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construction of an ideal constitution; the flight of the
aristocracy from the post of peril ; the death of Mirabeau, 1791
who, with all his profligacy and corruption, was the only
man capable of controlling the Revolution, and whose
departure left the wild steed masterless ; while that climax
of enthusiastic folly, the self-denying resolution, put the
operation of the new political machine into utterly untried
hands. Nor is it needful to recount the uprising of a
famished and brutalized people, the burning of chateaux,
the massacres, the defection of the army, the destruction 1789
of the Bastille, emblematic of the downfall of the mo-
narchical and feudal system, the mob invasion of Ver- 1789
sailles, the captivity of the king and queen, their escape, 1791
their recapture, the September massacres, the storming of 1792
the Tuileries, the execution of the king, the domination 1793
of the Faubourg St. Antoine, and the Reign of Terror. 1794

Pitt had viewed with liberal sympathy the first stages
of the Revolution. As it advanced he and Dundas showed
themselves resolved to remain strictly neutral and abstain
from meddling in any way with the domestic distractions
of France, as France had abstained from meddling with


the domestic distractions of England at the time of the
great rebellion and the execution of Charles I. The diffi-
culty of holding this course in face of the increasing crime
and madness of the Revolution, which filled the most
liberal with horror, and the rising tide of anti-revo-
lutionary feeling in the court, the upper classes, and the
church of England, was enhanced by the follies of English
partisans of the French Revolution who held incendiary
language, dallied with revolutionary conspiracy, and ex-
changed the hug of fraternity with the lunatics of France.
It was enhanced by the indiscretion of the leaders of
the opposition, especially of Fox, who, when he ought
to have held reassuring language and dwelt on the dis-
tinction between the case of France and that of England,
proclaimed his unbounded sympathy with the Revolution,
even when it had begun to carry heads on pikes, and in
a debate on the army estimates commended the French
Guards for having deserted their duty as soldiers and
taken part in the political insurrection. The soldier is
still a citizen, and the nation had applauded when the
army of James II., at Hounslow, cheered the acquittal of
the Seven Bishops. But the conduct of the French
Guards had been disgraceful, and Fox's praise of them
was most unwise.

Above all, Pitt, in struggling to avert a war of opinion,
had to contend against the tremendous impulse given to
the reactionary and war spirit by the fiery eloquence of
1790 Burke. The writer of the " Reflections on the French Revo-
lution " may be at once acquitted of apostasy ; though an
en^my of corruption and court influence, he had always
been a friend to monarchy, always an admirer, almost a wor-
shipper, of aristocracy; he had always opposed parliamen-


tary reform. The magnificence of his writings nobody
questions, marred though it is by extravagant metaphor
and other errors of taste. Nor does anyone question his im-
portance as a political philosopher. Evolutionists of the
present day see in him a forerunner of their science of his-
tory. Of evolution as a theory he knows nothing. But he
carries his hatred of arbitrary innovation and his love of
precedent to the length of a worship, not of tradition only,
but of prejudice, scarcely leaving reason a place in the for-
mation of institutions. In the " Reflections " he divests
himself of the semblance of judicial calmness. Nothing can
be more palpable than the partiality with which he glozes
over the abuses of the French monarchy, the monstrous
privileges and social vices of the aristocracy, the corruption
of the French church. Over the condition of the French
peasantry, famished, degraded, and brutalized, he passes
in silence. He makes no attempt fairly to probe and esti-
mate the situation. No reader would gather from his pages
that the French people had grievous cause for discontent.
Who can read without derision the lines in which he
suggests that a bloated church establishment, with courtier
bishops living in luxury while curates starved, was a
provision spontaneously made by the charity of peasants
who were eating nettles for the spiritual necessities of
sorely tempted wealth ? How could Burke upbraid French
reformers with their temerity in breaking away from the
past? What past had they after Louis XIV. wherefrom
to break away ? How could he charge them with wantonly
severing the golden chain of political continuity when
there was nothing for them to continue? Had not the
French monarchy absorbed all other institutions, then
fallen by its own vices ? Nothing of the old edifice being


