A RESIDENCE IN FRANCE, DURING THE YEARS 1792, 1793, 1794, AND 1795;
DESCRIBED IN A SERIES OF LETTERS FROM AN ENGLISH LADY; With General And Incidental Remarks On The French Character And Manners.
Prepared for the Press By John Gifford, Esq. Author of the History of France, Letter to Lord Lauderdale, Letter to the Hon. T. Erskine, &c.
Plus je vis l'Etranger plus j'aimai ma Patrie. —Du Belloy.
London: Printed for T. N. Longman, Paternoster Row. 1797.
PRELIMINARY REMARKS BY THE EDITOR.
The following Letters were submitted to my inspection and judgement by the Author, of whose principles and abilities I had reason to entertain a very high opinion. How far my judgement has been exercised to advantage in enforcing the propriety of introducing them to the public, that public must decide. To me, I confess, it appeared, that a series of important facts, tending to throw a strong light on the internal state of France, during the most important period of the Revolution, could neither prove uninteresting to the general reader, nor indifferent to the future historian of that momentous epoch; and I conceived, that the opposite and judicious reflections of a well-formed and well-cultivated mind, naturally arising out of events within the immediate scope of its own observation, could not in the smallest degree diminish the interest which, in my apprehension, they are calculated to excite. My advice upon this occasion was farther influenced by another consideration. Having traced, with minute attention, the progress of the revolution, and the conduct of its advocates, I had remarked the extreme affiduity employed (as well by translations of the most violent productions of the Gallic press, as by original compositions,) to introduce and propagate, in foreign countries, those pernicious principles which have already sapped the foundation of social order, destroyed the happiness of millions, and spread desolation and ruin over the finest country in Europe. I had particularly observed the incredible efforts exerted in England, and, I am sorry to say, with too much success, for the base purpose of giving a false colour to every action of the persons exercising the powers of government in France; and I had marked, with indignation, the atrocious attempt to strip vice of its deformity, to dress crime in the garb of virtue, to decorate slavery with the symbols of freedom, and give to folly the attributes of wisdom. I had seen, with extreme concern, men, whom the lenity, mistaken lenity, I must call it, of our government had rescued from punishment, if not from ruin, busily engaged in this scandalous traffic, and, availing themselves of their extensive connections to diffuse, by an infinite variety of channels, the poison of democracy over their native land. In short, I had seen the British press, the grand palladium of British liberty, devoted to the cause of Gallic licentiousness, that mortal enemy of all freedom, and even the pure stream of British criticism diverted from its natural course, and polluted by the pestilential vapours of Gallic republicanism. I therefore deemed it essential, by an exhibition of well-authenticated facts, to correct, as far as might be, the evil effects of misrepresentation and error, and to defend the empire of truth, which had been assailed by a host of foes.
My opinion of the principles on which the present system of government in France was founded, and the war to which those principles gave rise, have been long since submitted to the public. Subsequent events, far from invalidating, have strongly confirmed it. In all the public declarations of the Directory, in their domestic polity, in their conduct to foreign powers, I plainly trace the prevalence of the same principles, the same contempt for the rights and happiness of the people, the same spirit of aggression and aggrandizement, the same eagerness to overturn the existing institutions of neighbouring states, and the same desire to promote "the universal revolution of Europe," which marked the conduct of BRISSOT, LE BRUN, DESMOULINS, ROBESPIERRE, and their disciples. Indeed, what stronger instance need be adduced of the continued prevalence of these principles, than the promotion to the supreme rank in the state, of two men who took an active part in the most atrocious proceedings of the Convention at the close of 1792, and at the commencement of the following year?
In all the various constitutions which have been successively adopted in that devoted country, the welfare of the people has been wholly disregarded, and while they have been amused with the shadow of liberty, they have been cruelly despoiled of the substance. Even on the establishment of the present constitution, the one which bore the nearest resemblance to a rational system, the freedom of election, which had been frequently proclaimed as the very corner-stone of liberty, was shamefully violated by the legislative body, who, in their eagerness to perpetuate their own power, did not scruple to destroy the principle on which it was founded. Nor is this the only violation of their own principles. A French writer has aptly observed, that "En revolution comme en morale, ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute:" thus the executive, in imitation of the legislative body, seem disposed to render their power perpetual. For though it be expressly declared by the 137th article of the 6th title of their present constitutional code, that the "Directory shall be partially renewed by the election of a new member every year," no step towards such election has been taken, although the time prescribed by the law is elapsed.—In a private letter from Paris now before me, written within these few days, is the following observation on this very circumstance: "The constitution has received another blow. The month of Vendemiaire is past, and our Directors still remain the same. Hence we begin to drop the appalation of Directory, and substitute that of the Cinqvir, who are more to be dreaded for their power, and more to be detested for their crimes, than the Decemvir of ancient Rome." The same letter also contains a brief abstract of the state of the metropolis of the French republic, which is wonderfully characteristic of the attention of the government to the welfare and happiness of its inhabitants!
"The reign of misery and of crime seems to be perpetuated in this distracted capital: suicides, pillage, and assassinations, are daily committed, and are still suffered to pass unnoticed. But what renders our situation still more deplorable, is the existence of an innumerable band of spies, who infest all public places, and all private societies. More than a hundred thousand of these men are registered on the books of the modern SARTINE; and as the population of Paris, at most, does not exceed six hundred thousand souls, we are sure to find in six individuals one spy. This consideration makes me shudder, and, accordingly, all confidence, and all the sweets of social intercourse, are banished from among us. People salute each other, look at each other, betray mutual suspicions, observe a profound silence, and part. This, in few words, is an exact description of our modern republican parties. It is said, that poverty has compelled many respectable persons, and even state-creditors, to enlist under the standard of COCHON, (the Police Minister,) because such is the honourable conduct of our sovereigns, that they pay their spies in specie—and their soldiers, and the creditors of the state, in paper.—Such is the morality, such the justice, such are the republican virtues, so loudly vaunted by our good and dearest friends, our pensioners—the Gazetteers of England and Germany!"
There is not a single abuse, which the modern reformers reprobated so loudly under the ancient system, that is not magnified, in an infinite degree, under the present establishment. For one Lettre de Cachet issued during the mild reign of LOUIS the Sixteenth, a thousand Mandats d'Arret have been granted by the tyrannical demagogues of the revolution; for one Bastile which existed under the Monarchy, a thousand Maisons de Detention have been established by the Republic. In short, crimes of every denomination, and acts of tyranny and injustice, of every kind, have multiplied, since the abolition of royalty, in a proportion which sets all the powers of calculation at defiance.
It is scarcely possible to notice the present situation of France, without adverting to the circumstances of the WAR, and to the attempt now making, through the medium of negotiation, to bring it to a speedy conclusion. Since the publication of my Letter to a Noble Earl, now destined to chew the cud of disappointment in the vale of obscurity, I have been astonished to hear the same assertions advance, by the members and advocates of that party whose merit is said to consist in the violence of their opposition to the measures of government, on the origin of the war, which had experienced the most ample confutation, without the assistance of any additional reason, and without the smallest attempt to expose the invalidity of those proofs which, in my conception, amounted nearly to mathematical demonstration, and which I had dared them, in terms the most pointed, to invalidate. The question of aggression before stood on such high ground, that I had not the presumption to suppose it could derive an accession of strength from any arguments which I could supply; but I was confident, that the authentic documents which I offered to the public would remove every intervening object that tended to obstruct the fight of inattentive observers, and reflect on it such an additional light as would flash instant conviction on the minds of all. It seems, I have been deceived; but I must be permitted to suggest, that men who persist in the renewal of assertions, without a single effort to controvert the proofs which have been adduced to demonstrate their fallacy, cannot have for their object the establishment of truth—which ought, exclusively, to influence the conduct of public characters, whether writers or orators.
With regard to the negotiation, I can derive not the smallest hopes of success from a contemplation of the past conduct, or of the present principles, of the government of France. When I compare the projects of aggrandizement openly avowed by the French rulers, previous to the declaration of war against this country, with the exorbitant pretensions advanced in the arrogant reply of the Executive Directory to the note presented by the British Envoy at Basil in the month of February, 1796, and with the more recent observations contained in their official note of the 19th of September last, I cannot think it probable that they will accede to any terms of peace that are compatible with the interest and safety of the Allies. Their object is not so much the establishment as the extension of their republic.
