11 DECEMBER 1909, Page 11




Srs,—The centenary of 1789 has gone from us by twenty years. If we could put ourselves back a century, we should be at the height of Napoleon's Empire, and under the meridian of his triumphs. Yet men are still arguing about the Revolution. Historians present it from innumerable points of view ; and France continues to be a battle-ground for the principles which were then asserted, but their opponents are weaker and fewer as the years go by. This does not make them less rancorous. Though Napoleon's Empire was ephemeral, his ideals were permanent. If his sword annihilated the old society, his administration was an essential factor in organising and inspiring the new. He made the unification and the resurrec- tion of Italy inevitable, as he foresaw ; and he worked for the consolidation of Germany, which assuredly he did not intend. He was a cleansing and constructive force; but his influence was also more extensive than is generally per- ceived. Without him the Revolution would have been a chaos ; through him it became ordered and creative. After him the dynastic Restorations and the polities of the Holy Alliance were predestined to an ignominious failure; equally odious and futile, they died of hatred and contempt. Even Tory England was influenced, and vanquished in the end, by the liberating spirit of her captive. Within twenty years of his overthrow, Parliamentary reform had been accomplished, and England entered a new way of life; whether leading her up hill or down remains to be proved. The evil that Napoleon did was limited to France, the good was extended over Europe. It was neither extinguished at Waterloo, nor interred with his bones at St. Helena. More permanently than Oliver Cromwell, and on a bigger stage, he "cast the Kingdoms old into another mould." If the Revolution was the womb of modern Europe, Napoleon was the sire. And, whatever may happen, the old order cannot be restored : politically, socially, theologically, intellectually, it is dead ; and the Revolution, in spite of dis- appointments and mistakes, has brought something better ; though we should not forget how much of our existing world is due to the French philosophers of the eighteenth century, and to the practical English thinkers of the seventeenth. And our nineteenth century, which began with Napoleon, which produced Cavour, and which ended with Bismarck, may boast, not only of stupendous events, but of colossal and heroic men. Its political changes, however, were probably the least of its achievements. Its higher gifts to us were an enlarged freedom, the quickening sense of nationality, the historical spirit, the scientific mind and method, the applica- tion of science to practical affairs, universal education, and an uneasy conscience about social problems. Out of these ingredients the unknown future of Europe is being precipitated.

Such, perhaps, are some of the convictions which are borne in upon us when we ponder the Revolutionary movement in a detached and philosophic spirit ; but our attitude is changed insensibly when our thoughts dwell on the personages at whose cost the titanic drama was enacted. "Sad stories of the death of Kings" are as old as history, and more numerous than its centuries ; but none are so pathetic, to superficial observers, as the doom of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette. The very defects of Louis as a King plead for him as a man; and, from Burke downwards, the last Queen of France has never lacked impassioned and chivalrous defenders.

Often as the story of Marie Antoinette has been told, it has never been made more interesting than by Mr. Belloc in his new Life*; familiar as it is, he holds us absorbed and thrilled. Though we know the catastrophe, we follow the development of the tragedy with breathless interest. It is always as a drama that he conceives and presents the life of- his heroine; and he has the rare merit: af working impersonallyovithont sentiment. or prejudice, so far as Mar. ie Antoinette is concerned. She was the sport of • Marie Antoinette. By EL Bailin. London: Methuen and Co. [15e. netj Destiny, in the Greek sense : that is Mr. Belloc's thesis, and he justifies it abundantly. "She is the most perfect subject. of tragedy which history *affords," drifting helplessly and inevitably to her fate. There is more than an element of truth in this ; but, on the other hand, if many of her defects were caused, not by a blind fate, but by a neglected education, many more were aggravated by a want of ordinary tact and prudence, as well as by an utter want of self-control, in which 'she was culpably and vulgarly deficient. Even Germans have to suffer when they fail in tact, though it may seem as unjust as punishing negroes for being black. The Germanic Dauphiness may have meant well ; but she neither understood nor liked the French, to whose good qualities she was entirely blind. As Dauphines's, she alienated the Court: as Queen, she alienated, offended, and in the end grievously outraged and wronged the nation. Her nickname, "L'Autrichienne," given first by Mesdames de France to their tactless niece, was adopted afterwards by the populace to express their deep and sound suspicion of a foreign and hostile influence. As we know now, the Queen was guilty of treasonable acts which were really worse than anything that was suspected, even during the height of Revolutionary passion.

The French Government was bankrupt, the old regime was unsound, the dynasty was worn out, a change was impera- tive; but no change ever began so benevolently, or with so much goodwill and enthusiasm on all sides. There is every indication that a strong ruler might have organised a reformation, which, however sweeping, need not have degenerated into a revolution. Louis XVL was not strong. He was unusually slow in mind and lethargic in disposition. His vices were not those of his predecessors ; but, had he lived out his life at ease, he might have become a more amiable Vitellius, whose tastes he shared, and ts whose figure he was approaching. Louis was benevolent in no ordinary measure. Clearly he meant well ; and, in spite of his deficiencies, honesty would have carried him very far. But he was not honest; his correspondence proves it too abundantly. The Court could not be trusted by any party. It tampered with many, and betrayed them all. It was on this rock that Mirabeau would have been wrecked had he lived, even if he had been as strong as Mr. Belloc imagines. The tragedy of Charles I. was repeated by Louis XVI. Each King died ultimately because no man could trust him. Louis was timid and credulous as well as insincere. His timidity in religious matters was utilised by the French Bishops and the Roman Court for their own purposes ; and his natural insincerity was encouraged by those who teach that casuistry is lawful. To these pernicious counsellors were added the emigrant nobility and the Queen. All of them advocated material interests which were not those of the nation at large, and in the end they were all implicated with foreigners in civil wars and invasions. These elements of the situation must not be forgotten when we judge the actors. The emigra- tion began before there was any active hostility from the popular side, and the emigrants were immediately in touch with the German Courts. The reaction of the Episcopate began before the first enthusiasm of the States-General had cooled, and all the influence of Rome was organised against the Revolution. Mr. Belloc seems to forget that Pius VL condemned it in an allocution as early as March, 1790: con- demning not ecclesiastical changes merely, but stigmatising liberty of conscience as sacrilegious, describing as " devilish " the substitution of national sovereignty for Royal absolutism, the equality of all men before the law, and the eligibility of all citizens for the public service. The Papacy declared war on the Revolution long before the nation was moved to hostility against the clergy.

