Letters on a Regicide Peace
Two Letters Addressed to A Member of the Present Parliament, on the Proposals for Peace with the Regicide Directory of France by the right honourable Edmund Burke (continued)
[Second Edition. Rivingtons, 1796.]
On the Genius and Character of the French Revolution as it regards other Nations
My Dear Sir,
I closed my first Letter with serious matter; and I hope it has employed your thoughts. The system of peace must have a reference to the system of the war. On that ground, I must therefore again recal your mind to our original opinions, which time and events have not taught me to vary.
My ideas and my principles led me, in this contest, to encounter France, not as a State, but as a Faction. The vast territorial extent of that country, it's immense population, it's riches of production, it's riches of commerce and convention—the whole aggregate mass of what, in ordinary cases, constitutes the force of a State, to me were but objects of secondary consideration. They might be balanced; and they have been often more than balanced. Great as these things are, they are not what make the faction formidable. It is the faction that makes them truly dreadful. The faction is the evil spirit that possesses the body of France; that informs it as a soul; that stamps upon it's ambition, and upon all it's pursuits, a characteristic mark, which strongly distinguishes them from the same general passions, and the same general views, in other men and in other communities. It is that spirit which inspires into them a new, a pernicious, and desolating activity. Constituted as France was ten years ago, it was not in that
As to me, I was always steadily of opinion that this disorder was not in it's nature intermittent. I conceived that the contest, once begun, could not be laid down again to be resumed at our discretion; but that our first struggle with this evil would also be our last. I never thought we could make peace with the system; because it was not for the sake of an object we pursued in rivalry with each other, but with the system itself, that we were at war. As I understood the matter, we were at war, not with it's conduct, but with it's existence; convinced that it's existence and it's hostility were the same.
The faction is not local or territorial. It is a general evil. Where it least appears in action, it is still full of life. In it's sleep it recruits it's strength, and prepares it's exertion. It's spirit lies deep in the corruptions of our common nature. The social order which restrains it, feeds it. It exists in every country in Europe; and among all orders of men in every country, who look up to France as to a common head. The centre is there. The circumference is the world of Europe *1wherever the race of Europe may be settled. Everywhere else the faction is militant; in France it is triumphant. In France is the bank of deposit, and the bank of circulation, of all the pernicious principles that are forming in every State. It will be a folly scarcely deserving of pity, and too mischievous for contempt, to think of restraining
The true nature of a Jacobin war, in the beginning, was, by most of the Christian Powers, felt, acknowledged, and even in the most precise manner declared. In the joint manifesto, published by the Emperor and the King of Prussia, on the 4th of August 1792, it is expressed in the clearest terms, and on principles which could not fail, if they had adhered to them, of classing those monarchs with the first benefactors of mankind. This manifesto was published, as they themselves express it, "to lay open to the present generation, as well as to posterity, their motives, their intentions, and the disinterestedness of their personal views; taking up arms for the purpose of preserving social and political order amongst all civilized nations, and to secure to each state its religion, happiness, independence, territories, and real constitution." "On this ground, they hoped that all Empires, and all States, ought to be unanimous; and becoming the firm guardians of the happiness of mankind, that they cannot fail to unite their efforts to rescue a numerous nation from it's own fury, to preserve Europe from the return of barbarism, and the Universe from the subversion and anarchy with which it was threatened." The whole of that noble performance ought to be read at the first meeting of any Congress which may assemble for the purpose of pacification. In that piece "these Powers expressly renounce all views of personal aggrandizement," and confine themselves to objects worthy of so generous, so heroic, and so perfectly wise and politick an enterprise. It was to the principles of this consideration, and to no other, that we wished our Sovereign and our Country to accede, as a part of the
As long as these powers flattered themselves that the menace of force would produce the effect of force, they acted on those declarations: but when their menaces failed of success, their efforts took a new direction. It did not appear to them that virtue and heroism ought to be purchased by millions of rix-dollars. It is a dreadful truth, but it is a truth that cannot be concealed; in ability, in dexterity, in the distinctness of their views, the Jacobins are our superiors. They saw the thing right from the very beginning. Whatever were the first motives to the war among politicians, they saw that it is in it's spirit, and for it's objects, a civil war; and as such they pursued it. It is a war between the partizans of the ancient, civil, moral, and political order of Europe against a sect of fanatical and ambitious atheists which means to change them all. It is not France extending a foreign empire over other nations: it is a sect aiming at universal empire, and beginning with the *3conquest of France. The leaders of that sect secured the centre of Europe; and that secured, they knew, that whatever might be the event of battles and sieges, their cause was victorious. Whether it's territory had a little more or a little less peeled from it's surface, or whether an island or two was detached from it's commerce, to them was of little moment. The conquest of France was a glorious acquisition. That once well laid as a basis of empire, opportunities never could be wanting to regain or to replace what had been lost, and
They saw it was a civil war. It was their business to persuade their adversaries that it ought to be a foreign war. The Jacobins every where set up a cry against the new crusade; and they intrigued with effect in the cabinet, in the field, and in every private society in Europe. Their talk was not difficult. The condition of Princes, and sometimes of first Ministers too, is to be pitied. The creatures of the desk, and the creatures of favour, had no relish for the principles of the manifestoes. They promised no governments, no regiments, no revenues from whence emoluments might arise, by perquisite or by grant. In truth, the tribe of vulgar politicians are the lowest of our species. There is no trade so vile and mechanical as government in their hands. Virtue is not their habit. They are out of themselves in any course of conduct recommended only by conscience and glory. A large, liberal and prospective view of the interests of States passes with them for romance; and the principles that recommend it for the wanderings of a disordered imagination. The calculators compute them out of their senses. The jesters and buffoons shame them out of every thing grand and elevated. Littleness, in object and in means, to them appears soundness and sobriety. They think there is nothing worth pursuit, but that which they can handle; which they can measure with a two-foot rule; which they can tell upon ten fingers.
