Page:The World's Famous Orations Volume 5.djvu/198

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Revolution. The period from the taking of the Bastile to the fall of Robespierre is about the same length as very commonly intervenes be- tween two of our general elections. On these comparatively few months libraries have been written. The incidents of every week are matters of familiar knowledge. The character and the biography of every actor in the drama has been made the subject of minute study; and by com- mon admission, there is no more fascinating page in the history of the world.

But the interest is not what is commonly called philosophic ; it is personal. Because the Revolu- tion is the dominant fact in modern history, therefore people suppose that the doings of this or that provincial lawyer, tossed into temporary eminence and eternal infamy by some freak of the revolutionary wave, or the atrocities com- mitted by this or that mob, half-drunk with blood, rhetoric and alcohol, are of transcendent importance.

In .truth their interest is great, but their im- portance is small. What we are concerned to know as students of the philosophy of history is, not the character of each turn and eddy in the great social cataract, but the manner in which the currents of the upper stream drew surely in toward the final plunge, and slowly collected themselves after the catastrophe, again to pursue, at a different level, their renewed and comparatively tranquil course.

Now, if so much of the interest of the French 170

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