left, what could the reformers do but build anew ? Did
they not, in reviving the States General, reproduce the
past, or so much of it as was capable of reproduction, and
that with antiquarian fidelity? Particular facts as well as
the general picture are distorted by Burke, who sees them
all through the mist of his reactionary passion. Had Marie
Antoinette only shone with the pure radiance of a morn-
ing star ? Had she not laid herself open to reproach by
gambling in public and by nocturnal frolics in the garden
of Versailles ? By whom was it that she was first threat-
ened with insult ? By the people and the revolutionists,
or by the tattlers of the court? The "Reflections," it
should be borne in mind, were published in November,
1790, before the Revolution had entered upon its most
violent and sanguinary phase.

The most serious charge, however, which we have to
bring against the author of this too famous work is one
that touched him not as a pamphleteer, but as a statesman.
By his own account the revolutionary party in England
was not dangerous. He speaks of it with contempt, com-
paring it to half a dozen grasshoppers chirping noisily
under a fern, while thousands of great cattle chew the
cud silently beneath the oak ; and his description was
borne out by the facts. Such revolutionary feeling as
there was might have been allayed by a moderate meas-
ure of parliamentary reform combined with the repeal of
the Test and Corporation Acts and the emancipation of the
Unitarians, all of which Burke opposed. The danger
which the government was struggling to avert lay in the
opposite quarter ; it lay in the awakened fears and kin-
dling passions of the king and the governing class ; and
Burke did all to increase it that his mighty pen could do.


The effect of his pamphlet, especially on the mind of the
king, was instantaneous and fatal. Its sale was enormous.
The author became almost a European power in himself,
inspiring, apart from the government, and in opposition
to its policy, the counsels of the exiled French court and
the refugees, whose vengeance, when, in accordance with
his desire, they should have been restored to power by
foreign arms, he was sanguine enough to think that he
could keep under his philosophic control. By the effect
which his burning eloquence produced on European rulers,
Burke may be deemed to have stimulated them to invade
France and thus to have been partly responsible for the
frenzy which invasion produced, for the September massa-
cres, and for the Reign of Terror.

The Terror is hardly to be laid to the account of the 1792-
Revolution. It was not political, but cannibal, though ^'^^^
the leaders canted in the language of Rousseau. The mob
of Paris, unspeakably brutal and savage, had got posses-
sion of the government of a highly centralized monarchy,
and slaked its lust of riot and blood. Nothing of the
kind could have happened in England, nor were English
statesmen^ bound to treat such a catastrophe on the princi-
ples of international law or otherwise than they would
have treated a hurricane or an earthquake.

Pitt long persevered in his policy of non-intervention.
He had nothing to do with the coalition, with the plots of
the emigrants, with the conference at Pilnitz, with the 1791
expedition or the manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick.
By the territorial rapine to which French fraternity at once
turned, and the door to which was unhappily opened by
the weakness of the surrounding states or provinces ; by
insolently trampling on treaty rights in the case of the


Scheldt; by aggression upon Holland, the settlement of
which England guaranteed ; above all by a propagandist
manifesto threatening all established governments with
subversion, the Jacobins furnished ample grounds for war.
But that which is justifiable may not be wise ; France was
a lunatic whose ravings might be disregarded, whose
frenzy would end in collapse. Pitt clung to peace.

He was swept from his moorings at last by the storm

1793 of pity and rage which followed the execution of the
king. After all it was not he, it was France that
declared war. But war rather came than was declared.
Fired by mutual hatred, revolution and monarchy, re-
ligion and atheism, rushed upon each other. The British

1793 declaration of war, while it speaks of unprovoked aggres-
sions, referring to Holland and the Scheldt, plainly sets
forth as grounds for drawing the sword the internal
disorders of France, the anarchy and crimes of the Revo-
lution, the murder of the king, the danger with which all
governments were threatened by French example and
contagion. It, in fact, proclaims a crusade against the
Revolution. It holds out the aid of Great Britain to
restorers of monarchy in France. Thus Pitt, in his own
despite, was forced into a crusade.

