« VorigeDoorgaan »
But, looking at these authors apart from their theory, the work of M. Mignet is as incomparable for fixing and concentrating your thoughts, as that of M. Thiers is for developing and awakening your ideas. M. de Chateaubriand calls the work of M. Thiers* a splendid picture, the work of M. Mignet a vigorous sketch : † it is impossible to choose a word so ill applied to M. Mignet's work as that word “ sketch.” Were the word applicable to either work, it would be far more applicable to the work of M. Thiers, which, varied, animated, and full of interest, is nevertheless in many parts hasty and unfinished. The peculiar beauty of M. Mignet's work, on the contrary, is, its perfect finish, its accurate and nicely adjusted proportions, its completeness in every one of its parts. Each epoch of the revolution stands just as it should do in respect to the other, and occupies precisely the space it should do to harmonise with what follows and precedes it. Comprising every circumstance within the smallest possible compass, M. Mignet has given every circumstance its exact and proper effect-looking at the events of those times with a magnifying glass, he has reflected them in a mirror. Many of his reflections are at once just, simple, and profound ; his descriptions, rarer and shorter than those of M. Thiers, are still paintings. We see Camille Desmoulins (the memorable 12th of July) mounted on a table in the Palais Royal, a pistol in his hand, and shouting " To arms!” We see the bust of Necker, in those first days when the demands of liberty were so moderate, crowned with mulberry leaves and carried (singular ensign of revolutionary tumult!) round the city of Paris. And soon we see (10th of August) the corpulent and irresolute rather than timid king reviewing, with downcast look, the gallant and generous Swiss-who-far from their mountains, their simplicity, and their freedom-were burning with a loyal and chivalric enthusiam--and eager to fight in a foreign land for a sovereign whom they would have despised and resisted in their own.
the capital of Paris. Was it the massacres of September which gave Dumourier his quick eye, his extraordinary activity, his great courage and enterprise? Suppose be had been a stupid and a slow fellow-a bad general --what then? Did the massacres of September inspire him with one plan for his campaign, and his council of war with another? Did the massacres of September show him the march across the forest of Argone, or the passage of the Aisne? Did the massacres of September place him on the heights of Valmy? A false step, a wrong position, and then what would have been the result of the massacres of September ? Why, the re-establishment of the old despotism by foreign hands, and the preference, among all sober men, of that despotism to the bloody, and inhuman, and beastly, and infernal tyranny that had preceded it: the reestablishment of a despotism which would have stood upon those massacres firmer than upon a rock of adamant; while a sacred execration would have been be queathed to all posterity for every man, however pure his motives or upright his intentions, who stood forward with the title of “reformer.”
The comparative moderation of the Directory, the glory, the laws, the order of the empire, the long confusion of ranks, and the continued division of fortunes, made what had been the reveries of philosophers the habits of a people ; and these habits, habits which could never have grown up without domestic tranquillity and security, were incompatible with a court despotism and the old distinctions. But for this the people of France are mainly indebted, I repeat, to the laws of the empire, and not to the massacres of the republic.
* The work of M. Thiers is in ten volumes, that of M. Mignet in two.
+ M. de Châteaubriand seems to think that every thing on a large scale must be a picture, and every thing on a small one a sketch.
And there is the Queen, the beautiful and graceful Queen, more warlike than her spouse, her Austrian lip curling, the nostril of her eagle nose dilating,—there is the beautiful and graceful Marie Antoinette, ready to stake the crown and sceptre of her child on the chance of battle. * And but too soon after we shall hear the shouts of the hot-blooded populace, and the heavy rolling of the cannons along the streets, and the beating of the melancholy drum-and lo! the son of St. Louis mounting to Heaven. † But, leaving M. Thiers and M. Mignet to the high reputation which their talents deserve, I come to M. Guizot, formerly Minister of the Interior, now Minister of public Instruction, and once Professor of History. M. Guizot, full of deep and lofty thoughts, and skilful in their combination, of a meditative rather than an active mind, is by nature less of a painter than a philosopher, but the popular taste pervades his own. He would be as an artist what he is not as a man, and gives at least its full value to the life and the colouring which constitute the charm of his countrymen and contemporaries. “Mr. Brodie,” he says (in speaking of our writer on the English Revolution), “studies and does not see—discusses, and does not paint-admires the popular party without bringing
Page 359. + “Fils de St. Louis," said the priest officiating, “ montez au ciel !”
it on the stage ; his work is a learned and useful dissertation: mais pas une histoire morale et vivante.” So Sismondi complains of the little interest that the old histories of France, notwithstanding their learning, excited; and, in illustrating his own history by romances, shows why he supposed his predecessors to be neglected.
