I wanted to post something different this week. I’ve noticed that some of you have what might be deemed an “unhealthy obsession with Loki”, so I took another look at Lokasenna and made it rhyme in American-English. Now you can read it again, but with more rhythm. Enjoy. (By the way, since I took the time and effort to jam it into rhyme form I am claiming copyright over this version of Lokasenna. Copyrights and credits of the other versions go to their respective creators.)
The ale was finally ready and with the kettle he now had,
Ægir the sea god hosted a feast – of which many and more were glad.
Óthin, Thór and Bragi came (all of them with their wives),
As did Týr, whose hand was lost to the wolf with teeth like sharpened knives.
The married pair Njorth and Skathi came, and so did Víthar, Freya and Frey.
And as we all know Loki came apart from many others that day.
It was in this place of peace that envy made our Loki kill.
The gods drove him to the forest in anger, but he returned after this deed most ill.
Eldir warned him just outside about the gods within.
Their talk had turned to weapons and war-deeds, but they said nothing good of him.
Loki, persistent, desired still to enter, drink the ale and eat the bread,
So Eldir sent him in with warning to watch the things he said.
With confidence he could win a war of words, Loki entered the hall and stopped.
The conversation quickly hushed – from many a mouth was an ale cup dropped.
Loki, standing alone now, observed the silence throughout.
He requested some mead and a seat on a bench, or else for them to kick him out.
The murderer’s presence was improper and so
It was, at length, Bragi who refused him a seat and wished him go.
But some time ago Loki had blended blood with Óthin,
So the latter brother had prepared some ale and a seat for him within.
Thinking still of verbal warfare, Loki took the ale and started to talk.
He caused a stir with each god in turn.
He would sling insults and mock.
Even the women were not safe –
He denied their fidelity and hushed them.
Loki wouldn’t stop until Thór threatened to take his hammer and crush him.
Loki escaped to the Fránangr waterfall and disguised himself as a salmon.
There the gods found him and with his son’s guts they bound him in return for his reckless abandon.
It was Skathi who took the venomous serpent and hung it above Loki’s face.
Loki’s wife Sigyn came and sate by him then as she held a bowl under that place.
The poison would drip until the bowl filled, and then she would carry it out,
But when she was gone the poison would drip on poor Loki who would writhe and shout.
So fretfully he’d squirm and so fearfully he’d shake
That the whole earth shook with him (and we call these “earthquakes”).
So with his wife ever busy he stayed bound to water and land
As no one else willing was ’round to give poor Loki a hand.
The otter expects to thaw out enough to write another post soon (and is referring to herself in the third person right now for some reason… Okay, admittedly I picked it up from Metalion in something he wrote. It’s basically a book of magazines – I don’t know how else to describe it.), so for now you just get the stuff below. It’s the second and final part of the second chapter on the French Revolution picking up from “And now at last France, clearly conscious of the exasperating hostility of Europe, took measures to intensify by concentration her powers of resistance, so abundant in that old historic country.” (By the way, if I’m not finished thawing by next week I’ll try to at least have a short post up. It may not be in the same vein as this, though. I don’t know yet.)
To the student of history the spectacle of France resisting single-handed the might of the rest of Europe is one which appeals very strongly, both to the heart and to the mind. With the exception of the ancient Hellenes and the English under Elizabeth, no other nation of any magnitude has been given the means to go unaided through the grand trial of one nation fighting the world for the recovery of her independence and liberty. It is this standpoint which must be unwaveringly held in view to enable us to do justice to the events of 1793 and 1794; events, coloured, stained, distorted, and yet glorified by the most ruthless atrocities, as well as by the most astounding glory of events, military and human. That period is well known by the name of “La Terreur.” It would be superfluous to enumerate or to describe the excesses committed by the men of the “Convention,” or Third Parliament of the French Revolution. They are in all books, in thousands of novels, in numberless biographies and Mémoires.
The names of Marat, Hébert, Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins, Fouquier-Tinville, St. Just, and other celebrities of “The Terror” are well known to everybody. What, however, must be pointed out, and of what most students of that period most constantly be reminded, is the undeniable connection and correlation between those atrocities, on the one hand, and the regeneration of France, nay, of Europe, accomplished by Frenchmen of that period, on the other. The unparalleled deeds and successes of the French generals in 1794-1795-1796; the host of social reforms introduced during “The Terror” and now all but universally accepted, could never have been thought of but for that fierce and unparalleled energy of which the home excesses of the French were only the dark reverse.
