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THE VISCOUNT DE CORMENIN
(LOUIS MARIE DE LA HAYE, VICOMTE DE CORMENIN)
ORMENIN'S «Book of Orators” (Livre des Orateurs), is better known to
English readers as the “Orators of France.” It appeared in 1838,
and was soon afterwards translated into English. The American edition of 1854 had prefixed to it J. T. Headley's essay on the “Oratory of the French Revolution.” Cormenin, who was a distinguished French jurist and publicist, was born at Paris, January 6th, 1788, and educated for the bar. In 1810 Napoleon appointed him auditor of the Council of State, and he held office also under the Bourbons, after the Restoration. In 1828 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, where he attacked the abuses of government under Charles X. During the various changes which followed up to the coup d'état of Louis Napoleon he was active in politics, and he was a member of the Council of State under the second empire. In 1868 he became commander of the French Legion of Honor. It is said that he «established more charitable institutions than any layman of his time in France.” He died at Paris, May 6th, 1868.
MIRABEAU'S STYLE AND METHODS
He bears upon
NE is surprised and recoils affrighted before the gigantic works accomplished
by Mirabeau during the two years of his parliamentary life. Elaborate
discourses, apostrophes, replies, motions, addresses, letters to constituents, newspaper controversy, reports, morning sessions, evening sessions, committee business,- he participates in all, superintends all. Nothing for him was too great, nothing too little; nothing too complex and nothing too simple. his shoulders a world of labors, and seems, in that herculean career, to experience' neither fatigue or distaste. He unraveled with perfect ease the most complicated difficulties, and his restless activity exhausted the whole circle of subjects without being able to satisfy itself. He kept occupied all at the same time his numerous friends, his constituents, his agents, his secretaries. He conversed, debated, listened, dictated, read, compiled, wrote, declaimed, maintained a correspondence with all France. He digested the labors of others, assimilating them so as that they became his own. He used to receive notes as he ascended the tribune, in the tribune even, and pass them, without pausing, into the texture of his discourse. He retouched the harangues and reports of which he had given the frame, the plan, the idea. He chastened them with his practiced judgment, colored them with his vivid expressions, strengthened them with his vigorous thought. This sublime plagiarist, this grand master, employed his aids and his pupils to extract the marble from the quarry and chip off the grosser parts, like
the statuary who, when the block is rough-hewn, approaches, takes his chisel, gives it respiration and life and makes it a hero or a god.
Mirabeau had a perfect understanding of the mechanism and the rights of a deliberative body. He knew how far it may go and where it should stop. His disciplinary formulas have passed into our rules, his maxims into our laws, his counsels into our policy. His words were law. He presided as he spoke, with a grave dignity, and used to reply to the several deputations with such fertility of eloquence and felicity of language that it may be truly said the Constituent Assembly has never been better represented than by Mirabeau, whether in the chair of the president or in the tribune of the orator. What a grand conception he formed of the national representation when saying: “Every deputation from the people astounds my courage. It was with these holy emotions he approached the tribune.
Mirabeau used to premeditate most of his discourses; his comparison of the Gracchi, his allusion to the Tarpeian rock, his apostrophe to Sieyès, his famous speeches on the constitution, on the right of war and peace, the royal veto, the property of the clergy, the lottery, the mines, bankruptcy, the assignats, slavery, national education, the law of successions, where he displays such treasures of science and profound elaboration of thought, -all these are written pieces.
His manner as an orator is that of the great masters of antiquity, with an admirable energy of gesture and a vehemence of diction which perhaps they had never reached. He is strong, because he does not diffuse himself; he is natural, because he uses no ornaments; he is eloquent, because he is simple; he does not imitate others because he needs but to be himself; he does not surcharge his discourse with a baggage of epithets, because they would retard it; he does not run into digressions, for fear of wandering from the question. His exordiums are sometimes abrupt, sometimes majestic, as it comports with the subject. His narration of facts is clear. His statement of the question is precise and positive. His ample and sonorous phraseology much resembles the spoken phraseology of Cicero. He unrolls, with a solemn slowness, the folds of his discourse. He does not accumulate his enumerations as ornaments, but as proofs. He seeks not the harmony of words, but the concatenation of ideas. He does not exhaust a subject to the dregs, he takes but the flower. Would he dazzle, the most brilliant images spring up beneath his steps; would he touch, he abounds in raptures of emotion, in tender persuasions, in oratorical transports which do not conflict with, but sustain, which are never confounded with, but follow, each other, which seem to produce one another successively and flow with a happy disorder from that fine and prolific nature.