Except for this unfortunate and significant omission, Mr. Belloc is singularly fair and admirably clear. He shows, what is too often dissembled, that every change in the position of the Royal Family was preceded by some act on their own part of treachery, or folly, or violence. Contrary to the general impression, they were maintained, not only liberally, but lavishly, even in the Temple ; and money never seems to have been wanting for any purpose. But Mr. Belloc is most admirable in the closing scenes. He points out, so truly, that "the history of the Revolution is a history of war." The Terror - was "nothing but martial law." He shows us, in a fatal sequence as the tragedy deepens, the invasion of the frontiers, the massacre of the aristocrats, the proclamation of the Republic, the battles of Valmy and Jemappes, the treason of Dumouriez, the Committee of Public Safety, the loss of fortress after fortress, until only Manbenge was left between Paris and the avenging Teutonic armies, while civil war was raging in the South and West. At this crisis the Queen's trial was held. It coincided with the heroic and triumphant exploit of Carnot, who snatched victory out of defeat, rolled back the invasion at Wattignies, relieved Maubeuge, and saved France. This, according to Napoleon, was the greatest military exploit of the Revolution. As this decisive action was trembling in the balance Marie Antoinette was driving to the guillotine; and as her bead was shown to the people the armies of the people were victorious. Sympathy we must feel for a suffering and fallen womm, but we cannot condone her offences. She inspired every movement of reaction and revenge, stirring up civil war and foreign attacks, betraying French military secrets to Austria, trying to make a profit out of theological strife. Her conduct may be plausibly explained, much of it cannot possibly be excused. Not only France, but European liberty itself, was fighting for existence in that tremendous fray. Dreadful as the Terror was, the reprisals of the Court and of their Austrian avengers would probably have been far worse if Paris had fallen into their hands ; and to their vengeance would have been added the tender mercies of reactionary and triumphant ecclesiastics. Terrible indeed was the struggle for a liberated France, one and indivisible. The price exacted was enormous and deplorable ; but it was worth paying, and the responsibility for it does not by any means lie wholly or chiefly on the popular side, whatever may be the guilt of some among the popular leaders. As the whole drama is unfolded, we cannot but realise that the Gods upon their thrones are just, though many of their instruments of justice were vile exceedingly. That, however, is the Gods' affair, not ours.

We may thank Mr. Belloc, and we do cordially, for a most impartial and interesting biography. He has walked over glowing embers without burning his feet. We hear the bugles calling, and we catch the gleam of steel, as he tells of "battles long ago." He sets before us the strife of leaders, the rage of the people, and the doom of Kings. All this is done admirably ; and we are grateful, in these days of the researcher, for a history that lives and runs in fluent English. But there is a very grave defect in Mr. Belloc's general view of history. He talks much of "the Faith," personifying it with a capital dignity. With the personal aspect of his beliefs we have nothing to do. Neither should an historian concern himself with the metaphysical side of religion. But religion organised and active is another matter. There we have to deal with facts. And it does not seem to us a fact that Europe was an earthly paradise between the fifth century and the sixteenth, in which justice prevailed, and truth was always victorious, and aggression was unknown. To talk of the "intrigue" by which the Jesuits were sup- pressed is a violent misuse of terms, when the intriguers were every Roman Catholic Government headed and justified by the Pope. Of course if Mr. Belloc means that the Society was and is a power behind the Pontifical throne, and superior to it, his word may be accepted. And there are many other strange assertions in Mr. Belloc's -volume, which detract seriously from its value in matters of general history and of current affairs, besides landing him in many contradictions. On the other hand, with all he says about Germany, and especially about Prussia, we agree cordially; and we com- mend his warnings to the serious consideration of the public.

Mr. Belloc's pretty pieces, for of such was all the great world in the eighteenth century, were indeed puppets in the hands- of a grim and mocking Destiny. They were the playthings of an ironic Fate ; as were all human affairs in the eyes of a majestic historian. " Mihi, quanto pinra recentium seu veternm revolvo, tante magic lndibria rerum mortalium cunctis in negotiis obversantur." So writes Tacitus ; and, to return whence we set out, it is a more than Tacitean irony that blind, mad George III. should have beaten and caged Napoleon. What is the tale of Marie Antoinette beside so stupendous a tragedy, which purges the mind of every smaller passion, even of pity for the Terror I—I am, Sir, &c.,

0?rris. [We gladly print arts' brilliant criticism of Mr. Belloc's

study, but we cannot help thinking that he is somewhat too indulgent both to Napoleon and to the architects of the Revo- lution. To us Burke's verdict on the Jacobins is the final word: "Their improvements were superficial, their errors fundamental." As to Napoleon, may it not be argued that the reforms which no doubt seem to run out of the point of the sword would have come without him, in a better way, and without the reactionary cloud which covered Europe for the first twenty years after Waterloo P—En. Spectator.]