He who studies “The Terror” in its totality, that is, the acts and measures taken by the French Parliament, by the Comité de Salut Public (Committee of Public Safety), by the leaders of the Paris municipality, cannot but arrive at the conclusion that while the Paris minicipality and its wire-pullers represented the dark side of the medal, the Comité de Salut Public (whether under Danton or under Robespierre) represented the terrible determination of the French to keep up the unity and integrity of their country; and the “Convention” proper, or Parliament, endowed France with institutions securing order in peace and power in war. The Comité de Salut Public, the most centralized of all governments of modern times, really a dictatorship in Committee, so efficiently organized the administrative and military services of the country, especially through its representatives in the provinces, that France was enabled to throw huge armies on the frontier, and, finally, in the battle of Fleurus, June, 1794, drive out the allies again from Belgium and Holland, let alone from Alsace. The “Convention,” on the other hand, introduced the metrical system; reformed all the schools for higher education, legalized religious toleration, reformed the law, and anticipated in many of its measures the reorganization of France as completed by Napoleon I.
Consider the extreme shortness of time in which the French carried out legal and social reforms of the most comprehensive nature; compare the few years they needed for all these reforms with the generations of labor and struggle required by other nations to obtain the same result, and we are driven to the conclusion that such high-strung and unparalleled national activity was possible only at the instigation of a national exaltation, the over-exuberance of which was bound to lead to abuses. Or, instead of considering things and institutions, let us for a moment study the leading persons of that period. In them we find reflected the same energy, and hence the same abuses found in the nation at large.
The terrific push and dash of Danton, balanced by the most enthusiastic and true patriotism, ai8ded by deep political insight into home and foreign matters, and glorified by the greatest rhetorical power of that time, stands out in sharp contrast to the vile, venomous, wretched ambition of the lawyer of Arras, the cold-blooded, villainous Robespierre, whose black soul is rendered only more disgusting by his sickly sentimentality. In M. Camille Desmoulins and his fierce power as a publicist and speaker; in St. Just, with his Draconic severity in carrying out matters for the salvation of his country; in so many anonymous heroes for whom death had lost its terrors; in the numerous women, from Charlotte Corday, who, a young girl of perfect innocence, found the force to murder the fiend Marat; in Madame Roland; in all the other well-known characters of the French Revolution, we note the whole scale of human energy in all its shades, reflecting the vast impulse with which the French Revolution imbued the French nation. If Europe by her most interested action must be declared to have provoked many an excess of the French Revolution, the glory of having turned the new vital powers of the nation to the realization of reforms and to exploits of the first order, remains entirely with the French. In March, 1793, every foot of the French frontier on land and on sea was attacked by all the Powers of Europe. Fifteen months later all the land Powers had been driven back and beaten by the French, while the might of England on sea could boast only one barren victory, the battle of the 1st June, 1794, when Howe, although disabling the fleet of Villaret de Joyeuse, was unable to prevent a large French convoy from the West Indies from entering Brest. The decisive victories of the French in the summer of 1794 rendered the anarchy at home objectless, and the victories of the army “furiously conspired” against Robespierre. He and his followers suffered death on the Place de la République, the fate of Danton, Hébert, and so many other “Conventionnels,” and in 1795 the Directoire was introduced, a government which was neither in person nor constitution either important or helpful. Very early in 1795 the Republic had succeeded in making peace with Prussia, and Spain by the Treaty of Basle (1795). The military position of France was excellent, and the centre of disturbances came more and more to fall outside Frence. Already in 1769 and from that time onward, French, or rather European, history begins to spell that name that dominated the events of the world until 1815 – Napoleon!
P.S. You see what I did there? “Thaw?” Because I’m frozenotter… XD Don’t mind me. I just have a habit of laughing at my own jokes.
I have decided to break this one short chapter into two short posts. There’s an explanation. I don’t feel like giving it to you, but there is an explanation. Also, I expect next week’s post will be up on Wednesday instead of Monday. I’m about 85% sure about that. Don’t even worry about it.
The French Revolution. – II
The first period of the French Revolution, when the French people were filled with the highest ideals about liberty and community of nations, was ended in the month of June, 1791. In that fatal month the royal couple took the ill-advised measure of trying to escape from their people by a flight to Germany. The way the flight was prepared and carried out was singularly clumsy, and far from being astonished at the capture of the King by the postmaster of Varennes on the French frontier, one rather wonders that the King had not been discovered soon after leaving Paris.
He and the Queen were brought back to the capital amidst the sullen silence of an indignant nation. It now became clear that the animosity of the foreign powers was shared by the King, and that the entire nation was at the mercy of a European conspiracy. There is no nation in Europe that has, in mediæval or modern times, ever found itself in a situation so tragic, so exasperating. From all sides of the horizon the French people felt the underground and overt attacks of the rest of Europe. In Sweden and Russia, King Gustavus III. and Catherine the Great; in Austria and Prussia, Loepold II. and Frederick William II.; in England and in all other countries, threats of invasion, menaces of the most terrible kind were levelled at the people whose King had just given unmistakable proofs of treachery and cowardice, which alone are sufficient to drive a nation into despair.
Yet the French people even then, under the most trying circumstances, continued to be loyal to the King, and instead of making open war on him – as had been done in England in 1642, when King Charles I. left London – the French people, after a few weeks, intrusted Louis XVI. with the government of the country. Even then very few people seriously thought of a republic, and Louis XVI. had many a fair chance of consolidating his shaken position. However, the plans of the Powers against France became so manifest; their intention of treating France as they had dealt with Poland in the seventies became so evident; the War Party, headed by the Girondists and General Dumouriez, became by the end of 1791 so influential, that a conflict between France on the one hand and Europe on the other was only a question of days.
The actions of the Powers, more especially of Prussia and Austria, were based on a total misconception of the resources and conditions of France. The numerous émigrés (political refugees)from France had spread the belief (still shared by many historians) that the revolution in France was in reality only a local anarchy in Paris, countenanced in no wise by the bulk of the French nation. Moreover, the émigrés plausibly remarked that owing to the law of 1781 the French nation was, through the emigration of the nobles, deprived of their officers – officers in the French army since 1781 being aristocrats only.
The very atrocity of the situation, however, aroused all the latent energy of the French nation, and when in September, 1792, the Prussians and Austrians advanced on the Rhine, the French, far from being cowed and discouraged, were more than ever determined to resist the unprovoked hostility of their allied enemies.
One need only read the proclamation, signed if not drawn up by the Duke of Brunswick, and dated from Coblentz, to understand the heroic resolution of the French and their determination to defend their country – even at the most painful loss in men and money. That proclamation is unique in all history, unless we compare is with the actions of Attilla, Genghis Khan, or some other barbarous “Scourge of heaven.” Brunswick threatened the people of France to raze Paris to the ground, and to reduce their country to a desert, unless they restored the old monarchy and abandoned all the rights of the nation acquired since May, 1789.
This atrocious document was replied to by the French by the so-called September massacres. During five days, early in September, numerous individuals, many of them innocent or invalids, were massacred in the streets, hospitals, and prisons of Paris by the mob maddened by the terror of the near extinction of France at the hands of the allies.
The horrors of those massacres can certainly not be excused; they are, however, in keeping with the behaviour of most nations in times of unexampled popular excitement.
In the great Civil War in England the popular excitement vented itself in the wholesale execution of so-called witches and sorcerers, of whom, as Mr. Lecky says, a greater number was cruelly put to death during the great Civil War than during all the other periods of English history put together. From 1645 to 1647 over 150 witches were executed in the counties of Suffolk and Essex alone. The fascination of cruelty on an excited mob is a dark problem; but at any rate we may say that Danton, who did nothing to stop the September massacres, cannot seriously be held to be the author of those misdeeds. With the blind but unerring instinct of fierce animality, the people of France, who had on the 10th August, 1792, practically deposed the King, now, in the face of extreme danger, ventured to give a practical illustration of their unprecedented resolution to keep up the unity of France both against home and foreign assailants.
If we condemn the September massacres, we must, at any rate, credit them also with a considerable share in the great victory of Valmy a few days later. In that battle, in itself an insignificant engagement, a new spirit, the spirit of a united and determined nation, was proved to be stronger than the might of Prussia and Austria. The enemy was driven out of the country; Dumouriez, the victor of Valmy, marched northward, and after inflicting upon the Austrians the defeat of Jemmapes, he pushed them back on the Rhine, and occupied Belgium and parts of Holland (autumn, 1792). The great victories won by the army indefinitely increased the prestige of the Girondists – amongst whom Vergniaud, Gensonné, Guadet, and Madame Roland were most influential – and they quickly brought the King to the block. And now at last France, clearly conscious of the exasperating hostility of Europe, took measures to intensify by concentration her powers of resistance, so abundant in that old historic country.
This is the second part of the first chapter on the French Revolution starting from, “the rest of France, or certainly the majority of Frenchmen, at once took it up, discussed it, refuted it, accepted it; in short, intensely interested themselves in it. This was a new phenomenon.”
