the which is too dark for the acutest most famous states that have ever genius to clear up. In erery counbeen great by commerce alone. And trywe find it mathematically proved, this vast trade has been carried on, that if another million be raised, the not by a knot of unhappy men, like people must clearly be undone. Two the Dutch, who were forced to be or three millions are then levied, traders, or nothing, but by a great and the prophecy is repeated. The idea that one tax creates an ability however, that if nearly every thing in the people to pay another, is, of was lost to the purse, there was much course, absurd. But it is difficult to gained to the pike. The court, no say how far taxation may be carried, longer the supplier of traffic, the because, in no country of Europe, object of popular admiration, and where taxes are laid on equally, and the habitual source of national pride, with judgment, do they oppress the was only the more fit to be turned people. Nor is there an instance to into the dungeon. But Paris was be produced of a people ruined by undone for the time, and massacre taxes. Other more powerful circum- was a relief, and the guillotine a stances must unite, for this is not of bappy interposition for the escape sufficient weight to effect the evil. of Parisian sensibility. The heaviest taxed countries are the Mirabeau's remarks on our Namost flourishing in Europe. I do not tional Debt are equally sagacious mistake the cause for the effect, and and opposed to the absurdities of assert them therefore to be the most the philosophists of his day and our flourishing. But I adduce the fact, own. Hume, seventy years ago, to show that taxes, which in their deplored the National Debt, then extreme are perfectly consistent with about twenty-five millions, as the wealth, power, and happiness, can mill-stone round the neck of Eng. not have those dreadful effects which land. In the same breath, too, he some have attributed to them.” declared that the Constitution di.

All this is admirably true, and ex- rectly tended to absolute Monarchy, hibits an astonishing range of thought and that despotism would be the for a Frenchman in the eighteenth Euthanasia of the empire ! So much century. It also exbibits, not merely for the wisdom of a professed philosohow superior Mirabeau was to the phic pher. So much, too, for the wisdom losophists of his day, but how totally of those who take for their guide, he differed from them. The outcry in the things of the world to come, of his time, was retrenchment, extin- the sagacity that thus blundered in guish the royal expenditure, lop off things before its eyes. The eight the court incomes, away with all hundred millions of her debt hare offices of state, abolish all taxes. The not sunk England to the bottom. outcry of the populace was suffered And even the principle of reduction to be the law of the cabinet. The has so entirely failed the speculators, operation commenced with popular and is so entirely built on false vigour, and the whole rabble of Paris views, that the twenty millions of were in ecstasy at seeing the king taxes taken off since the peace, have reduced to sell his coaches, and the made reduction synonymous with great officers of his household dis- national discontent; and after giving missing their footmen. What was the us nearly thirty years of bitterness, result? within a week all was de- vexation, and bankruptcy, breaking spair. The salaries which bad gone down some of the highest institutions directly from the hands of those and interests of the land, and driving officers to the support of the Pari- us to the perpetual expedient of sian shopkeepers, of course, went Exchequer bills, and other contrino more; and the shopkeepers, in vances of traders in the last extrethe midst of their roturier triumph, mity, have left us poorer than ever. discovered that they were bankrupt. Sponge away the National Debt toIt had escaped the notice of the phi- morrow, we should have every man losophers and the shopkeepers alike, in Great Britain exactly thirty shil. that what the nobles consumed they lings a-year, and we should drive out must buy somewhere or other; and about a million of people into utter equally, that when they had no more famine in the streets. The indivimoney, they could buy no more dual would keep his thirty shillings food, furniture, or fine clothes. For in his pocket instead of giving it to every shilling the shopkeeper saved the taxgatherer. But he would lose in his taxes, he lost a louis d'or in his his profit on the trade of thirty miltrade. The double result was, that lions of money, of the excitement the court was made squalid by the produced in the national circulation same dexterity which had made the by the annual expenditure of so vast counter empty. It must be owned, a sum, besides the circumstance,

« PreviousContinue »