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At one time he and all Europe seemed to feel it. But why am not I converted with so many great powers and so many great ministers? It is because I am old and slow. I am in this year, 1796, only where all the powers of Europe were in 1793. I cannot move with this precession of the equinoxes, which is preparing for us the return of some very old, I am afraid no golden era, or the commencement of some new era that must be denominated from some new metal. In this crisis I must hold my tongue or I must speak with freedom. Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatever : but, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an economy of truth. It is a sort of temperance, by which a man speaks truth with measure, that he may speak it the longer. But as the same rules do not hold in all cases, what would be right for you, who may presume on a series of years before you, would have no sense for me, who cannot, without absurdity, calculate on six months of life. What I say I must say at once. Whatever I write is in its nature testamentary. It may have the weakness, but it has the sincerity, of a dying declaration. For the few days I have to linger here I am removed completely from the busy scene of the world ; but I hold myself to be still responsible for everything that I have done whilst I continued on the place of action. If the rawest tyro in politics has been influenced by the authority of my gray hairs, and led by anything in my speeches or my writings to enter into this war, he has a right to call upon me to know why I have changed my opinions, or why, when those I voted with have adopted better notions, I persevere in exploded error.
When I seem not to acquiesce in the acts of those
I respect in every degree short of superstition, I am obliged to give my reasons fully. I cannot set my authority against their authority. But to exert reason is not to revolt against authority. Reason and authority do not move in the same parallel. That reason is an amicus curic who speaks de plano, not pro tribunali. It is a friend who makes an useful suggestion to the court, without questioning its jurisdiction. Whilst he acknowledges its competence, he promotes its efficiency. I shall pursue the plan I have chalked out in my letters that follow this.
ON THE GENIUS AND CHARACTER OF THE FRENCH
REVOLUTION AS IT REGARDS OTHER NATIONS.
M Y DEAR SIR, — I closed my first letter with
V 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 recall 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, its immense population, its riches of production, its 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. That faction is the evil spirit that possesses the body of France, — that informs it as a soul, — that stamps upon its ambition, and upon all its 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, a desolating activity. Constituted as France was ten years ago, it was not in that France to shake, to shatter, and to overwhelm Europe in the manner that we behold. A sure destruction impends over those infatuated princes who, in the conflict with this new and unheard-of power, proceed as if they were engaged in a war that bore a resemblance to their former contests, or that they can make peace in the spirit of their former arrange ments of pacification. Here the beaten path is the very reverse of the safe road.
As to me, I was always steadily of opinion that this disorder was not in its 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 its conduct, but with its existence, — convinced that its existence and its 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 its sleep it recruits its strength and prepares its exertion. Its spirit lies deep in the corruptions of our common nature. The social order which restrains it feeds it. It exists in every coun. try 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, wherever the race of Europe may be settled, Everywhere else the faction is mili
tant; 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 it in any other country whilst it is predominant there. War, instead of being the cause of its force, has suspen led its operation. It has given a reprieve, at least, to the Christian world.
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 would be unanimous, and, becoming the firm guardians of the happiness of mankind, that they could not fail to unite their efforts to rescue a numerous nation from its 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