As to the danger to be incurred by a treaty of peace with the republic of France, though it has been considerably diminished by the events of the war, it is still unquestionably great. This danger principally arises from a pertinacious adherence, on the part of the Directory, to those very principles which were adopted by the original promoters of the abolition of Monarchy in France. No greater proof of such adherence need be required than their refusal to repeal those obnoxious decrees (passed in the months of November and December, 1792,) which created so general and so just an alarm throughout Europe, and which excited the reprobation even of that party in England, which was willing to admit the equivocal interpretation given to them by the Executive Council of the day. I proved, in the Letter to a Noble Earl before alluded to, from the very testimony of the members of that Council themselves, as exhibited in their official instructions to one of their confidential agents, that the interpretation which they had assigned to those decrees, in their communications with the British Ministry, was a base interpretation, and that they really intended to enforce the decrees, to the utmost extent of their possible operation, and, by a literal construction thereof, to encourage rebellion in every state, within the reach of their arms or their principles. Nor have the present government merely forborne to repeal those destructive laws—they have imitated the conduct of their predecessors, have actually put them in execution wherever they had the ability to do so, and have, in all respects, as far as related to those decrees, adopted the precise spirit and principles of the faction which declared war against England. Let any man read the instructions of the Executive Council to PUBLICOLA CHAUSSARD, their Commissary in the Netherlands, in 1792 and 1793, and an account of the proceedings in the Low Countries consequent thereon, and then examine the conduct of the republican General, BOUNAPARTE, in Italy—who must necessarily act from the instructions of the Executive Directory——and he will be compelled to acknowledge the justice of my remark, and to admit that the latter actuated by the same pernicious desire to overturn the settled order of society, which invariably marked the conduct of the former.
"It is an acknowledged fact, that every revolution requires a provisional power to regulate its disorganizing movements, and to direct the methodical demolition of every part of the ancient social constitution.— Such ought to be the revolutionary power.
"To whom can such power belong, but to the French, in those countries into which they may carry their arms? Can they with safety suffer it to be exercised by any other persons? It becomes the French republic, then, to assume this kind of guardianship over the people whom she awakens to Liberty!*"
* Considerations Generales fur l'Esprit et les Principes du Decret du 15 Decembre.
Such were the Lacedaemonian principles avowed by the French government in 1792, and such is the Lacedaimonian policy* pursued by the French government in 1796! It cannot then, I conceive, be contended, that a treaty with a government still professing principles which have been repeatedly proved to be subversive of all social order, which have been acknowledged by their parents to have for their object the methodical demolition of existing constitutions, can be concluded without danger or risk. That danger, I admit, is greatly diminished, because the power which was destined to carry into execution those gigantic projects which constituted its object, has, by the operations of the war, been considerably curtailed. They well may exist in equal force, but the ability is no longer the same.
MACHIAVEL justly observes, that it was the narrow policy of the Lacedaemonians always to destroy the ancient constitution, and establish their own form of government, in the counties and cities which they subdued.
But though I maintain the existence of danger in a Treaty with the Republic of France, unless she previously repeal the decrees to which I have adverted, and abrogate the acts to which they have given birth, I by no means contend that it exists in such a degree as to justify a determination, on the part of the British government, to make its removal the sine qua non of negotiation, or peace. Greatly as I admire the brilliant endowments of Mr. BURKE, and highly as I respect and esteem him for the manly and decisive part which he has taken, in opposition to the destructive anarchy of republican France, and in defence of the constitutional freedom of Britain; I cannot either agree with him on this point, or concur with him in the idea that the restoration of the Monarchy of France was ever the object of the war. That the British Ministers ardently desired that event, and were earnest in their endeavours to promote it, is certain; not because it was the object of the war, but because they considered it as the best means of promoting the object of the war, which was, and is, the establishment of the safety and tranquillity of Europe, on a solid and permanent basis. If that object can be attained, and the republic exist, there is nothing in the past conduct and professions of the British Ministers, that can interpose an obstacle to the conclusion of peace. Indeed, in my apprehension, it would be highly impolitic in any Minister, at the commencement of a war, to advance any specific object, that attainment of which should be declared to be the sine qua non of peace. If mortals could arrogate to themselves the attributes of the Deity, if they could direct the course of events, and controul the chances of war, such conduct would be justifiable; but on no other principle, I think, can its defence be undertaken. It is, I grant, much to be lamented, that the protection offered to the friends of monarchy in France, by the declaration of the 29th of October, 1793, could not be rendered effectual: as far as the offer went it was certainly obligatory on the party who made it; but it was merely conditional—restricted, as all similar offers necessarily must be, by the ability to fulfil the obligation incurred.
In paying this tribute to truth, it is not my intention to retract, in the smallest degree, the opinion I have ever professed, that the restoration of the ancient monarchy of France would be the best possible means not only of securing the different states of Europe from the dangers of republican anarchy, but of promoting the real interests, welfare, and happiness of the French people themselves. The reasons on which this opinion is founded I have long since explained; and the intelligence which I have since received from France, at different times, has convinced me that a very great proportion of her inhabitants concur in the sentiment.
The miseries resulting from the establishment of a republican system of government have been severely felt, and deeply deplored; and I am fully persuaded, that the subjects and tributaries of France will cordially subscribe to the following observation on republican freedom, advanced by a writer who had deeply studied the genius of republics: "Di tutte le fervitu dure, quella e durissima, che ti sottomette ad una republica; l'una, perche e la piu durabile, e manco si puo sperarne d'ufare: L'altra perche il fine della republica e enervare ed indebolire, debolire, per accrescere il corpo suo, tutti gli altri corpi.*"
JOHN GIFFORD. London, Nov. 12, 1796.
* Discorsi di Nicoli Machiavelli, Lib. ii. p. 88.
P.S. Since I wrote the preceding remarks, I have been given to understand, that by a decree, subsequent to the completion of the constitutional code, the first partial renewal of the Executive Directory was deferred till the month of March, 1979; and that, therefore, in this instance, the present Directory cannot be accused of having violated the constitution. But the guilt is only to be transferred from the Directory to the Convention, who passed that decree, as well as some others, in contradiction to a positive constitutional law.——-Indeed, the Directory themselves betrayed no greater delicacy with regard to the observance of the constitution, or M. BARRAS would never have taken his seat among them; for the constitution expressly says, (and this positive provision was not even modified by any subsequent mandate of the Convention,) that no man shall be elected a member of the Directory who has not completed his fortieth year—whereas it is notorious that Barras had not this requisite qualification, having been born in the year 1758!
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I avail myself of the opportunity afforded me by the publication of a Second Edition to notice some insinuations which have been thrown out, tending to question the authenticity of the work. The motives which have induced the author to withhold from these Letters the sanction of her name, relate not to herself, but to some friends still remaining in France, whose safety she justly conceives might be affected by the disclosure. Acceding to the force and propriety of these motives, yet aware of the suspicions to which a recital of important facts, by an anonymous writer, would naturally be exposed, and sensible, also, that a certain description of critics would gladly avail themselves of any opportunity for discouraging the circulation of a work which contained principles hostile to their own; I determined to prefix my name to the publication. By so doing, I conceived that I stood pledged for its authenticity; and the matter has certainly been put in a proper light by an able and respectable critic, who has observed that "Mr. GIFFORD stands between the writer and the public," and that "his name and character are the guarantees for the authenticity of the Letters."
This is precisely the situation in which I meant to place myself— precisely the pledge which I meant to give. The Letters are exactly what they profess to be; the production of a Lady's pen, and written in the very situations which they describe.—The public can have no grounds for suspecting my veracity on a point in which I can have no possible interest in deceiving them; and those who know me will do me the justice to acknowledge, that I have a mind superior to the arts of deception, and that I am incapable of sanctioning an imposition, for any purpose, or from any motives whatever. Thus much I deemed it necessary to say, as well from a regard for my own character, and from a due attention to the public, as from a wish to prevent the circulation of the work from being subjected to the impediments arising from the prevalence of a groundless suspicion.
