Thomas Paine in England and in France
PAINE landed at Havre in May, A. D. 1787, œt. suœ 50, with many titles to social success. He brought with him a literary fame which ranks higher in France than elsewhere ; and his works were in the fashionable line of the day. He had been an energetic actor in the American Revolution,— a subject of unbounded enthusiasm with Frenchmen, who look upon it, to this day, as an achievement of their own. And he could boast of a scientific spécialité, without which no intelligent gentleman was complete in the last third of the eighteenth century. Philosopher, American, republican, friend of humanity, savant,— he could show every claim to notice. Besides all this, and better than all, he brought letters from Franklin, the charming old man, whose fondness for “ that dear nation ” which he could not leave without regret was returned a thousand fold by its admiring affection. De Rayneval did not exaggerate when he wrote to him,—“ You will carry with you the affection of all France ” ; and De Chastellux told the simple truth in the graceful compliment he sent to the old sage after his return home, — “ When you were here, we had no need to praise the Americans ; we had only to say, ‘ Look ! here is their representative.’ ” Let us devoutly pray that our ambassadors may not be made use of for the same purpose now !
For these reasons, Paine’s reception in Paris was cordial ; visits and invitations poured in upon him ; he dined with Malesherbes ; M. Le Roy took him to Buffon’s, where he saw some interesting experiments on inflammable air ; the Abbé Morellet exerted himself to get the model of his bridge, which had been stopped at the custom-house, safely to Paris. Through their influence it was submitted to a committee of the Academie des Sciences ; their report was, in substance, that the iron bridge of M. Paine was ingénieusement imaginé,— that it merited an attempt to execute it, and furnished a new example of the application of a metal which had not yet been sufficiently used on a large scale.
Two other gentlemen from America, who were interested in science and in mechanics, were in Paris at that time. Rumsey was there with his model of a steamboat ; and Thomas Jefferson, whose curiosity extended to all things visible or audible, was busily collecting groundplans and elevations, and preparing to add at least two ugly buildings to a State “ over which,” as he himself wrote, “ the Genius of Architecture had showered his malediction.”
Unfortunately for inventors, the times were not favorable for the construction of boats or of bridges. A taste had sprung up in France for constitution-making, one of the most difficult and expensive of public works. A translation of the American State Constitutions attracted more attention in Paris than Paine’s iron-work ; for these also, the French thought, were ingénieusement imaginées, and worthy of an attempt to execute them abroad. The American Revolution, with its brilliant termination of wisdom, liberty, and peace, seemed to promise similar good results to the efforts of reformers elsewhere. Treatises on moral science and on the nature and end of civil government were eagerly read. “ Humanité, mot nouveau, ” as Cousin says, became the watchword of the Parisians. It was the fashion among all classes, high as well as low, to talk of human rights, to exalt the virtue of the people, hitherto supposed to have none, and to execrate “ bloody tyrants,” “ silly despots, ” the members of the kingly profession, which fell into such sad disfavor towards the end of the last century. Ségur, after his return from America, heard the whole court applaud these lines at the theatre : —
“Je suis fils de Brutus, et je porte en men cœur
La liberté gravée et les rois en horreur.”
None suspected whither the road would lead which they were pursuing with so much gayety and enlightenment. Philosophers, nobles, and parliaments all clamored for reform — in others ; and for the public good, provided their own goods did not suffer. The King meant reform ; he, at least, was in earnest. But how to get it? He had sought assistance from the middle classes ; had tried Turgot, the political economist, and Necker, the banker, as ministers ; but both broke down under the opposition of the nobility. Then Calonne volunteered, witty and reckless, and convoked the notables, or not-ables, as Lafayette called them in one of his American letters, borrowing a bad pun from Thomas Paine. Calonne could do nothing with the notables, who obstinately refused to submit to taxation. Brienne, Archbishop of Toulouse, took his place. This was in April, 1787, a month before Paine’s arrival in France. The notables suddenly became manageable under the new minister, and voted all the necessary taxes ; but now the parliaments grew restive, refused to register the edicts, declaring that they had not the legal right to consent to taxes, that the States-General alone had authority to impose new ones. Brienne, indignant at this perverseness,— for hitherto they had claimed the sole right of registering taxes,— forced them to register the stamp-tax and the land-tax, and exiled them to Troyes. This took place on the 15th of August. The same day the two brothers of the King went to register the edicts in the Cour des Comptes and the Cour des Aides. Monsieur was received with acclamations ; but D'Artois, who belonged to the unpopular Calonne party, was hissed and jostled by the crowd. Alarmed, he ordered his guard to close about him. “ I was standing in one of the apartments through which he had to pass, ” says Paine, “ and could not avoid reflecting how wretched is the condition of a disrespected man.”
Evidently no bridges to be built here at present. IT would be better to try in England, Paine thought, and in September crossed to London. Sir Joseph Banks, a great scientific authority, thought well of his model, and recommended the construction of one on a larger scale. The different parts of the new bridge were cast in a Yorkshire foundry belonging to Thomas Walker, a Whig friend of the inventor, brought by sea to London, and erected in an open field at Paddington, where the structure was inspected by great numbers of people. After standing there a year, it was taken down, and the materials used in building a bridge over the river Wear at Sunderland, of two hundred and thirty-six feet span, with a rise of thirty-four feet. This bridge is still in use.1
Paine had forgotten his bridge long before it was taken down. His soul was engrossed by the contemplation of the wonderful event which was daily developing itself in France. Bankruptey had brought on the crisis. In August, 1788, the interest was not paid on the national debt, and Brienne resigned. The StatesGeneral met in May of the next year ; in June they declared themselves a national assembly, and commenced work upon a constitution under the direction of Sièyes, who well merited the epithet, "indefatigable constitution-grinder,” applied to Paine by Cobbett. Not long after, the attempted coup d'état of Louis XVI. failed, the Bastille was demolished, and the political Saturnalia of the French people began.
It is evident, that, in the beginning, Paine did not aspire to be the political Prometheus of England. He rather looked to the Whig party and to Mr. Burke as the leaders in such a movement. As for himself, a veteran reformer from another hemisphere, he was willing to serve as a volunteer in the campaign against the oppressors of mankind. He had adopted for his motto, “ Where liberty is not, there is my country,” — a negative variation of Franklin’s saying, which suited his tempestuous character. As he flitted to and fro across the Channel, observing with sharp, eager eyes the progress of “principles” in France, gradually there arose in his mind the thought that poor, old, worn-out England might be regenerated by these new methods.
“ The French are doubling their strength,” he wrote, “ by allying, if it may be so expressed, (for it is difficult to express a new idea by old terms,) the majesty of the sovereign with the majesty of the nation.”
Paris swarmed with enthusiastic “ friends of humanity,” English, Scotch, and Irish. Among them Paine naturally took a foremost position, being an authority in revolutionary matters, and a man who had principles on the subject of government.
In spite of his contempt of titles, he wrote himself, “ Secretary for foreign Affairs to the Congress of the United States,” slightly improving upon the office he had actually held, to suit the sound to European capacity,— showing that in this, likewise, he possessed a genuine American element of character. Lafayette thought much of him, used his pen freely, and listened to his advice. The Marquis, warm-hearted, honest, but endowed with little judgment and a womanish vanity, was trying to make himself the Washington of a French federative republic, and felt happy in having secured the experienced services of Mr. Paine. He wrote to his great master,— “ ‘ Common Sense ’ is writing a book for you, and there you will see a part of my adventures. Liberty is springing up around us in the other parts of Europe, and I am encouraging it by all the means in my power.” Paine was in Paris when the Bastille was taken. Lafayette placed the key in his hands, to be transmitted to Washington. Paine wrote to the President, “ That the principles of America opened the Bastille is not to be doubted, and therefore the key comes to the right place.” Washington, returning his thanks to Paine for the key, added,—“It will give you pleasure to learn that the new government answers its purposes as well as could have been reasonably expected.” Yes ! and still answers reasonable purposes to this day. In the mean while dozens of French constitutions, “perfections of human wisdom,” have been invented, set up, and crushed to atoms.
