Farewell to Paris
Paris, August 26, 1789
I am keeping my word to you, dear St.! This last nocturnal hour that I am spending awake in Paris – where I have nearly forgotten how to sleep – shall be yours.
The longer I am here, the more attentively I examine the buds, the flowers, and the fruits of the young French liberty, and the longer I observe the labor pangs that have begun here of the human spirit impregnated by practical philosophy, and which promise to give birth to wise state constitutions, general enlightenment, and the happiness of peoples, the deeper and firmer becomes my conviction that this French revolution is the greatest and most general benefit that Providence has bestowed upon humankind since Luther’s reformation of the faith, and that the entire white, black, brown, and yellow human race around the globe should therefore intone a solemn “Lord God, We Praise Thee.” All former revolutions emerged in times and countries where the human mind had not yet attained sufficient maturity to create a constitution based on the purest principles of reason, law, and justice; all other nations that have cast off this yoke of slavery, saw themselves from the moment they had taken this bold step embroiled in protracted and bloody wars, under which their first, provisional institutions, with the errors of haste that are inevitable in such cases, were already given a certain solidity, which could not be readily overturned again, even with better understanding. Here, then, we have for the first time a revolution that was, from every perspective, begun under more favorable omens, which also naturally promises a constitution like none other that has ever existed, a constitution that encompasses all the perfections of the English and exclude all the shortcomings and imperfections of the same. Here is a people as enlightened, as noble, and as forbearing as there has ever been; a king as gentle, pliable, and devoid of ambition as there has ever been; an assembly of deputies of the nation composed of twelve hundred men, at least the great part of which is made up of very clear-thinking, clever, strong, and courageous patriots, and what is the best of all, these three main figures in the great, interesting painting – people, king, National Assembly – embrace in the most lovely harmony and walk toward the lofty goal hand in hand. What is more: here there are who knows how many thousands of thinking and well-informed citizens, who through their debates in the Palais Royal, and countless attentive writers, who through leaflets, small tractates, and works, come to the aid of the deliberations of the people’s representatives, who guide their reflections, warn them against potential mistakes, and imbue them with as much enthusiasm for the good as caution and carefulness to avoid the bad. Here for the first time is a national assembly which, even though half of its members are nobles and priests, in its majority despises and curses the horror of hierarchy and of aristocratic despotism, from which mankind has suffered even more since time immemorial than from monarchic despotism and seems determined to get rid of it root and branch. Here everything is negotiated, contested, settled in public – what a wall of protection against hasty actions and self-interested intentions. Here, finally, come together such incredibly fortunate circumstances in all of Europe that they will hopefully accomplish the completion and establishment of the new constitution sooner than any important power should have the idea or ability to place obstacles in their way. What a happy confluence of circumstances, which have never coincided to this degree as long as the world has existed! And all the things one can hope, expect, and predict as inevitable from it! My heart warms and expands at the sight of this wonderful prospect. We will see for the first time a large realm in which the property of everyone is sacred, the personhood of everyone inviolate, thoughts free from customs, faith unstamped, the expression of that person in word, text, and actions completely free and no longer subject to the decision of any human judge; a realm in which there no longer are privileged, born oppressors of the people, no aristocracy other than that of talent and virtue, no hierarchy and despotism, where, instead, all are equal, all capable of holding all offices for which their accomplishments qualify them, and only knowledge, skills, and virtues offer an advantage; a realm in which law and justice are administered for all equally and without any status of the person, and free of charge, and where everyone, even the poorest peasant, will become the coregent and co-legislator of his fatherland. Who can remain with this delightful prospect, which is now truly more than mere hope, without his heart becoming too small for all the sweet human feelings that take hold of him in the process and want to leap from his chest! And now for the consequences that all of this will have for Europe, for the world! As I ponder them, I want to shout with joy, and like Asmus break a budding twig of liberty, and with it – as though with a staff – stagger toward the approaching spring of the general welfare of the peoples.
Source: Joachim Heinrich Campe, Briefe aus Paris [Letters from Paris]. Brauschweig: in der Schulbuchhandlung, 1790. Reprint edited by Helmut König. Berlin: Rütten & Loening, 1961, pp. 134-39, 274-77.
Reprinted in Jost Hermand, ed., Von deutscher Republik 1775-1795. Texte radikaler Demokraten [From the German Republic 1775-1795. Texts by Radical Democrats]. © Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1968, pp. 101-04, 118-21.
Translation: Thomas Dunlap