1902 Encyclopedia > François Pierre Guillaume Guizot

François Pierre Guillaume Guizot
(commonly known as: François Guizot)
French politician and historian


FRANÇOIS PIERRE GUILLAUME GUIZOT, (1787-1874), historian, orator, and statesman, was born at Nîmes on the 4th October 1787, of an honourable Protestant family belonging to the bourgeoisie of that city. It is character-istic of the cruel disabilities which still weighed upon the Protestants of France before the Revolution, that his parents, at the time of their union, could not be publicly or legally married by their own pastors, and that the ceremony was clandestine. The liberal opinions of his family did not, however, save it from the sanguinary intolerance of the Reign of Terror, and on the 8th April 1794 his father perished at Nîmes upon the scaffold. Thenceforth the education of the future minister devolved entirely upon his mother, a woman of slight appearance and of homely manners, but endowed with great strength of character and clearness of judgment. Madame Guizot was a living type of the French Huguenots of the 16th century, stern in her principles and her faith, immovable in her convictions and her sense of duty. She formed the character of her illustri-ous son and shared every vicissitude of his life. In the days of his power her simple figure, always clad in deep mourning for her martyred husband, was not absent from the splendid circle of his political friends. In the days of his exile in 1848 she followed him to London, and there at a very advanced age closed her life and was buried at Keusal Green. Driven from Nîmes by the Revolution, Madame Guizot and her son repaired to Geneva, where he received his education. In spite of her decided Calvinistic opinions, the theories of Rousseau, then much in fashion, were not without their influence on Madame Guizot. She was a strong liberal, and she even adopted the notion inculcated in the Emile that every man ought to learn a manual trade or craft. Young Guizot was taught to be a carpenter, and he so far succeeded in his work that he made a table with his own hands, which.is still preserved at Val Richer by his children. Of the progress of his graver studies little is known, for in the work which he entitled Memoirs of my own Times Guizot omitted all personal details of his earlier life. But his literary attainments must have been precocious and considerable, for when he arrived in Paris in 1805 to pursue his studies in the faculty of laws, he entered at eighteen as tutor into the family of M. Stapfer, formerly Swiss minister in France, and he soon began to write in a journal edited by M. Suard, the Publiciste. This connexion introduced him to the literary society of Paris. In October 1809, being then twenty-two, he wrote a review of M. de Chateaubriand's Martyrs, which procured for him the approbation and cordial thanks of that eminent person, and he continued to contribute largely to the periodical press. At Suard's he had made the acquaintance of Mademoiselle de Meulan, an accomplished lady of good family, some fourteen years older than himself, who also was engaged to contribute a series of articles to Suard's journal. These contributions were interrupted by her illness, but immediately resumed and continued by an unknown hand. It was discovered that Francois Guizot had quietly supplied the deficiency on her behalf. The acquaintance thus begun ripened into friendship and love, and in 1812 Mademoiselle de Meulan consented to marry her youthful ally. She was the mother of his eldest son, a young man of great promise, who died of consumption in 1837. Madame Guizot, his first wife, died in 1827 ; she was the authoress of many esteemed works on female education.

