Queen of France;
by Mrs. Mary Robinson.
John Bell, British Library, Strand,
Bookseller to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.
1791M DCC XCI.
[Price: One Shilling and Sixpence.]
Impartial Reflections, &c. &c. &c.
That the poison of popular prejudice too often subdues the influence of reason, and that impressions made by the fabulous Tales of misguided enthusiasm at length become habitual associates of the mind, and operate on the judgment, as forcibly as conviction itself――are facts not to be controverted.―― Neither the eloquence of a Cicero, nor the pen of a Junius, could diffuse the pure light of impartiality over feelings rendered callous by the persevering malignity of reiterated calumnies. That prejudice, in its most inveterate form, is now spreading its increasing mischiefs over Europe, too evidently B 6 B1v 6 appears to the impartial observer; the absurd fabrications, the ridiculous inuendoes, the cruel sarcasms and unprecedented reproaches thrown upon the conduct of an illustrious Character, call forth from every feeling mind both indignation and pity.
That an enlightened nation, emancipating from slavery by the most sublime and dignified enthusiasm, bursting through the bonds of galling subjection by an effort of celestial energy, and scarcely yet recovered from the agonies of corroding oppression, should suffer the standard of liberty to fan the embers of persecution, and re-illumine the dying flame of popular frenzy, is a contradiction as extraordinary as it is undefinable.
To rule, is one of the most acknowledged propensities of human nature; but where 7 B2r 7 there is not judgment to circumscribe, and philanthropy to harmonize the insatiable craving after power; reason becomes the dupe of supposed pre-eminence, and the proudest faculties of the soul degenerate into mere instruments, for the purpose of ungovernable ambition.
To the generality of mankind there are strong fascinations in the tinsel blandishments of worldly superiority. The petty tyrant, who lords it over his vassal, feels as exquisitely gratified, as supremely elevated, as the possessor of a throne, who beholds millions groaning under the ponderous yoke of despotism, waiting his mandate, and bowing the knee of subservience before the footstool of his vaunted omnipotence.――From the man whose mind is warped by the barbarous exercise of mistaken severity, or chilled into apathy by an uninterrupted series 8 B2v 8 of reiterated sway――the writer of these pages turns with indignation and abhorrence; the Philosopher, the Philanthropist, the Patriot, the Christian, shudders at the bare semblance of such a character. Eloquence cannot adorn him, nor sophistry render him amiable in the opinion of enlightened men; such a being, though possessed of intellects the most powerful, and talents the most exalted, degenerates into a brute, and, by the perversion of the most brilliant attributes of nature, renders himself a disgrace to his country, and an outcast of society.
The present situation of France awakens the feelings, and calls forth the attention of all nations: that the Revolution is the most glorious achievement in the annals of Europe, is universally felt and acknowledged. That oppression often rouses distress to 9 B3r 9 vengeance, is incontrovertible: that the seeds of liberty are implanted in every human heart, cherished in every climate, and form a part of our instinctive minds, even from the earliest infancy, cannot be denied. Man is a Commoner of Nature, his soul is impregnated with the spirit of independence, and revolts at the attacks of oppression, in whatever garb or shape it may preent itself. The liberal and enlightened Philanthropist looks down with pity on the hardened insensibility of the misguided oppressor; shrinks from the goading trammels of the sordid depredator; and Humanity shudders at the ravages of dauntless Ambition.
The man who preaches humility, and practices submission, to the varying fluctuations of capricious fortune, when the former is the offspring of necessity, and the 10 B3v 10 latter the effect of obligation, cannot impose upon the meanest understanding; but to bear the fullest sunshine of prosperity; to bask in the radiant beams of unlimited power, and to guide the helm of dispassionate reason through the broad torrent of popularity, with unassuming urbanity; is more than philosophy, it is the very essence of Virtue; the perfection of Intellect; the glory of Humanity!
That every instrument of good may be perverted into the basest uses, has been evinced on a variety of occasions: Wealth, Power, Eloquence, and Beauty, have too often proved the destruction and disgrace of those who have possessed them: the wealthy villain never fails to find a needy slave, ready to become the instrument of his depravity; the tyrant commands the creature of his power, who, in his turn, 11 B4r 11 becomes the petty oppressor: the smooth- tongued sycophant, beguiles you with his sophistry; and the canker of seduction, too often preys upon the roseate bloom of unsuspecting innocence; inordinate and low desires, are generally the strong characteristics of weak and sordid minds; yet, we have seen instances, where the finest graces of nature, the united gifts of genius and penetration, aided by all the cultivations of education and experience, have been so corrupted by example, and so tarnished by the breath of adulation, that scarce a single ray of virtue spread its influence over the sullen obscurity of a disgraceful existence.
