Paris and the Parisians in 1835 Volume II Part 25

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While congratulating the country I have so recently left, as I do most heartily, on the very essential improvements which have taken place since my departure, I feel as if I ought to apologise for some statements to be found in the preceding pages of these volumes which if made now might fairly be challenged as untrue. But during the last few months, letters from France should have been both written and read post-haste, or the news they contained would not be of much worth. We left Paris towards the end of June, and before the end of July the whole moral condition of France had received a shock, and undergone a change which, though it does not falsify any of my statements, renders it necessary at least that the tense of many of them should be altered.

Thus, when I say that an unbounded license in caricaturing prevails, and that the walls of the capital are scrawled over with grotesque representations of the sovereign, the errata should have--"for _prevails_, read _did prevail_; for _are_, read _were_;" and the like in many other instances.

The task of declaring that such statements are no longer correct is, however, infinitely more agreeable than that of making them. The daring profligacy of all kinds which was exposed to the eyes and the understanding at Paris before the establishment of the laws, which have now taken the morals of the people under their protection, was fast sinking the country into the worst and coa.r.s.est species of barbarism; and there is a sort of patriotism, not belonging to the kingdom, but to the planet that gave one birth, which must be gratified by seeing a check given to what tended to lower human nature itself.

As a matter of hope, and consolation too, under similar evils which beset us at home, there is much satisfaction to be derived from perceiving that, however inveterate the taint may appear which unchecked licentiousness has brought upon a land, there is power enough in the hands of a vigorous and efficient magistracy to stay its progress and wipe out the stain. A "Te Deum" for this cleansing law should be performed in every church in Christendom.

There is something a.s.suredly of more than common political interest in the present position of France, interesting to all Europe, but most especially interesting to us. The wildest democracy has been advocated by her press, and even in her senate. The highest court of justice in the kingdom has not been held sufficiently sacred to prevent the utterance of opinions within it which, if acted upon, would have taken the sceptre from the hands of the king and placed it in those of the mob. Her journals have poured forth the most unbridled abuse, the most unmitigated execrations against the acts of the government, and almost against the persons of its agents. And what has been the result of all this? Steadily, tranquilly, firmly, and without a shadow of vacillation, has that government proceeded in performing the duties intrusted to it by the country. It has done nothing hastily, nothing rashly, nothing weakly. On first receiving the perilous deposit of a nation's welfare,--at a moment too when a thousand dangers from within and without were threatening,--the most cautious and consummate wisdom was manifested, not only in what it did, but in what it did not do.

Like a skilful general standing on the defensive, it remained still a while, till the first headlong rush which was intended to dislodge it from its new position had pa.s.sed by; and when this was over, it contemplated well the ground, the force, and the resources placed under its command, before it stirred one step towards improving them.

When I recollect all the nonsense I listened to in Paris previous to the trial of the Lyons prisoners; the prophecies that the king would not DARE to persevere in it; the a.s.surances from some that the populace would rise to rescue them,--from others, that the peers would refuse to sit in judgment,--and from more still, that if nothing of all this occurred in Paris, a counter-revolution would a.s.suredly break out in the South;--when I remember all this, and compare it to the steady march of daily-increasing power which has marked every act of this singularly vigorous government from that period to the present, I feel it difficult to lament that, at this eventful epoch of the world's history, power should have fallen into hands so capable of using it wisely.

Yet, with all this courage and boldness of decision, there has been nothing reckless, nothing like indifference to public opinion, in the acts of the French government. The ministers have uniformly appeared willing to hear and to render reason respecting all the measures they have pursued; and the king himself has never ceased to manifest the same temper of mind which, through all the vicissitudes of his remarkable life, have rendered him so universally popular. But it is quite clear that, whatever were the circ.u.mstances which led to his being placed on the throne of France, Louis-Philippe can never become the tool of a faction: I can well conceive him replying, to any accusation brought against him, in the gentle but dignified words of Athalie--

"Ce que j'ai fait, Abner, j'ai cru le devoir faire-- Je ne prends point pour juge un peuple temeraire."

And who is there, of all those whom nature, fortune, and education have placed, as it were, in inevitable opposition to him, but must be forced to acknowledge that he is right? None, I truly believe,--save only that unfortunate, bewildered, puzzle-headed set of politicians, the republicans, who seem still to hang together chiefly because no other party will have anything to say to them, and because they alone, of all the host of would-be lawgivers, dare not to seek for standing-room under the ample shelter of _the doctrine_, inasmuch as its motto is "Public Order," and the well-known gathering word of their tribe is "Confusion and Misrule."

There are still many persons, I believe, who, though nowise desirous themselves of seeing any farther change in the government of France, yet still antic.i.p.ate that change must come, because they consider it impossible that this restless party can long remain quiet. I have heard several who wish heartily well to the government of Louis-Philippe express very gloomy forebodings on this subject. They say, that however beneficial the present order of things has been found for France, it is vain to hope it should long endure, contrary to the wish and will of so numerous a faction; especially as the present government is formed on the doctrine, that the protection of arts and industry, and the fostering of all the objects connected with that wealth and prosperity to which the restoration of peace has led, should be its first object: whereas the republicans are ever ready to be up and doing in any cause that promises change and tumult, and will therefore be found, whenever a struggle shall arise, infinitely better prepared to fight it out than the peaceable and well-contented majority, of whom they are the declared enemies.

I think, however, that such reasoners are altogether wrong: they leave out of their consideration one broad and palpable fact, which is, however, infinitely more important than any other,--namely, that a republic is a form of government completely at variance with the spirit of the French people. That it has been already tried and found to fail, is only one among many proofs that might easily be brought forward to show this. That love of glory which all the world seems to agree in attributing to France as one of her most remarkable national characteristics, must ever prevent her placing the care of her dignity and her renown in the hands of a mob. It was in a moment of "drunken enthusiasm" that her first degrading revolution was brought about; and deep as was the disgrace of it, no one can fairly say that the nation should be judged by the wild acts then perpetrated. Everything that has since followed goes to establish the conviction, that France cannot exist as a republic.

There is a love of public splendour in their nature that seems as much born with them as their black eyes; and they must have, as a centre to that splendour, a king and a court, round which they may move, and to which they may do homage in the face of Europe without fearing that their honour or their dignity can be compromised thereby. It has been said (by an Englishman) that the present is the government of the bourgeoisie, and that Louis-Philippe is "un roi bourgeois." His Bourbon blood, however, saves him from this jest; and if by "the government of the bourgeoisie" is meant a cabinet composed of and sustained by the wealth of the country, as well as its talent and its n.o.bility, there is nothing in the statement to shock either patrician pride or regal dignity.

The splendid military pageant in which the French people followed the imperial knight-errant who led them as conquerors over half Europe, might well have sufficient charm to make so warlike a nation forget for a while all the blessings of peace, as well as the more enduring glory which advancing science and well-instructed industry might bring. But even had Napoleon not fallen, the delirium of this military fever could not have been much longer mistaken for national prosperity by such a country as France; and, happily for her, it was not permitted to go on long enough to exhaust her strength so entirely as to prevent her repairing its effects, and starting with fresh vigour in a far n.o.bler course.

But even now, with objects and ambition so new and so widely different before their eyes, what is the period to which the memory of the people turns with the greatest complacency?... Is it to the Convention, or to the Directory?--Is it to their mimicry of Roman Consulships? Alas! for the cla.s.sic young-headed republicans of France!... they may not hope that their cherished vision can ever endure within the realm of St.

Louis long enough to have its lictors' and its tribunes' robes definitively decided on.

No! it is not to this sort of schoolboy mummery that Gallic fancies best love to return,--but to that portentous interval when the bright blaze of a magnificent meteor shone upon their iron chains, and made them look like gold. If this be true--if it cannot be denied that the affections of the French people cling with more grat.i.tude to the splendid despotism of Napoleon than to any other period of their history, is it to be greatly feared that they should turn from the substantial power and fame that now

"Flames in the forehead of the morning sky"

before their eyes, accompanied as they are by the brightest promise of individual prosperity and well-being, in order to plunge themselves again into the mingled "blood and mire" with which their republic begrimed its altars?

