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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 22


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But she also had a peep of royalty, and that pleased her no better. In her Grecian reading she had lived on terms of equality with Agis and Cleomenes at Sparta; she was one of the Gracchi of Home; she retired with the people to the Aventine Mount, and voted for the tribunes. The abbé Morell, the parish priest, fearing the effect of these readings, had put into her hands some of the orthodox works of the defenders of the church; but the chief effect of this was to reveal to her the names of the sceptical writers whom they professed to refute, and so she procured from this clue "Bayle's Philosophical Dictionary," the "Encyclopedists,'' and their controversies; the works of D'Argens, Spinosa, Helvetius, Diderot, D'Alembert, and Raynal, as well as the " Systeme de la Nature " of Baron D'Holbach. Thus, from an ardent catholic and a worshipper of heroes, she was become not only a thorough republican but a free-thinker. We may therefore well conceive her feelings when she was taken to pass eight days at Versailles, in the palace of that king and queen whose throne she was one day to sap. This is Lamar tine's account of the visit: -

" Lodged in the attics with one of the female domestics of the chateau, she was a close observer of this royal luxury, which she believed was paid for by the misery of the people, and that grandeur of things founded on the servility of courtiers. The lavishly-spread tables, the walks, plays, presentations, all passed before her eyes in the pomp and vanity of the world. These ceremonious details of power were repugnant to her mind, which fed on philosophy, truth, liberty, and the virtue of the olden time. The obscure names, the humble attire of the relatives who took her to see all this, only procured for her mere passing looks and a few words, which meant more protection than favour. The feeling that her youth, beauty, merit, were unperceived by this crowd, who only adored favour or etiquette, oppressed her mind. The philosophy, natural pride, imagination, and fixedness of her soul, were all wounded during this sojourn. ' I preferred,' she says, 'the statues in the gardens to the personages in the palace.' And her mother, inquiring if she were pleased with her visit, she replied, 'Yes, if it be soon ended, for else, in a few more days, I shall so much detest all the persons I see that I shall not know what to do with my hatred.' 'What harm have they done you?' inquired her mother. 'The making me feel injustice, and look upon absurdity.' As she contemplated these splendours of the despotism of Louis XIV., which were drooping into corruption, she thought of Athens, the condemnation of Phocion. 'I did not then foresee,' she writes, in melancholy mood as she penned these lines, ' that destiny reserved me to be the witness of crimes such as those of which they were the victims, and to participate in the glory of these martyrs, after having professed their principles.'

Yet Manon Philipon was a person to attract the admiration of any but biases and sordid courtiers. She herself has told us that her beauty consisted more in expression than in feature: that her physiognomy kindled up with animation from the interest of the subject which engaged her thoughts, and that no painter or sculptor could catch it. But the picture drawn of her by Lamartine has great attractions: - " A tall and supple figure, flat shoulders, a prominent bust, raised by a free and strong respiration, a modest and most becoming demeanour, that carriage of the neck which bespeaks intrepidity, black and soft hair, blue eyes, which appeared brown in the depth of their reflection, a look which, like her soul, passed rapidly from tenderness to energy, the nose of a Grecian statue, a rather large mouth, opened by her smile as well as her voice, splendid teeth, a turned and well-rounded chin, gave to the oval of her features that voluptuous and feminine grace without which even beauty does not elicit love, a skin marbled with the animation of life, and veined by blood which the least impression sent mounting to her cheeks, a tone of voice which borrowed its vibrations from the very fibres of her heart, and which was deeply modulated to its finest movements - a precious gift, for the tone of the voice, which is the channel of emotion in woman, is the medium of persuasion in the orator, and this charm of voice Nature had bestowed on her freely. Such, at eighteen years of age, was the portrait of this young girl, whom obscurity long kept in the shade, as if to prepare for life or death a soul more strong and a victim more perfect."

There were numerous suitors for her hand, but all of her own class, and into that class her father wished her to marry; but she told her father that she would not marry any man who could not sympathise with her ideas. "I will not descend," she said, " from the world of my noble chimeras. What I want is not a position but a mind, and I will die single rather than prostitute my own mind in a union with a being with whom I have no sympathy."

