William R. (William Rathbone) Greg.

Miscellaneous essays : second series online

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FRANCE SINCE 1848 ..... 1

" North British Review," May 1851.


FRANCE IN JANUARY 1852 ..... 61

"North British Review," Feb. 1852.


ENGLAND AS IT IS . . . . . . 136

"Edinburgh Review," April 1851.



"Westminster Review," July 1852.



" Fortnightly Review," June 1878.




FRANCE is, KUT s%W v > the l an d of experiment, as
England is the land of compromise. There is scarcely
a religious, political, or social experiment she has not
tried ; scarcely a religious, political, or social phase
which she has not passed through. The form of Ro-
manism in its narrowest and harshest bigotry which
she exhibited towards the close of the reign of Louis
XIV., was exchanged under his successors for a wild,
angry, aggressive infidelity. This in its turn was suc-
ceeded by a cold and contemptuous indifference, which
is now giving place to a somewhat more hopeful spirit
in the poetical and mystical faith of Lamennais and
Lamartine among the adherents of the old creed, arid
to the stiff and dogmatic opinions of Guizot, Coquerel,
and Quinet among the votaries of the new. In polity
France was at one time a military aristocracy, when
the Guises and the Conde's were almost the equals of
the reigning prince. Richelieu, Mazarin, and Louis
XIV. curbed the power of these rival potentates, and
established a central and relentless despotism, which
lasted till 1789, and was then followed in rapid succes-

1 From the " North British Eeview, May 1851."
Revue des deux Mondes. Paris : 1849, 1850.



sion by the most democratic of republics and the most
stern of military empires, by a restoration, a second
revolution, a constitutional limited monarchy, a third
revolution, and an anomalous, ambiguous, tottering
republic. The social changes which the country has
undergone have been no less startling. Vassals and serfs
till sixty years ago, the people suddenly became, first,
the equals, then the tyrants of their former masters ;
and after losing their power under the empire, and
being firmly repressed under the succeeding dynasties,
they saw Communism for one short period actually
triumphant and in power, and are still struggling to
replace it at the Luxembourg. The middle classes,
non-existent or insignificant under the old monarchy,
and unwisely despised by Napoleon, have been domi-
nant since 1830, and promise to remain so still;
while the aristocracy, formerly the proudest arid might-
iest in Europe, have sunk into apparently hopeless
impotence, retaining even their titles with difficulty,
and in occasional abeyance. Hitherto, in all the
manifold forms which her government and her society
have assumed, France has been almost equally unfor-
tunate : she has travelled round the whole circle of
national possibilities, aud like Milton's Satan, has
contrived constantly " to ride with darkness."

When the revolution of 1848 once more summoned
her to the task of reconstruction, that task was far
more difficult than at any former period. In 1789 her
course was comparatively clear, and her materials com-
paratively rich. There were scandalous and universally


recognised abuses to be removed ; enormous grievances
to be redressed ; shameful oppressions to be cancelled ;
and rights long and cruelly withheld to be conferred.
There might be danger in all these changes ; but the
changes were rendered necessar}^ by decency and justice ;
and the necessity was clearly seen. The old theories of
government and society were to be swept away, but the
new ones had been long ready to take their place. Men
might be mistaken as to the value of the objects they
had at heart, and might overestimate the advantages
which were to flow from their attainment ; but they
had no doubt or confusion as to what these objects
were. They knew what they wanted. The enthusiasm
of the reformers might be irrational, and their faith
fanatical ; but they had a faith and an enthusiasm as
earnest as ever carried martyrs unflinching to the stake.
They had a new political framework to construct, but
they had the constituent elements of that framework
ready to their hand : they had an existing though a
damaged monarchy ; they had an aristocracy, frivolous,
corrupt, and haughty, but still retaining some of the
better elements of nobility within its bosom, and num-
bering many generous and worthy men among its
ranks ; and they had a tiers-etat, indignant at past op-
pressions, thirsting for the promised freedom, energetic,
trusting, simple, and with a loyalty not yet utterly
extinguished. The court, the clergy, the high nobility
were discredited and corrupt ; but corruption had not
yet penetrated the heart of the common people. They
had a hard task to fulfil, but the means of its ac-


complishtnent were within reach : there was devotion,
energy, and zeal in ample measure there was high
virtue and aspiring genius there was eloquence of the
loftiest order, and courage tried in many a conflict, all
girding up their loins and buckling on their armour for
the struggle.