I naturally expected, that some of the preceding remarks would excite the resentment and draw down the vengeance of those persons to whom they evidently applied. The contents of every publication are certainly a fair subject for criticism; and to the fair comments of real critics, however repugnant to the sentiments I entertain, or the doctrine I seek to inculcate, I shall ever submit without murmur or reproach. But, when men, assuming that respectable office, openly violate all the duties attached to it, and, sinking the critic in the partizan, make a wanton attack on my veracity, it becomes proper to repel the injurious imputation; and the same spirit which dictates submission to the candid award of an impartial judge, prescribes indignation and scorn at the cowardly attacks of a secret assassin.
April 14, 1797.
RESIDENCE IN FRANCE
To The RIGHT HON. EDMUND BURKE.
It is with extreme diffidence that I offer the following pages to Your notice; yet as they describe circumstances which more than justify Your own prophetic reflections, and are submitted to the public eye from no other motive than a love of truth and my country, I may, perhaps, be excused for presuming them to be not altogether unworthy of such a distinction.
While Your puny opponents, if opponents they may be called, are either sunk into oblivion, or remembered only as associated with the degrading cause they attempted to support, every true friend of mankind, anticipating the judgement of posterity, views with esteem and veneration the unvarying Moralist, the profound Politician, the indefatigable Servant of the Public, and the warm Promoter of his country's happiness.
To this universal testimony of the great and good, permit me, Sir, to join my humble tribute; being, with the utmost respect, SIR,
Your obedient Servant, THE AUTHOR. Sept. 12, 1796.
After having, more than once, in the following Letters, expressed opinions decidedly unfavourable to female authorship, when not justified by superior talents, I may, by now producing them to the public, subject myself to the imputation either of vanity or inconsistency; and I acknowledge that a great share of candour and indulgence must be possessed by readers who attend to the apologies usually made on such occasions: yet I may with the strictest truth alledge, that I should never have ventured to offer any production of mine to the world, had I not conceived it possible that information and reflections collected and made on the spot, during a period when France exhibited a state, of which there is no example in the annals of mankind, might gratify curiosity without the aid of literary embellishment; and an adherence to truth, I flattered myself, might, on a subject of this nature, be more acceptable than brilliancy of thought, or elegance of language. The eruption of a volcano may be more scientifically described and accounted for by the philosopher; but the relation of the illiterate peasant who beheld it, and suffered from its effects, may not be less interesting to the common hearer.
Above all, I was actuated by the desire of conveying to my countrymen a just idea of that revolution which they have been incited to imitate, and of that government by which it has been proposed to model our own.
Since these pages were written, the Convention has nominally been dissolved, and a new constitution and government have succeeded, but no real change of principle or actors has taken place; and the system, of which I have endeavoured to trace the progress, must still be considered as existing, with no other variations than such as have been necessarily produced by the difference of time and circumstances. The people grew tired of massacres en masse, and executions en detail: even the national fickleness operated in favour of humanity; and it was also discovered, that however a spirit of royalism might be subdued to temporary inaction, it was not to be eradicated, and that the sufferings of its martyrs only tended to propagate and confirm it. Hence the scaffolds flow less frequently with blood, and the barbarous prudence of CAMILLE DESMOULINS' guillotine economique has been adopted. But exaction and oppression are still practised in every shape, and justice is not less violated, nor is property more secure, than when the former was administered by revolutionary tribunals, and the latter was at the disposition of revolutionary armies.
The error of supposing that the various parties which have usurped the government of France have differed essentially from each other is pretty general; and it is common enough to hear the revolutionary tyranny exclusively associated with the person of ROBESPIERRE, and the thirty-first of May, 1793, considered as the epoch of its introduction. Yet whoever examines attentively the situation and politics of France, from the subversion of the Monarchy, will be convinced that all the principles of this monstrous government were established during the administration of the Brissotins, and that the factions which succeeded, from Danton and Robespierre to Sieyes and Barras, have only developed them, and reduced them to practice. The revolution of the thirty-first of May, 1793, was not a contest for system but for power—that of July the twenty-eighth, 1794, (9th Thermidor,) was merely a struggle which of two parties should sacrifice the other—that of October the fifth, 1795, (13th Vendemiaire,) a war of the government against the people. But in all these convulsions, the primitive doctrines of tyranny and injustice were watched like the sacred fire, and have never for a moment been suffered to languish.
It may appear incredible to those who have not personally witnessed this phoenomenon, that a government detested and despised by an immense majority of the nation, should have been able not only to resist the efforts of so many powers combined against it, but even to proceed from defence to conquest, and to mingle surprize and terror with those sentiments of contempt and abhorrence which it originally excited.
That wisdom or talents are not the sources of this success, may be deduced from the situation of France itself. The armies of the republic have, indeed, invaded the territories of its enemies, but the desolation of their own country seems to increase with every triumph—the genius of the French government appears powerful only in destruction, and inventive only in oppression—and, while it is endowed with the faculty of spreading universal ruin, it is incapable of promoting the happiness of the smallest district under its protection. The unrestrained pillage of the conquered countries has not saved France from multiplied bankruptcies, nor her state-creditors from dying through want; and the French, in the midst of their external prosperity, are often distinguished from the people whom their armies have been subjugated, only by a superior degree of wretchedness, and a more irregular despotism.
With a power excessive and unlimited, and surpassing what has hitherto been possessed by any Sovereign, it would be difficult to prove that these democratic despots have effected any thing either useful or beneficent. Whatever has the appearance of being so will be found, on examination, to have for its object some purpose of individual interest or personal vanity. They manage the armies, they embellish Paris, they purchase the friendship of some states and the neutrality of others; but if there be any real patriots in France, how little do they appreciate these useless triumphs, these pilfered museums, and these fallacious negotiations, when they behold the population of their country diminished, its commerce annihilated, its wealth dissipated, its morals corrupted, and its liberty destroyed—
"Thus, on deceitful Aetna's Flow'ry side Unfading verdure glads the roving eye, While secret flames with unextinguish'd rage Insatiate on her wafted entrails prey, And melt her treach'rous beauties into ruin."
Those efforts which the partizans of republicanism admire, and which even well-disposed persons regard as prodigies, are the simple and natural result of an unprincipled despotism, acting upon, and disposing of, all the resources of a rich, populous, and enslaved nation. "Il devient aise d'etre habile lorsqu'on s'est delivre des scrupules et des loix, de tout honneur et de toute justice, des droits de ses semblables, et des devoirs de l'autorite—a ce degre d'independence la plupart des obstacles qui modifient l'activite humaine disparaissent; l'on parait avoir du talent lorsqu'on n'a que de l'impudence, et l'abus de la force passe pour energie.*"
* "Exertions of ability become easy, when men have released themselves from the scruples of conscience, the restraints of law, the ties of honour, the bonds of justice, the claims of their fellow creatures, and obedience to their superiors:—at this point of independence, most of the obstacles which modify human activity disappear; impudence is mistaken for talents; and the abuse of power passes for energy."
The operations of all other governments must, in a great measure, be restrained by the will of the people, and by established laws; with them, physical and political force are necessarily separate considerations: they have not only to calculate what can be borne, but what will be submitted to; and perhaps France is the first country that has been compelled to an exertion of its whole strength, without regard to any obstacle, natural, moral, or divine. It is for want of sufficiently investigating and allowing for this moral and political latitudinarianism of our enemies, that we are apt to be too precipitate in censuring the conduct of the war; and, in our estimation of what has been done, we pay too little regard to the principles by which we have been directed. An honest man could scarcely imagine the means we have had to oppose, and an Englishman still less conceive that they would have been submitted to: for the same reason that the Romans had no law against parricide, till experience had evinced the possibility of the crime.
In a war like the present, advantage is not altogether to be appreciated by military superiority. If, as there is just ground for believing, our external hostilities have averted an internal revolution, what we have escaped is of infinitely more importance to us than what we could acquire. Commerce and conquest, compared to this, are secondary objects; and the preservation of our liberties and our constitution is a more solid blessing than the commerce of both the Indies, or the conquest of nations.
