Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/49

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

and insouciance. France appeared to be threatened with anarchy, and that seemed to Burke more intolerable than the long-continued conditions of tyranny and misgovernment that were responsible for it. He was an old man, and more conservative than in his younger days. To him the glorious revolution of William of Orange and the Whigs seemed the perfect model, and the parliamentary institutions of Britain the ideal form of government. The disorders of Paris and the methods of the National Assembly shocked and wounded him, so he turned on them and rent them. He admitted, indeed, that he was not in a position to pronounce judgment: "I do not pretend to know France as correctly as some others," and so he confined himself to the role of the advocate. His pleading against the Revolution echoed through the Courts of Europe, carried conviction in almost every quarter where doubt existed, and to this day remains the most effective indictment against the men who made modern France. The success of Burke's book was in part due to the fact that its publication was followed by the Reign of Terror, which seemed to prove the author's argument, but above all to its brilliant and noble, if somewhat too ample, style. Of this one example only will be given:


"It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in—glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendor, and joy. Oh! what a Revolution! And what a heart must I have to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry