Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 67, No. 411, January 1850 online

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* * * * *

[Illustration: titlepage]





[Illustration: Buchanan]
















_To whom all communications (post paid) must be addressed._







If the year 1848 - "THE YEAR OF REVOLUTIONS" was one pre-eminent
among all others for the magnitude and interest of the events
it brought forth, the year which has just expired - THE YEAR OF
REACTION - is still more worthy of serious reflection, and affords
subjects for more cheering meditation. If the first exhibited the
whirlwind of anarchy let loose, the second showed the power by
which it is restrained; if the former filled every heart with dread
at the fierce passions which were developed, and the portentous
events which occurred in the world, the latter afforded reason for
profound thankfulness, at the silent but irresistible force with
which Omnipotence overrules the wickedness of men, and restrains the
madness of the people.

"Celsâ sedet Æolus arce,
Sceptra tenens, mollitque animos, et temperat iras.
Ni faciat, maria ac terras coelumque profundum
Quippe ferant rapidi secum, verruntque per auras.
Sed Pater Omnipotens speluncis abdidit atris,
Hoc metuens; regemque dedit qui foedere certo
Et premere et laxas sciret dare jussus habenas."[1]

[1] _Æneid_, i. 56.

The history of the world during those periods of convulsion, happily
of very rare occurrence, when an eruption of popular passions
takes place - when thrones are overturned, and the long-established
order of things is subverted - is nothing else but the folly and
wickedness of man warring against the wisdom of nature. All history
demonstrates that there is a certain order of things which is
favourable to human felicity - under which industry flourishes,
population increases, the arts are encouraged, agriculture improves,
general happiness is diffused. The basis of such a state of things
is the _security of property_; the moving power which puts in
motion the whole complicated machine of society, is the certainty
that every man will enjoy the fruits of his toil. As clearly do
past events demonstrate, that there is a state of things wherein
the reverse of all this takes place; when industry is paralysed,
population arrested, the arts languish, agriculture decays, general
misery prevails. The chief cause of such a state of things is to
be found in the insecurity of property, the dread that industry
will not reap its appointed reward; but that external violence
or domestic spoliation may interfere between the labourer and
the fruits of his toil. When such a state of things arises from
internal commotion, it is generally preceded by the warmest hopes,
and the most unbounded anticipations of felicity. It is universally
characterised by a resolute disregard of experience, and a universal
passion for innovation in all the institutions of society, and
all the relations of life. It constantly appeals to the generous
affections: speaks of humanity, justice, and fraternity; proclaims
mankind as brothers; and professes the warmest desire for general
felicity, and the diminution of the sources of human suffering. It
veils the advance of selfishness under the guise of generosity.
Revolutions demonstrate that the homage which vice pays to virtue is
not confined to individuals. The maxim of Rochefoucault applies also
to nations. Its truth is never seen with such brightness as during
the intensity of a revolution; and this demonstrates at once the
wisdom which governs, and the selfishness which desolates the world.

So prone, however, are the bulk of mankind to delusion; so easily
are they led away by expressions which appeal to their passions, or
projects which seem to forward their interests; so little are the
lessons of experience either known to, or heeded by, the immense
majority of men, that we should be led to despair of the fortunes of
the species, and dread in every age a repetition of the seductive
passions which had desolated the one that had preceded it, were it
not that a provision is made for the extinction of popular passion
in the very first effects of its ebullition. It is in its _effect
upon property_ that the curb is found which restrains the madness of
the people; by the insolvency it induces that the barrier is formed,
which as a matter of necessity forces back society to its habitual
forms and relations. In the complicated state of social relations in
which we live, it is by the capital of the rich that the industry
of the poor is put in motion; by their expenditure that it is
alimented. However specious and alluring the projects may be which
are brought forward by the popular leaders, they involve in them one
source of weakness, which inevitably ere long paralyses all their
influence. Directly or indirectly, they all tend to the destruction
of property. To excite the passions of the working classes, they are
obliged to hold out to them the prospect of a division of property,
or such a system of taxation as practically amounts to the same
thing: the immediate effect of which is a cessation of expenditure
on the part of the affluent classes; a hoarding of capital; a run
upon the banks for specie; universal scarcity of money, general
distrust, and a fearful decrease of employment. These evils are
first felt by the working classes, because, having no stock, they
are affected by any diminution in their daily wages; and they
are felt with the more bitterness that they immediately succeed
extravagant hopes, and highly wrought expectations. Invariably the
effects of revolutions are precisely the reverse of the predictions
of its supporters. No man is insensible to his own suffering,
however much he may be so to that of his predecessors; and thence
the universal and general reaction which, sooner or later, takes
place against revolutions.

