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LECTURE XVIII. ON THE POWER OF THE PEN IN FRANCE. At the
commencement of these lectures I observed, that it was the high
office of History to trace out the progress of public opinion in
moulding the character and the condition of the nations; and I
added, that, to indicate some of the steps of that progress in
France, was the arduous task which I had ventured to propose to
myself. It is, indeed, a task so arduous, that I ought perhaps to
apologise for undertaking it at all. The leisure and the studies of
a whole life would scarcely be sufficient for following the course
of a few only of the many confluent streams by which the current of
opinion was fed and swollen, as it shaped out the destinies of the
French people. Who, indeed, shall undertake, with any confidence,
to determine what were the political views, or what the moral
sentiments, most widely diffused among them at each successive
epoch of their national life ? Or who will pretend to such skill in
the science of moral analytics, as to be able to resolve into their
elements the motives by which they were actuated, or the judgments
by which they wereguided, at even any one solitary period of the
long centuries of their political existence ? If the secrets of any
single bosom baffle the keenest human scrutiny, how may we hope to
penetrate the mysteries of those great social movements, in the
production of which the wills of myriads, if not of millions, of
independent agents were concurring ? I answer, that all we can
expect, and perhaps all that we can desire, is to approximate to
the true solution of these enigmas; and that, though nothing less
than Omniscience can completely resolve them, yet the faculties
entrusted to ordinary men may be sufficient to ascertain both what
have been the predominant propensit...
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