« AnteriorContinua »
THE ARISTOCRACY IN FRANCE. “ Nations merit their fate,” wrote De Staël. In the interest of every suffering land we protest against the severe sentence. No doubt man in the mass, as in the individual, may bring on misery by imprudence or by crime; but in history, as in life, we must acknowledge that ill fortune does not always imply demerit, nor adversity prove guilt. The world, however, is but too apt, like De Staël, to consider these as synonymous. Opinion is inexorable towards political blunders. Ours at least, that of the fortunate land, has ever been unmerciful towards our neighbours in mishap. And England has had no more pity for France when in the throes of the Terror, or for Spain under the searing iron of the Inquisition, than the Roman when a turn of his thumb condemned the valiant and conquered gladiator in the circus.
This unamiability and mistake, for it is a huge one, proceeds in no small degree from a certain affected piety, which seeks to draw a moral, rather than truth, from every circumstance. This is looking at history in the way that the worthy Plutarch and many of our own ancients wrote it, viz. espying the cause of every event in some superstitious or idle accident. Thus the Romans were defeated, because the Consul flung the sacred chickens into the sea; or they were victorious because their leader devoted himself to the infernal Gods. Thus many a worthy Briton is satisfied in concluding that his great rivals were beaten because they were impious, that they were impious because fickle, fickle because French, and French by virtue of Divine displeasure. This is scarcely exaggerating the reasoning of some of our best writers touching the French. The present time, however, is one more philosophical and fair, and more inclined to do justice and mercy, even by a foe.
Let us then venture to assert, that the greater part of the horrors and blunders of the French Revolution were produced by a strong fatality, as regarded the immediate actors; that is, produced by a wrong bias given to the social and political constitution of the country for ages previous. Unfortunately the terrible effects have been presented to our imagination, the fatal causes hidden from our reason, and we have thus not only been frighted from an impartial judgment of the past, but, what is still more serious, we have been rendered incapable of rightly estimating and judging the present. It is not our purpose, however, to enter on the wide field of French bistory, but merely to explain those differences of feeling, which exist betwixt the two countries, and without an ample knowledge of which, one nation must blindly speculate upon the conduct of the other.
The great peculiarity of England, and at the same time its greatest happiness is, that although inequality and variety of classes exist to the utmost degree, still those several classes blend so imperceptibly, its members rising, falling, and changing, as fortune or merit may decide, that none or scant mutual hate can exist. In France, on the contrary, the system of caste prevailed to a much more exclusive degree. A deep line of separation was drawn betwixt noble and ignoble: no scion of the former, however poor, how oft times the younger son of younger son, lost a jot of his privileges or pride; whilst no wealth, no talent, not even court favour itself, could elevate the base-born family by ever such slow degrees to the rank of his feudal superior. Nor did these distinctions serve to the mere gratification of pride; they brought solid, monied advantages, exemption from tribute, exclusive title to office and to charge, in short, all the privileges of a race of conquerors.
Hence arose in France during the eighteenth century that mortal hatred, borne by the unprivileged to the privileged classes, which rendered the revolution what it was, a civil war fought in the streets and decided on the scaffold. It was not so much political liberty that the French sought, as equality; and this at last they gained, more wise and successful than our first revolutionists, the Puritans, who raised the standard of revolt in the cause of religious freedom, won by their valour each field of battle, and terminated by losing all that for which they bled. We taunt the French for not keeping that liberty which they sought at such a price of anarchy and blood: we forget that political liberty was as yet in France but the dream of a few legists, of Barnave perhaps, of Mirabeau,
or Lafayette. The mass of the people knew not what this meant. Equality was their cry, their aim; and equality they not only won, but kept, even under the empire of Napoleon. This fact explains what seems to us Englishmen so extraordinary in French conduct. It reconciles that attachment to the revolution and to Buonaparte, both so universal in the French mind, yet to us seemingly so incompatible.
The first and dominant maxim with the French then is equality. Liberty, as a boon, is placed but in the second rank. This preference an Englishman cannot well comprehend, who, grumble as he may against the aristocracy, never ceases to recollect the debt of freedom and gratitude that he owes to it. No doubt he begins to think that he has been over-generous in the payment of this debt. And he is right. But Reform will prove in this case an amicable rectification of account, without the necessity of recurring to the sponge or spoliation of a revolution. But France, which for centuries has been trodden under the feet of the aristocracy, the yoke alleviated only by the rival despotism of the Crown-France, whose pride and interests were alike bowed down and sacrificed to the principle of birth, nay, which did not even reap the peculiar advantage, supposed to be inherent in aristocratic institutions, viz, military glory—for all know how low had fallen the French army previous to 89—France can bear aught from despotism down to anarchy, all except an aristocracy; and that she will not tolerate.
