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lawyers demonstrated how greatly the liberties of the nation had fallen off, and how grossly their nature was misunderstood. They proved it to be the duty of the People to reclaim them, and that no obstacle stood in the way. In this cry many Whigs and Tories, members of both Houses of Parliament, were found to join.
This liberal movement was not confined to England. It spread, in a greater or less degree, all over Europe, even to St. Petersburg and Constantinople. In England, Reform was rather a cry than a political movement; but in France and Austria it was a movement as well as a cry. In the latter country, indeed, the Reform was supplied before the demand, and the Emperor Joseph was forced by an ignorant people to reverse projects in which he had vainly tried to precede his age. But the demands abroad were for organic reforms, such as had long been effected in England. England, after the reign of Charles II, is a completely modern nation; society is reorganised on the basis which still subsists. But France and Germany in 1789 were still what they had been in the Middle Ages. The icy fetters which England had long ago broken up had on the Continent hardened until nothing would break them up but a convulsion. In France this had been demonstrated by the failures of Turgot. The body of oppressive interests which time and usage had legalised was too strong to give way to a moderate pressure. A convulsion, a mighty shock, a disturbance of normal forces, was necessary: and the French people had long been collecting themselves for the task. Forty years a Revolution had been foreseen, and ten years at least it had been despaired of. But it came at last, and came unexpectedly; the Revolution shook down the feudalism of France, and the great general of the Revolution trampled to dust the tottering relics of it in the rest of Western Europe. Conspicuous among the agencies which effected it was the new power of public opinion, which wrought an obvious effect, by means of the Gazettes of Paris, throughout the western world. Burke saw this, and to public opinion he appealed against the movement, and so far as this country was concerned, successfully. It was he whose "shrilling trumpet' sounded the first alarm of the twenty years' European war against the French Revolution.
It was hard, at such a crisis, to sever general ideas from the
immediate occasion. Burke tells us less about the French Revolution than about English thought and feeling on the subject of Revolutions in general. On the applicability of these general views to the occasion of their enunciation, it is not necessary for the reader to form any definite judgment. Properly speaking, indeed, the question depends only in a small degree on grounds which demand or justify such a mode of treatment. To condemn all Revolutions is monstrous. To say categorically that the French Revolution was absolutely a good thing or a bad thing conveys no useful idea. Either may be said with some degree of truth, but neither can be said without qualifications which almost neutralise the primary thesis. No student of history by this time needs to be told that the French Revolution was, in a more or less extended sense, a very good thing. Consequently, the student is not advised to assent, further than is necessary to gain an idea of Burke's standpoint, to the summary and ignominious condemnation with which the Revolution is treated by Burke. But it must be remembered that whatever may have been its good side, it was not Burke's business to exhibit it. No one was better qualified than Burke to compose an apologetic for the final appeal of a people against tyranny: but nunc non erat his locus. Burke's business was not to cool the pot, but to make it boil : to raise a strong counter-cry, and make the most of the bad side of the Revolution. Burke appears here in the character of an advocate : like all advocates, he says less than he knows. It was his cue to represent the Revolution as a piece of voluntary and malicious folly; he could not well admit that it was the result of deep-seated and irresistible causes.
Not that the Revolution could not have been avoided—every one knew that it might; but it could only have been avoided by an equally sweeping Revolution from above. In default of this there came to pass a Revolution from below. Though the Revolution brought with it mistakes in policy, crimes, and injuries, it involved no more of each than the fair average of human affairs will allow, if we consider its character and magnitude; and we must pay less than usual heed to Burke when he insists that these were produced wholly by the ignorance and wickedness of the Revolutionary leaders. The sufferers in a large measure brought them on themselves by ill-timed resistance and vacillating counsels.
From the present work the student will learn little of the history of the Revolution. It had barely begun: only two incidents of importance, the capture of the Bastille and the transportation from Versailles to Paris, had taken place: of that coalition of hostile elements which first gave the Revolution force and self-consciousness, there was as yet not a trace. It was not only in its beginnings, but even these beginnings were imperfectly understood. School-boys now know more of the facts of the matter than was known to Burke, and thanks to the pen of De Tocqueville, most persons of moderate literary pretensions can claim a closer familiarity with its fundamental nature. Wherein, then, consists the value of the book ? what are the merits which won for it the emphatic commendation of Dumont, the disciple and populariser of Bentham—that it was probably the salvation of Europe'? How came this virulent and intemperate attack to have the wide and beneficial effect which attended it ? What was the nature of its potent magic, which disarmed the Revolutionists of England, and exorcised from the thinking classes of Europe the mischievous desire of political change?
