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A Residence in France During the Years 1792, 1793,

Palissot was author of The Philosophers


The

students of a more advanced age are still to be disposed of, and the task of devising an institution will not be easy; because, perhaps a Collot d'Herbois or a Duhem is not satisfied with the system which perfectioned the genius of Montesquieu or Descartes. Change, not improvement, is the object--whatever bears a resemblance to the past must be proscribed; and while other people study to simplify modes of instruction, the French legislature is intent on rendering them as difficult and complex as possible; and at the moment they decree that the whole country shall become learned, they make it an unfathomable science to teach urchins of half a dozen years old their letters.

Foreigners, indeed, who judge only from the public prints, may suppose the French far advanced towards becoming the most erudite nation in Europe: unfortunately, all these schools, primary, and secondary, and centrical, and divergent, and normal,* exist as yet but in the repertories of the Convention, and perhaps may not add "a local habitation" to their names, till the present race** shall be unfit to reap the benefit of them.

* _Les Ecoles Normales_ were schools where masters were to be instructed in the art of teaching. Certain deputies objected to them, as being of feudal institution, supposing that Normale had some reference to Normandy.

** This was a mistake, for the French

seem to have adopted the maxim, "that man is never too old to learn;" and, accordingly, at the opening of the Normal schools, the celebrated Bougainville, now eighty years of age, became a pupil. This Normal project was, however, soon relinquished--for by that fatality which has hitherto attended all the republican institutions, it was found to have become a mere nursery for aristocrats.

But this revolutionary barbarism, not content with stopping the progress of the rising generation, has ravaged without mercy the monuments of departed genius, and persecuted with senseless despotism those who were capable of replacing them. Pictures have been defaced, statues mutilated, and libraries burnt, because they reminded the people of their Kings or their religion; while artists, and men of science or literature, were wasting their valuable hours in prison, or expiring on the scaffold.--The moral and gentle Florian died of vexation. A life of abstraction and utility could not save the celebrated chymist, Lavoisier, from the Guillotine. La Harpe languished in confinement, probably, that he might not eclipse Chenier, who writes tragedies himself; and every author that refused to degrade his talents by the adulation of tyranny has been proscribed and persecuted. Palissot,* at sixty years old, was destined to expiate in a prison a satire upon Rousseau, written when he was only twenty, and escaped, not by the interposition of justice, but by the efficacity of a bon mot.

* Palissot was author of "The Philosophers," a comedy, written thirty years ago, to ridicule Rousseau. He wrote to the municipality, acknowledged his own error, and the merits of Rousseau; yet, says he, if Rousseau were a god, you ought not to sacrifice human victims to him.--The expression, which in French is well tuned, pleased the municipality, and Palissot, I believe, was not afterwards molested.


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