For sixty hours he has been quieting the people: he is at the head of everything. Don't be prejudiced, Frank, by what you see in the papers. The French have acted nobly, splendidly; there has been no brutality, plundering, or stealing. . . . I did not like the French before; but in this respect they are the finest people in the world. I am so glad to have been here.'
And there one could wish to stop with this apotheosis of liberty and order read with the generous enthusiasm of a boy; but as the reader knows, it was but the first act of the piece. The letters, vivid as they are, written as they were by a hand trembling with fear and excitement, yet do injustice, in their boyishness of tone, to the profound effect produced. At the sound of these songs and shot of cannon, the boy's mind awoke. He dated his own appreciation of the art of acting from the day when he saw and heard Rachel recite the 'MARSEILLAISE' at the Francais, the tricolour in her arms. What is still more strange, he had been up to then invincibly indifferent to music, insomuch that he could not distinguish 'God save the Queen' from 'Bonnie Dundee'; and now, to the chanting of the mob, he amazed his family by learning and singing 'MOURIR POUR LA PATRIE.' But the letters, though they prepare the mind for no such revolution in the boy's tastes and feelings, are yet full of entertaining traits. Let the reader note Fleeming's eagerness to influence his friend Frank, an incipient Tory (no less) as further history displayed; his unconscious indifference to his father and devotion to his mother, betrayed in so many significant expressions and omissions; the sense of dignity of this diminutive 'person resident on the spot,' who was so happy as to escape insult; and the strange picture of the household - father, mother, son, and even poor Aunt Anna - all day in the streets in the thick of this rough business, and the boy packed off alone to school in a distant quarter on the very morrow of the massacre.
They had all the gift of enjoying life's texture as it comes; they were all born optimists. The name of liberty was honoured in that family, its spirit also, but within stringent limits; and some of the foreign friends of Mrs. Jenkin were, as I have said, men distinguished on the Liberal side. Like Wordsworth, they beheld
France standing on the top of golden hours And human nature seeming born again.
At once, by temper and belief, they were formed to find their element in such a decent and whiggish convulsion, spectacular in its course, moderate in its purpose. For them,
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven.
And I cannot but smile when I think that (again like Wordsworth) they should have so specially disliked the consequence.
It came upon them by surprise. Liberal friends of the precise right shade of colour had assured them, in Mrs. Turner's drawing- room, that all was for the best; and they rose on January 23 without fear. About the middle of the day they heard the sound of musketry, and the next morning they were wakened by the cannonade. The French who had behaved so 'splendidly,' pausing, at the voice of Lamartine, just where judicious Liberals could have desired - the French, who had 'no cupidity in their nature,' were now about to play a variation on the theme rebellion. The Jenkins took refuge in the house of Mrs. Turner, the house of the false prophets, 'Anna going with Mrs. Turner, that she might be prevented speaking English, Fleeming, Miss H. and I (it is the mother who writes) walking together. As we reached the Rue de Clichy, the report of the cannon sounded close to our ears and made our hearts sick, I assure you. The fighting was at the barrier Rochechouart, a few streets off. All Saturday and Sunday we were a prey to great alarm, there came so many reports that the insurgents were getting the upper hand. One could tell the state of affairs from the extreme quiet or the sudden hum in the street. When the news was bad, all the houses closed and the people disappeared; when better, the doors half opened and you heard the sound of men again.