Her father was particularly anxious that she should marry a butcher who had made a fortune of fifty thousand crowns. But she had been lately reading Rousseau's "Heloise," and her imagination revolted at the butcher. At this time she had lost her mother, and her home was not very attractive; and her fate was decided by the appearance of Roland de la Platiere. Roland was twice her age; a man, like herself, devoted to admiration of the ancients, but destitute of genius, and possessing a high opinion of his own merits. "I saw a man," she says, " nearly fifty years of age; tall, careless in his attire, with that kind of awkwardness which a solitary life produces, but his manners were easy and winning, and, without possessing the elegance of the world, they united the politeness of the well-bred man to the seriousness of the philosopher. He was very thin, with a complexion much tanned; his brow, already very scantily covered with hair, and very broad, did not detract from his regular but unpleasing features."

Such was the man whom this interesting woman consented to marry. Her father bluntly refused the application of Roland, declaring that he was a pedant, and would be a tyrant to his wife; and this madame Roland, to a certain degree, found him. He was dictatorial and exacting; he carried her off to Amiens, where he was inspecting manufactures; and there he was so jealous of her, that he would not allow her to associate with people of her own age.

" By dint," she says, " of occupying myself with the happiness of the man with whom I was associated, I felt that something was wanting to my own. I have not for a moment ceased to see in my husband one of the most estimable persons that exist, and to whom it was an honour for me to belong; but I often felt that similarity was wanting between us; that the ascendancy of a dominating temper, united to that of twenty years more of age, was too great a superiority. If we lived in solitude, I had sometimes very painful hours to pass; if we went into the world, I was liked by persons, some one of whom I was fearful might affect me too closely. I plunged into my husband's occupations, became his copying clerk, corrected his proofs, and fulfilled the task with an unrepining humility, which contrasted strongly with a spirit as free and tried as mine. But this humility proceeded from my heart. I respected my husband so much, that I always liked to suppose that he was superior to myself. I had such a dread of seeing a shade on his countenance, he was so tenacious of his own opinions, that it was a long time before I ventured to contradict him. To this labour I joined that of my house; and observing that his delicate health could not endure every kind of diet, I always prepared his meals with my own hand. I remained with him at Amiens four years, and became there a mother and nurse. We worked together at the 'Encyclopedic Nouvelle,' in which the articles relative to commerce had been confided to him. We only quitted this occupation for our walks in the vicinity of the town."

From Amiens they went to Lyons, where Roland held a similar office. During the summer, they went to live at La Platiere, and we may dwell a moment on the scene there as given by Lamartine: - " At the foot of the mountains of Beaujolais, in the large basin of the Saone, in face of the Alps, there is a series of small hills scattered like the sea sands, which the patient vine-dresser has planted with vines, and which form, amongst themselves, at their base, oblique valleys, narrow and sinuous ravines interspersed with small verdant meads. These meadows have each their thread of water, which filters down from the mountains; willows, weeping birch, and poplars, show the course, and conceal the bed of these streams. The sides and tops of these hills only bear, above the lowly vines, a few wild peach trees, which do not shade the grapes, and large walnut trees in the orchards near the houses.

" On the declivity of one of these sandy protuberances was La Platiere, the patrimonial inheritance of M. Roland: a low farm-house, with regular windows, covered with a roof of red tiles, nearly flat; the eaves of this roof projecting a little beyond the wall, in order to protect the windows from the rain of winter and the summer's sun. The walls straight, and wholly unornamented, were covered with a coating of white plaster, which time had soiled and cracked. The vestibule was reached by ascending five stone steps, surmounted by a rude balustrade of rusty iron. A yard surrounded by outhouses, where the harvest was gathered into presses for the vintage, cellars for the wine, and a dovecote abutted on the house. Behind was situated a small kitchen-garden, whose beds were bordered with box, pinks, and fruit trees, pruned close down to the ground. An arbour was formed at the extremity of each walk. A little further on was an orchard, where the trees, inclining in a thousand attitudes, cast a degree of shade over an acre of cropped grass; then a large inclosure of low vines, cut in right lines by small green sward paths. Such is this spot. The gaze is turned from the gloomy and lowering horizon to the mountains of Beaujieu, spotted on their sides by black pines, and severed by large, inclined meadows, where the oxen of Charolais fatten, and to the valley of the Saone, that immense ocean of verdure, here and there topped by high steeples. The belt of the higher Alps, covered with snow, and the apex of Mont Blanc, which overhangs the whole, frame this extensive landscape."

