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by tenets of which we have not examined the consequences. The times are trying ; and in order to be prepared against their difficulties, we should have acquired a prompt facility of adverting in all our doubts to some grand and comprehensive truth. In a deep and strong soil must that tree fix its roots, the height of which is to reach to heaven, and the sight of it to the ends of all the earth.
The example of France is indeed a warning to Britain. A nation wading to its rights through blood, and marking the track of freedom by devastation! Yet let us not embattle our feelings against our reason. Let us not indulge our malignant passions under the mask of humanity. Instead of railing with infuriate declamation against these excesses, we shall be more profitably employed in tracing them to their sources. French freedom is the beacon which if it guides to equality should shew us likewise the dangers that throng the road.
The annals of the French revolution have recorded in letters of blood, that the knowledge of the few cannot counteract the ignorance of the many; that the light of philosophy, when it is confined to a small minority, points out the possessors as the victims, rather than the illuminators, of the multitude. The patriots of France either hastened into the dangerous and gigantic error of making certain evil the means of contingent good, or were sacrificed by the mob, with whose prejudices and ferocity their unbending virtue forbade them to assimilate. Like Samson, the people were strong-like Samson the people were blind. Those two massy pillars' of the temple of oppression, their monarchy and aristocracy,
With horrible convulsion to and fro
Upon the heads of all who sat beneath,
The Girondists, who were the first republicans in power, were men of enlarged views and great literary attainments;
but they seem to have been deficient in that vigour and daring activity, which circumstances made necessary. Men of genius are rarely either prompt in action or consistent in general conduct.
Their early habits have been those of contemplative indolence; and the day-dreams, with which they have been accustomed to amuse their solitude, adapt them for splendid speculation, not temperate and practicable counsels. Brissot, the leader of the Gironde party, is entitled to the character of a virtuous man, and an eloquent speaker ; but he was rather a sublime visionary, than a quick-eyed politician; and his excellences equally with his faults rendered him unfit for the helm in the stormy hour of revolution. Robespierre, who displaced him, possessed a glowing ardour that still remembered the end, and a cool ferocity that never either overlooked or scrupled the
What that end was, is not known: that it was a wicked one, has by no means been proved. I rather think, that the distant prospect, to which he was travelling, appeared to him grand and beautiful; but that he fixed his eye on it with such intense eagerness as to neglect the foulness of the road. If, however, his first intentions were pure, his subsequent enormities yield us a melancholy proof, that it is not the character of the possessor which directs the power, but the power which shapes and depraves the character of the possessor. In Robespierre, its influence was assisted by the properties of his disposition.-Enthusiasm, even in the gentlest temper, will frequently generate sensations of an unkindly order. If we clearly perceive any one thing to be of vast and infinite importance to ourselves and all mankind, our first feelings impel us to turn with angry contempt from those, who doubt and oppose it. The ardour of undisciplined benevolence seduces us into malignity: and whenever our hearts are warm, and our objects great and excellent, intolerance is the sin that does most easily beset us.
* Samson Agonistes, with alterations in italics. -Ed.
But this enthusiasm in Robespierre was blended with gloom, and suspiciousness, and inordinate vanity. His dark imagination was still brooding over supposed plots against freedom ;—to prevent tyranny he became a tyrant,—and having realised the evils which he suspected, a wild and dreadful tyrant. And thus, his ear deafened to the whispers of conscience by the clamorous plaudits of the mob, he despotized in all the pomp of patriotism, and masqueraded on the bloody stage of revolution, a Caligula with the cap of liberty on his head.
It has been affirmed, and I believe with truth, that the system of terrorism by suspending the struggles of contrarient factions communicated an energy to the operations of the republic, which had been hitherto unknown, and without which it could not have been preserved. The system depended for its existence on the general sense of its necessity, and when it had answered its end, it was soon destroyed by the same power that had given it birth -popular opinion. It must not however be disguised, that at all times, but more especially when the public feelings are wavy and tumultuous, artful demagogues may create this opinion: and they, who are inclined to tolerate evil as the means of contingent good, should reflect, that if the excesses of terrorism gave to the republic that efficiency and repulsive force which its circumstances made necessary, they likewise afforded to the hostile courts the most powerful support, and excited that indignation and horror which every where precipitated the subject into the designs of the ruler. Nor let it be forgotten that these excesses perpetuated the war in La Vendée and made it more terrible, both by the accession of numerous partizans, who had fled from the persecution of Robespierre, and by inspiring the Chouans with fresh fury, and an unsubmitting spirit of revenge and desperation.
Revolutions are sudden to the unthinking only. Strange rumblings and confused noises still precede these earthquakes and hurricanes of the moral world. The process of revolution in France has been dreadful, andshould incite us to examine with an anxious eye the motives and manners of those, whose conduct and opinions seem calculated to forward a similar event in our own country. The oppositionists to "things as they are,” are divided into many and different classes. To delineate them with an unflattering accuracy may be a delicate, but it is a necessary, task, in order that we may enlighten, or at least be aware of, the misguided men who have enlisted under the banners of liberty, from no principles or with bad ones: whether they be those, who
admire they know not what, And know not whom, but as one leads to the other ;or whether those,
Whose end is private hate, not help to freedom,
The majority of democrats appear to me to have attained that portion of knowledge in politics, which infidels possess in religion. I would by no means be supposed to
imply that the objections of both are equally unfounded, but that they both attribute to the system which they reject, all the evils existing under it; and that both contemplating truth and justice in the nakedness of abstraction, condemn constitutions and dispensations without having sufficiently examined the natures, circumstances, and capacities of their recipients.
The first class among the professed friends of liberty is composed of men, who unaccustomed to the labour of thorough investigation, and not particularly oppressed by the burthens of state, are yet impelled by their feelings to disapprove of its grosser depravities, and prepared to give an indolent vote in favour of reform. Their sen-sibilities not braced by the co-operation of fixed principles, they offer no sacrifices to the divinity of active virtue. Their political opinions depend with weathercock uncertainty on the winds of rumour, that blow from France. On the report of French victories they blaze into republicanism, at a tale of French excesses they darken into aristocrats. These dough-baked patriots are not however useless. This oscillation of political opinion will retard the day of revolution, and it will operate as a preventive to its excesses. Indecisiveness of character, though the effect of timidity, is almost always associated with benevolence.
Wilder features characterize the second class. Sufficiently possessed of natural sense to despise the priest, and of natural feeling to hate the oppressor, they listen only to the inflammatory harangues of some mad-headed enthusiast, and imbibe from them poison, not food ; rage, not liberty. Unillumined by philosophy, and stimulated to a lust of revenge by aggravated wrongs, they would make the altar of freedom stream with blood, while the grass grew in the desolated halls of justice,