Coleridge: France: an Ode, Notes

Updated May 6, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

France: an Ode

When Coleridge republished this poem in the Post in 1802 he prefixed to it the following


First Stanza. An invocation to those objects in Nature the contemplation of which had inspired the Poet with a devotional love of Liberty. Second Stanza. The exultation of the Poet at the commencement of the French Revolution, and his unqualified abhorrence of the Alliance against the Republic. Third Stanza. The blasphemies and horrors during the domination of the Terrorists regarded by the Poet as a transient storm, and as the natural consequence of the former despotism and of the foul superstition of Popery. Reason, indeed, began to suggest many apprehensions; yet still the Poet struggled to retain the hope that France would make conquests by no other means than by presenting to the observation of Europe a people more happy and better instructed than under other forms of Government. Fourth Stanza. Switzerland, and the Poet's recantation. Fifth Stanza. An address to Liberty, in which the Poet expresses his conviction that those feelings and that grand ideal of Freedom which the mind attains by its contemplation of its individual nature, and of the sublime surrounding objects (see stanza the first) do not belong to men as a society, nor can possibly be either gratified or realized under any form, of human government; but belong to the individual man, so far as he is pure, and inflamed with the love and adoration of God in Nature.

51, 22-*When France in wrath*, etc. The storming of the Bastile took place July 14, 1789. On the 4th of August feudal and manorial privileges were swept away by the National Assembly; and on the 18th of August the Assembly formally adopted a declaration of "the rights of man." In September 1792 the National Convention abolished royalty and declared France a republic.

52, 26-7-*With what a joy my lofty gratulation Unawed I* sang. Coleridge wrote a poem on the "Destruction of the Bastile," probably in 1789 or soon after (first printed in 1834); and in September, 1792, some lines "To a Young Lady, with a Poem on the French Revolution" (first printed in The Watchman in 1796), in which he tells his emotions-

"When slumbering Freedom roused with high disdain
With giant fury burst her triple chain!"

28-*the disenchanted nation*. "Disenchanted" because they found that freedom, peace, and virtue were not to be secured by mere proclamation; and that all Europe was not ready at the call of the revolutionists to abolish prescriptive rights and establish republican forms of society. In January 1793 Louis XVI was beheaded. The act was followed pretty promptly by a coalition of England, Holland, Spain, Naples, and the German states against the Republic.

36-*Yet still my voice*. In "Religious Musings," 1794-6, and more ardently in the parts that he contributed to Southey's "Joan of Arc," 1796.

42-*Britain's name*. England was from the beginning the centre of resistance to the violence and ambition of revolutionary France; and Pitt, who controlled English policy in these years, was looked upon as a cold-blooded agent of tyranny by the French republicans and their English sympathizers.

44-*sweet music of deliverance*. The French were so convinced that their Revolution marked the beginning of a new era in human affairs that they determined to have a new chronology. Accordingly a commission of scientists was appointed to formulate a system, which was adopted in October 1793. The "Era of the Republic" was to be counted from the autumnal equinox, 1792. The year was divided into twelve months, as before, but they were renamed (Thermidor hot month, Fructidor fruit month, Nivose snow month, &c.), and ran in periods of thirty days each from the 22d of September. This left five days undistributed, which were set apart as feast-days in celebration of five virtues or ideals. Each month consisted of three decades, and each tenth day, or decadis, was a holiday. The purpose of this was to eradicate the observance of the Christian Sunday. This chronology was in actual use in France until Napoleon put an end to it in 1806.

The municipality of Paris in 1793 decreed that on the 10th of November the worship of Reason should be inaugurated at Notre Dame. "On that day the venerable cathedral was profaned by a series of sacrilegious outrages unparalleled in the history of Christendom. A temple dedicated to 'Philosophy' was erected on a platform in the middle of the choir ... the Goddess of Reason, impersonated by Mademoiselle Maillard, a well known figurante of the opera, took her seat upon a grassy throne in front of the temple; ... and the multitude bowed the knee before her in profound admiration.... At the close of this grotesque ceremony the whole cortí¨ge proceeded to the hall of the Convention, carrying with them their 'goddess,' who was borne aloft in a chair of state on the shoulders of four men. Having deposited her in front of the president," Chaumette, the spokesman of the procession, "harangued the Assembly.... He proceeded to demand that the ci-devant metropolitan church should henceforth be the temple of Reason and Liberty; which proposition was immediately adopted. The 'goddess' was then conducted to the president, and he and other officers of the House saluted her with the 'fraternal kiss,' amid thunders of applause. After this, upon the motion of Thuriot, the Convention in a body joined the mass of the people, and marched in their company to the temple of Reason, to witness a repetition of the impieties above described.... At St. Gervais a ball was given in the chapel of the Virgin. In other churches theatrical spectacles took place.... On Sunday, the 17th of November, all the parish churches of Paris were closed by authority, with three exceptions.... Religion was proscribed, churches closed, Christian ordinances interdicted; the dreary gloom of atheistical despotism overspread the land."-Jervis, "The Gallican Church and the Revolution," quoted in Larned's "History for Ready Reference," p. 1300. The next year, however, Robespierre had a decree passed of which the first article was: "The French people acknowledge the existence of the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul;" and thereupon the inscriptions To Reason that had been placed upon the French churches were replaced by others reading To the Supreme Being.

50-*calm and bright*. After the downfall of Robespierre in France gradually worked back to a less hysterical mood. In October a new form of government known as the Directory was established, under which the people enjoyed comparative safety at home and developed a remarkable military efficiency against their foreign enemies. Bonaparte's military genius brought him rapidly to the front in the wars of the Directory. It was he that created the Cisalpine and Ligurine "republics," and his policy directed the invasions of Rome and of Switzerland.

53, 66-*Helvetia*. In March, 1798, after having fostered or compelled the formation of republics under French protection in Holland, northern Italy, and Rome, the Directory, under pretence of defending the republican rights of the Vaudois, made a concerted attack upon Switzerland. Berne, the centre of resistance, was taken, despite the heroic defence of the mountaineers who for five centuries had maintained in "bleak Helvetia's icy caverns" a "shrine of liberty" for all Europe.

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