Laurence Gronlund.

Ça ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study online

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Laurence Gronlund's Works.

An Exposition of Socialism. Clotti,
$1.0a Paper $.50


The Influence of Socialism on Morals
and Religion. Cloth, $1.00. Paper . $.50


Danton in the French Revolution.
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Lee AND Shepard - Publishers







" The Revohdion — call it good or bad
As you yearn towards the Future or the Past."

Victor Hugo.


Copyright, 1887,
By lee and SHEPARD.

All rights reserved.


Co the Earnest Jflinority


QEfje 'Htia Social ©rber.




A Key to the French Revolution i


The Rising Generation 7

Liberty and Law. — The Drama of History. — The "Sa-
cred Torch" passes from England to France. — The
Revolution made by Books. — Danton's Youth. — June
17. — "Ca iraI"


The Middle-class Regime 37

The Counter-Revolution. — August 4. — The Constitu-
tion OF '91. — Danton the First Republican. — The
Doings of the French Bourgeoisie.


The Counter-Revolution Crushed 70

Conspiracy. — August 10. — Invasion. — September Mas-
sacres.— War of Propaganda. — Louis'. Head "a Gage
OF Battle."


Energy of the Year i loi

Revolutionary Tribunal. — Committee of Public Wel-
fare. — May 31. — Danton as Statesman. — Absolute
Government. — Levy en Masse. — Danton's Resignation.
— La Carmagnole.




Fraternity of the Jacobins 140

Constitution of '93. — The Maximum. — A Poor-Law. —
Down with Speculators! — Education. — The Civil
Code. — A Great Wrong. — " Private Enterprise" in-

Terror • 176

HfeBERTisM.— Pity. — April 5. — Danton disinterested.
— Dans le Neant, " Nothingness" (?) — The Incorrupti-
ble.—" MonsieurI"


The Present Transition State 213

Plutocrats again in Power. — i8th Brumaire. — "Thou
hast been Weighed and found Wanting." — Present
Tendencies of Societies. — In Proportion as the Men-
tal Preparation is Complete, will the Coming Revo-
lution BE Easy. — "God wills it."



" Tlie Revohttioti — call it good or bad
As you yearn toward the Future or the Past."

— Victor Hugo.

ALL thoughtful people look forward to great changes in
the near future, and many think that some catastrophe
like that of the French Revolution is impending in all
civilized countries. I feel confident that the young, who
stand on the threshold of these events, can forestall the
threatened catastrophe by assisting in the birth of a new
social order. It is, therefore, you, young men and women !
whom I especially hope to influence in these pages ; whom
I desire, not by cleverness, not by briUiancy, but by intense
earnestness, to inspire with a new sense of duty, with the
conviction of a call to interfere actively in the moulding of
events. Such is the intent of this volume.

This work, perhaps, will be found, also, to be novel in
this : that it presents to you the great French Revolution
from a point of view from which it never before has been
surveyed in print ; not so much that it may serve as an
example or a warning (though that also), but that it may be
seen to have been a preparation for the work which should
be performed by you.

All historians, m the English language at least, have
presented the Revolution as a panorama of kaleidoscopic


pictures, and thereby made it simply a perplexing and puz-
zling subject. Such pictures are altogether unprofitable to us in
our generation, since they necessarily leave the crisis an in-
comprehensible, an unexplained phenomenon. Even
in that form it may confidently be said that no portion of
history has had such a fascination for all classes of readers
as the short period of French annals from 1 789 to 1 794 ;
but how much greater would the interest be, especially
when its centennial comes round, and the centennial of that
wonderful year 1793, if we could once understand \\. !

However, mere history or simple story-telling cannot pos-
sibly explain it : historic philosophy is indispensable to that.

Great Britain possesses an historic philosopher of the first
rank in John Morley, who also has written most profoundly
and lucidly about the French Revolution, and impartially as
well. But even he has not at all explained it ; he has in no
sense given us a key to it. At the beginning of his

interesting work, Rousseau, we meet with these words con-
cerning the French Revolution : " That revolutionary drama,
whose fifth act is still dark to us ; " and nowhere does he
pretend to lift the veil. If, then, the " fifth act " is hidden
from him in darkness, if he has no idea at all as to the out-
come, how could he explain it ? How could he judge of
the forces at work during the crisis? Some hypothesis or
other in regard to the future must be the key we are
looking for.

