Reflections on the Revolution in France
7. The pages that follow are taken, with the permission of the publisher, from my Edmund Burke: Prescription and Providence (Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press; Claremont, Calif.: Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, 1987). All page references from this point on, unless otherwise specified, are to the text of the Reflections in this volume.
37. That Burke was acquainted with Suarez's writings is indicated by his quoting Suarez at some length in his Tracts Relating to Popery Laws, in The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. Paul Langford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1981-), 9:457-58.
Volume 2, Introduction, by E. J. Payne
68. In the opinion that France possessed all the elements of a good constitution, which only required to be cleared of rust and obstructions and put in working condition, Burke erred with many intelligent and patriotic Frenchmen. We can now see that such was not the case, and further that France was not at that time in a condition to adopt any political system of the kind which was then meant by the term constitutional. The boasted English constitution of Burke's time was a notorious sham. It has now been exploded; England, as every one knows, is a democracy ruled by the delegates of the Commons. But it was that very pasteboard show of interdependent powers which was fast losing its credit in England, which Burke wished to see imitated in France. Montesquieu was more clear-sighted. Intensely as he affected to admire the political system of England, his doctrine was that France ought to be left alone. "Leave us as we are," is the constant theme of that hypothetical speaker by whom Montesquieu (De l'Esprit des Lois, Liv. xix. ch. 5-8) expresses his own opinions. "Nature compensates for everything." Many smiled contemptuously when they heard people talk of liberty and a constitution. Montesquieu had said that a free nation only could have a liberator, an enslaved nation could only have another oppressor. He little knew the terrible awakening which was reserved for the French nation: but he was probably right in counselling that such an awakening should not be anticipated by a false political reformation. The reform which France wanted was a social one: the need penetrated to the very roots of the nation's life. The selfishness and cruelty of whole classes had to be exorcised: a slumbering nation had to be aroused to a sense of political duty. It is hard in the present day to imagine how completely public spirit had vanished from the mass of the French nation, and how utterly void the French were at that time of political knowledge or experience. Turgot was as solitary a being in France as if his lot had been cast in the Sandwich islands. Except a few men of the type of Sieyes, probably few French politicians cared for politics otherwise than as an amusement, or a path to distinction. The Frenchman was repelled by what Burke calls the "severe brow of moral freedom." Voltaire at Ferney looked on the political affairs of Geneva merely as a matter for satire and ridicule. "It is impossible," said a Frenchman to Groenfelt, in 1789, "for a Frenchman to be serious: we must amuse ourselves, and in pursuit of our amusements we continually change our object, but those very changes prove us always the same.... Our nation is naturally gay. Political liberty requires a degree of seriousness, which is not in our character: we shall soon grow sick of politics." (Letters on the Revolution, p. 4.) This gay incuriosity is still the characteristic of the vast majority; and hence France has ever since been, though in a diminishing degree, the prey of petty and interested factions.
86. Bristle, in his dialogue with Sir Edward Courtly, describes the old practice in less plausible terms: "I think, Sir, that it's very civil of you to come and spend fifteen hundred or two thousand pounds, besides being obliged to keep company with a parcel of dirty, drunken, ill-mannered fellows for two or three months together, without any other design but serving your country." The Craftsman, No. 58. "Drunkenness, rioting, and insolence, on the one side, abject flattery, cringing and preposterous adulation on the other," was the true meaning of the "little arts and devices of popularity."
91. For this paragraph, for that which commences at the tenth line of page 78, and for many of the Notes at the end of the volume, the Editor is indebted to the accomplished pen of John Frederick Boyes, Esq. It may be added that Burke was deeply offended at the neglect his views from the first met with in the English political world. "Pique," says Sir G. Savile, in a letter to the Marquis of Rockingham, "is one of the strongest motives in the human mind. Fear is strong, but transient. Interest is more lasting, perhaps, and steady, but infinitely weaker; I will ever back pique against them both. It is the spur the Devil rides the noblest tempers with, and will do more work with them in a week, than with other poor jades in a twelve-month."
