The Anti-Jacobin Novel: British Conservatism and the French Revolution

By M. O. Grenby | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The vaurien and the hierarchy of Jacobinism

I must, however, acknowledge that we have some restless Spirits amongst us, who by their seditious Writings have contributed not a little to the Work of Destruction … I thank Heaven the number of such Miscreants is but small, when compared to the Spirit of the whole Nation!

Ann Thomas, Adolphus de Biron (1795?)

In the partly mimetic, partly dystopian, world envisaged by the antiJacobin novelists, 'new philosophy' was the language in which Jacobinism was conveyed and understood, the currency in which it circulated. The new philosophers, however, were not so much Jacobinism's perpetrators, as just the first in the longline of its victims. There were two kinds of miscreants populatingthe anti-Jacobin novel — those who had been somehow convinced of the virtues of new philosophy, had really believed in all that it seemed to offer for the good of mankind; and those who had been responsible for instillingthis conviction, this delusion, who had made dupes of the new philosophers. This second sort of character used new philosophy without ever beingquite so naïve as to believe a word of it themselves.

Such men, and in some cases women, I shall rather arbitrarily be referringto as 'vauriens', a term imported from the French (from which it translates as a good-for-nothing) by Isaac D'Israeli for the protagonist of his novel of 1797, Vaurien: or, Sketches of the Times. As we shall see, D'Israeli by no means invented the concept of the vaurien, nor was he the first to distinguish between the Jacobin who was a fool and the Jacobin who was a knave. Indeed, the distinction was central to anti-Jacobin ideology, and certainly to its fiction, for if every admirer of the French Revolution and its principles was to be thought a designing villain, a vaurien, then this would force the indictment of a vast section of the British population, certainly in the first years of the Revolutionary decade, on the same charges as might be levelled against a Thomas Paine or Mary

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