Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

duced little or no effect. We are hardly better known to them now than we were ten years ago; neither do we foresee at what period such knowledge is likely to accrue to them. To us the injury is small: we are not either better or worse, intrinsically,for the opinion of others; but the detriment to the willing blind is great; and for this reason solely do we speak our regret. We do think that—however the French may excel us in some of the trifles and amusements of life, and in many things where we do not envy their superiority—we could afford them millions of valuable lessons in all that is great and important. From them we might learn to be more refinedly depraved, more sensual, more selfish, and more specious than we are. By us they might be taught the means which have given wealth and power to these little islands, so much beyond what nature promised them; and here find what the course of policy is which can make the most free of empires the strongest. As long as the advantage is so much on our side, we can have little selfish reason to regret that no encouragement is held out to a free interchange of commodities.

This obstinate misrepresentation proceeds from one sole and general cause: the French do not wish to know us; nay, they wish not to know us. To know us would be more than they could bear; and they turn aside with soreness from every true estimate of British prosperity.

This feeling is so general throughout society, that we hardly recollect a single manifestation of the contrary; neither would any person dare to show an opposite sentiment, under the risk of excommunication. To acknowledge any thing good in England stamps a Frenchman unworthy of his country; and the best title to be deemed a true patriot is, to assert universal superiority. To this passion every writer is compelled to sacrifice; and if, to his own shortsightedness and blunders, he does not add this national contraction of mind, we doubt whether he could find a reader, nay, a printer, among his countrymen. France requires to be told by every man that she is, in all things, the first of nations; and she would rather hear that flattering falsehood, than be made one jot better than she is. She skips along merrily among contemporaries; she succeeds in most things which she cares about, because she cares chiefly about trifles; and, with many cankers in her heart, she rejects the probe, as long as her mirror reflects a ruddy complexion, and shows her a fair prospect of pleasure.

Among the writers who have ventured to become an exception to this rule, and have dared to find something tolerable here, is the son of Mad. de Stael, who has produced a volume from which the French might learn many practical truths. The author possesses sesses a talent for observation. He gives his remarks in correct and easy language; and, upon the whole, though the British public may see little to interest them in the account of circumstances with which they are familiar, he has opened a source of light and utility to his countrymen—by which they are not likely to profit.

This volume is divided into letters. The first is ' Upon the precautions necessary to be taken by all who would study and observe this country:' and the subject gives opportunity for many useful hints to the Parisians—which they will not take; but in his second letter he hazards a series of heresies for which he must sooner or later expect lapidation. He begins thus: 'L'on ne sauroit observer l'Angleterre avec un esprit denue de prevention, sans etre force de reconnaitre que la civilisation y est plus avancee que dans aucun pays du continent; que les luraieres y sont plus repandues, la science du gouvernement mieux comprise, tous les mouvemens de la machine sociale plus rapides et plus habilement combines. C'est un fait qui pourrait s'etablir a priori,' &c. Now how true soever this may be, it is so little to the taste of any class of Frenchmen, that all the proofs which M. de Stael adduces in support of it will only irritate them more profoundly. Whether M. de Stael drew this conclusion himself from history, or whether he found it ready drawn to his hand in the Quarterly Review, it is equally new and intrusive in France. The facts however are incontestable, and are irrefragable proofs of what he asserts, that civilization is more advanced in England than in any country of the continent. Her Magna Charta did precede the capitulations wrung by the states-general from the French King John during his captivity in England, by 141 years— but how much more did it precede them in value than in time! The age of Elizabeth did precede that of Lewis XIV. by about 150 years; but how much richer was it in true splendour and glory, in conquests and in letters, in the arts of war and of peace, in universal progress! The parliament did begin its struggle with Charles I. 149 years before the convocation of the states-general at Versailles; 141 years did separate the murders of Charles I. and Lewis XVI., and the English restoration was 154 years prior to the French. But with how many more mischiefs, with how much less good, did all these occurrences teem, in the hands of the imitating nation! Although the time which separates these corresponding events in the two countries, be about a century and a half, yet, in consideration of the value of the events themselves, we cannot help thinking that our superiority in political wisdom and virtue, measured in years, is equal to double that period. Neither can we subscribe subscribe to the salvo which M. de Stael has introduced into his remarks, that the civilization of England, in other respects, is not in proportion to that of her polity. If, by civilization, he understands luxurious and sensual enjoyment, he may be right; but if the word comprises intellectual progress, the development of mind in all its branches, philosophy, letters, industry, and their diffusion through every rank of society, he is utterly mistaken. As the greatest part of these things prospered more in this island, and as her wealth and power were greater in proportion to her original means than those of France, we cannot help concluding, in contradiction to M.de Stael, that, at least since the date of our Magna Charta, Britain has had the start of her rival in civilization properly so called, by much more than one century and a half, time and value included.