92. In a debate after the riots of 1780, Burke adverted to his early education at the school of Mr. Shackleton. "Under his eye I have read the Bible, morning, noon, and night, and have ever since been the happier and better man for such reading. I afterwards turned my attention to the reading of all the theological publications on all sides, which were written with such wonderful ability in the last and present centuries. But, finding at length that such studies tended to confound and bewilder rather than enlighten, I dropped them, embracing and holding fast a firm faith in the Church of England."
95. The substantive "cement," by the way, unlike the verb "to cement," should be accented on the first syllable. This trifle is essential to the harmony of more than one of Burke's sentences. See vol. i. p. 287.
97. The connexion, however, is rather conventional. There was little in common between Burke and De Bonald, who recommended despotism as the primitive and normal form of legislation, and objected to toleration.
98. "Ueber die Staats-wissenschaft, von Friedrich Ancillon. Berlin, 1820." Political theory, like everything else, has its uses as well as its abuses. "The successful progress of reforms depends in a great measure on the political maxims which prevail among governors and governed, and on the advances of political science. False doctrines lead to erratic wishes, destructive misconceptions, and dangerous misinterpretations. Theory must combat and clear away the errors of theories, indicate the general direction of the right way, and establish the true goal; it will thus be easier for practical politics, conducted by experience, to construct every portion of the road with a sure hand and firm footsteps." Ancillon, Preface, p. xxxi.
99. It would be unjust to pass over the name of Mathias, the author of the "Pursuits of Literature," a clever satire, illustrated with instructive and amusing original notes. No one should omit to read it who would comprehend the direct effect of Burke on his own generation. At this distance of time, however, we do not tolerate idle panegyrics. Johnson once said, somewhat pettishly, "Where is all the wonder? Burke is, to be sure, a man of uncommon abilities; with a great quantity of matter in his mind, and a great fluency of language in his mouth; but we are not to be stunned and astonished by him!" Boswell, ed. Croker, p. 681.
Vol. 2, Reflections on the Revolution in France, by Edmund Burke.
3. "Those who dislike that mode of worship which is prescribed by public authority ought, if they can find no worship out of the church which they approve, to set up a separate worship for themselves; and by doing this, and giving an example of a rational and manly worship, men of weight from their rank and literature may do the greatest service to society and the world." P. 18. Dr. Price's Sermon.
6. "That King James the second, having endeavoured to subvert the constitution of the kingdom, by breaking the original contract between king and people, and by the advice of jesuits, and other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of the kingdom, hath abdicated the government, and the throne is thereby vacant."
10. Ecclesiasticus, chap. xxxviii. verses 24, 25. "The wisdom of a learned man cometh by opportunity of leisure: and he that hath little business shall become wise." "How can he get wisdom that holdeth the plough, and that glorieth in the goad; that driveth oxen; and is occupied in their labours; and whose talk is of bullocks?"
Ver. 27. "So every carpenter and work-master that laboureth night and day." &c.
Ver. 33. "They shall not be sought for in public counsel, nor sit high in the congregation: They shall not sit on the judges seat, nor understand the sentence of judgment: they cannot declare justice and judgment, and they shall not be found where parables are spoken."
Ver. 34. "But they will maintain the state of the world."
I do not determine whether this book be canonical, as the Gallican church (till lately) has considered it, or apocryphal, as here it is taken. I am sure it contains a great deal of sense, and truth.
12. *x1Another of these reverend gentlemen, who was witness to some of the spectacles which Paris has lately exhibited—expresses himself thus; "A king dragged in submissive triumph by his conquering subjects is one of those appearances of grandeur which seldom rise in the prospect of human affairs, and which, during the remainder of my life, I shall think of with wonder and gratification." These gentlemen agree marvellously in their feelings.
16. It is proper here to refer to a letter written upon this subject by an eye-witness. That eye-witness was one of the most honest, intelligent, and eloquent members of the National Assembly, one of the most active and zealous reformers of the state. He was obliged to secede from the assembly; and he afterwards became a voluntary exile, on account of the horrors of this pious triumph, and the dispositions of men, who, profiting of crimes, if not causing them, have taken the lead in public affairs.
"Parlons du parti que j'ai pris; il est bien justifié dans ma conscience. Ni cette ville coupable, ni cette assemblée plus coupable encore, ne méritoient que je me justifie; mais j'ai à coeur que vous, et les personnes qui pensent comme vous, ne me condamnent pas. Ma santé, je vous jure, me rendoit mes fonctions impossibles; mais meme en les mettant de côté il a été au-dessus de mes forces de supporter plus long-tems l'horreur que me causoit ce sang,—ces têtes,—cette reine presque égorgée,—ce roi, amené esclave, entrant à Paris, au milieu de ses assassins, et précédé des têtes de ses malheureux gardes,—ces perfides janissaires,—ces assassins,—ces femmes cannibales,—ce cri de, TOUS LES ÉVÊQUES À LA LANTERNE, dans le moment oł le roi entre sa capitale avec deux évêques de son conseil dans sa voiture. Un coup de fusil, que j'ai vu tirer dans un des carosses de la reine. M. Bailly appellant cela un beau jour. L'assemblée ayant déclaré froidement le matin, qu'il n'étoit pas de sa dignité d'aller toute entière environner le roi. M. Mirabeau disant impunément dans cette assemblée, que le vaisseau de l'état, loins d'être arrêté dans sa course, s'élanceroit avec plus de rapidité que jamais vers sa régénération. M. Barnave, riant avec lui, quand des flots de sang couloient autour de nous. Le vertueux Mounier* échappant par miracle à vingt assassins, qui avoient voulu faire de sa tête un trophée de plus.
"Voilà ce qui me fit jurer de ne plus mettre le pied dans cette caverne d'Anthropophages [the National Assembly] oł je n'avois plus de force d'élever la voix, ou depuis six semaines je l'avois élevée en vain. Moi, Mounier, et tous les honnêtes gens, ont pensé que le dernier effort à faire pour le bien étoit d'en sortir. Aucune idée de crainte ne s'est approchée de moi. Je rougirois de m'en défendre. J'avois encore reçû sur la route de la part de ce peuple, moins coupable que ceux qui l'ont enivré de fureur, des acclamations, et des applaudissements, dont d'autres auroient été flattés, et qui m'ont fait frémir. C'est à l'indignation, c'est à l'horreur, c'est aux convulsions physiques, que le seul aspect du sang me fait éprouver que j'ai cédé. On brave une seule mort; on la brave plusieurs fois, quand elle peut être utile. Mais aucune puissance sous le ciel, mais aucune opinion publique ou privée n'ont le droit de me condamner à souffrir inutilement mille supplices par minute, et à périr de désespoir, de rage, au milieu des triomphes, du crime que je n'ai pu arrêter. Ils me proscriront, il confisqueront mes biens. Je labourerai la terre, et je ne les verrai plus.—Voilà ma justification. Vous pourrez la lire, la montrer, la laisser copier; tant pis pour ceux qui ne la comprendront pas; ce ne sera alors moi qui auroit eu tort de la leur donner."
This military man had not so good nerves as the peaceable gentlemen of the Old Jewry.—See Mons. Mounier's narrative of these transactions; a man also of honour and virtue, and talents, and therefore a fugitive.
17. [a. See the fate of Bailly and Condorcet, supposed to be here particularly alluded to. Compare the circumstances of the trial and execution of the former with this prediction.—*x2an editor.]
18. The English are, I conceive, misrepresented in a Letter published in one of the papers, by a gentleman thought to be a dissenting minister. When writing to Dr. Price, of the spirit which prevails at Paris, he says, "The spirit of the people in this place has abolished all the proud distinctions which the king and nobles had usurped in their minds; whether they talk of the king, the noble, or the priest, their whole language is that of the most enlightened and liberal amongst the English." If this gentleman means to confine the terms enlightened and liberal to one set of men in England, it may be true. It is not generally so.
19. Sit igitur hoc ab initio persuasum civibus, dominos esse omnium rerum ac moderatores, deos; eaque, quae gerantur, eorum geri vi. ditione, ac numine: eosdemque optime de genere hominum mereri; et qualis quisque sit, quid agat, quid in se admittat, qua mente, qua pietate colat religiones intueri; piorum et impiorum habere rationem. His enim rebus imbutae mentes haud sane abhorrebunt ab utili et a vera sententia. Cic. de Legibus, l. 2.
