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disposition. Enthusiasm, even in the gentlest temper, will frequently generate sensations of an unkindly order. If we clearly perceive any one thing to be of vast and infinite importance to ourselves and all mankind, our first feelings impel us to turn with angry contempt from those, who doubt and oppose it. The ardor of undisciplined benevolence seduces us into malignity: and whenever our hearts are warm, and our objects great and excellent, intolerance is the sin that does most easily beset us. enthusiasm in Robespierre was blended with gloom, and suspiciousness, and inordinate vanity. His dark imagination was still brooding over supposed plots against freedom to prevent tyranny he became a tyrant, and having realized the evils which he suspected, a wild and dreadful tyrant. And thus, his ear deafened to the whispers of conscience by the clamorous plaudits of the mob, he despotized in all the pomp of patriotism, and masqueraded on the bloody stage of revolution, a Caligula with the cap of liberty on his head.
It has been affirmed, and I believe with truth, that the system of terrorism, by suspending the struggles of contrariant factions, communicated an energy to the operations of the republic which had been hitherto unknown, and without which it could not have been preserved. The system depended for its existence on the general sense of its necessity, and when it had answered its end, it was soon destroyed by the same power that had given it birth-popular opinion. It must not however be disguised, that at all times, but more especially when the public feelings are wavy and tumultuous, artful demagogues may create this opinion: and they, who are inclined to tolerate evil as the means of contingent good, should reflect, that if the excesses of terrorism gave to the republic that efficiency and repulsive force which its circumstances made necessary, they likewise afforded to the hostile courts the most powerful support, and excited that indignation and horror which everywhere precipitated the subject into the designs of the ruler. Nor let it be forgotten that these excesses perpetuated the war in La Vendée, and made it more terrible, both by the accession of numerous partisans, who had fled from the persecution of Robespierre, and by inspiring the Chouans with fresh fury, and an unsubmitting spirit of revenge and desperation.
Revolutions are sudden to the unthinking only. Strange
rumblings and confused noises still precede these earthquakes and hurricanes of the moral world. The process of revolution in France has been dreadful, and should incite us to examine with an anxious eye the motives and manners of those, whose conduct and opinions seem calculated to forward a similar event in our own country. The oppositionists to “ things as they are,” are divided into many and different classes. To delineate them with an unflattering accuracy may be a delicate, but it is a necessary task, in order that we may enlighten, or at least be aware of, the misguided men who have enlisted under the banners of liberty, from no principles, or with bad ones: whether they be those, who
admire they know not what, And know not whom, but as one leads to the other ;
or whether those,
Whose end is private hate, not help to freedom,
The majority of democrats appear to me to have attained that portion of knowledge in politics, which infidels possess in religion. I would by no means be supposed to imply that the objections of both are equally unfounded, but that they both attribute to the system which they reject, all the evils existing under it; and that both, contemplating truth and justice in the nakedness of abstraction, condemn constitutions and dispensations without having sufficiently examined the natures, circumstances, and capacities of their recipients.
The first class among the professed friends of liberty is composed of men, who unaccustomed to the labor of thorough investigation, and not particularly oppressed by the burthens of state, are yet impelled by their feelings to disapprove of its grosser depravities, and prepared to give an indolent vote in favor of reform. Their sensibilities not braced by the co-operation of fixed principles, they offer no sacrifices to the divinity of active virtue. Their political opinions depend with weathercock uncertainty on the winds of rumor, that blow from France. On the report of French victories they blaze into republicanism, at a tale of French excesses they darken into aristocrats. These dough-baked patriots are not, however, useless. This oscillation of political opinion
will retard the day of revolution, and it will operate as a preventive to its excesses. Indecisiveness of character, though the effect of timidity, is almost always associated with benevolence.
Wilder features characterize the second class. Sufficiently possessed of natural sense to despise the priest, and of natural feeling to hate the oppressor, they listen only to the inflammatory harangues of some mad-headed enthusiast, and imbibe from them poison, not food; rage, not liberty. Unillumined by philosophy, and stimulated to a lust of revenge by aggravated wrongs, they would make the altar of freedom stream with blood, while the grass grew in the desolated halls of justice.
We contemplate those principles with horror: Yet they possess a kind of wild justice, well calculated to spread them among the grossly ignorant. To unenlightened minds, there are terrible charms in the idea of retribution, however savagely it be inculcated. The groans of the oppressor make fearful yet pleasant music to the ear of him, whose mind is darkness, and into whose soul the iron has entered.