That this reaction would take place to a certainty, in the end,
with the French revolution of 1848, as it had done with all similar
convulsions since the beginning of the world, could be doubted by
none who had the least historical information: and in our first
article on that event, within a few weeks of its occurrence, we
distinctly foretold that this would be the case.[2] But we confess
we did not anticipate the _rapidity_ with which the reaction has
set in. Not two years have elapsed since the throne of Louis
Philippe was overturned, and a republic proclaimed in Paris amidst
the transports of the revolutionary party over all Europe, and the
gaze in astonishment of all the world; and already the delusion is
over, the transports are at an end, the Jacobins are silent, and
the convulsed commonwealth is fast sinking back to its pristine
monarchical form of government. Every country in Europe felt the
shock. The passions were universally let loose; sanguinary wars
arose on every side; and while the enlightened Free-traders of
England were dreaming, amidst their cotton bales, of universal
and perpetual peace, which should open to them the markets of the
world, hostilities the most terrible, contests the most dreadful,
dissensions the most implacable, broke out in all quarters. It was
not merely the war of opinion which Mr Canning long ago prophesied
as the next which would desolate Europe: to it was superadded the
still more frightful contest of races. The Lombard rose against
the German, the Bohemian against the Imperialist, the Hungarian
against the Austrian; the Celt and the Saxon stood in arms against
each other. Naples was rent in twain; a revolutionary state was
established in Sicily; the supreme pontiff was dethroned at Rome;
Piedmont joined the innovating party; Lombardy rose up against
Austria, Bohemia was in arms against Vienna, the Magyars revived
against the Germans the fierce hostility of five centuries; Prussia
was revolutionised, Baden ravaged, Denmark invaded; the Poles could
with difficulty be restrained amidst the general effervescence; the
Irish openly made preparations for rebellion and separation from
Great Britain. England itself was shaken: the gravity and practical
tendency of the Anglo-Saxon character in part yielded to the general
contagion. London was threatened with a revolutionary movement; the
Chartists in all the manufacturing towns were prepared to follow the
example; treasonable placards, calling on the people to rise, were
to be seen on all sides; and the mighty conqueror who had struck
down Napoleon exerted his consummate skill in baffling the rebellion
of his own countrymen, and won a victory over anarchy not less
momentous than that of Waterloo, and not the less memorable that it
did not cost a drop of human blood.

[2] See "The Fall of the Throne of the Barricades," April 1, 1848.

What a contrast, within the short period of eighteen months, did
Europe afterwards exhibit! France, the centre of impulsion to the
civilised world, was restrained; the demon of anarchy was crushed in
its birthplace; the visions of the Socialists had been extinguished
in the blood of the barricades. Dispersed, dejected, in despair,
the heroes of February were languishing in exile, or mourning in
prison the blasting of their hopes, the ruin of their prospects, the
unveiling of their sophistries. Revolution had been crushed without
the effusion of blood in Berlin: law had regained its ascendency;
rebellion had quailed before the undaunted aspect of the defenders
of order and the throne. Naples had regained the dominion of Sicily;
the arms of France had restored the Pope at Rome; the Eternal City
had yielded to the assault of the soldiers of Louis Napoleon.
Austria had regained her ascendency in Italy; the perfidious
aggression of Charles Albert had been signally chastised by the
skill and determination of the veteran Radetsky; Milan was again the
seat of Imperial government; the dream of a Venetian republic had
passed away, and the Place of St Mark again beheld the double-headed
eagle of Austria at the summit of its domes. Baden was conquered,
Saxony pacified; the fumes of revolutionary aggression in Schleswig
had been dissipated by the firmness of Denmark, and the ready,
although unexerted, support of Russia. Poland was overawed by the
Colossus of the North; and even the heroic valour of the Magyars,
so often in happier days the bulwark of the Cross, had yielded to
that loyalty and tenacity of purpose which has so long distinguished
the Austrian people, joined and aided by the support which, on this
as on many previous occasions, Russia has afforded to the cause of
order in Europe. Though last, not least, Great Britain was pacified:
the dreams of the Socialists, the treason of the Chartists, had
recoiled before the energy of a people yet on the whole loyal
and united. Ireland, blasted by the triple curse of rebellion,
pestilence, and famine, had ceased to be an object of disquietude
to England, save from the incessant misery which it exhibited; and
its furious patriots, abandoning in multitudes the land of their
birth, were carrying into Transatlantic regions those principles of
anarchy, and deathless hatred at civilisation, which had so long
laid waste their own country.

