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Joachim Heinrich Campe, "Letter from Paris, 1789," from Letters from Paris (1790)

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The mere sight of an enormous mass of people blended together from people of every estate, of every age and both sexes, which seems animated by a common patriotic joy, as though by common sentiments of friendship, brotherhood, and sisterhood, has something humanly great and heart-lifting about it. And if one now immerses oneself fully in the softly undulating waves of this human ocean at the public gathering places of this city, the Tuileries, the Palais Royal, the boulevards, and so on, as everyone, even the most foreign foreigner can do here, without inhibition and without any concerns, and now examines up close this intermixing and melting together of all estates, especially of the military and civil estate, into a single, large family of citizens; if one sees how now the most common citizen and the man identified by ribbon and star, wherever both appear as human beings and not in their official capacities, walk as complete equals, without betraying insolence on the one side, insulting pride on the other; if one sees, how the soldier of the fatherland – this is the title of honor that is now given to the French guard who has joined the citizens – and the armed citizen compete with each other in magnanimity and gratitude, as well as their shared effort at achieving public quiet and order, not through bayonets, but through entreaties and friendly persuasion; if one sees how this persuasion and those entreaties are entirely sufficient to keep a mixed band of a hundred thousand effusive people within the bounds of order and propriety; if one sees how even the youngest boys, seized by their fathers’ high-minded civic spirit and enthusiasm for liberty, armed in their fashion and equipped with banners and drums, roam the streets and seem to take part in maintaining peace and quiet; if one sees how at a time when all spirits are in seething ferment, when nearly complete anarchy prevails throughout the realm, and the great and terrible machine of the former Paris police, made up of several thousand gears, has been completely smashed, and yet everywhere, even at the greatest public gathering, everything comes off so calmly, so peacefully, so decorously and decently that one can stand there for hours and keep watching with a steady eye the swarming crowd of people animated by spirited emotions, without so much as noticing a single indecent or illegal action, without so much as once hearing an insulting, scolding, or quarrelsome word; if, I say, one sees all of this, which must seem exaggerated and unbelievable to anyone not present, if one sees it so often that in the end one can no longer think of it as an illusion, a dream, one would have to be, it seems to me, among all human blockheads the dullest and most unfeeling, if one did not often feel moved to the point of tears of joy by this awakening of humanity to a more beautiful, new, and noble life. What a spectacle who still has uncorrupted feelings for human ennoblement and human happiness, and a warm, empathic heart for everything that concerns the advancement of the great family of Adam! What an example for all the rest of Europe and for the human in all parts of the world deprived of their human rights and of the divine image, that is, of human dignity and autonomy! Truly, the worst despot, if he were here to be an eyewitness to all of this, and if his heart, shriveled and dried up by selfish and ambitious desires – he would, I believe, be seized by an irresistible power of sympathy, would feel inclined to voluntarily renounce his unlawful despotic rule, for where was there ever a lawful one, so as to enjoy once more the great sight offered by a people that has become free and thereby simultaneously been morally reborn, ennobled, and rendered happy, and this time with the addition of the paternal joy that would necessarily come with the awareness of being the author of this.

You say I am falling into raptures? Well then, my dear friend; I am happy that I can still warm to such an occasion, and feel sorry for the person who is no longer capable of that. You yourself, as I know you, would compete with me in rapture if you were here.

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