In 1799, the task was a clearer and a ruder one
still it was simply to replace an anarchy of which all
were sick and weary, by a strong government of any
kind. In 1830, it was simply to enthrone a monarch
who would govern according to the law, in the place
of one who sought to govern by his own foolish and
wicked will. But in 1848, when to the amazement of
all and with scarcely any note of warning, the monarch
fled and the dynasty and the constitution crumbled
away like dust ; and when the social as well as the
political structure seemed to be resolved into its original
elements, France saw before it a labour of a far more
herculean cast, surrounded with far more formidable
difficulties, and demanding a profounder wisdom. It
was not the reconstruction of a shattered cabinet it
was not the restoration of a fallen dynasty it was not
even the reform and purification of a partial and per-
verted constitution :^it was the re-edification of society
itself, of a society corrupt to its very core, in which
all the usual constituents of the social edifice were
poisoned, damaged, discredited, or non-existent in
which the monarchy was despised in which the aristo-
cracy was powerless in which the clergy was without
influence or general respect in which the leading poli-


ticians could not furnish forth a single man able to
command the confidence of the people in which the
middle classes were hopelessly selfish and devoted to
material interests, and the mass of the lower orders
were enduring severe privations, and swayed to and fro
by the wildest theories and the most impracticable

The purely political difficulties which presented them-
selves to the reconstructing statesmen of 1848, were the
least they had to encounter. Yet these were embar-
rassing enough. When James II. abdicated or was
dismissed from the English throne in 1688, he had
only one rival and possible successor. The nation, too,
as far as it could be said to be divided at all, was
divided between the adherents of James and those of
William of Orange. The old parties of Cromwell's days
were extinct or powerless. But in France there were,
and are still, four distinct parties, any two of them
capable by their junction of paralysing and checkmating
the others, any three of them, by their union, able
to overpower and drive out the fourth. There were
the old Legitimists, who acknowledged no monarch
but the exiled Count de Chambord ; not strong in
numbers, or in influence, or in genius ; inexperienced
and unskilful in political action, and singularly defective
in political sagacity ; strangely blind to the signs of the
times ; living in dreams of the past and visions of the
future ; but strong in this one point, that they alone
of all the parties which divided France, had a living
political faith, firm religious convictions, earnest an-


cestral and traditional affections, a distinct principle to
fight for, and an acknowledged banner to rally round.
Though not numbering many adherents or vassals even
in the remoter and less altered provinces, their position
in society as the undoubted heads of the polite and
fashionable world, and embracing the oldest and most
respected families of the ancient aristocracy, gave them
a certain influence which, much as the prestige of high
birth has been dissipated in France, was still not

Next to them came the Imperialists those whom
recollections of former glory, and worship of the memory
of the most wonderful man of modern times, attached to
anything that bore the name or the impress of Napoleon.
Their chief strength lay in the army, whose veterans
looked upon their great captain almost as on a demigod,
whose soldiers had known no spoil, and whose marshals
no glory, since the empire had departed, whose thoughts
were always dwelling on the campaigns of Jena and
Marengo, who were constantly thirsting to renew the
triumphs of Austerlitz, and to wipe out the discomfiture
of Waterloo. But, besides the army, this party could
count a great number of adherents among the middle
classes, who remembered how Napoleon had restored
order and stability at home, while he extended the
boundaries and the influence of France abroad; how he
had opened by force new Continental markets for their
produce ; how he had stimulated industry, protected
commerce, and covered the land with roads, bridges,
and public institutions. Among the commercial people,


