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HOW FREE-THINKERS ESCAPED.
AFTER a grand festival, a great carnage in the Coliseum of Rome, when the sand had been moistened with blood, and the lions were lying down, cloyed, surfeited with human flesh, then, in order to divert the people, to distract their attention a little, a farce was enacted. An egg was put into the hand of a miserable slave condemned to the wild beasts; and then he was cast into the arena. If he managed to reach the end, if, by good fortune, he succeeded in carrying his egg and laying it upon the altar, he was saved. The distance was not great, but how far it seemed to him! Those brutes, glutted, asleep, or just going to sleep, would, nevertheless, at the sound of the light footstep, raise their heavy eyelids, and yawn fearfully, in doubt apparently whether they ought to interrupt their repose for such ridiculous prey. He, half dead with fear, stooping, shrinking, cringing, as if to sink into the earth, would have exclaimed, doubtless, could he have given utterance to his thought: "Alas! alas! noble lions, I am so meagre ! Pray allow this living skeleton to pass; it is a meal unworthy of you. Never did any buffoon, any mimic, produce such an effect upon the people; the extraordinary comical contortions and agonies of fear convulsed all the spectators with laughter; they rolled on their benches in the excess of their mirth; it was a fearful tempest of merriment—a roar of joy.
I am obliged to say, in spite of every consideration, that this spectacle was revived towards the close of the middle ages, when the old principle, furious at the thought of dying, imagined it would still have time to annihilate human thought. Once more, as in the Coliseum, miserable slaves were seen carrying among wild beasts, uncloyed, unglutted, furious, atrocious and ravenous, the poor little deposit of proscribed truth, the fragile egg which might save the world, if it reached the altar.
Others will laugh-and woe to them! But I can never laugh on beholding that spectacle-that farce, those contortions, those efforts to deceive, to dupe, the growling monsters, to
THE HUMAN MIND INTRUSTED TO ROYALTY.
amuse that unworthy multitude, wound me to the heart. Those slaves whom I see passing yonder across the bloody arena, are the sovereigns of the mind, the benefactors of the human race. O my fathers, O my brethren, Voltaire, Molière, Rabelais, beloved of my thoughts, it is you whom I behold trembling, suffering and ridiculous, under that sad disguise! Sublime geniuses, privileged to bear the sacred gift of God, have you then accepted, on our account, that degraded martyrdom to be the buffoons of fear?
Degraded-Oh! no, never! From the centre of the amphitheatre they addressed me in a kind voice: "Friend, what matters if they laugh at us? What do we care at being devoured by wild beasts, at suffering the outrage of cruel men, if we but reach the goal, provided this dear treasure, laid safely upon the altar, be recovered by mankind, whom it will save sooner or later. Do you know what this treasure is? -Liberty, Justice, Truth, Reason."
When we reflect by what imperceptible degrees, through what difficulties and obstacles, every grand design is accomplished, we are less surprised on beholding the humiliation, the degradation, to which its originator is often subjected. Who would undertake the task of following, from unknown depths to the surface, the progress of a thought? Who can tell the confused forms, the modifications, the fatal delays it has to undergo for ages ? With what slow steps does it emerge from instinct to musing, to reverie, and thence to the poetical chiarooscuro! How long is its progress confined to children and fools, to poets and madmen? And yet one day that madness proves to be the common sense of all! But this is not enough. All men think, but nobody dares speak.-Why? Is courage wanting?—Yes; and why is it wanting?-Because the discovered truth is not yet clear enough; it must first shine out in all its splendour for people to become its martyrs. At length it bursts forth luminous in some genius, and it renders him heroic; it inflames him with devotion, love, and sacrifice. lays it to his heart and goes among the lions.
Hence that strange spectacle which I beheld just now, sublime yet terrible farce. Look, see how he quakes as he passes, humble and trembling; how he clasps, conceals, presses something to his heart. Oh! he trembles not for himself.
THEY EXALT THE ROYAL POWER.
See you not that he is
Glorious trepidation! heroic fear! carrying the salvation of mankind?