It, however, is a great thing in Morley, that he sees
something is yet coming. Other writers, even great ones,
have not had an inkling that there was such a thing as a
" fifth act " at all. There is, for instance, Edgar Quinet,
beyond question a most considerable French philosopher,
whose masterpiece is a work entitled La Revolution, in
which he considers the Revolution as an episode in French
history of ten years' duration ; as a kind of comet that sud-


denly entered the path of history in i 789, and as suddenly
left it in 1 799, and which might have procured incidentally
for the French such blessings as the American Revolution
procured for us.

But there is a sect of philosophers who have gone to
work in the right way, who have framed an hypothesis of
the future, and attempted to explain the French Revolution
by such hypothesis : the Positivists, the disciples of Auguste
Comte. The French representatives of that school — M.
Lafitte, Dr. Robinet, and Antonin Dubost in his Danton and
Contemporary Politics — are aware of a "fifth act." They
insist that the conflict of forces during the Revolution and in
modern society will result in a civilization where the whole
political and industrial power of the community will be lodged
in the hands of great chiefs of industry, great capitalists,
who, by an organized public opinion, — that is, by a spiritual
authority working by public opinion, — will be compelled
to apply their power and wealth to social uses, and thus
finally do away with misery and pauperism.

This method is undoubtedly, as said, the only right one,
and a profoundly philosophical one, and their hypothesis is
a definite enough conception and a working hypothesis. But
is it correct ? that is to say, is it at all likely that they have
guessed right as to the future social order? There is cer-
tainly not the least evidence that our great capitalists are
becoming more and more inclined to use their increasing
power for the social good, and, moreover, no evidence at
all, that such a spiritual authority is going to assert itself; in
other words, that any new edition of the Catholic hierarchy
of the Middle Ages is being evolved or will be accepted.

Nevertheless, this Positivist hypothesis has been very
fruitful. Here, as elsewhere, an incorrect hypothesis has
been instrumental in disclosing many new facts and rela-


There have been and arc, however, other thoughtful men,
who, speculating upon the consequences of the French
Revolution, and listening to the footfalls of coming events,
have formed another equally well working hypothesis as to
their nature, and as to the new social order which they
will inaugurate. I have in another volume ' assumed to
sketch, in its broad outlines, this future social order to which,
I, with them, look forward, and which I have styled " The
Co-operative Commonwealth." It is this hypothesis I here
purpose for the first time to use, so to speak, as spectacles
through which to look at the French Revolution ; in other
words, I assume the co-operative commonwealth to be, if
not the final, at least the next, stage in the evolution of
human societies, and shall try to explain the French Revo-
lution by considering it as a most important step toward
that stage.

I believe I shall convince many of my readers of the cor-
rectness of my hypothesis, from its ability to account for all
phenomena. And if it is the true one, then the French
Revolution will necessarily become invested with a new
interest, with a persojial interest, for us, for it will thereby
become a part of our history. Its relation to us will then
be reversed. As hitherto it has been looked upon as a
curiosity to be explained, so now it will be used to explain
our own situation. It will not only become an example or
a warning to us, but a guide that will teach us, not to pre-
vent revolutions, for that would be to prevent progress, but
how to prepare for our Coming Revolution, and how to carry
it through in an orderly manner.

And Danton? It is evident from the above that mj
object has not been to write his biography ; that my object

• The Co-operative Commaniuealth, published by Swan Sonnenschein, London,
Eiig., and Lcc and Shepard, Boston, Mass.


has been a much wider one. Yet to describe and discuss
the events of the French Revolution is necessarily to dis-
cuss the work of Danton, since it fills a greater part of the
French annals during the five fire-breathing years than the
work of all his contemporaries combined. It ought, how-
ever, to be distinctly understood what he did and what he
did not do. He did not make the Revolution. No one
did. It made itself in the minds of the twenty-five million
Frenchmen then existing, Danton's included. But even
here he may be taken as the very embodiment of the Revo-
lution, and better than any one else as the typical French
revolutionist of those days. Perhaps he also contributed
more than any one else, not excepting Mirabeau, to remove
the stumbling-blocks in the way of the Revolution.