too, there were many who regretted the times when
commissaries and contractors grew wealthy in a single
year, and when a hardy speculation or a glorious cam-
paign supplied wherewithal to found and endow a
family. The peasantry of France, too, were Buona-
partists almost to a man, as far as they had any political
predilections at all. It was Napoleon who had re-
organised society after the horrors of the revolution.
If it was Napoleon who had taken their sons and
brothers as conscripts, it was he also who had led them
on to renown, and often to wealth and distinction. He
wrote his name indelibly on the very soil in every
department of France ; his is literally the only name
known in the agricultural provinces and among the
ignorant and stationary cultivators of the land. The
demagogues who agitated France and the ruffians who
ruined her before his time, as well as the monarchs who
have ruled her since, have passed away and left no
trace, but Napoleon is remembered and regretted
everywhere ; his is the only fame which has survived
the repeated catastrophes of sixty years, and floats un-
ingulfed on the waters of the deluge. Many of the
peasantry have never realised his death. Many even
believe, incredible as it may seem, that it is he himself
who now rules France. The overwhelming majority
which elected Louis Napoleon to the Presidency sur-
prised no one who has had an opportunity of convers-
ing with the peasantry in the less visited districts of
the country.

The third party was the Orleanists, or adherents of


the existing dynasty. They were numerous and
powerful, and comprised many sections. They included
a great majority of the middle ranks, nearly the whole
of the commercial classes, and five-sixths of the practical,
sober, and experienced politicians of the land. Besides
those who were attached to the government by long con-
nection, by old habit, by services rendered or benefits
received, the Orleans dynasty rallied round it.all the
friends of constitutional liberty, all admirers of the
English system, all who hoped by means of the charter
imperfect and mutilated as it was and of the two
Chambers restricted as was the suffrage, and corrupt
as was often the influence brought to bear upon the
elections gradually to train France to a purer freedom,
and a higher degree of self-government ; to tide over
the period of national boyhood and inexperience, and
navigate the vessel of the state through the rocks and
shoals which menaced it, into smoother waters and more
tranquil times ; all the moneyed men, too, to whom
confusion, uncertainty, and change are fraught with
impoverishment and ruin; all that class, so numerous,
especially in Paris, who lived by supplying the wants
of travellers and foreign residents; all whose idol was
order, by whatever means it might be enforced, and at
whatever price it might be purchased, and who saw no
chance of peace or stability save under Louis Philippe's
rule ; and, finally, all belonging to that vast and inde-
scribable section of every nation, who owned no allegi-
ance, who worshipped no ideal, who sacrificed to no
principle, whom Dante has scorched with his withering


contempt, as neither good nor bad, but simply, and
before everything, selfish. The strength of this party
lay in its wealth, in its political experience, in its culti-
vation of the material interests of the country, in the
sympathy of England, and in all those nameless advan-
tages which long possession of the reins of power, under
a government of centralisation, never fails to confer.

Lastly, came the Republicans, divided, like the
Orleanists, into many sections. There were the re-
publicans on principle stern, honest, able, and uncom-
promising, of whom Cavaignac may be taken as the
living, and Armand Carrel as the departed, type. They
had clear, though often wild, conceptions of liberty
an intelligible, though an impracticable, political theory;
they worshipped a noble, though generally a classical,
ideal, for which they were as ready to die and to kill,
as any martyr who was ever bound to the stake. They
belonged to the same order of men as the Cromwells
and the Harrisons of England, and the Balfours of
Scotland, with the difference, that their fanaticism was
not religious, but political. Still they were, for the
most part, estimable for their character, respectable in
talents, and eminently formidable from the concentrated
and resolute determination of their 'zeal. There were
the republicans by temperament- the young, the ex-
citable, and the poetic, who longed for an opportunity
of realising the dreams of their fancy, whose associations
of freedom and renown all attached themselves to the
first phase of the old revolution, and whose watchword
was " the year 1793." Such are to be found in nearly