Should the following pages contribute to impress this salutary truth on my countrymen, my utmost ambition will be gratified; persuaded, that a sense of the miseries they have avoided, and of the happiness they enjoy, will be their best incentive, whether they may have to oppose the arms of the enemy in a continuance of the war, or their more dangerous machinations on the restoration of peace.
I cannot conclude without noticing my obligations to the Gentleman whose name is prefixed to these volumes; and I think it at the same time incumbent on me to avow, that, in having assisted the author, he must not be considered as sanctioning the literary imperfections of the work. When the subject was first mentioned to him, he did me the justice of supposing, that I was not likely to have written any thing, the general tendency of which he might disapprove; and when, on perusing the manuscript, he found it contain sentiments dissimilar to his own, he was too liberal to require a sacrifice of them as the condition of his services.—I confess that previous to my arrival in France in 1792, I entertained opinions somewhat more favourable to the principle of the revolution than those which I was led to adopt at a subsequent period. Accustomed to regard with great justice the British constitution as the standard of known political excellence, I hardly conceived it possible that freedom or happiness could exist under any other: and I am not singular in having suffered this prepossession to invalidate even the evidence of my senses. I was, therefore, naturally partial to whatever professed to approach the object of my veneration. I forgot that governments are not to be founded on imitations or theories, and that they are perfect only as adapted to the genius, manners, and disposition of the people who are subject to them. Experience and maturer judgement have corrected my error, and I am perfectly convinced, that the old monarchical constitution of France, with very slight meliorations, was every way better calculated for the national character than a more popular form of government.
A critic, though not very severe, will discover many faults of style, even where the matter may not be exceptionable. Besides my other deficiencies, the habit of writing is not easily supplied, and, as I despaired of attaining excellence, and was not solicitous about degrees of mediocrity, I determined on conveying to the public such information as I was possessed of, without alteration or ornament. Most of these Letters were written exactly in the situation they describe, and remain in their original state; the rest were arranged according as opportunities were favourable, from notes and diaries kept when "the times were hot and feverish," and when it would have been dangerous to attempt more method. I forbear to describe how they were concealed either in France or at my departure, because I might give rise to the persecution and oppression of others. But, that I may not attribute to myself courage which I do not possess, nor create doubts of my veracity, I must observe, that I seldom ventured to write till I was assured of some certain means of conveying my papers to a person who could safely dispose of them.
As a considerable period has elapsed since my return, it may not be improper to add, that I took some steps for the publication of these Letters so early as July, 1795. Certain difficulties, however, arising, of which I was not aware, I relinquished my design, and should not have been tempted to resume it, but for the kindness of the Gentleman whose name appears as the Editor.
Sept. 12, 1796.
A RESIDENCE IN FRANCE.
May 10, 1792.
I am every day more confirmed in the opinion I communicated to you on my arrival, that the first ardour of the revolution is abated.—The bridal days are indeed past, and I think I perceive something like indifference approaching. Perhaps the French themselves are not sensible of this change; but I who have been absent two years, and have made as it were a sudden transition from enthusiasm to coldness, without passing through the intermediate gradations, am forcibly struck with it. When I was here in 1790, parties could be scarcely said to exist—the popular triumph was too complete and too recent for intolerance and persecution, and the Noblesse and Clergy either submitted in silence, or appeared to rejoice in their own defeat. In fact, it was the confusion of a decisive conquest—the victors and the vanquished were mingled together; and the one had not leisure to exercise cruelty, nor the other to meditate revenge. Politics had not yet divided society; nor the weakness and pride of the great, with the malice and insolence of the little, thinned the public places. The politics of the women went no farther than a few couplets in praise of liberty, and the patriotism of the men was confined to an habit de garde nationale, the device of a button, or a nocturnal revel, which they called mounting guard.—Money was yet plenty, at least silver, (for the gold had already begun to disappear,) commerce in its usual train, and, in short, to one who observes no deeper than myself, every thing seemed gay and flourishing—the people were persuaded they were happier; and, amidst such an appearance of content, one must have been a cold politician to have examined too strictly into the future. But all this, my good brother, is in a great measure subsided; and the disparity is so evident, that I almost imagine myself one of the seven sleepers—and, like them too, the coin I offer is become rare, and regarded more as medals than money. The playful distinctions of Aristocrate and Democrate are degenerated into the opprobium and bitterness of Party—political dissensions pervade and chill the common intercourse of life—the people are become gross and arbitrary, and the higher classes (from a pride which those who consider the frailty of human nature will allow for) desert the public amusements, where they cannot appear but at the risk of being the marked objects of insult.—The politics of the women are no longer innoxious—their political principles form the leading trait of their characters; and as you know we are often apt to supply by zeal what we want in power, the ladies are far from being the most tolerant partizans on either side.—The national uniform, which contributed so much to the success of the revolution, and stimulated the patriotism of the young men, is become general; and the task of mounting guard, to which it subjects the wearer, is now a serious and troublesome duty.—To finish my observations, and my contrast, no Specie whatever is to be seen; and the people, if they still idolize their new form of government, do it at present with great sobriety—the Vive la nation! seems now rather the effect of habit than of feeling; and one seldom hears any thing like the spontaneous and enthusiastic sounds I formerly remarked.
I have not yet been here long enough to discover the causes of this change; perhaps they may lie too deep for such an observer as myself: but if (as the causes of important effects sometimes do) they lie on the surface, they will be less liable to escape me, than an observer of more pretentions. Whatever my remarks are, I will not fail to communicate them—the employment will at least be agreeable to me, though the result should not be satisfactory to you; and as I shall never venture on any reflection, without relating the occurrence that gave rise to it, your own judgement will enable you to correct the errors of mine.
I was present yesterday at a funeral service, performed in honour of General Dillon. This kind of service is common in Catholic countries, and consists in erecting a cenotaph, ornamented with numerous lights, flowers, crosses, &c. The church is hung with black, and the mass is performed the same as if the body were present. On account of General Dillon's profession, the mass yesterday was a military one. It must always, I imagine, sound strange to the ears of a Protestant, to hear nothing but theatrical music on these occasions, and indeed I could never reconcile myself to it; for if we allow any effect to music at all, the train of thought which should inspire us with respect for the dead, and reflections on mortality, is not likely to be produced by the strains in which Dido bewails Eneas, or in which Armida assails the virtue of Rinaldo.—I fear, that in general the air of an opera reminds the belle of the Theatre where she heard it—and, by a natural transition, of the beau who attended her, and the dress of herself and her neighbours. I confess, this was nearly my own case yesterday, on hearing an air from "Sargines;" and had not the funeral oration reminded me, I should have forgotten the unfortunate event we were celebrating, and which, for some days before, when undistracted by this pious ceremony, I had dwelt on with pity and horror.*—
* At the first skirmish between the French and Austrians near Lisle, a general panic seized the former, and they retreated in disorder to Lisle, crying "Sauve qui peut, & nous fomnes (sic) trahis."—"Let every one shift for himself—we are betrayed." The General, after in vain endeavouring to rally them, was massacred at his return on the great square.—My pen faulters, and refuses to describe the barbarities committed on the lifeless hero. Let it suffice, perhaps more than suffice, to say, that his mutilated remains were thrown on a fire, which these savages danced round, with yells expressive of their execrable festivity. A young Englishman, who was so unfortunate as to be near the spot, was compelled to join in this outrage to humanity.—The same day a gentleman, the intimate friend of our acquaintance, Mad. , was walking (unconscious what had happened) without the gate which leads to Douay, and was met by the flying ruffians on their return; immediately on seeing him they shouted, "Voila encore un Aristocrate!" and massacred him on the spot.
