« AnteriorContinuar »
endure a run upon his mind; and without this substantial fund, a man is at any moment liable to stop payment, or at least to be reduced to the humiliating necessity of a reliance on the help and credit of his neighbours. Mirabeau was perpetually on the brink of this sort of insolvency; and, occasionally, he fell into it. In his own country this did not ruin him; but it would very soon have done for him here. With us, it very rarely happens that the fate of a great measure turns upon a fine speech. The gift of utterance is only one of many faculties by which the public man has to win his way to the confidence of his hearers. If Mirabeau had been, in England, only the same sort of person that he was in France, we should never have heard of him as the unique and only orator, the solitary example of supreme eloquence in his generation. His admirer, Dumont, confesses that he was decidedly inferior to the athletes of the Parliament of England. Nay, Mirabeau himself was aware of his own defect, for he said on one occasion, when he had failed to make an impression, " I perceive that, in order to speak extemporaneously on a subject with any effect, it is necessary to begin by knowing it." Obvious as this may appear to us, it is, we believe, a discovery yet to be made with our volatile neighbours.
But though so thoroughly French himself, he had, nevertheless, a mighty contempt for some of the peculiarities of Frenchmen. He utterly disdained that " false heat" which he described as "the thunder and tempest of the opera." He never lost the senatorial gravity and composure. Even his dignity, however, had something about it which we should deem almost laughable ; —the air of pretension-the attitude of pompous grandeur-the head thrown back-the chest dilated--the shoulders squared!-All this on the floor of St. Stephens would only make people stare; and, perhaps, inquire who was the honourable member's dancing master? On the other hand, he had some redeeming qualities which might have partly overpowered the bad effect of his ostentatious bearing. His self-possession was marvellous. We have already seen that it was sufficient to bear him up in the midst of the bewilderment in which he was entangled by the absurdities of the Marquis of Caseaux. It sometimes displayed itself in a manner still more extraordinary. In the very midst of his most animated harangues, he could receive and peruse a succession of scraps in pencil, handed to him by his friends; and whenever they were worth using, he could introduce their contents with surprising effect into his speech; so that Garat used to compare him to a mountebank, who could tear a piece of paper into twenty pieces, swallow the fragments, and then reproduce them whole.
Mirabeau died insolvent. He had been the pensionary of Monsieur and the King, and may possibly have received the wages of other employers. But the accounts of his venality were probably much exaggerated. "I know not how it is," he would say, "that I am such a beggar, having all the Kings, and all their treasures, at my command." It does not appear that his mercenary habits brought with them any sense of degradation. 66 Pride," as Dumont observes, was, to him, in the place of integrity." The price paid for him only elated his selfimportance. "A man like me," said he, " may accept a hundred thousand crowns; but a hundred thousand crowns cannot purchase a man like me." He affected to consider the money he received purely as an instrument, without which he could not do his work and it must be admitted that he never appears to have entertained the thought of raising a fortune out of his pay. The splendour and luxury of his style were, doubtless, very much to his taste; but it is also true that, in a certain measure, they were necessary for the establishment and extension of his influence, He considered himself, in short, not as the pensionary, but merely as the banker and agent of the King.
It is the opinion of Dumont that, if he had lived, he would have curbed, and even have crushed the Jacobins, and given to France a constitution fit for rational beings. To us this appears extremely doubtful. He might have accomplished this, if steadiness, high principle, and self-devotion, could, by miracle, have been infused into his nature. There would then have been " a combination and a form indeed-to give the world assurance of a statesman." But alas! this must, surely, have been as impossible as to erase the ravages of the small pox from his countenance. His death, however, was, beyond all doubt, a deplorable loss to France. It was the extinction of all hope or chance of salvation. It was the signal which let slip the hell-hounds of massacre and confusion. His decease was as the breath of life to the Jacobinical faction. Robespierre, Petion, and a multitude of other obscene birds, who hid themselves from the lightenings of his eye, then took wing; and the whole land was covered with their hideous ravin.
His greatest quality-in the judgment of Dumont-was political sagacity. In this he appears to have left all immeasurably behind him. In 1782 he spoke of the assembling of the States General as a thing that must infallibly come to pass, and foretold that he himself should be a deputy, although, at that time, he was but a needy adventurer in literature. No one penetrated, as he did, into all the consequences of the Séance Royale, or saw through all the motions and designs of the popular party. On
the breach between them and the Crown, he exclaimed, “You will now have nothing but massacre and butchery-you will not even have the execrable honour of a civil war." And when his death was approaching, he said to Talleyrand, "I carry with me the last shreds of the monarchy."
He was so incessantly tossed about by the waves of political life-and brought into perpetual contact with such a multitude of various characters and interests-that, in a comparatively short time, his experience became immense; and the effect was, that language failed him, in his attempt, to describe the many-coloured results of his observation. He was obliged to coin a phraseology for himself, to exhibit the shades and gradations of talent and quality, vice and virtue, which were constantly present to his mental perception. Nothing like pretension could escape the search of his penetrating discernment: but he had also an eye for every thing that was truly great and good. "There was in him"-to use the exact words of Dumont-" an enthusiasm for what was fair and noble, which his personal vices never could degrade. The mirror might be soiled and tarnished for a time, but it always resumed its lustre. If his actions and his words were at variance with each other, it was not from falsehood or hypocrisy, but from mere inconsistency (inconséquence). His reason enabled him to soar; his passions made his flight devious and unsteady." He was, in a word, a Colossus, made up of gold, and clay, and materials of every sort. "There was in him much good, much evil, much of every thing. It was impossible to know him, without being forcibly taken with him. He was a man whose energy qualified him to fill a vast sphere." It was greatly to be lamented that the elements with which "he filled his sphere" were of such a miscellaneous and conflicting nature; or that he was removed before he had an opportunity of establishing the final predominance of the salutary principles.