21. [b. This, down to the end of the first sentence in the next paragraph, and some other parts here and there, were inserted, on his reading the manuscript by my lost Son.—*x2p. 209.]
23. [c. Their connexion with Turgot and almost all the people of the finance.—*x2p. 211.]
24. [d. All have been confiscated, in their turn.—*x2p. 212.]
25. [e. Not his brother, nor any near relation; but this mistake does not affect the argument.—*x2p. 213.]
Who having spent the treasures of his crown,
Condemns their luxury to feed his own.
And yet this act, to varnish o'er the shame
Of sacrilege, must bear Devotion's name.
No crime so bold, but would be understood
A real, or at least a seeming good,
Who fears not to do ill, yet fears the name;
And, free from conscience, is a slave to fame.
Thus he the church at once protects, and spoils:
But princes' swords are sharper than their styles.
And thus to th' ages past he makes amends,
Their charity destroys, their faith defends.
Then did Religion in a lazy cell,
In empty aëry contemplations dwell;
And, like the block, unmoved lay: but ours,
As much too active, like the stork devours.
Is there no temprate region can be known,
Betwixt their frigid, and our torrid zone?
Could we not wake from that lethargic dream,
But to be restless in a worse extreme?
And for that lethargy was there no cure,
But to be cast into a calenture?
Can knowledge have no bound, but must advance
So far, to make us wish for ignorance?
And rather in the dark to grope our way,
Than, led by a false guide, to err by day?
Who sees these dismal heaps, but would demand,
What barbarous invader sack'd the land?
But when he hears, no Goth, no Turk did bring
This desolation, but a Christian king;
When nothing, but the name of zeal, appears
'Twixt our best actions, and the worst of theirs,
What does he think our sacrilege would spare,
When such th' effects of our devotion are?
—COOPER'S HILL, by SIR JOHN DENHAM
28. In the constitution of Scotland during the Stuart reigns, a committee sat for preparing bills; and none could pass but those previously approved by them. This committee was called lords of articles.
T&ogrgr; &eepsivrgr;&thgr;oς t&ogrgr; a&upsgr;t&ogrgr;, ka&igrgr; &apsacgr;m&phis;&ohgr; despotik&agrgr; t&ohivrgr;n belti&oacgr;n&ohgr;n, ka&igrgr; t&agrgr; &psgr;&eegr;&phgr;&iacgr;smata, &ohdaacgr;sper &epsgr;ke&iivrgr; t&agrgr; &epsgr;pit&aacgr;gmata ka&igrgr; &odagr; d&eegr;mag&ohgr;g&ogrgr;ς ka&igrgr; &odagr; k&oacgr;lax, o&idagr; a&upsgr;to&igrgr; ka`i &apsgr;n&aacgr;logon˙ ka&igrgr; m&aacgr;lista &edagr;k&aacgr;teroi par' &edagr;kat&eacgr;roiς &ipsgr;sχ&uacgr;ousin, o&idagr; m&egrgr;n k&oacgr;lakeς par&agrgr; tυr&aacgr;nnoiς, o&idagr; d&egrgr; d&eegr;mag&ohgr;go&igrgr; par&agrgr; to&iivrgr;ς d&eeacgr;moiς to&iivrgr;ς toio&uacgr;toiς.
"The ethical character is the same; both exercise despotism over the better class of citizens; and decrees are in the one, what ordinances and arrêts are in the other: the demagogue too, and the court favourite, are not unfrequently the same identical men, and always bear a close analogy; and these have the principal power, each in their respective forms of government, favourites with the absolute monarch, and demagogues with a people such as I have described." Arist. Politic. lib. iv. cap. 4.
33. The world is obliged to M. de Calonne for the pains he has taken to refute the scandalous exaggerations relative to some of the royal expences, and to detect the fallacious account given of pensions, for the wicked purpose of provoking the populace to all sorts of crimes.
