Fancy, for example, the Professors of Universities parading the streets with their young France, and swearing, in an enthusiastic manner, not without tumult. By a larger exercise of fancy, expand duly this little word: The like was repeated in every Town and District of France! Nay one Patriot Mother, in Lagnon of Brittany, assembles her ten children; and, with her own aged hand, swears them all herself, the highsouled venerable woman. Of all which, moreover, a National Assembly must be eloquently apprised. Such three weeks of swearing! Saw the sun ever such a swearing people? Have they been bit by a swearing tarantula? No: but they are men and Frenchmen; they have Hope; and, singular to say, they have Faith, were it only in the Gospel according to Jean Jacques. O my Brothers! would to Heaven it were even as ye think and have sworn! But there are Lovers’ Oaths, which, had they been true as love itself, cannot be kept; not to speak of Dicers’ Oaths, also a known sort.
To such length had the Contrat Social brought it, in believing hearts. Man, as is well said, lives by faith; each generation has its own faith, more or less; and laughs at the faith of its predecessor,—most unwisely. Grant indeed that this faith in the Social Contract belongs to the stranger sorts; that an unborn generation may very wisely, if not laugh, yet stare at it, and piously consider. For, alas, what is Contrat? If all men were such that a mere spoken or sworn Contract would bind them, all men were then true men, and Government a superfluity. Not what thou and I have promised to each other, but what the balance of our forces can make us perform to each other: that, in so sinful a world as ours, is the thing to be counted on. But above all, a People and a Sovereign promising to one another; as if a whole People, changing from generation to generation, nay from hour to hour, could ever by any method be made to speak or promise; and to speak mere solecisms: “We, be the Heavens witness, which Heavens however do no miracles now; we, ever-changing Millions, will allow thee, changeful Unit, to force us or govern us!” The world has perhaps seen few faiths comparable to that.
So nevertheless had the world then construed the matter. Had they not so construed it, how different had their hopes been, their attempts, their results! But so and not otherwise did the Upper Powers will it to be. Freedom by Social Contract: such was verily the Gospel of that Era. And all men had believed in it, as in a Heaven’s Glad-tidings men should; and with overflowing heart and uplifted voice clave to it, and stood fronting Time and Eternity on it. Nay smile not; or only with a smile sadder than tears! This too was a better faith than the one it had replaced: than faith merely in the Everlasting Nothing and man’s Digestive Power; lower than which no faith can go.