But when he comes to the point in debate, when he enters the heart of the question, he is substantial, nervous, logical as Demosthenes. He advances in a serried and impenetrable order. He reviews his proofs, disposes the plan of attack, and arrays them in order of battle. Mailed in the armor of dialectics, he sounds the charge, rushes upon the adversaries, seizes and prostrates them; nor does he loose his hold till he compels them, knee on neck, to avow themselves vanquished. If they retreat, he pursues, attacks them front and rear, presses upon them, drives them, and brings them inevitably within the imperial circle which he had designated for their destruction,— like those who, upon the deck of a narrow vessel, captured by boarding her, place a hopeless enemy between their sword and the ocean.
How his language must have surprised by its novelty and thrilled the popular heart, when he drew this picture of a legal constitution:
« Too often are bayonets the only remedy applied to the convulsions of oppression and want. But bayonets never re-establish but the peace of terror, the silence of despotism. Ah! the people are not a furious herd which must be kept in chains!
Always quiet and moderate when they are truly free, they are violent and unruly but under those governments where they are systematically debased in order to bave a pretext to despise them. When we consider what must result to the happidess of twenty-five millions of, men, from a legal constitution in place of ministerial caprices; from the consent of all the wills and the co-operation of all the lights of the nation in the improvement of our laws; from the reform of abuses; from the reduction of taxes; from economy in the finances; from the mitigation of the penal laws; from regularity of procedure in the tribunals; from the abolition of a multitude of servitudes which shackle industry and mutilate the human faculties, – in a word, from that grand system of liberty, which, planted on the firm basis of freely-elected municipalities, rises gradually to the provincial administrations, and receives its completion from the annual recurrence of the States-General; when we weigh all that must result from the restoration of this vast empire, who does not feel that the greatest of crimes, the darkest outrage against humanity, would be to offer opposition to the rising destiny of our country and thrust her back into the depths of the abyss, there to hold her oppressed beneath the burthen of all her chains. »
With what accuracy, with what nicety of observation he enumerates the difficulties of the civil and military administration of Bailly and Lafayette when he proposes to vote them the thanks of the Assembly: –
«What an administration ! what an epoch, where all is to be feared and all to be braved I when tumult begets tumult, when an affray is produced by the very means taken to prevent it; when moderation is unceasingly necessary, and moderation appears pusillanimity, timidity, treason; when you are beset with a thousand counsels, and yet must take your own; when all persons are to be dreaded, even citizens whose intentions are pure, but whom distrust, excitement, exaggeration, render almost as formidable as conspirators; when one is obliged, even in critical circumstances, to yield up his wisdom, to lead anarchy in order to repress it, to assume an employment glorious, it is true, but environed with the most harassing alarms; when it is necessary, besides, in the midst of such and so many difficulties, to show a serene countenance, to be always calm, to enforce order even in the smallest details, to offend no one, to heal all jealousies, to serve incessantly and seek to please, but without the appearance of being a servant ! »
When M. Neckar, minister of finance, asked the Assembly for a vote of confidence, Mirabeau, in order to carry it by storm, displayed all the irony of his eloquence and all the might of his logic; and when he saw the auditory shaken, he hurled against bankruptcy the following fulminations:
“Oh! if declarations less solemn did not guarantee our respect for the public faith, our horror of the infamous word bankruptcy. I should say to those who familiarize themselves, perhaps, with the idea of repudiating the public engagements, through fear of excessive sacrifices, through terror of taxation: "What, then, is bankruptcy, if it is not the cruelest, the most iniquitous, the most disastrous of imposts ? My friends, listen to me, a word, a single word !
