King's College London
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Revolution!

An English political writer in Paris

Opening from featured item showing a letter from December 1790Opening from The correspondence of William Augustus Miles, 1790, showing a letter from December 1790The image reproduced here is taken from the first of two volumes of correspondence of the English political writer and spy William Augustus Miles (1753/4-1817).

In 1790, Miles was sent to Paris by William Pitt to work against an alliance between France and Spain. In Paris Miles joined the Jacobin Club and came to know figures such as the Count of Mirabeau (a leader in the early stages of the French Revolution) and the Marquis de Lafayette (a military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War). Miles lived in Paris from 1790 to 1791 and during that time wrote a number of letters to statesmen and friends in England on the political situation.

The image of the opening shows a letter dated 24 December 1790, addressed to the Reverend Howell H Edwards. In this letter, Miles expresses his initial enthusiasm for the Revolution:

The revolution in France appeared to me at a distance to be one of those magnificent events which rouse even the most torpid into admiration and enthusiasm… I fancied that my favourite divinities – Liberty and Justice – resolved on a visit to this sublunary globe, had descended in Paris, and would make the tour of at least the continent of Europe.

He then expresses his disillusionment, due to the reality of the political situation he had witnessed:

The nation is without revenue and government, its metropolis and provincial towns are without police, its legislature without talents, without probity, and without credit, except with a senseless and sanguinary rabble who would suspend their representatives from a ‘lantern’ with as little motive, and with as much facility, as they applaud their tumultuous and indecent harangues in the Senate. There is no prospect, not even the most distant, of public tranquillity being restored.

In this correspondence we see how the reality of revolutionary activity and its effects can be quite different from idealised notions.

In this exhibition


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