Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

in order to enfranchise a community weary of despotism. The clergy asked for what they wanted with equal resolution, and the bourgeoisie likewise; but what the nobles were instructed to demand was the boldest of all. We talked of the letters of the writers of the eighteenth century, and of the correspondence of various eminent men and women with David Hume, which Mr. Hill Burton has published in a supplementary volume in addition to those comprised in his life of David Hume, and which I have with me. I said that the works of Hume being freely printed and circulated caused great pleasure to the French men of letters, mingled with envy at the facility enjoyed by the Englishman of publishing anything he chose; the French writers being debarred, owing to the importunity of the clergy with Louis XV., from publishing freely their works in France, and only managing to get themselves printed by employing printers at the Hague, Amsterdam, and other towns beyond the limits of the kingdom. To my surprise, De Tocqueville replied that this disability, so far from proving disadvantageous to the esprits forts of the period, and the encyclopædic school, was a source of gain to them in every respect. Every book or tract which bore the stamp of being printed at the Hague or elsewhere, out of France, was speedily caught up and devoured. It

a passport to success. Everyone knowing that, since it was printed there, it must be of a nature to give offence to the ruling powers, and especially to the priesthood, and as such, all who were imbued with the new opinions were sure to run after books bearing this

was

1854.]

Lafayette.

55

certificate of merit. De Tocqueville said that the savans of 1760-1789 would not have printed in France, had they been free to do so, at the period immediately preceding the accession of Louis XVI.

Talked of Lafayette : said he was as great as pure, good intentions and noble instincts could make a man ; but that he was d'un esprit médiocre, and utterly at a loss how to turn affairs to profit at critical juncturesnever knew what was coming, no political foresight. Mistake in putting Louis Philippe on the throne sans garantie in 1830; misled by his own disinterested character to think better of public men than he ought to have done. Great personal integrity shown by Lafayette during the Empire, and under the Restoration : not to be cajoled by any monarch.

February 16.—The current fallacy of Napoleon having made the important alterations in the laws of France. All the eminent new enactments originated in the Constituent Assembly, only that they set to work in such sledgehammer fashion, that the carrying out their work became extremely troublesome and difficult. Too abstract in their notions to estimate difficulties of detail in changing the framework of jurisprudence. De Tocqueville said philosophers must always originate laws, but men used to active practical life ought to undertake to direct the transition from old to new arrangements. The Constituent Assembly did prodigious things in the way of clearing the ground of past abominations. Napoleon had the talent of making their work take effect; understood administrative science, but rendered

the centralising principle far too predominant, in the view to consolidate his own power afterwards. France has felt this, to her cost, ever since.

Habit formerly (i.e. 300 years back) as prevalent in France as it is in England of gentlemen of moderate fortune residing wholly or by far the greater part of the year on their estates. They ceased to do so from the time when the sovereign took from them all local authority, from the fifteenth century or so. The French country-houses were excessively thickly dotted over the land even up to the year 1600 ; quantities pulled down after that period. Country life becoming flat after the gentlemen ceased to be of importance in their political relations with their districts, they gave up rural habits and took to living in the provincial towns.

De Tocqueville had many conversations with M. Royer Collard respecting the events of 1789. Difficult to get much out of men of our period relative to their own early manhood. His own father (now 82) much less capable of communicating details of former régime than might have been supposed. Because, says De Tocqueville, youths of eighteen to twenty hardly ever possess the faculty or the inclination to note social peculiarities. They accept what they find going, and scarcely give a thought to the contemplation of what is familiar to them and of every day's experience. Royer Collard was a man of superior mind : had a great deal to relate. De Tocqueville used to pump him whenever an opportunity occurred. Knew Danton well, used to discuss political affairs with him. When revolution was fairly launched,

1854.]

Danton.

57

now.

saw him occasionally. Danton was venal to the last degree; received money from the Court over and over again; ‘agitated,' and was again sopped by the agents of Marie Antoinette. When matters grew formidable (in 1791) Royer Collard was himself induced to become an agent or go-between of the Court for buying up Danton. He sought an opportunity, and after some prefatory conversations Royer Collard led Danton to the point. “No, said Danton, 'I cannot listen to any such suggestions

Times are altered. It is too late. Nous le détrônerons et puis nous le tuerons,' added he in an emphatic tone. Royer Collard of course gave up the hope of succeeding.

Danton's passion for a young girl, whom he married, became his ruin. While he was honeymooning it by some river's margin, Robespierre got the upper hand in the Assembly, and caused him to be seized-mis en jugement-and soon afterwards guillotined. The woman did not know, it is affirmed, that it was Danton who set the massacres of 1792 agoing; she thought him a goodhearted man.

He set all his personal enemies free out of their prisons prior to the commencement of the massacres; wishing to be able to boast of having spared his enemies, as a proof that he was actuated by no ignoble vengance, but only by a patriotic impulse. He was a low, mean-souled fanatic, who had no clear conception of what he was aiming at, but who delighted in the horrid excitement prevailing around him. It was Tallien who had the chief share in the deposition of Robespierre and the transactions of the 9th thermi

dor. Madame Tallien was then in prison, and going to be executed in a few days (she was not yet married to Tallien then). She wrote, by stealth of course, a few emphatic words, with a toothpick and soot wetted, to Tallien which nerved him to the conflict, and she was saved. Talleyrand told De Tocqueville she was beyond everything captivating, beautiful, and interesting. She afterwards became the mistress of Barras, and finally married the Prince de Chimay.

De Tocqueville has been at Voré, Helvetius' château in La Perche-a fine place, and Helvetius lived en seigneur there. A grand-daughter of Helvetius married M. de Rochambeau, uncle, by mother's side, of Alexis : so that the great-grandchildren are De Tocqueville's first cousins.

In the 'Souvenirs' of M. Berryer (père) he describes the scene of the 9th thermidor, in which he was actively concerned in the interest of the Convention, and saw Robespierre borne past him with his shattered jaw along the Quai Pelletier. Also went to the terrace of the Tuileries gardens to assure himself that Robespierre was really executed the next day ; heard the execrations and shouts which attended his last moments, but did not stay to witness them. Release of the Duchess of St. Aignan, under sentence of death, by his father.

February 18.-A. de Tocqueville came to see me, and we walked out for half-an-hour. He said he had now spent over eight months in a seclusion such as he had never experienced in his whole life. That, partly his own debilitated health, partly the impaired state of his

« НазадПродовжити »