Without the principles of the Jacobins, perhaps without any principles at all, they played the game of that faction. There was a beaten road before them. The Powers of Europe were armed; France had always appeared dangerous; the war was easily diverted from France as a faction, to France as a state. The Princes were easily taught to
This error obliged them, even in their offensive operations, to adopt a plan of war, against the success of which there was something little short of mathematical demonstration. They refused to take any step which might strike at the heart of affairs. They seemed unwilling to wound the enemy in any vital part. They acted through the whole, as if they really wished the conservation of the Jacobin power; as what might be more favourable than the lawful Government to the attainment of the petty objects they looked for. They always kept on the circumference; and the wider and remoter the circle was, the more eagerly they chose it as their sphere of action in this *5centrifugal war. The plan they pursued, in it's nature, demanded great length of time.
As long as there was any appearance of success, the spirit of aggrandizement, and consequently the spirit of mutual jealousy seized upon all the coalesced Powers. Some sought an accession of territory at the expence of France, some at the expence of each other; some at the expence of third parties; and when the vicissitude of disaster took it's turn, they found common distress a treacherous bond of faith and friendship.
The greatest skill conducting the greatest military apparatus has been employed; but it has been worse than uselessly employed, through the false policy of the war. The operations of the field suffered by the errors of the Cabinet. If the same spirit continues when peace is made, the peace will fix and perpetuate all the errors of the war; because it will be made upon the same false principle. What has been lost in the field, in the field may be regained. An arrangement of peace in it's nature is a permanent settlement; it is the effect of counsel and deliberation, and not of fortuitous events. If built upon a basis fundamentally erroneous, it can only be retrieved by some of those unforeseen dispositions, which the all-wise but mysterious Governor of the World sometimes interposes, to snatch nations from ruin. It would not be pious error, but mad and impious presumption, for any one to trust in an unknown order of dispensations, in defiance of the rules of prudence, which are formed upon the known march of the ordinary providence of God.
The moment this war came to be considered as a war merely of profit, the actual circumstances are such, that it never could become really a war of alliance. Nor can the peace be a peace of alliance, until things are put upon their right bottom.
I don't find it denied, that when a treaty is entered into for peace, a demand will be made on the Regicides to surrender a great part of their conquests on the Continent. Will they, in the present state of the war, make that surrender without an equivalent? This continental cession must of course be made in favour of that party in the alliance, that has suffered losses. That party has nothing to furnish towards an equivalent. What equivalent, for instance, has Holland to offer, who has lost her all? What equivalent can come from the Emperor, every part of whose territories contiguous to France, is already within the pale of the Regicide dominion? What equivalent has Sardinia to offer for Savoy and for Nice, I may say for her whole being? What has she taken from the faction of France? She has lost very nearly her all; and she has gained nothing. What equivalent has Spain to give? Alas! she has already paid for her own ransom the fund of equivalent, and a dreadful equivalent it is, to England and to herself. But I put Spain
Whence then can the compensation be demanded? Undoubtedly from that power which alone has made some conquests. That power is England. Will the allies then give away their ancient patrimony, that England may keep Islands in the West-Indies? They never can protract the war in good earnest for that object; nor can they act in concert with us, in our refusal to grant any thing towards their redemption. In that case we are thus situated. Either we must give Europe, bound hand and foot, to France; or we must quit the West Indies without any one object, great or small, towards indemnity and security. I repeat it—without any advantage whatever: because, supposing that our conquest could comprize all that France ever possessed in the tropical America, it never can amount, in any fair estimation, to a fair equivalent for Holland, for the Austrian Netherlands, for the lower Germany, that is, for the whole antient kingdom or circle of Burgundy, now under the yoke of Regicide, to say nothing of almost all Italy under the same barbarous domination. If we treat in the present situation of things, we have nothing in our hands that can redeem Europe. Nor is the Emperor, as I have observed, more rich in the fund of equivalents.
