July 1847-March 1848

The Collected Letters, Volume 22


TC TO THOMAS ERSKINE ; 24 March 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18480324-TC-TE-01; CL 22: 276-278


Chelsea, March 24 1848

To us as to you this immense explosion of democracy in France, and from end to end of Europe, is very remarkable and full of interest.1 Certainly never in our time was there seen such a spectacle of history as we are now to look at and assist in. I call it very joyful; yet also unutterably sad. Joyful, inasmuch as we are taught again that all mortals do long towards justice and veracity; that no strongest charlatan, no cunningest fox of a Louis Philippe, with his great Master2 to help him, can found a habitation upon lies, or establish a “throne of iniquity”—nay, that he cannot even attempt such a problem in these times any more; which we may take to be blessed news indeed, in the pass we were come to. But, on the other hand, how sad that the news should be so new (for that is really the vital point of the mischief); that all the world, in its protest against False Government, should find no remedy but that of rushing into No Government or anarchy (kinglessness), which I take this republican universal suffragism to inevitably be.3 Happily they are not disposed to fight, at least not with swords, just yet; but abundance of fighting (probably enough in all kinds) one does see in store for them; and long years and generations of weltering confusion, miserable to contemplate, before anything can be settled again. Hardly since the invasion of the wild Teutons and wreck of the old Roman Empire has there been so strange a Europe, all turned topsy turvy, as we now see. What was at the top has come, or is rapidly coming, to the bottom, where indeed, such was its intrinsic quality, it deserved this long while past to be.

All over London people are loud upon the French, Hôtel de Ville especially;4 censure universal, or light mockery; no recognition among us for what of merit those poor people have in their strange and perilous position at present. Right to hurl out Louis Philippe, most of us said or thought, but there I think our approval ended. The what next upon which the French had been thinking, none of our people will seriously ask themselves. I, in vain, strive to explain that this of the “organisation of labour” is precisely the question of questions for all governments whatsoever; that it vitally behoved the poor French Provisional to attempt a solution; that by their present implements and methods it seems impossible they should succeed;5 but that they, and what is better, all governments, must actually make some advance towards success and solve said question more and more, or disappear swiftly from the face of the earth without successors nominated.6 There seems to me only that alternative; and, however it may fare with the French, I calculate that we here at home shall profit inexpressibly by such an example, if we be wise to try the inevitable problem while it is yet time. In fact, I have a kind of notion to write a book about it, I myself; but I am not yet grown sufficiently miserable to set about it straightway.7 Fraternity, liberty, &c., I want to explain, is not the remedy at all; but true government by the wise, true, and noble-minded of the foolish, perverse, and dark, with or against their consent; which I discern to be the eternal law of the world, and a rugged and severe but most blessed law, terribly forgotten in the universal twaddle, insincerity, and cowardly sloth of these latter times.8 Peace! peace! when there is no peace?9 I have, in fact, a great many things to say, far too many; and my heart is as if half-dead, and has no wish to speak any more, but to lie silent, if so might be, till it sank into the Divine silence, and were then at rest. Courage, however!