Had he foreseen the twenty years' war, he might still
have held back, though it does not seem that with all his
loftiness of character and purpose, with all his dignity of
bearing, he was the man to hold his own against a heady
current of opinion. But he believed that the war would
be short; nor without reason. His reliance on the col-
lapse of French finance was ill-founded ; bankruptcy
cleared France of her debt ; rapine supplied her military
chest ; the transfer of her land from nobles and monks


to industrious peasants soon increased her wealth ; enthu- .
siasm and conscription filled her armies ; all her resources
were entirely at the command of a revolutionary govern-
ment more despotic than that of any king. Yet Pitt
would have been well justified in thinking that if the
coalition was united and resolute, its armies might at once
march to Paris. The coalition was neither united nor
resolute. Instead of thinking of the common cause, its
members were thinking of their separate interests and
their felonious partition of Poland. They behaved, not
like crusaders, but like wreckers, fancying that France
was going to pieces, and scrambling for their shares of the
wreck. Austria took possession of French cities, not in
the name of the Bourbons, but in her own. Pitt himself
pottered with Dunkirk instead of insisting on a march to
Paris. The Revolution in the meantime had put into the
field immense armies which, commanded by valour and
military genius self -raised from the ranks, and directed by
the organizing skill of Carnot, overwhelmed the inferior
numbers, mechanical soldiership, and antiquated tactics of
the old powers. France conquered the Austrian Nether-
lands ; turned Holland, in which from the first she had a
large party, into a vassal state ; annexed Savoy ; overran
the feeble and denationalized principalities of the Rhine;
compelled decrepit Spain under the worthless Godoy, not
only to cease fighting against her, but to pass over to
her side. By the death of Catherine of Russia, whose 1796
trade, whatever her philosophy, was to be Czarina, the
coalition lost a powerful friend. Prussia, whose councils
were in the last degree weak, selfish, and base, at last went
over to the enemy. Stolid Austria could be kept in the
field only by subsidies. England was left fighting alone.


Why did Pitt continue the war ? At bottom, perhaps,
because peace was impossible between revolutionary France
and constitutional Britain. Royalty, aristocracy, prop-
erty, the church, were all for war : royalty, aristocracy,
and property against democratic levelling ; the church
against atheism. Pitt has been arraigned for not having
boldly invoked the crusading spirit on his side to meet the
crusading spirit on the side of the Jacobins. It needed
no invocation ; it was with him in full force ; it was bear-
ing him on more vehemently than he desired. When the
pious and gentle Wilberforce raised his voice for peace,
the king cut him at the levde. Pitt's formulary at last
became "indemnity for the past and security for the
future." Indemnity for the past meant the abandonment
by France of her conquests, which was hopeless. Security
for the future meant restoration of the Bourbons, which
then was hopeless also. Pitt held that there was no
government in France with which he could treat. From
treating with the Jacobin bedlam turned into a slaughter-
house he might well be excused. But the Directory was
a government, though it was a strange outcome of a grand
effort to regenerate the world. Under it, France was sit-
ting clothed, though not with samite, and in her right,
though by no means in a moral, mind. Pitt did then treat
for peace, and it was not through his fault, but through
the insolent violence of the scoundrels who by military
force had got the upper hand in the French government,
that the treaty failed. Pitt was even willing to bribe the
Directory. Yet when Bonaparte, having afterwards risen
to power, made an overture for peace, Lord Grenville
was allowed to say in reply. Restore the Bourbons. The
retort was ready, Restore the Stuarts. Even George III.


noted the mistake which Bonaparte marked with joy.
It is strange that Pitt should have let the despatch go.
Lord Grenville, besides being a fanatical enemy of the
Revolution, was insular, haughty, wanting in tact, and
ill-fitted to cope with Talleyrand. In selecting him as
Foreign Minister Pitt showed not much discernment.

Pitt has been damned as a war minister. Assuredly he
was no Chatham. Peace, finance, economy, not war, were
his field. He had no eye for military or naval merit, no
promptness in calling it to the front ; he could inspire
nobody, nobody could leave his presence a braver man.
He twice allowed the fatuous king to entrust the fortunes
and honour of the British army to the young and incom-
petent Duke of York. His continental enterprises failed.
His forces were never found on a decisive field. But he
might plead that he had no trained commanders, that he
had no conscription to furnish him with great armies;
that on the sea he had not only been victorious but had
annihilated the hostile fleets ; that he had taken the
French and Dutch colonies and had them to barter for
retrocessions on the part of France.