During this period of his life Guizot, entirely devoted to literary pursuits, published a collection of French synonyms (1809), an essay on the fine arts (1811), and a translation of Gibbon with additional notes in 1812. These works recommended him to the notice of M. de Fontanes, then grand-master of the university of France, and there was some question of attaching him in a subordi-nate office to the council of state. But on political subjects a radical antagonism existed between the young constitu-tional publicist and the spirit of the empire. This did not prevent M. de Fontanes from selecting Guizot for the chair of modern history in Paris in 1812. His first lecture (which is reprinted in his Memoirs) was delivered on the 11th December of that year. The customary compliment to the all-powerful emperor he declined to insert in it, in spite of the hints given him by his patron. He had now acquired a considerable position in the society of Paris, and the friend-ship of Royer-Collard and the leading members of the liberal party, including the young Due de Broglie. Absent from Paris at the moment of the fall of Napoleon in 1814, he was at once selected, on the recommendation of Royer-Collard, to serve the Government of Louis XVIII. in the capacity of secretary-general of the ministry of the interior, under the Abbe' de Montesquiou. Upon the return of Napoleon from Elba he immediately resigned, on the 25th March 1815 (the statement that he retained office under General Carnot is incorrect), and returned to his literary pursuits. The liberal professions of the emperor during the Hundred Days, though backed by Benjamin Constant, did not for a moment impose on Guizot. He was convinced that Napoleon would never govern on liberal principles, and that his power could not last. He was equally convinced that a second restoration of the Bourbons-was the only mode by which constitutional monarchy could be established in France. He therefore applied himself to promote that object, and repaired to Ghent, where he saw Louis XVIII., and in the name of the liberal party pointed out to his majesty that a frank adoption of a liberal policy could alone secure the duration of the restored monarchy—advice which was ill-received by M. de Blacas and the king's confidential advisers. This visit to Ghent, at the time when France was a prey to a second invasion, was made a subject of bitter reproach to Guizot in after life by his political opponents, as an unpatriotic action. " The Man of Ghent" was one of the terms of insult frequently hurled against him in the days of his power. But the reproach appears to be wholly unfounded. The true interests of France were not in the defence of the falling empire, but in establishing a liberal policy on a monarchical basis and in combating the reactionary tendencies of the ultra-royalists. It is at any rate a remarkable circumstance that a young professor of twenty-seven, with none of the-advantages of birth or political experience, should have been selected to convey so important a message to the ears of the king of France, and a proof, if any were wanting, that the Revolution had, as Guizot said, "done its work."

On the second restoration Guizot resumed office as secretary-general of the ministry of justice under M. de Marbois, but this minister resigned in 1816, and the young statesman was promoted to the council of state and to the general directorship of the departmental and communal administration of the kingdom. But the reactionary spirit of the chamber of ueputies, of the royalist party, and of the successive Governments of Louis XVIII., was extremely opposed to the views of Guizot and his friends. Then it was that they endeavoured by their writings and by their speeches to apply broader principles of parlia-mentary government to France, and to found the party which was known by the title of the " Doctrinaires." The opinions of the doctrinaires had more of the rigour of a sect than the elasticity of a political party. Adhering to the great principles of liberty and toleration, they were sternly opposed to the anarchical traditions of the Revolu-tion. They knew that the elements of anarchy were still fermenting in the country; these the}' hoped to subdue, not by reactionary measures, but by the firm application of the power of a limited constitution, based on the suffrages of the middle class and defended by the highest literary talent of the times. Their motives were honourable. Their views were philosophical. But they were opposed alike to the democratical spirit of the age, to the military traditions of the empire, and to the bigotry and absolutism of the court. The fate of such a party might be foreseen. They lived by a policy of resistance; they perished by another revolution. They are remembered more for their constant opposition to popular demands than by the ser-vices they undoubtedly rendered to the cause of temperate freedom.