all countries. Their mental characteristic belongs
rather to the time of life, than to the nation or the age.
Still they have played a prominent part in all French
convulsions. The Ecole Poly technique has an historical
fame. Then there were the Socialist republicans,
whose hostility was directed less against any dynasty
or form of government, than against the arrangements
of society itself ; who conceived that the entire system
of things was based upon a wrong foundation, and who
saw, in the overthrow of existing powers, the only
chance of remodelling the world after their fashion.
Of these Louis Blanc was the leader ; and among his
followers were hundreds of thousands of the operative
classes, soured and maddened with privations, thirsty
for enjoyment, and intoxicated with the brilliant and
beautiful perspective so eloquently sketched out before
them but, for the most part sincere, well-meaning,
ignorant, and gullible, and easily dazzled and misled to
wrong by the lofty and sonorous watchwords which
their mischievous guides knew so well how to pro-
nounce. Lastly, there were the wretches who in
troubled times come at the heels of every party, to
soil its banner, to disgrace its fortunes, to stain its
name who profit by its victory, and slink away from
it in defeat. The idle, who disdained to labour ; the
criminal, who lived by plunder ; the savage, whose ele-
ment was uproar ; men who hated every government,
because they had made themselves amenable to the
laws of all ; thieves and murderers, whom the galley
and the prison had disgorged all those obscene and


hideous constituents stalked forth from their dens to
swell the ranks of the republicans, and to pillage and
slay in the name of the republic.

Such were the political parties, in the midst of whose
noisy and furious hostility France was called upon to
constitute a strong and stable government, on the
morrow of that amazing catastrophe, which, on the
24th of February 1848, had upset a constitution, chased
away a dynasty, and left society itself in a state of
abeyance, if not of dissolution. The provisional autho-
rities partly self-elected, partly voted in by acclama-
tion, partly foisted in by low and impudent intrigue
had proclaimed a republic, without waiting to give the
nation time to express its volition in the matter, and
without any intention of deferring to this volition even
when expressed. To establish and consolidate a repub-
lican form of government was thus the task assigned to
the country ; a task which the existence of the several
parties we have enumerated would alone have sufficed
to make perplexing and difficult enough. But impedi-
ments far more serious were behind. All things con-
sidered, the problem was probably the hardest ever set
before a nation : to reconstruct society on a stable
foundation, with all the usual elements of society absent
or broken up, without a monarch, without an aristo-
cracy, without a religion, with no principle unques-
tioned, with no truth universally admitted and rever-
enced, with no time-honoured institution left standing
amid the ruins. She had to do all this, and more, in
spite of nearly every obstacle which the past and the


present could gather round her, and in the absence of
nearly every needed instrument for the work. With
antecedents in her history with monuments on her
soil with arrangements in her social structure with
elements in her national character which seemed
peremptorily to forbid and exclude republicanism, she
endeavoured to construct a republic, and seemed re-
solved to be satisfied with nothing else. With no
honest, high-minded, or venerated statesmen, standing
out like beacon-lights among the multitude, whom all
were emulous to love, honour, and obey, she was called
upon to undertake a work which only the loftiest in-
tellects, operating upon the most trusting and submis-
sive people, could satisfactorily accomplish. She set
herself to rival and surpass, in their most difficult
achievements, nations that differed from her in nearly
every element of their national life. With a pervading
military spirit with a standing force of nearly half a
million, and an armed and trained population amount-
ing to two millions more with a centralised despotic
bureaucracy with Versailles and the Tuilleries ever
recalling the regal magnificence of former days with
an excitable temper, an uncommercial spirit, and a
subdivided soil she is endeavouring to imitate and
exceed that political liberty, and hoping successfully to
manage those democratic institutions, which have been
the slow and laborious acquisitions of Britain, with her
municipal habits and her liberal nobility ; of America,
with her long-trained faculty of self-government, her
boundless and teeming territory, and her universally


diffused material well-being ; of Switzerland, with her
mountainous regions and her historic education ; and of
Norway, with her simple, hardy, and religious popula-
tion, and her barren and untempting soil.

