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“ France declared itself the apostle of this creed. In this war of ideas France had allies everywhere, and even on thrones themselves.” — Vol. 1. p. 12.
The following sentence concludes another section.
“ The earth cannot remain without an altar, and God alone is strong enough against God.” — Vol. 1. p. 156.
Surely the force of folly can no farther go. All that is necessary to expose and explode such a style of writing, such habits of language, such pretending and mystic phrases as these, is to pause and analyze them. The process of attempting to eliminate their meaning will show what a mere vapor of words they
It is because readers, as well as writers, fall into a habit of using words without rigidly insisting upon knowing what they mean, that the literature of an age becomes visionary, pedantic, and delusive, at once feeble and enfeebling. The great defect in our systems of education, in schools, colleges, and universities, is in the department of language, particularly our vernacular tongue. If the young were trained to habits of severe precision in the use of words ; if the text-books employed, the oral teachings given, and the examples held up, were scrupulously guarded against all vague, misty, and obscure expressions, and the pen were always, with prompt severity, drawn through every passage that did not give forth its meaning full and clear, we should soon be relieved from the faults that emasculate our literature, from the mortifying impositions that invest unmeaning phrases with the pretensions of philosophy, and, by filling the popular mind with a cloud of general terms which convey no real sense, involve in darkness all practical moral judgments, and threaten to obliterate the lessons of experience, dissolve the obligations of society, and undermine the foundations of national and civil law, order, and right.
As we have before remarked, these peculiarities deform the first few books much more than the subsequent ones. They are mere affectations, superficial appendages, assumed to conciliate a prevalent fashion, and to obtain currency in a literary coterie which has, unhappily, obtained for a brief hour possession of some of the upper seats of criticism and taste. The moment men begin to grow earnest and lose themselves in their work, affectation disappears, and every motion becomes efficient and graceful, because natural and unconstrained. This is the case with Lamartine. As he gets warm in his work,
paradoxes, fanciful combinations of phrases, affected profoundness of abstract and oracular expressions, are forgotten. He rises above their sphere into a clear, strong, manly, but most brilliant, style of narrative and description. No writer excels him in minute, graphic, lifelike delineations of characters, scenes, and actions. It is excellence in these points that constitutes the charm of the work before us, and gives it the highest value and interest.
We could not say any thing which would so effectually commend these eloquent and attractive volumes as to lay before our readers a few of the portraits of persons, and pictures of scenes, with which they are adorned and enriched from beginning to end. In the following passages, words are made to rival the pencil.
“ Still deeper in the shade, and behind the chief of the National Assembly, a man almost unknown began to move, agitated by uneasy thoughts which seemed to forbid him to be silent and unmoved ; he spoke on all occasions, and attacked all speakers indifferently, including Mirabeau himself. Driven from the tribune, he ascended it next day : overwhelmed with sarcasm, coughed down, disowned by all parties, lost amongst the eminent champions who fixed public attention, he was incessantly beaten, but never dispirited. It might have been said, that an inward and prophetic genius revealed to him the vanity of all talent, and the omnipotence of a firm will and unwearied patience, and that an inward voice said to him, “These men who despise thee are thine : all the changes of this Revolution, which now will not deign to look upon thee, will eventually terminate in thee, for. thou hast placed thyself in the way like the inevitable excess, in which all impulse ends.'
6. This man was Robespierre.
“..... Alone perhaps among all these men who opened at Versailles the first scene of this vast drama, he foresaw the termination; like the soul, whose seat in the human frame philosophers have not discovered, the thought of an entire people sometimes concentrates itself in the individual the least known in the great mass. We should not despise any, for the finger of Destiny marks in the soul and not upon the brow. Robespierre had nothing, neither birth, nor genius, nor exterior which should point him out to men's notice. There was nothing conspicuous about him ; his limited talent had only shone at the bar or in provincial academies ; a few verbal harangues filled with a tame and almost rustic philosophy, some bits of cold and affected poetry, had vainly displayed his name in the insignificance of the literary productions
VOL. LXVI. No. 139. 26
of the day: he was more than unknown, he was mediocre and contemned. His features presented nothing which could attract attention, when gazing round in a large assembly : there was no sign in visible characters of this power which was all within ; he was the last word of the Revolution, but no one could read him.
Robespierre's figure was small, his limbs feeble and angular, his step irresolute, his attitudes affected, his gestures destitute of harmony or grace; his voice, rather shrill, aimed at oratorical inflections, but
only produced fatigue and monotony ; his forehead was good, but small and extremely projecting above the temples, as if the mass and embarrassed movement of his thoughts had enlarged it by their efforts ; his eyes, much covered by their lids and very sharp at the extremities, were deeply buried in the cavities of their orbits ; they gave out a soft blue hue, but it was vague and unfixed, like a steel reflector on which a light glances ; his nose straight and small was very wide at the nostrils, which were high and too expanded ; his mouth was large; his lips thin and disagreeably contracted at each corner; his chin small and pointed; his complexion yellow and livid, like that of an invalid or a man worn out by vigils and meditations. The habitual ex. pression of this visage was that of superficial serenity on a serious mind, and a smile wavering betwixt sarcasm and condescension. There was softness, but of a sinister character. The prevail. ing characteristic of this countenance was the prodigious and continual tension of brow, eyes, mouth, and all the facial muscles ; in regarding him, it was perceptible that the whole of. his features, like the labor of his mind, converged incessantly on a single point with such power that there was no waste of will in his temperament, and he appeared to foresee all he desired to accomplish, as though he had already the reality before his eyes.