When I sent this book to the press I entertained some doubt concerning the nature and extent of the last article in the above accounts, which is only under a general head, without any detail. Since then I have seen M. de Calonne's work. I must think it a great loss to me that I had not that advantage earlier. M. de Calonne thinks this article to be on account of general subsistence: but as he is not able to comprehend how so great a loss as upwards of £1,661,000 sterling could be sustained on the difference between the price and the sale of grain, he seems to attribute the enormous head of charge to secret expences of the revolution. I cannot say any thing positively on that subject. The reader is capable of judging, by the aggregate of these immense charges, on the state and condition of France; and the system of publick oeconomy adopted in that nation. These articles of account produced no enquiry or discussion in the National Assembly.
37. [f. This is on a supposition of the truth of this story, but he was not in France at the time. One name serves as well as another.—*x2p. 245.]
40. Whether the following description is strictly true I know not; but it is what the publishers would have pass for true, in order to animate others. In a letter from Toul, given in one of their papers, is the following passage concerning the people of that district: "Dans la Révolution actuelle, ils ont résisté à toutes les séductions du bigotisme, aux persécutions et aux tracasseries des Ennemis de la Révolution. Oubliant leurs plus grands intérêts pour rendre hommage aux vues d'ordre général qui ont déterminé l'Assemblée Nationale, ils voient, sans se plaindre, supprimer cette foule d'établissemens ecclésiastiques par lesquels ils subsistoient; et même, en perdant leur siège épiscopal, la seule de toutes ces ressources qui pouvoit, ou plutôt qui devoit, en toute équité, leur être conservée; condamnés à la plus effrayante misère, sans avoir été ni pu être entendus, ils ne murmurent point, ils restent fidèles aux principes du plus pur patriotisme; ils sont encore prêts à verser leur sang pour le maintien de la Constitution, qui va reduire leur Ville à la plus déplorable nullité." These people are not supposed to have endured those sufferings and injustices in a struggle for liberty, for the same account states truly that they had been always free; their patience in beggary and ruin, and their suffering, without remonstrance, the most flagrant and confessed injustice, if strictly true, can be nothing but the effect of this dire fanaticism. A great multitude all over France is in the same condition and the same temper.
42. "Si plures sunt ii quibus improbe datum est, quam illi quibus injuste ademptum est, idcirco plus etiam valent? Non enim numero haec judicantur, sed pondere. Quam autem habet aequitatem, ut agrum multis annis, aut etiam saeculis ante possessum, qui nullum habuit habeat; qui autem habuit amittat? Ac, propter hoc injuriae genus, Lacedaemonii Lysandrum Ephorum expulerunt: Agin regem (quod nunquam antea apud eos acciderat) necaverunt; exque eo tempore tantae discordiae secutae sunt, ut et tyranni exsisterint, et optimates exterminarentur, et preclarissime constituta respublica dilaberetur. Nec vero solum ipsa cecidit, sed etiam reliquam Graeciam evertit contagionibus malorum, quae a Lacedaemoniis profectae manarunt latius." After speaking of the conduct of the model of true patriots, Aratus of Sicyon, which was in a very different spirit, he says, "Sic par est agere cum civibus; non ut bis jam vidimus, hastam in foro ponere et bona civium voci subjicere praeconis. At ille Graecus (id quod fuit sapientis et praestantis viri) omnibus consulendum esse putavit: eaque est summa ratio et sapientia boni civis, commoda civium non divellere, sed omnes eadem aequitate continere." Cic. Off. l. 2.
44. A leading member of the assembly, M. Rabaud de St. Etienne, has expressed the principle of all their proceedings as clearly as possible. Nothing can be more simple: "Tous les établissemens en France couronnent le malheur du peuple: pour le rendre heureux il faut le renouveler; changer ses idées; changer ses loix; changer ses moeurs;.... . changer les hommes; changer les choses; changer les mots.... . tout détruire; oui, tout détruire; puisque tout est à recréer." This gentleman was chosen president in an assembly not sitting at the Quinze vingt, or the Petites Maisons; and composed of persons giving themselves out to be rational beings; but neither his ideas, language, or conduct, differ in the smallest degree from the discourses, opinions, and actions of those within and without the assembly, who direct the operations of the machine now at work in France.