In the eyes of this celebrated party, and in the sanguine spirit of the times, the French Revolution had run its course. It had exhausted the popular excesses of the con-vention and the military despotism of the empire. The victory of the Revolution over the arbitrary powers of the crown and the unjust privileges of the aristocracy was com-plete. Power was transferred to the middle classes of society, and their leaders hoped to establish on the basis of a limited suffrage all the essential rights and liberties of a free people. They hoped at the same time, by the diffusion of education amongst the people, to qualify them more and more for the exercise of these rights. They combated the reactionary and intolerant influence of the church. They opposed the high prerogative doctrines of the ministers of the crown. Their policy was described by the term "juste milieu"—a via media between royal authority and popular government. In those days none foresaw that they were building on the sand, and that before another generation had passed away, their scientific structure of government would crumble into ruins, and France would again traverse the dreary cycle of popular revolutions and imperial despotism. In 1821, when the reaction was at its height after the murder of the Due de Berri, and the fall of the ministry of Due Decazes, Guizot's relations to the Government of M. de Villele became decidedly hostile. He was deprived of all his offices, and in 1825 even his course of lectures was interdicted. During the five succeeding years he played an important part among the leaders of the liberal opposition to the Govern-ment of Charles X., although he had not yet entered parliament, and this was also the time of his greatest literary activity. Within this period he published his lectures on representative government; a work on capital punishment for political offences ; a collection of memoirs of the history of England in 26 volumes, and of memoirs of the history of France in 31 volumes , rand a revised transla-tion of Shakespeare. The most remarkable work from his own pen was the first part of his History of the English Revolution from the Accession of Charles I. to that of Charles II,—a book of great merit and impartiality, which he re-sumed and completed during his exile in England after 1848. The Martignac administration restored Guizot in 1828 to his professor's chair and to the council of state. Then it was that he delivered the celebrated courses of lectures which raised his reputation as an historian to the highest point of fame, and placed him amongst the best writers of France and of Europe. These lectures formed the basis of his general History of Civilization in Europe, and of his History of Civilization in France. Our space does not allow us to offer any remark on these well-known publica-tions. But they must ever be regarded as classics of modern historical research, and precursors of the great advance in the treatment of modern history which has marked the last half century.

Hitherto Guizot's fame rested on his merits as a writer on public affairs and as a lecturer on modern history. He had attained the age of forty-three before he entered upon the full display of his oratorical strength. In January 1830 he was elected for the first time by the town of Lisieux to the chamber of deputies, and he retained that seat during the whole of his political life, that is, for eighteen years. The moment was critical for a representative of liberal principles and an aspirant for power. The Polignac ministry had engaged in a mortal contest between Charles X. and the national legislature, and the election of a popular man of letters by an important constituency was hailed as a triumph of the liberal cause.

Guizot immediately assumed an important position in the representative assembly, and the first speech he delivered was in defence of the celebrated address of the 221, in answer to the menacing speech from the throne, which was followed by the dissolution of the chamber, and was the precursor of another revolution. On his return-ing to Paris from Nimes on the 27th July, the fall of Charles X. was already imminent. Guizot was called upon by his friends Casimir Perier, Laffitte, Villemain, and Dupin to draw up the protest of the liberal deputies against the royal ordinances of July, whilst he applied himself with them to control the revolutionary character of the late con-test. Personally, Guizot was always of opinion that it was a great misfortune for the cause of parliamentary govern-ment in France that the infatuation and ineptitude of Charles X. and Prince Polignac rendered a change in the hereditary line of succession inevitable. The chamber of deputies assumed the powers of a convention, and placed the duke of Orleans on the throne. A ministry was formed under M. Laffitte, and although it comprised the great names of Count MoM, Marshal Gerard, Casimir Perier, and the Due de Broglie, the department of the interior, then the most difficult and important in the state, was allotted to Guizot. Nor was his an inactive administration. The waves of the great tempest w7hich had just passed over France were to be stilled, the lives of the fallen ministers to be saved, stability to be given to the throne, confidence in the maintenance of peace to Europe; and, although the Laffitte cabinet was of short duration, these objects were attained. In 1831 Casimir Perier formed a more vigorous and compact administration, which was terminated in May 1832 by his death; the summer of that year was marked by a formidable republican rising in Paris, and it was not till the 11th October 1832 that a stable Govern-ment was formed, in which Marshal Soult was first minister, the Due de Broglie took the foreign office, Thiers the home department, and Guizot contented himself with the department of public instruction. This ministry, which lasted for nearly four years, was by far the ablest and most comprehensive that ever served Louis Philippe; it combined men of the highest talents and character, and it rendered incalculable services to the nation and the crown. Guizot, however, was already marked with the stigma of unpopularity by the more advanced liberal party. He remained unpopular all his life, " not," said he, " that I court unpopularity, but that I think nothing about it." Yet never were his great abilities more useful to his country than whilst he filled this office of secondary rank but of primary importance in the department of public instruction. The duties it imposed on him were entirely congenial to his literary tastes, and he was master of the subjects they concerned. He applied himself in the first instance to carry a large measure for the education of the people, and to a great extent founded the existing educational establishments of the people of France. In fifteen years, under the influence of this law, the number of primary schools rose from ten to twenty-three thousand; normal schools for teachers, and a general system of inspec-tion, were introduced; and boards of education, under mixed lay and clerical authority, were created. The second-ary class of schools and the university of France were equally the subject of his enlightened protection and care, and a prodigious impulse was given to philosophical study and historical research. The branch of the Institute of France known as the " Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques," which had been suppressed by Napoleon, was revived by G-uizot. Some of the old members of this learned body—Talleyrand, Siéyés, Rcederer, and Lakanal —again took their seats there, and a host of more recent celebrities were added by election for the free discussion of the great problems of political and social science. The " Sociétó de l'Histoire de France" was founded for the publication of historical works ; and a vast publication of mediaeval chronicles and diplomatic papers was undertaken at the expense of the state.

