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The French Revolution by R.M. Johnston
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The French Revolution

by R.M. Johnston

The French Revolution: A History, is a work by Scottish essayist, philosopher, and historian Thomas Carlyle. Published in 1837 his History depicts the events from the start of the Revolution in 1789 to its denouement in 1795. It is a massive, even heroic undertaking - one which hadn't been achieved before and has not since. Carlyle's literary style is unique: written in the present tense first-person plural, A History follows along chronologically as the events of the Revolution unfold with sweeping, apocalyptic grandeur. The reader feels as though he or she were observing, participating almost in, the events occurring on the Paris streets. The reader is carried along day-by-day, month-by-month as the as the inevitable disaster comes to life: the meeting of the Estates General, the Tennis Court Oath, the march on Versailles, the varied attempts to draft a constitution, the fall out between the royal couple and the Revolutionary Government, the escape attempt to Varennes, the beheading of the king and queen, the "Reign of Terror," and lastly the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte as he famously cleared the streets with a "whiff of grapeshot."

Carlyle set out to write The History when his good pal John Stuart Mill, who was unable to meet a publishing contract on the subject, recommended that he take it on. Mill sent Carlyle a heap of books on the Revolution, who set about writing furiously on the first volume. When it was finished, Carlyle sent the only completed manuscript to Mill, whose maid famously mistook it for trash and burned it. Devastated but undeterred, Carlyle rewrote volume one from memory, and when the entire work was finished, it became a sensation. One of his biggest fans was Charles Dickens, who read and reread it many times while writing A Tale of Two Cities. A History wasn't without its detractors, however - some disliked Carlyle's subjective and passionate style, which was out of the mode of the traditionalist methods used in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Carlyle's French Revolution is a masterpiece of English literature. It is sensational, highly dramatic work of both epic poetry and philosophy rolled into one. It has been read and loved by countless readers for the nearly 200 years since its publication.

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