« <Two centuries of depredation and robbery have excavated the abyss wherein the kingdom is on the verge of being engulfed. This frightful gulf it is indispensable to fill up. Well, here is a list of the proprietors. Choose from among the richest, so as to sacrifice the smallest number of the citizens. But choose ! for is it not expedient that a small number perish to save the mass of the people ? Come,- these two thousand notables possess wherewith to supply the deficit. Restore order to our finances, peace and prosperity to the kingdom. Strike, and immolate pitilessly these melancholy victims, precipitate them into the abyss; it is about to close.
What you recoil with horror !
Inconsistent, pusillanimous men!
And do you not
in decreeing bankruptcy, or, what is more odious still, in rendering it inevitable without decreeing, you disgrace yourselves with an act a thousand times more criminal; for, in fact, that horrible sacrifice would remove the deficiency. But do you imagine, that because you refuse to pay, you shall cease to owe? Do you think the thousands, the millions of
who will lose in instant by the dreadful explosion or its revulsions, all that constituted the comfort of their lives, and perhaps their sole means of subsistence, will leave you in the peaceable enjoyment of your crime ? Stoical contemplators of the incalculable woes which this catastrophe will scatter over France; unfeeling egotists, who think these convulsions of despair and wretchedness will pass away like so many others, - and pass the more rapidly as they will be the more violent, — are you quite sure that so many men without bread will leave you tranquilly to luxuriate amid the viands which you will have been unwilling to curtail in either variety or delicacy?
No, you will perish; and in the universal conflagration, which you do not tremble to kindle, the loss of your honor will not save you a single one of your detestable luxuries ! Vote, then, this extraordinary subsidy, and may it prove sufficient ! Vote it, because the class most interested in the sacrifice which the government demands, is you yourselves ! Vote it, because the public exigencies allow of no evasion, and that you will be responsible for every delay! Beware of asking time; misfortune never grants it. What ! gentlemen, in reference to a ridiculous movement of the PalaisRoyal, a ludicrous insurrection which had never any consequence except in the weak imaginations or the wicked purposes of a few designing men, you have heard not long since these insane cries: Catiline is at the gates of Rome, and you deliberate. And assuredly, there was around you neither Catiline, nor danger, nor factions, nor Rome.
But to-day, bankruptcy, hideous bankruptcy, is there before you.
It threatens to consume you, your country, your property, your honor ! .
And you deliberate !) » This is as beautiful as it is antique.
Mirabeau, in his premeditated discourses, was admirable. But what was he not in his extemporaneous effusions His natural vehemence, of which he repressed the flights in his prepared speeches, broke down all barriers in his improvisations. A sort of nervous irritability gave then to his whole frame an almost preternatural animation and life. His breast dilated with an impetuous breathing. His lion face became wrinkled and contorted. His eyes shot forth flame. He roared, he stamped, he shook the fierce mass of his hair, all whitened with foam; he trod the tribune with the supreme authority of a master, and the imperial air of a king. What an interesting spectacle to behold him, momently, erect and exalt himself under the pressure of obstacle! To see him display the pride of his commanding brow! To see him, like the ancient orator, when, with all the powers of his unchained eloquence, he was wont to sway to and fro in the forum the agitated waves of the Roman multitude! Then would he throw by the measured notes of his declamation, habitually grave and solemn. Then would escape him broken exclamations, tones of thunder, and accents of heart-rending and terrible pathos. He concealed with the flesh and color of his rhetoric the sinewy arguments of his dialectics. He transported the Assembly, because he was himself transported. And yet, so extraordinary was his force, he abandoned himself to the torrent of his eloquence without wandering from his course; he mastered others by its sovereign sway, without losing for an instant his own self-control. His improvisations, whether from rapid exhaustion or rather instinct of his art,
He knew that strong emotions lose their effect by duration; that it is