If we look to our stock in the Eastern world, our most valuable and systematick acquisitions are made in that quarter. Is it from France they are made? France has but one or two *9contemptible factories, subsisting by the offal of the private fortunes of English individuals to support them, in any part of India. I look on the taking of the *10Cape of Good Hope as the securing of a post of great moment. It does honour to those who planned, and to those who
As to the West Indies, indeed as to either, if we look for matter of exchange in order to ransom Europe, it is easy to shew that we have taken a terrible roundabout road. I cannot conceive, even if, for the sake of holding conquests there, we should refuse to redeem Holland, and the Austrian Netherlands, and the hither Germany, that Spain, merely as she is Spain, (and forgetting that the Regicide Ambassador governs at Madrid) will see with perfect satisfaction
*12It would not be at all difficult to prove that an army of a hundred thousand men, horse, foot, and artillery, might have been employed against the enemy on the very soil which he has usurped, at a far less expense than has been squandered away upon tropical adventures. In these adventures it was not an enemy we had to vanquish, but a cemetery to conquer. In carrying on the war in the West Indies, the hostile sword is merciful: the country in which we engage is the dreadful enemy. There the European conqueror finds a cruel defeat in the very fruits of his success. Every advantage is but a new demand on England for recruits to the West Indian grave. In a West India war, the Regicides have for their troops a race of *13fierce barbarians, to whom the poisoned air, in which our youth inhale certain death, is salubrity and life. To them the climate is the surest and most faithful of allies.
Had we carried on the war on the side of France which looks towards the Channel or the Atlantick, we should have
Had acquisitions in the West Indies been our object, or success in France, every thing reasonable in those remote parts might be demanded with decorum, and justice, and
It was delivered into the hands of the barbarians without, as I can find, any public *17reclamation on our part, not only in contravention of one of the fundamental treaties that compose the public law of Europe, but in defiance of the fundamental colonial policy of Spain herself. This part of the Treaty of Utrecht was made for great general ends, unquestionably: but whilst it provided for those general ends, it was an affirmance of that particular policy. It was not to injure but to save Spain, by making a settlement of her estate which prohibited her to alienate it to France. It is her policy not to see the balance of West Indian power overturned, by France or by Great Britain. Whilst the monarchies subsisted, this unprincipled cession was what the influence of the elder branch of the House of Bourbon never dared attempt on the younger. But cannibal terror has been more powerful than family influence. The Bourbon
Unfortunately other ideas have prevailed. A remote, an expensive, a murderous, and in the end, an unproductive adventure, carried on upon ideas of mercantile knight-errantry, without any of the generous wildness of Quixotism, is considered as sound, solid sense: and a war in a wholesome climate, a war at our door, a war directly on the enemy, a war in the heart of his country, a war in concert with an internal ally, and in combination with the external, is regarded as folly and romance.
My dear Friend, I hold it impossible that these considerations should have escaped the Statesmen on both sides of the water, and on both sides of the house of Commons. How a question of peace can be discussed without having them in view, I cannot imagine. If you or others see a way
Such is the time proposed for making a common political peace, to which no one circumstance is propitious. As to the grand principle of the peace, it is left, as if by common consent, wholly out of the question.
Viewing things in this light, I have frequently sunk into a degree of despondency and dejection hardly to be described: yet out of the profoundest depths of this despair, an impulse which I have in vain endeavoured to resist has urged me to raise one feeble cry against this unfortunate coalition which is formed at home, in order to make a coalition with France, subversive of the whole ancient order of the world. No disaster of war, no calamity of season, could ever strike me with half the horror which I felt from what is introduced to us by this junction of parties, under the soothing name of peace. We are apt to speak of a low and pusillanimous spirit as the ordinary cause by which dubious wars terminate in humiliating treaties. It is here the direct contrary. I am perfectly astonished at the boldness of character, at the intrepidity of mind, the firmness of nerve, in those who are able with deliberation to face the perils of Jacobin fraternity.
This fraternity is indeed so terrible in it's nature, and in it's manifest consequences, that there is no way of quieting our apprehensions about it, but by totally putting it out of sight, by substituting for it, through a sort of periphrasis, something of an ambiguous quality, and describing such a connection under the terms of "the usual relations of peace and amity." By this means the proposed fraternity is hustled in the crowd of those treaties, which imply no
All this body of old conventions, composing the vast and voluminous collection called the corps diplomatique, forms the code or statute law, as the methodized reasonings of the great publicists and jurists form the digest and jurisprudence, of the Christian world. In these treasures are to be found the usual relations of peace and amity in civilized Europe; and there the relations of ancient France were to be found amongst the rest.