A vacuity of Mind, is the most dangerous calamity that can threaten humanity; active by nature, formed for perpetual avocation, impregnated with the fertility of reason, and capable, if properly exercised, 12 B4v 12 of the most extensive cultivation, when once suffered to derive its resources from trivial dissipation, and unsubstantial enjoyment; satiety produces languor; languor sinks into apathy, little better than total annihilation; every faculty of the soul partakes of the poisonous torpidity; the weakness of idiotism freezes the whole system of human knowledge; and the strength of animated reason, dwindles into the vapid insipidity of childish insignificance.
We look back with a mixture of admiration and pity, on the characters of some of the most distinguished personages whose names are enrolled on the records of this country. The personal bravery, perseverance, and political penetration of a Cromwell, serve as luminaries, to point out the shadowy defects of pride, presumption, and an insatiable thirst after power.――The 13 C1r 13 magnanimity of Elizabeth, whose strength of mind, elevated almost to a degree of masculine fortitude, often yielded to the very lowest influence of puerile vanity, and feminine weakness: the meanness of suspicion, the humiliation of jealousy, and the gratification of implacable revenge, spread the dark veil of reproach over her reign, and she frequently was known to sacrifice the most exquisite feelings of pity and generosity, to the capricious extravagancies of a vain and imperious nature.
Let us for a moment take an impartial retrospect of the striking contrast between the victorious, the fortunate, the vain Elizabeth, and the amiable, the illustrious Queen of France: born the daughter of an Empress, nursed in the bosom of imperial power――gifted by the prolific hand of nature, with all the fascinating graces of C 14 C1v 14 transcendent beauty, blended with an innate dignity of mind, approaching to divinity itself; transplanted from her native soil, where she had enjoyed the adoration of all who had witnessed her growing perfections, to a Court where despotism had usurped uncontrouled dominion for a long series of years; where flattery and dissimulation were considered as the surest passports to prosperity; and cherished as the leading principles of its surrounding sycophants; where vice, avarice, levity, and oppression revelled in the plentitude of power, and bore down every barrier of reason and of justice; the unaffected and artless vivacity of her mind, was but feebly armed against the united machinations of envy and detraction. The rapaciousness of needy dependants; the jealousy of the then reigning Sultana; the weakness of Louis the Fifteenth; the universal struggle for pre-eminence that existed15 C2r 15 ed amongst the favourites of that monarch; but ill accorded with the simplicity of manners, the unsuspecting temper, and the elevated soul, of the beauteous Antoinetta! Scarcely emerged from the tenderness of childhood, unpractised in the arcanum of a despotic government, which she had neither strength to oppose or judgment to reform; she had no path to choose but the beaten track; she found it besprinkled with roses, nor thought of the pointed thorns cautiously concealed unter the gaudy parterre of dazzling magnificence. In this seeming bower of eternal delight, this witching semblance of a terrestrial paradise, the opening blossoms of fascinating pleasure presented themselves before her; the poisonous weeds that overspread an oppressed country, met not her eye, the wide waste of desolating horrors was unknown to her; or if, by chance, the plaints of sorrow assailed her, she was 16 C2v 16 taught to consider them as the frenzied tones of faction, of the murmuring accents of fretful discontent. The vivacity of her youth, the spendours of her exalted situation, the artifice of her enemies, and, above all, the rectitude of her own feelings, drew a veil over the penetrating eye of critical observation: it was not the interest of courtly sycophants to remove it; feeding on the vitals of a groaning people; revelling in the luxuries wrested from the helpless million, they profited by the darkness of fanaticism, and, under the mask of obedience, enjoyed the friend-like triumphs of avarice and duplicity: the eyes of an enlightened multitude pointed out the sordid ministers of mischief, the hand of unerring justice snatched off the cloak of hypocrisy; and the sun of truth, darting through the cloud of superstition, revealed to the illumined17 C3r 17 mined globe the monstrous deformity of inordinate ambition.
Defeated, even beyond the hope of recovery, sickening with despair, and overwhelmed with conscious accusation, the propagators of evil sought for safety in flight. Guilt has a thousand wings; they escaped; while the lovely victim of their infernal machinations remained, exposed to all the horrors of mistaken vengeance.
