Darkness Visible

George Steiner

  • Joseph de Maistre: An Intellectual Militant by Richard Lebrun
    McGill-Queen’s University Press, 366 pp, £30.35, October 1988, ISBN 0 7735 0645 4

Roll out the drum and blow the fife. 1989 is close at hand, and with it the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Well over a hundred international colloquia will mark the occasion. They will range from platitudinous immensities – ‘the rights of man’, ‘Europe and America after the fall of the Bastille’, ‘the French Revolution and the Third World’ – to genuinely worthwhile specificities (‘music and drama during the Jacobin regime’, ‘clandestine presses and the dissemination of revolutionary doctrines’). Publishers are poised to pour out a veritable cornucopia of books, acta, learned monographs and anthologies on the history of France and of Europe from 1789 to 1800. The monumental Dictionary of the Revolution, put together by Furet and a galaxy of Continental historians, is out in France. A day-by-day calendar of events throughout France, beginning with the disorders in the provinces during 1788, is in process of publication. Museums, national, civic, metropolitan and local, are announcing pertinent exhibitions. Plays, operas, ballets, old and newly-commissioned, on French Revolutionary themes, will be staged. Hymns pro and con, by Cherubini, Beethoven, Berlioz, will echo to the searchlit skies. Arguably, though that word is inappropriately cautionary, the 14th of July 1789, that day proclaimed by Fox to be the most glorious in the history of man, is more immediate to world-wide remembrance than is any other (the date of the birth of Christ is problematic and its resonance far from universal).

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