A circumstance which strikes the author now before us, and which —though he does not seem to think so—affords no small proof of the superiority of our progress, is this—that the French, in discussing political subjects, launch out into general principles, of which we hardly make any mention. The march of human improvement is first to practise an art, imperfectly perhaps, and merely in relation to our feeble wants. Then comes an observer who examines the instruments, a speculator who inquires into the causes, a philosopher who explains the general principles. This indeed is great improvement, but' the greatest is behind.' The acme of civilization in this art—at least the world has hitherto seen no higher— is when its instruments, causes and principles, after undergoing the ordeal of philosophy, re-act upon its practice and make that philosophical. Then the recital of generalities is cast into its ancient history as rudely as a speculator bestows upon its infant and untutored practice the epithet of empiricism. To use a great and noble quotation, which M.de Stael makes from one of the first of mortals, Bacon, the earliest condition is that of the 'axiomata infima,' which are those of mere manual exercise, and belong to uncultivated man. These may be found in every infant state, and wherever human beings have continued rude and ignorant, from the sands of the desert to the steppes of the north. 'Suprema vero ac generalissima rationalia suntetabstracta, et nil habent solidi.' The vague and abstract axioms, even when so profound as to be unintelligible, are a nobler exercise of mind than the ' axiomata infima,' and belong to nations in the middle condition of social progress, or to those whom rigorous necessity has not compelled to be practical. Among the latter, France claims the highest rank: for her best enlightenment—beside luxury —is empty speculation. The ' axiomata media,' then, which are 'vera et solida et viva, in quibus humame res et fortunae sitae sunt,'

are

are the property of the highest civilization, and England alone— or England and her descendants—can be said to possess them at this hour. They who say that the general reasonings of the French are superior, forget that the period of abstraction is gone by with us; that, when we argue upon a particular point with a view to its application, we no more return to discuss and prove its general principles, than we repeat the letters of the alphabet when we are preparing an oration for parliament. When we contemplate the statue of Apollo, we do not descant on the chisel. But those letters and that chisel must have been known and used, or words could not have existed, and the statue would still have slumbered in its block. Well indeed might Sir James M'Intosh reply, ' In England we take all this for granted,' when M. de Stael showed him one of the strongest and profoundest of the French political pamphlets. To dwell upon such productions as these, would be to return to infancy; yet the French imagine that we proceed without any general principles, and upon the mere selfish and empirical impulse of the occasion, because we have ceased to refer, in every instance, to the elements of our actions. Thus they imagine themselves to have invented the science of political economy, and say that Adam Smith took all his ideas on the subject from Turgot, and the other French economists. But where did Turgot himself and his followers first see the science and acquire their knowledge, but in the country where, having been put in practice, its principles had ceased to be discussed? Political economy was in full exercise in England long before it was reasoned upon in France; and had the theoricians of that country not found it here, they never could have philosophised it at home. While we had left the 'supfema ac generalissima rationalia' far behind us, they were only systematising; but, in all the concerns of real life, where the superstructure is, there too must be the foundation. ■ The four letters which follow are devoted to the discussion of the division of property; and are a singular specimen of ratiocination. The practice of England in this respect is to concentrate property by entails, &c. that of France (modern) is to disperse it, by an equal distribution among all the children of the testator, with the exception of one single share. The author discusses both these systems; but his own inclination is decidedly in favour of the French. 'Prejudice,' he says,' has so blinded men upon this subject in England, that few can reason upon it,'and he adduces arguments to support his opinion, to not one of which we can subscribe. But what is the most extraordinary of all— after reasoning thus during nearly eighty pages, he comes to this unexpected conclusion, that as he deprecates the intervention

VOL. XXXIV. NO. LXVII. D

of legislation in the direction of capital and the management of frivate fortune, he is much of the same opinion as the English. 11 these letters he refutes many of the errors current in France with regard to England, as, for instance, one reproach which we should hardly expect to find made to us by that nation under any of its forms of government: to wit, that all the wealth of this country is in the hands of a few, while the people are in a state of complete suffering. He says, however, that our writers are equally mistaken as to the effect of division in France; neither can he find, in the reasonings of Malthus and Mill on this subject, the firmness and solidity which they have displayed on other points of political economy. In our minds, the perpetual division of property is the scourge which the revolution has fastened upon France, and in less than half a century, will be the avenger of Europe for all the injuries which she has suffered. Beside the disputes which it creates in families and the ill-will which it breeds in co-heirs, it prevents exertion and leaves no disposable masses for industrious ends. It creates dependants on power; and already, says M. de Stael (its advocate and a liberal) public employments—that is to say, the favours of the crown—are the principal sources of wealth to the upper ranks of society.

One assertion made by M. de Stael we cannot pass in silence, 'La seule relation de famille qui soit en Angleterre dans Unite sa beaute, c'est le lien conjugal;' and he proceeds to descant on the merit and affection of English matrons. In this we perfectly agree with him; but we differ entirely when he says that all other family connections are defective. He particularly instances the word Sir, as used by a son to his father, and considers it as a token of constrained respect, and a want of mutual affection. 'La mort d'un pere, celle d'un frere aine dont on attend l'heritage, sont, sur la scene Anglaise, l'objet de plaisanteries que Ton tolere, que Ton applaudit meme, et qui, chez nous, revolteroient le public le moins delicat.' But since the stage is the source whence M. de Stael draws his conclusions, how came our wives and mothers to escape his rebuke? Has he forgotten Wycherley, Congreve, Farquhar, and the time when no female entered a theatre unmasked? To all inductions from this source we will answer by a citation of which our author will not deny the validity. It is from his own eloquent mother, who certainly was right on the present occasion; we quote from memory, but the substance is, 'Hien ne ressemble moins aux Anglais que leur comedie.'

M. de Stael seems further to imply that family affection is stronger in France than in England; and that, in the latter country, the sentiment which, in the former, is ' affection de famille,' is ouly * esprit de famille.' We think that facts will prove exactly the

reverse.

« AnteriorContinuar »