TAINE'S REVOLUTION.—VOL. 1.•
" knit," says the author of the work before us—and for reasons to be given hereafter, we prefer to quote his own words rather than those of his translator—" j'ai Cent comma si j'avais eu pour sujet les revolutions de Florence ou d'Athenes. Ceci est de rhistoire, rien de plus, et s'il faut tout dire, j'estimais trop mon metier d'historien pour en faire un autre, h cote, en me cacbant." Now, there cannot be two opinions about the perfect good-faith and sincerity of the above statements, but the recep- tion which M. Taine's work has met with in France forms a curious comment on their accuracy. This author, indeed, has so completely escaped the fate which proverbially awaits an impartial writer, that we are constrained, as it were, in spite of ourselves, to doubt the extent of his soi-disanl impartiality. It would have surprised no one if a philosopher of M. Taine's cool- ness and capacity had ruffled the feathers of the ultras in both of the political camps which divide France. But it is notorious that in this volume he has delighted the quondam depreciators of M. Taine at least as much as he has disquieted and disgusted his quondam admirers. A clever critic, M. de Saint-Valry, has endeavoured to prove that this result is not the fault of M. Taine. The thick-and-thin apologists of the Revolution, he insists, are only too eager to confound democracy with science, and are not far from thinking that any one who can repeat by rote the "Declaration des Droits de l'Homme " becomes ipso facto a master of the experimental method, and an adept in the principles of Bacon's Norm Organ um. On the other hand, the thick-and-thin detractors of the Revolution invariably confound free thought, in their anathemas, with the Reign of Terror, and attribute the atrocities of the latter to Descartes as much as to Robespierre. Detractors and apologists of this stamp are, of course, either dreamers or fanatics. But we are unable to agree with the French critic, M. de Saint-Valry, in his assertion that M. Taine's method and conclusions have met with respectful acquiescence from a very large body of disinterested and dispassionate readers. We are far more inclined to believe, with another French critic, M. de Mazade, that in spite of the proofs which M. Taine has adduced in abundance and superbundanee of the horrors which darkened the dawn of liberty in Francs, there was something above and beyond those horrors which his philosophy has scarcely dreamt of. " II semble," says this critic, " oublier glean deasus des details sinistres, et a travers le tours tronbld, trop souvent sanglant, des evenemens, it y a autre chose. 11 y a le souffle genereux, qui a fait qu'un tel mouvement n'a pas pu se perdre, memo dans lea crimes et dans ranarchie ; it y a 'Inspira- tion morale et ideale, qui est la compensation de ''inexperience et des dangereuses chimeres ; it y a la pensee de justice, d'humanite, de progres, qui decide de la revolution, qui finit par se retrouver dans une societe nouvelle, et c'est ce qu'on vent dire lorsqu'on maintient juatement la distinction decisive entre 1789 et 1793."
Again, although M. Taine's previous volume, L'Ancien regime, undoubtedly gives the clue to much that appears enigmatical in the present volume, the author, we think, should have kept that clue more steadily in his own hand, and have brought it more frequently before the eyes of his readers. It is useless to dwell • The Revolution. By H. Table. Vol. L Translated by John Durand. London : Daldy, IsbIster, and Co. 1878. with wearisome iteration on the brutal excesses of an ignorant mob, which burns and pillages and murders at its own sweet will. The beggar on horseback rides straight enough and swift enough to his destination ; and the Jacqueries of the middle-ages and the Commune of yesterday have a dreadful and monotonous family likeness. At this time of day, too, we are disposed to think that minute details of the excesses of King Mob might be " taken as read " by a philosophical historian who should set himself to ex- plain their causes. So far as France is concerned, it was not the Revolution which, at the outset, destroyed the Government, but the fact that the Government was already destroyed, which made the Revolution possible. M. Taine has described in his .Aneicn regime how that destruction was brought about, and in his present volume has recalled one at least of its features very vividly :—" Les grands seigneurs, it leur toilette, out railld le Christianiame et affirme les droits de l'homme devant leurs valets, leurs perruquiers, leurs fournisseurs, et toute leur antichambre. Les gens de lettres, les avocets, les pro- cureurs ont repete, d'un ton plus ape, lea memes diatribes et les mettles theories, aux restaurants, aux cafes, dans les pro- menades, et dans tons les lieux publics. On a park' devant les gens du peuple comme s'ils n'ethient point lit, et de toute cette eloquence, deversee sans precaution, it y a jailli des eclaboussures jusque dans le cerveau de l'artisan, du cabaretier, du commissionnaire, de in revendeuse, et du soldat." There were other causes, of course, at work, and M. Taine has shown us with, an abundance of details which we have ventured to call superfluous, the terrible effects of those causes on the masses. We wish, however, that he had analysed as carefully, and had illustrated with an equally large number of examples, the causes which paralysed all action on the part of the Government and of the ruling classes, and forced them to become either the victims or the passive instruments of a riderless and rudderless ochlo- cracy. M. Taine has analysed the psychology of this ochlocracy with admirable skill, but he has hardly done so much for the psychology of its aforesaid victims and instruments. He ought, we think, to have developed the causes which rendered the defence so deplorably weak, with something at least of the fullness with which he has developed the cause which made the attack so exceptionally irresistible. A. reader who has not saturated him- self with M. Taine's previous volume will otherwise be inclined to think that with a little more energy on the part of the Government the Revolution might have been nipped in the bud. And assuredly it might have been, had it been merely the work of what M. Taine calls the attroupement. But the com- plete ascendancy of a tumultuary, tyrannical mob was the symptom, and not the cause of the evil. The cause itself was the utter in- capacity of the King and his Ministers and the governing classes to act with energy, and to stop the torrent which they had allowed to burst its banks, from sheer inability to divert or contain it. But we have no space to say more on this head, and can only spare a few words for the second book, L'AssembWe Constituante a Son euvre, which, with all its deficiencies, must be reckoned as a specimen of first-rate political criticism. It is exposed, however, to the same sort of objections as apply to Book I. M. Taine has not entirely passed over in silence all the good which this poor Assembly attempted and paved the way for, but the few lines which he has given to this side of its work stand out, like Falstaff's half-pennyworth of bread, in marked contrast to the lengthy and elaborate, and we must say, perfectly just description, which he has drawn, with verve and gusto, of that same Assembly's faults and failures.