It was obvious that the movement in France was accompanied by a general distrust of the existing framework of society. Something of the same kind was prevalent in England; but it belonged to a narrower class, with narrower motives and meaner ends. From his earliest years Burke had been familiar with the idea of a nation of human savages rising in revolt against law, religion, and social order, and he believed the impulse to such a revolt to exist in human nature as a specific moral disease. The thing which he greatly feared now seemed to have come suddenly upon him. Burke manifestly erred in representing such an element as the sole aliment and motive force of the French Revolution. Distrust of society was widely disseminated in England, though less widely than Burke believed, and far less widely than in France; but Burke had no means of verifying his bodings. Jacobinism had prevailed in France, and a Revolution had followed — it was coming to prevail in England, and a Revolution might be expected. England had in France the highest reputation for political progress, liberty, and good government. England's liberty was bound up with the fact of her having passed through a Revolution, which, after the lapse of a century, was considered
a worthy object of commemoration. It was represented in France that the French Revolution was proceeding on English principles. It was further understood that England sympathised with and intended to benefit by the broader and more enlightened Revolution which was being accomplished in France. This Burke takes all pains to refute. He shows that this famous English Revolution was, in truth, a Revolution not made, but prevented. He aims to prove by conclusive evidence that English policy, though not averse from reform, is stubbornly opposed to revolution. He shows that the main body of the British nation, from its historical traditions, from the opinions and doctrines transmitted to it from the earliest times, from its constitution and essence, was utterly hostile to these dangerous novelties, and bound to eschew and reprobate them. Though mainly sound and homogeneous, the body politic had rotten members, and it is the utterances of these, by which the intelligent Frenchman might otherwise be pardonably misled, that Burke in the first instance applies himself to confute.
The earliest title of the work (see Notes, p. 297) indicates that it was occasioned proximately not by the events in France, but by events of much less importance in England. Knowing little of Europe in general, by comparison with his intimate knowledge of England, Burke can have been little disposed or prepared to rush into print, in the midst of absorbing state business at home, with a general discussion of the changes which had taken place in a foreign nation. This was not the habit of the time. In our day a man must be able to sustain an argument on the internal politics of all nations of the earth: in that day, Englishmen chiefly regarded their own business. Had the Revolution been completely isolated, it would never have occupied Burke's pen. But the Revolutionists had aiders and abettors on this side of the Channel, and they openly avowed their purpose of bringing about a catastrophe similar to that which had been brought about in France. Finally, some of these English sympathisers' were persons long politically hateful to Burke and his party. Hence that strong tincture of party virulence which is perceptible throughout the work. Burke writes not as a Hallam-not as a philosophical critic or a temperate judge, but in his accustomed character of an impassioned advocate and an angry debater. Indeed anything like a réserved and observant
attitude, on the part of his countrymen, irritates him to fury. He bitterly attacks all who, with the steady temper of Addison's Portius,
• Can look on guilt, rebellion, fraud, and Caesar,
In the calm lights of mild philosophy.' His real aim is less to attack the French than the English Revolutionists: not so much to asperse Sieyes and Mirabeau, as Dr. Price and Lord Stanhope.
The work, then, professes to be a general statement, confessedly hasty and fragmentary, of the political doctrines and sentiments of the English people. It was, on the whole, recognised as true. The body of the nation agreed in this fierce and eloquent denunciation. The Jacobins steadily went down in public estimation from the day of its publication. Burke's fiery philippic seemed to dry up their strength, as the sun dries up the dew. Nothing could stand, in public opinion, against Burke's imperious dilemmas. But it is the moral power of the argument, and the brilliancy with which it is enforced, which give the work its value. The topics themselves are of slighter significance. Half awed by the tones of the preacher, half by his evident earnestness and self-conviction, we are predisposed to submit to his general doctrines, although we cannot feel sure of their applicability to the occasion. Unfair as this denunciation was to France, we sympathise in its effect on the malcontents in England. The tone of the book was well suited to the occasion. A loud and bitter cry was to be raised—the revolutionary propaganda was to be stayed—and to this end all that could be said against it was to be clearly, sharply, emphatically, and uncompromisingly put forth. With Hannibal at the gates, it was no time for half-opinions, for qualification, and for temporisation. No wise man could hesitate to do his best to discredit the Jacobins, without any very scrupulous regard to absolute justice. They were unjust and unscrupulous, and it was perhaps pardonable to attack them with their own weapons. From all this we deduce the critical canon, that properly to understand Burke's book we must look on him not as a critic, but as an advocate. The book is not history, nor philosophy, but a polemic. It is a polemic against Jacobinism, particularly English Jacobinism.
What is, or rather was, Jacobinism? In the usage of the day,