This is a fact, a feeling begotten of the past, gravé à l'eau forte, its impression graven into their minds by corrosion, nay more, graven into their laws and institutions, and now at any rate finally ineradicable. The French may be wrong, they may rue it. A monarchy without an aristocracy may be an impossibility, and may prove a dangerous experiment. But as they will try it, and as, after all, they at least possess good and well-grounded reasons for hating an hereditary noblesse, we ought in fairness to look on with suspended judgment, nay, even be grateful for having an experiment before our eyes, which cannot fail to add largely to the previous stock of political experience. In our opinion, what is most wanted in this important branch of knowledge are pheno
We are in politics pretty much at the same degree of wisdom, as that at which Galileo found the world in physics. We have theorized enough, and what we want is experiment. Let it be performed in anima vili, on France, Belgium, Poland—where you will : and let Old England look on to profit by them.
Noblesse in France is a fatal word. Without going farther back than 89, it precipitated the revolution and destroyed the old monarchy. The restored monarchy it destroyed likewise. The Bourbons returned with one dominant thought, to restore the aristocracy, without which, said they, the throne cannot exist. But the Peers being substantially ciphers, without wealth, without influence, without respect, they endeavoured to attract some portion of these by the only means, the affectation of independence. Then the government, although possessed of an immensity of small patronage and place to dispose of, had no vast and lucrative offices such as we have in England to bestow. The French administration, which had ample store of bait and bribe for a Lower House, or for common followers, had none at all for the House of Peers. Hence the Aristocratic Chamber, despite its ministerial birth and puny age, fell ever into opposition, and it was only by fresh drafts from the Commons that a majority could be preserved. Villele, in order to master the Upper House, was obliged to create a fournée or batch of seventy or eighty Peers. By doing so, he lost his majority in the Commons. This act proved the crisis of the restored monarchy; from that day it sunk lower, lower, in vain endeavoured to rally, and rise, and foundered about, until in despair it made a mighty effort for existence, in which failing, it sunk for ever. But mark, it was the first effort, that of Villele's to acquire the majority in the Peers, that cau and commenced the peril—that was the imprudent tack which sprung the leak. And thus it was the institution of the Peerage, from which the Bourbons expected their chief support, which in reality proved their weakness, and destroyed them.
Neither Louis Philippe, nor his present Ministry have taken warning by these simple facts. They still hold to the old maxim, No Noblesse, no King. And although in the elections going on whilst we write, had the Ministry come
forward, and declared itself even impartial on this great national question, it is certain that a majority of members would have been returned to the new Chamber, friends of order, peace, and monarchy.* But as this step has not been taken, there are strong fears, not only for the hereditary aristocracy, but for the throne itself. The most imprudent part of this conduct is, that it is pure Quixotism, the question of the hereditary right of the Peerage being decided in the public mind, the very ministerialists and their papers not daring to advocate it. Yet, rather than yield in time and with a good grace, they risk their power and influence on other and as vital questions, that of peace or war with Europe for instance, which the violent party, if triumphant, would soon decide according to their wishes and their vaunts.
After all, the ceding of the principle would be but the cession of a name; for an aristocracy, where such exists, will be hereditary, in reality and fact, if not in right. And the impossibility of placing the power of appointing Peers either in the power of Crown or of people, either of which at once destroys the independence and essential character of an Upper House, will probably force the French, convinced, as they are, of the necessity of a second chamber, to return to the only feasible way of framing and perpetuating it: and the safest and surest mode of founding a political maxim is certainly that of following up its contrary to a quod absurdum. This forms the hope of those amongst the French, the doctrinnaires, for example, who, admiring and preferring the English Constitution, still feel obliged, for the moment, to yield to the popular current, and vote against the hereditary Peerage.
