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FrRevol_151-200.indd 23 3/16/12 1:04 PM ++++++ PART II ++++++ CHAPTER I Mirabeau. One would almost say that in every era of history there are personages who should be considered as the representatives of the good and of the wicked principle. Such, in Rome, were Cicero and Catiline; such, in France, were M. Necker and Mirabeau. Mirabeau, gifted with the most comprehensive and energetic mind, thought himselfsufficiently strong to overthrow the government, and to erect on its ruins a system, of some kind or other, that would have been the work of his own hands. This gigantic project was the ruin of France, and the ruin of himself; for he acted at first in the spirit of faction, although his real manner of judging was that of the most reflecting statesman. He was then ofthe age offorty, and had passed his whole life in lawsuits, abduction of women, and in prisons; he was excluded from good society, and his first wish was to regain his station in it. But he thought it necessary to set on fire the whole social edifice, that the doors of the Paris saloons might be opened to him. Like other immoral men, Mirabeau looked first to his personal interest in public affairs, and his foresight was limited by his egoism.1 1. Madame de Stael's view of Mirabeau was hardly objective because the latter was a powerful rival of Stael's father. Bailleul was among the first to criticize Madame de Stael's views of Mirabeau (Examen critique de l'ouvrage posthume de Mme. !a Bnne. de Stae'l, vol. I, 2 39-75). For another opinion on Mirabeau, see chap. X of Lord Acton's Lectures on the French Revolution. "Odious as he was and foredoomed to fail," wrote Acton, "he [Mirabeau] was yet the supreme figure of the time.... As a Minister, he might have saved the Constitution .. . . If Mirabeau is tried by the test of public morals, ... the verdict cannot be ZJ3 FrRevol_151-200.indd 24 3/16/12 1:04 PM PART II An unfortunate deputy of the Third Estate, a well-intentioned but a very weak man, gave the Constituent Assembly an account of what had passed at the Hotel de Ville, and of the triumph obtained by M. Necker over the emotions of hatred which some persons had attempted to excite among the people. This deputy hesitated so much, expressed himselfwith so much coldness, and still showed such a desire to be eloquent, that he destroyed all the effect of the admirable recital which he had taken on himself. Mirabeau, his pride deeply wounded at the success ofM. Necker, promised himself to defeat the outcome of enthusiasm by throwing out ironical insinuations in the Assembly, and suspicions among the people. He repaired on that very day to all the sections ofParis, and prevailed on them to retract the amnesty granted the day before. He endeavored to excite exasperation against the late projects of the court, and alarmed the Parisians by the dread of passing for the dupes of their good nature, an apprehension that operates very potently on them, for they aim above all things at being considered quick-sighted and formidable. Mirabeau, by snatching from M. Necker the palm of domestic peace, struck the first blow at his popularity; but this reverse was bound to be followed by a number of others; for from the time that the popular party were urged to persecute the vanquished, M. Necker could no longer make common cause with the victors. Mirabeau proceeded to circulate doctrines of the wildest anarchy, although his intellect, when viewed apart from his character, was perfectly sound and luminous. M. Necker has said ofhim in one ofhis writings that he was a demagogue by calculation and an aristocrat by disposition.2 There cannot be a more correct sketch of the man; not only was his mind too enlightened to avoid perceiving the impossibility ofa democratic govdoubtful . His ultimate policy was one vast intrigue, and he avowedly strove to do evil that good might come. . . . The answer is different if we try him by a purely political test, and ask whether he desired power for the whole or freedom for the parts. Mirabeau was not only a friend of freedom ... but a friend of federalism.... If in this he was sincere, he deserves the great place he holds in the memory ofhis countrymen." (Lectures on the French Revolution, I 36-37) 2 . The French text...


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