ELIZA DOROTHY BRADBY (1861–1927)
The Life Of Barnave (1915)
Contains "Errata" note.
BARNAVE, though one of the most important figures in the early history of the French Revolution, has been neglected by English and American students. Until the appearance of Mr. Bradby's book no biographical study of his life, of any consequence, has existed in English. The explanation is perhaps to be found in Barnave's own words. "Liberty" he declared, "is won by enthusiasm, but on the other hand, it is kept by resisting enthusiasm". His fight for liberty was not as dramatic as that of some of his contemporaries and moreover he was chiefly concerned in the latter part of the programme—resisting enthusiasm—a part never popular. His opposition to the extension of equality to all classes in the colonies, and to the establishment of a republic, naturally aroused enmity against him both from the extremists and the republicans, while for his advocacy of liberty he was attacked by the royalists. The significant though undramatic part which he played in the constructive work of the Constituent Assembly is, however, more than sufficient to warrant an extended study of his life.
Mr. Bradby finds a special reason for such a study in the curiosity provoked by the apparent contradictions of Barnave's personality.
His kindness to the royal family when he and Pétion escorted them back to Paris cannot fail to leave an impression that he had a heart large enough to be touched by misfortune, that he was a true gentleman who knew how to behave in trying circumstances. This impression persists and colors all the unfavorable ones which we subsequently form.
There is ground for such unfavorable impression in the opinion expressed by his adversaries. He was in their view "excessively vain, inordinately ambitious, uneasily jealous of Mirabeau, acid and spiteful", an inveterate duellist, a cold rhetorician and finally a turncoat, when after the flight to Varennes, "won over" by the smiles of the queen, he devoted himself to trying to prop up the monarchy and to save the royal family.
Allured by these contradictions, Mr. Bradby proceeds to examine the evidence. His conclusion is decidedly favorable to Barnave. He presents him as a young man of lofty ideals and at the same time of sound practical sense, an opponent of privilege and oppression, a clear and logical debater well able to refute Mirabeau, generous to his enemies and loving and loved by a large circle of friends, and finally an advocate of constitutional monarchy, not because of chivalrous and sentimental devotion to a woman, but because of firm belief in a cause.
A notable part of the book is Mr. Bradby's examination of Barnave's alleged relations to the court, especially to the queen, as a political adviser. While his argument is not convincing beyond all reasonable doubt, he proves that much of the testimony, particularly that of Madame Campan, is untrustworthy, and that at least there was nothing politically discreditable in his dealings with the queen. While opinions may differ as to Barnave's life, there can be no difference of opinion as to the nobility of his conduct as he faced death. He refused to avail himself of the prison door left suggestively open, "because he held it better to die under a cloud than to live as a witness against France and the Revolution in the eyes of Europe hostile to both".
The book is of value not only as a picture of Barnave but as a vivid account of the Constituent Assembly. The background is as interesting as the main figure; there is so much of it, however, that at times Barnave himself is almost lost from sight. The work might perhaps be more properly called "The Life and Times of Barnave". (Eloise Ellery, The American Historical Review, 01/1916)
Volume 1: https://archive.org/details/lifeofbarnave01braduoft/page/n5/mode/2up
Volume 2: https://archive.org/details/lifeofbarnave02braduoft
Suggest and discuss books to read (all languages welcome!)
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