Reviews of Books
English Historical Review
A History of tlie French, Bevolution. By H. MOBSB STEPHENS. Vol. II. (London: Longmans. 1891.) MB. MOBSK STEPHENB'S ' French Revolution' owes its success to an immense body of accurate detail. He has been the first of our countrymen to consult the -whole recent literature of France, including tracts, reviews, and provincial publications. If he has left in comparative neglect the dusty and discoloured prints of the time itself, he may be trusted as a master of the newest knowledge and of the
... s as they now are. TTia clear, plain, unpretentious narrative seldom rises above an even level, unbroken by perspective or reflection, and the reader, who is never stirred or dazzled or distracted, feels that he has got at last behind the north wind of fine writing and calculated pathos. The reserve and moderation of language, the directness of the appeal to reason, constitute a very real advance. The difficulty has been to select from the mass of information, and of course there are not two men who would choose alike. At times the author indicates, and seems to announce, something which we should be glad to know, and then disappoints us. Vergniaud, he says, was a far more profound thinker than his associates. This is a good opening. For Vergniaud has been allowed to pass for no more than a superb rhetorician, and everybody would wish to learn what his profound thoughts were. But they do not appear. If the sentence upon him is unfair to any associate it is to Buzot, of whom Mr. Stephens dimly affirms that he had a system of his own, but leaves us to find out, when the dogs are devouring his remains, that he was a federalist. The fact is no doubt true, in theory as well as in policy ; but, as it has been questioned by the high authority of M. Taine, there was room for more, and the ugly word used in referring to the relations between Buzot and Madame Roland ought to be corrected or made good. Again, wo are told that the iron safe furnished fresh arguments against the king. But it is not stated what they were. Now it chances that they were very serious arguments indeed, and they have been slurred over by so respectable a royalist as Barante. The list of omissions might be prolonged; but, although the author's French is not entirely above reproach, inaccuracies are extremely rare. There is hardly anything in the Argonne that can fairly be called a mountain pass ; and Leopold of Tuscany is not fitly described when he is called one of the benevolent and intelligent despots of that epoch. The thing that distinguishes him from the rest, that distinguishes him favourably even from the king of England, is that, without necessity or even pressure, he desired to diminish his own despotic power. Following Lanfrey, Mr. Stephens has the courage to say that Carnot was no better than the rest; and he follows still more illustrious examples when he calls Sieyes a shallow theorist. If he holds the supposed opinion of Burke, and means that in politics a theorist is shallow of nocessity, because politics are insoluble by theory, the idea has a right to pass unchallenged in these pages; otherwise it ought to be remembered that in the little band of true theorists, composed of Harrington and Locke, Rousseau and Jefferson, Hamilton and Mill, the rank of Sieyes is very far from being the lowest.