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village. Pity it is that in a Bill which rouses no party opposition, so little should be done to conform to the old historic associations of county, hundred, parish; so great a deference should be shown to municipal organisation as practically to adopt it as the only institution for the regulation of every county, every borough, every town, every village, from Berwick-on-Tweed to the Land's End.
THE DISENCHANTMENT OF FRANCE. .
Quod procul a nobis flectat Fortuna gubernans !
It has fallen to the lot of the French people to point more morals, to emphasise more lessons from their own experience than any other nation in modern history. Parties and creeds of the most conflicting types have appealed to Paris in turn for their brightest example, their most significant warning. The strength of monarchy and the risks of despotism ; the nobility of faith, and the cruel cowardice of bigotry; the ardour of republican fraternity and the terrors of anarchic disintegration—the most famous instance of any and every extreme is to be found in the long annals of France. And so long as the French mind, at once logical and mobile, continues to be the first to catch and focus the influences which are slowly beginning to tell on neighbouring States, so long will its evolution possess for us the unique interest of a glimpse into stages of development through which our own national mind also may be destined ere long to pass.
Yet there has of late been a kind of reluctance on the part of other civilised countries to take to themselves the lessons which French history still can teach. In Germany there has been a tone of reprobation, an opposition of French vice to Teuton virtue; and in England there has been some aloofness of feeling, some disposition to think that the French have fallen through their own fault into a decadence which our robuster nation need not fear.
In the brief review, however, which this paper will contain of certain gloomy symptoms in the spiritual state of France we shall keep entirely clear of any disparaging comparisons or insinuated blame. Rather we shall regard France as the most sensitive organ of the European body politic; we shall feel that her dangers of to-day are ours of to-morrow, and that unless there be salvation for her our own prospects are dark indeed.
But in the first place, it may be asked, what right have we to speak of France as decadent at all? The word, indeed, is so constantly employed by French authors of the day that the foreigner may assume without impertinence that there is some fitness in its
Yet have we here much more than a fashion of speaking? the humour of men who are 'sad as night for very wantonness,' who play with the notion of national decline as a rich man in temporary embarrassment may play with the notion of ruin? France is richer and more populous than ever before; her soldiers still fight bravely, and the mass of her population, as judged by the statistics of crime, or by the colourless half-sheet which forms the only national newspaper,' is at any rate tranquil and orderly. Compare the state of France now with her state just a century since, before the outbreak of the Revolution. Observers who noted that misgovernment and misery, those hordes of bandits prowling over the untilled fields, assumed it as manifest that, not the French monarchy only, but France herself, was crumbling in irremediable decay. And yet a few years later the very children reared as half-slaves, half-beggars, on black-bread and ditch-water were marching with banners flying into Vienna and Moscow. One must be wary in predicting the decline of a nation which holds in reserve a spring of energy such as this. Once more.
Not physically alone, but intellectually, France has never, perhaps, been so strong as she is now. She is lacking, indeed, in statesmen of the first order, in poets and artists of lofty achievement, and, if our diagnosis be correct, she must inevitably lack such men as these. But on the other hand her living savants probably form as wise, as disinterested a group of intellectual leaders as any epoch of her history has known. And she listens to them with a new deference; she receives respectfully even the bitter home-trutlis of M. Taine ; she honours M. Renan instead of persecuting him; she makes M. Pasteur her national hero. These men and men like these are virtually at the head of France; and if the love of truth, the search for truth, fortifies a nation, then assuredly France should be stronger now than under any of her kings or her Cæsars.
Yet here we come to the very crux of the whole inquiry. maintain that an increasing knowledge of truth is necessarily a strength or advantage to a nation or an individual, we are assuming an affirmative answer to two weighty questions: the first, whether the scheme of the universe is on the whole good rather than evil; the second, whether even granting that the sum of things is good, each advancing step of our knowledge of the universe brings with it an increased realisation of that ultimate goodness. Of course if we return to the first question the pessimistic answer—if the world is a bad place and cosmic suicide the only reasonable thing—the present discussion may at once be closed. For in that case there is
1 Le Petit Journal has a circulation of nearly a million. What it does contain, or why it is taken, it might be hard to say; but at least it does not contain anything which could raise a blush, or prompt to an unlawful action. Provincial life in France seldom finds literary expression (see Theuriet, Pierre Loti, Ferdinand Fabre); when it rises to a certain intellectual level it seems to merge irresistibly into the life of Paris.
no such thing as progress, no such thing as recovery; and the moral discouragement of France does but indicate her advance upon the road which we must all inevitably travel.