The obscure official in the Dauphiné, whose political reflections would have fallen stillborn from the press thirty years before, was now, in the eighties of the eighteenth century, sure of a hearing, of an audience, of a general discussion. So great and intense was that growing homogeneity that it extended even to common human sentiments. From Jule 27th to August 1st, 1789, happened what is commonly called La grande peur. Suddenly, in a most inexplicable manner, the rural population of the whole of France was smitten with a most mysterious fear – with a common physical fear of brigands, robbers, and burglars, who were expected to roam over the whole of France, sacking and pillaging everything they could lay hands on. The fear was pure imagination; there were no brigands, no burglars. The grande peur unmistakably proves that in addition to and beyond the mental homogeneity of the people, there was a homogeneity of sentiments, of sensation. People thought the same way and felt the same way; nothing was more natural than that they should act the same way. For the first time in French history the French became conscious of their unity, as a people, and of their strength. Once the French people became conscious of their strength it was only too natural that they should attempt to assert their rights against the crown.
The crown, unfortunately, was then held by two persons, neither of whom had by nature or education the power to wield or to articulate the wishes of the people. King Louis XVI. was limited in mind, small in character, and indifferent in temper. Nothing characterizes him better than the famous entry in his diary on the ay of the taking of the Bastille, that is, on the day when the most formidable onslaught on French monarchical institutions was made. Rien, “Nothing,” was the entry in the King’s diary for that day. As to Marie Antoinette, she was an Austrian proper, that is, a woman endowed with many charms, but none of a serious character. Often, in deed, it may be said that she was possessed of deficiencies that had no corresponding virtues, and her very advantages were devoid of efficiency. She was pleasure-loving, undiscerning, hare-brained; she repelled all the men of importance, and loved to pass her time in the presence of mediocrities. Personally virtuous, she yet had none of the powers of female virtue. She resisted her passion for Fersen, the Swedish chevalier, and yet did not know how to make use of Fersen in critical moments. The powers of the French nation set in motion by the homogeneity mentioned above, could therefore be neither controlled nor guided by the King of the Queen. Moreover, the extreme prodigality of the Queen (she permitted Calonne to buy her St. Cloud and Rambouillet for a sum of about twenty million francs, at a time when the French finances were in the lowest possible condition) was not likely to endear her to an exceedingly thrifty people like the French; and when in August, 1786, the famous necklace trial was practically decided against her, her prestige had suffered an irremediable loss.
The extraordinary circumstances so characteristic of the year 1789 had, it is true, given rise to an extraordinary man, who, as many have supposed, might have staved off the worst features of the French Revolution. That man was Mirabeau. He came of a high aristocratic family; but both through his genius and his failings, he had long unlearned the prejudices and reactionary ideas of the French nobility. His was a temper both passionate in sentiment and cool in judgment. His insight into the political structure of the leading states of his time; his knowledge of the great issues of international policy; his acquaintance with all the leading men of his age, and, more than anything else, his power of focussing and generalizing huge clusters of facts, endowed him with a superiority that nobody could rival in his lifetime, and few have equalled after him. In practical politics, however, he suffered from a bad private reputation, from sordid indebtedness to innumerable creditors, and also from debauches that weakened both his bodily health and his prestige, so that even his marvellous oratory and political insight won for him more admiration than actual influence.
To say that Mirabeau might have warded or staved off the worst consequences of the French Revolution is probably an overstatement. On the other hand, it is certain that he alone amongst practical statesmen was the first to foresee the stages of the Revolution, and its final development into an empire ruled by an omnipotent Cæsar. Finally, the early and premature death of Mirabeau (1791) deprived France of the man who was then her only possible leader, and so the fierce powers of the Revolution swept over the country and over Europe, without meeting and serious force that could control them.
Calonne, after having convoked the nobility in 1787, convinced himself and the King that the dissatisfaction of the nation, as well as the evils of the state, could be remedied only by the convocation of all the orders; accordingly in Decomber, 1788, all the three orders, the nobility, clergy, and Tiers-État (Third Estate), or bourgeoisie, were convened, to meet in a common assembly for the purpose of healing the wounds of the country. From January to April, 1789, the people of France, meeting in innumerable local assemblies, drew up their famous cahiers de doléances (lists of grievances), in which they criticised in the most sincere and audacious manner the abuses then prevalent, together with the persons then governing France. By an indirect method of election, over a thousand deputies or representatives were sent up to the capital, and thus the first genuine Parliament since 1614 was opened on May 5th at Versailles; the frivolous King deciding for Versailles on account of the hunting parties in which he was there indulging.