Acknowledging, as all must do, with devout thankfulness, that
it is to the Great Disposer of events that we are to ascribe so
marvellous a DELIVERANCE FROM EVIL - so blessed an escape from a fate
which would have renewed, in Europe, a devastation as wide-spread,
and darkness as thick, as occurred during the middle ages - it may
yet, humanly speaking, be discerned how it is that our salvation
has been effected. The days of miracles are past; the law is not
now delivered amidst the thunders of Mount Sinai; the walls of
fortresses do not fall down at the sound of the Lord's trumpet;
there is no longer a chosen people, over whose safety the eye of
Omnipotence watches, and whom, in the last extremity, the destroying
angel rescues from their enemies. The direction of human affairs by
Supreme Wisdom; the coercion of wickedness; the support of virtue;
the ceaseless advance of the race of man, amidst all the folly and
selfishness with which its concerns are conducted, have not, indeed,
passed away: all these are in as complete operation now as when
the Red Sea opened to the retreating Israelites, or the walls of
Jericho fell before the blast of Joshua's trumpet, or the rending
of the vail of the Temple announced that the era had commenced when
the whole human race was to be admitted to the sanctuary of the
temple. But it is by human means alone that Providence now acts; it
is by general laws that the affairs of men are regulated. The agents
of Omnipotence are the moving principles of the human heart: the
safeguards against ruin are to be found in the barriers which, in
injured interests or counteracting passions, are raised up amidst
the agitated multitude, against the further progress of devastation.
It is not from oblivion, therefore, but with a constant recognition
of Divine superintendence, that we shall now endeavour to trace out
the means by which the most alarming moral pestilence which ever
appeared in modern times has been arrested; the happiness of Europe
saved, for the time at least, from the destruction by which it was
menaced - from the earthquake in its own bosom; and the progress of
real freedom throughout the world prevented from being blasted by
the selfish ambition or insane delusions of the demagogues who, for
a time, got possession of its current.

The first circumstance which must strike every observer, in the
contemplation of the terrible crisis through which we have passed,
is, that the destruction with which we were threatened was mainly,
if not entirely, owing to _want of moral courage_ on the part of
the depositaries of power. The Revolution in Paris, it is well
known, owed its success entirely to the pusillanimity of the _men_
of the royal family. Louis Philippe, old and enfeebled by disease,
was paralysed by a still more fatal source of weakness - the
consciousness of a throne won by treason - the terror inspired by
the sight of the barricades, behind which his own government had
been constructed. His sons who were present showed that the Orleans
family had lost, with the possession of a usurped throne, the
courage which, for several generations, had constituted the only
virtue of their race. The King of Prussia abandoned the contest
in Berlin in the moment of victory - a nervous reluctance to the
shedding of blood paralysed, as it had done in the days of Louis
XVI., the defenders of the throne. In Austria, the known imbecility,
physical and moral, of the emperor, rendered him wholly unequal
to the crisis in which he was placed - delivered over the empire,
undefended, to a set of revolutionary murderers, and rendered a
change in the reigning sovereign indispensable. In Rome, the Pope
himself began the movement - he first headed the reform crusade;
and whatever his unhappy subjects have since suffered is to be
ascribed to his blind delusion and weak concessions. Such was the
conduct of the kings of Europe - such the front which our sex in
high places opposed to the revolutionary tempest. But women often,
in the last extremity, exhibit a courage which puts to shame the
pusillanimity of the men by whom they are surrounded; and never was
this more signally evinced than in the present instance. The Queen
of France tried in vain, at the Tuileries, to inspire her husband
with her own heroic spirit; the Duchess of Orleans showed it in
front of levelled muskets in the Chamber of Deputies; and, that
order is still preserved in our country, is to be ascribed in no
small degree to the firm conduct of the sovereign on the throne, and
the determination with which she inspired her government to risk
everything rather than concede one iota to the revolutionists.

As it was the opposite conduct from this, and the moral weakness of
the depositaries of power, which mainly induced the revolutions
of 1848, and rendered them so formidable, so those causes which
have at length arrested that terrible convulsion seem to have been
no other but the moral laws of nature, destined for the correction
of wickedness and the coercion of passion, when they have risen to
such a pitch as seriously to endanger the existence of society. And,
without presuming to scan too deeply the intentions of Providence,
or the great system by which evil is brought out of good, and an
irresistible power says to the madness of the people, as to the
storms of the ocean, "Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther, and
here shall thy proud waves be staid," we may probably discover,
humanly speaking, the means by which the evil has been arrested.