Were there even no other a.s.surance against such a deplorable effort at national self-destruction than that which is furnished by the cutting ridicule so freely and so generally bestowed upon it, this alone, in a country where a laugh is so omnipotent, might suffice to rea.s.sure the spirits of the timid and the doubting. It has been said st.u.r.dily by a French interpreter of French feelings, that "si le diable sortait de l'enfer pour se battre, il se presenterait un Francais pour accepter le defi." I dare say this may be very true, provided said diable does not come to the combat equipped from the armoury of Ridicule,--in which case the French champion would, I think, be as likely to run away as not: and for this reason, if for no other, I truly believe it to be impossible that any support should now be given in France to a party which has not only made itself supremely detestable by its atrocities, but supremely ridiculous by its absurdities.

It is needless to recapitulate here observations already made. They have been recorded lightly, however, and their effect upon the reader may not be so serious as that produced upon my own mind by the circ.u.mstances which drew them forth; but it is certain that had not the terrible and most ferocious plot against the King's life given a character of horror to the acts of the republican party in France, I should be tempted to conclude my statement of all I have seen and heard of them by saying, that they had mixed too much of weakness and of folly in their literature, in their political acts, and in their general bearing and demeanour, to be ever again considered as a formidable enemy by the government.

I was amused the other day by reading in an English newspaper, or rather in an extract from an Irish one, (The Dublin Journal,) a pa.s.sage in a speech of Mr. Daniel O'Connell's to the "Dublin Trades'

Union," the logic of which, allowing perhaps a little for the well-known peculiarities in the eloquence of the "Emerald Isle,"

reminded me strongly of some of the republican reasonings to which I have lately listened in Paris.

"The House of Commons," says Mr. Daniel O'Connell, "will always be a pure and _independent_ body, BECAUSE we are under the lash of our masters, and we will be kicked out if we do not perform the duties imposed on us by the people."

Trifling as are the foregoing pages, and little as they may seem obnoxious to any very grave criticism, I am quite aware that they expose me to the reproach of having permitted myself to be wrought upon by the "_wind of doctrine_." I will not deny the charge; but I will say in defence of this "shadow of turning," (for it is in truth no more,) that I return with the same steadfast belief which I carried forth, in the necessity of a government for every country which should possess power and courage to resist at all times the voice of a wavering populace, while its cares were steadily directed to the promotion of the general welfare.

As well might every voice on board a seventy-four be lifted to advise the captain how to manage her, as the judgment of all the working cla.s.ses in a state be offered on questions concerning her government.

A self-regulating populace is a chimera, and a dire one. The French have discovered this already; the Americans are beginning, as I hear, to feel some glimmerings of this important truth breaking in upon them; and for our England, spite of all the trash upon this point that she has been pleased to speak and to hear, she is not a country likely to submit, if the struggle should come, to be torn to pieces by her own mob.

Admirably, however, as this jury-mast of "the doctrine" appears to answer in France, where the whirlwind and the storm had nearly made the brave vessel a wreck, it would be a heavy day for England were she to find herself compelled to have recourse to the same experiment for safety--for the need of it can never arise without being accompanied by a necessity for such increased severity of discipline as would be very distasteful to her. It is true, indeed, that her spars do creak and crack rather ominously just at present: nevertheless, it will require a tougher gale than any she has yet had to encounter, before she will be tempted to throw overboard such a n.o.ble piece of heart of oak as her const.i.tution, which does in truth tower above every other, and, "like the tall mast of some proud admiral," looks down upon those around, whether old or new, well-seasoned and durable, or only skilfully erected for the nonce, with a feeling of conscious superiority that she would be very sorry to give up.

But whatever the actual position of England may be, it must be advantageous to her, as well as to every other country in Europe, that France should a.s.sume the att.i.tude she has now taken. The cause of social order is a common cause throughout the civilised world, and whatever tends to promote it is a common blessing. Obvious as is this truth, its importance is not yet fully understood; but the time must come when it will be,--and then all the nations of the earth will be heard to proclaim in chorus, that

"Le pire des etats, c'est l'etat populaire."


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Paris and the Parisians in 1835 Volume II Part 25 summary

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