The present system in France is not the ancient France. It is not the ancient France with ordinary ambition and ordinary means. It is not a new power of an old kind. It is a new power of a new species. When such a questionable shape is to be admitted for the first time into the brotherhood of Christendom, it is not a mere matter of idle curiosity to consider how far it is, in it's nature, alliable with the rest, or whether "the relations of peace and amity" with this new State are likely to be of the same nature with the usual relations of the States of Europe.
The Revolution in France had the relation of France to other nations as one of it's principal objects. The changes made by that Revolution were not the better to accommodate her to the old and usual relations, but to produce new ones. The Revolution was made, not to make France free, but to
In the Revolution of France two sorts of men were principally concerned in giving a character and determination to it's pursuits; the philosophers and the politicians. They took different ways: but they met in the same end. The philosophers had one predominant object, which they pursued with a fanatical fury, that is, the utter extirpation of religion. To that every question of empire was subordinate. They had rather domineer in a parish of Atheists, than rule over a Christian world. Their temporal ambition was wholly subservient to their proselytizing spirit, in which they were not exceeded by Mahomet himself.
They who have made but superficial studies in the Natural History of the human mind, have been taught to look on religious opinions as the only cause of enthusiastick zeal, and sectarian propagation. But *21there is no doctrine whatever, on which men can warm, that is not capable of the very same effect. The social nature of man impels him to propagate his principles, as much as physical impulses urge him to propagate his kind. The passions give zeal and vehemence. The understanding bestows design and system. The whole man moves under the discipline of his opinions. Religion is among the most powerful causes of enthusiasm. When any thing concerning it becomes an object of much meditation, it cannot be indifferent to the
The other sort of men were the politicians. To them who had little or not at all reflected on the subject, religion was in itself no object of love or hatred. They disbelieved it, and that was all. Neutral with regard to that object, they took the side which in the present state of things might best answer their purposes. They soon found that they could not do without the philosophers; and the philosophers soon made them sensible that the destruction of religion was to supply them with means of conquest, first at home, and then abroad. The philosophers were the active internal agitators, and supplied the spirit and principles: the second gave the practical direction. Sometimes the one predominated in the composition, sometimes the other. The only difference between them was in the necessity of concealing the general design for a time, and in their dealing with foreign nations; the fanaticks going strait forward and openly, the politicians by the surer mode of zigzag. In the course of events this, among other causes, produced fierce and bloody contentions between them. But at the bottom they thoroughly agreed in all the objects of ambition and irreligion, and substantially in all the means of promoting these ends.
Without question, to bring about the unexampled event of the French Revolution, the concurrence of a very great number of views and passions was necessary. In that stupendous work, no one principle by which the human mind may have it's faculties at once invigorated and depraved, was left unemployed: but I can speak it to a certainty, and support it by undoubted proofs, that the ruling
On that system of aggrandizement there was but one mind: but two violent factions arose about the means. The first wished France, diverted from the politicks of the continent, to attend solely to her marine, to feed it by an encrease of commerce, and thereby to overpower England on her own element. They contended, that if England were disabled, the Powers on the continent would fall into their proper subordination; that it was England which deranged the whole continental system of Europe. The others, who were by far the more numerous, though not the most outwardly prevalent at Court, considered this plan for France as contrary to her genius, her situation, and her natural means. They agreed as to the ultimate object, the reduction
What is truly astonishing, the partizans of those two opposite systems were at once prevalent, and at once employed, and in the very same transactions, the one ostensibly, the other secretly, during the latter part of the reign of Lewis XV. Nor was there one Court in which an Ambassador resided on the part of the Ministers, in which another as a spy on him did not also reside on the part of the King: they who pursued the scheme for keeping peace on the continent, and particularly with Austria, acting officially and publickly, the other faction counteracting and opposing them. These private agents were continually going from their function to the Bastille, and from the Bastille to employment, and favour again. An inextricable cabal was formed, some of persons of rank, others of subordinates.
The unfortunate Louis the Sixteenth*22 was not the first cause of the evil by which he suffered. He came to it, as to a sort of inheritance, by the false politicks of his immediate predecessor. This system of dark and perplexed intrigue had come to it's perfection before he came to the throne: and even then the Revolution strongly operated in all it's causes.
There was no point on which the discontented diplomatic politicians so bitterly arraigned their Cabinet, as for the decay of French influence in all others. From quarrelling with the Court, they began to complain of Monarchy itself; as a system of Government too variable for any regular plan of national aggrandizement. They observed, that in that sort of regimen too much depended on the personal character of the Prince; that the vicissitudes produced by the succession of Princes of a different character, and even the
*28The diplomatick politicians of whom I speak, and who formed by far the majority in that class, made disadvantageous comparisons even between their more legal and formalising Monarchy, and the monarchies of other states, as a system of power and influence. They observed, that France not only lost ground herself, but through the languor and unsteadiness of her pursuits, and from her aiming through commerce at naval force which she never could
Whether they reasoned right or wrong, or that there was some mixture of right and wrong in their reasoning, I am sure, that in this manner they felt and reasoned. The different effects of a great military and ambitious republick, and of a monarchy of the same description were constantly in their mouths. The principle was ready to operate when opportunities should offer, which few of them indeed foresaw in the extent in which they were afterwards presented; but these opportunities, in some degree or other, they all ardently wished for.