—Independent of any regret for the fate of Dillon, who is said to have been a brave and good officer, I am sorry that the first event of this war should be marked by cruelty and licentiousness.—Military discipline has been much relaxed since the revolution, and from the length of time since the French have been engaged in a land war, many of the troops must be without that kind of courage which is the effect of habit. The danger, therefore, of suffering them to alledge that they are betrayed, whenever they do not choose to fight, and to excuse their own cowardice by ascribing treachery to their leaders, is incalculable.—Above all, every infraction of the laws in a country just supposing itself become free, cannot be too severely repressed. The National Assembly have done all that humanity could suggest—they have ordered the punishment of the assassins, and have pensioned and adopted the General's children. The orator expatiated both on the horror of the act and its consequences, as I should have thought, with some ingenuity, had I not been assured by a brother orator that the whole was "execrable." But I frequently remark, that though a Frenchman may suppose the merit of his countrymen to be collectively superior to that of the whole world, he seldom allows any individual of them to have so large a portion as himself.—Adieu: I have already written enough to convince you I have neither acquired the Gallomania, nor forgotten my friends in England; and I conclude with a wish a propos to my subject—that they may long enjoy the rational liberty they possess and so well deserve.—Yours.
You, my dear , who live in a land of pounds, shillings, and pence, can scarcely form an idea of our embarrassments through the want of them. 'Tis true, these are petty evils; but when you consider that they happen every day, and every hour, and that, if they are not very serious, they are very frequent, you will rejoice in the splendour of your national credit, which procures you all the accommodation of paper currency, without diminishing the circulation of specie. Our only currency here consists of assignats of 5 livres, 50, 100, 200, and upwards: therefore in making purchases, you must accommodate your wants to the value of your assignat, or you must owe the shopkeeper, or the shopkeeper must owe you; and, in short, as an old woman assured me to-day, "C'est de quoi faire perdre la tete," and, if it lasted long, it would be the death of her. Within these few days, however, the municipalities have attempted to remedy the inconvenience, by creating small paper of five, ten, fifteen, and twenty sols, which they give in exchange for assignats of five livres; but the number they are allowed to issue is limited, and the demand for them so great, that the accommodation is inadequate to the difficulty of procuring it. On the days on which this paper (which is called billets de confiance) is issued, the Hotel de Ville is besieged by a host of women collected from all parts of the district—Peasants, small shopkeepers, fervant maids, and though last, not least formidable— fishwomen. They usually take their stand two or three hours before the time of delivery, and the interval is employed in discussing the news, and execrating paper money. But when once the door is opened, a scene takes place which bids defiance to language, and calls for the pencil of a Hogarth. Babel was, I dare say, comparatively to this, a place of retreat and silence. Clamours, revilings, contentions, tearing of hair, and breaking of heads, generally conclude the business; and, after the loss of half a day's time, some part of their clothes, and the expence of a few bruises, the combatants retire with small bills to the value of five, or perhaps ten livres, as the whole resource to carry on their little commerce for the ensuing week. I doubt not but the paper may have had some share in alienating the minds of the people from the revolution. Whenever I want to purchase any thing, the vender usually answers my question by another, and with a rueful kind of tone inquires, "En papier, madame?"—and the bargain concludes with a melancholy reflection on the hardness of the times.
The decrees relative to the priests have likewise occasioned much dissension; and it seems to me impolitic thus to have made religion the standard of party. The high mass, which is celebrated by a priest who has taken the oaths, is frequented by a numerous, but, it must be confessed, an ill-drest and ill-scented congregation; while the low mass, which is later, and which is allowed the nonjuring clergy, has a gayer audience, but is much less crouded.—By the way, I believe many who formerly did not much disturb themselves about religious tenets, have become rigid Papists since an adherence to the holy see has become a criterion of political opinion. But if these separatists are bigoted and obstinate, the conventionalists on their side are ignorant and intolerant.
I enquired my way to-day to the Rue de l'Hopital. The woman I spoke to asked me, in a menacing tone, what I wanted there. I replied, which was true, that I merely wanted to pass through the street as my nearest way home; upon which she lowered her voice, and conducted me very civilly.—I mentioned the circumstance on my return, and found that the nuns of the hospital had their mass performed by a priest who had not taken the oaths, and that those who were suspected of going to attend it were insulted, and sometimes ill treated. A poor woman, some little time ago, who conceived perhaps that her salvation might depend on exercising her religion in the way she had been accustomed to, persisted in going, and was used by the populace with such a mixture of barbarity and indecency, that her life was despaired of. Yet this is the age and the country of Philosophers.—Perhaps you will begin to think Swift's sages, who only amused themselves with endeavouring to propagate sheep without wool, not so contemptible. I am almost convinced myself, that when a man once piques himself on being a philosopher, if he does no mischief you ought to be satisfied with him.
We passed last Sunday with Mr. de _'s tenants in the country. Nothing can equal the avidity of these people for news. We sat down after dinner under some trees in the village, and Mr. de __ began reading the Gazette to the farmers who were about us. In a few minutes every thing that could hear (for I leave understanding the pedantry of a French newspaper out of the question) were his auditors. A party at quoits in one field, and a dancing party in another, quitted their amusements, and listened with undivided attention. I believe in general the farmers are the people most contented with the revolution, and indeed they have reason to be so; for at present they refuse to sell their corn unless for money, while they pay their rent in assignats; and farms being for the most part on leases, the objections of the landlord to this kind of payment are of no avail. Great encouragement is likewise held out to them to purchase national property, which I am informed they do to an extent that may for some time be injurious to agriculture; for in their eagerness to acquire land, the deprive themselves of cultivating it. They do not, like our crusading ancestors, "sell the pasture to buy the horse," but the horse to buy the pasture; so that we may expect to see in many places large farms in the hands of those who are obliged to neglect them.
A great change has happened within the last year, with regard to landed property—so much has been sold, that many farmers have had the opportunity of becoming proprietors. The rage of emigration, which the approach of war, pride, timidity, and vanity are daily increasing, has occasioned many of the Noblesse to sell their estates, which, with those of the Crown and the Clergy, form a large mass of property, thrown as it were into general circulation. This may in future be beneficial to the country, but the present generation will perhaps have to purchase (and not cheaply) advantages they cannot enjoy. A philanthropist may not think of this with regret; and yet I know not why one race is preferable to another, or why an evil should be endured by those who exist now, in order that those who succeed may be free from it.—I would willingly plant a million of acorns, that another age might be supplied with oaks; but I confess, I do not think it quite so pleasant for us to want bread, in order that our descendants may have a superfluity.
I am half ashamed of these selfish arguments; but really I have been led to them through mere apprehension of what I fear the people may have yet to endure, in consequence of the revolution.
I have frequently observed how little taste the French have for the country, and I believe all my companions, except Mr. de , who took (as one always does) an interest in surveying his property, were heartily ennuyes with our little excursion.—Mad. De , on her arrival, took her post by the farmer's fire-side, and was out of humour the whole day, inasmuch as our fare was homely, and there was nothing but rustics to see or be seen by. That a plain dinner should be a serious affair, you may not wonder; but the last cause of distress, perhaps you will not conclude quite so natural at her years. All that can be said about it is, that she is a French woman, who rouges, and wears lilac ribbons, at seventy-four. I hope, in my zeal to obey you, my reflections will not be too voluminous.—For the present I will be warned by my conscience, and add only, that I am, Yours.
June 10, 1792.
You observe, with some surprize, that I make no mention of the Jacobins— the fact is, that until now I have heard very little about them. Your English partizans of the revolution have, by publishing their correspondence with these societies, attributed a consequence to them infinitely beyond what they have had pretensions to:—a prophet, it is said, is not honoured in his own country—I am sure a Jacobin is not. In provincial towns these clubs are generally composed of a few of the lowest tradesmen, who have so disinterested a patriotism, as to bestow more attention on the state than on their own shops; and as a man may be an excellent patriot without the aristocratic talents of reading and writing, they usually provide a secretary or president, who can supply these deficiencies—a country attorney, a Pere de l'oratoire, or a disbanded capuchin, is in most places the candidate for this office. The clubs often assemble only to read the newspapers; but where they are sufficiently in force, they make motions for "fetes," censure the municipalities, and endeavour to influence the elections of the members who compose them.—That of Paris is supposed to consist of about six thousand members; but I am told their number and influence are daily increasing, and that the National Assembly is more subservient to them than it is willing to acknowledge—yet, I believe, the people at large are equally adverse to the Jacobins, who are said to entertain the chimerical project of forming a republic, and to the Aristocrates, who wish to restore the ancient government. The party in opposition to both these, who are called the Feuillans,* have the real voice of the people with them, and knowing this, they employ less art than their opponents, have no point of union, and perhaps may finally be undermined by intrigue, or even subdued by violence.