Here madame Roland, with her intense love of nature, might have been happy; for she divided her time betwixt household cares, administering to the poor and sick, and long strolls among the valleys and woods. But her paradise was marred by a domineering mother-in-law, a rough brother-in-law who lived with them, and her commonplace, exacting husband.

But the first outbreak of the revolution put an end to this life of obscurity and subjection. Madame Roland's mind, nurtured on republicanism from a child, took fire instantly. Her conviction was, that this revival of liberty had come to regenerate the whole human race. All her internal disgust at the imperiousness and corruption of monarchy rekindled; her glowing enthusiasm burnt away every fear of man; she became no longer the follower but the leader of her husband. Her sentiments she communicated to all around her. She avenged herself, says her biographer, of her destiny, which refused her individual happiness, by sacrificing herself for the happiness of others. Happy and beloved, she would have been but a woman; unhappy and isolated, she became the leader of a party.

At first, the opinions of monsieur and madame Roland excited the hostility of the commercial magnates of Lyons, but the current of revolutionary opinion soon set in, and raised them to the head of society there. Roland was elected to the municipality, and the municipal council sent him to Paris to defend the commercial interests of Lyons in the committees of the national assembly. Once in Paris, madame Roland drew around them all the most determined spirits of the revolution. Besides Brissot, Petion, Buzot, Robespierre, who agreed to meet four evenings in the week in the salon of madame Roland, others came who imposed on her enthusiasm by ranting about liberty. Lanthenas - a young doctor, who afterwards betrayed his party - became more like an inmate of the house than a guest. Pache and Servan, Fabre d'Eglantine and Champfort, assembled there; and even Anacharsis Clootz showed his face, but found no favour. When the massacre of the Champ de Mars occurred, and the patriots fled to hide themselves, Roland and his wife sought out Robespierre to offer him an asylum - the man who afterwards sent this noble woman to the guillotine! Whenever Robespierre wanted a dinner, he used to go and ask for one of the woman whose blood he afterwards spilled. After the dissolution of the first assembly, Roland and his wife returned to La Platiere, but they very soon quitted it again for Paris. The principal names at this period discussed in the newspapers in Paris were those of Condorcet, Brissot, Danton; in the departments, those of Vergniaud, Gnadet, Isnard, Louvet, who were afterwards Girondists; and those of Thuriot, Merlin, Carnot, Couthon, Danton, Saint Just, who subsequently united with Robespierre, and were, by turns, his instruments and his victims. We have already mentioned the main features of the lives of several of these men. Amongst the Girondists, Condorcet was a philosopher, and he carried his peculiar philosophy into his politics. He was a disciple of Voltaire, D'Alembert, and Helvetius. His philosophy, therefore, was of the earth. He believed in the dignity of reason, and in the omnipotence of the understanding, with liberty as its handmaid. Heaven - the abode of all ideal perfections, and in which man places his most beautiful dreams - was limited by Condorcet to earth; his science was his virtue; the human mind his deity. Intellect illumined by science was, in his eyes, omnipotent, and would necessarily triumph over all difficulties, and renew the face of nature and the spirit of society. He had made of this system a line of politics, whose first idea was to adore the future and abhor the past. He was, in fact, one of the shallow and, at that time, multitudinous school who mistook the thing for the maker of it; the workman's tool for the workman, the finite mind for the infinite, and would have believed in the sun's rays and not in the sun, were it not forced so absolutely on their senses. Like all that class, whilst refusing to believe in what all the ages, and the wisest and best men of all the ages, have believed, he was ready to put full faith in things which are opposed to daily and hourly experience; namely, he believed that science could extend human life indefinitely, and that, in fact, men only died because they were ignorant; simply because they had not as yet learned how to live for ever, but they might do so if they followed science devotedly. Condorcet had not the gift of eloquence like Mirabeau, therefore he did not shine in the assembly; but he had his newspaper, the Cronique de Paris, in which he ridiculed royalty and Christianity, and, though naturally of a mild and amiable disposition, grew fierce and uncharitable in his politics.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 22

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