Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Trench on the French Revolution

My last post focused on some patriotic poems by Richard Chenevix Trench. Trench was an Anglican archbishop and a popular poet of the nineteenth century.

The two poems I'd like to focus on in this post deal with France and the French Revolution:
On the Results of the Last French Revolution

How long shall weary nations toil in blood,
How often roll the still returning stone
Up the sharp painful height, ere they will own
That on the base of individual good,
Of virtue, manners, and pure homes endued
With household graces—that on this alone
Shall social freedom stand—where these are gone,
There is a nation doomed to servitude?
O suffering, toiling France, thy toil is vain!
The irreversible decree stands sure,
Where men are selfish, covetous of gain,
Heady and fierce, unholy and impure,
Their toil is lost, and fruitless all their pain;
They cannot build a work which shall endure.

I find this poem interesting because it illustrates a point made in Patrick Deneen's book, Why Liberalism Failed, that freedom was in the past not usually understood to mean doing whatever one had a will to do, as there could be no freedom in society (no "social freedom") if individuals did not first cultivate virtue in themselves. (I'm not sure the exact year Trench's poem was written but it was published in a volume of poetry in 1835.)

Trench wrote a companion poem to the one above:
To England.

A sequel to the foregoing.

Thy duteous loving children fear for thee
In one thing chiefly—for thy pure abodes
And thy undesecrated household Gods,
Thou most religious, and for this most free,
Of all the nations. Oh! look out and see
The injuries which she, who in the name
Of liberty thy fellowship would claim,
Has done to virtue and to liberty;
Whose philtres have corrupted everywhere
The living springs men drink of, all save thine.
Oh! then of her and of her love beware!
Better again eight hundred years of strife,
Than give her leave to sap and undermine
The deep foundations of thy moral life.

Trench is arguing that the English are the most free nation because they are still the most moral, not having drunk the "philtres" (love potions) of the French Revolution. He does not want England to ally itself with France on the basis of a shared commitment to liberty, as revolutionary "liberty" will fatally undermine the genuine article. Better to resume the 800 years of warfare with the French than have friendship on such terms.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

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