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Professor Fieldhouse’s Revolution

May 31, 2011

Dear Reader,

In the back of The French Revolution: a History, Volume I [Thomas Carlyle, 1925 Everyman edition, London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.] there is a hand-written biographical note:

Jan 20/32
I have to-day heard Prof Fieldhouse on
the subject of the Revolution and his re-
marks, (to be found in no existing text)
seem to me to be worth noting down:
1st the French were not an oppressed
people. The peasants were not mercilessly
ground under the heels of the aristocrats.
They had in 1789 bought from 1/2 to
2/3 of the land and having tasted
the possibilities that power offered they
were in a mood for more. Moreover
a truly oppressed and miserable nation
never is dangerous in revolt. Louis
the 16th was no despot but a well-
intentioned reformer surrounded by men
of disinterested motives and tidy minds
men who would have found themselves
in complete accord with a group of
Fabians, men suited to make statist-
ical enquiries and to sit on tedious
committees. Louis carried his reforms
as far as he possibly could; but he
shared the influence of the ad-
ministration almost equally with
the Church, the nobles, and the wealthy
middle class. In other words France
was not an Absolute Monarchy or any
thing like it. Louis called his Estates
in ’89 to ask them for the power to carry
out his reforms. The people full of
Rousseauistic material perceived
his weakness and wiped him aside
to make way for men of talent.
What France wanted from the 1st
was a Napoleon. The 2 names most
commonly on the lips of patriots
at this time were Frederick the Great
and Louis 14th if you please.

France desired order in affairs,
symmetry in the constitution and
glory for the nation. The demand
for sympathy was incredibly insist-
ent. (cf Voltaire who said that he
would rather be ruled by a lion than
by 800 rats like himself) Napoleon
was the man who filled the whole
Bill … the rule of the fist at home
and war with Europe to procure
glory and to expend the vast emot-
ional power still pent up in the
people. The failure of Louis 18th
of Orleans of Louis Philippe was
inevitable. No political genius could
have reconciled the opp. ideas of
Fraternity and Liberty (the equality
had been produced simply by center-
ing all power in one hand and
throwing open careers to talent)
Parlimentarianism and wronged arist-
ocrats etc. France was split into
2 distinct societies, Rev. and anti-
Rev. and to this day the distinction
is clear and effective. There was no
possibility of estab. a republic
under such conditions. The period
of quiet that followed 1871 was due
simply to the fact that France
finally defeated Paris and exiled
every adult member of the Rev.
party. But the old party reappeared
in time. The 2 distinct social
groups are then the basic cause for
sudden outbreaks on the political
surface. Out “for which no adequate
reasons can ever be assigned.”

Thanks for reading,


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark Stahlman permalink
    May 31, 2011 3:15 pm


    In Jan. 1932, HMM would have been 21 and still a junior at Univ. of Manitoba. Prof. H. Noel Fieldhouse was the chairman of the Dept. of History there from 1930-45 and was Oxford trained as well as a pilot in WW I. He went on to become Dean of Arts and Sciences as well as History chair at McGill, where he became “somewhat of a cult figure . . . for conservatives.”

    At the 1942 Canadian Historical Association meeting, he presented a provocative paper titled “The Failure of the Historians,” in which he said, “I find that possibly my greatest difficulty is to prevent my students from imposing, on all the complexities of the past, an artificial and arbitrarily simplified pattern which is vaguely associated with their idea of progress.”

    This citation is significant because it aligns directly with the writer that HMM had not yet discovered in 1932 — Hiliare Belloc. In addition to Chesterton, who was Belloc’s best friend, HB is probably the “secret” to understanding much about your grandfather. Among his many other talents (including wicked satire) a tireless historian fighting against the “Whig history” that Fieldhouse also abhorred.

    As best I can tell, HMM read *all* of Belloc while it seems that the supposed “experts” on him have read *none* — so how could they claim to “know” the man?

    The fact that HMM was already questioning “official” history so early in his studies speaks volumes about the man he was to become.

    Mark Stahlman
    Brooklyn NY

    • May 31, 2011 5:22 pm

      Thanks Mark. [many books are marked “M. McLuhan Arts 32 U of M Locker 66 Ph. 47835”]

      • June 2, 2011 7:34 am


        Sorry for my mistake, in Jan ’32 Marshall was only 20 years-old, given that his birthday is in July. Smart kid — he was!

        If he was using “M. McLuhan” at U ofM, then does that mean he had already dropped “Herbert” by the time he got to college? He was using it later (to be more formal?) and then dropped it for good.

        And, does “Ph. 47835” mean that was his phone number — on Campus or would that have been on Gertrude Street (which I recently visited in Winnipeg)?

        Mark Stahlman
        Brooklyn NY

      • June 2, 2011 8:30 am

        I think he dropped his first name fairly early on, Mark. Yes, that was their phone number on Gertrude St. – I’m driving through there early next month to have a look also.

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