Page images

his education had made that choice for him. He had imbibed the air of the Revolution, but not of the Palais Royal, that focus of the domestic irregularities and political schemes of his father. His youth was passed studiously and virtuously in the seclusion of Belle-Chasse and Passy, where Madame de Genlis directed the education of the princes of the house of Orléans. Never did a woman so well mingle in herself intrigue and virtue, or associate an ambiguous position with most austere precepts. Hateful to the mother, the favorite of the father, Mentor of the children, at the same time democrat, and yet friend of the prince, her pupils left her hands combining in themselves the amalgam of prince and citizen. She fashioned their mind on her own. She imparted to them much intelligence, many principles, and great prudence. She, moreover, insinuated into their dispositions that address amongst men, and that plasticity amongst events, which for ever betoken the imprint of the hand of a skilful woman in the characters she has handled. The Duc de Chartres had no youth. Education suppressed this age in the pupils of Madame de Genlis. Reflection, study, premeditation of every thought and act, replaced nature by study, and instinct by will. She made men, but they were factitious men. At seventeen years of age the young prince had the maturity of advanced years. Colonel in 1791, he had already gained two civic crowns from the city of Vendôme, where he was in garrison, for having saved, at the peril of his life, the lives of two priests in a riot, and a citizen from drowning. Constant in his attendance at the sittings of the Constituent Assembly, affiliated by his father to the Jacobins, he was present in the tribunes at the displays of popular assemblies. He seemed himself carried away by the passions he studied, but he always controlled his apparent excitement. Always sufficiently in the stream of the day to be national, he was still sufficiently out of it not to sully his future destiny. His family was the greater portion of his patriotism. At the news of the suppression of the right of primogeniture, he embraced his brother, saying, 'Good law, which lets brothers love each other without jealousy! It only enjoins me what my heart had done before. You all know that nature had created this law between us.' had fortunately led him to camps when the blood of the Revolution was pure. He signalized himself first under Luckner, in Belgium ; and, at twenty-three years of age, had followed him to Metz. Called on by Servan to take the command of Strasbourg, he replied, “ I am too young to shut myself up in such a place; I beg to be left with the army on service.' Kellermann, who succeeded Luckner, saw his valor, and confided to him a brigade of twelve battalions of infantry and twelve squadrons of horse.


“ The Duc de Chartres had been welcomed by the old soldiers as a prince, by the new ones as a patriot, by all as a comrade. His intrepidity did not carry him away; he controlled it, and it left him that quickness of perception and that coolness so essential to a general ; amidst the hottest fire he neither quickened nor slackened his pace, for his ardor was as much the effect of reflection as of calculation, and as grave as duty. His stature was lofty, his frame well knit, his appearance serious and thoughtful. The elevation of his brow, the blue hue of his eyes, the oval face, and the majestic, though somewhat heavy, outline of his chin, reminded every one strongly of the Bourbon family. The bend of his neck, the modest carriage, the mouth slightly drawn down at each corner, the penetrating glance, the winning smile, and the ready repartee, gained him the attention of the people. His familiarity – martial with the officers, soldierly with the soldiers, patriotic with the citizens caused them to forgive him for being a prince. But beneath the exterior of a soldier of the people lurked the arrière pensée of a prince of the blood ; and he plunged into all the events of the Revolution with the entire yet skilful abandon of a master mind ; and it seemed as though he knew beforehand that events dash to pieces those who resist them, but that revolutions, like the ocean's waves, often restore men to the spot whence they tore them. To perform that skilfully which the exigency of the moment required, and to trust to the future and his birth for the rest, was the whole of his policy, and Machiavel could not have counselled him more skilfully than his own nature. His star never lighted him but a few steps in advance, and he neither wished nor asked of it more lustre, for his only ambition was to learn to wait. Time was his providence ; and he was born to disappear in the great convulsions of his country, to survive crises, outwit the already wearied parties, satisfy and arrest revolution. Men feared, in spite of his bravery and his exalted enthusiasm for his country, to catch a glimpse of a throne raised upon its own ruins and by the hands of a republic. This presentiment, which invariably precedes great names and destinies, seemed to reveal to the army that of all the leaders of the Revolution, he might one day be the most useful or the most fatal to liberty.” – Vol. 11. pp. 159 – 161.

In connection with the last extract, the following passage is of curious interest.

“ About this time the Duc de Chartres (since King of the French) presented himself at the audience of the minister of war, Servan, to complain of some injustice that had been shown him. Servan, unwell and in bed, listened carelessly to the complaints of the young prince. Danton was present, and seemed to possess more authority at the war office than the minister himself. He took the Duc de Chartres aside, and said to him, 'What do you do here? You see that Servan is a phantom of a minister, unable either to serve or to injure you. Call on me to-morrow, and I will arrange your business for you.' The next day, when the Duc de Chartres went to the chancery, Danton received him with a sort of paternal brusquerie: "Well, young man,' said he, 'what do I learn? I am assured that your language resembles murmurs; that you blame the great measures of government; that you express compassion for the victims, and hatred for the executioners. Beware, patriotism does not admit of lukewarmness, and you have to obtain pardon for your great name.' The young prince replied, with a firmness above his years, that the army looked with horror on bloodshed anywhere but on the battle-field, and that the massacres of September seemed in his eyes to dishonor liberty. You are too young to judge of these events, returned Danton, with the air and accent of superiority ; "to comprehend them you must be in our place ; for the future, be silent. Return to the army; fight bravely, but do not rashly expose your life, - you have many years before you. France does not love a republic ; she has the habits, the weaknesses, the need of a monarchy. After our storms, she will return to it either through her vices or necessities, and you will be king. Adieu, young man; remember the prediction of Danton. " Vol. 11. pp. 173, 174.