*They derive this appellation, as the Jacobins do theirs, from the convent at which they hold their meetings.
You seem not to comprehend why I include vanity among the causes of emigration, and yet I assure you it has had no small share in many of them. The gentry of the provinces, by thus imitating the higher noblesse, imagine they have formed a kind of a common cause, which may hereafter tend to equalize the difference of ranks, and associate them with those they have been accustomed to look up to as their superiors. It is a kind of ton among the women, particularly to talk of their emigrated relations, with an accent more expressive of pride than regret, and which seems to lay claim to distinction rather than pity.
I must now leave you to contemplate the boasted misfortunes of these belles, that I may join the card party which forms their alleviation.— Adieu.
June 24, 1792.
You have doubtless learned from the public papers the late outrage of the Jacobins, in order to force the King to consent to the formation of an army at Paris, and to sign the decree for banishing the nonjuring Clergy. The newspapers will describe to you the procession of the Sans-Culottes, the indecency of their banners, and the disorders which were the result— but it is impossible for either them or me to convey an idea of the general indignation excited by these atrocities. Every well-meaning person is grieved for the present, and apprehensive for the future: and I am not without hope, that this open avowal of the designs of the Jacobins, will unite the Constitutionalists and Aristocrates, and that they will join their efforts in defence of the Crown, as the only means of saving both from being overwhelmed by a faction, who are now become too daring to be despised. Many of the municipalities and departments are preparing to address they King, on the fortitude he displayed in this hour of insult and peril.—I know not why, but the people have been taught to entertain a mean opinion of his personal courage; and the late violence will at least have the good effect of undeceiving them. It is certain, that he behaved on this occasion with the utmost coolness; and the Garde Nationale, whose hand he placed on his heart, attested that it had no unusual palpitation.
That the King should be unwilling to sanction the raising an army under the immediate auspice of the avowed enemies of himself, and of the constitution he has sworn to protect, cannot be much wondered at; and those who know the Catholic religion, and consider that this Prince is devout, and that he has reason to suspect the fidelity of all who approach him, will wonder still less that he refuses to banish a class of men, whose influence is extensive, and whose interest it is to preserve their attachment to him.
These events have thrown a gloom over private societies; and public amusements, as I observed in a former letter, are little frequented; so that, on the whole, time passes heavily with a people who, generally speaking, have few resources in themselves. Before the revolution, France was at this season a scene of much gaiety. Every village had alternately a sort of Fete, which nearly answers to our Wake—but with this difference, that it was numerously attended by all ranks, and the amusement was dancing, instead of wrestling and drinking. Several small fields, or different parts of a large one, were provided with music, distinguished by flags, and appropriated to the several classes of dancers—one for the peasants, another for the bourgeois, and a third for the higher orders. The young people danced beneath the ardour of a July sun, while the old looked on and regaled themselves with beer, cyder, and gingerbread. I was always much pleased with this village festivity: it gratified my mind more than select and expensive amusements, because it was general, and within the power of all who chose to partake of it; and the little distinction of rank which was preserved, far from diminishing the pleasure of any, added, I am certain, to the freedom of all. By mixing with those only of her own class, the Paysanne* was spared the temptation of envying the pink ribbons of the Bourgeoise, who in her turn was not disturbed by an immediate rivalship with the sash and plumes of the provincial belle. But this custom is now much on the decline. The young women avoid occasions where an inebriated soldier may offer himself as her partner in the dance, and her refusal be attended with insult to herself, and danger to those who protect her; and as this licence is nearly as offensive to the decent Bourgeoise as to the female of higher condition, this sort of fete will most probably be entirely abandoned.
*The head-dress of the French Paysanne is uniformly a small cap, without ribbon or ornament of any kind, except in that part of Normandy which is called the Pays de Caux, where the Paysannes wear a particular kind of head dress, ornamented with silver.
The people here all dance much better than those of the same rank in England; but this national accomplishment is not instinctive: for though few of the laborious class have been taught to read, there are scarcely any so poor as not to bestow three livres for a quarter's instruction from a dancing master; and with this three months' noviciate they become qualified to dance through the rest of their lives.
The rage for emigration, and the approach of the Austrians, have occasioned many restrictions on travelling, especially near the seacoast of frontiers. No person can pass through a town without a passport from the municipality he resides in, specifying his age, the place of his birth, his destination, the height of his person, and the features of his face. The Marquis de C entered the town yesterday, and at the gate presented his passport as usual; the guard looked at the passport, and in a high tone demanded his name, whence he came, and where he was going. M. de C referred him to the passport, and suspecting the man could not read, persisted in refusing to give a verbal account of himself, but with much civility pressed the perusal of the passport; adding, that if it was informal, Monsieur might write to the municipality that granted it. The man, however, did not approve of the jest, and took the Marquis before the municipality, who sentenced him to a month's imprisonment for his pleasantry.
The French are becoming very grave, and a bon-mot will not now, as formerly, save a man's life.—I do not remember to have seen in any English print an anecdote on this subject, which at once marks the levity of the Parisians, and the wit and presence of mind of the Abbe Maury.—At the beginning of the revolution, when the people were very much incensed against the Abbe, he was one day, on quitting the Assembly, surrounded by an enraged mob, who seized on him, and were hurrying him away to execution, amidst the universal cry of a la lanterne! a la lanterne! The Abbe, with much coolness and good humour, turned to those nearest him, "Eh bien mes amis et quand je serois a la lanterne, en verriez vous plus clair?" Those who held him were disarmed, the bon-mot flew through the croud, and the Abbe escaped while they were applauding it.—I have nothing to offer after this trait which is worthy of succeeding it, but will add that I am always Yours.
July 24, 1792.
Our revolution aera has passed tranquilly in the provinces, and with less turbulence at Paris than was expected. I consign to the Gazette-writers those long descriptions that describe nothing, and leave the mind as unsatisfied as the eye. I content myself with observing only, that the ceremony here was gay, impressive, and animating. I indeed have often remarked, that the works of nature are better described than those of art. The scenes of nature, though varied, are uniform; while the productions of art are subject to the caprices of whim, and the vicissitudes of taste. A rock, a wood, or a valley, however the scenery may be diversified, always conveys a perfect and distinct image to the mind; but a temple, an altar, a palace, or a pavilion, requires a detail, minute even to tediousness, and which, after all, gives but an imperfect notion of the object. I have as often read descriptions of the Vatican, as of the Bay of Naples; yet I recollect little of the former, while the latter seems almost familiar to me.—Many are strongly impressed with the scenery of Milton's Paradise, who have but confused ideas of the splendour of Pandemonium. The descriptions, however, are equally minute, and the poetry of both is beautiful.
But to return to this country, which is not absolutely a Paradise, and I hope will not become a Pandemonium—the ceremony I have been alluding to, though really interesting, is by no means to be considered as a proof that the ardour for liberty increases: on the contrary, in proportion as these fetes become more frequent, the enthusiasm which they excite seems to diminish. "For ever mark, Lucilius, when Love begins to sicken and decline, it useth an enforced ceremony." When there were no foederations, the people were more united. The planting trees of liberty seems to have damped the spirit of freedom; and since there has been a decree for wearing the national colours, they are more the marks of obedience than proofs of affection.—I cannot pretend to decide whether the leaders of the people find their followers less warm than they were, and think it necessary to stimulate them by these shows, or whether the shows themselves, by too frequent repetition, have rendered the people indifferent about the objects of them.—Perhaps both these suppositions are true. The French are volatile and material; they are not very capable of attachment to principles. External objects are requisite for them, even in a slight degree; and the momentary enthusiasm that is obtained by affecting their senses subsides with the conclusion of a favourite air, or the end of a gaudy procession.