What has been the conduct of this august woman, since the memorable journey from Versailles? Has she not borne her sufferings, her humiliations, her anxieties, with the magnamity of a Heroine, the philosophy of a Stoick? Has she not been loaded with reproaches, and branded with epithets, disgraceful to the enlightened humanity of a nation instinctively gifted with the most 18 C3v 18 refined gallantry? Of what has she been accused, to authorise the virulence of rage, or the indecency of public insult?――Nothing!! Malice cannot criminate her, or the most industrious calumniator attach a single vice to the dignity of her nature!―― That she is rich in all the fine feelings of divine philanthropy, the fate of Captain Asgil will bear eternal testimony; that she was liberal to an extreme, her most inveterate enemies cannot deny. Her affability, politeness, and condescension, all foreign nations have experienced. The rigid formalities, the pedantic customs, the tiresome and constrained etiquette of a German court, were by her shaken off, as the uneasy fetters of social life, and the vapid associates of little and contracted minds. Yet there was a dignity in her condescension, a grace in her affability, a propriety in her pleasures, and a delicacy in her vivacity, that commanded19 C4r 19 manded respect, and wrested the tribute of affection from every heart capable of estimating her value! Avarice never chilled the warmth of her generosity, nor did idle ostentation dim the lustre of her munificence! Well may she exclaim, with our immortal Bard―― Have I liv’d thus long, let me speak for myself,Since Virtue finds no friends, a wife, a true one?Have I with all my full affectionsStill met the King? lov’d him next heav’n, obey’d him,Been out of fondness superstitious to him?And am I thus rewarded? ’Tis not well.Bring me a constant woman to her husband,One that ne’er dream’d of joy beyond his pleasure;And to that woman, when she has done most,Yet will I add an honour――a great patience!
The members of the National Assembly, by their eloquent debates, and temperate proceedings, have done honour to the French nation. The mildness of their sentiments; 20 C4v 20 the firmness of their patriotism; the noble enthusiasm of their feelings; the dignified philanthropy of their souls; and the circumspect propriety evinced on a late event; claim the admiration of surrounding kingdoms, and the unbounded applauses of an enlightened world. To the invincible resolution, and calm intrepidity, of some illustrious characters, may be attributed the present safety of the Royal Family of France. Popular frenzy is not easily quelled: the torch of maddening sedition once lighted up, is seldom totally extinguished till it consumes itself by its own fire. That the royal captive had nothing dangerous to apprehend, inimical to justice and humanity, from the inspired patriots of France, was most certain; but let reason compare the vast inequality between the numbers of those who are are really and dispassionately devoted to the interests of their country; 21 D1r 21 and the illiterate, unsteady, factious multitude, actuated by principles of interest, and too often led on by private resentment, or public temerity, to the commission of crimes too horrible to contemplate.
In the Marquis de la Fayette mankind may behold a brilliant example of private virtue, and personal intrepidity! America, long since, bore witness to his courage and magnanimity; he has now proved that his zeal was the offspring of an expanded mind, cherished by reason and tempered by humanity! Rousseau says, There is a dignity of character which a brave man will never lose; whether he resists the terrors of the tented field, or the temptations of luxurious life; whether he fights with the armed enemy, or with himself, the most dangerous of all enemies; in vain will the warrior turn all the attention D 22 D1v 22 of a wise man to the acclamations of his soldiers, if he disgraces his public triumphs by sinking beneath private misfortunes. The bravery of battle is often mechanical; the fear of disgrace, the apprehension of punishment, the spirit of emulation, even the power of sympathy, may make a man brave for the occasion; but the true principle of courage, supports the character whom it inspires, at all times, and on all occasions; the mind of that man is above fear, and it is not in the power of human events to make him shrink from his purpose.
The gallantry of the French nation has ever been proverbial; the protection afforded to the softer sex has been the boast of ages; it has even been extended to the most unworthy objects, and been productive of the most pernicious consequences; the triumphs23 D2r 23 umphs of beauty have frequently disgraced the dignity of its councils and sullied the fame of its most illustrious characters. Let the Patriots of France take a retrospect of the last, and present century; let them examine the dark and intricate mazes of court intrigue, the rapacity of avarice, the insolence of assumed authority. The preposterous extravagancies of vulgar favourites, and the wanton indulgence of unprovoked barbarity: they will instantly discover the vast expanse between the malignity of vicious depredators, and the juvenile vivacity of an elegant and munificent mind. Let it be remembered that against imputed guilt, the humblest, wrong’d, rise bold in innocence, let them welcome the dawn of conviction, and tear the bandeau of prejudice, from before the radiant eye of manly reason.24 D2v 24
In the early part of the national commotions, the Queen of France might indisputably have escaped from the scene of impending vengeance――but having the shield of innocence before her heart, and armed at all points with the conscious rectitude of her sentiments, she dreaded not the shafts of calumny, nor the overwhelming storms of popular phrenzy. Had she been less lovely, less amiable, she might have escaped the arrows of insidious envy; but when the tide of patriotic reformation flowed with impetuous fury, every private enemy, every petty detractor, enjoyed the triumph of revenge, and exultingly heaped the load of recreant malevolence on the defenceless bosom of a fallen and unfortunate woman.
