The most obvious aspect of youth portrayed by Williams in her letter is the passions of the crowd. She exclaims “The people, sure, the people were the sight!” She describes the crowd as best she can using wild emotions and very demonstrative behavior. The people in the crowd, no matter their age, are filled with such fervor that even the old are feeling and acting young: working, marching in the parade, and feeling the freedom and rebellion most commonly associated with youth. The crowd’s behavior was able to change from the giddiness and excitement of their new-found freedom to solemness and respect for their beloved Prince who was assassinated. This solemness was then followed by a resurgence of the people’s jubilation, showing how tempestuous and fickle the mind of the crowd could be. The crowd is a symbol of youth to Williams; it is both violent and peaceful, unfathomable, and a perfect description of the sublime. The festivities are an outlet for the crowd to express itself, similar to how Williams used these letters to express herself to her readers in England.
Youth often have a sense that old ways are tired and corrupted. When the French Revolution was occurring, this was especially prevalent in the national consciousness. So when a clean slate was given to the French people, they chose to start fresh, changing everything because it had obviously caused the problems that led to the revolution. (read: sarcasm). What Williams describes as sublime sounds almost like a mass Bacchanalian trance, with “half a million people assembled at a spectacle.” What felt new and young and revolutionary in this circumstance was only a cog in the normal continuance of society, with its ever continuing building up and destruction. But as mentioned by the introduction, this new everything complete dismantling attitude did not work for very long at all, no matter how excited everyone was for it. Sometimes the idea that all that is old cannot work in new systems is problematic, but it is a hard idea to surmount without the experience of age and experience, obviously less a part of the life of someone young.
Helen Maria Williams visits Paris in her youth and sends many a letter to her friend in England describing the festivals and the Bastille in particular. In her writings Williams’ youth can be seen through her view of the festivities “i promised to send you a description of the federation:but it is not to be described” to me youth can be seen in the wide-eyed view of the world and the festival (Williams 109). Although the experience and knowledge of the older and wiser is coveted, the feeling of a new experience the first time seeing such spectacles is indeed awe-inspiring, especially in the wake of such momentous events as the siege of the Bastille.
In Helen Maria Williams’ letter to her friend, she wrote about the many times in her travel of her strong passion for the events of the French Revolution. She writes that “one must be present , to form any judgement on the scene”(Williams, 109) because there was no way to make someone who did not experience the federation firsthand know how it felt to be in the assembly. Being a youth is about having strong emotions, and that is exactly what Helen Maria Williams experienced in Paris. She describes the people feeling unified, as “the distinctions of rank were forgotten”(Williams, 110). Unity is brought into the age of youth since everyone is in the same state of life, wandering, and trying to find out where there place in the world is.
Williams visit to the prison also shows her youthful activity during the Revolution. She writes that she felt “a much stronger desire to contemplate the ruins of that building than the most beautiful edifices in Paris”(Williams,110). She would rather see the decayed part of the city that has seen many rough years than something that was attractive to look at. Her “strong spirit of curiosity”(Williams 111) drove her to experience the skeletons and the dungeons that escalated her passion for the Revolution.
Williams writes her “Letters Written in France” in 1790, just a few short years after the French Revolution. In this work, she depicts several of the effects that the Revolution had on the youth culture of the time. The largest effect, however, is on the dissolving of social classes and rank.
“the distinctions of rank were forgotten, and inspired by the same spirit, the highest and lowest orders of citizens gloried in taking up the spade”
The French Revolution led to social unrest of the most glorious kind. A new society was being formed and people finally had the freedom of mobility. Women could now begin to have rights. Youth could begin to take not only an interest, but an active role in government. Revolutions can lead to many scary and unsettling outcomes, but they also have the possibility of breeding the type of social justice that was present at this time in France.
In Helen Marie Williams’, “from Letters Written in France, in the summer of 1790” the idea of youth is very apparent. Even in just the way it is written, the young excitement can be felt as she tries to send “a description of the federation” which, in her opinion, is “not to be described!” (p109) Everything she says seems to be glorified by her youthful stance on the revolution, glorifying it in her mind, telling of all the splendors of the revolution. She continues to hope that the “beams of liberty, like the beams of day, [will] shed their benign influence on the cottage of the peasant, as well as on the palace of the monarchs!”(p111). This language has the feeling of youth to it, that is still so full of hope, and so naïve to things that will actually happen during this time of revolution. She is seeing it through a lens of youth, and in a way it is blinding her to the realities of everything around her. We can also see her naivety and innocence when she first encounters the Bastille prison. She is struck by the horrors of the prison, surprised that this was a place where “human creatures [were] dragged at the caprice of depotic power” (p111). Overall, the youthfulness of Williams is apparent in her language as she describes her journey to France during the beginning tides of revolution in a bright tone, full of excitement, as she does not see the consequences that could prevail in the future.
In William’s, “Letter’s Written in France”, she opens up the scene by talking about “the most sublime spectacle which…was ever represented on…this earth.” Starting off with this quote in her letters is so important because Williams is trying to express the power and vastness that is going into the French Revolution as well as the fear and danger that the rest of the world feels because of what is happening. She mentions that she “promised [her reader] a description of the federation, but it is not to be described.” This quote immediately strikes up the image of a man standing on a mountain looking over the vastly mysterious land that lies before him. It really cannot be described because of the unknown of what it essentially is that is being described. The federation is full of life, beauty, vastness, and infinite possibilities, but the federation is also full of unknown potential.
After the sublime picture is set up, the youthfulness of the Revolution starts to take more shape and provide evidence of the youth in the revolution. France, itself, was the key idea in its youth. The youthful period that France was in was the period where France was branding and individualizing itself. “The streets…windows…and roofs had people transformed with Joy” due to the processions and changes that were happening with the government. Youth is a time to revolt and stand up to authority and France was doing that to the monarchy that had taken over the country. Even most of the royals and higher class people of France were alright with changes for the sake of democracy. It was “delight[ful] to find [the prince] a confirmed friend to the new constitution of France”. Even those losing property and valuables due to the changes coming were behind the youthful idea of revolution that the people of France had. The festivities in France during the 1790’s can only be described as youthful and sublime because France was in the prime of its youth.