The Jacobin party are daily gaining ground; and since they have forced a ministry of their own on the King, their triumph has become still more insolent and decisive.—A storm is said to be hovering over us, which I think of with dread, and cannot communicate with safety—"Heaven square the trial of those who are implicated, to their proportioned strength!"— Adieu.
August 4, 1792.
I must repeat to you, that I have no talent for description; and, having seldom been able to profit by the descriptions of others, I am modest enough not willingly to attempt one myself. But, as you observe, the ceremony of a foederation, though familiar to me, is not so to my English friends; I therefore obey your commands, though certain of not succeeding so as to gratify your curiosity in the manner you too partially expect.
The temple where the ceremony was performed, was erected in an open space, well chosen both for convenience and effect. In a large circle on this spot, twelve posts, between fifty and sixty feet high, were placed at equal distances, except one larger, opening in front by way of entrance. On each alternate post were fastened ivy, laurel, &c. so as to form a thick body which entirely hid the support. These greens were then shorn (in the manner you see in old fashioned gardens) into the form of Doric columns, of dimensions proportioned to their height. The intervening posts were covered with white cloth, which was so artificially folded, as exactly to resemble fluted pillars—from the bases of which ascended spiral wreaths of flowers. The whole was connected at top by a bold festoon of foliage, and the capital of each column was surmounted by a vase of white lilies. In the middle of this temple was placed an altar, hung round with lilies, and on it was deposed the book of the constitution. The approach to the altar was by a large flight of steps, covered with beautiful tapestry.
All this having been arranged and decorated, (a work of several days,) the important aera was ushered in by the firing of cannon, ringing of bells, and an appearance of bustle and hilarity not to be seen on any other occasion. About ten, the members of the district, the municipality, and the judges in their habits of ceremony, met at the great church, and from thence proceeded to the altar of liberty. The troops of the line, the Garde Nationale of the town, and of all the surrounding communes, then arrived, with each their respective music and colours, which (reserving one only of the latter to distinguish them in the ranks) they planted round the altar. This done, they retired, and forming a circle round the temple, left a large intermediate space free. A mass was then celebrated with the most perfect order and decency, and at the conclusion were read the rights of man and the constitution. The troops, Garde Nationale, &c. were then addressed by their respective officers, the oath to be faithful to the nation, the law, and the King, was administered: every sword was drawn, and every hat waved in the air; while all the bands of music joined in the favorite strain of ca ira.— This was followed by crowning, with the civic wreaths hung round the altar, a number of people, who during the year had been instrumental in saving the lives of their fellow-citizens that had been endangered by drowning or other accidents. This honorary reward was accompanied by a pecuniary one, and a fraternal embrace from all the constituted bodies. But this was not the gravest part of the ceremony. The magistrates, however upright, were not all graceful, and the people, though they understood the value of the money, did not that of the civic wreaths, or the embraces; they therefore looked vacant enough during this part of the business, and grinned most facetiously when they began to examine the appearance of each other in their oaken crowns, and, I dare say, thought the whole comical enough.—This is one trait of national pedantry. Because the Romans awarded a civic wreath for an act of humanity, the French have adopted the custom; and decorate thus a soldier or a sailor, who never heard of the Romans in his life, except in extracts from the New Testament at mass.
But to return to our fete, of which I have only to add, that the magistrates departed in the order they observed in coming, and the troops and Garde Nationale filed off with their hats in the air, and with universal acclamations, to the sound of ca ira.—Things of this kind are not susceptible of description. The detail may be uninteresting, while the general effect may have been impressive. The spirit of the scene I have been endeavouring to recall seems to have evaporated under my pen; yet to the spectator it was gay, elegant, and imposing. The day was fine, a brilliant sun glittered on the banners, and a gentle breeze gave them motion; while the satisfied countenances of the people added spirit and animation to the whole.
I must remark to you, that devots, and determined aristocrates, ever attend on these occasions. The piety of the one is shocked at a mass by a priest who has taken the oaths, and the pride of the other is not yet reconciled to confusion of ranks and popular festivities. I asked a woman who brings us fruit every day, why she had not come on the fourteenth as usual. She told me she did not come to the town, "a cause de la foederation"—"Vous etes aristocrate donc?"—"Ah, mon Dieu non—ce n'est pas que je suis aristocrate, ou democrate, mais que je suis Chretienne.*"
*"On account of the foederation."—"You are an aristocrate then, I suppose?"—"Lord, no! It is not because I am an aristocrate, or a democrate, but because I am a Christian."
This is an instance, among many others I could produce, that our legislators have been wrong, in connecting any change of the national religion with the revolution. I am every day convinced, that this and the assignats are the great causes of the alienation visible in many who were once the warmest patriots.—Adieu: do not envy us our fetes and ceremonies, while you enjoy a constitution which requires no oath to make you cherish it: and a national liberty, which is felt and valued without the aid of extrinsic decoration.—Yours.
The consternation and horror of which I have been partaker, will more than apologize for my silence. It is impossible for any one, however unconnected with the country, not to feel an interest in its present calamities, and to regret them. I have little courage to write even now, and you must pardon me if my letter should bear marks of the general depression. All but the faction are grieved and indignant at the King's deposition; but this grief is without energy, and this indignation silent. The partizans of the old government, and the friends of the new, are equally enraged; but they have no union, are suspicious of each other, and are sinking under the stupor of despair, when they should be preparing for revenge.—It would not be easy to describe our situation during the last week. The ineffectual efforts of La Fayette, and the violences occasioned by them, had prepared us for something still more serious. On the ninth, we had a letter from one of the representatives for this department, strongly expressive of his apprehensions for the morrow, but promising to write if he survived it. The day, on which we expected news, came, but no post, no papers, no diligence, nor any means of information. The succeeding night we sat up, expecting letters by the post: still, however, none arrived; and the courier only passed hastily through, giving no detail, but that Paris was a feu et a sang.*
* All fire and slaughter.
At length, after passing two days and nights in this dreadful suspence, we received certain intelligence which even exceeded our fears.—It is needless to repeat the horrors that have been perpetrated. The accounts must, ere now, have reached you. Our representative, as he seemed to expect, was so ill treated as to be unable to write: he was one of those who had voted the approval of La Fayette's conduct—all of whom were either massacred, wounded, or intimidated; and, by this means, a majority was procured to vote the deposition of the King. The party allow, by their own accounts, eight thousand persons to have perished on this occasion; but the number is supposed to be much more considerable. No papers are published at present except those whose editors, being members of the Assembly, and either agents or instigators of the massacres, are, of course, interested in concealing or palliating them.—-Mr. De has just now taken up one of these atrocious journals, and exclaims, with tears starting from his eyes, "On a abattu la statue d'Henri quatre!*"
*"They have destroyed the statue of Henry the Fourth."
The sacking of Rome by the Goths offers no picture equal to the licentiousness and barbarity committed in a country which calls itself the most enlightened in Europe.—But, instead of recording these horrors, I will fill up my paper with the Choeur Bearnais.
"Un troubadour Bearnais, "Le yeux inoudes de larmes, "A ses montagnards "Chantoit ce refrein source d'alarmes— "Louis le fils d'Henri "Est prisonnier dans Paris! "Il a tremble pour les jours "De sa compagne cherie "Qui n'a troube de secours "Que dans sa propre energie; "Elle suit le fils d'Henri "Dans les prisons de Paris.
"Quel crime ont ils donc commis "Pour etre enchaines de meme? "Du peuple ils sont les amis, "Le peuple veut il qu'on l'aime, "Quand il met le fils d'Henri "Dans les prisons de Paris?
"Le Dauphin, ce fils cheri, "Qui seul fait notre esperance, "De pleurs sera donc nourri; "Les Berceaux qu'on donne en France "Aux enfans de notre Henri "Sont les prisons de Paris.
"Il a vu couler le sang "De ce garde fidele, "Qui vient d'offrir en mourant "Aux Francais un beau modele; Mais Louis le fils d'Henri "Est prisonnier dans Paris.
"Il n'est si triste appareil "Qui du respect nous degage, "Les feux ardens du Soleil "Savent percer le nuage: "Le prisonnier de Paris "Est toujours le fils d'Henri.
