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The Life of William Roscoe
Chapter IV. 1788-1796
William Roscoe to Lord Lansdown, [December? 1793]

Vol I. Contents
Chapter I. 1753-1781
Chapter II. 1781-1787
Chapter III. 1787-1792
Chapter IV. 1788-1796
Chapter V. 1795
Chapter VI. 1796-1799
Chapter VII. 1799-1805
Chapter IX. 1806-1807
Chapter X. 1808
Chapter XI. 1809-1810
Vol II. Contents
Chapter XII. 1811-1812
Chapter XIII. 1812-1815
Chapter XIV. 1816
Chapter XV. 1817-1818
Chapter XVI. 1819
Chapter XVII. 1820-1823
Chapter XVIII. 1824
Chapter XIX. 1825-1827
Chapter XX. 1827-1831
Chapter XXI.
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“The event which has pressed upon me with more weight than almost any other I ever as yet experienced, either of a public or private nature, is the execution of the Deputies in France,—
men whom I had long been accustomed to look up to as the best friends of their country and of mankind; and for whom, if affection be acquired without a personal acquaintance, I may say I had a real esteem. Of these men,
Verniaux was the most particular object of my regard. He seems to have possessed a grandeur and sublimity of imagination, coupled with an accuracy of judgment, beyond any of his associates; and if ever the love of his country was apparent in any man, it was so in him. In lamenting the fate of these great men, I cannot, however, forget their errors, which, I am convinced, they themselves discovered when too late. Their graves were dug on the 10th of August, and the 2d of September passed their sentence. The remainder of their lives was a struggle to repair either their mistake in assenting to, or their want of energy in resisting, the violence that then took place. Fatal day! that overthrew the labour of years, and placed the fortunes of the human race on the chance of a die. Surely, nothing less than absolute despotism can admit of the application of the principle of force.

“Wherever the sense of a whole community can be peaceably taken, the insurrection of a part is treason. This forms the distinction between the destroyers of the Bastile and the heroes of the 10th of August, or their rivals of the 2d of September.


“As to the great point which the French think they have gained by the destruction of their monarchy, I think it of little consequence; not that I am become a believer in the maxim, that ‘whate’er is best administered is best,’ but because I think that a monarchy is capable of being as well constituted for the happiness of a people as a republic. And though, I hope, not superstitious, I cannot help thinking that the voluntary and solemn oath of a whole nation, to abide by a constitution which they took three years in framing, ought, if there be any thing serious or binding in human affairs, to have some weight. I will not trouble your Lordship with my feelings on the conduct of the French rulers subsequent to this shocking event. The horrid industry employed in the discovery of the other proscribed Deputies, the deliberate mockery of their trial, and the bloody indifference of the people at large, on the execution of such men as Rabaut, who first rescued them from despotism, freezes my affections, and gives me a dislike, not only to the French, but to my species. Sorry am I to say, that this dislike is not much removed by any thing I can see in my own country, where the same selfish and slavish spirit that has contributed to bring on the enormities of France is apparent in the prosecution of all those who aim, by a cool, rational, and deliberate reform, to prevent a similar catastrophe here. With
what face can our present administration commit
Thomas Muir to the hulks, preparatory to his transportation to Botany Bay, when it is apparent to all the nation, that if he has been guilty, Mr. Pitt and the Duke of Richmond ought to accompany him? But the leaders have apostatised, and the disciples perish. This is enough. The founders of a sect become its persecutors! To whom shall we compare those who punish what they have themselves endeavoured to promote?

“I cannot conceive what can be the views of the people assembled in Edinburgh, under the name of the British Convention; but the whole is so ill-timed, and so ill-conducted, that I should easily be persuaded it was intended to bring additional odium on the cause of reform, did I not know, that one person appeared amongst them whose motives are beyond suspicion. I mean Lord Daer, whom I have seen in Liverpool, and whose heart, I am sure, is right. Why has he committed himself in such a business, and nipt his usefulness in the bud? Great harm has been done by the doctrine, so industriously inculcated by a sect of which I am a professing member, that whatever is ultimately right is to be pursued at all times. Perhaps, however, this arises rather from a misapprehension of the precept, than from the precept itself. It might be admitted in its general purport, but then, what-
ever is right is always to be sought for by means likely to obtain it, and not by such as can directly tend only to the injury of the cause, and the ruin of the individual. If I wish for a prosperous voyage, I must wait for the wind and the tide; but if I resolve to attempt it in spite of both, I become the unpitied cause of my own destruction.”