Imatges de pàgina
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CHAPTER XI.

THE INFLUENCE OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

Ideas in

France.

NEW ideas had for many years been influencing every European state. ate. Men of intelligence rebelled against $1. New systems which were powerful only for evil, and sought either to regulate the world in accordance with the results of thought, or to call up a new power in the masses to overthrow the ancient and effete fabric of society. Naturally these ideas were more powerful in France than elsewhere, because it was there that misgovernment had done its worst, from sheer incompetency to fulfil its task. The leaders of the French Revolution had before them an aristocracy which thrust the burdens of the state upon the other classes whilst they preserved its advantages to themselves, and a church which did little or nothing to quicken the spiritual life of its members, whilst its higher officials were sunk in sloth or dissipation. In opposition to these evils a double tendency was soon manifested, the one, of which the typical personage was Rousseau, which looked to pure democracy as the remedy against the evils of an effete aristocratic society, the other, of which the typical personage was Voltaire, which looked to clearer intellectual belief as a remedy for the evils caused by ignorance and folly. By the combination of these two movements, modern society was to be deeply moulded in the future.

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XI.

It was, however, almost inevitable that the first attempt to carry them out would end in disaster, and that the new democracy, when called upon the stage, being entirely without political experience or constitutional habit, should show itself to be capricious and tyrannical in its instincts, and unwilling to recognise not merely those traditions of the past which no nation can afford to throw off in an instant, but even the warnings of those who would seek to curb its violence by moral restraint. Europe was alarmed and enraged by the sight of a reign of cruelty and violence, at variance with the humanitarian professions of the perpetrators of the crime.

The first effect of the French Revolution upon the Englishmen of the eighteenth century was not unlike the first effect of the Reformation upon the Englishmen of the sixteenth century. Both in the sixteenth and the eighteenth century society was settled on too solid bases to be thrown off its balance by the new ideas by which it was destined to be ultimately moulded. In both cases the work of the preceding generations had been so far well done that only a small minority would be willing to set it aside entirely in favour of something altogether new. In both cases the fact that there was such a minority caused a revulsion of feeling and a desire to cling to the old without change or alteration. In both cases, after a certain time had elapsed, the new ideas made their way quietly and by degrees, gradually modifying the old ideas without shock or violence.

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XI.

$2. The England.

Effect in

§ 3. The

last Years

In this way, the ideas which produced the French Revolution exercised up to about 1822 a repellent of Pitt's power upon English political life, whilst since that date Ministry. their influence has been steadily attractive. From 1789 onwards Pitt ceased to be the master of the nation. Driven against his inclination into a war with France,

O

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XI.

$4. The War with France.

his coalition with the leaders of the Whigs, who seceded from Fox, marked a great surrender. The spirit of his ministry in its carly years had been drawn from the union. of intelligence and popular support. In its later years it appealed to the rights of property. The lower part of the Whig ideas had swallowed up the higher part of the Tory ideas. Abstract and scientific thought, idolised in France, was treated with contempt in England, and war was looked upon, in spite of Pitt's reluctance to descend so low as a means to combat disagreeable principles which might have been met much better by improvement and reform at home. Once, indeed, the genius of Pitt flashed out into the promise of a great reform. His conception of connecting the union of Great Britain and Ireland with the removal of the Catholic disabilities was worthy of his best days. But the king stood firm against the nobler part of the design, and the ignorance and obstinacy of the king was, in this matter, only the echo of the ignorance and obstinacy of the nation.

The relations of France with Europe took much the same course as the relations of the French democracy with those classes which had previously been in the enjoyment of most of the advantages of life. The war began from a collision of ideas like the religious wars of earlier times. Both at home and abroad material interests called for satisfaction before moral and intellectual interests were provided for. Within the limits of France it seemed for a time as if the movement was to be exhausted when it had divided a great part of the property of the rich amongst the poor and had procured entrance to offices in the state for those who had hitherto been excluded from them. Outside the limits of France a war, begun by the French nation in order to resist the forcible introduction by foreign armies of principles of government which it had rejected, or to introduce into

foreign countries principles of which it approved, gradually changed into a war of plunder and annexation, culminating both at home and abroad in the erection of a mean and selfish despotism. With this change in the character of the relations between France and the continent, came a change in the character of the relations between England and the Continent. It is true that Pitt had from the beginning taken care that, ostensibly at least, the war should not be waged against ideas. It was said that it was waged on account of such grievances as the annexation of the Southern Netherlands and the threatened invasion of the Northern Netherlands, and when attempts were made to make peace in 1796 and in 1797, the dispute turned entirely on questions of territorial delimitation. What was left out of sight was that-at least up to Bonaparte's attack upon Italy in 1796-the question of territorial delimitation was secondary to the question of the prevalence of French ideas. French soldiers could not be driven back within their old frontiers until the ideas for which they combated should cease to prove attractive, and the war was waged in vain because neither Pitt's financial ability nor Burke's reasoning could succeed in making them otherwise than attractive to those who had long suffered from the evils which they professed to cure. In all this, however, time worked a change. As Napoleon rose France degenerated. French power came to be connected in men's minds with bloodshed and ruin, with political despotism, and fiscal oppression. In the final struggle against this evil, England played her part well; she made common cause with the nations of Europe because all were equally concerned in shaking off a yoke which had become intolerable to all. She did not neglect her own special interests, but she merged them in the interests of the European community at large.

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The foreign policy of England for some years after the war was under the control of Lord Castlereagh. His main work was to support the European settlement arranged by the Congress of Vienna at the close of the war. The Congress of Vienna, taken in combination with the other leagues and congresses by which it was followed, may be regarded as the first serious attempt to establish a European tribunal for the decision of questions affecting Europe as a whole, and it will therefore probably assume larger proportions in the eyes of the future historian than it does at present, if, as is by no means unlikely, such a tribunal should, in any shape, be permanently established. Its weakness lay, not merely in the covetousness of individual powers, but still more in the fact that France was regarded as an enemy to be kept in check rather than as a member of the community to be supported in her legitimate rights. Not only were large territorial increases assigned to those powers which were likely to be strong enough to keep France from fresh warlike enterprises, but the very notion that the wishes of the subjects of any state deserved to be taken into consideration was scouted as revolutionary and dangerous. Hence the revulsion of feeling in England of which Canning constituted himself the mouth-piece. Important as it was that there should be common action in Europe, it became more important still that the states which were to meet together should represent, as far as possible, natural aggregates of men, and not mere artificial combinations of a government and an army. During the sixty-six years which have elapsed since the battle of Waterloo, the conduct of foreign affairs has passed through various hands, and has undoubtedly been subject to change and vacillation. Here, as in every other instance, ideal progress consists in the combination of two apparently conflicting courses, whilst the nature of

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