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History and Politics.
Vol. III. APRIL, 1819. No. II.
Letters on France and England.
MY DEAR H ,
It is full time that a correspondence to which, in the warmjh of your partiality for the writer, you are pleased to attach some value, should be at length resumed, and that, by a few more bulky epistles concerning the men and things of Europe, I should redeem the pledge which you suppose me to have given. In complying with your wishes, I shall claim again the privilege I have heretofore used, of overlooking all attention to formal method, and of discussing in immediate succession topics of the most opposite nature. I consider myself as wholly independent on unities of any description, and intitled, in the manner of the prince of dramatists, to blend indiscriminately the comic with the tragic; to transport the scene of my observations from one country to another, in obedience alone to the spontaneous associations of memory. Whatever valid arguments may be urged against the toleration of this license on the stage, none can be devised why it should not be indulged, in compositions of the kind now submitted to your perusal.
In our conversations we have often had occasion to speak of the characters and structure of the French police. As this
Vol. HI. X
is a subject of much interest, and of still greater importance, I propose to take it first in the order of my narrative
or essay, for my pages will probably admit of either of these titles. A minute history and exposition of this tremendous inquisition, is more than I now mean to undertake, although I believe that they might be, if properly executed, of more utility to mankind, than any other discussion whatever, serving to develop the foundations, and deformity of the French power. The task, however, would be incompatible with my present object, which is not to entangle you in deep and fatiguing speculations, nor to involve myself in inquiries much extent, and difficulty, but to gratify your curiosity, my own communicative humor, with as little embarrassm as possible to either of us. The genius of the French police is such, that the plan and scope of its operations are, in their details, almost beyond the reach of investigation. Still it is not impracticable to form, by means of what is manifest to every observer, some general, and at the same time very acc rate notions on this head. I am not without the hope, I shall one day be able to present the public, with a reg account of the most fearful and atrocious conspiracy, that ever been projected, for the debasement and disunion of tbt human race; a conspiracy levelled against the domestic security and public liberties, not only of the country in w1' it is seated, but of every other portion of the civilized world.
In this light do I regard the system of the French police. I also view it as an instrument of domestic oppression, and of foreign conquest, little less potent, in the hands of the present government of France, than any other part, whether military or financial, of that portentous organization of tyranny and rapine. Concurrently with the Conscription, it forms the security of the imperial throne, and insures the success of the French arms. France, by the agency of her foreign police, is actively militant in the heart of every country.—She wages thus, without intermission, a sort of invisible and silent war, in some ca's•es more fatal to national independence, and private morality, than would be the presence of her legions, or the uttermost havoc of her sword. At home, her political inquisition . is even of more immediate importance, in the maintenance of the government, than the military force, and of more certain efficacy in paralizing and enslaving the minds of her people, than her scheme of fiscal exaction, overwhelming as it is, or than any contrivance for the purpose, which the most ingenious and ferocious tyranny could by any
The mechanism of the French police is complex, elaborate and vast beyond all description. There is no branch of the despotic polity which has been more studiously contrived, or which is more artificially disposed. It is co-extensive with the scheme of universal influence and dominion so justly ascribed to the French government, and moves perpetually in concert with the military force, for the attainment of a common end. The merciless and profligate violence with which the latter is employed, does not surpass in degree, the perfidy, the corruption, and the barbarity in which the action of the first may properly be said to consist. Both presuppose from the manner in which they are wielded, and the purpose to which they are applied, the absence of all human sympathies and all moral rectitude; but the institution of the police is eminently founded upon the extreme enormity, the last refinements, the absolute plenitude, of guilt. Mr. Burke may have used loo strong a figure, when he said in relation to the principle of the French revolution, that it was a spirit drawn from the alembic of hell. I doubt, however, if this be not a proper type of that fatal poison of which the prefecture of Paris is the laboratory, and which, through innumerable channels, and with the most diabolical art, is distributed thence, over this hemisphere as well as the other, to corrupt and distract -both the domestic circles, and the public councils of every nation.
