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EN INTELLECT, Madame Roland was one of the most remarkable
women of the eighteenth century, and in the romantic inP terest of her life, she is second among the heroines of the French Revolution only to Charlotte Corday. Her « Philosophical and Literary Essays,” published soon after her death and republished in London in 1800, fully sustain the historical and traditional theory of her ability. It was the remarkable power of her intellect which energized her husband and enabled the Girondist party to keep a foothold in the stormy politics of the Revolution at a time when to be accused of moderation was almost equivalent to a conviction of capital crime. Gratien Phlipon, Madame Roland's father, was an engraver by profession and it is from him that she seems to have received the speculative impulses which enabled her to break away from the political conventionality of her time and become a leader in revolution. Her earliest reading was of the great classical writers from whom she imbibed the republican principles which animated her work for the overthrow of the royalty in France. In M. Roland, whom she married in 1781, she found a kindred spirit. He was nearly twentytwo years her senior and no doubt greatly her superior in thoroughness, but he lacked her quickness of intellect and was always ready to rely rather upon the intuitions of her genius than on his own common sense. When they appeared together at Paris in 1791, they soon became one of the potent influences against royalty. Roland became a member of the Jacobin Club and acted with them until their radicalism resulted in the formation of a more conservative party,—the Girondists, which in the crisis of 1792 made him Minister of the In. terior. He used this position to force issues with the king. A letter written by Madame Roland, and addressed by her husband to the king, led to a Cabinet crisis and to the dismissal of Roland. This was the prelude to the overthrow of royalty, but instead of being the Aspasia of a great and world-reforming republic as she had hoped, Madame Roland found herself at first the sport and then the victim of forces too violent to be checked or directed by any power of intellect or of combination. After the death of the king and the September massacres, the Girondists fearlessly devoted themselves to
inevitable destruction. Hated alike by Royalists and Jacobins, they had no refuge except in honorable death; and this, with Vergniaud and Roland at their head, they challenged by impeaching Robespierre when he was at the height of his power. On June 1st, 1793, Madame Roland was arrested, and on November 8th, 1793, was carried to the guillotine in the Place de la Revolution, where the scaffold was overlooked by a statue of Liberty, which she addressed in her celebrated apostrophe, “O Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name ! » On hearing of her death, her husband, then at Rouen, pinned on his breast a paper declaring his unwillingness to survive her, and killed himself by falling on the point of the stiletto he carried in his walking cane.
LIBERTY — ITS MEANING AND ITS COST INSULATED and tranquil, in the stillness of the night and in that 1 of the passions, I dare think, I dare write, without presump
tion and without fear. Silence, son of repose, it is in thy profound bosom that my wandering ideas are heaped up and collected. The shades spread on the theatre of illusion stop its prestiges; all is confounded; all is silent ... even to my heart: this is the moment when victorious reason commands, and acts with liberty. What have I said? What implies that great name, whose imposing and confused object by turns astonishes, misleads, and inflames the imagination ? What is liberty ?*
I cannot consider it so generally; I distinguish, liberty of the will, that of the mind. I doubt whether the first exists; the second appears to me very uncommon, and the third belongs but to sages. Metaphysical liberty is a problem on which I endeavor to exercise my ideas; political liberty is a blessing the image and utility of which I love to recall to mind; philosophical liberty, the only liberty, perhaps, that it is my province to know, is a treasure which I wish to acquire.
Political liberty, for each individual of a society, consists in doing everything that he judges proper for his own happiness, in what does not injure others. It is the power of being happy, without doing harm to any one. Is there an advantage that can be compared to it ? Nothing in the world can supply its place: delicious fruit of the laws, it gives the human soul all the energy of which it is susceptible.
* This paragraph follows exactly the text of 1800 as do all the articles by Madame Roland here given,
The reign of the general will is the only reign that maintains public felicity; from the moment when power secures independence to some parts of the state, corruption introduces itself, and soon becomes manifest by the misery of the oppressed.
Slavery and virtue are incompatible. Slavery breaks all the ties that connect man with his fellow-creature; it relaxes and destroys the two springs that contribute most to the development of our faculties, the esteem of ourselves, and glory, which is only the result of public esteem; it suffers nothing to subsist but odious force and degrading fear.
Tyranny equally debases him who exercises it and those whom it enslaves; with it all lose the sentiment of truth, the idea of justice, and the taste of good.
It is to him who knows the extent and the limits of his rights, that we may look for a respect for those of others, a generous intrepidity in their defense, and the noble care of their preser. vation.
True courage belongs only to the free man. Of what can those be capable who are nothing except by the will of the master? And to what obligations would he believe himself restricted, who must fancy himself of a nature superior to that of the people he commands ?
The enjoyment and the inviolability of the first rights of social man,- personal safety and property,— with the power of claiming them in case of an accidental injury, properly constitute the essence of liberty. This is the masterpiece of iegislation; but so many things prevent its being carried into execution, or counteract its being brought to perfection and concur in its ruin, that very seldom is it seen to subsist, even for a short time, unimpaired.
All nations are not capable of enjoying liberty; the same nation cannot support it equally at all times.
The climate, the soil, and the species of its productions, the situation of the places, their extent, etc., pave the way to it or estrange it from its inhabitants, according to the spirit, the wants, and the resources which it affords them. Liberty is for the most part the companion of poverty; the fertility of a country abounding in superfluities, stifles it in a manner by its richness. And, indeed, it is pretty generally true, that the finest countries are those which have the worst governments.
Bare competence, or comfort acquired by labor, makes men honest and the state happy; in this, it is with the nation as with
the individual, too many wants excite cupidity and engender corruption.
The English are said to be free, and I believe they are so more than their neighbors,— more than most of the nations of Europe, except the Swiss; but commerce and the love of gain, riches, and luxury, by weakening their morals, insensibly sap their constitution, or render useless a great part of its effects.
People are often mistaken respecting the word liberty. I give not this name to the anarchy into which fell again certain republics; such, for instance, as Syracuse, after the death or expulsion of the tyrants who had governed them by intrigue or by violence, and whom they had given themselves through weakness. Liberty suits none but simple men, who have few wants. When we consider the infinite care, the continual vigilance, which the maintenance of the laws demand in a free state, the time required for the acts of sovereignty which regard each of the citizens, we are sensible how few of them remain for other occupations. If we reflect, besides, that industry and the arts open the first door to inequality, insulate those who profess them by affording them extraordinary means of acquiring property, and offering them resources independent of the common good, we shall perceive how great was the wisdom of the legislators who banished them from their states.
The Lacedæmonians were nothing else than husbandmen and soldiers; but they had helots? It would be very astonishing if, in the same government, the slavery of one part of the species should be absolutely necessary to the perfect happiness of the other. This idea makes me shudder; I dare not investigate it.
I hasten to arrive at what suits me much better; I leave metaphysical reveries and political speculations to the more able; I prefer what more nearly concerns action, and I think that is my element. I understand by liberty of mind, not only that sound view of an enlightened judgment which is not disturbed by prejudices or by passions, but also that firm and tranquil temper of a strong soul, superior to events. I call it philosophy, because it is the fruit of wisdom and one of its most unequivocal proofs; it is under these titles that I regard it as a treasure. I add that I am determined to labor to acquire it; nothing is more true nor more easy. With reason sufficient to appreciate things at what they are worth, we may suffer ourselves to be affected