There are three species of aristocracy, say the political theorists, the aristocracy of birth, the aristocracy of wealth, the aristocracy of talent. In the first Revolution each of these triumphed one over the other, and all were proscribed in their turn : Robespierre sent talent to the scaffold on the very same principle of jealousy that the first leaders of the mob strung up the nobles to the lamppost. And to the reign of terror succeeded the reign of dulness, until Buonaparte rose, and substituted the empire of the sword. Let us see how the present Revolution has treated these rivals for influence. Against the first, or birth, it has declared unmitigable war; the second, or wealth, it has wafted to complete supremacy, placed the Ministry in its hands, the Government at its disposal, and given it an overwhelming majority in what may be considered the exclusive legislative council; viz. the Chamber of Deputies.
How has talent or its aristocracy been treated ? Mark! the experience is salutary. After the days of July, it was talent that seemed to bear the greatest weight. The newspapers ruled like so many despots; their editors were created demigods; they were offered what places and the rewards they pleased. Academicians were converted into Deputies, professors into statesmen, and the Saint Simonien maxim of ruling by a kind of learned and scientific aristocracy, was almost adopted. But how short-lived was this supremacy! In a month, a little month, there arose throughout France one universal cry of jealousy and indignation against the doctrinnaires, against the politically learned, who were stigmatized, and not without some reason, as pedantic, as pusillavimous, as irresolute. Away with your speculators! (cried the public,) none of your writers, your philosophers: we want men of action-men to govern, not instruct. Talent instantly was ousted from its seat; it lost the Ministry and the public voice. Wealth, represented by the richest of bankers, succeeded it in the one, and the demagogues, who raised the rabid cry of Republican liberty and European war, succeeded it in the other. Now, after the lapse of a year, whilst we write, what is the greatest blemish that can be fixed on the character of a statesman, what the greatest crime that can be cast up to a candidate for the deputation ?-talent! “This gentleman has ideas,” exclaim the electors," which we don't comprehend. He is to be feared and avoided :—we will none of him.” Thus Guizot is elected with infinite difficulty; thus Villemain is rejected;
In the eleventh hour, that is the very day before the elections, Marshal Gérard, Lobau, Seguier, and other personal friends of the King and the Government, came forward to declare their determination to vote against an hereditary Peerage. Had this step been taken a fortnight sooner, it would have proved much more useful.
Dupin hated, and nought but mediocrity tolerated and supported. How will the new Chamber be composed? Of mayors, and notaries, and village celebrities; men utterly without political knowledge, but, fortunately, moderate in their ignorance and timidity, and likely to steer well, unless the demagogue members can bring mob clamour to work upon the weak nerves of their colleagues.
Thus we see talent vilipended and feared, birth scouted. What remains, then, with bead still raised above the great level of égalité ? Wealth, merely wealth, which, possessed of the great mysteries and influence both of the Government and the Stock Exchange united, seems calculated to make the most stubborn fight: and conquer, perhaps, this party would, but that foreign politics interfere, and render it impossible for a government to be at once sage and bold, prudent and popular.
Of the three aristocracies above enumerated, there can be no doubt that the most pusillanimous and cautious is that of wealth. These, who have their eyes fixed every afternoon upon the barometer of the funds, shrink from a declaration of war, or even from any of those bold postulates which approach it. And here is the true weakness of Perier's Administration, as well as that of all bankers. Certainly, were the paramount influence, now existing, of capitalists to continue, it would be wise to counterbalance it by the independence of noble birth and the spirit of high blood. If Rome prevailed in its contest with Carthage, this, be it remembered, was owing to the circumstance that the latter was ruled by a commercial oligarchy, the former by a landed and military aristocracy. The French are fully aware of this, and should that unmanageable Belgium precipitate the couutry into war, we may be certain that Perier and his monied supporters will instantly yield their supremacy and place to Barrot and the other men of action, and what is called of mouvement.
One consequence of at present abolishing the hereditary right of the French Peerage has not been noticed. This is the detriment which it must work to the throne of Louis Philippe. Could the new Monarch have taken the place of his predecessor, and preserved his institutions, there was every hope of the Royalists rallying to him, and forming in time the most devoted supporters of a Bourbon throne. But now the old noble must ever remain.inveterately hostile to a system that robs his coronet of its last jewel, and confounds at once and for ever all distinctions of birth. Nay, it is to be feared that this will affect not merely the Carlist, but every man of eminence. The Bonapartist Peer himself will inevitably feel disgusted with the system that closes his illustration with his life. And the whole class of optionates will thus feel their interests to be separate from those of the popular throne.