To the observation of dispassionate minds, the Queen of France’s conduct has been unexampled! Patient in adversity, and unshaken25 D3r 25 shaken under the weight of the most unparallelled humiliations; transcendently discreet, though perpetually taunted with the barbarous insults of irritating malice; she has never, even for a moment, forgot that true, that innate dignity of character, which places the human soul far above the reach of sublunary calamity.
Confidence is the most unequivocal trait of an honourable mind; it ensures esteem, it cements the bonds of social intercourse, and proves the best security against the machinations of deceit: To suspect is to convey the strong imputation of guilt; and many have become avowedly depraved, from the repeated accusations of supposed criminality.
That the Queen of France should consent to accompany her husband on his late flight, 26 D3v 26 was more than reasonable, it was natural; duty claimed her acquiescence, and common sense must justify the propriety of her obedience. Was it consistent with the character of a Wife, a Mother, or a Woman, to refuse what virtue, nature, and affection dictated to her feelings? The question will not admit of an argument; the fact speaks for itself; and the deed is sanctioned by all the laws of God and humanity. Whatever degree of criminality may be imputed to the event, certainly the Queen was not the aggressor; it was the criterion of conjugal virtue, to share the fate and follow the fortunes of a man who adored her to enthusiasm, and to whom she was united by every bond human and divine.
Never may it be inscribed on the records of France, that a lovely, innocent, and magnanimous woman, was stigmatized with reproach,27 D4r 27 proach, or exposed to insult, for observing an implicit obedience to the will of her husband. Let it be asked, what might have been the situation of the Queen had she been left in Paris, exposed to the frenzy of the multitude, and perhaps (dreadful reflection) marked as the helpless victim of an enraged populace. Events, at which nature shudders, might then have tarnished the expanding glories of a nation just emancipated from the shackles of ignominious slavery; horrors might have been perpetrated which even the moderation, virtue, and discretion of the National Assembly could not have prevented. It is now in the power of that august Tribunal to prove, that the Days of Chivalry are not at an end; that as they have given innumerable testimonies of their patriotism and judgment, they also cherish the laudable and dignified sentiment of justice and humanity!28 D4v 28
Who can reflect on the present situation of the Queen, and, without dropping a tear of pity, compare it to that which she enjoyed but a very few years since. She was then the idol of the French nation; universal adoration breathed around her, and called forth the splendors of her youthful mind, as the morning Sun warms the expanding Rose, and tints it to perfection! She was the pride of the garden, and claimed the undivided admiration of all beholders! Time flew by her on the downy pinions of delight, and every inferior constellation in the courtly circle, borrowed radiance from the refulgence of her superior brightness! What is she now? A forlorn and mournful Captive; immured within the walls of a palace, but a short time since the scene of domestic joy, and splendid festivity! Who can mark, unmoved, the hourly decay of exquisite beauty; the 29 E1r 29 bloom of youth fading in the blast of detraction; that eye which beamed with benignity or glistened with the gem of sensibility, downcast, dejected, and sunken, with the resistless fatigues of daily disquietude and nightly watching; that heart, the throne of divine benevolence and unaffected generosity, now chill’d by the icy touch of neglect and scorn, and labouring under the agonizing pressure of impending despondency.
Yet, through the sombre shadows of obscurity, her fortitude, her resignation, and her talents, dart with redoubled lustre! The obtrusive clouds of a a tempestuous sky, veil for a time the burning orb, only to adorn its beams with renovated splendour. The diamond sparkles even on the dark bosom of the mine: and the woodbine scatters its odours as spontaneously through E30E1v30 the untrodden labyrinths of the forest, as in the luxurious gardens of cultivated taste! Innate greatness of soul, preserves its sublimity, whether it reposes on the purple of a throne; or enjoys the felicity of conscious worth on the flinty pallet of a loathsome dungeon!
The writer of these pages, fears that the arguments they contain, will prove but feeble antidotes to the poison of calumniating malice; yet, if they make a single convert to the cause of a persecuted and amiable woman their end will be attained, and the trouble of a few hours amply recompenced.
There is not a doubt that all good men, whatever their political sentiments may be, feel deeply interested in the fate of the captive Queen. Every impartial eye has a tear 31 E2r 31 for her sufferings and looks forward with eager solitude to a Decision, that, it is to be hoped, for the honour of human nature, will add dignity to the French nation, and stamp immortal celebrity on the wisdom, virtue, and judgment of the National Assembly!