We are unable, therefore, on the whole, to give M. Taine's book quite so much credit on the score of impartiality as the author claims for it. We must also say that, from a purely literary point of view, it is more disappointing than its prede- cessor. There are purpurei panni in it, no doubt, as there were in L'Ancien regime, and very brilliant " patches" they are. But we can hardly call the book itself a history. It would be pal- pably and even absurdly unjust to call M. Taine a "paste and scissors " man, and yet this volume is so crushingly overlaid by an unnecessary mass of circumstantial details, that somehow or other it does leave on the mind more than once the disagreeable impression of a " paste and scissors " compilation. A feeling, perhaps, of the inevitable dullness which could not but result from his pitiless multiplicity of details has occasionally, we fancy, led M. Taine to break out into bursts of metaphorical rhetoric which, in our opinion, over-shoot their mark. The many-headed multitude appears in these pages in many strange disguises, e.g,—as " a bull that dashes through a door and rages through a dwelling-horse ;" as " the, primitive animal, the grin- ning, bloody, libidinous ape, who chuckles while he slays ;" and as "a tame elephant suddenly become wild again, who throws off its ordinary driver, and the new guides whom it tolerates perched on its neck are there simply for show." There are other amenities of the kind, and not a few of them ; but these comparisons are apt, in the long-run, to prove as tiresome as they are unquestionably misleading. We may notice, too, that M. Taine is not unfrequently led astray by his over-fondness for generalisation. He takes much too little account of the action of individuals, of the influence of party spirit and party passions, and of the effects of that atmo- sphere of intrigue and ambition which enveloped the Court and the Assembly, as well as the social strata which were upheaving beneath them.
In point of fact, with the exception of the way in which he has handled the position of the Church, we feel pretty sure that M. Taine has not made a single point in this book which Carlyle had not made, and made far better, in his well-known History. Indeed, were it not that the style of our "Tacitus in motley " is such AS to make his French Revolution a sealed book to French readers, we might fairly be surprised at the sensation which M. Taine's book has excited among his countrymen. But on reflection, we are more and more convinced that this sensation has been pro- duced much less by the so-called revelations of M. Taine them- selves, than by the fact that it is M. Tains who makes them. Imagine, for instance, what a sensation would be caused in England if Mr. Gladstone were to publish an Apology for Islam, or if Lord Beaconsfield were to secede to Rome, and indulge the public with his reasons for doing so. We are aware that our illustration is a coarse exaggeration, and requires to be taken with a grain, or even a bushel of salt. Still we have no hesitation in saying that in spite of much that is thoroughly admirable and valuable, and we firmly believe, in spite, too, of his own honest wish to avoid such a result, the volume which we have been dealing with, in a way which could not be other than perfunctory, is essentially an cc7L9tu,cza Trps rd 7rap6, rather than a Xli*Ct 4 ehl. If further illustration were needed in defence of the view which we have permitted ourselves to take of so important a book, it might be found, perhaps, in the comparisons which M. Taine has drawn, either directly or indirectly, between the France of 1789 and other nations, at different stages of their careers. The English Constitution and its workings, for instance, were far from being so encouraging a model for the men of 1789 to adopt as M. Taine would seem to think. And the great social transformation, as he calls it, by which Alexander emancipated the Serfs of Russia may have more points of resemblance than he seems to imagine with the social transformation of 1789, and may, in the end, per- haps, be followed by not very dissimilar convulsions. The ukase which gave the serfs their freedom was far from transforming them into a body of independent and responsible men. It only brought a weltering mass of quasi-Communism more closely under the thumb of the military chiefs and the bureaucracy, and at the same time it rendered this identical mass much more accessible to the pernicious influence of Socialistic agitators and fanatical Nihilists.
We have left ourselves no space to dwell on the translation of this book, and we are not sorry for it. It was a thankless task, no doubt, for Mr. Durand to waste his time and energies on such an unsatisfactory piece of work, and it would be a thankless task for us to expose the inaccurate and inelegant expressions which lie strewn about his pages, as thick as leaves in Vallombrosa. The reader who is ignorant of French, though, should be warned that M. Taine's style, whatever may be thought of his philosophy, is well-nigh perfect. In Mr. Duraud'a inaccurate and unidiomatic version that style has lost all its beauty, and the book itself has lost, in consequence, nine-tenths of its proper value and significance.