Whatever be the consequences, the measure itself is inevitable. The result of the elections makes itself known whilst we write, and proves much more favourable to the democratic party, and much less so to Perrier, than had been supposed. The strong minority, reckoning from 120 to 150, will be easily swelled in this futile country to a majority in the event of any of the thousand and one blunders to which power, even in the hands of the wisest of ministers, is ever incident. It is the South of France which has principally run counter to the hopes of government, in returning Deputies of violent and extreme principles. And this is not owing to that region having embraced Republicanism, but is produced by the numbers and boldness of the Carlists, and the consequent animosity of their enemies. One extreme thus produces the other: and aught like moderation is in consequence banished from the South.
This comparative weakness of the middle party now at the helm is much to be regretted in the settlement of the great question of the Aristocracy. The hereditary right of this class must indeed have in any case fallen. But there remains the important question of what should be substituted. How are the Peers or Senators for life, for example, to be appointed? The country is in no wise constituted or calculated to bear the American form. The Senate of the United States is the proudest of a federal system. And France can attempt but an awkward and infelicitous imitation. Yet this, no doubt, will be pressed by Lafayette and his friends. Should they succeed, which they may by delaying the question, instead of closing the revolution, they most probably re-open its career.
Aug.- VOL. XXXII, NO. CXXVIII.
MY AUNT'S BEQUEST. WAITING for a dead man's shoes is commonly considered to be a precarious dependance: be this as it may, no one will deny that it is a tedious state of existence. Waiting for a dead woman's slippers is worse both ways: old men do die; old women won't—if they can help it: and then, women are the more capricious. I cannot reproach myself with any lack of duty towards my aunt Susannah, during her blessed life-time, (and a long one it was !) yet—. But the sanctity of the grave must be respected, so I will not even hint a thought to the dishonour of her memory. Her husband, the Reverend Phineas Wheezy, died in the year eighteen-hundred. He was Vicar of St. Calvo's, Essex; Rector of St. Snooks', Lancashire, and of Great Trediddel's, Cornwall; Chaplain to Sir Pryse Pryse-Pryse, Bart. of Prysellollwyth Hall, Monmouthshire ; Librarian to the Duke of Dunderleigh, at Dunderleigh Park, Cumberland ; morning Lecturer at St. Snorum's, Yorkshire; and afternoon Lecturer at St. Snort's, near Rochester, Kent: so, for the convenience of not performing any of these various duties, he inhabited a house at Putney, in Surrey. It will not be wondered at, that, by the ungodly and the inconsiderate-let us call them the envious, rather-he
was occasionally taunted with his pluralities, and reproved for what those cavillers deemed his utter neglect of his sacred duties ; but against the attacks of such as these he was prepared with a ready and an unanswerable defence. “Were I,” he would say, “ to comply with any one of those calls upon my personal attendance-calls, various as they are numerous, and distant as they are various”—(for, on such occasions, my uncle was wont to ensconce himself behind an impenetrable phrase)" distant, I say, as they are various, how justly should I stand chargeable with undue preference to that one, thereby making my neglect of all the others the more offensive, inasmuch as it would be the more remarkable ! Besides, with respect to my lectureships alone, my lectureships alone, I say, is it possible—is it within the bounds of human possibility, that I should be at St. Snorum's, Yorkshire, at ten in the morning, and at St. Snort's, Kent, at three in the afternoon? I ask you, is it within the widest scope of possibility ?" Having asked this perplexing question, he would like Brutus," pause for a reply;" and as no one was ever found bold enough to deny the impossibility of performing, within the brief space of five hours, such a journey as the one he suggested, he would end the argument, and satisfy his own conscience at the same time, by exclaiming: “ Monstrous ! Perfectly preposterous to expect' of any man that he should do duty in two places, far distant from each other, almost at one and the same moment.”. · Now, as the income of the Reverend Phineas Wheezy, from his numerous benefices and appointments, was large; and he being unblest with any children to assist him in the agreeable occupation of diminishing it, it has always been a matter of astonishment that he should have died worth no more than forty thousand pounds. So it was, however; and the whole of this he bequeathed, unconditionally, to his widow : leaving to each of us, his nephews, nieces, and cousins, a legacy of -dependance upon the justice or generosity of