Youth in The Letter by Helen Williams

In this narrative piece by Helen Maria Williams, she describes her experience of the Festival of the Federation in Paris. This event was one of the results of the French revolution which culminated in the end of the monarch system in the country and the drafting of a new constitution (The Longman Anthology of British Literature). From the narrative provided by Williams, the ceremony was more memorable to her for the spectacle she observed, more than the significance of the day itself. Williams paints a picture here of an incredible sight in that day in Paris; one of an immense gathering of people which even she, with all her literary grace finds difficult to describe. She writes that “One must have been present, to form any judgement of a scene, the sublimity of which depended much less on its external magnificence than on the effect it produced on the mind of the spectators” (Longman Vol. 2A, pp 109).Containing in the account of the festivities of the day are some allusions to youth and youthfulness which this write-up will aim to highlight.

In her description of the procession of the parade in Paris, Williams describes an ebullient crowd, writing “How am I to paint the impetuous feelings of that immense, exulting multitude?” (pp 109). While this characteristic could be attributed to people of elderly age, as it is implied here that this joy is as a result of the events that preceded it, it could also be looked at as an indication of youthfulness in the minds of the population of France. The parade was a celebration of a new dawn in the country, heralded by the drafting of a new constitution that was expected to mitigate inequality and improve the lives of the people of the country. Even for the older generation, the hope and promise this was going to bring enacted youthful joy and buoyancy. This is further amplified, in her description of the construction of the Champ de Mars, in which Williams claims was built in “Twenty days[‘] labour” (pp 109), given that it was supposed to “require the toil of years” (pp 110). According to Williams, this was only accomplished by “the enthusiasm of the people…inspired by the same spirit…old soldiers …voluntarily bestowing on their country the last remains of their strength.” (pp 110). This excitement was not an indication of just physical strength, which could be an allusion to a dominantly youthful population, but also of a mental and psychological vibrancy; a youthfulness of the mind.

Williams also points to the emergence of a new era in the soon-to-be-deposed monarchy in which the young successors to the throne embrace the revolution and new constitution even though they stood to lose some opulence from the changes. She also presents youth in her praise of the young prince who she describes in contrast to the youths of his generation. Williams notes his “attentiveness politeness …a striking contrast…to the manners of those fashionable gentlemen…who consider apathy and negligence as the test of good-breeding.” (pp 110). She also describes the eighteen-year old as having “the enthusiasm of a young and ardent mind” (pp 110), which brings her to the talk of the monarchy’s embracing of he new constitution.

In conclusion, Williams, in this narrative of the events in Paris alludes to a mental youthfulness in the population brought about by the emergence of a new era and an admiration of the particularly youthful nature of the monarchy.


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