Public men are like soldiers fighting in a narrow valley: they see nothing but what is close around them, and that imperfectly, as everything is in motion. The historian is as the general, who stands elevated on the high ground, and, with telescope in hand, sees plainly all the different movements of the troops. He would be an inconsiderate general, who would expect that his officers in action should have had as clear an idea of what was going on, as he himself had been able to obtain.
There was no murder perpetrated during the French Revolution, under the pretext of a judicial sentence, which has created more general disgust than has that of Marie Antoinette. She came as a stranger to the country, which on that account owed to her its special protection. She had been called to France to be a Queen, and her greatest crime was that she would not give up the high station she had been invited to fill. She had been a faithful wife to a husband who did not love her till he knew her well, and who was slow in learning anything. She had been a good mother to the children, who were born, as she believed, to rule the destinies of France.
She had clung to a falling cause, with a sense of duty which was as admirable as her courage, and at last she died with the devoted heroism which so well became her mother’s daughter. But what we now look on as virtues, were vices in the eyes of the republicans, who were her judges. Her constancy was stubbornness, and her courage was insolence. Her innocent mirth was called licentiousness, and the royal splendour which she had been taught to maintain, was looked upon as iniquitous extravagance. Nor was this, even in those bloody days, enough to condemn her. Lies of the basest kind were, with care and difficulty, contrived to debase her character—lies which have now been proved to be so, but which were then not only credible, but sure to receive credit from those who already believed that all royal blood was, from its nature, capable of every abomination.
When Lebas so confidently predicated the sentence which posterity would pass on the fall of Marie Antoinette, none of his auditors doubted the correctness of his prophecy. Posterity, however, more partial to the frivolities of courts than to the fury of revolutions, has acquitted the Queen, and passed, perhaps, too heavy a sentence on the judges who condemned her. Till the power of Satan over the world has been destroyed, and man is able to walk uprightly before his Maker, the virtues of one generation will be the vices of another.
THE LAST DAY AT DURBELLIERE