Torchbearer of Freedom: The Influence of Richard Price on Eighteenth Century Thought

By Carl B. Cone | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

WORDS WORTH expressed the rapture felt by many people in the early months of the French Revolution. Recalling his youthful aspirations, he wrote years later in his autobiographical poem, The Prelude,

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven!1

More soberly, but just as optimistically, men in England who for twenty years had hoped for political reforms sympathized with the efforts of the French to end despotism and to limit the powers of their king by a constitution that would secure for the people a voice in political affairs and guarantee their rights as men.

In its earliest stages the French Revolution excited no alarm in England, and in fact no widespread interest until the fall of the Bastille. Thereafter the survivors of the earlier reform movements in England stirred themselves. They discerned a connection between what was happening in France and what they thought needed to be done in England. If the French could reform their corrupt old regime and bring the government under the control of the sovereign people, why could not the English, whose constitution was already formed? The idea of reviving the reform agitation caught hold rapidly, and by the autumn of 1789 reformers were active once again. Dr. Price was one of the most enthusiastic of all, and it was with his sermon, as the saying goes, that the French Revolution in England began.

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1
Book XI, lines 108-109.

-177-

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