صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

self. If time-binding and evolution were test-tube experiments in which the reactions therein could be observed until standardized. predictions might then be made with regard to them with some degree of reliability.

Finally, is the question of whether the average man can stand a universe robbed by science of the supernatural and its consolations; of whether the man of the streets in accepting a mechanistic conception of life will not be led to such behavior as will jeopardize the existing social order. The answer to this question is doubtless that whenever the man of the streets can grasp a mechanistic conception or any essentially rational conception, he will cease to be labelled as such, nor will he need the consolation of the supernatural. The proponent of the question is himself more alarmed by the steady advance of science into social channels than the interest he manifests in the common man would indicate. It is the pseudointellectuals themselves, not the average or common man, who are alarmed over the mechanistic conception. They want to hold with God and run with science. To the extent that any man can actually grasp as a real scientist does the scientific or mechanistic point of view, he becomes a better and more worthy citizen. False interpreters of science to the public, mental Bolsheviks and other jugglers with fact, however, one may biologically expect, like the poor of whom Christ spoke, to have with one always.

AN UNDAMAGED SOUL: THOMAS PAINE

(Concluded)

BY J. V. NASH

[ocr errors]

N company with Audibert and a Mr. Frost, Paine at once set out

for Dover. There he was subjected to some petty annoyance by the government officials, but was finally allowed to take passage to France. Twenty minutes after the little boat had cleared the harbor and was on its way across the channel, an official order reached Dover for the arrest of Thomas Paine—too late.

On his arrival in Paris, where he was received with distinguished honors, Paine took his seat in the Convention; he was appointed a member of the Committee on Legislation and worked diligently in drawing up the plan for a Constitution. He was the first to advocate a Republican form of government for France. Still, Paine counselled a wise policy of moderation. He particularly abhorred unnecessary bloodshed. But events were moving too fast: power was slipping from the moderates—the Girondists—the Jacobins—the terrible party of the Mountain, so-called from the topmost tier of benclies which its members occupied in the Convention-were soon to seize the reins and gallop on to the Reign of Terror.

The situation in France was far different from that in America twenty years before. The earlier revolution had involved merely a political separation from another country; the later was a revolution within the body politic, superinduced by centuries of cruel oppression of the people.

Notwithstanding his ignorance of the French language, Paine played a leading role in the French Revolution, and unlike that of nearly all the others who figured in this great upheaval, Paine's record throughout is unblemished.

But the act which will shine forever as a lamp of remembrance over the name of Paine in those dreadful years was his heroic fight, at the risk of his own neck, to save the life of the Catholic monarch, Louis XVI. In an able speech, which was read in translation to the Convention, Paine, as a member of the body which had the king's fate in its keeping, pleaded earnestly for mercy to the pitiful creature who, after his ill-starred attempt to escape in disguise, had been captured at Varennes and brought back in ignominy to Paris

The humble English Quaker who, by so many strange turns of the wheel of fortune, now found himself one of the judges of a proud Bourbon king, wished justice tempered with mercy. “Kill the king, but spare the man,” he urged. It would be to the everlasting glory of the Revolution, he pointed out, not to stain its hands unnecessarily with blood. "Mr. Capet," he argued, was more sinned against than sinning, a victim himself of the detestable system of royalty. Furthermore, as a practical argument, he reminded the Convention that the king alive could be kept as a hostage, whereas if he were killed it would offer an excuse for his royal relatives in other countries to unite in making war upon disorganized France, and for pretenders to the throne to engulf the distracted country in still further troubles. In addition, he reminded his colleagues of the gratitude which America felt toward the king for the help which France had given to the colonies in their war for independence (This last argument, of course, was weak, since the Bourbon King was no friend of democracy, and the aid to America was dictated by the policy of the foreign minister, Vergennes, in revenge upon England for the taking of Canada.)

But the cry had gone out for the blood of the king: considerations of humanity and of political expediency were alike swept aside ; poor, fat, blundering Louis was carried in a daze to the guillotine and the swift knife passed its irreversible judgment upon him.

Paine's position became at once a difficult one. His plea for the king's life had, of course, deeply offended the more radical element, although by many it was forgiven as an oddity arising from a Quaker repugnance to the shedding of blood.