45. The assembly, in executing the plan of their committee, made some alterations. They have struck out one stage in these gradations; this removes a part of the objection: but the main objection, namely, that in their scheme the first constituent voter has no connection with the representative legislator, remains in all its force. There are other alterations, some possibly for the better, some certainly for the worse; but to the author the merit or demerit of these smaller alterations appear to be of no moment, where the scheme itself is fundamentally vitious and absurd.
46. Non, ut olim, universae legiones deducebantur cum tribunis, et centurionibus, et sui cujusque ordinis militibus, ut consensu et caritate rempublicam afficerent; sed ignoti inter se, diversis manipulis, sine rectore, sine affectibus mutuis, quasi ex alio genere mortalium, repente in unum collecti, numerus magis quam colonia. Tac. Annal, l. 14. sect. 27. All this will be still more applicable to the unconnected, rotary, biennial national assemblies, in this absurd and senseless constitution.
51. Comme sa Majesté y a reconnu, non une systême d'associations particulières, mais une réunion de volontés de tous les François pour la liberté et la prosperité communes, ainsi pour le maintien de l'ordre publique; il a pensé qu'il convenoit que chaque régiment prit part a ces fêtes civiques pour multiplier les rapports, et reserrer les liens d'union entre les citoyens et les troupes.—Lest I should not be credited, I insert the words, authorising the troops to feast with the popular confederacies.
54. I see by M. Necker's account, that the national guards of Paris have received, over and above the money levied within their own city, about 145,000l. sterling out of the public treasure. Whether this be an actual payment for the nine months of their existence, or an estimate of their yearly charge, I do not clearly perceive. It is of no great importance, as certainly they may take whatever they please.
55. The reader will observe, that I have but lightly touched (my plan demanded nothing more) on the condition of the French finances, as connected with the demands upon them. If I had intended to do otherwise, the materials in my hands for such a task are not altogether perfect. On this subject I refer the reader to M. de Calonne's work; and the tremendous display that he has made of the havock and devastation in the public estate, and in all the affairs of France, caused by the presumptuous good intentions of ignorance and incapacity. Such effects, those causes will always produce. Looking over that account with a pretty strict eye, and, with perhaps too much rigour, deducting every thing which may be placed to the account of a financier out of place, who might be supposed by his enemies desirous of making the most of his cause, I believe it will be found, that a more salutary lesson of caution against the daring spirit of innovators than what has been supplied at the expence of France, never was at any time furnished to mankind.
57. "Ce n'est point à l'assemblée entière que je m'adresse ici; je ne parle qu'à ceux qui l'égarent, en lui cachant sous des gazes séduisantes le but oł ils l'entraînent. C'est à eux que je dis: Votre objet, vous n'en disconviendrez pas, c'est d'ôter tout espoir au clergé, & de consommer sa ruine; c'est-là, en ne vous soupçonnant d'aucune combinaison de cupidité, d'aucun regard sur le jeu des effets publics, c'est-là ce qu'on doit croire que vous avez en vue dans la terrible opération que vous proposez; c'est ce qui doit en être le fruit. Mais le peuple que vous y intéressez, quel avantage peut-il y trouver? En vous servant sans cesse de lui, que faites vous pour lui? Rien, absolument rien; &, au contraire, vous faites ce qui ne conduit qu'à l'accabler de nouvelles charges. Vous avez rejeté, à son préjudice, une offre de 400 millions, dont l'acceptation pouvoit devenir un moyen de soulagement en sa faveur; & à cette ressource, aussi profitable que légitime, vous avez substitué une injustice ruineuse, qui, de votre propre aveu, charge le trésor public, & par conséquent le peuple, d'un surcroît de dépense annuelle de 50 millions au moins, & d'un remboursement de 150 millions.
"Malheureux peuple! voilà ce que vous vaut en dernier résultat l'expropriation de l'Eglise, & la dureté des décrets taxateurs du traitement des ministres d'une religion bienfaisante; & désormais ils seront à votre charge: leurs charités soulageoient les pauvres; & vous allez être imposés pour subvenir à leur entretien!"—De l'État de la France, p. 81. See also p. 92, and the following pages.