But while he did not make the Revolution, he more than
once saved it. He was, indeed, as Carlyle called him, the
Atlas who in the most critical period carried the Revolution
on his shoulders. Moreover, being a more constructive
genius than any ot his contemporaries, he laid the right
foundation for the future ; and his policy should have the
credit for nearly all the good his successors accomplished,
as it would have saved France from all the subsequent penal-
ties she has had to pay, had it been constantly pursued.

Next, Danton the monster, Danton as nearly all our
historians paint him, is purely a creation of the imagination.
It is the French Positivists above mentioned who at last
have rehabilitated him, and presented him in his true pro-
portions. That Danton, as a niaa and citizen, was pure,
was an heroic character, is now abundantly proved by the
great mass of new material which these Positivist philoso-
phers, as well as Alfred Bougeart, have collected during the
last twenty-five years, but which no one, I believe, has trans-
lated into English as yet. Indeed, his principal defect, one
that cost France dearly, was his perfect lack of ambition.


Tlie principal lessons whicli this volume will draw from
the French Revolution, in the way of example and warning,
are, that I )anton was a true instrument in the hands of the
Power behind Evolution, and just the kind of leader we in
our generation should encourage ; that, on the other hand,
good intentions alone avail nothing in popular leaders, and
that therefore we should, 7cnih all our mighf, repress our
Robespierres, Heberts, and Marafs.

The words ^a ira are of American origin. Benjamin
Franklin, while ambassador to the court of France during
the American Revolution, was constantly questioned about
the war with England. His usual answer was, " Ah, qa
ira!^^ (" Oh, it goes ! ") This gave rise to the first revo-
lutionary song, jubilantly chanted by all patriots on the
anniversary of the taking of the Bastille, and commencing, —

"/i//, fa ira! fa ira! (a ira!"

In describing the doings of the French bourgeoisie, from
the moment they acquired influence, I have made consid-
erable use of that most interesting work, Lundis Revolu-
tionnaires, by M. Avenel.





" The interest of historic study lies in tracing the devious course of the sacred
torch, as it shifts from bearer to bearer. It is not the bearers -who are most
interesting, but the torch." — John Morlev.

Liberty and Law. — The Drama of History. — The "Sacred
Torch" passes from England to France. —The Revolution
MADE BY Books. — Danton's Youth. — June 17. — "Ca ira!"

WAS the French Revolution a failure ?
Our most eminent historians affirm it. First, there
is Sir Archibald Alison, who, in his celebrated History of
Europe, declares that the French Revolution, "the most
impassioned effort ever made for the attainment of public
freedom,'' has failed, and failed not only for a time, but
forever. Then there is the not less eminent William Smyth,
late professor of history at Cambridge, who, in his published
and widely read Lectures, lays repeated stress on the "fact"
that the French Revolution did not succeed, and on " the
great calamity that the cause of liberty was thus, on the
whole, lost.'' These two authorities, not to si:)eak of lesser



lights, ha\e furnished vast numbers of lazy-thinking people
with whatever oi)inions they have of the French Revolution.

1 contend that this view is a huge blunder ; if it is, it
vitiates all their other conclusions, of course. I insist that
the French Revolution was and is a grand success, a most
signai success : the dominant class in France to-day would
hardly be so proud of " the principles of the Revolution,"
and be preparing to celebrate its centennial with imposing
pageants, were it not ; nor, to be sure, would it pulsate in
the heart of all Frenchmen of to-day, whether they curse or
bless it.

How account for the blunder?