This class, at present, is comparatively small-yet soon to form an overwhelming majority, unless great and immediate efforts are used to lessen the intolerable grievances of our poor brethren, and infuse into their sorely-wounded hearts the healing qualities of knowledge. For can we wonder that men should want humanity, who want all the circumstances of life that humanize? Can we wonder that with the ignorance of brutes, they should unite their ferocity ? Peace and comfort be with these! But let us shudder to hear from men of dissimilar opportunities sentiments of similar revengefulness. The purifying alchemy of education may transmute the fierceness of an ignorant man into virtuous energy ; but what remedy shall we apply to him whom plenty has not softened, whom knowledge has not taught benévolence ? This is one among the many fatal effects which result from the want of fixed principles.
There is a third class among the friends of freedom, who possess not the wavering character of the first description, nor the ferocity last delineated.
They pursue the interests of freedom steadily, but with narrow and self-centering views : they anticipate with exultation the abolition of privileged orders, and of acts that persecute by exclusion from the rights of citizenship. Whatever is above them they are most willing to drag down;
but every proposed alteration that would elevate their poorer brethren, they rank among the dreams of visionaries; as if there were any thing in the superiority of lord to gentleman so mortifying in the barrier, so fatal to happiness in the consequences, as the more real distinction of master and servant, of rich man and
Wherein am I made worse by my ennobled neighbor ? Do the childish titles of aristocracy detract from my domestic comforts, or prevent my intellectual acquisitions ? But those institutions of society which should condemn me to the necessity of twelve hours' daily toil, would make my soul a slave, and sink the rational being in the mere animal. It is a mockery of our fellow-creatures' wrongs to call them equal in rights, when by the bitter compulsion of their wants we make them inferior to us in all that can soften the heart, or dignify the understanding. Let us not say that this is the work of time—that it is impracticable at present, unless we each in our individual capacities do strenuously and perseveringly endeavor to diffuse among our domestics those comforts and that illumination which far beyond all political ordinances are the true equalizers of men.
We turn with pleasure to the contemplation of that small but glorious band, whom we may truly distinguish by the name of thinking and disinterested patriots. These are the men who have encouraged the sympathetic passions till they have become irresistible habits, and made their duty a necessary part of their self-interest, by the long-continued cultivation of that moral taste which derives our most exquisite pleasures from the contemplation of possible perfection, and proportionate pain from the perception of existing depravity. Accustomed to regard all the affairs of man as a process, they never hurry and they never pause. Theirs is not that twilight of political knowledge which gives us just light enough to place one foot before the other : as they advance the scene still opens upon them, and they press right onward with a vast and various landscape of existence around them. Calmness and energy mark all their actions. Convinced that vice originates not in the man, but in the surrounding circumstances ; not in the heart, but in the understanding; the Christian patriot is hopeless concerning no one ;-to correct a vice or generate a virtuous conduct, he pollutes not his hands with the scourge of coercion ; but by endeavoring to alter circumstances would remove, or by strengthening the intellect disarm, the temptation. The unhappy children of vice and folly, whose tempers are adverse to their own happiness as well as to the happiness of others, will at times awaken a natural pang ; but he looks forward with gladdened heart to that glorious period when justice shall have established the universal fraternity of
These soul-ennobling views bestow the virtues which they anticipate. He whose mind is habitually impressed with them soars above the present state of humanity, and may be justly said to dwell in the presence of the Most High.
Would the forms
Beneficent and active.* That general illumination should precede revolution, is a truth as obvious, as that the vessel should be cleansed before we fill it with a pure liquor. But the mode of diffusing it is not discover
able with equal facility. We certainly should never attempt to · make proselytes - by appeals to the selfish feelings, and conse
quently, should plead for the oppressed, not to them. The author of an essay on political justice considers private societies as the sphere of real utility ;—that (each one illuminating those immediately beneath him), truth by a gradual descent may at last reach the lowest order. But this is rather plausible than just or practicable. Society as at present constituted does not resemble a chain that ascends in a continuity of links. Alas! between the parlor and the kitchen, the coffee-room and the tap, there is a gulf that may not be passed. He would appear to me to have adopted the best as well as the most benevolent mode of diffus
* Akenside. Pleasures of Imagination, Ist edit. B. III. 615. The words in italics are altered. -Ed.