The object of the cabinet of October 1832 was to organize a conservative party, and to carry on a policy of resistance to the republican faction which threatened the existence of the monarchy. It was their pride and their boast that their measures never exceeded the limits of the law, and by the exercise of legal power alone they put down an insur-rection amounting to civil war in Lyons and a sanguinary revolt in Paris. The real strength of the ministry lay not in its nominal heads, but in the fact that in this Govern-ment and this alone Guizot and Thiers acted in cordial cooperation. The two great rivals in French parliamentary eloquence followed for a time the same path ; but neither of them could submit to the supremacy of the other, and cir-cumstances threw Thiers almost continuously on a course of opposition, whilst Guizot bore the graver resjoonsibilities of power.

Once again indeed, in 1839, they were united, but it was in opposition to M. Mole, who had formed an inter-mediate Government, and this coalition between Guizot and the leaders of the left centre and the left, Thiers and Odilon Barrot, is justly regarded as one of the chief inconsistencies of his life. Victory was secured at the expense of principle; but none of the three chiefs of that alliance took ministerial office, and Guizot was not sorry to accept the post of ambassador in London, which withdrew him for a time from parliamentary contests. This was in the spring of 1840, and Thiers succeeded shortly after-wards to the ministry of foreign affairs.

Guizot was received with marked distinction by the queen and by the society of London. His literary works were highly esteemed, his character was respected, and France was never more worthily represented abroad than by one of her greatest orators. He was known to be well-versed in the history and the literature of England, and sincerely attached to the alliance of the two nations and the cause of peace. But, as he himself remarked, he was a stranger to England and a novice in diplomacy ; and unhappily the embroiled state of the Syrian question, on which the French Government had separated itself from the joint policy of Europe, and possibly the absence of entire confidence between the ambassador and the minister of foreign affairs, placed him in an embarrassing and even false position. The warnings he transmitted to Thiers were not believed. The warlike policy of Thiers was opposed to his own convictions. The treaty of the 15th July was signed without his knowledge and executed in the teeth of his remonstrances. For some weeks Europe seemed to be on the brink of war, until the king put an end to the crisis by refusing his assent to the military pre-parations of Thiers, and by summoning Guizot from Lon-don to form a ministry and to aid his Majesty in what be termed " ma lutte tenace contre l'anarchie." Thus began, under dark and adverse circumstances, on the 29th October 1840, the important administration in which Guizot remained the master-spirit for nearly eight years. He himself took the office of minister for foreign affairs, to which he added some years later, on the retirement of Marshal Soult, the ostensible rank of prime minister. His first care was the maintenance of peace and the restoration of amicable relations with the other powers of Europe. If he succeeded, as he did succeed, in calming the troubled elements and healing the wounded pride of France, the result was due mainly to the indomitable courage and splendid eloquence with which he faced a raging opposition, gave unity and strength to the conservative party, who now felt that they had a great leader at their head, and appealed to the thrift and prudence of the nation, rather than to their vanity and their ambition. In his pacific task he was fortunately seconded by the formation of Sir Robert Peel's administration in England, in the autumn of 1841. Between Lord Palmerston and Guizot there existed unhappily an incompatibility of character exceedingly dangerous in the foreign ministers of two great and in some respects rival countries. With Lord Palmerston in office, Guizot felt that he had a bitter and active antagonist in every British agent throughout the world; the combative element was strong in his own disposition; and the result was a system of perpetual conflict and counter-intrigues. Lord Palmerston held (as it appears from his own letters) that war between England and France was, sooner or later, inevitable. Guizot held that such a war would be the greatest of all calamities, and certainly never contemplated it. In Lord Aberdeen, the