In the case of the above " authorities " that is easy enough.
They are simply historians, — story-tellers ; and, moreover,
story-tellers who have looked only at the surface of things.
Note how they talk of "liberty" and "public freedom."
That, to be sure, was what the actors in the French Revolu-
tion talked about ; the word " liberty," meaning " absence
of restraints," w^as constantly in their mouths, and, I grant,
in the mouth of no one more than my hero, Danton. Our
superficial historians, then, have contented themselves with
taking the revolutionists on their word, and have concluded
that Liberty was, in truth, the end and aim of tlie French
Revolution ; and, since Liberty was finally crippled, there-
fore the Revolution failed.

It is, however, not historians alone who fall into this error ;
even philosophers, — ay, the great French philosopher Edgar
Quinet has fallen into it. He dwells on the motto of the
revolutionists : ^tre libre, ou mourir (" To be free, or die "),
and regrets that they who knew so well how to die, did not
know how to conquer freedom.

Well, Frenchmen of a century ago had very good reasons
for being preoccupied widi Liberty. They were dominated
by these two sentiments, — a violent discontent with their


actual condition, and ardent hopefulness as to the future.
Liberty, then, was for the time being their most pressing
need, for it was the indispensable means to get out of their
condition. This need was, with them, instinctive. These
revolutionists, even the greatest among them, were really
Wind actors, guided by instinct. No wonder they mistook
Liberty for an end, and virtually made an idol of it. Yet
Liberty, after all, did in their hands prove a most excellent
instrument, and by the help of it they accomplished what
they had to accomplish.

But it is inexcusable that any thoughtful person in our
generation should, with the experience and teachers we have
had, still be making an idol of Liberty, and not yet know
that absence of restraints is valuable only as a tneans, never
as an end. Never ! When Liberty is made an end, it always
and necessarily defeats itself; that is to say, when citizens
are unrestrained, completely " at liberty," they always will,
if able, encroach upon their fellows, and monopolize all
power. However virtuous, in the long run they will always
do it : it is human nature. In truth, this is the lesson which
Carlyle and Emerson have so unceasingly been trying to
inculcate, — that Liberty in that sense is a very poor thing
indeed. And that noble man, Mazzini, likewise insisted
continually upon this : that Liberty, though " holy as a
protest against oppression," and powerful to destroy, is yet
impotent to found any thing.

No, liberty was not the true object aimed at by the French
Revolution, nor was it its sanction. Something else was, —
something very different ; something not pertaining to the
individual at all, but above all individuals. To bring out
this fact, is precisely the main purpose of this book, and
will throughout give it its tone.

First of all, we must reduce the French Revolution to its
true proportions. Here, also, the revolutionary actors de-


ccived themselves. They foncied lliat their nation had
suddenly jumped for ahead of its contemporaries, and, from
its own all-conquering initiative, was about to inaugurate a
brand-new state of society, something of which the outside
barbarians could never so much as dream. That patriotic
Frenchmen even now are possessed with the same idea,
may be excused ; but when our historians, and especially
philosophers, still look on the Revolution as an event si/i
geneiis, as an isolated fact in history, that again is a mark
of superficiality.

Here the profoundness of an historic philosopher like
John Morley manifests itself. On the first page of liis
Rousseau he places side by side the series of remarkable
changes of the first centuries of our era, and the similar
series of the last two centuries ; to the former he gives the
generic name of " Christianity," and to the latter, /'// tvhicli
he includes the French ci'isis, that of " the Revolution."

By the way, Gladstone once maintained that the English
way of saying " the English Revolution," " the American
Revolution," or " the French Revolution," is the correct
one, and contrasted it with " the loose Continental usage "
of speaking, as Morley does, of " the Revolution." The
European usage, though certainly liable to misapprehension,
is, it seems to me, really a profound form of speech.

For I insist, with Morley, that the French Revolution, far
frcmi being a unique phenomenon, as thought by the revolu-
tionary actors, is, in truth, an integral part of that set of
social changes which was first successfully started by. Luther
in Germany, — changes that have involved the whole of
^Vestern Europe, and in whose vortex we still find ourselves
at this day. The French Revolution was simply a pai-tial
and local manifestation of these changes ; in other words,
// was the application of this series of changes to France,
primarily, and to this is precisely due its success.