When I was in Paris in 1773, the treaty of 1756 between Austria and France was deplored as a national calamity; because it united France in friendship with a Power, at whose expence alone they could hope any continental aggrandizement. When the first partition of Poland was made, in which France had no share, and which had farther aggrandized every one of the three Powers of which they were most jealous, I found them in a perfect phrenzy of rage and indignation. Not that they were hurt at the shocking and uncoloured violence and injustice of that partition; but at the debility, improvidence, and want of activity in their Government, in not preventing it as a means of aggrandizement to their rivals, or in not contriving, by exchanges of some kind or other, to obtain their share of advantage from that robbery.
In that or nearly in that state of things and of opinions, came the *33Austrian match; which promised to draw the knot, as afterwards in effect it did, still more closely between the old rival houses. This added exceedingly to their hatred and contempt of their monarchy. It was for this reason that the late glorious Queen, who on all accounts was formed to produce general love and admiration, and whose life was
From this their restless desire of an over-ruling influence, they bent a very great part of their designs and efforts to revive the old French party, which was a democratick party, in Holland, and to make a revolution there. They were happy at the troubles which the singular imprudence of Joseph the Second had stirred up in the Austrian Netherlands. They rejoiced, when they saw him irritate his subjects, profess philosophy, send away the Dutch garrisons, and dismantle his fortifications. As to Holland, they never forgave either the King or the Ministry, for suffering that object, which they justly looked on as principal in their design of reducing the power of England, to escape out of their hands. This was the true secret of the *34commercial treaty, made, on their part, against all the old rules and principles of commerce, with a view of diverting the English nation, by a pursuit of immediate profit, from an attention to the progress of France in it's designs upon that Republic. The system of the oeconomists, which led to the general opening of commerce, *35facilitated that treaty, but did not produce it. They were in despair when they found that by the vigour of Mr. Pitt, supported in this point by Mr. Fox and the opposition, the object, to which they had sacrificed their manufactures, was lost to their ambition. This eager desire of raising
These sentiments had been long lurking in their breasts, though their views were only discovered now and then, in heat and as by escapes; but on this occasion they exploded suddenly. They were professed with ostentation, and propagated with zeal. These sentiments were not produced, as some think, by their American alliance. The American alliance was *37produced by their republican principles and republican policy. This new relation undoubtedly did much. The discourses and cabals that it produced, the intercourse that it established, and above all, the example, which made it seem practicable to establish a Republick *38in a great extent of country, finished the work, and gave to that part of the Revolutionary faction a degree of strength, which required other energies than the late King possessed, to resist, or even to restrain. It spread every where; but it was no where more prevalent than in the heart of the Court. The palace of Versailles, by it's language, seemed a forum of democracy. To have pointed out to most of those politicians, from their dispositions and movements, what has since happened, the fall of their own Monarchy, of their own Laws, of their own Religion, would have been to furnish a motive the more for pushing forward a system on which they considered all these things as incumbrances. Such in truth they were. And we have seen them succeed, not only in the destruction of their monarchy, but in all the objects of ambition that they proposed from that destruction.
When I contemplate the scheme on which France is formed, and when I compare it with these systems, with which it is,
The British State is, without question, that which pursues the greatest variety of ends, and is the least disposed to sacrifice any one of them to another, or to the whole. It aims at taking in the *40entire circle of human desires, and securing for them their fair enjoyment. Our legislature has been ever closely connected, in it's most efficient part, with individual feeling and individual interest. Personal liberty, the most
On this principle England would be the weakest power in the whole system. Fortunately, however, the great riches of this kingdom, arising from a variety of causes, and the disposition of the people, which is *42as great to spend as to accumulate, has easily afforded a disposeable surplus that gives a mighty momentum to the state. This difficulty, with these advantages to overcome it, has called forth the talents of the English financiers, who, by the surplus of industry poured out by prodigality, have outdone every thing which has been accomplished in other nations. The present Minister has outdone his predecessors; and as a Minister of revenue, is far *43above my power of praise. But still there are cases in which England feels more than several others, (though they all feel) the perplexity of an immense body of balanced advantages, and of individual demands, and of some irregularity in the whole mass.
