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enaminationcipal the Ancient Zodiacs, Calendars
, N ECES O'The Rev.SE. Nokes Sermon on the
THE ETHNOLOGICAL JOURNAL.
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convert from Catholicism, but I judge
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EDITED BY G. J. HOLYOAKE.
LEWES'S LIFE OF ROBESPIERRE.*
The impression Robespierre has made on men's minds sufficiently attests his character as a man of power and purpose. In that unparalleled struggle in which parties destroyed each other-in which Robespierre himself was consumed—his name has proved invincible. The vortex which destroyed himself was not able to swallow his reputation. It has survived calumny unequalled in universality; and hatred, unparalleled in intensity, has not suppressed his name. History has not had power to destroy him. Robespierre's career attests the invincibility of earnesiness. Mirabeau predicted his future when, after hearing him for the first time at the Jacobin Club, he went away saying “This man will go a long way, for he believes what he says.'
Various opinions are formed of Lamartine: some distrust his greatness on account of the discrepancy between his private life and the grandeur of his sentiments—some are discouraged on account of his political weakness; but the power and sagacity displayed in his History of the Girondins' justify the highest estimate of his genius and his value; and had he written the sketch of Robespierre only, he would have made a contribution to literature which would have arrested attention to his name for a long period.
Before him, however, Cabet made a courageous addition to our knowledge of Robespierre in his history of the social influences which were at work in the first revolution. And before Cabet, in this country, Bronterre O'Brien was foremost to assert the integrity of Robespierre's political character, and his · Life' still continues the most instructive as to the contemporaneous opinions formed of Robespierre. There is a larger accumulation of material on which to form a judgment of the man in Mr. O'Brien's work than in any other accessible to the English reader. It is to be regretted that all inducements offered to Mr. O'Brien to complete his work have failed.
But in proportion as we regret that Mr. O'Brien, from whom the people had some right to expect it, did not execute this work, we are more grateful to Mr. Lewes, on whom we had less claim, for having been the first person to accomplish the biography of the great tribune. And, if we liave objections to urge to Mr. Lewes's performance, let us at the
• 'Life of Maximilien Robespierre, with Extracts from his Unpublished Correspondence. By G. H. Lewes, author of 'Ranthorpe,'' Biographical History of Philosophy,' &c., &c. London: Chapman and Hall.
(No. 161, Vol. VII.]
outset do him the justice of acknowledging that, without the facts which his industry and research have placed before the public, we could not take our objections so efficiently. If we refute Mr. Lewes, it is owing to his candour that we are enabled to do it. His love of truth has been stronger than his powers-so far as this work is concerned—of weighing his own evidence.
The manner in which history treats Robespierre, is illustrated in Mr. Lewes's work. Robespierre's father lost his wife, to whom he was tenderly attached. He left Arras-wandered over the world, and died finally of grief and fatigue at Munich. His family say he was unable to bear the associations of his native town after the loss of his wife Mr. Lewes adopts the hypothesis that he could not bear to face certain creditors whom he left there. Robespierre is to be proved a monster, and the reader is prepared by the suggestion that his father was a knave.
Robespierre himself was patronised by the Bishop of Arras; but when Robespierre began life as an advocate, he was called upon to defend a cause against the Bishop, on behalf of the people—and he did it. What nobler proof could he give of his integrity? Yet this is set down to coldness of heart—which would not recognise a debt of private gratitude. Yet had Robespierre took the contrary course we should never have heard the last of his venality, of how the integrity of the 'Incorruptible’ could give way to private interest. It was contended that Robespierre was bloodthirsty ; but when it was found that he voted against bloodshedding, and shrunk from it himself, it was ascribed—not to his humanity, but to his weakness or hypocrisy. If he was not a butcher, it was because he was a coward. He was held up as licentious; but when this was found to be false, he was then said to be misanthropical and morose. When it is found that he had no private vices, he is put down as 'sour, acrid, and angular.'
Had Robespierre been a temporising, cunning fellow, who played fast and loose with public principle, history would have exhausted its indignation upon the treachery of his character, but as he was a fully convinced, a sincere and an unwavering man, biography writes him down a (fanatic.'
Of Robespierre it may be said, as Byron said of Pope, his great fault in the eyes of his critics was, that he had no fault. Robespierre is therefore put down as a kind of pedant in politics. Mr. Lewes leans more than one would expect to this rule of judgment. In one who has rendered so great a service to philosophy as Mr. Lewes, it was to be expected that he would set his face against that universal but pernicious habit of criticism which, when a motive is to be guessed, always guesses the worst. Mr. Lewes, who writes as though he would teach the multitude, and who, in fact, is eminently fitted to teach them, should have avoided this worst error into which the multitude fall
. If the actors in the revolution had always adopted the most favourable interpretation of each other's conduct, the revolution would have been saved half the stains that now disfigure it. And have we not a right to expect that biography should better instruct us than by imitating this disastrous, this fatal habit ?
