The Babeuf Plot: The Making of a Republican Legend

The Babeuf Plot: The Making of a Republican Legend

The Babeuf Plot: The Making of a Republican Legend

The Babeuf Plot: The Making of a Republican Legend

Excerpt

Here are three excuses, if any are needed, for the appearance at this time of a book about the Babeuf Plot and the legend it inspired.

First, and perhaps sufficient in itself, is the human interest of the story. It has few rivals among the many other picturesque and dramatic incidents of the French Revolution; and it happened to be the final episode. The "Conspiracy of the Equals" has proved as ill-timed for its handling by historians as it was for its chances of success in 1796. The conventions of writing history demand that great events should begin and end in certain years. The French Revolution is regarded as ending in 1795: the rise of Napoleon as dating from 1797, when he won his great Italian victories. The year 1796, in which the Babeuf Plot is perhaps the outstanding event, has dropped into one of the chinks of written history. The august Cambridge Modern History (Volume VIII) devotes exactly two pages to it, and Mr. J. M. Thompson, in the latest standard work on the French Revolution, ends with the death of Robespierre and ignores the Babeuf Plot. Similarly, in the study of political thought, the social ideas of the eighteenth-century philosophes such as Rousseau and of the nineteenth-century French socialists such as Saint-Simon and Louis Blanc are commonly treated in isolation; yet the social ideas of Babeuf and his friends form the vital link between them.

Secondly, there is a curious contrast between the amount of attention paid to the legend of Babeuf in France and the unfamiliarity of Englishmen with even . . .

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