As a member of the Committee on Surveillance, Paine still exercised some influence, and was in a position to befriend many Americans and Englishmen in Paris, including a number who had wronged him. It is related that on one occasion a certain Englishman by the name of Captain Grimstone, during a political argument at a dinner party, struck Paine with his fist. The penalty for assaulting a Deputy to the Convention was death; yet through Paine's influence the dastardly assailant was pardoned.

The tide of the Terror was now steadily rising. The taste of blood had whetted the thirst of the angry populace. Men like Marat and Danton became the favored leaders. Paine, entirely out of sympathy with such extremists, yet powerless to oppose them, now dropped out of the Convention. He would have returned to America, but as he was still a nominal Deputy, he was not free to leave; and even if he were to succeed in securing permission to go, the news would be noised abroad, and he knew that British ships of war were cruising up and down outside the French harbors with special instructions to be on the lookout for the outlaw Paine. For ten long years the mighty navy of George III maintained its vigil on the high seas, in the hope of catching and bringing to an English gallows the poor Quaker whose teachings had “put down the mighty from their seats,” had raised up the Republic of the West and rocked every throne in Europe.

A period of gloom descended upon Paine, as he saw his high hopes of ordered iiberty for France disappearing in a sea of fire and blood. It is charged against him by his maligners that during this time of despair he indulged himself in drink! Let us be thankful that in this dreadful night of anguish there was something that could bring temporary forgetfulness.

Robespierre--the green-eyed—was now riding the storm. The lowest strata of the population had at last risen to the top and had become as wolves ravening for blood to drink and for flesh to tear asunder. It was the same populace which only a few years before had fallen on its knees as the Sacred Host went by in the Corpus Christi processions. Church and State had kept the people in the dirt, sunk in grovelling ignorance and fanatical superstition; the savage cruelty with which heretics and political reformers had been tortured and done to death (the horrible official murder of the Protestant Calas was still fresh in memory) was inevitably imitated by outraged Demos when at last he turned upon his masters.

We here come to the darkest tragedy in Paine's long and eventful career; for which, as the world now knows, Robespierre, evil as he was (though not as black as he is painted) cannot be held responsible. The guilt rests unequivocally, as Conway has clearly demonstrated, with a fellow American and trusted adviser of Washington.

Gouverneur Morris-another of the really "damaged souls" of American history-was at this time United States minister in Paris. During the American Revolution it is known that he held treacherous communication with English politicians. Nevertheless, after the

peace he had managed to secure a position of influence with the government and the confidence of Washington. An aristocrat and royalist at heart, and insanely jealous of Paine's prestige among the Americans in Paris, he was soon plotting with Deforgues, the foreign minister, whom he seems to have completely duped, to bring about the ruin of the object of his hate and envy.

Paine was at last expelled from the Convention, on the ground that he was a “foreigner,” and retired to an old mansion with a quiet garden, once the property of Madame de Pompadour, in the Fauboug St. Denis, where, far removed from the horrors of the Place de la Revolution, he led a peaceful existence with half a dozen devoted friends, including the Bonnevilles.

In December, 1793, an order was issued for Paine's arrest. His associates had been falling fast around him, but it was difficult to see how any charge could be brought against Paine ; indeed, since he had been excluded from the Convention as a foreigner, he could no longer be regarded as in any sense a French citizen, and was now in every way entitled to American protection.

Paine, meanwhile, had improved the little time that had been left to him before his arrest by hurriedly writing the first part of The Age of Reason, the manuscript of which he delivered to his fellow American, Joel Barlow (graduate of Yale college, an admiring friend of Paine) when on his way to the Luxembourg prison. He tells us that the French officers who came to arrest him treated him not only with civility but with respect.

In the Luxembourg prison Paine was destined to languish for ten weary months. The Americans in Paris were outraged by the arrest of Paine, and went in a body to the Convention to ask his release. There was still no definite accusation against Paine, but nothing could be done for him unless the United States government, through its minister, officially demanded his freedom, as an American citizen. Gouverneur Morris was at once appealed to by the Americans, who were, of course, in ignorance of Morris's conspiracy. He craftily pretended to write a letter claiming Paine as an American citizen, and gave Washington to understand that he had done so. To forestall any movement on behalf of Paine, he represented that to press the matter further might result in Paine's being immediately guillotined. Washington, who was at this time negotiating the Jay treaty with England, seems to have been anxious to wash his hands of Paine as far as possible, lest he give offense to England and endanger the success of the treaty. Vorris's deceptive

« السابقةمتابعة »