Open the history of America, the history of England, and the history of France; read the great lives, the great deaths, the great sufferings, the sublime words, when the ruling passion of life reveals itself in the last moments of the dying, -- and compare them!
Washington and Franklin fought, spoke, suffered; rose and fell, in their political life, from popularity to ingratitude, from glory to bitter scorn of their citizens, -- always in the name of God, for whom they acted; and the liberator of America died, committing to the Divine protection, first, the liberty of his People, -- and, afterwards, his own soul to His indulgent judgment.
Strafford, dying for the constitution of his country, wrote to Charles I., to entreat his consent to his punishment, that he might spare trouble to the State: |Put not your trust,| wrote he, after this consent was obtained, |put not your trust in princes, or in the son of man, because salvation is not in them, but from on high.| While walking to the scaffold, he stopped under the windows of his friend, the Bishop of London; he raised his head towards him, and asked, in a loud voice, the assistance of his prayers in the terrible moment to which he had come. The primate, bowed with age, and bathed in tears, gave, in a stifled voice, his tender benedictions to his unhappy friend, and fell, without consciousness, into the arms of his attendants. Strafford continued his way, sustained by the Divine force, descending from this invocation upon him: he spoke with resignation to the People assembled to see him die. |I fear only one thing,| said he, |and that is, that this effusion of innocent blood is a bad presage for the liberty of my country!| (Alas! why did not the Convention recall these words among us, in '93?) Stafford continued: -- |Now,| said he, |I draw near my end. One blow will make my wife a widow, my children orphans, deprive my poor servants of an affectionate master, and separate me from my dear brother, and my friends. May God be all of these!| He disrobed himself, and placed his head on the block. |I give thanks,| said he, |to my heavenly Master for helping me to await this blow without fear; for not permitting me to be cast down for a single instant by terror. I repose my head as willingly on this block as I ever laid it down to sleep.| This is faith in Patriotism! See Charles I., in his turn, -- that model of a kingly death. At the moment that he was to receive the blow of the axe, the edge of which he had coolly examined and touched, he raised his head, and addressed the clergyman who was present: -- |Remember!| said he; as if he had said, |Remember to advise my sons never to revenge their father!|
Sidney, the young martyr of a patriotism, guilty, because too hasty, died to expiate the dream of the freedom of his country. He said to the jailer, |May my blood purify my soul! I rejoice that I die innocent toward the king, but a victim resigned to the King of Heaven, to whom we owe all life.|
The republicans of Cromwell sought only the way of God, even in the blood of battles. Their politics is nothing but faith; their government, a prayer; their death, a holy hymn; -- they sang, like the Templars, on their funeral-pile. We see, we feel, we hear God, above all, in these revolutions, in these great popular movements, and in the souls of the great citizens of these nations.
But recross the Atlantic, traverse the Channel, approach our own time, open our annals; and listen to the great political actors in the drama of our liberty. It would seem as if God was hidden from the souls of men; as if his name had never been written in the language. History will have the air of being atheistic, while recounting to posterity these annihilations, rather than deaths, of the celebrated men of the greatest years of France. The victims alone have a God; the tribunes and lictors have none.
See Mirabeau on his death-bed. |Crown me with flowers,| said he, |intoxicate me with perfumes, let me die with the sound of delicious music.| Not one word of God, or of his soul! A sensual philosopher, he asks of death only a supreme sensualism; he desires to give a last pleasure even to agony.
Look at Madam Roland, that strong woman of the Revolution, -- upon the car that carries her to death. She looks with scorn upon the stupid People, who kill their prophets and their sibyls. Not one glance to Heaven; only an exclamation for the earth she leaves: -- |O, Liberty!|
Approach the prison door of the Girondines: their last night is a banquet, and their last hymn is the Marseillaise!
Follow Camille Desmoulins to punishment: -- a cold and indecent pleasantry at the tribunal; one long imprecation on the road to the guillotine; -- those are the last thoughts of this dying man, about to appear on high!
Listen to Danton, upon the platform of the scaffold, one step from God and immortality: -- |I have enjoyed much; let me go to sleep,| he says; -- then, to the executioner, |You will show my head to the People; it is worth while!| Annihilation for a confession of faith; vanity for his last sigh: such is the Frenchman of these latter days!
What do you think of the religious sentiment of a free People, whose great characters seem to walk thus in procession to annihilation; and die, without even death, that terrible minister, recalling to their minds the fear or the promises of God?
Thus the Republic, -- which had no future, -- reared by these men, and mere parties, was quickly overthrown in blood. Liberty, achieved by so much heroism and genius, did not find in France a conscience to shelter it, a God to avenge it, a People to defend it, against that other Atheism called Glory! All was finished by a soldier, and by the apostacy of republicans travestied into courtiers! And what could you expect? Republican Atheism has no reason to be heroic. If it is terrified, it yields. Would one buy it, it sells itself; it would be most foolish to sacrifice itself. Who would mourn for it? -- the People are ungrateful, and God does not exist.
Thus end atheistic revolutions!