devoted to We could One of his He was of
One chapter of this most interesting volume is anecdotes, bon mots, and traits of private character. transcribe them with delight; but this must not be. sayings, however, we cannot forbear to record. opinion that the world had, hitherto, been governed by illusions, but that these were now passed away. “Mankind”-he said— "had long been looking through a magic lanthorn; but now the glass is broken." The justness of this image we cannot stop to examine: but one would imagine that, whether right or wrong, these words of Mirabeau had become the oracle of our own time and country. We seem to be heartily tired of our toy! and Heaven only knows how long it may be, before its glittering fragments are at our feet. We are "putting away childish things." It
remains to be seen whether the pursuits and achievements of our manhood are a whit more rational, or more useful, than those of our infancy.
Like Lord Byron, Mirabeau, with all his faults, had the power of strongly attaching all who were in his service. He had a valet by the name of Teutch, whose office, of course, it was, to assist at the decoration of his person. With Mirabeau, the mysteries of the toilet were often exceedingly solemn and protracted; and he occasionally relieved their tediousness by bestowing kicks and cuffs on his faithful lacquey. These little attentions, at last, became quite a necessary of life to Teutch; but it once happened that, for some considerable time, they were intermitted, in consequence of his master's absorption in public cares; and poor Teutch was in despair. Mirabeau observed his dejection, and inquired the cause. "Of late Monsieur has entirely neglected me," was the reply: and Monsieur was, positively, obliged to knock the man down, in order to satisfy him that he still retained his place in his master's confidence and good will. This renewal of kindness reconciled Teutch to life; and he lay sprawling on the floor in transports of delight and convulsions of laughter. The real despair of this poor fellow, when his master died, is not to be described!
The agonies endured by Mirabeau, in his last illness, were dreadful. The fatal malady was an inflammation in the bowels. To the last, he appears to have preserved a sense of his own high importance. His exit was that of a great actor on the national theatre. Talleyrand said that he dramatised his death. It is further most remarkable that one ruling peculiarity was strong in him to his latest hour. After a paroxysm of torment, he called for his papers, and selected from them one which contained a discourse on Testaments. This he put into the hands of Talleyrand, and said "There-these are the last thoughts which the world will have of mine. I make you the depositary of them. You will read them when I am no more. This is my legacy to the Assembly." Will it be believed?-these last words and thoughts of Mirabeau, were-to Dumont's certain knowledge--no other than a treatise composed wholly by Mr. Reybaz, drawn up with the greatest care, but in a style and manner to which that of Mirabeau had not the slightest resemblance. The pangs of dissolution could not extinguish the itch of literary appropriation, in one, whose affluence of personal renown exceeded the collective wealth of all the men whom he had ever laid under contribution!
To revert, for one moment only, to his political views and designs. It is stated confidently, by Dumont, that his connection.
with the court, in the last six months of his life, had no other object than his advancement to the administration. His success in this point was necessary to enable him to reverse the most pernicious decrees of the Assembly. Some have attributed to him, at this period, the project of a counter-revolution; but Mr. Dumont professes his ignorance of any such design, though his hatred and contempt for the Assembly, indeed, render it probable enough.
"I am persuaded"-he adds-" that he wished to establish the royal authority; but, I am also persuaded, that he was anxious for a constitution similar to that of England; and that he never would have entered into any plan, which had not a national representation for its basis. A nobility, however, was, in his estimation, indispensable, because he regarded it as essential to the monarchy: and he, assuredly, would have revoked the decree by which it had been abolished. His personal ambition was, to efface, by his administration, the glory of all former ministers. He felt himself strong enough to attract to himself men of the most distinguished capacity. It was his desire, as he said, to surround himself with a glory of talents-(une auréole de talens)-the brightness of which should dazzle all Europe."
We cannot take leave of this most interesting volume without noticing one opinion entertained by Dumont, which, though it may not be altogether peculiar to himself, he has stated with greater confidence than, perhaps, any writer on these events;and that is, that, although some change might have been inevitable, the Revolution might have been averted or arrested by a monarch of a different character. People have debated-he says -interminably, on the causes of the Revolution; whereas, in his apprehension of the matter, there was only one efficient and overruling cause, namely, the character of the King. Place a king of a character firm and decided in the situation of Louis XVI., and the Revolution would never have taken place. His whole reign did nothing but bring it on. In Dumont's opinion, there was not a period during the whole of the first Assembly in which, if he could but have changed his character, he might not have re-established his authority, and formed a mixed constitution more firm than the parliamentary and aristocratic monarchy of France. He ruined all by his weakness, his indecision, his half-measures, his half-counsels, and his want of foresight. All the subordinate causes did but assist in developing this grand and primary cause. When the prince is feeble, the courtiers become intriguers, the factious insolent, the people audacious, honest men timid; the most faithful servants are discouraged, men of capacity are then repelled, and the best designs have no result. A monarch distinguished by energy and dignity, would have drawn round him all