Tears and the Man

  • Philip Carte


First, a few famous tears. In February 1790 Edmund Burke was busy drafting what became his celebrated critique of the French revolution. Before publication he showed his friend Sir Philip Francis a passage in which he described the revolutionaries’ ejection of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette from Versailles in October of the previous year. The passage, as is well known, was a provocative play on the suffering of the queen: that ‘delightful vision, glittering like the morning star’ who had fled ‘almost naked’ from an act of barbarity which threatened the age-old concept of male chivalry, central to Burke’s definition of civilized gender and social relations.1 On publication a number of Burke’s political critics, notably Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft, expressed their hostility at his account. But so, in these early stages, did Francis who advised Burke to scrap a section which he feared would work against its author. While broadly sympathetic to Burke’s interpretation, Francis remained sceptical as to the sincerity of his portrait of Marie Antoinette. The queen, he reminded Burke, had not exactly been a paragon of ancien régime virtue. Yet here was a defence referring not to her misunderstood morality but her all too apparent gallantry and beauty. For Francis, this was not enough; all Burke said of the queen’s plight was, he claimed, ‘pure foppery’.2


French Revolution Moral Sentiment Impartial Spectator Winter Evening Christian Philosophy 
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  1. 1.
    Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), in L. G. Mitchell ed., The French Revolution, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+), in The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, 9 vols (Oxford, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+)), VIII (1989), pp. 120, 126.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    T. H. White, The Age of Scandal. An Excursion through a Minor Period (1950, Oxford, 1986), ch. 13. See also Anne Vincent-Buffault, The History of Tears: Sensibility and Sentimentality in France (Basingstoke, 1991); Julie Ellison, Cato’s Tears and the Making of Anglo-American Emotion (Chicago IL and London, 1999); George E. Heggarty, ‘“O lachrymarum fons: tears, poetry and desire in Gray’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 30 (1996/7), 83–112, and Men in Love: Masculinity and Sexuality in the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1999), ch. 4; G. J. Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Chicago IL and London, 1992); also Tom Lutz, Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears (1999).Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    James Fordyce, Addresses to Young Men, 2 vols (1777), II, p. 92; ‘Epistle on various subjects’, in Poems (1786), p. 259.Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    Oliver Goldsmith, The Life of Richard Nash (1762), in Arthur Friedman ed., The Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith, 5 vols (1965), III, p. 366.Google Scholar
  5. 18.
    Vicesimus Knox, ‘On the unmanliness of shedding tears’, in Winter Evenings, 2 vols (1788, 2nd edn 1793), II, pp. 182–3.Google Scholar

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© Philip Carter 2005

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  • Philip Carte

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