"Francais, trop ingrats Francais "Rendez le Roi a sa compagne; "C'est le bien du Bearnais, "C'est l'enfant de la Montagne: "Le bonheur qu' avoit Henri "Nous l'affarons a Louis.
"Chez vouz l'homme a de ses droits "Recouvre le noble usage, "Et vous opprimez vos rois, "Ah! quel injuste partage! "Le peuple est libre, et Louis "Est prisonnier dans Paris.
"Au pied de ce monument "Ou le bon Henri respire "Pourquoi l'airain foudroyant? "Ah l'on veut qu' Henri conspire "Lui meme contre son fils "Dans les prisons de Paris."_
It was published some time ago in a periodical work, (written with great spirit and talents,) called "The Acts of the Apostles," and, I believe, has not yet appeared in England. The situation of the King gives a peculiar interest to these stanzas, which, merely as a poetical composition, are very beautiful. I have often attempted to translate them, but have always found it impossible to preserve the effect and simplicity of the original. They are set to a little plaintive air, very happily characteristic of the words.
Perhaps I shall not write to you again from hence, as we depart for A on Tuesday next. A change of scene will dissipate a little the seriousness we have contracted during the late events. If I were determined to indulge grief or melancholy, I would never remove from the spot where I had formed the resolution. Man is a proud animal even when oppressed by misfortune. He seeks for his tranquility in reason and reflection; whereas, a post-chaise and four, or even a hard-trotting horse, is worth all the philosophy in the world.—But, if, as I observed before, a man be determined to resist consolation, he cannot do better than stay at home, and reason and phosophize.
Adieu:—the situation of my friends in this country makes me think of England with pleasure and respect; and I shall conclude with a very homely couplet, which, after all the fashionable liberality of modern travellers, contains a great deal of truth:
"Amongst mankind "We ne'er shall find "The worth we left at home."
August 22, 1792.
The hour is past, in which, if the King's friends had exerted themselves, they might have procured a movement in his favour. The people were at first amazed, then grieved; but the national philosophy already begins to operate, and they will sink into indifference, till again awakened by some new calamity. The leaders of the faction do not, however, entirely depend either on the supineness of their adversaries, or the submission of the people. Money is distributed amongst the idle and indigent, and agents are nightly employed in the public houses to comment on newspapers, written for the purpose to blacken the King and exalt the patriotism of the party who have dethroned him. Much use has likewise been made of the advances of the Prussians towards Champagne, and the usual mummery of ceremony has not been wanting. Robespierre, in a burst of extemporary energy, previously studied, has declared the country in danger. The declaration has been echoed by all the departments, and proclaimed to the people with much solemnity. We were not behind hand in the ceremonial of the business, though, somehow, the effect was not so serious and imposing as one could have wished on such an occasion. A smart flag, with the words "Citizens, the country is in danger," was prepared; the judges and the municipality were in their costume, the troops and Garde Nationale under arms, and an orator, surrounded by his cortege, harangued in the principal parts of the town on the text of the banner which waved before him.
All this was very well; but, unfortunately, in order to distinguish the orator amidst the croud, it was determined he should harangue on horseback. Now here arose a difficulty which all the ardour of patriotism was not able to surmount. The French are in general but indifferent equestrians; and it so happened that, in our municipality, those who could speak could not ride, and those who could ride could not speak. At length, however, after much debating, it was determined that arms should yield to the gown, or rather, the horse to the orator—with this precaution, that the monture should be properly secured, by an attendant to hold the bridle. Under this safeguard, the rhetorician issued forth, and the first part of the speech was performed without accident; but when, by way of relieving the declaimer, the whole military band began to flourish ca ira, the horse, even more patriotic than his rider, curvetted and twisted with so much animation, that however the spectators might be delighted, the orator was far from participating in their satisfaction. After all this, the speech was to be finished, and the silence of the music did not immediately tranquillize the animal. The orator's eye wandered from the paper that contained his speech, with wistful glances toward the mane; the fervor of his indignation against the Austrians was frequently calmed by the involuntary strikings he was obliged to submit to; and at the very crisis of the emphatic declaration, he seemed much less occupied by his country's danger than his own. The people, who were highly amused, I dare say, conceived the whole ceremony to be a rejoicing, and at every repetition that the country was in danger, joined with great glee in the chorus of ca ira.*
*The oration consisted of several parts, each ending with a kind of burden of "Citoyens, la patri est en danger;" and the arrangers of the ceremony had not selected appropriate music: so that the band, who had been accustomed to play nothing else on public occasions, struck up ca ira at every declaration that the country was in danger!
Many of the spectators, I believe, had for some time been convinced of the danger that threatened the country, and did not suppose it much increased by the events of the war; others were pleased with a show, without troubling themselves about the occasion of it; and the mass, except when rouzed to attention by their favourite air, or the exhibitions of the equestrian orator, looked on with vacant stupidity. —This tremendous flag is now suspended from a window of the Hotel de Ville, where it is to remain until the inscription it wears shall no longer be true; and I heartily wish, the distresses of the country may not be more durable than the texture on which they are proclaimed.
Our journey is fixed for to-morrow, and all the morning has been passed in attendance for our passports.—This affair is not so quickly dispatched as you may imagine. The French are, indeed, said to be a very lively people, but we mistake their volubility for vivacity; for in their public offices, their shops, and in any transaction of business, no people on earth can be more tedious—they are slow, irregular, and loquacious; and a retail English Quaker, with all his formalities, would dispose of half his stock in less time than you can purchase a three sols stamp from a brisk French Commis. You may therefore conceive, that this official portraiture of so many females was a work of time, and not very pleasant to the originals. The delicacy of an Englishman may be shocked at the idea of examining and registering a lady's features one after another, like the articles of a bill of lading; but the cold and systematic gallantry of a Frenchman is not so scrupulous.—The officer, however, who is employed for this purpose here, is civil, and I suspected the infinity of my nose, and the acuteness of Mad. de _'s chin, might have disconcerted him; but he extricated himself very decently. My nose is enrolled in the order of aquilines, and the old lady's chin pared off to a _"menton un peu pointu."_—[A longish chin.]
The carriages are ordered for seven to-morrow. Recollect, that seven females, with all their appointments, are to occupy them, and then calculate the hour I shall begin increasing my distance from England and my friends. I shall not do it without regret; yet perhaps you will be less inclined to pity me than the unfortunate wights who are to escort us. A journey of an hundred miles, with French horses, French carriages, French harness, and such an unreasonable female charge, is, I confess, in great humility, not to be ventured on without a most determined patience.—I shall write to you on our arrival at Arras; and am, till then, at all times, and in all places, Yours.
We arrived here last night, notwithstanding the difficulties of our first setting out, in tolerable time; but I have gained so little in point of repose, that I might as well have continued my journey. We are lodged at an inn which, though large and the best in the town, is so disgustingly filthy, that I could not determine to undress myself, and am now up and scribbling, till my companions shall be ready. Our embarkation will, I foresee, be a work of time and labour; for my friend, Mad. de , besides the usual attendants on a French woman, a femme de chambre and a lap-dog, travels with several cages of canary-birds, some pots of curious exotics, and a favourite cat; all of which must be disposed of so as to produce no interstine commotions during the journey. Now if you consider the nature of these fellow-travellers, you will allow it not so easy a matter as may at first be supposed, especially as their fair mistress will not allow any of them to be placed in any other carriage than her own.—A fray happened yesterday between the cat and the dog, during which the birds were overset, and the plants broken. Poor M. de , with a sort of rueful good nature, separated the combatants, restored order, and was obliged to purchase peace by charging himself with the care of the aggressor.
I should not have dwelt so long on these trifling occurrences, but that they are characteristic. In England, this passion for animals is chiefly confined to old maids, but here it is general. Almost every woman, however numerous her family, has a nursery of birds, an angola, and two or three lap-dogs, who share her cares with her husband and children. The dogs have all romantic names, and are enquired after with so much solicitude when they do not make one in a visit, that it was some time before I discovered that Nina and Rosine were not the young ladies of the family. I do not remember to have seen any husband, however master of his house in other respects, daring enough to displace a favourite animal, even though it occupied the only vacant fauteuil.