« VorigeDoorgaan »
and gay, because it had no means of obtaining it. The richer persons indeed engaged in commerce; the middle orders, as we should call them, the close of whose career was to be the purchase of a charge,-(the first step towards the nobility of their grandsons)—these, as I think I have elsewhere observed, were of a graver aspect, and more demure demeanour-they felt themselves obliged to be-respectable, because they were not noble. But the lowest and the highest of society, the qualité and the canaille gave themselves up alike, heart and soul, to amusement; the only difference being that the one sought pleasure because they were shut out from business; the other -because pleasure was, in fact, to them—a business.
From the death of Louis XVI. up to the restoration, the public events of the time, great as they were, hardly penetrated into private life manners altered less than one might suppose; the actors who took a part in society were new; the drama was almost the same. If the Court of the Luxembourg were more vulgar, it was not less frivolous and voluptuous than that of Versailles; nor was Louis XV. himself more accessible to female influence than the citizen Barras. As for Napoleon, his policy was to revive the memory of Louis XIV. The maxims of that reign, “qu'il fallait mettre dans les vertus une certaine noblesse, dans les mœurs une certaine franchise, dans les manières une certaine politesse;"*the maxims which the great philosopher of France deemed necessary to keep together the elements of the old monarchy, and which were equally calculated to preserve the military empire, came again into vogue: to elevate the dignity of the court-to dazzle and deceive the eyes of the people-to raise a prestige round the throne(fortune was to take the place of legitimacy)-to repair the old system with new materials, and thus to preserve the ancient manners;-this was the policy of the First Consul; a policy which he openly commenced by assuming the imperial garment, and as openly consummated by allying himself to the House of Hapsburg. The lower classes of the people were to be pleased with his government for its fêtes; the higher to be attached to his person by rewards. The sterner motives of individual action, and the sterner careers that belong to them,
were closed: a man was nothing by himself, the emperor's favour made him all--and for the excellent reason therefore given by Monsieur de Rennes at the beginning of this chapter, he had all that gaiety and frivolity which springs from the carelessness of an uncertain and dependent and ill-regulated existence. And now, while the luxury, and the amusements, and the despotism of the empire, kept up among the people the joyous and unthinking character of olden times, its perils and its victories gave to the gaiety of this adventurous epoch a martial air, which sat not ungracefully on a nation of warriors--descendants of the soldiers of Louis XIV., and themselves the conquerors of almost every capital in Europe.
In the movement and bustle of those days, when events marched with a velocity that made, what we counted as seventeen years, an age for history and posterity; in that busy and brilliant time, when in every street you heard the crying of the bulletin, and the beating of the drum-and existence was a dream of arms, and uniforms, and decorations: then the song accompanied the soldier to the bivouac ;* by the affectionate sobriquet which he gave to his captain (le petit caporal), the conscript recompensed himself for the fatigues of the campaign; and long after the despotism and selfishness of Bonaparte had become visible to the nation-in the camp he was still beloved. But no man, as the philosopher said to Croesus, knows his fortune until his death. It was with a spirit of pro
• There is a poet, the soldier-like gaiety of whose genius entitles him to be the chronicler of that period; and as one of the many curious spectacles of our time, we see a republican bard, chanting the gaiety and the glories of a military tyranny, under the ægis of that constitutional liberty whose moderation he despised.
There are few subjects which caused more trouble and perturbation during the middle ages than the corpse of St. Denis. No sooner did one monastery boast itself in quiet possession of this invaluable relic, than it was indignantly answered by another; and, as is usually the case, the last having the best of the dispute, the faithful always flocked to the shrine of the new pretendant. At last, however, a corpse was found which, to use the words of the Chronicle, was “envelopé en un drap de soie, si viel, et porri que il s'évanouissait et devenait poudre;" and it was determined, according to cus-. tom, that this was the veritable body of St. Denis-so the Comité de salut Public, the Directory, the Consulate, the Empire, all in turn enjoyed a glorious reputation for the sanctity of their origin; but in the year 1814, the persons who happened to be most powerful, declared, under circumstances very similar to those I have narrated, that the true St. Denis was at last discovered, and fêtes and fireworks commemorated the event of the restoration.
phecy that Vergniaud spoke of the revolution of '89, as 'Saturn devouring his offspring :'-the empire fell in its turn, as had successively fallen every system to which that powerful struggle between intelligence and ignorance had given birth: the empire fell-the Bourbons returned to their ancient palace; and the temple which had been dedicated 'to glory,'* was consecrated to religion'-and the palace of Bonaparte's senate was occupied by the Deputies of France.
