Notes From Emil Reich’s “Foundations of Modern Europe” Part X

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.