foreign secretary of Sir Robert Peel, Guizot found a friend and an ally perfectly congenial to himself. Their acquaintance in London had been slight, but it soon ripened into mutual regard and confidence. They were both men of high principles and honour; the Scotch Presbyterianism which had moulded the faith of Lord Aberdeen was reflected in the Huguenot minister of France; both were men of extreme simplicity of taste, joined to the refinement of scholar, ship and culture; both had an intense aversion to war and felt themselves ill-qualified to carry on those adventurous operations which inflamed the imagination of their respective opponents. In the eyes of Lord Palmerston and Thiers their policy was mean and pitiful; but it was a policy which secured peace to the world, and united the two great and free nations of the West in what was termed the entente cordiale. Neither of them would have stooped to snatch an advantage at the expense of the other; they held the common interest of peace and friendship to be paramount; and when differences arose, as they did arise, in remote parts of the world,—in Tahiti, in Morocco, on the Gold Coast,—they were reduced by this principle to their proper insignificance. The opposition in France denounced Guizot's foreign policy as basely subservient to England. He replied in terms of unmeasured contempt, — "You may raise the pile of calumny as high as you will ; vous n'arriverez jamais a la hauteur de mon dédain !_" The opposition in England attacked Lord Aberdeen with the same reproaches, but in vain. King Louis Philippe visited Windsor. The queen of England (in 1843) stayed at the Chateau d'Eu. In 1845 British and French troops fought side by side for the first time in an expedition to the River Plate.

The fall of Sir Robert Peel's Government in 1846 changed these intimate relations; and the return of Lord Palmerston to the foreign office led Guizot to believe that he was again exposed to the passionate rivalry of the British cabinet. A friendly understanding had been established at Eu between the two courts with reference to the future marriage of the young queen of Spain. The language of Lord Palmerston and the conduct of Sir Henry Bulwer at Madrid led Guizot to believe that this understanding was broken, and that it was intended to place a Coburg on the throne of Spain. Determined to resist any such intrigue, Guizot and the king plunged headlong into a counter-intrigue, wholly inconsistent with their previous engage-ments to England, and fatal to the happiness of the queen of Spain. By their influence she was urged into a marriage with a despicable offset of the house of Bourbon, and her sister was at the same time married to the youngest son of the French king, in direct violation of Louis Philippe's promises. This transaction, although it was hailed at the time as a triumph of the policy of France, was in truth as fatal to the monarch as it was discreditable to the minister. It was accomplished by a mixture of secrecy and violence. It was defended by subterfuges. By the dispassionate judgment of history it has been universally condemned. Its immediate effect was to destroy the Anglo-French alliance, and to throw Guizot into closer relations with the reactionary policy of Metternich and the Northern courts.

The history of Guizot's administration, the longest and the last which existed under the constitutional monarchy of France, bears the stamp of the great qualities and the great defects of his political character, for he was throughout the master-spirit of that Government. His first object was to unite and discipline the conservative party, which had been broken up by previous dissensions and ministerial changes. In this he entirely succeeded by his courage and eloquence as a parliamentary leader, and by the use of all those means of influence which France too liber-ally supplies to a dominant minister. No one ever doubted the purity and disinterestedness of Guizot's own conduct. He despised money ; he lived and died poor; and though he encouraged the fever of money-getting in the French nation, his own habits retained their primitive simplicity. But he did not disdain to use iu others the baser passions from which he was himself free. Some of his instruments were mean ; he employed them to deal with meanness after its kind. Gross abuses and breaches of trust came to light even in the ranks of the Government, and under an incor-ruptible minister the administration was denounced as corrupt. Licet uti alieno vitio is a proposition as false in politics as it is in divinity.

