Among the many extraordinary personages who have figured within the last sixty years on the political stage of Europe, there are few whose career has been more singular and chequered than that of the author of the following works. In no country does talent so certainly insure pre-eminence to its possessor as in France, nor is success in literature anywhere so nobly rewarded. Rank and fortune are in it no necessary passports to social or political importance, and with perfect truth it may be said that the career of distinction is open to aspirants of every class and merit possessing and evincing legitimate claims to esteem and consideration. Of all professions, that of literature is held in the highest estimation, and its most successful cultivators are those who have exercised for many years the greatest influence over its destinies, and who have constituted its chief legislators and statesmen. From the superiority of his attainments in the field of intellectual exertion, M. Guizot has raised himself from obscurity, and achieved not only the fame of the most philosophic and profound historian of the day, but the lustre of a position the most exalted in the hierarchy of civilised life. The family of M. Guizot appears to have been of old standing and respectable repute in the south of France, having its chief seat in the town of Nismes, where he himself was born on the 4th of October 1787. His father was an advocate, enjoying considerable practice at the provincial bar of Nismes, and he belonged, like his forefathers before him, to the Reformed Church, which entailed upon him sundry galling disabilities, the Protestants being then a proscribed sect in France, precisely as were the Catholics, on the other hand, in England and Ireland. Hence he viewed with approbation and hope the progress of the Revolution which commenced with the meeting of the States-General under Louis XVI. in 1789, and hailed with joy the abrogation of a system which condemned him to humiliations of both a civil and a religious character. He shrank, however, from the excesses with which the Jacobins polluted the glorious outburst, and by his sentiments of moderation, drew upon himself their revengeful anger, from the consequences of which he sought safety in concealment. Being discovered in his retreat, he heroically refused to accept the offer of permission to escape made him by his captor, preferring to suffer death rather than compromise the existence of another, whom humanity alone prompted to tender a generous protection. He accordingly fell under the axe of the guillotine at Nismes on the 8th of April 1794, contemporaneously with the execution of Danton at Paris, whose fall marked the culminating point of the Reign of Terror. The young Guizot was at this, period nearly seven years of age, and sufficiently old to appreciate all the horrors of that gloomy era: the terrible impression became indelible on his mind, and in a great measure ruled the future tendencies of his mature years, which led him to regard with instinctive abhorrence the smallest approach to a return of revolutionary violence.
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