It is too soon, as the Atheneum has observed, to expect exact justice to be done to Robespierre-who,' remarks that journal, belonged to
the order of the people, and shared its fortunes. Socrates represented free-thought-Hannibal, Semitic civilisation-Mohammed, unity of the Divine Nature—Luther, spiritual independence-Cromwell, anti-royalism -Robespierre, sovereignty of the masses. It has been, and will continue to be, the fortune of such men to be vilified on one hand and adored on the other. It is only by lapse of time that injustice can be set aside. But such men can afford to wait. Before the history of a great man can be written, says Voltaire, it is necessary that all the witnesses, the sharers in his passions, his triumphs, and reverses—should be dead: just as at Rome, before any saint is inserted in the calender, his mistresses, his pages, his footmen, and his creditors, are all entombed.
Mr. Lewes's book is written in the interest of certain political views—it is incontestibly a party book. We should not object to a party book any more than to a party man, if truth did not appear to be strained to support the side adopted. The journal just quoted remarks that, “in truth, any decision that is given on this subject is given not so much upon the individual as upon the political system with which he is identified. This is so clearly the case, that, given the political creed of any, it is almost known what he will say of the Great Tribune.'* Let the reader therefore be forewarned, for this is so truly the case, that what the present writer may allege, may, unconsciously to himself, be tinctured with the same dye of foregrone conclusions.
Mr. Lewes, in the opening of his work, calls it the Life of him (Robespierre) who, in his heart, believed the Gospel proclaimed by the revolution to be the real Gospel of Christianity, and who endeavoured to arrest anarchy and to shape society into order by means of his convictions;' yet, at the end of his work, Mr. Lewes writes-— History will record of him that, living in an epoch abounding in examples of heroism and greatness of all kinds, and wielding a power such as few have ever wielded, backed by an influence such as few have had to support them, he performed many acts, and delivered numberless orations, but he has not left the legacy to mankind of one grand thought, nor the example of one generous and exalted action.'
What can we make of all this? Mr. Lewes writes as a Christian, yet it seems that to realise Christianity in political life is not a 'grand thought;' that a life-long devotion-a devotion so pure, constant, and unwavering as to be considered fanatical--to arrest anarchy and induce order by Christian conviction, is not a generous and exalted action.' It is not possible to believe that Mr. Lewes means this, yet this is what his language implies:
Mr. Lewes, in this work, seems to want the power of coherence. He seems to think it sufficient to say striking things, and all his passages of thought are detached. He appears never to have asked himself whether they ilo make a whole, or, indeed, whether they ought to make a whole. It may be questioned whether Mr. Lewes has any distinct idea of his own of the hero of whom he writes. His inspiration seems derived from Carlyle. It is Lewes on Carlyle. His book is Carlyle's sea-green monster' reproduced in biographical length. Mr. Lewes's Life is a
* Athenæum, No. 1115, page 247.
'green' Life-perhaps not in a double sense, but certainly in one sense.
As the lives of some men are long poems, or continuous sacrifices to progress, so was Robespierre's. If individual acts do not stand out in prominence, it is because all his acts irere prominent and generous in his abnegation of self to wliat, for him, was duty. It would seem that while one murder makes a villain and millions the hero, that the rule is inverted as respects political virtue—that an occasional act of devotion to the public constitutes the generous and exalted man, while the daily oblation of life and toil at the same shrine sinks the worshipper into a commonplace and mediocre rank. We dissent altogether from what appears to be Mr. Lewes's rule of judgment in this case, and believe that to measure a man by single acts of virtue is like taking liis height when he leaps in the air. It is the tenor of the life that inakes the man.
Mercurial, convulsive, and ever-changing as were, and are, the populace of France, they failed not to recognise in Robespierre the greatness of constancy and unwavering devotion to duty. i One countenance, says Michelet, ' alone comforted them, and seemed to say “I am honest;' and the dress of the man and his gestures seemed to express the same. His speeches were entirely on morality and the interests of the people, principles, eternally principles. The man himself was not entertaining; and his person was austere and melancholy, by no means popular, but rather academical, and, in one respect, even aristocratical, in extreme cleanliness, neatness, and style of dress. He seemed, also, a stranger to friendship and familiarity ; even his former college companions being kept at a distance. In spite of all these circumstances, little calculated to make a man popular, the people so hunger and thirst after righteousness that the orator of principles, the partisan of absolute right, the man who professed virtue and whose sad and serious countenance seemed its very image, became the favourite of the people.'
Mr. Lewes enters his objections, hoth to popular politics and to scepticism, but it is not easy to discover what Mr. Lewes's views are, apart from these very opinions. He seems to execrate them at one moment, and to be the victim of them at another.
Before 1783, the discoveries of Franklin were adopted in France; and, in the province of Artois, a rich landed proprietor, M. de Vissery de Boisvalle, erected a lightning conductor on his property-much to the scandal of his neighbours. What!' said they, 'shall we rend the lightning from the hand of God? Shall man presume to intercept the wrath of Deity. If God wills to destroy houses or farms, it is his will and pleasure-man's duty is to submit. These lightning conductors are but the impious thoughts of Deistical philosophy. Away with them.' *Thus reasoned,' says Lewes, 'these obese and stupid citizens of Arras.'
Having no sympathy whatever with the prejudices of these citizens, yet we are far, very far from consenting to their being so rudely, not to say coarsely, styled stupid. Reasoning as they did from the Bible, we know not to what other conclusion they could come. Mr. Lewes, having the advantage of living in days when philosophy and rationalism are prevalent, is enabled to view the whole argument from another and a higher point-that of unfettered reason. Now men are not stupid because they reason differently from other men, unless they reason erroneously