If the foregoing anecdote could be literally credited, it would disclose a truly wonderful penetration of the remote future on the part of Danton. He is represented by Lamartine as possessing the strongest powers of discernment, and appears upon the whole, as his portrait is drawn by our author, to have been, in prompt and comprehensive judgment, and in decision and manly force of genius, the master spirit of the drama. But no depth of penetration, no profoundness of observation, no knowledge of the workings of human passions, or of the elementary ingredients of natural character, can be imagined great enough to have enabled Danton to look with so clear a vision through the storms and vicissitudes which impended over the civilized world, and convulsed Europe for thirty years, and beyond them all to behold the later fortunes and present elevation of the young Duc de Chartres.

This is one of those cases in which the interest of history is derived from the introduction of statements that cannot be

officially authenticated, and in reference to which confidence in the historian is felt to be of essential and incalculable importance. It is pleasing to contemplate, in sprightly relief from the graver public incidents of the narrative, private conversations, familiar occurrences, and domestic incidents. For these the writer cannot, at the foot of the page, or in the margin, cite his authorities. His own industry, discrimination, and truthfulness must be our only reliance. If we are assured that he possesses such traits, then our confidence is extended to him, and we enjoy the highest satisfaction in the details of his story. If history is to descend at all into the interior spheres of private life, and trace the connection between public events and the personal circumstances and social relations of those who occasion and act in them, such incidents and anecdotes as that just given, and others which abound in these volumes, must be allowed admission. Although depending, as they necessarily must, to a great degree, upon hearsay evidence, living only in the voices of irresponsible rumor, descending from lips to lips, mere floating traditions, and liable, of course, to exaggeration, embellishment, and variation, more than any thing else they give the form and pressure, the hue and spirit, the tone and life, of the times. And while the interest of modern history is thus heightened, its authenticy and authority will not, in the practical result, be essentially weakened by the introduction of such minute and private details. In reference to every important transaction and signal era, like that of the French Revolution, as we have before observed, large numbers of works will always be written, by different individuals, from different points of view, illustrating minutely the characters who figured in the scene. Personal reminiscences, memoirs, correspondences, journals, diaries, reports of conversations, will, in greater or less abundance, be brought before the public; and by the exercise of a cautious and enlightened judgment, every reader may become quite well qualified to discriminate for himself, and, guided by internal indications, to discern the stamp of naturalness and truth, and thus bestow his confidence aright.

By what particular evidence the conversation of Danton with the Duc de Chartres was made known to Lamartine, we are not informed. In his Advertisement he says, in general : - No. 139.



“ We have written after having scrupulously investigated facts and characters : we do not ask to be credited on our mere word only. Although we have not encumbered our work with notes, quotations, and documentary testimony, we have not made one assertion unauthorized by authentic memoirs, by unpublished manuscripts, by autograph letters, which the families of the most conspicuous persons have confided to our care, or by oral and well-confirmed statements gathered from the lips of the last survivors of this great epoch.”

One of the most interesting and instructive uses of history is to suggest to the mind speculations as to what would have been the effect upon the course of events, — how far that course would have been varied, — had certain particular incidents been omitted, or differently treated and directed. Perhaps the moral and social elements developed in the French Revolution had been so long gathering, and had worked so deeply into the very essence of the popular associations and passions, that nothing could have availed to check or essentially divert their course, or prevent their final explosion. Our author, in alluding to the attempt of Robespierre and others to procure the utter abolition of the death-penalty, at an early stage of the movement, thus ponders over the consequences that might have ensued, had the attempt succeeded.

“ The discussion on the abolition of the punishment of death presented to Adrien Duport an opportunity to pronounce in favor of the abolition one of those orations which survive time, and which protest, in the name of reason and philosophy, against the blindness and atrocity of criminal legislation. He demonstrated with the most profound logic, that society, by reserving to itself the right of homicide, justifies it to a certain extent in the mur. derer, and that the means most efficacious for preventing murder and making it infamous was to evince its own horror of the crime. Robespierre, who subsequently was fated to allow of unlimited immolation, demanded that society should be disarmed of the power of putting to death. If the prejudices of jurists had not prevailed over the wholesome doctrines of moral philosophy, who can say how much blood might not have been spared in France ? "

43. Perhaps, as has just been intimated, the internal fires had so long been burning in the secret passions of the people, and had rendered the entire substance of society so combustible, that nothing could have prevented the flame from breaking forth,

Vol. 1. p.

« PreviousContinue »