« AnteriorContinuar »
under all circumstances, is the object of these sublimated intellects. To be always in men's minds, never forgotten; to think and to govern still with the thoughts and the governments that exist no more; to give to no one either the right or the pretext to pronounce those terrible words, the eternal nightmare of celebrated men : “ He has played his part. Behold the end to which he aspired, and for which he sacrificed all."
It was thus with M. Lamartine : after having been royalist, socialist, conservative and liberal, by turns, he seized on the History of the Revolution. With his eyes fixed on the future, and his finger pointing to the past, foreseeing the possibility of new commotions, he sought to be at the same time historian and prophet, and, like Prometheus, to knead, to mould and vivify the blood-sprinkled dust into the ideal model of a revolution. Thus, by subserviency, to identify himself by turns with all that occurred, and through prophecy, with all that might occur, seemed to be the doublé inspiration of the Girondins. In this point of view, it is easy to explain his re-production of the revolutionary genius from Voltaire, the intellectual projector, to Robespierre, the pitiless practitioner. When M. Lamartine says of Dumouriez:
" He had no political principles ; the revolution was to him nothing more than a fine drama, which was to furnish a grand scene for his abilities, and a part for his genius”–
We recognize at once the involuntary assimilation and the disclosure of his own secret aspirations. Again he writes of Robespierre:
“ He was of no party, but of all parties which in their turn served his ideal of the revolution. He placed this ideal as an end to reach in every revolutionary movement, and advanced towards it with those who sought to attain it ; then this goal reached, he placed it still farther off, and again marched forward with other men."
He seems here to have betrayed his most intimate thought, and in the guise of Robespierre, he involuntarily describes himself, and reveals his own most cherished aspirations. Who would have supposed that the author of the Harmonies, the poet who hung over the cradle of a royal infant, and chanted piously of heavenly joys and princely hopes, would one day be recognized in a self-drawn portrait of Robespierre ? If Robespierre, modeling himself upon Rousseau, became heartless, bloodthirsty and tyrannical, what may not Lamartine become, modeling himself upon Robespierre ?
That example must, however, prove a consolation to those only endowed with common sense. The poor laborers, bent under burdens that they can scarcely raise, and are yet not able entirely to abandon; struggling incessantly against that torture of imperfect beings, the impotence to realize the sentiments borne within them, may complain of not being great enough to delight in their destiny, of not being small enough to be content in their obscurity. But if mediocrity has its disadvantages, it has also its indemnities. An humble individual, who held honestly the sentiments which M. Lamartine professed during his apprenticeship to the restoration, would, in speaking of Louis XVI., have bowed himself in spirit to a king, a martyr, and a saint, as described by our poet; that illustrious writer, however, changes the picture at will, extenuates the horror he formerly expressed for regicides, and talks of the faults of the king and the rights of his judges. The early readers of Lamartine would,
in recalling the memory of Marie Antoinette, have wished each line of the page and each syllable of utterance to become a reparation, full of respectful love, and an energetic protestation against the monsters who calumniated and the assassins who murdered her. M. Lamartine has, however, become niggardly of his respect to her memory, grudges his allegiance, and outrages his former friends, by doubts, insinuations, and suppressions! As a royalist, M. Lamartine regarded d'Orleans as an impure prince, a parricide to his country, a traitor to his family, a shame to his party, a disgrace to his age, and as the vile instrument which the revolution accepted with contempt, and rejected with disgust! In the new shading which the poet gives to that picture, there are attempts to erase the ineffaceable infamy of his character, and to soften the disgusting prominence in infamy with which, over the heads of Domitian and Marat, Philippe Egalité stands out upon the page of history. For this purpose is falsified contemporaneous history, the judgment of a later age, and the great voice of the human race, which curses, in reverberating tones, the perjured, the apostate, and the parricide. The general character of these remarks will apply, not only to the three names enumerated, but to most of the others in the volume.