M. de Châteaubriand, whom I have had different occasions to quote in this chapter, and with whose opinions in criticism and in politics I very seldom agree, has nevertheless said, I think, every thing which can, and which ought to be said of the two styles of history—the philosophic history of the past century in France, the pictorial history of the present. Eminent as an artist himself, eminent for seizing and painting the costume of each particular time, and bringing before our eyes, as no other writer has done, the feudal customs, and stately and chivalric manners of a sturdier time, he has armed the critic, as it were, against his own excellence, and insisted on the imperfectness of a history which does not mingle thought and philosophy with ardour and description.
“ La pensée philosophique,” says he, “ employée avec sobrieté, n'est-elle pas nécessaire pour donner à l'histoire sa gravité, pour lui faire prononcer les arrêts qui sont du ressort de son dernier et suprême tribunal ? Au degré de civilisation où nous sommes arrivés, l'histoire de l'espèce peut-elle disparaitre entièrement de l'histoire de l'individu ? Les vérités éternelles, bases de la société humaine, doivent-elles se perdre dans des tableaux qui ne représentent que des mœurs privées ? On the other hand,” he continues, “ history, as a work,—is not a work of philosophy—it is a picture. We must join to our narrative the representation of the objects of which we speak, i. e. we must design and paint. We must give to our personages the language, the sentiments of their time, and not regard them through the medium of our own opinions and ideas, a fault which has been the principal cause of those distortions of facts which have disfigured history.... Si, prenant pour règle ce que nous croyons de la liberté, de l'égalité, de la religion, de tous les principes politiques, nous appliquons cette règle à l'ancien ordre de choses, nous faussons la vérité; nous exigeons des hommes vivant dans cet ordre de choses ce dont ils n'avaient pas l'idée. Rien n'était si mal que nous le pensons: le prêtre, le noble, le bourgeois, le vassal, avaient d'autres notions du juste et de l'injuste que les nôtres ; c'était un autre monde, un monde sans doute moins rapproché des principes généraux naturels que le monde pressent, mais qui ne manquait ni de grandeur, ni de force, témoin ses actes et sa durée." Nothing, I think, can be more true, more just, than the ideas which are here expressed, or than the principles which are here laid down.
The historian, to be perfect, should show at once the peculiarities and costume of each separate epoch, and the common feelings and the common passions of all epochs. He should paint the man of the thirteenth century, the man of the nineteenth, he should know that both were men, under different circumstances, but possessing similar propensities; he should show what is nature, what's her costume- her costume, that ever varies; her naked figure which is always the same. My object, however, is not to write a general criticism upon history, nor even a general criticism upon the present historians of France, for I find that I have already outstepped my limits, and that I have said nothing of M. Girardin, nothing of M. Michelet,* nothing of M. de St. Aulaire, and his interesting picture of a time so interesting in the annals of France, so replete with the grace and the energy of the French character, so remarkable for uniting the chivalry of an age gone by with the grace of an age advancing. My object has simply been to show that history in France is in a new school—that the modern French historian follows the example of the great old French novelist and comedian, and like Le Sage and Molière attempts rather to paint than to explain. Why is this ? Authors, since authors have mixed with mankind, have been modelled more or less by their public. The historian's public in the eighteenth century was, as I have said, a public of would-be philosophers and agreeable fine gentlemen, and the historian went trippingly along, now lecturing the one class, now chattering with the otner. The historical style of the nineteenth century is different from the historical style of the
* I ought also, in that case, to have mentioned the very interesting narrative of Charles Edward by M. A. Pichot, an author who is the more deserving of praise from an English critic as being the first French critic who introduced inodern English literature into France.
eighteenth ; but the historian's manner has not changed more than his readers have changed. He was formerly read by a clique-he is now read by a country.
It is not only that more men read now than they used to do— this has not increased the number of those who disturb the dusty volumes in the royal library that treat of astrology and magic—it is not only that more men read than they used to do, but that more men read history—that more men naturally feel an interest in historical composition.
History is, in fact, not interesting far beyond the pale of those whose actions make history, and whose fortunes are affected by it. History would not be widely interesting in country, where the great mass of the people were slaves and mendicants, without honours to gain or property to lose. History would be widely interesting in a country, where the great bulk of the people were proprietors ! and where there was no post in the state which every citizen might not reasonably hope to obtain. In the one case it is an idle speculation to be studied from curiosity; in the other it is a practical lesson to be looked to for examples. With the general diffusion of honours, of employments, and more especially with the general diffusion of property-on which the diffusion of honours and employments mainly depends—has been diffused the interest of history.
The small herd of encyclopedists and courtiers who once listened to the historian, are now cut up, as it were, into an immense crowd of journalists, shopkeepers, soldiers, and mechanics.
This division and diffusion of property—bringing up a fresh class of feelings upon the surface of France—inverting the usual order of events—creating a new society when we might have been looking to the mature caducity of an old oneturning an aristocracy of readers into a democracy of readers -bas made the historian a popular orator where he was formerly a wit and a metaphysician. Addressing a more numerous, a more impassioned, a less reasoning class of readers than his predecessor, he has assumed a more vehement, a more impassioned, a more powerful style of writing.