Only one thing gives me uneasiness. Where is the place of refuge in which that deposit is to be concealed? What altar is sacred enough to guard that holy treasure? And what god
is sufficiently divine to protect what is no less than the conception of God himself? Great men, ye who are carrying that deposit of salvation with the tender care of a mother nursing her child, take heed, I beseech you; be wary in choosing the asylum to which you intrust it. Beware of human idols, shun the gods of flesh or of wood, who, far from protecting others, cannot protect themselves.
I behold you all, towards the close of the middle ages, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, emulously building up and aggrandizing that sanctuary of refuge, the Altar of Royalty. In order to dethrone idols, you erect an idol-and you offer to her everything,-gold, incense, and myrrh. To her, heavenly wisdom; to her, tolerance, liberty, philosophy; to her, the ultima ratio of society-Right.
How should this divinity not become colossal? The most powerful minds in the world, pursued and hunted to death by the old implacable principle, work hard to build up their asylum ever higher and higher; they would like to raise it to heaven. Hence, a series of legends, fables, adorned and amplified by every effort of genius: in the thirteenth century, it is the saintking, more priest than the priest himself; the chevalier-king in the sixteenth; the good-king in Henri IV., and the God-king in Louis XIV.
ON THE ANCIENT MONARCHY.
As early as the year 1300, I behold the great Ghibelin poet, who, in opposition to the pope, strengthens and exalts to heaven the Colossus of Cæsar. Unity is salvation; one monarch, one for the whole earth. Then, blindly following up his austere, inflexible logic, he lays it down, that the greater this monarch, the more he becomes omnipotent,-the more he becomes a God, and the less mankind should apprehend that he will ever abuse his power. If he has all, he desires nought; still less can he envy or hate. He is perfect, and perfectly, sovereignly just; he governs infallibly, like the justice of God. Such is the ground-work of all the theories which have since been heaped up in support of this principle: Unity, and the supposed result of unity, peace. And since then we have
hardly ever had anything but wars.
We must dig lower than Dante, and discover and look into the earth for the deep popular foundation whereon the Colossus was built.
Man needs justice. A captive within the straight limits of a dogma reposing entirely on the arbitrary grace of God, he thought to save justice in a political religion, and made unto himself, of a man, a God of Justice, hoping that this visible God would preserve for him the light of equity which had been darkened in the other.
I hear this exclamation escape from the bosom of ancient France, a tender expression of intense love: "O my king!" This is no flattery. Louis XIV., when young, was truly loved by two persons,-by the people and La Vallière.
THE KINGLY INCARNATION, LOUIS XIV.
At that time, it was the faith of all. Even the priest seems to remove his God from the altar, to make room for the new God. The Jesuits banish Jesus from the door of their establishment to substitute Louis-le-Grand; I read on the vaults of the chapel at Versailles : "Intrabit templum suum dominator." The words had not two meanings: the court knew but one God.
The Bishop of Meaux, is afraid lest Louis XIV. should not have enough faith in himself; he encourages him : O kings, exercise your power boldly, for it is divine-Ye are gods!
An astounding dogma, and yet the people were most willing to believe it. They suffered so many local tyrannies, that, from the most remote quarters, they invoked the distant God, the God of the monarchy. No evil is imputed to him if his people suffer any, it is because he is too high or too distant."If the king did but know!
We have here a singular feature of France; this nation for a long time comprehended politics only as devotion and love. A vigorous, obstinate, blind love, which attributes as a merit to their God all his imperfections; whatever human weakness they perceive in him is a cause of thanksgiving rather than of disgust. They believe he will be but so much the nearer to them, less haughty, less hardhearted, and more compassionate on that account. They feel obliged to Henri IV. for his love of Gabrielle.
This love for royalty during the earlier days of Louis XIV. and Colbert, was idolatry; the king's endeavours to do equal justice to all, to lessen the odious inequality of taxation, gained him the heart of the people. Colbert reduced forty thousand pretended nobles, and subjected them to taxation; he forced the leading burgesses to give an account at length of the finances of the towns, which they used to turn to their own advantage. The nobles of the provinces who, under favour of the confusion, made themselves feudal barons, received the formidable visits of the envoys of the parliament; royal justice was blessed for its severity. The king appeared as terrible, in his Grands jours,* as the Day of Judgment, between the people and the nobility, the people being on his
* High days, on which was held a high Court of Justice.-C. C.