The two superior orders, the nobility and the higher clergy, at first refused to join the Tiers-État, but the determined attitude of Mirabeau and the members of the Tiers-État in the end prevailed upon the nobility and higher clergy, and on June 27th, 1789, the three orders met in one and the same room, and constituted themselves as the Assemblée Nationale. That famous Assemblée has long been called the Assemblée Constituante.
Neither the King nor the Queen, let alone the numerous members of the Court, was able of even willing to see the immense significance of the new assembly. The King, a Philistine to the backbone; the Queen, a girlish woman without any notion of politics, neither could nor would see that France had entered on an entirely new period of her history. It is probably injudicious to blame the royal couple for their shortsightedness, when we consider that one of the broadest and deepest minds of the United Kingdom – Edmund Burke – was utterly unable to view the events happening in France in their right historical perspective. A glance at Burke will readily induce us to absolve Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette. Burke, far from appreciating the immense significance of the French Revolution, devoted all his unrivalled power of oratory to a wholesale condemnation of that great event. Under these circumstances we need not wonder that Louis XVI. so utterly misread the spirit of his time that, on the 11th July, he dismissed the most popular of Ministers – Necker – and that on the 14th July the French demolished the Bastille, that symbol of absolutistic régime. The King was more than ever incapable of appreciating an event which threw all the liberal minds of Europe, including England, into a state of frenzied joy. But what the great philosopher of England and the small King of France were unable to see, several leading members of the French aristocracy were only too ready to acknowledge, and on the night of August 4th, 1789, the Duc de Noailles and the Duc d’Aiguillon spontaneously proposed a wholesale abolition of all the ancient rights and privileges of the nobility. Thus the ancien régime was, under the pressure of the spirit of the times, abolished by its very devotees.
In August, September, and October the Assemblée proceeded to lay down in the most explicit, not to say doctrinaire, manner, the general principles governing the relation of the individual to the state. All the ideas of Rousseau, moderated by the practical wisdom of Mirabeau, were applied to build up, on the ruins of the ancient state, a commonwealth based on the equality of citizens before the law, on the absence of all castes, on the absence of religious intolerance, and finally on the destruction of those local provincialisms which had long prevented the French nation from blending into one homogeneous mass of equal citizens.
So far (1789-1790) the worst enemies of the French cannot but admit that the French Revolution had kept within bounds, threatening nowise her neighbours or the other powers of Europe. The French Government had declared, that nothing was more removed from their minds than a policy of aggression, more particularly towards Prussia and England; the most explicit assurances were given that France desired neither the territories on the left bank of the Rhine, nor Belgium. However, the great powers were unable to rise to a clear and impartial view of the French Revolution, and were convinced that France would share the fate of Poland, i.e. partition at the hands of her neighbours. The great powers, we say, were determined to force a war upon France. For, this is the historical fate of France, that any great French movement or event will inevitably rouse the apprehension, interest, or admiration of the rest of Europe to a greater extent than events happening in any other country. Nor is this circumstance difficult to explain. If, on a map of Europe, we place one point of the compass in the centre of France, say at Bourges, and the other point at Edinburgh, and then draw a circle round Bourges, we shall find that the greatest enemies and rivals of France are all at equal distances from Bourges – such as England, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Madrid. This central position of France rendered any such event as the French Revolution of the highest importance to her neighbours, and a revolution spreading in what was then the centre of Europe could not but affect the other great powers in the most direct fashion: and this (in addition to the undoubtedly moral and literary conquests that the French and French literature had made all over Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) accounts for the fact that Europe took an infinitely greater interest in the French Revolution than it had in the great Civil War in England (1642-1651), or in the Dutch revolt (1566-1648). It was thus only a matter of expediency when the great powers determined to begin their actual invasion of France.
The Declaration of Pillnitz, in August, 1791, was only a stage thunder. In the spring of 1792 the Austrians, and in August, 1792, the Prussians also, invaded France. The latter campaign is known by the name of the “Cannonade of Valmy,” where the Prince of Brunswick, at the head of a considerable Austro-Prussian army, gave a half-hearted battle to the French under Dumouriez (in September, 1792), and finding himself unable to break the ranks of the French, retired into Germany.
Amongst the spectators present at that campaign was Goethe. In the evening, after the cannonade, Goethe, on being asked what he thought of the events of the day, answered: “Gentlemen, from this place and from to-day a new epoch of world-history is begun, and you may say that you have assisted at it.” (“Hier und heute geht eine neue Epoche der Weltgeschichte aus, und ihr könnet sagen, ihr seid dabei gewesen.”)
Here endeth Chapter Oneth of the French Revolution. The second chapter begins next week.
Tschüs for now, people!