Of his parliamentary eloquence it is impossible to speak too highly. It was terse, austere, demonstrative, and commanding,—not persuasive, not humorous, seldom adorned, but condensed with the force of a supreme authority in the fewest words. He has been heard to say that he sel-dom had occasion to address the chambers for more than twenty minutes at a time, except when despatches were read. The consequence was that the audience hung upon his words with breathless attention. Not a syllable, not an inflexion of the voice was lost,—nothing was repeated; and when he ceased, it seemed as if the waves of an ocean had been spell-bound by his voice. He was essentially a ministerial speaker, far more powerful in defence than in opposition. Like Pitt he was the type of authority and resistance, unmoved by the brilliant charges, the. wit, the gaiety, the irony, and the discursive power of his great rival. Nor was he less a master of parliamentary tactics, and of those sudden changes and movements in debate, which, as in a battle, sometimes change the fortune of the day. His confidence in himself, and in the majority of the chamber which he had moulded to his will, was unbounded ; and long success and the habit of authority led him to forget that in a country like France there was a people out-side the chamber elected by a small constituency, to which the minister and the king himself were held responsible.

A Government based on the principle of resistance and repression and marked by dread and distrust of popular power, a system of diplomacy which sought to revive the traditions of the old French monarchy, a sovereign who largely exceeded the bounds of constitutional power and whose obstinacy augmented with years, a minister who, though far removed from the servility of the courtier, was too obsequious to the personal influence of the king, were all singularly at variance with the promises of the Revolution of July, and they narrowed the policy of the administration. Guizot's view of politics was essentially historical and philo-sophical. His tastes and his acquirements gave him little insight into the practical business of administrative govern-ment. Of finance he knew nothing; trade and commerce were strange to him, and he has been heard to express astonishment at the paramount importance Sir Robert Peel attached to his commercial policy; military and naval affairs were unfamiliar to him; all these subjects he dealt with by second hand through his friends Dumon, Duchatel, or Marshal Bugeaud. The consequence was that few measures of practical improvement were carried by his administration. Still less did the Government lend an ear to the cry for parliamentary reform. On this subject the king's prejudices were insurmountable, and his ministers had the weakness to give way to them. Being asked after the Revolution of 1848 whether he thought the action and extra-constitutional influence of King Louis Philippe had been beneficial or injurious to the monarchy, Guizot replied that in the earlier years of the king's reign it had been of great use in strengthening the government and restoring order, but that in the later years it had been injurious to constitutional government and to the monarchy itself. It obviously drew down upon the king that re-sponsibility which should have rested entirely on his minis-ters ; and on the question of reform he was even more to be blamed than they were. It was impossible to defend a system which confined the suffrage to 200,000 citizens, and returned a chamber of whom half were placemen. Nothing would have been easier than to strengthen the conservative party by attaching the suffrage to the possession of land in France, but blank resistance was the sole answer of the Government to the just and moderate demands of the opposition. Warning after warning was addressed to them in vain by friends and by foes alike; and they re-mained profoundly unconscious of their danger till the moment when it overwhelmed them. It was the old old story of a hopeless conflict between a court, obstinately addicted to an effete theory of government, and the ris-ing will of a nation, when a little timely and honest con-cession would have arrested the catastrophe. Strange to say, Guizot never acknowledged either at the time or to his dying day the nature of this error; and he speaks of himself in his memoirs as the much enduring champion of liberal government and constitutional law. He utterly fails to perceive that a more enlarged view of the liberal destinies of France and a less intense confidence in his own specific theory might have preserved the constitutional monarchy and averted a vast series of calamities, which were in the end fatal to every principle he most cherished. But with the stubborn conviction of absolute truth he dauntlessly adhered to his own doctrines to the end. The last scene of his political life was singularly characteristic what he did as a politician than by what he wrote as a man of letters, and by what he was as a man; and in these respects he takes rank amongst the most illustrious representatives of his nation and his age. (H. R.)

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