The French Revolution


Below appear seven quotations about the French Revolution. Analyze these statements and describe the different opinions of the French Revolution expressed therein. To what extent do these statements provide information about the Revolution?


Revolutions are celebrated when they are no longer dangerous. -Pierre Boulez (b. 1925), French composer, conductor. Guardian (London, 13 Jan. 1989), on the bicentenary celebrations of the French revolution.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. -Charles Dickens (1812-70), English novelist. Opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities, bk. 1, ch. 1 (1859).

How much the greatest event it is that ever happened in the world! and how much the best! -Charles James Fox (1749-1806), English Whig politician. Letter, 30 July 1789, on the fall of the Bastille. Fox’s support for the French Revolution led to the rupture of his cherished friendship with Edmund Burke over the issue.

Justice has its anger, my lord Bishop, and the wrath of justice is an element of progress. Whatever else may be said of it, the French Revolution was the greatest step forward by mankind since the coming of Christ. It was unfinished, I agree, but still it was sublime. It released the untapped springs of society; it softened hearts, appeased, tranquilized, enlightened, and set flowing through the world the tides of civilization. It was good. The French Revolution was the anointing of humanity. -Victor Hugo (1802-85), French poet, dramatist, novelist. The old revolutionary, in Les Misérables, pt. 1, bk. 1, ch. 10 (1862)

I think perhaps we manage our revolutions much more quietly in this country. -Margaret Thatcher (b. 1925), British Conservative politician, prime minister. Daily Telegraph (London, 12 July 1989), said in the wake of the bicentenary celebrations of the French Revolution in Paris.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven! -William Wordsworth (1770-1850), English poet. The Prelude, bk. 11.

The French Revolution gave birth to no artists but only to a great journalist, Desmoulins, and to an under-the-counter writer, Sade. The only poet of the times was the guillotine. -Albert Camus (1913-60), French-Algerian philosopher, author. The Rebel, pt. 4 (1951; tr. 1953).

All quotations from the Columbia Dictionary of Quotations,Columbia University Press,1993.