This change was the greatest that had yet taken place in the fate of the nation, and was the most likely to exercise an influence over its character. For the first time for centuries, the Frenchman ceased to be a gambler or solicitor after honours; his existence no longer depended upon a lucky hit or a dexterous application; with ability and attention he might almost calculate-and there is great force in that word-he might almost calculate upon regularly rising to the first place in the state, and being illustrated by the opinion of his fellowcountrymen. The career to which ambition now called him, was one of a solid and serious character; and required time and perseverance as the necessities of success. Nor was the effect which this was likely to have upon the national character merely confined to those who aspired to the eminent situation of which I speak: a representative government has this advantage, viz.—that it spreads over the whole country those virtues and those talents which are required in the representative assembly. The man who is asked to choose a person to represent his interests, naturally begins to reflect on what his interests are, and the qualities for which he selects another, become the qualities which he himself is anxious to possess. This effect, natural under any circumstance to a representative government, would develop itself of course more forcibly and more rapidly where a free press was daily publishing the debates of the representatives, and commenting-with all the facility and all the ingenuity with which men not engaged in affairs, can criticise the actions of those who are upon every word and every syllable that fell from the national tribune.
Causes like these could not be in operation for sixteen years, without, in some degree, producing the conséquence to be ex
* The Madeleine.
pected, viz.-that of infusing a more grave and masculine character into the society, which, still sensible to pleasure, was less able to unite it with politics and ambition.
By the table of Monsieur Dupin, published in 1828, the change I speak of appears. Compare the publications of 1812, 1820, 1826; you will find, that the kingdom of France, reduced within its ancient limits, published twice as many works as the empire did at the moment of its widest extent; and remark, that while in every class of publication there is a considerable increase; remark, as the most important fact of all, that the increase is far greater in those productions, the object of which is to improve the mind, than in those that are composed with the simple desire to amuse it. That part of literature consecrated to the pleasures of the imagination, and which held the first rank in the empire, held the second under the constitution -and gave place to history, voyages, and biography; while the writings dedicated to the study and knowledge of the laws, advanced in popularity and consideration. "Ainsi,” Monsieur Dupin, " par l'heureux effet de nos institutions, les goûts de la France ont perdu de la frivolité. Les études graves ont gagné la littérature philosophique-l'étude de la jurisprudence et des lois-la méditation de l'histoire-l'observation, la comparaison des mœurs et des coutumes-les productions de l'art et de la nature qui caractérisent les nations contemporaines et les contrées qu'elles habitent-voilà les objets principaux vers lesquels s'est dirigé l'esprit de la nation française." The able writer whom I cite, is rather too apt to overcharge his pictures with the colour that momentarily predominates in his mind. The French, during the restoration, lost a little of their gaiety, more of their frivolity: but the change has certainly not been so great as Monsieur Dupin would give us to understand; nor must we entirely forget, when we reckon among our proofs of an increasing seriousness of disposition, an increase in the sale of more serious literary productions, that these productions have themselves of late years become more light and more 'amusing. There are many circumstances still active in conserving that gay and joyful and frivolous character for which the French were formerly distinguished. The influence of youth, the influence of women, at once causes and effects of a peculiar disposition and a peculiar state of society,"
are among the principal of these; nor while we estimate the consequence of the representative institutions of the French are we to forget, that out of thirty-three millions of individuals, there are only two hundred thousand directly affected by them.
Again, we must not suppose that the institutions of a country are to change the former character of its people, without that former character having a great influence upon its existing institutions; and as the natural condition of many political vicissitudes, we must long expect to see the French nation exposed to the difficulty of reconciling the habits it derived from a despotic government with those which are resulting from a free constitution. The very language which has descended from generation to generation, as the expression of certain habits and ideas, exercises, in its turn, a daily recurring influence, which no laws or treatises can efface-and the sky, and the climate, and the natural disposition. I grant that the philosophers were wrong, who preached that the governments of nations depended wholly upon these but rely upon it also, that they must have their influence, that we cannot arbitrarily give ourselves the institutions and the habits that we please; rely upon it, that man does not wholly depend upon man; but that nature and God have an influence, difficult to trace, but imposssible to deny, in the destinies of every people upon earth!
Years then may roll on, and the light and joyous character of the French, already changed, may undergo further changes. The sedater character which has seated itself upon the front of society, may penetrate nearer to its heart; the greater seriousness which we observe spread over certain classes of the nation, may have a broader basis and a deeper root; years may roll on-and that august edifice which you see on the borders of the Seine, may still resound with the eloquence of the constitutional tribune;-years may roll on--and the gates of the Pantheon yet be open to the ashes of the senators who have merited well of their country;—all this may be; and yet, as long as the gay sun which is now shining gilds the yellow valleys of Provence, and ripens the purple vintage of Burgundy and Champagne-so long must much that we see now-much of that which belongs to the unthinking and joyous spirit which coloured the religion, the policy, the triumphs of the olden time--which entered into the church, the palace, and the camp-brightening,