M. Lamartine following, apparently, no regular plan, did not produce, in the commencement of the work, one of those fecund ideas, or immutable principles, which, in the hands of a Bossuet, serve to group around one general axiom all the particular facts of the narration—to arrange under one eternal truth all the truths of history. His genius being improvisatory, is susceptible of the most diverse impressions. He is royalist at heart, conservative by party, and republican by accident. He wanders among the persons and events of that terrible epoch as a traveler, who takes no guide, in order to admire more freely; to seek out discoveries at pleasure, and to pause when it pleases himself. Hence the charming picturesqueness of the work; hence, also, its utter want of unity. Never, perhaps, was more clearly apparent the triumph of individual power, exalting itself above even the events, substituting for the truth its own ideal creations invented and modified to its own liking, to such a degree that a sort of antithesis establishes itself between the persons, as M. Lamartine describes them, and as he presents them through the inferences, logically drawn, from facts stated. Thus M. Lamartine draws an ideal portrait of Madame Roland, and then throws it in relief, by stating facts in relation to her vindictive plots against the court and the queen; the evil counsels she gave her husband, and the execrable infamy of the letter written confidentially to the king, solely to be kept as an instrument of accusation against him. The illustrious poet is continually apologizing in words, for the infamous acts which he relates, of all the characters he describes. Everywhere, accompanying or following a flattering portrait, of which the great poet has himself shaded the brilliant colors, appears an ignoble, dishonorable, or atrocious fact, which bespatters all the splendid tints and delicate outlines with blood or dirt. The most prompt refutation of Lamartine's judgments are his facts. He has sought to appeal from the instructions of history to the judgments of his genius; but, on the contrary, the instructions of history destroy the judgments of his genius.
M. Lamartine, to whom his first renown did not suffice, sought, in changing his position, to change his attributes. He who was willing to become serious when no longer young; who had transformed himself from a poet
into an orator, from an orator into a historian, and who sought to make the “ History of the Girondins” the programme of his new life, of his second political virility, owed to his subject more gravity, more logic, and more equity. A young enthusiast of the glories of 1793 remarked, one day, to M. Michaud — Robespierre is not yet judged.” “No! but, happily, he is executed," was the prompt reply. That lively repartee is at the same time a response to those tender-hearted royalists who, like M. Lamartine, have suddenly discovered the benevolence of Robespierre's character, and represent him as one of the benefactors of mankind. The man, whose death saved so many better lives, who ceased to kill only in dying himself, whose bloody acts retarded popular progress half a century, does not require to have the process of his condemnation revised. It is this peculiar view of the character of Robespierre, which affords the key to the paradoxes presented in these volumes, and lessens their value without diminishing their attraction.
One of the passionate admirers of Lamartine, and a critic of ability, has asserted, and with some reason, that his work is more of an epic poem than a history; and he has added with a shade of exaggeration which enthusiasm may excuse, “That the French revolution has henceforth its Homer.” There is indeed a point of resemblance between Homer and the historian of the Girondins; and it is, thanks to the oversight of the singer of the Iliad, or perhaps rather to subsequent interpolations, that there have glided into the immortal poem numerous contradictions. Thus, as has been well remarked, there are heroes who re-appear in the last cantos after having been killed in the previous ones; and events which occupy an important place at the commencement of the narrative, are utterly lost sight of in its progress. There are certainly parallels in the “Girondins," not that any of the persons killed in the first chapters, re-appear in the last—the revolution did its work too surely for that. The difficulty is less with the facts than with the deductions and judgments which conflict with and falsify each other. A modern rhapsody sung in admirable language might more justly describe that Iliad of brute force—that Odyssey of human reason.
Those contradictions and false deductions which disfigure the book, considered as a history, are perhaps intended to diminish the force of its democratic tendencies. It would seem to be the case that M. Lamartine at heart continued a royalist, and in wishing to preserve the integrity of a judge between parties, was betrayed into lenity where he should have been severe, and into injustice where he ought to have been considerate. But between his lenities and his severities, there betrays itself a permanent dislike to popular progress. He, in every case where dishonor and crime marked the course of the popular leaders, leaves the inference that dishonor and crime are the necessary consequence of republican movements, His work, therefore, holds that middle course which, while it excites admiration, still leaves a profound doubt upon the public mind, like “the Prince” of Machiavelli, as to whether the writer is a democrat describing the true policy of republicans, or a royalist seeking to bring them into disrepute. There are many who hold that Machiavelli was a republican, exposing in " the Prince" the necessary iniquity attending monarchies, and there are not a few of Lamartine's former co-absolutists who believe him to have served the principles he formerly professed by the publication of the “Girondins."
VOL. XXIX.-NO, I.