Espionage was but too familiar to the Ancients, and among the means of oppression, or self-defence habitually employed by their tyrants. We shudder with horror in reading the language of the historians, concerning the miseries and atrocities to which this practice led, under such monsters as Dyonisius and Tiberius.* When Gibbon remarks of the principal citizens of the Roman world in the reign of Constantine, " that
* Tacitus has the following passage concerning the prevalence of Espionage under Tiberius. "Among the calamities of that black period, the most trying grievance was the degenerate spirit with which the first men in the senate submitted to the drudgery of common informers, some without a blush in the face of day, and others with clandestine artifices. The contagion was epidemic: near relations, aliens in blood, friends and strangers, known and unknown, were all involved in one common danger. The fact recently committed, and the tale revived, were equally destructive. Words alone were sufficient, whether spoken in the forum, or amid the pleasures of the table. Informers struggled as it were in a race who should be the first to ruin his man; some to secure themselves; the greater part infected by the general corruption of the times." (Annal. lib. 6.) With very little variation, this picture might serve at this moment for France. When Fourcroy, who presided over the new organization of the public schools of thai country the terrors of a malicious information which might select them as the accomplices, or even as the witnesses, perhaps, of an imaginary crime, perpetually hung over their heads," he exi hibits a state of things in one respect strikingly analogous to that which now obtains in France. It would appear, likewise, that Rome, both before and after the loss of her liberty, employed agents in foreign countries to promote her ambitious aims, by secret intrigue and the arts of corruption.
But antiquity neither saw nor ever imagined a system like the present, essentially interwoven with the social as well as the political constitution of the-country; organized upon so regular and so vast a scale, bringing every foreign nation fully within its operation, extending at home to the minutest details of common life; pursued, in all its ramifications, with unremitting activity, and the highest exertions both of sagacity and depravity. What prevailed in this respect in former times, was no more than the casual resort of tyranny and ambition-, the congenial but transitory device of single despots suspicious of the fidelity, or thirsting for the blood, of their subjects. In France espionage not only forms an integral part of the political constitution, but belongs essentially to the genius of the people: it would survive the abolishment of the conscription or of the imperial dominion; and is so deeply settled, so extensively and firmly systematised, that nothing would mate* rially affect it short of a complete revolution, not merely in the spirit of the government, but in the national character, and habits.
Every domestic functionary of that country is ex officio an informer; all from the minister of police himself, down to the humblest tide-waiter, are in a state of mutual, vigilant, and for the most part malignant supervision: £very condition of private life to the lowest grade, is similarly circumstanced. Gibbon somewhere observes, that the obscure millions of a great empire, have much less to dread from the cruelty, than from the avarice of their masters; and that their humble hap*
proposed Tacitusto his Emperor as one of the classics to be introduced into them, the latter exclaimed with much warmth," Allezdonc.c'est un calm* ateur."—" Go to!—He is a libeller." No doubt the injury which the historian has done to the fair fame of Tiberius and Nero, must awaken sympathy in the bosom of this other " benefactor of the human race." Tacitus «■> mistaken when he supposed "that the ancient historian is safe from the severity of criticism;" but prophetic in the question which he almost immediately subjoins to this remark, " Will there nqt be at all times a succeision of men, who from congenial manners and sympathy in vice, will think the fidelity of history a satire on themselves!" (Annai: lib. 4.)
piness is principally affected by the grievance of excessive taxes. This remark would not hold good in reference to the lower and more indigent classes of France, who, while they suffer the heaviest pressure of the grievance of which the historian speaks, are visited by their government with a still more cruel scourge in the terrors, the penalties, the mutual distrust, and the abject guilt in which they are involved by the police.
It is a part of the regular, official duty of every functionary of the French government abroad, by secret machinations, to facilitate the extension of the imperial power or influence, over the country in which he is placed. He is commissioned not only to ascertain and report, the means which rlready exist about him, for the accomplishment of this purpose;—to study and take advantage of dispositions originally favourable to the same end,—but actively to create facilities, and remove obstructions. He is the member of an organized and numerous corps, who labour in the same vocation; who, like then brethren in France, have, either in the foreign metropolis or elsewhere, a common centre or head, by which their task is prescribed, their movements are regulated, the fruits of their execrable industry collected, registered, and transmitted tu Paris. All this is executed with the utmost regularity and method. The whole system is thoroughly digested, and m exact correspondence and symmetry with that which prevaih in France.
The scheme of action for the foreign agents embraces—a minute inquiry into the physical, as well as moral resources ot a country;—the intimidation of the weak; the seduction by bribes or promises of the needy and the profligate; the exasperation of the disaffected and the prejudiced;—the defamation of the enlightened and the good;—the excitation of domestic jealousy and distrust;—the assiduous propagation of every falsehood of what nature soever, that can serve to recommend or exalt the character of the French government, or to discredit and vilify that of the British. There is no part of the foreign territory where the functions of the French emissary can be exercised to advantage, that he is not to be found; there is no proceeding either public or private, no description of persons or occurrences susceptible of being made useful to his purpose, which does not fall under his scrutiny. The rulers of a nation particularly, are watched with the most indefatigable diligence; their characters thoroughly sifted; their counsels steadily pursued; their secrets penetrated and converted intf