Let us look a little more closely into a few of those
peculiarities in the national character and circum-
stances, which appear to render the present struggles
of the French after a constitution at once stable and
democratic, so difficult if not so hopeless.

And, first, as to RACE. Races of men, like indi-
viduals, have their distinct type, their peculiar genius,
which is the product of their origin, their physiological
organisation, their climate, and the development of
civilisation through which they have passed, which
is, in fact, their inheritance from ancient times. Few
European nations are of pure blood ; almost all contain
several elements, and are the more sound and vigorous
for the admixture. The French and the English have
in common something of the Norman and something
of the Teutonic blood ; but in England the prevailing-
element is the Saxon sub-variety of the Teutonic ; in
France the prevailing element is the Gallic sub-variety
of the Celtic. From our Norman conquerors we derive
that intellectual activity, that high resolve, those habits
of conquest and command, so characteristic of our
upper ranks, and which have spread by intermarriage
through all classes. From our German forefathers we
inherit our phlegm, our steadiness, our domestic habi-
tudes, and our unhappy addiction to spirituous liquors.


The predominance of Frank and Norman blood gave to
the old aristocracy of France those generous and noble
qualities which so long distinguished the class ; but
since it was submerged in the great deluge which
desolated the closing years of the last century, the Celtic
element which pervades the great mass of the people
has shone forth paramount and nearly unmodified.
Now, the Teuton and the Celt have characteristics and
capacities wholly dissimilar. According to the masterly
analysis of our first ethnographical authority, M. Gustaf
Kombst, the distinctive marks of the former are slow-
ness but accuracy df perception, a just, deep, and
penetrating, but not quick or brilliant intellect. The
distinctive peculiarities of the Celt, on the contrary,
are quickness of perception, readiness of combination,
wit, and fertility of resource. The passion of the Celt
is for national power and grandeur; that of the Teuton
for personal freedom and self-rule. The Teuton is
hospitable, but unsocial and reserved ; the Celt is im-
moderately fond of society, of amusement, and of glory.
The one is provident and cautious ; the other impetuous
and rash. The one values his own life, and respects
that of others ; the other sets little value upon either.
Respect for women is the characteristic of the Teuton ;
passion for women the characteristic of the Celt. 1 The
latter is intemperate in love ; the former is intemperate
in wine. The fancy of the one is sensuous; that of the

1 Dr Kombst remarks, as a constant fact, the existence of
Foundling Hospitals among Celtic nations, and their absence
among those of Teutonic origin.


other ideal. Lastly, the religious element presents
diverse manifestations in the two races ; in the Celt
there is a latent tendency towards polytheism, while
the Teuton displays a decided preference for mono-
theistic views; Romanism retains an almost unshaken
hold over the former ; Protestantism has achieved its
victories exclusively among the latter.

Now, these distinctions are riot fancies of our own,
derived from a glance at France, Germany, and Eng-
land, under their present phases ; they are taken on the
authority of a philosopher, whose conclusions are the
result of long study, and of the widest range of obser-
vation. The general accuracy of the delineation will
be generally acknowledged, and can scarcely fail to
impress us with the improbability that institutions
which are indigenous among one of these great divisions
of humanity should flourish and survive when they are
transplanted into the other. Self-government, and the
forms and appliances of political freedom, are plants of
native growth in England and America ; they are only
delicate and valuable exotics in France. These national
discrepancies manifest themselves in public life in a
thousand daily forms. The Englishman is practical,
business-like, and averse to change ; his imagination,
though powerful, is not easily excited ; his views and
aims are positive, unideal, and distinct. The French-
man is ambitious, restless, and excitable aspiring
after the perfect; passionne pour Kinconnu; prone to
" la recherche de I'absolu ; " constantly, as Lamartine
says, wrecking his chance or his possession of the good

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Online LibraryWilliam R. (William Rathbone) GregMiscellaneous essays : second series → online text (page 1 of 23)