It was a time of revival in politics. Holland was indulging in hope, Germany was anxious, and steady old England began to lend an ear to the new doctrines from the other side of the Channel. The tendency of the human mind to believe in a golden future, until knowledge of the world and reflection teach us that these bright visions always shrink into the ordinary dimensions of the present as they approach it, misled enthusiastic Englishmen, many of them of a high order of intelligence. There was something grand in the idea, that the prejudices and the abuses of twenty centuries had been buried forever in the ruins of the old French monarchy. This was not enough. All governments and all prejudices of society were to be thrown into the melting-pot ; out of the fusion was to arise the new era, the millennium. All other evil things would cease to exist, as well as monopolies, titles, places, and pensions. Sickness, even death, perhaps, might be evaded by the skill of a new science. Who could tell ? Franklin had suggested this, half in jest, years before ; Condorcet believed and asserted it now. Ignorance and misery, at all events, should come to an end. When kings and a wicked self-seeking aristocracy should be swept away, the divine sense of right, which God had implanted in the people, would rule ; there could be no wars ; armies and fleets would become useless ; taxes would amount to nothing. All the nations would form one grand republic, with a universal convention sitting at the world’s centre, to watch over the rights of man ! Liberty, virtue, happiness, seemed ready to descend upon the earth.
“ Jam nova progenies cœlo demittitur alto,
Ac toto surget gens aurea mundo.”
As each week brought the news of some stupendous change, a kind of madness seized upon the minds of men. Fanatics were jubilant. “ Revolutions,” they said, “ can do no wrong ; all are for the best.” Englishmen, hitherto sane, forgot their nationality, and became violent Frenchmen. So strongly did the current set in this direction, that the massacres of September, the execution of the King, the despotism of the Directory and the Consulship could not turn it, until Napoleon united all France under him and all England against him. As late as 1793, such men as James Watt, Jr., and the poet Wordsworth were in Paris, on intimate terms with Robespierre and his Committee.
Before 1789, there was no particular discontent in England. Some talk there had been of reform in the representation, and the usual complaints of the burden of taxation. The Dissenters had been trying to get the Corporation and Test Acts repealed, without much success. But nothing beyond occasional meetings and petitions to Parliament would have occurred, had it not been for the explosion in France, then, as since, the political powder-magazine of Europe. The Whig party had seen with pleasure the beginning of the French reforms. Paine, who had partaken of Mr. Burke’s hospitality at Beaconsfield, wrote to him freely from Paris, assuring him that everything was going on right ; that little inconveniences, the necessary consequences of pulling down and building up, might arise ; but that these were much less than ought to be expected ; and that a national convention in England would be the best plan of regenerating the nation. Christie, a foolish Scotchman, and Baron Clootz (soon to become Anacharsis) also wrote to Burke in the same vein. Their communications affected his mind in a way they little expected. Mr. Burke had lost all faith in any good result from the blind, headlong rush of the Revolution, and was appalled at the toleration, or rather, sympathy, shown in England, for the riots, outrages, and murders of the Parisian rabble. He began writing the " Reflections, ” as a warning to his countrymen. He was led to enlarge the work by some remarks made by Fox and Sheridan in the House of Commons ; and more particularly by some passages in a sermon preached at the Old Jewry by Dr. Price. Eleven years before, this scientific divine, by a resolution of the American Congress, had been invited to consider himself an American citizen, and to furnish the rebellious Colonists with his assistance in regulating their finances. He had disregarded this flattering summons. Full of zeal for “ humanity,” he eagerly accepted the request of the Revolution Society to deliver their anniversary sermon. In this discourse, the Doctor, the fervor of whose sentiments had increased with age, maintained the right of the nation “to cashier the king,” choose a new ruler, and frame a government for itself. The sermon and the congratulatory addresses it provoked were published by the society and industriously circulated.
Mr. Burke’s well-known “ Reflections” appeared in October, 1790. The book was hailed with delight by the conservatives of England. Thirteen thousand copies were sold and disseminated. It was a sowing of the dragon’s teeth. Every copy brought out some radical, armed with speech or pamphlet. Among a vulgar and forgotten crowd of declaimers, the harebrained Lord Stanhope, Mary Wolstonecraft, who afterward wrote a “Vindication of the Rights of Women,” and the violent Catharine Macaulay came forward to enter the ring against the great Mr. Burke. Dr. Priestley, Unitarian divine, discoverer of oxygen gas, correspondent of Dr. Franklin, afterward mobbed in Birmingham, and self-exiled to Pennsylvania, fiercely backed Dr. Price, and maintained that the French Revolution would result “ in the enlargement of liberty, the melioration of society, and the increase of virtue and happiness.” The “ Vindiciæ Gallicæ” brought into notice Mr, Mackintosh, an opponent whom Burke did not consider beneath him. But the champion was Thomas Paine. At the White Bear, Piccadilly, Paine’s favorite lounge, where Romney, who painted a good portrait of him, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Colonel Oswald, Horne Tooke, and others of that set of clever, impracticable reformers used to meet, there had been talk of the blow Mr. Burke was preparing to strike, and Paine had promised his friends to ward it off and to return it. He set himself to work in the Red-Lion Tavern, at Islington, and in three months, Part the First of the “ Rights of Man ” was ready for the press. Here a delay occurred. The printer who had undertaken the job came to a stop before certain treasonable passages, and declined proceeding farther. This caused the loss of a month. At last, Jordan, of Fleet Street, brought it out on the 13th of March, 1791. No publication in Great Britain, not Junius nor Wilkes’s No. 45, had produced such an effect. All England was divided into those who, like Cruger of Bristol, said “ Ditto to Mr. Burke,” and those who swore by Thomas Paine. “ It is a false, wicked, and seditious libel,” shouted loyal gentlemen. “ It abounds in unanswerable truths, and principles of the purest morality and benevolence ; it has no object in view but the happiness of mankind,” answered the reformers. “ He is the scavenger of rebellion and infidelity.” —" Say, rather, ' the Apostle of Freedom, whose heart is a perpetual bleeding fountain of philanthropy.’” The friends of the government carried Paine in effigy, with a pair of stays under his arms, and burned the figure in the streets. The friends of humanity added a new verse to the national hymn, and sung, —
“ God save great Thomas Paine,
His Rights of Man proclaim
From pole to pole ! ”
This pamphlet, which excited Englishmen of seventy years ago to such a pitch of angry and scornful contention, may be read safely now. Time has taken the sting from it. It is written in that popular style which was Paine’s extraordinary gift. He practised the maxim of Aristotle,— although probably he had never heard of it,—“ Think like the wise, and speak like the common people. ” Fox said of the " Rights of Man, ” “ It seems as clear and as simple as the first rule in arithmetic.” Therein lay its strength. Paine knew exactly what he wanted to say, and exactly how to say it. His positions may be wrong,—no doubt frequently are wrong,— but so clearly, keenly, and above all so boldly stated, and backed by such shrewd arguments and such apposite illustrations, that it is difficult not to yield to his common-sense view of the question he is discussing. His plain and perspicuous style is often elegant. He may sometimes be coarse and rude, but it is in the thought rather than in the expression. It is true, that, in the heat, of conflict, he is apt to lose his temper and break out into the bitter violence of his French associates ; but even the scientific and reverend Priestley “called names,” — apostate, renegade, scoundrel. This rough energy added to his popularity with the middle and the lower classes, and made him doubly distasteful to his opponents. Paine, who thought all revolutions alike, and all good, could not understand why Burke, who had upheld the Americans, should exert his whole strength against the French, unless he were “ a traitor to human nature.” Burke did Paine equal injustice. He thought him unworthy of any refutation but the pillory. In public, he never mentioned his name. But his opinion, and, perhaps, a little soreness of feeling, may be seen in this extract from a letter to Sir William Smith : —
“ He [ Paine] is utterly incapable of comprehending his subject. He has not even a moderate portion of learning of any kind. He has learned the instrumental part of literature, without having ever made a previous preparation of study for the use of it. Paine has nothing more than what a man, whose audacity makes him careless of logical consequences and his total want of honor makes indifferent to political consequences, can very easily write.”
