Daily Archives: November 19, 2007

Item of the Day: Wollstonecraft on the French Revolution (1795)

Full Title: An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution; and the Effect it Has Produced in Europe. By Mary Wollstonecraft. Volume the First. The Second Edition. London: Printed from J. Johnson, in St. Paul’s Church-Yard. 1795.


The revolution in France exhibits a scene in the political world, not less novel and interesting than the contrast is striking between the narrow opinions of superstition, and the enlightened sentiments of masculine and improved philosophy.

To mark the prominent features of this revolution, requires a mind, not only unsophisticated by old prejudices, and the inveterate habits of degeneracy; but an amelioration of temper, produced by the exercise of the most enlarged principles of humanity.

The rapid changes, the violent, the base, and nefarious assassinations, which have clouded the vivid prospect that began to spread a ray of joy and gladness over the gloomy horizon of oppression, cannot fail to chill the sympathizing bosom, and palsy intellectual viogour. To sketch these vicissitudes is a talk so arduous and melancholy, that, with a heart trembling to the touches of nature, it becomes necessary to guard against the erroneous inferences of sensibility; and reason beaming on the grand theatre of political changes, can prove the only sure guide to direct us to a favourable or just conclusion.

This important conclusion, involving the happiness and exaltation of the human character, demands serious and mature consideration; as it must ultimately sink the dignity of society into contempt, and its members into greater wretchedness; or elevate it to a degree of grandeur not hitherto anticipated, but by the most enlightened statesmen and philosophers.

Contemplating then these stupendous events with the cool eye of observation, the judgement, difficult to be preserved unwarped under the pressure of the calamitous horrours produced by the desparate and engaged factions, will continually perceive that it is the uncontaminated mass of the french nation, whose minds begin to grasp the sentiments of freedom, that has secured the equilibrium of the state; often tottering on the brink of annihiliation; in spite of the folly, selfishness, madness, treachery, and more fatal mock patriotism, the common result of depraved manners, the concomitant of that servility and voluptuousness which ofr so long a space of time has imbruted the higher orders of this celebrated nation.

By thus attending to circumstances, we shall be able to discern clearly that the revolution was neither produced by the abilities or intrigues of a few individuals; nor was the effect of sudden and short-lived enthusiasm; but the natural consequence of intellectual improvement, gradually proceeding to perfection in the advancement of communities, from a state of barbarism to that of polished society, till not arrived at the point when sincerity of principles seems to be hastening the overthrow of the tremendous empire of superstition and hypocrisy, erected upon the ruins of gothic brutality and ignorance.


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Filed under 1790's, French Revolution, Posted by Matthew Williams