“Such, then, was the man destined to absorb in himself all those men, and make them his victims after he had used them as his instruments. He was of no party, but of all parties which in their turn served his ideal of the Revolution. In this his power consisted, for parties paused, but he never did. He placed this ideal as an end to reach in every revolutionary movement, and advanced towards it with those who sought to attain it ; then, this goal reached, he placed it still further off, and again marched forward with other men, continually advancing, without ever deviating, ever pausing, ever retreating. The Revolution, decimated in its progress, inust one day or other inevitably arrive at a last stage, and he desired it should end in himself. He was the entire incorporation of the Revolution, - principles, thoughts, passions, impulses. Thus incorporating himself wholly with it,
he compelled it one day to incorporate itself in him — that day was a distant one.” Vol. 1. pp. 29 – 32.
The two extracts that follow present scenes of a character quite in contrast with each other, but strikingly and truly illustrating the forms in which the spirit of the Revolution displayed itself at an early and a later stage.
“On the 11th of July, the departmental and municipal authori. ties went in state to the barrier of Charenton, to receive the mortal remains of Voltaire, which were placed on the ancient site of the Bastille, like a conqueror on his trophies ; his coffin was exposed to public gaze, and a pedestal was formed for it of stones torn from the foundations of this ancient stronghold of tyranny; and thus Voltaire when dead triumphed over those stones which had triumphed over and confined him when living. On one of the blocks was the inscription, 'Receive on this spot, where despotism once fettered thee, the honors decreed to thee by thy country.'
“ The next day, when the rays of a brilliant sun had dissipated the mists of the night, an inimense concourse of people followed the car that bore Voltaire to the Pantheon. This car was drawn by twelve white horses, harnessed four abreast ; their manes plaited with flowers and golden tassels, and the reins held by men dressed in antique costumes, like those depicted on the medals of ancient tri phs. On the car was a funeral couch, extended on which was a statue of the philosopher, crowned with a wreath. The National Assembly, the departmental and municipal bodies, the constituted authorities, the magistrates, and the army, surrounded, preceded, and followed the sarcophagus. The boule. vards, the streets, the public places, the windows, the roofs of houses, even the trees, were crowded with spectators; and the suppressed murmurs of vanquished intolerance could not restrain this feeling of enthusiasm. Every eye was riveted on the car; for the new school of ideas felt that it was the proof of their victory that was passing before them, and that philosophy remained mistress of the field of battle.
“The details of this ceremony were magnificent; and in spite of its profane and theatrical trappings, the features of every man that followed the car wore the expression of joy, arising from an intellectual triumph. A large body of cavalry, who seemed to have now offered their arms at the shrine of intelligence, opened the march. Then followed the muffled drums, to whose notes were added the roar of the artillery that formed a part of the cortége. The scholars of the colleges of Paris, the patriotic societies, the battalions of the national guard, the workmen of the
different public journals, the persons employed to demolish the foundations of the Bastille ; some bearing a portable press, which struck off different inscriptions in honor of Voltaire, as the procession moved on; others carrying the chains, the collars, and bolts, and bullets found in the dungeons and arsenals of the state prisons ; and lastly, busts of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Mirabeau, marched between the troops and the populace. On a litter was displayed the procès-verbal of the electors of '89, that Hegyra of the insurrection. On another stand, the citizens of the Faubourg Saint Antoine exhibited a plan in relief of the Bastille, the flag of the donjon, and a young girl, in the costume of an Amazon, who had fought at the siege of this fortress. Here and there, pikes surmounted with the Phrygian cap of liberty arose above the crowd, and on one of them was a scroll bearing the inscription, 'From this steel sprung Liberty!'
“ All the actors and actresses of the theatres of Paris followed the statue of him who for sixty years had inspired them; the titles of his principal works were inscribed on the sides of a pyramid that represented his immortality. His statue, formed of gold and crowned with laurel, was borne on the shoulders of citizens, wearing the costumes of the nations and the times whose manners and customs he had depicted; and the seventy volumes of his works were contained in a casket, also of gold. The members of the learned bodies and of the principal academies of the kingdom surrounded this ark of philosophy. Numerous bands of music, some marching with the troops, others stationed along the road of the procession, saluted the car as it passed with loud bursts of harmony, and filled the air with the enthusiastic strains of liberty. The procession stopped before the principal theatres, a hymn was sung in honor of his genius, and the car then resumed its march. On their arrival at the quai that bears his name, the car stopped before the house of M. de Viltette, where Voltaire had breathed his last, and where his heart was preserved. Evergreen shrubs, garlands of leaves, and wreaths of roses decorated the front of the house, which bore the inscription, His fame is everywhere, and his heart is here.' Young girls dressed in white, and wreaths of flowers on their heads, covered the steps of an amphitheatre erected before the house. Madame de Villette, to whom Voltaire had been a second father, in all the splendor of her beauty, and the pathos of her tears, advanced and placed the noblest of all his wreaths, the wreath of filial affection, on the head of the great philosopher.
6 At this moment the crowd burst into one of the hymns of the poet Chenier, who, up to his death, most of all men cherished the memory of Voltaire. Madame de Villette and the young