The radicals thought otherwise. They drank Mr. Burke’s health with “thanks to him for the discussion he had provoked.” And the student of history, who may read Paine’s opening sketch of the French Revolution, written to refute Burke’s narrative of the same events, will not deny Paine’s complete success. He will even meet with sentences that Burke might have composed. For instance : Paine ridicules, as Quixotic, the fine passage in the “ Reflections on the Decay of Chivalry” ; and adds, “Mr. Burke’s mind is above the homely sorrows of the vulgar. He can only feel for a king or for a queen. The countless victims of tyranny have no place in his sympathies. He is not affected by the reality of distress touching upon his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird.”
The French constitution,—“a fabric of government which time could not destroy and the latest posterity would admire. ” This was the boast of the National Assembly, echoed by the English clubs. Even Mr. Fox, as late as April, 1791, misled by his own magniloquence, spoke of it as “ the most stupendous and glorious edifice of liberty which had been erected on the foundation of human integrity in any time or country.” Paine heartily concurred with him. Such a constitution as this, he said, is needed in England. There is no hope of it from Parliament. Indeed, Parliament, if it desired reforms, could not make them ; it has not the legal right. A national convention, fresh from the people, is indispensable. Then, reculant pour mieux sauter, Paine goes back to the origin of man,— a journey often undertaken by the political philosophers of that day. He describes his natural rights, —defines society as a compact,—declares that no generation has a right to bind its successors, (a doctrine which Mr. Jefferson, and some foolish people after him, thought a self-evident truth,)—hence, no family has a right to take possession of a throne. An hereditary rule is as great an absurdity as an hereditary professorship of mathematics,— a place supposed by Dr. Franklin to exist in some German university. Paine grew bolder as he advanced : “ If monarchy is a useless thing, why is it kept up anywhere ? and if a necessary thing, how can it be dispensed with ?” This is a pretty good specimen of one of Paine’s dialectical methods. Here is another : The French constitution says, that the right of war and of peace is in the nation. “Where else should it reside, but in those who are to pay the expense ? In England, the right is said to reside in a metaphor shown at the Tower for sixpence or a shilling.” Dropping the crown, he turned upon the aristocracy and the Church, and tore them. He begged Lafayette’s pardon for addressing him as Marquis. Titles are but nicknames. Nobility and no ability are synonymous. “ In all the vocabulary of Adam, you will find no such thing as a duke or a count.” The French had established universal liberty of conscience, which gave rise to the following Painean statement : “ With respect to what are
called denominations of religion,— if every one is left to judge of his own religion, there is no such thing as a religion which is wrong ; but if they are to judge of each other’s religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is right ;—and therefore all the world is right or all the world is wrong.” The next is better : “ Religion is man bringing to his Maker the fruits of his heart ; and though these fruits may differ from each other, like the fruits of the earth, the grateful tribute of every one is accepted.”
To encounter an antagonist like Burke, and to come off with credit, might stimulate moderate vanity into public selfexposure ; but in Paine vanity was the besetting weakness. It was now swollen by success and flattery into magnificent proportions. Franklin says, that, “ when we forbear to praise ourselves, we make a sacrifice to the pride or to the envy of others. ” Paine did not hesitate to mortify both these failings in his fellow-men. He praises himself with the simplicity of an Homeric hero before a fight. He introduces himself, without a misgiving, almost in the words of Pius Æneas,—
“ Sum Thomas Paine,
Famâ super æthera notus.”
“ With all the inconveniences of early life against me, I am proud to say, that, with a perseverance undismayed by difficulties, a disinterestedness that compels respect, I have not only contributed to raise a new empire in the world, founded on a new system of government, but I have arrived at an eminence in political literature, the most difficult of all lines to succeed and excel in, which aristocracy, with all its aids, has not been able to reach or to rival.” “I possess,” he wrote in the Second Part of the “ Rights of Man,” “ more of what is called consequence in the world than any one of Mr. Burke’s catalogue of aristocrats.” Paine sincerely believed himself to be an adept who had found in the rights of man the materia prima of politics, by which error and suffering might be transmuted into happiness and truth. A second Columbus, but greater than the Genoese ! Christopher had discovered a new world, it is true, but Thomas had discovered the means of making a new world out of the old. About this time, Dumont, the Benthamite, travelled with him from Paris to London. Dumont was irritated with “ his incredible amour-propre and his presumptuous self-conceit.” “ He was mad with vanity.” “ The man was a caricature of the vainest of Frenchmen. He believed that his book on the ‘ Rights of Man ’ might supply the place of all the books that had ever been written. If it was in his power, he would destroy all the libraries in the world without hesitation, in order to root out the errors of which they were the deposit, and so recommence by the ' Rights of Man ’ a new chain of ideas and principles.” Thus Paine and his wild friends had reached the point of folly in the reformer’s scale, and, like so many of their class since, made the fatal mistake of supposing that the old world knew nothing.
When Dumont fell in with Paine, he was returning from a flying visit to Paris, invigorated by the bracing air of French freedom. He had seen Pope Pius burned in effigy in the Palais Royal, and the poor King brought back a prisoner from Varennes,— a cheerful spectacle to the friend of humanity, lie was on his way to be present at a dinner given in London on the 14th of July, to commemorate the taking of the Bastille ; but the managers of the festivity thought it prudent that he should uot attend. He wrote, soon after, the address read by Horne Tooke to the meeting of the 20th of August, at the Thatched House tavern. So enlightened were the doctrines set forth in this paper, that the innkeeper declined receiving Mr. Tooke and his friends on any subsequent occasion. On the 4th of November, he assisted at the customary celebration of the Fifth by the Revolution Society, and gave, for his toast, “ The Revolution of the World.”
Meanwhile, Paine had reloaded his piece, and was now ready for another shot at kings, lords, and commons. A thousand guineas were offered for the copyright and refused. He declined to treat as a merchantable commodity principles of such importance to mankind. His plan was, to publish Part the Second on the day of the opening of Parliament ; but Chapman, the printer, became frightened, like his predecessor, at a treasonable paragraph, and refused to go on. A fortnight passed before work was resumed, and the essay did not appear until the 16th of February, 1792. It combined, according to the author, “ principles and practice. ” Part the First was now fully expounded, and enlarged by a scheme for diminishing the taxes and improving the condition of the poor, by making weekly allowances to young children, aged people, travelling workmen, and disbanded soldiers. This project of Paine, stated with the mathematical accuracy which was a characteristic of his mind, sprang from the same source as the thousand Utopianisms which form the ludicrous side of the terrible French Revolution.
Part the First was dedicated to Washington ; Part the Second bore the name of Lafayette. It is evident, from the second dedication, that Paine had kept pace with the railway speed of the Revolution, and had far outstripped the Marquis, who was not born to lead, or even to understand the period he attempted to direct. The foremost men of 1792 had no time to wait ;—“ Mankind are always ripe enough to understand their true interest, ” said Paine ; adding words which seemed to quiet Englishmen of fearful significance : —
“ I do not believe that monarchy and aristocracy will continue seven years longer in any of the enlightened countries of Europe. ” — “When France shall be surrounded with revolutions, she will be in peace and safety.”—“ From what we can learn, all Europe may form but one great republic, and man be free of the whole.”—“It is only a certain service that any man can perform in the state, and the service of any individual in the routine of office can never exceed the value of ten thousand pounds a year.” — “I presume that no man in his sober senses will compare the character of any of the kings of Europe with that of George Washington. Yet in France and in England the expenses of the Civil List only for the support of one man are eight times greater than the whole expense of the Federal government of America.”—“The time is not very distant when England will laugh at itself for sending to Holland, Hanover, Zell, or Brunswick, for men, at the expense of a million a year, who understand neither her laws, her language, or her interest, and whose capacities would scarcely have fitted them for the office of a parish constable. If government could be trusted to such hands, it must be some easy and simple thing indeed, and materials fit for all the purposes may be found in every town and village in England.”
Here is treasonable matter enough, surely ; and no wonder that Mr. Chapman judged it prudent to stop his press.
Paine sent fifty copies to Washington ; and wrote to him that sixteen thousand had been printed in England, and four editions in Ireland,— the second of ten thousand copies. Thirty thousand copies were distributed by the clubs, at their own expense, among the poor. Six months after the appearance of the Second Part, Paine sent the Society for Constitutional Information a thousand pounds, which he had received from the sale of the book. He then gave up the copyright to the public. The circulation of this tract was prodigious. The original edition had been printed in the same form as Burke’s “ Reflections,” in order that the antidote might be bound up with the bane. The high price preventing many from purchasing, Paine got out a cheap edition which was retailed at sixpence all over England and Scotland. It is said that at least one hundred thousand copies were sold, besides the large number distributed gratuitously. An edition was published iu the United States. It was translated into French by Dr. Lanthenas, a member of the National Convention, and into German by C. F. Krämer. Upon English readers of a certain class it retained a hold for many years. In 1820, Carlile, the bookseller, said, that in the preceding three years he had sold five thousand copies of the “ Rights of Man. ” Perhaps Cobbett’s resurrection of the bones of the prophet brought the book into fashion again at that time. It may yet be read in England ; but in this country, where a citizen feels that his rights are anything he may choose to claim, it is certainly a superfluous publication, and seldom met with.
In England, in 1792, Burke and Paine revived the royalist and republican parties, which had lain dormant since 1688. A new body of men, the manufacturing, entered the political field on the republican side. The contest was embittered not only by the anger of antagonism, but by the feeling of class. A radical of Paine’s school was considered by good society as a pestilent blackguard, unworthy of a gentleman’s notice,—much as an Abolitionist is looked down upon nowadays by the American “ Chivalry.” But the strife was confined to meetings, resolutions, and pamphlets. Few riots took place ; none of much importance. The gentlemen of England have never wanted the courage or the strength to take care of themselves.
The political clubs were the principal centres of agitation. There were two particularly active on the liberal side : the Revolution Society, originally founded to commemorate the Revolution of 1688, and the Society for Constitutional Information, established for the purpose of bringing about a reform in the representation. But the revolutionary changes in France had quickened their ideas, and had given them a taste for stronger and more rapid measures. They now openly “ resolved ” that England was “ a prey to an arbitrary King, a senile Peerage, a corrupt House of Commons, and a rapacious and intolerant Clergy.” A third club, the Corresponding Society, was younger and more violent, with branches and affiliations all over England on the Jacobins’ plan, and in active correspondence with that famous institution. The middle and lower classes in manufacturing towns, precursors of the Chartists of 1846, belonged to this society. Their avowed objects were annual parliaments and universal suffrage ; but many members were in favor of a national convention and a republic. The tone of all three societies became French ; they used a jargon borrowed from the other side of the Channel. They sent deputations to the National Convention, expressing their wish to adopt the republican form in England, and their hope of success. The Corresponding Society even sent addresses of congratulation after the massacres of September. Joel Barlow, the American, a man of the Paine genus, without his talent or honesty of purpose, went as Commissioner of the Society for Constitutional Information to the Convention,— carrying with him an address which reads like a translation from the French, and a thousand pair of shoes, with the promise of a thousand pair a week for six weeks to come.
On the other side there were, of course, numerous Tory associations, counter clubs, as violent as their republican antagonists, whose loyal addresses to the throne were duly published in the Gazette.
The probability of a revolution now became a subject of general discussion. Government, at last convinced that England, in the words of Mr. Burke, " abounded in factious men, who would readily plunge the country into blood and confusion for the sake of establishing the fanciful systems they were enamored of.” determined to act with vigor. A royal proclamation was issued against seditious writings. Paine received notice that he would be prosecuted in the King’s Bench. He came immediately to London, and found that Jordan, his publisher, had already been served with a summons, but, having no stomach for a contest with the authorities, had compromised the affair with the Solicitor of the Treasury by agreeing to appear and plead guilty. Such pusillanimity was beneath the mark of Paine’s enthusiasm. He wrote to McDonald, the Attorney-General, that he, Paine, had no desire to avoid any prosecution which the authorship of one of the most useful books ever offered to mankind might bring upon him ; and that he should do the defence full justice, as well for the sake of the nation as for that of his own reputation. He wound up a long letter by the very ungenerous insinuation, that Mr. Burke, not being able to answer the “ Rights of Man, " had advised legal proceedings.
The societies, checked for a moment by the blow struck at them, soon renewed their exertions. The sale of the “ Rights of Man ” became more extended than ever. Paine said that the proclamation served him for an advertisement. The Manchester and Sheffield branches of the Constitutional Society voted unanimously addresses of thanks to him for his essay, “ a work of the highest importance to every nation under heaven.” The newspapers were full of speeches, votes, resolutions, on the same subject. Every mail was laden with congratulations to the Jacobins on the coming time,—
“ When France shall reign, and laws be all repealed, ”
To the Radicals, the Genius of Liberty seemed to be hovering over England ; and Thomas Paine was the harbinger to prepare his way.
Differences of opinion, when frequently expressed in hard words, commonly lead to hard blows ; and the conservative classes of England were not men to hold their hands when they thought the proper time had come to strike. But the party which looked up to Paine as its apostle was not as numerous as it appeared to be from the noise it made. There is never a sufficiently large number of reckless zealots in England to do much mischief,— one of the greatest proofs of the inherent good sense of that people. Dr. Gall’s saying, “ Tout ce qui est ultrà est bête,” is worth his whole phrenological system. Measures and doctrines had now been pushed so far that a numerous and influential body of liberals called a halt,— the prelude of a union with the government forces.
Luckily for Paine, his French admirers stepped in at this critical moment to save him. Mons. Audibert, a municipal officer from Calais, came to announce to him that he was elected to the National Convention for that department. He immediately proceeded to Dover with his French friend. In Dover, the collector of the customs searched their pockets as well as their portmanteaus, in spite of many angry protestations. Finally their papers were returned to them, and they were allowed to embark. Paine was just in time ; an order to detain him arrived about twenty minutes after his embarkation.
The trial came on before Lord Kenyon. Erskine appeared for the absent defendant. The Attorney-General used, as his brief, a foolish letter he had received from Paine at Calais, read it to the jury, made a few remarks, and rested his case. The jury found Paine guilty without leaving their seats. Sentence of outlawry was passed upon him. Safe in France, he treated the matter as a capital joke. Some years later he found that it had a disagreeable meaning in it.
The prophet had been translated to another sphere of revolutionary unrest. His influence gradually died away. He dwindled into a mere name. “ But the fact remains,” to use his own words, “ and will hereafter be placed in the history of extraordinary things, that a pamphlet should be produced by an individual, unconnected with any sect or party, and almost a stranger in the land, that should completely frighten a whole government, and that in the midst of its triumphant security.”
Paine might have published his “ principles ” his life long without troubling many subjects of King George, had it not been for their combination with “practice” in France, — whither let us now follow him.
When he landed at Calais, the guard turned out and presented arms ; a grand salute was fired ; the officer in command embraced him and presented him with the national cockade ; a good-looking citoyenne asked leave to pin it on his hat, expressing the hope of her compatriots that he would continue his exertions in favor of liberty. Enthusiastic acclamations followed, —a grand chorus of Vive Thomas Paine ! The crowd escorted him to Dessein’s hotel,2 in the Rue de l'Egalité, formerly Rue du Roi, and shouted under his windows. At the proper time he was conducted to the Town Hall. The municipality were assembled to bestow the accolade fraternelle upon their representative. M. le Maire made a speech, which Audibert, who still had Paine in charge, translated. Paine laid his hand on his heart, bowed, and assured the municipality that his life should be devoted to their service. In the evening, the club held a meeting in the Salle des Minimes. The hall was jammed. Paine was seated beside the President, under a bust of Mirabeau, surmounted by the flags of France, England, and the United States. More addresses, compliments, protestations, and frantic cries of Vive Thomas Paine ! The séance was adjourned to the church, to give those who could not obtain admission into the Club Hall an opportunity to look at their famous representative. The next evening Paine went to the theatre. The state-box had been prepared for him. The house rose and vivaed as he entered.
When Calais had shouted itself hoarse, Paine travelled towards Paris. The towns he traversed on the road thither received him with similar honors. From the capital he addressed a letter of thanks to his fellow-citizens. Although he sat for Calais in the Convention, he had been chosen by three other departments. Priestley was a candidate for Paris, but was beaten by Marat, a doctor of another description. He was, however, duly elected in the department L’Orne, but never took his seat. Paine and Baron Clootz were the only foreigners in the Convention. Another stranger, of political celebrity out of doors, styled himself American as well as Paine, — Fournier l' Américain, a mulatto from the West Indies, whose complexion was not considered “ incompatible with freedom” in France,— a violent and blood-thirsty fellow, who shot at Lafayette on the dixsept Juillet, narrowly missing him,— led an attacking party against the Tuileries on the dix Août, and escaped the guillotine to be transported by Bonaparte.
In Paris, Paine was already a personage well known to all the leading men, — a great republican luminary, “ foreign benefactor of the species,” who had commenced the revolution in America, was making one in England, and was willing to help make one in France. His English works, translated by Lanthenas, a friend of Robespierre and co-editor with Brissot of the “ Patriote Francais,” had earned for him the dignity of citoyen Francais,— an honor which he shared with Mackintosh, Dr. Price, the Priestleys, father and son, and David Williams. He had furnished Lafayette with a good deal of his revolutionary rhetoric, had contributed to the Monthly Review of the Girondists and the “ Chronique de Paris, ” and had written a series of articles in defence of representative government, which Condorcet had translated for him. Paine was a man of one idea in politics ; a federal republic, on the American plan, was the only system of government he believed in, and the only one he wished to see established in France. Lafayette belonged to this School. So did Condorcet, Pétion, Buzot, and others of less note. Under Paine’s direction they formed a republican club, which met at Condorcet’s house. This federal theory cost them dear. In 1793, it was treason against the une et indivisible, and was punished accordingly.
After the flight to Varennes, Paine openly declared that the King was “a political superfluity.” This was true enough. The people had lost all respect for the man and for the office. None so base as to call him King. He was only the pouvoir exécutif, or more commonly still, Monsieur Veto. Achille Duchâtelet, a young officer who had served in America, called upon Dumont to get him to translate a proclamation drawn up by Paine, urging the people to seize the opportunity and establish a republic. It was intended to be a “ Common Sense” for France. Dumont refusing to have anything to do with it, some other translator was found. It appeared on the walls of the capital with Duchatelefs name affixed. The placard was torn down by order of the Assembly and attracted little attention. The French were not quite ready for the republic, although gradually approaching it. They seemed to take a pleasure in playing awhile with royalty before exterminating it.
The Abbé Sièyes was a warm monarchist. He wrote in the “ Moniteur,” that he could prove, “ on every hypothesis,” that men were more free in a monarchy than in a republic. Paine gave notice in Brissot's paper, that he would demolish the Abbé utterly in fifty pages, and show the world that a constitutional monarchy was a nullity, — concluding with the usual flourish about “ weeping for the miseries of humanity,” “ hell of despotism, ” etc., etc., the fashionable doxology of patriotic authors in that day. Sièves announced his readiness to meet the creat Paine in conflict. This passage of pens was interrupted by the publication of Part Second of the “ Rights of Man.” Before Paine returned to Paris, the mob had settled the question for the time, so far as the French nation were concerned.
Paine had also taken a leading part in some of the politico-theatrical entertainments then so frequent in the streets of Paris. At the festival of the Federation, in July, 1790, when Clootz led a “ deputation ” of the genre humain, consisting of an English editor and some colored persons in fancy dresses, Paine and Paul Jones headed the American branch of humanity and carried the stars and stripes. Not long after, Paine appears again marshalling a deputation of English and Americans, who waited upon the Jacobin Club to fraternize. Suitable preparations had been made by the club for this solemn occasion. The three national flags, united, were placed in the hall over the busts of Dr. Franklin and Dr. Price. Robespierre himself received the generous strangers ; but most of the talking seems to have been done by a fervid citoyenne, who took la parole and kept it. “ Let a cry of joy rush through all Europe and fly to America,” said she. “But hark ! Philadelphia and all its countries repeat, like us, Vive la Liberté !” To see a man of Paine’s clear sense and simple tastes pleased by such flummery as this shows us how difficult it is not to be affected by the spirit of the generation we live with, How could he have supposed that the new heaven upon earth of his dreams would ever be constructed out of such pinchbeck materials ?
It was now the year 1. of the Republic. The dix Août was over, the King a prisoner in the Temple. Lafayette, in his attempt to imitate his “ master,” Washington, had succeeded no better than the magician’s apprentice, who knew how to raise the demon, but not how to manage him when he appeared. He had gone down before the revolution, and was now le traître Lafayette, a refugee in Austria. Dumouriez commanded on the northeastern frontier in his place. France was still shuddering at the recollection of the prison-massacres of the Septembriseurs, and society, to use the phrase of a modern French revolutionist, was en procès de liquidation.
Paine got on very well, at first. The Convention was impressed with the necessity of looking up first principles, and Paine was emphatically the man of principles. A universal republic was the hope of the majority, with a convention sitting at the centre of the civilized world, watching untiringly over the rights of man and the peace of the human race. Meantime, they elected a committee to make a new constitution for France. Paine was, of course, selected. His colleagues were Sièves, Condorcet, Gensonné, Vergniaud, Pétion, Brissot, Barrère, and Danton. Of these nine, Paine and Sièyes alone survived the Reign of Terror. When, in due time, this constitution was ready to be submitted to the Convention, no one could be found to listen to the reading of the report. The revolution had outstripped the committee. Their labors proved as useless as the Treatise on Education composed by Mr. Shandy for the use of his son Tristram ;—when it was finished, the child had outgrown every chapter.
Thenceforward, we catch only occasional glimpses of Paine. In the days of his glory, he lived in the fashionable Rue de Richelieu, holding levees twice a week, to receive a public eager to gaze upon so great a man. His name appears at the fête civique held by English and Irish republicans at White’s Hotel. There he sat beside Santerre, the famous brewer, and proposed, as a sentiment, “ The approaching National Convention of Great Britain and Ireland. ” At this dinner, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, then an officer in the British service, gave, “ May the ‘Ça ira,' the ‘Carmagnole,’ and the ‘ Marseillaise ’ be the music of every army, and soldier and citizen join in the chorus, ” — a toast which cost him his commission, perhaps his life. We read, too, that Paine was struck in a café by some loyal, hot-headed English captain, who took that means of showing his dislike for the author of the “ Rights of Man.” The police sternly seized the foolish sou of Albion. A blow inflicted upon the sacred person of a member of the Convention was clearly sacrilege, punishable, perhaps, with death. But Paine interfered, procured passports, and sent the penitent soldier safely out of the country.
Speaking no French, for he never succeeded in learning the language, Paine’s part in the public sittings of the Convention must have been generally limited to eloquent, silence or expressive dumbshow. But when the trial of the King came on, be took a bold and dangerous share in the proceedings, which destroyed what little popularity the ruin of his federal schemes had left him, and came near costing him his head. He was already so great a laggard behind the revolutionary march, that he did not suspect the determination of the Mountain to put the King to death. Louis was guilty, no doubt, Paine thought, — but not of any great crime. Banishment for life, or until the new government be consolidated, — say to the United States, where he will have the inestimable privilege of seeing the working of free institutions; — once thoroughly convinced of his royal errors, morally, as well as physically uncrowned, he might safely be allowed to return to France as plain Citizen Capet : that should be his sentence. But the extreme left of the Convention and the constituent rabble of the galleries wanted to break with the past, and to throw a king’s head into the arena as wager of battle to the despots of Europe. The discovery of the iron safe in the palace offered, it was thought, sufficient show of evidence for the prosecution ; if not, they were ready to dispense with any. The case was prejudged ; the trial, a cruel and an empty form. There were two righteous men in that political Gomorrah, — Tronchet and the venerable Malesherbes. They offered their services to defend the unfortunate victim. Who can read Malesherbes’s noble letter to the President of the Convention, without thinking the better of French nature forever after ?
A fierce preliminary discussion arose in the Convention on the constitutional question of the King’s inviolability. Paine had no patience with the privileges of kingship and voted against inviolability. He requested that a speech he had prepared on the subject might be read to the House at once, as he wished to send off a copy to London for the English papers. This wretched composition was manifestly written for England. Paine had George III. in his mind, rather than Louis XVI. Here is a specimen of the style of it, — interesting, as showing the temper of the time, as well as of Member Thomas Paine :—“ Louis, as an individual, is an object beneath the notice of the Republic. But he ought to be tried, because a conspiracy has been formed against the liberty of all nations by the crowned ruffians of Europe. Louis XVI. is believed to be the partner of that horde, and is the only man of them you have in your power. It is indispensable to discover who the gang is composed of, and this may be done by his trial. It may also bring to light the detestable conduct of Mr. Guelph, Elector of Hanover, and be doing justice to England to make them aware of it. It is the interest of France to be surrounded by republics, and that revolutions be universal. If Louis XVI. can serve to prove, by the flagitiousness of government in general, the necessity of revolutions, France ought not to let slip so precious an opportunity. Seeing no longer in Louis XVI. but a weakminded and narrow-spirited individual, ill-bred, like all his colleagues, given, as it is said, to frequent excesses of drunkenness, and whom the National Assembly raised again imprudently to a throne which was not made for him,— if we show him hereafter some pity, it shall not be the result of the burlesque idea of a pretended inviolability.”
A secretary read this speech from the tribune,—Paine standing near him, silent, furnishing perhaps an occasional gesture to mark the emphasis. The Convention applauded warmly, and ordered it to be printed and circulated in the departments.
When the King was found guilty, and it came to the final vote, whether he should be imprisoned, banished, or beheaded, the Girondins, who had spoken warmly against the death-penalty, voted for it, overawed by the stormy abuse of the galleries. Paine, coarse and insolent, but not cowardly or cruel, did not hesitate to vote for banishment. He requested the member from the Pas de Calais to read from the tribune his appeal in favor of the King, Drunau attempted to do it, but was hooted down. Paine persisted,— presented his speech again the next day. Marat objected to its reception, because Paine was a Quaker, and opposed to capital punishment on principle ; but the Convention at last consented to the reading. After alluding to the allimportant assistance furnished by Louis XVI. to the insurgent American Colonies, Paine, as a citizen of both countries, proposed sending him to the United States. “ To kill Louis, ” wrote Paine,
“ is not only inhuman, but a folly. It will increase the number of your enemies. France has but one ally, —the United States of America, — and the execution of the King would spread an universal affliction in that country. If I could speak your language like a Frenchman, I would descend a suppliant to your bar, and in the name of all my brothers in America present to you a petition and prayer to suspend the execution of Louis.” The Mountain and the galleries roared with rage. Thuriot exclaimed,— “ That is not the true language of Thomas Paine.”
“ I denounce the translator,” shrieked venomous Marat ; “ these are not the opinions of Thomas Paine ; it is a wicked and unfaithful translation.”
Coulon affirmed, solemnly, that he had seen the original in Paine’s hands, and that it was exact. The reader was finally allowed to resume. “ You mean to send an ambassador to the United States. Let him announce to the Americans that the National Convention of France, from pure friendship to America, has consented to respite the sentence of Louis. Ah, Citizens, do not give the despot of England the pleasure of seeing sent to the scaffold the man who helped my beloved brethren of America to free themselves from his chains !”
Soon after the execution of the King, Paris fell into the hands of the lowest classes. Their leaders ruled with terrible energy. Chabot’s dictum,— " Il n’y a pas? de crimes en révolution, ” and Stablekeeper Drouet’s exclamation, — “ Soyons brigands pour le bonheur du peuple, ” contain the political principles which guided them. Marat thundered away in his paper against Brissotins, Girondins, federalism, and moderantism. The minority members, thus unpleasantly noticed, went armed ; many of them dared not sleep at home. Soon came the arrest of the suspects. The 31st of May, cette insurrection toute morale, as Robespierre called it, followed next. The Convention was stormed by the mob and purged of Brissotins and Girondins. The Comité de Salut Public decreed forced loans and the levée en masse. Foreigners were expelled from the Convention and imprisoned throughout France. Mayor Bailly, Mme. Roland, Manuel, and their friends, passed under the axe. The same fate befell the Girondins, a party of phrasemakers who have enjoyed a posthumous sentimental reputation, but who, when living, had not the energy and active courage to back their fine speeches. The reductio ad horribile of all the fine arguments in favor of popular infallibility and virtue had come ; neither was the reductio ad absurdum wanting. The old names of the days and months and years were changed. The statues of the Virgin were torn from the little niches in street-walls, and the busts of Marat and Lepelletier set up in their stead. The wouldbe God, soi-disant Dieu, was banished from France. Clootz and Chaumette, who called themselves Anacharsis and Anaxagoras, celebrated the worship of the Goddess of Reason. Bonfires of feudality ; Goddesses of Liberty in plaster ; trees of liberty planted in every square ; altars de la patrie ; huge ragdolls representing Anarchy and Discord ; Cleobis and Biton dragging their revered parents through the streets ; bonnets rouges, banderolles, ça iras, carmagnoles, fraternisations, accolades ; the properties, as well as the text of tlie plays, borrowed from Ancient Greece or Rome. What a bewildering retrospect ! A period well summed up by Emerson : — “ To-day, pasteboard and filigree ; to-morrow, madness and murder.” Tigre-singe, Vol-
taire's epigrammatic definition, describes his countrymen of the Reign of Terror in two words.
Neglected by all parties, and disgusted with all, Paine moved to a remote quarter of Paris, and took rooms in a house which had once belonged to Mme, de Pompadour. Brissot, Thomas Christie, Mary Wolstonecraft, and Joel Barlow were his principal associates. Two Englishmen, “ friends of humanity,” and an ex-officer of the garde-du-corps lodged in the same building. The neighborhood was not without its considerable persons. Sanson, most celebrated of headsmen, had his domicile in the same section. He called upon Paine, complimented him in good English upon his “ Rights of Man, ” which he had read, and offered his services in a polite manner.
When the Reign of Terror was fully established, the little party seldom left their walls, and amused themselves as best they could with conversation and games. The news of the confusion and alarm of Paris reached them in their retreat, as if they were miles away in some quiet country residence. Every evening the landlord went into the city and brought back with him the horrible story of the day. “ As to myself, ” Paine wrote to Lady Smith, “ I used to find some relief by walking in the garden and cursing with hearty good-will the authors of that terrible system that had turned the character of the revolution I had been proud to defend.”
After some weeks, the two Englishmen contrived to escape to Switzerland, leaving their enthusiasm for humanity behind them. Two days later, a file of armed men came to arrest them. Before the month was out, the landlord was carried off in the night. Last of all came the turn of Paine. He was arrested in December, by order of Robespierre, “ for the interest of America, as well as of France, as a dangerous enemy of liberty and equality.” On his way to the Luxembourg, he stopped at Barlow’s lodgings and left with him the First Part of the “ Age of Reason,” finished the day before. The Americans in Paris applied to the Convention for Paine’s release, offering themselves as security for his good conduct during his stay in France. They rounded off their petition with a phrase of the prisoner’s,—“ Ah, Citizens ! do not give the leagued despots of Europe the pleasure of seeing Thomas Paine in irons.” This document was presented by a Major Jackson, a “ volunteer character,” who had come to Europe with a letter of introduction to Gouverneur Morris, then minister, from Mr. Jefferson. Instead of delivering his letter to Morris, Jackson lodged it with the Comité de Salut Public as a credential, and represented his country on the strength of it. The Convention, careless of the opinion of the “ leagued despots,” as well as of Major Jackson, replied, that Paine was an Englishman, and the demand for his release unauthorized by the United States. Paine wrote to Morris to request him to demand his discharge of the citizen who administered foreign affairs. Morris did so ; but this official denied that Paine was an American. Morris inclosed this answer to Paine, who returned a shrewd argument in his own behalf, and bogged Morris to lay the proofs of his citizenship before the minister. But Morris disliked Paine, and his own position in France was far from satisfactory. It is probable that he was not very zealous in the matter, and shortly after Paine’s letter all communication with prisoners was forbidden.
The news of the outer world reached these unfortunates, penned up like sheep waiting for the butcher, only when the doors of the dungeon opened to admit a new faurnée, or batch of victims, as the French pleasantly called them. They knew then that the revolution had made another stride forward, and had trodden these down as it moved on. Paine saw them all — Ronsin. Hébert, Momoro, Chamnette, Clootz, Gobel, the crazy and the vile, mingled together, the very men he had cursed in his garden at St. Denis—pass before him like the shadows of a magic-lantern, entering at one side and gliding out at the other,— to death. A few days later came Danton, Camille, Desmoulins, and the few who remained of the moderate party. Paine was standing near the wicket when they were brought in. Danton embraced him. “ What you have done for the happiness and liberty of your country I have in vain tried to do for mine. I have been less fortunate, but not more culpable. I am sent to the scaffold.” Turning to his friends,— “ Eh, him ! mes amis, allons y gaiement.” Happy Frenchmen ! What a consolation it was to them to be thus always able to take an attitude and enact a character ! Their fondness for dramatic display must have served them as a moral anæsthetic in those scenes of murder, and have deadened their sensibility to the horrors of their actual condition.
In July, the carnage had reached its height. No man could count upon life for twenty-four hours. The tall, the wise, the reverend heads had been taken off, and now the humbler ones were insecure upon their shoulders. FouquierTinville had erected a guillotine in his court-room, to save time and transportation. Newsboys sold about the streets printed lists of those who were to suffer that day. “Voici ceux qui out gagne a la loterie de la Sainte Guillotine ! ” they cried, with that reckless, mocking, bloodthirsty spirit which is found only in Frenchmen, or, perhaps, in their fellowCelts. It seemed to Paine that Robespierre and the Committee were afraid to leave a man alive. He expected daily his own summons ; but he was overlooked. There was nothing to be gained by killing him, except the mere pleasure of the thing.
He ascribed his escape to a severe attack of fever, which kept him out of sight for a time, and to a clerical error on the part of the distributing jailer. He wrote this account of it, after his return to America : — “ The room in which I was lodged was on the ground-floor, and one of a long range of rooms under a gallery, and the door of it opened outward and flat against the wall, so that, when it was opened, the inside of the door appeared outward, and the contrary when it was shut. I had three fellow-prisoners with me,— Joseph Van Huile of Bruges, Michel and Robin Bastini of Louvain. When persons by scores were to be taken out of prison for the guillotine, it was always done in the night, and those who performed that office had a private mark by which they knew what rooms to go to and what number to take. We, as I have said, were four, and the door of our room was marked, unobserved by us, with that number in chalk ; but it happened, if happening is a proper word, that the mark was put on when the door was open and flat against the wall, and thereby came on the inside when we shut it at night, and the destroying angel passed by it.” Paine thought his escape providential ; the Orthodox took a different view of it.
After the fall of Robespierre, in Thermidor, seventy-three members of the Convention, who had survived the Reign of Terror, resumed their seats. But Paine was not released. Monroe had superseded Morris in August, but had no instructions from his government. Indeed, as Paine had accepted citizenship in France, and had publicly acted as a French citizen, it was considered, even by his friends, that he had no claim to the protection of the United States. Paine, as was natural, thought differently. He wrote to Monroe, explaining that French citizenship was a mere compliment paid to his reputation ; and in any view of the case, it had been taken away from him by a decree of the Convention. His seat in that body did not affect his American status, because a convention to make a constitution is not a government, but extrinsic and antecedent to a government. The government once established, he would never have accepted a situation under it. Monroe assured him that he considered him an American citizen, and that “ to the welfare of Thomas Paine Americans are not nor can they be indifferent,”— with which fine phrase Paine was obliged to be satisfied until November. On the fourth of that month he was released. The authorities of Thermidor disliked the Federalist government, and Paine was probably kept in prison some additional months on account of Monroe’s application for his discharge.
He left the Luxembourg, after eleven months of incarceration, with unshaken confidence in his own greatness and in the truth of his principles,— but in appearance and in character another man, with only the tatters of his former self hanging about him. A certain elegance of manner and of dress, which had distinguished him, was gone. He drank deep, and was noisy. His fondness for talking of himself had grown to such excess as to destroy the conversational talents which all his contemporaries who speak of him describe as remarkable. “ I will venture to say that the best thing will be said by Mr. Paine ” : that was Horne Tooke’s prophecy, talking of some proposed dinner-party.
Demoralized by poverty, with ruined health, his mind had become distorted by physical suffering and by brooding over the ingratitude and cruel neglect of the American people, who owed, as he really believed, their very existence as a nation to him. “ Is this what I ought to have expected from America,” he wrote to General Washington, “ after the part I have acted towards her ? ” “I do not hesitate to say that you have not served America with more fidelity or greater zeal or more disinterestedness than myself, and perhaps not with better effect.” Henceforth he was a man of two ideas : he engrafted his resentment upon his “Rights of Man,” and thought himself carrying out his theory while indulging in his wrath. He poured the full measure of his indignation upon the party who directed affairs in the United States, and upon the President. In two long letters, composed after his release, under Monroe’s roof, he accused Washington of conniving at his imprisonment, to keep him, Paine, “ the marplot of all designs against the people,” out of the way. “ Mr. Washington and his new-fangled party were rushing as fast as they dared venture into all the vices and corruptions of the British government ; and it was no more consistent with the policy of Mr. Washington and those who immediately surrounded him than it was with that of Robespierre or of Pitt that I should survive.” As he grew more angry, he became more abusive. He ridiculed Washington’s “ cold, unmilitary conduct” during the War of Independence, and accused his administration, since the new constitution, of “ vanity,” “ingratitude,” “ corruption,” “ bare-faced treachery,” and “ the tricks of a sharper.” He closed this wretched outbreak of peevishness and wounded self-conceit with the following passage : —
“ And as to you, Sir, treacherous in private friendship (for so you have been to me, and that in the day of danger) and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor,
— whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether yon ever had any.”
The remains of the old Convention invited Paine to resume his place in their assemblage. A committee of eleven, unaided by his experience, had been working at a new constitution, the political spring-fashion in Paris for that year. It was the plan since known as the Directoire, reported complete about the time Paine reappeared in the Convention. Disapproving of some of the details of this instrument, Paine furbished up his old weapons, and published “ A Dissertation on the First Principles of Government.” This tract he distributed among members,
— the libretto of the speech he intended to make. Accordingly, on the 5th of July, on motion of his old ally, Lanthenas, who had managed to crawl safely through the troubles, permission was granted to Thomas Paine to deliver his sentiments on the “ Declaration of Rights and the Constitution.” He ascended the tribune for the last time, and the secretary read the translation. He began, of course, with rights ; but qualified them by adding, that, when we consider rights, we ought always to couple with them the idea of duties,— a happy union, which did not strike him before the Reign of Terror, and which is almost always overlooked. He then brought forward his universal political specific and panacea,— representative government and a written constitution. “ Had a constitution been established two years ago,” he said, “ (as ought to have been done,) the violences that have since desolated France and injured the character of the Revolution would, in my opinion, have been prevented.” There is nothing else in his speech of interest to us, except, that, in attacking a property qualification, which was wisely inserted in the new system, he made use of the reductioad-absurdum illustration so often attributed to Dr. Franklin:—" When a broodmare shall fortunately produce a foal or a mule that by being worth the sum in question shall convey to its owner the right of voting, or by its death take it from him, in whom does the origin of such a right exist ? Is it in the man or in the mule ? ”
The new government went into operation in September, 1795. Bonaparte’s lesson to the insurgents of Vendémiaire, in front of the Church of St. Roche, followed immediately after. On the 26th of October, the Convention was dissolved, and Paine ceased to be a legislator for France.