That is what the rcvoUitionary actors did. They effected
tliis ehair^e in France ; they did it in a most effective, in a
startHngly effective, manner. That was their merit, and
thereby they placed France for a time in advance of our
race ; but they did it unconsciously, instinctively. They did
not know the import of their own doings, because they
ignored, even despised, their whole previous history.

Yet, in order to understand these changes, it is necessary
to understand history ; not the history of kings, their mis-
tresses and their intrigues, or of any individual or individuals
soever, but the history of the collective life of humanity, in
which each of us has his proper life. History concerns
itself properly with the race, which has as rigid a unity as
any of its individual members ; with society, which is the
guardian of our destiny as a race, and which is not an
empirical necessity, but a living, organizing force. History
is the instinctive effort of the common, associated, mind of
the race to come to self-consciousness, to put on form, to
realize its own majestic unity. And so the main purpose of
history is, to bring man to a proper acquaintance 7vith himself.

^\'hen man thus comes to a proper acquaintance with
himself, to real self-consciousness, he cannot help becoming
aware of a something animating humanity, and directing the
march of the race. Human events cannot possibly be
" the fortuitous vagaries of an eyeless destiny." The idea
that they were the inscrutable decrees of an ///human Provi-
dence, of a lordly, capricious, law/ess despot, which was cur-
rent for centuries, is not tenable any longer. The tendency
seems to be, to consider them the ceaseless efflux of a helpful
Presence in Humanity working by law, — the " sacred torch "
of Morley, the God of Christians, the Power behind Evolu-
tion I like to call it ; and history then becomes a true
dramn, plotted by that Power, This, after all, is the only
sane foundation for any hope in our social future. It


was in this connection, as already remarked by Henry
James, sen., that Carlyle sliowcd himself weak. He main-
tained that there is a Supreme Spirit in human affairs, but
never dreamt of that truth having any human virtue, being
of any living efficacy to help us ; hence he called it " the
Eternal Silences," and rather pitied those who believed in
its effective power to guide us.

The drama of history, then, means that human affairs are
directed by something superior to ourselves, superior to soci-
ety itself; that7£^^ at-e ahvays liviiigtimkr law, under author-
ity, under a moral government, recognized or unrecognized.
The French revolutionists, also, were, unknown to themselves,
obeying this authority ; authority was the sanction of the
French Revolution, which in the last resort was successful,
because the expression of this Supreme Will.

And, as it so happens that just now we have become en-
abled, as we shall see, to interpret history correctly, we now
can conform to this moral government of the world, and co-
operate with it. Louis Blanc thought that human progress is
from authority in the past, through individualism in the pres-
ent, to fraternity in the future. But authority and fraternity
are not antagonistic ; therefore it is more correct to say, from
absolutism in the past (a human authority, now seen to have
been a sham authority), through present individualism, to a
real, riglitftil aiitliority, whatever it be, based on the verities
of things. Liberty, based on the " rights " of the individ-
ual, is undoui^tedly at times a sacred thing, but, after all,
Ijut a temporary necessity. Mazzini undoubtedly is riglit :
" What the world is at present thirsting for is authority.''
\Ve all of us, without any exception whatever, want to be


* « *

In what did this set of changes consist?

We are now able to answer this (juestion, — in other words,


able to unravel tlic plot of the drama of history, — because
we lately have been furnished with the right key.

Men have at all times had a suspicion that there is an
intelligible law of things, which it is our urgent business to
ascertain, and then conform to. We at length have ascer-
tained the law (which is the greatest intellectual revolutionary
achievement since the times of Copernicus) : it is that of
evolution. To apply the theory of evolution to history, is
applying the key to it.

We now know that societies, nations, move ; next, that they
move, not by leaps, but by growths. But Herbert Spencer,
who has done so much to popularize the theory of evolution,
seems to imply, in all his writings, that this motion is by
uniform, gradual, regular, and always slow steps. This is
certainly not so.

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Online LibraryLaurence GronlundÇa ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study → online text (page 1 of 21)