The first circumstance which has produced the reaction, and arrested
the progress of evil so much more rapidly than was the case in the
former great convulsion, is the memory of that convulsion itself.
It is no doubt true, that every generation is taught by its own
and none by its predecessors' sufferings; but, in the case of the
first French Revolution, the suffering was so long-continued and
dreadful, that the memory of it descended to the next generation. It
was impossible that the sons of the men who had been guillotined,
exiled, or mown down by the conscription, who had seen their estates
and honours torn from them by the ruthless hand of Revolutionary
violence, should not retain a vivid sense of the sufferings they had
experienced, and the wrongs they had undergone. All classes, not
excluding even those who had been most ardent and active in support
of the first Revolution, had writhed alike under the calamities
and exactions of the latter years of the war, and the ignominious
conquest in which it had terminated, which was only felt the more
keenly from the unparalleled triumphs to which the nation had so
long been habituated. Add to this, that the attention of all the
intelligent classes of society in Europe generally, and in France in
particular, had been long, and to an extent of which in this country
we can scarcely form an idea, riveted on the events of the first
Revolution. The Reign of Terror was not forgotten; the prophecy
of the historian[3] proved true: - "A second French Revolution, of
the same character as the former, and the age in which it is to
arise must be ignorant of the first." Its heartstirring incidents,
its mournful catastrophes, its tragic events, its heroic virtue,
its appalling wickedness, its streams of blood, were indelibly
engraven on the hearts of a considerable, and that too the most
influential, part of the people. The revolutionists, indeed,
in every country - the Red Republicans in France, the Chartists
in England, the Rebels in Ireland, the Carbonari in Italy, the
_Illuminés_ in Germany, were perfectly prepared to renew for their
own profit the same scenes of spoliation, bloodshed, and massacre.
But such extreme characters form, even in the most depraved society,
but a small part of the whole inhabitants. It is the delusion or
timidity of the great body, not the absolute strength or numbers of
the violent party, which is the principal danger. The force of the
first Revolution consisted in its novelty; in the enchantment of its
visions, the warmth of its professed philanthropy, the magnitude of
its promises. But time had dispelled these, as it does many other
delusions. The mask had fallen from the spectre which had charmed
the world, and the awful form of DEATH had appeared.


The second circumstance which tended to coerce, more rapidly than
could have been hoped for, the progress of the revolution of 1848,
was the firmness and loyalty of the soldiers. It is historically
known that it was the defection of the troops which brought on,
and rendered irresistible the march of the first Revolution: which
induced, in rapid succession, the Reign of Terror, the assignats,
the conscription, the capture of Paris, the subjugation of the
kingdom. But here, too, experience and suffering came to the aid of
deluded and wandering humanity. It was seen that what is unjust and
dishonourable is _never_ expedient: that the violation of their
oaths by the sworn defenders of order is not the commencement of
the regeneration, but the first step in the decline of society: and
that to fear God and honour the king is the only way to insure,
not only the preservation of order, but the ultimate ascendancy of
freedom. On the foundation of the revolt of the Gardes Françaises
in 1789, were successively built the despotism of the Committee of
Public Salvation, the blood of Robespierre, the carnage of Napoleon.
The awful example was not lost on the next generation. The throne
of Charles X. was overthrown by the defection of the troops of the
line; but it was again found that the glorious fabric of civil
liberty was not to be erected on the basis of treachery and treason.
None of the troops revolted on the crisis of February 1848. The
Guards and the line were alike steady. Marshal Bugeaud, when he
received the command, speedily passed the whole barricades, and in
six hours would have extinguished the revolt. The throne was lost
not by the defection of the troops, but by the pusillanimity of
the princes of the blood; and accordingly, when the next contest
occurred - as occur it ever will in such cases - the troops were
resolutely led, the revolution was put down under circumstances ten
times more formidable, though not without a frightful loss of human

We are so accustomed to the loyalty and steadiness of the English
army, that the possibility of their wavering never enters into our
imagination. But still all must admit that we too, with all our
boasted safeguards of popular representation, general information, a
free press, and centuries of freedom, stood on the edge of an abyss;
and that, not less than Austria or Prussia, our salvation had come
to depend chiefly, if not entirely, on the fidelity of the soldiers.
If the six thousand men who garrisoned London on the 10th April
1848 had wavered, and one-half of them had joined the insurgents,
where would now have been the British constitution? Had a hundred
thousand men from Kennington Common crossed Waterloo Bridge, headed
by a regiment of the Guards, and three regiments of the line, where
would now have been the British liberties? Where would have been all
the safeguards formed, all the hopes expressed, all the prophecies
hazarded, as to its being perpetual? But in that dread hour, perhaps
the most eventful that England ever knew, we were saved by the
courage of the Queen, the firmness of the government, the admirable
arrangements of the Duke of Wellington, and the universal steadiness
and loyalty of our soldiers. We are quite aware of the special
constables, and the immense _moral_ influence of the noble display
which the aristocracy and middle classes of England made on that
occasion. But moral influence, often all-powerful in the end, is not
alone sufficient at the beginning; physical force is then required
to withstand the _first assault_ of the enemy: and, highly as we

Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 67, No. 411, January 1850 → online text (page 1 of 24)