France differs essentially from all those Governments which are formed without system, which exist by habit, and which are confused with the multitude, and with the complexity of their pursuits. What now stands as Government in France is struck out at a heat. The design is wicked, immoral, impious, oppressive; but it is spirited and daring: it is systematick; it is simple in it's principle; it has unity and consistency in perfection. In that country entirely to cut off a branch of commerce, to extinguish a manufacture, to destroy the circulation of money, to violate credit, to suspend the course of agriculture, even to burn a city, or to lay waste a province of their own, does not cost them a
Thus constituted with an immense body of natural means, which are lessened in their amount only to be increased in their effect, France has, since the accomplishment of the Revolution, a complete unity in it's direction. It has destroyed every resource of the State which depends upon opinion and the good-will of individuals. The riches of convention disappear. The advantages of nature in some measure remain; even these, I admit, are astonishingly lessened; the command over what remains is complete and absolute. *44We go about asking when assignats will expire, and we laugh at the last price of them. But what signifies the fate of those tickets of despotism? The despotism will find despotick means of supply. They have found the short cut to the productions of Nature, while others, in pursuit of them, are obliged to wind through the labyrinth of a very intricate state of society. They seize upon the fruit of the labour; they seize upon the labourer himself. Were France but half of what it is in population, in compactness, in applicability of it's force, situated as it is, and being what it is, it would be too strong for most of the States of Europe, constituted as they are, and proceeding as they proceed. Would it be wise to estimate what the world of Europe, as well as the world of Asia, had to dread from *45Jinghiz Khân, upon a contemplation of the resources of the cold and barren spot in the remotest Tartary, from
Material resources never have supplied, nor ever can supply, the want of unity in design and constancy in pursuit. But unity in design, and perseverance, and boldness in pursuit, have never wanted resources, and never will. We have not considered as we ought the dreadful energy of a State, in which the property has nothing to do with the Government. Reflect, my dear Sir, reflect again and again on a Government, in which the property is in complete subjection, and where nothing rules but the mind of desperate men. The condition of a commonwealth not governed by it's property was a combination of things, which the learned and ingenious speculator *46Harrington, who has tossed about society into all forms, never could imagine to be possible. We have seen it; the world has felt it; and if the world will shut their eyes to this state of things, they will feel it more. The rulers there have found their resources in crimes. The discovery is dreadful: *47the mine exhaustless. They have every thing to gain, and they have nothing to lose. They have a boundless inheritance in hope; and there is no medium for them, betwixt the highest elevation, and death with infamy. Never can they who from the miserable servitude of the desk have been raised to Empire, again submit to the bondage of a starving bureau, or the profit of *48copying music, or writing *49plaidoyers by the sheet. It has made me often smile in bitterness, when I have heard
From all this, what is my inference? It is, that this new system of robbery in France, cannot be rendered safe by any art; that it *50must be destroyed, or that it will destroy all Europe; that to destroy that enemy, by some means or other, the force opposed to it should be made to bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit which that system exerts; that war ought to be made against it in its vulnerable parts. These are my inferences. In one word, with this Republick nothing independent can co-exist. The errors of Louis the XVIth. were more pardonable to prudence, than any of those of the same kind into which the Allied Courts may fall. They have the benefit of his dreadful example.
The unhappy Louis XVI. was a man of the best intentions that probably ever reigned. He was by no means deficient in talents. He had a most laudable desire to supply by general reading, and even by the acquisition of elemental knowledge, an education in all points originally defective; but nobody told him (and it was no wonder he should not himself divine it) that the world of which he read, and the world in which he lived, were no longer the same. Desirous of doing every thing for the best, fearful of cabal, distrusting his own judgment, he sought his Ministers of all kinds upon public testimony. But as Courts are the field for caballers, the publick is the theatre for mountebanks and impostors. The cure for both those evils is in the discernment of the Prince. But an accurate and penetrating discernment is what in a young Prince could not be looked for.
His conduct in it's principle was not unwise; but, like most other of his well-meant designs, it failed in his hands. It failed partly from mere ill fortune, to which speculators
Louis the XVIth. was a *51diligent reader of history. But the very lamp of prudence blinded him. The guide of human life led him astray. A silent revolution in the moral world preceded the political, and prepared it. It became of more importance than ever what examples
With this example before their eyes, do any Ministers in England, do any Ministers in Austria, really flatter themselves, that they can erect, not on the remote shores of the Atlantick, but in their view, in their vicinity, in absolute contact with one of them, not a commercial but a martial Republick—a Republick not of simple *54husbandmen or fishermen, but of intriguers, and of warriors—a Republick of a character the most restless, the most enterprizing, the most impious, the most fierce and bloody, the most hypocritical and perfidious, the most bold and daring that ever has been seen, or indeed that can be conceived to exist, without bringing on their own certain ruin?