Let us assume, however, as is commonly assumed without too curious question, that the universe is good, and that to know the truth about it is on the whole an invigorating thing. Yet even thus it is by no means clear that each onward step we make in learning that truth will in itself be felt as invigorating. All analogy is against such a supposition; whether we turn to the history of philosophy, and the depression repeatedly following on the collapse of specious but premature conceptions, or to the history of individual minds, and the despair of the beginner in every art or study when he recognises that he has made a false start; that he knows almost nothing; that the problems are far more difficult than his ignorance had suspected.
Now I think it is not hard to show that France, even on the most hopeful view of her, is at present passing through a moment of spiritual reaction such as this.' In that country where the pure dicta of science reign in the intellectual classes with less interference from custom, sentiment, tradition than even in Germany itself, we shall find that science, at her present point, is a depressing, a disintegrating energy.
And therefore when we compare the present state of France with her state a century ago, we must not rank her dominant savants as a source of national strength. Rather they are a source of disenchantment, of disillusionment, to use the phrase of commonest recurrence in modern French literature and speech. Personally, indeed, the class of savants includes many an example of unselfish diligence, of stoical candóur, but their virtues are personal to themselves, and the upshot of their teaching affords no stable basis for virtue.
We may say, then, that in 1888 France possesses everything except illusions; in 1788 she possessed illusions and nothing else. The Reign of Reason, the Return to Nature, the Social Contract, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity—the whole air of that wild time buzzed with new hatched Chimæras, while at the same time the old traditions of Catholicism, Loyalty, Honour, were still living in many an ardent heart.
What, then, is in effect the disenchantment which France has undergone ? What are the illusions--the so-called, so-judged illusions which are fading now before the influence of science ? How is a foreigner to analyse the confused changes in a great people's spiritual life? Must not his own personal acquaintance with Frenchmen, which is sure to be slight and shallow, unduly influence his judgment of the nation? It seems to me that he must set aside his personal acquaintanceships and form his opinion from current literature and current events; endeavouring so far as may be
to elicit such general views of life as may be latent in the varying utterances of novelist, essayist, politician, philosopher, and poet. Thus reading and thus comparing, we shall discern a gradual atrophy of certain babits of thought, certain traditional notions; and if we class as illusions these old conceptions from which the French people seems gradually to be awakening, we find them reducible to four main heads: the religious, the political, the secual and the personal illusions.
I. By the religious illusion '-speaking, it will be remembered, from the point of view of the Frenchman of the type now under discussion—I mean a belief in the moral government of the world, generally involving a belief in man's future life, in which life we may suppose virtue victorious, and the earth's injustices redressed. These cardinal beliefs, now everywhere on the defensive, are plainly losing ground in France more rapidly than elsewhere. And the strange thing is that while Christianity thus declines it seems to leave in France so little regret behind it; that its disappearance is signalised only by loud battles between Liberalism' and • Clericalism,' not, as in England, hy sad attempts at reconciliation, by the regrets and appeals of slowly-severing men. A book like Chateaubriand's Génie du Christianisme, nay even a book like Lamennais' Paroles d'un Croyant, would now be felt to be an anachronism. Militant Catholicism seems almost to have died out with M. Veuillot's articles in the Univers; and an application to a high ecclesiastical authority for recent defences of the faith brought only a recommendation to read the Bishops' Charges, the mandements d'évêque. Paradox as it may seem, M. Renan is almost the only French writer of influence who believes that Christianityof course a Christianity without miracles—will be in any sense the religion of the future; and his recent utterances show that pious sentiment, in his hands, is liable to sudden and unexpected transformations. A passage from the preface to his play L’Abbesse de Jouarre (1886) will illustrate the facility with which the cult of the ideal' when freed from the support of superstition 'flows along lines of least resistance, and into a less austere and strenuous mould.
The Abbess, too intelligent to believe in the dogmas which (from the highest motives) she has outwardly supported, and finding herself, under the Reign of Terror, confronted with the immediate prospect of death, yields (from the highest motives) to the solicitations of a fellow-prisoner, who ardently admires her. But it so happens that she is not guillotined; and she afterwards experiences a delicate distress in reconciling what may be termed the morality of great crises to the conventions of ordinary life. In a passage which in these pages I can only partially quote M. Renan explains and defends her.