The prime minister, however, must to some extent
share with the admiralty the blame of having allowed the
condition of the British sailor to be such that he, the most
loyal and patriotic of men, the most true to duty, could at
last endure his wrongs no more, and rising in a terrible
mutiny brought the country to the verge of ruin. The
sailor's pay and pensions had not been raised since the
time of Charles II., though prices had doubled. He had
to complain also of bad rations and short measures, of
stoppage of his pay when he was wounded, of want of
care and embezzlement of his necessaries when he was


sick, of denial of his fair share of prize money, of refusal of
permission to visit his home after his voyage, of tyrannical
usage by his officers, of a harsh code of discipline cruelly
enforced by the lash. Many of the men had been im-

1797 pressed. Never was a mutiny better justified ; never was
a spirit so good and moderate shown by mutineers. The
sailors committed no outrage ; never forgot that they
were Englishmen ; loyally kept the king's birthday ; and
at once checked the slightest movement towards desertion
to the enemy. There was, in fact, no doubt that had the
enemy appeared, they would have fought him. A second

1797 outbreak of the mutiny headed by Parker, an ambitious
demagogue with ends of his own, was more violent than
the first. Yet even in this the behaviour of the men was
wonderfully good, and the ringleader, when unmasked,
was at once deserted, nor was there any other display of
revolutionary sentiment ; redress of the seaman's wrongs
was the sole aim. The government was compelled to ne-
gotiate, which it did with dignity and skill, and to grant
redress. After the second and more seditious mutiny,
there were some hangings and floggings round the fleet,
which would have been better bestowed upon the lords of
the admiralty and the contractors. In all this history
there is nothing brighter than the character of the British
tar, with its childlike simplicity, its respeot for discipline,
its loyalty to the flag. By the British tar, in spite of
blundering and jobbery, the country was saved. By his
victories was sustained, under all reverses, the fortitude of
the nation. Hard was his life and scanty was his reward.
As the seaman was impressed, the soldier was crimped,
or recruited in a way little better than crimping. Of
course he was of the lowest grade, while French conscrip-


tion took the flower of the people. He was under-paid,
ill-fed, ill-housed. He was subjected to a harsh disci-
pline, and to the most cruel and degrading punishments.
He had no hope of promotion. He was chained to the
service for life. His officers were incompetent, careless,
not seldom drunken. During the early years of the war
he was under the command of generals described by Gren-
ville as old women in red ribbons. Yet he fought well,
and on many a red hillside rolled back the impetuous
onset of conquering France. Napier contrasts the lot of
the British soldier fighting in the cold shade of aristocracy
with that of Napoleon's soldiers " fighting in bright .fields
where every helmet caught a ray of the glory." The
British bumpkin thought not much about aristocracy ; he
preferred to be led by a gentleman, even if the gentleman
was a boy ; he did not feel the cold shade when he charged 1811
in his " majesty " at Albuera. Nor can the ray of glory
have warmed the French conscript when he had been
dragged by the mad ambition of a despot to perish amid
Russian snows. It is true, however, that aristocratic
privilege, in the way of commissions and promotions,
was injurious to the army, and that the navy was better
served for being less aristocratic. The nature of the
naval service repelled privilege, which might appropri-
ate a colonelcy but would hardly venture to undertake
the management of a ship. When invasion threatened, 1794
a large volunteer force was formed. This showed na-
tional spirit, but perhaps it was fortunate that the vol-
unteers did not meet on the battle-field of Hastings the
trained veterans of France commanded by Napoleon,
while the English, if the king's intentions were fulfilled,
would have been commanded by George III.


Pitt now wore the appearance at least of sharing the
Tory panic, once talked as if his own life were hardly-
safe from Jacobin . poniards, and not only renounced
reform, but entered on a course of violent repression.
He acted like a changed man. For this he had no
valid excuse. In a few hot heads revolutionary ideas
might ferment, but the country at large was manifestly
loyal and hearty in its support of the government ; a few
scores of revolutionary grasshoppers might chirp, but they
were immeasurably outnumbered as well as outweighed by
the conservative kine. The Corresponding Society, which
embodied nearly all that there was of pronounced Jaco-
binism, was reckoned to have only six thousand members,
nearly all of the lower class. Paine's answer to Burke
might circulate, but its circulation was probably more
due to the celebrity of the work to which it was a smart
answer than to sympathy with the views of Paine. The
golden dawn of the Revolution had entranced young and
enthusiastic spirits, such as those of Coleridge, Southey,
and Wordsworth. But an illusion, which never kindled
sedition, ended with the September massacres and the
Reign of Terror. The mob itself was anti- Jacobin ; it rose

1791 upon the friends of the French Revolution at Birming-
ham, and wrecked the house of Priestley, their leading
man. Imperfect as institutions were, the nation, com-
paring them with those of other countries, on the whole
was content with them, and was averse from revolution.
Danger of disaffection there was, as presently appeared,
from the sufferings sure to be caused by war. Other-
wise there was none ; none, at least, which might not

1794- ^^ve been extinguished by moderate and safe reform.

1801 Yet Pitt suspended the Habeas Corpus for eight years.


He resorted to a series of repressive measures directed
not only against acts but against opinions ; a procla-
mation against seditious writings, a Traitorous Corre- 1793
spondence Act, a Treasonable Practices Act, a Seditious 1795
Meetings Act. The Treasonable Practices Act was a 1795
sinister enlargement of the definition of treason, though
without the capital penalty; while the Seditious Meet-
ings Act precluded even peaceful assemblings for ob-
jects of constitutional reform. A swarm of informers
was called into activity by the government. Men were
prosecuted for loose or drunken words, of which no man
of sense would have taken notice, and for speculative
opinions with which government had no right or reason
to interfere. An attorney named Frost for saying in a
coffee house, where he could not have meant to conspire,
that he was for equality and no king, was tried before
Lord Kenyon, a high Tory judge, and sentenced to six 1793
months' imprisonment, to stand in the pillory, to find
security for good behaviour, and to be struck off the rolls.
Another man, imprisoned for debt, having vented his
spleen in what was plainly a mere lampoon, was sentenced
to three years of imprisonment in Newgate, to stand in
the pillory, and to find security for good behaviour for five
years. For selling Paine's works and a political satire
called "The Jockey Club," a respectable bookseller was
sentenced to four years' imprisonment and to a heavy fine.
Courts of quarter sessions, with benches of Tory squires,
were empowered and employed to try political cases for
the government, to which their character as tribunals
must have been well known. Associations were formed
under government patronage for the detection and prose-
cution of sedition. The impartiality of the jury was

VOL. II вАФ 18


thus tainted at the source. There was a Tory reign of
terror to which an increase of the panic among the upper
classes might have lent a darker hue.

In Scotland, where there was scarcely even a mockery
of the representation of the people, the Tory reign of
terror was worse than in England. Thomas Muir, a
young advocate, was a champion of parliamentary reform,
as any man with a spark of patriotism in Scotland must
have been, for in Scotland such was the state of the repre-
sentation that election was but a name. He had been a
delegate to the Edinburgh convention of the Friends of
the People. He was indicted ostensibly for sedition.
1793 In reality, as he with reason asserted, he was brought
to trial for promoting parliamentary reform. The Lord
Justice Braxfield, another Jeffreys, confirmed this asser-
tion by charging the jury that to preach the necessity of
reform at a time of excitement was seditious. The judge
harangued the jury against parliamentary reform. The
landed interest, he said, alone had the right to be repre-
sented ; as for the rabble, who had nothing but personal
property, what hold had the nation on them? Another
judge said, if punishment adequate to the crime of sedi-
tion were to be sought for, it could not be found in our
law, now that torture had been happily abolished. Of
the three Roman punishments, crucifixion, exposure to
wild beasts, and deportation, it was said from the bench,
we have chosen the mildest. Muir was sentenced to trans-
portation for fourteen years. Efforts were made in par-
liament to get the sentence reversed, but the government

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 66 of 84)