CHAPTER XIV. THE BATTLE OF VALMY.
"Purpurei metuunt tyranni
Injurioso ne pede proruas
Stantem columnam; neu populus frequens
Ad arma cessantes ad arma
Concitet, imperiumque frangat."
HORAT. Od. i 35.
"A little fire is quickly trodden out,
Which, being suffered, rivers cannot quench."
A few miles distant from the little town of St. Menehould, in the north-east of France, are the village and hill of Valmy; and near the crest of that hill, a simple monument points out the burial- place of the heart of a general of the French republic, and a marshal of the French empire.
The elder Kellerman (father of the distinguished officer of that name, whose cavalry-charge decided the battle of Marengo) held high commands in the French armies throughout the wars of the Convention, the Directory, the Consulate, and the Empire. He survived those wars, and the empire itself, dying in extreme old age in 1820. The last wish of the veteran on his death bed was that his heart should be deposited in the battle-field of Valmy, there to repose among the remains of his old companions in arms, who had fallen at his side on that spot twenty-eight years before, on the memorable day when they won the primal victory of revolutionary France, and prevented the armies of Brunswick and the emigrant bands of Conde from marching on defenceless Paris, and destroying the immature democracy in its cradle.
The Duke of Valmy (for Kellerman, when made one of Napoleon's military peers in 1802, took his title from this same battlefield) had participated, during his long and active career, in the gaining of many a victory far more immediately dazzling than the the one, the remembrance of which he thus cherished. He had been present at many a scene of carnage, where blood flowed in deluges, compared with which the libations of slaughter poured out at Valmy would have seemed scant and insignificant. But he rightly estimated the paramount importance of the battle with which he thus wished his appellation while living, and his memory after his death, to be identified. The successful resistance, which the new Carmagnole levies, and the disorganized relics of the old monarchy's army, then opposed to the combined hosts and chosen leaders of Prussia, Austria, and the French refugee noblesse, determined at once and for ever the belligerent character of the revolution. The raw artisans and tradesmen, the clumsy burghers, the base mechanics and low peasant churls, as it had been the fashion to term the middle and lower classes in France, found that they could face cannon-balls, pull triggers, and cross bayonets, without having been drilled into military machines, and without being officered by scions of noble houses. They awoke to the consciousness of their own instinctive soldiership. They at once acquired confidence in themselves and in each other; and that confidence soon grew into a spirit of unbounded audacity and ambition. "From the cannonade of Valmy may be dated the commencement of that career of victory which carried their armies to Vienna and the Kremlin." [Alison.]
One of the gravest reflections that arises from the contemplation of the civil restlessness and military enthusiasm which the close of the last century saw nationalised in France, is the consideration that these disturbing influences have become perpetual. No settled system of government, that shall endure from generation to generation, that shall be proof against corruption and popular violence, seems capable of taking root among the French. And every revolutionary movement in Paris thrills throughout the rest of the world. Even the successes which the powers allied against France gained in 1814 and 1815, important as they were, could not annul the effects of the preceding twenty-three years of general convulsion and war.
In 1830, the dynasty which foreign bayonets had imposed on France was shaken off; and men trembled at the expected outbreak of French anarchy and the dreaded inroads of French ambition. They "looked forward with harassing anxiety to a period of destruction similar to that which the Roman world experienced about the middle of the third century of our era." [See Niebuhr's Preface to the second volume of the "History of Rome," written in October 1830.] Louis Philippe cajoled revolution, and then strove with seeming success to stifle it. But in spite of Fieschi laws, in spite of the dazzle of Algerian razzias and Pyrenees-effacing marriages, in spite of hundreds of armed forts, and hundreds of thousands of coercing troops, Revolution lived, and struggled to get free. The old Titan spirit heaved restlessly beneath "the monarchy based on republican institutions." At last, four years ago, the whole fabric of kingcraft was at once rent and scattered to the winds, by the uprising of the Parisian democracy; and insurrections, barricades and dethronements, the downfall of coronets and crowns, the armed collisions of parties, systems, and populations, became the commonplaces of recent European history.
France now calls herself a republic. She first assumed that title on the 20th of September, 1792, on the very day on which the battle of Valmy was fought and won. To that battle the democratic spirit which in 1848, as well as in 1792, proclaimed the Republic in Paris, owed its preservation, and it is thence that the imperishable activity of its principles may be dated.