Nevertheless, the book was extensively read, and exerted a great power on the eve of the final fall of the French throne. It more influenced the imagination than it affected the heart; it awakened the curiosity more than the sympathy. If in the minds of some of the royalist friends of the author it produced astonishment and sorrow, it also, by the gout with which it dwells on the crimes of the revolutionists, and the mere recounting of which, renders republicanism odious, disappointed democrats. The conservatives, on the other hand, regarded the work as the vehicle of immense danger, through the possible reproduction of scenes which had been in those brilliant pages rendered so attractive to unprincipled imitators. Apart from social or political predilections, the work, as a history, was not sufficiently impartial; as a work of thought, not serious enough; as an artistical production, not enough perfect. In this effort, as in every other of M. Lamartine, whether in the journal, in the romance, or in the eloquence of the tribune, improvisation predominates. In each page and each line is recounted a trait of genius thoroughly heartless, but yielding to the impulse of the moment.
The impression produced by the “Girondins" upon the publie mind, went far, in connection with the strange circumstances of the revolution of February, 1848, to give M. Lamartine a prominent part in the provisional government. But a very short time sufficed, however, to show how out of place was a lute which responded only in musical strains to the harsh discords of political storm. When the people of Paris, without a government, and agitated by conflicting currents, seeking a direction to their energies, hoisted the “ red flag," an opportunity for display presented itself to the poet statesman, who, unmindful that, in the “ Girondins,” which was the basis of his political reputation, and which was fresh in the minds of those whom he addressed, he had described the red fag as covering a prayer for mercy during the butcheries of the Champ de Mars, he now denounced it as having been “trained through torrents of the blood of the people.” His resounding faculties were used by other members of the government as the shield for transactions which would scarcely bear the light, and the minister of foreign affairs soon found his level as the apologist for his colleagues, the actual government, and he has since continued to present new phases, all of them brilliant, like the kaleidescope, turned in the popular hand. One of the most recent emanations of this poetic genius is “ Atheism among the People,” wherein the former head of the socialist party and the materialist poet of 1834, thus warns his constituents :
If you wish that this revolution should not have the same end, beware of abject materialism, degrading sensualism, gross socialism of besotted communism; of all these doctrines of flesh, and blood, of meat and drink, of hunger and thirst, of wages of traffic, which these corruptors of the soul of the people preach to you, exclusively, as the sole thought, the sole hope, as the only duty, and the only end of man! They will soon make you slaves of ease, serfs of your desires."
This may be the experience of the socialist leader, and one known as the most indolent, voluptuous, corrupt and heartless man of the world that even Paris could produce. This gifted genius is now fitting round the government of France, shirking responsibility, dodging votes, but resounding harmoniously as the political zephyrs sweep on the lyre.
POLITICAL PORTRAITS WITH PEN AND PENCIL.
HON. EDWARD S. DARGAN,
CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF ALABAMA.
The subject of this sketch was born in the State of North Carolina—a state which has generally produced sound and sensible men, having given birth to but few of those men who of late years have been somewhat “ prevalent” in the South-who are more distinguished for gasconade and bravado than for thoughts and deeds.
Mr. Dargan is eminently a self-made man. In his early youth he came to Alabama, and tried his hand at that profession which is generally in this country made the first stepping-stone of those aspiring young men who have more brains than money--teaching; but having ascertained by experience that this was not his vocation, he put out his shingle as a lawyer, supporting himself by dealing out small doses of justice to the neighborhood in the character of justice of the peace, while waiting for the good time to come. We'll venture to assert, that while in that capacity he bore but little resemblance to
" the justice,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut." His practice in a short time increased to such an extent that he removed to Montgomery, then a flourishing town, and affording an ampler field of practice.
He was formerly a candidate for the legislature in Montgomery county, a strong whig county, and was of course defeated. At the next session of the Legislature he was elected Judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit. From this time the tide of prosperity began to flow in his favor. He discharged the duties of judge of the circuit in a manner acceptable to all, and left an impression by the gentlemanly demeanor and legal knowledge which he exhibited on the bench, which told greatly in his favor after he resumed the practice of his profession. He resigned the judgeship after having held the office but little over a year, and resumed the practice of his profession in Mobile.
This was shortly after the failure of the United States Bank. Judge Dargan was employed by parties against the bank, and succeeded by his professional knowledge and skill in defeating some of the heaviest of the fraudulent and usurious claims of the bank. About this time Mr. Dar. gan was employed, among other professional engagements, to defend the estate of one of our most worthy citizens—an estate valued at the time at a half million of dollars—against a claim hatched up by some designing men, which at the time attracted a good deal of notice. the claim of Favres' Indian heirs. Mr. Dargan succeeded in defeating the suit in the United States Circuit Court. The case was taken to the Supreme Court of the United States, but was afterwards compromised by a small sacrifice on the part of the owner of the property. Not even the shells of the oyster were thrown to the Indian heirs. The managers of