Such is the Republick to which we are going to give a place in civilized fellowship. The Republick, which with joint consent we are going to establish in the center of Europe, in a post that overlooks and commands every
You cannot fail to observe, that I speak as if the allied powers were actually consenting, and not compelled by events to the establishment of this faction in France. The words have not escaped me. You will hereafter naturally expect that I should make them good. But whether in adopting this measure we are madly active, or weakly passive, or pusillanimously panick-struck, the effects will be the same. *55You may call this faction, which has eradicated the monarchy—expelled the proprietary, persecuted religion, and trampled upon law*23—you may call this France if you please: but of the ancient France nothing remains but it's central geography; it's iron frontier; it's spirit of ambition; it's audacity of enterprize; it's perplexing intrigue. These and these alone remain; and they remain heightened in their principle and augmented in their means. All the former correctives, whether of virtue or of weakness, which existed in the old Monarchy, are gone. No single new corrective is to be found in the whole body of the new institutions. How should such a thing be found there, when every thing has been chosen with care and selection to forward all those ambitious designs and dispositions, not to controul them? The whole is a body of ways and means for the supply of dominion, without one heterogeneous particle in it.
Here I suffer you to breathe, and leave to your meditation what has occurred to me on the genius and character of the French Revolution. From having this before us, we may be better able to determine on the first question I proposed, that is, how far nations, called foreign, are likely to be affected with the system established within that territory?
This discussion, my Friend, will be long. But the matter is serious; and if ever the fate of the world could be truly said to depend on a particular measure, it is upon this peace. For the present, farewell.
Notes for this chapter
P. 155, l. 23. wherever the race, &c. i.e. in America as well as in Europe. Incidents in Hayti and in Spanish America suggested the observation. Cp. post, p. 231.
See Declaration. Whitehall, Oct. 29, 1793.
P. 158, l. 24. linked by a contignation, i.e. by a structural tie. The image is Shaksperian:
To whose huge spokes ten thousand lesser things
Are mortis'd and adjoin'd.
—Hamlet, Act iii. sc. 3.
P. 159, l. 16. Centrifugal war. The expression aptly characterizes the war policy of the Allies. Cp. 163, l. 12, where it is explained as a "scheme of war that repels as from a centre," i.e. France itself.
P. 160, l. 22. nothing to hold an alliance together. Burke proceeds to show why the coalition failed. His thorough and exact analysis of the situation may be relied on.
P. 161, l. 11. worse than a negative interest. Because all the West Indian possessions of European powers other than Spain were originally encroachments on Spain. Spain has been losing the West Indies piecemeal ever since she gained them.
l. 8. Cape of Good Hope. The Cape was in those times only valuable in connexion with India and the East. British policy and enterprise has made it the nucleus of a great group of colonial states.
l. 25. declines still more. The decline of Holland as a colonial power was measured by the failing prosperity of the Dutch East Indian Company.
P. 164, l. 23, foll. The passage which follows, expanding the criticisms on the general plan of the war, and alluding to the unfortunate campaign in
P. 165, l. 7. ally in the heart of the country. Burke was always for stirring the strong anti-revolutionary elements which existed unused in France. The subsequent history of French factions has amply shown how much might have been done in this way.
P. 166, l. 15. made for the seat, &c. Burke has in mind the early settlement of the Spaniards in the West Indies, when Hayti was the centre of government, and the transfer of West Indian supremacy to the French with the possession of the west of the island.
Ibid. not improved as the French division had been. The extraordinary prosperity of French Hayti is a striking feature in colonial history. See the Editor's History of European Colonies.
P. 167, l. 1. ties of blood. Burke derives the hint from Bacon, speaking of the Social War: "You speak of a naturalisation in blood; there was a naturalisation indeed in blood." "Of General Naturalisation."
l. 34. I see, indeed, a fund, &c. Burke alludes to the ecclesiastical electorates of Cologne, Trèves, and Mainz, and to the large sovereign bishoprics of Liège, Paderborn, Munster, &c. These it was proposed to secularize and cede some parts to Austria and Prussia in compensation for the Austrian Netherlands and the Rhenish possessions of Prussia.
P. 170, l. 19. there is no doctrine whatever, &c. Burke repeats the observation from Bolingbroke (On the true use of Retirement, &c.), who borrows it from Montaigne, Essais, Liv. i. ch. 40: "Toute opinion est assez forte pour se faire espouser au prix de la vie."
l. 33. strike the sun out of heaven. Burke has in mind Gray, The Bard:
Fond impious man! think'st thou the sanguine cloud
Rais'd by thy breath can quench the orb of day?
P. 171, l. 7. "carried along with the general motion," &c.:
For as in Nature's swiftness, with the throng
Of flying orbs whilst ours is borne along,
All seems at rest to the deluded eye,
Moved by the soul of the same harmony;
So carried on by your unwearied care
We rest in peace, and yet in motion share.
—Dryden, Lines to the Lord Chancellor.
l. 18. nothing, indeed, &c. Borrowed from Aristotle, 'Arχ&eegrgr; &apsgr;ndr&agrgr; de&iacgr;ξei.