He was no longer an object of consideration to Frenchmen, whose faith in principles and in constitutions was nearly worn out. Poor and infirm, indebted to Monroe’s hospitality for a lodging, he remained eighteen months under the roof of the Embassy, looking for an opportunity to get back to America. Monroe wished to send him as bearer of dispatches before the dissolution of the Convention. But a member of that body could not leave France without a passport from it. To apply for it would have announced his departure, and have given the English government a chance to settle the old account they had against him. After Monroe had returned to the United States, Paine engaged his passage, and went to Havre to embark ; but the appearance of a British frigate off the port changed his plans. The sentence of outlawry, a good joke four years before, had now become an unpleasant reality. So he travelled back to Paris, full of hate against England, and relieved his mind by writing a pamphlet on the “ Decline and Fall of the English System of Finance,” a performance characteristic of the man,— sound, clear sense mixed with ignorance and arrogance. He attempted to show arithmetically that the English funding system could not continue to the end of Mr. Pitt’s life, supposing him to live to the usual age of man. The calculation is ingenious, but has not proved to be as accurate as some of Newton’s. On the other hand, his remarks on paper money are excellent, and his sneer at the Sinking Fund, then considered a great invention in finance, well placed : — “ As to Mr. Pitt’s project for paying off the national debt by applying a million a year for that purpose while he continues adding more than twenty millions a year to it, it is like setting a man with a wooden leg to run after a hare; — the longer he runs, the farther he is off.” The conclusion is one of his peculiar flourishes of his own trumpet : — “ I have now exposed the English system of finance to the eyes of all nations, — for this work will be published in all languages. As an individual citizen of America, and as far as an individual can go, I have revenged (if I may use the expression without any immoral meaning) the piratical depredations committed on the American commerce by the English government.”
From Monroe’s departure until the year 1802, little is known of Paine. He is said to have lived in humble lodgings with one Bonneville, a printer, editor of the “ Bouche de Fer” in the good early days of the Revolution. He must have kept up some acquaintance with respectable society ; for we find his name on the lists of the Cercle Constitutionnel, a club to which belonged Talleyrand, Benjamin Constant, and conservatives of that class who were opposed to both the bonnetrouge and the fleur-de-lis. Occasionally he appears above the surface with a pamphlet. Polities were his passion, and to write a necessity of his nature. If public matters interested him, an essay of some kind made its way into print. When Babœuf’s agrarian conspiracy was crushed, Paine gave the world his views on “ Agrarian Justice.” Every man has a natural right to a share in the land ; but it is impossible that every man should exercise this right. To compensate him for this loss, he should receive at the age of twenty-one fifteen pounds sterling ; and if he survive his fiftieth year, ten pounds per annum during the rest of his life. The funds for these payments to be furnished by a tax on inheritances.
Camille Jourdain made a report to the Five Hundred on priests and public worship, in which he recommended, inter alia, that the use of church-bells and the erection ot crosses be again permitted by law. This reactionary measure excited Paine’s liberal bigotry. He published a letter to Jourdain, telling him that priests were useless and bells public nuisances. Another letter may be seen, offering his subscription of one hundred francs to a fund for the invasion of England,— a favorite project of the Directory, and the dearest wish of Paine’s heart. He added to his mite an offer of any personal service he could render to the invading army. When Carnot, Barthélémy, and Pichegru were expelled from power by the coup d’état of the 18th Fructidor,— a military demonstration against the Republic,— Paine wrote an address to the people of France and to the French armies, heartily approving of the summary method that had been adopted with these reactionists, who must have their bells and their priests. He did not then perceive the real significance of the movement.
On one remarkable occasion, Paine made a full-length appearance before the French public, — not in his character of a political philosopher, but as a moralist. Robespierre, a few days before his fall, declared atheism to be aristocratic, reinstated l’Etre supreme, and gave a festival in his honor. There religious matters had rested. Deism, pure and simple, was the faith of true republicans, and the practice of morality their works. But deism is a dreary religion to the mass of mankind, and the practice of morality can never take the place of adoration. The heart must be satisfied, as well as the conscience. Larévillière, a Director, of irreproachable character, felt this deficiency of their system, and saw how strong a hold the Catholic priesthood had upon the common people. The idea occurred to him of rivalling the churches by establishing regular meetings of moral men and women, to sing hymns of praise to the Almighty, “ one and indivisible,” and to listen to discourses and exhortations on moral subjects. Haüy, a brother of the eminent crystallogist, assembled the first society of Theophilanthropists, (lovers of God and man,) as they called themselves. They held their meetings on the day corresponding to Sunday. They had their manual of worship and their book of canticles. Their dogmas were the existence of one God and the immortality of the soul. And they wisely said nothing about matters which they did not believe. Paine, who in his “ Age of Reason ” had attempted to prepare a theology ad usum reipublicœ, felt moved by the spirit of morality, and delivered a sermon to one of these Theopliilanthropist congregations. His theme was the existence of God and the propriety of combining the study of natural science with theology. He chose, ot course, the a-posteriori argument, and was brief, perhaps eloquent. Some passages of his discourse might pass unchallenged in the sermon of an Orthodox divine. He kept this one ready in his memory of brass, to confound all who accused him of irreligion : —“ Do we want to contemplate His power ? We see it in the immensity of the creation. Do we want to contemplate His wisdom ? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed. Do we want to contemplate His mercy ? We see it in His not withholding His abundance even from the unthankful. In fine, do we want to know what God is? Search not written books, but the Scriptures called the Creation. ”
If it were possible to establish a new cultus, based upon mere abstract principles, Frenchmen, we should say, would be about the last people who could do it. This new worship, like any other play, drew well as long as it was new, and no longer. The moral men and women soon grew tired of it, and relapsed into the old faith and the old forms.
The end of all this child’s play at government and at religion came at last. Bonaparte, checked at Acre by Sir Sydney Smith, left the East, landed in France in October, 1799, sent a file of grenadiers to turn Ancients and Five Hundred out of their halls, and seated himself in the chair of state.
After this conclusive coup d’état, Paine sunk out of sight. The First Consul might have examined with interest the iron bridge, but could never have borne with the soiled person and the threadbare principles of the philosopher of two hemispheres. Bonaparte loved neatness and elegance, and disliked idéologues and bavards, as he styled all gentlemen of Paine’s turn of mind.
In 1802, after the peace with England, Paine set sail from Havre to end his days in the United States. Here we leave him. We have neither space nor inclination to sum up his virtues and his vices in these columns, and to give him a character according to the balance struck. We have sketched a few outlines of his history as we have found it scattered about in newspapers and pamphlets. Our readers may make up their own minds whether this supposed ally of the Arch Enemy was as black as he has been painted.
- Stephenson says, in rather bad English, (we quote from the Quarterly),— “if we are to consider Paine as its author, his daring in engineering certainly does full justice to the fervor of his political career ; for, successful as the result has undoubtedly proved, want of experience and consequent ignorance of the risk could alone have induced so bold an experiment ; and we are rather led to wonder at than to admire a structure which, as regards its proportions and the small quantity of material employed in its construction, will probably remain unrivalled,”—thus resembling the spider's web, which furnished the original suggestion. In 1801, when Paine had exhausted his theory of human rights in France, he offered his plan to Chaptal, the Minister of the Interior, who proposed to build an iron bridge over the Seine. Two years later, after his return to America, he addressed a memorial to Congress on the same subject,offering the nation the invention as a free gift, and his own services to superintend the structure ; but neither Chaptal nor Congress thought fit to accept his offer.↩
- See Sterne's Sentimental Journey.↩