It is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purpose of society.
I thought of those words – those splendid words – from Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France on this Bastille Day, le quatorze juillet, 14 July.
The French should rename the day in tribute to that horribly wronged woman, Queen Marie Antoinette. ( Marie Antoinette – Justice at last? )
While our French friends are entitled to rejoice in their national day, it would be a serious error to rejoice in the French Revolution. This resulted in a terrible Reign of Terror followed by the Emperor Napoleon's foolish ambition to turn Europe and probably the rest of the world into his personal empire.
As a consequence millions died – perhaps the same proportion of people as were lost in the First and Second World Wars.
Neither the French Revolution nor the Bolshevik Revolution are worthy of any other remembrance than sorrow and mourning. If the measure of the worthiness of an event is in human happiness and prosperity, the greatest event of the last several hundred years was the Glorious Revolution of 1688, otherwise known as the Bloodless Revolution.
It was then that mankind was at last to find a model of government which ensured the coexistence of the virtues of stability, justice, and law and order, and also ingeniously provided sufficient checks and balances to answer Acton's later immortal warning, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
This is the model which has formed the basis of all successful and lasting modern government, including that of the United States of America.
And as symbols of the many innocents who fell as a result of the French Revolution, let us remember that harmless, inoffensive and well-meaning king, Louis XVI, and the beautiful and unfairly and grossly maligned Queen of France, Marie Antoinette.
…Queen Marie Antoinette….
Recall those wonderful words of Edmund Burke:
It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision.
I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she had just begun to move in, glittering like the morning star full of life and splendor and joy.
Oh, what a revolution! and what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall!
Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers!
I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.
But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.
Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom!
The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone.
It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.