It may be right to do justice to Louis XVI. He did what he could to destroy the double diplomacy of France. He had all his secret correspondence burnt, except one piece, which was called, Conjectures raisonnées sur la Situation de la France dans le Système Politique de l'Europe; a work executed by M. Favier, under the direction of Count Broglie. A single copy of this was said to have been found in the Cabinet of Louis XVI. It was published with some subsequent state papers of Vergennes, Turgot, and others, as, "A new Benefit of the Revolution"; and the advertisement to the publication ends with the following words. "Il sera facile de se convaincre, qu'
y compris même la revolution, en grande partie, on trouve dans ces mémoires et ses conjectures le germe de tout ce qu'arriva aujourd'hui, & qu'on ne peut pas sans les avoir lus, être bien au fait des intérêts, & même des vues actuelles des diverses puissances de l'Europe." The book is entitled, Politique de tous les Cabinets de l'Europe pendant les règnes de Louis XV. & Louis XVI. It is altogether very curious, and worth reading.
l. 13. The diplomatic politicians, &c. This ingenious account of the growth of an aggressive policy on the part of France, though based on notorious historical facts, is difficult to justify specifically.
l. 23. Russia and Prussia. The rise of the former dated from Peter the Great, of the latter from Frederick.
l. 19. Out the word came. The allusion is to the arguments in the Encyclopédie and elsewhere. The politicians, of course, never employed the word except in theoretical discussions, before the Revolution.
l. 10. facilitated—but did not produce it. Burke can hardly escape the charge of bending his facts to his theory. Political ambition alone would never have produced the treaty.
l. 17. unhappy American quarrel. Here again the alliance of France with the revolted Colonies may be accounted for without assuming an unnatural ambition on the part of France.
l. 26. produced by their republican principles. But cp. p. 182, post, where the policy of the old monarchy is shown not to have been repugnant to republics.
l. 30. in a great extent of country. The example of the United States destroyed at once the old illusion that a non-monarchical government could only suit with small states. Cp. vol. ii. p. 224, l. 35.
P. 180, l. 31. found in monarchies stiled absolute. Burke repeats a well-known conclusion of Gibbon.
P. 181, l. 8. entire circle of human desires. Burke alludes to an idea put forth by Montesquieu and developed in Goldsmith's Traveller. It is fully explained in the note to vol. i. p. 237, l. 31. Burke's account of the growth of English civilization has been well amplified by Guizot: "The general character of European civilization has especially distinguished the civilization of England. It was exhibited in that country with more sequence and greater clearness than in any other. In England the civil and religious orders, aristocracy, democracy, monarchy, local and central institutions, moral and political development, have increased and advanced together.... Not one of the ancient elements of society ever completely perished; no special principle was ever able to obtain an exclusive dominion. There has always been a simultaneous development of all the different powers, and a sort of compromise between the claims and the interests of all of them..... It cannot, for instance, be denied that the simultaneous development of the different social elements caused England to advance more rapidly than any of the continental states towards the true aim and object of all society—the
l. 16. direct object. Burke alludes to the specific provisions in its favour, from Magna Charta to the Habeas Corpus Act.
l. 21. as great to spend, &c. Cp. vol. i. p. 285, l. 34. Since 1832 the people have been less disposed to expenditure.
l. 29. above my power of praise. Burke's general estimate of Pitt has been fully confirmed by modern opinion. Supreme in influence over Parliament, and the first of the great school of English financial statesmen, he failed signally as a war-minister.
P. 182, l. 27. We go about asking when assignats will expire, &c. "The French, beginning with bankruptcy at home, had proceeded abroad on the maxim of Machiavelli, that men and arms will find money and provide for themselves." Southey, Essay on State of Public Opinion and the Political Reformers.
l. 28. Harrington—never could imagine, &c. Harrington uniformly derives all government from property. A man, he argues, with no estate, either in land, goods, or money, can have nothing to govern, and therefore no share in government. A state of things in which the people, not owning at least two thirds of the land, are supreme, he denominates "an Anarchy." See his System of Politics in Aphorisms.
l. 33. "The mine exhaustless." Burke is followed here by an opponent: "Nothing in point of resources is beyond the reach of a revolutionary government: whereas regular governments have their limitations in this point."—Marquis of Lansdowne's Speech on the Address, 1801.
P. 185, l. 32. diligent reader of history. "A century after the expulsion of James, Louis XVI was anxious to draw wisdom from the fate of the Stuarts. He was continually reading over the lives of Charles I and James II, and even, it is said, added comments with his own hand on the margin. Determined to avoid their erring policy, he, as we have already seen, temporised and yielded on every possible occasion."—Lord Mahon's Essay on the French Revolution.
P. 188, l. 6. you may call this France, &c. We have elsewhere the idea
And here remain with your uncertainties," &c.
—Act iii. Scene 3.
And Carew to Master William Montague:
The kingdom lives in exile.
"Non te civitas, non regia domus in exilium miserunt, sed tu utrasque." Cicero, quoted in letters of Swift to Gay.
See our declaration.
Vol. 3, Letter III
End of Notes
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