disreputable incident from his Cambridge undergraduatendays (1790-4) which we now owe to Gillman’s Life (1838):nthat as a militant undergraduate at Jesus College, and in thennefarious company of a future Lord Chancellor of England,nhe had laid “a train of gunpowder” on the lawns of St.nJohn’s and Trinity which, being set on fire, burned the grassnto proclaim the dread and dangerous words Liberty andnEquality. Gillman seems to have heard of the incident whenna visitor to Highgate reminded Coleridge of it in his late age,nand he implies that Coleridge, embarrassed as he was, didnnot disovyn it. The future Lord Chancellor can only havenbeen Lord Lyndhurst, and Trinity presumably remainednunaware of his part in the escapade, as they later elected himninto a fellowship of the college. No reader of the Biographia,nthat reticent book, would easily guess that Coleridge in hisnfirst youth had been a revolutionary vandal and destroyer ofnprivate property.nTaken all in all, then, there is nothing like the FrenchnRevolution, as events from abroad go, in terms of immediatenpotency upon literary life. Only the Spanish Civil War ofn1936-9 can hold a candle to it, and I wish I could believenthat the literary effects of that affair in England were asndistinguished as they were abundant. The question whynremains; and though that why is not susceptible of a singlenand simple answer, I propose to settle here on the shiftingnmeaning of the word “revolution,” even if much that needsnto be said, in consequence, proves dry and lexical.nThe French Revolution, within weeks of its outbreak innJuly 1789, threatened the English conception of history, forngood or ill; and it divided public opinion because there werenthose who welcomed that thread to the English self-imagenand those who did not.nRevolution was not a radical term to the 18th-centurynmind, or earlier. It was preservative. That is a fact that somentheorists in the present century have found hard to grasp.nJ.M. Dunn, in his Modern Revolutions (1972), has brushednthe possibility of preservative revolution aside so carelesslynthat one suspects it may not even have occurred to him: “anform of massive violent and rapid social change,” he remarksnin an initial attempt at verbal definition, and one that tries ton”embody a set of values in a new, or at least renovated, socialnorder.” Europeans — in all likelihood Americans, too —nunderstood the word quite differently before the FrenchnRevolution, and they may have something to teach us now.nClarendon, writing in the 1640’s and after, studiouslynrefrained as a royalist from applying it to what thenCromwellians had just done — that was a rebellion — andnwhen he later continued his History he called the Restorationnof 1660 a revolution, since it brought matters back tonwhere they had begun, to a legitimate monarchy. In FornVeronica Wedgewood These (1986), Christopher Hill hasntried to show that the modern, radical use of the word wasnknown before 1688, but his instances are inconclusive, andnthe lexical evidence still supports the view that for the 17thnand 18th centuries a revolution commonly meant a “fullncompassing,” as with wheels or heavenly bodies, and that nonreformer and no radical can easily be a revolutionary.nFor all that, there may be advantages in avoiding the wordn”conservative” to describe what revolution meant to Englishmennbefore and after 1689. That is partly becausen”conservative” is by now the name of a political party innBritain and of a political idea throughout the Westernnindustrial world; and pardy because the implication that onencan only choose between revolution and keeping-things-asthey-arenis widely and dangerously misleading. EdmundnBurke, who was never a conservative and who never callednhimself one, did not make that mistake. He hated what thenFrench did because, as a parliamentary reformer, he wasncommitted to deliberative change, and he rightly saw suchnchange to be threatened by the all-or-nothing spirit of thenwild men of the French National Assembly. Lastingnconstitutions are not written all at once: if they are to endiirenand to work, they represent the accumulation of years. ThenA France of Edmund Burkes wouldnnot have issued a Declaration ofnthe Rights of Man. It would have emendednthe existing laws of France one by onenand over a period of decades with anview of legitimating human rights.nAmerican Constitution of 1787 does not represent annexception to that principle, since it derives in large measurenout of the accumulated experiences of colonial legislatures.nRecent events in the Third World have illustrated Burke’snpoint more fully than he can ever have imagined, but thennhe already had good cause to feel justified in his ownnlifetime: he lived, after all, to see the Declaration of thenRights of Man lead to the Terror of 1793-94 and to thentyrannical Directorate that succeeded Robespierre, even ifnhe did not survive to see Bonaparte’s seizure of power inn1799. The Reflections of Burke are not just sage as analysis.nThey are also justified as prophecy. A complete revolutionnmust fail. His critics, two centuries later, still have anchallenge to answer: what instance can they show of ancomplete revolution that has succeeded?nThe British state was revolutionary in fact and in name.nIt was founded upon an act of successful and (innEngland at least) bloodless usurpation by a Dutch prince,nwhom Parliament in February 1689 invited to assume thenthrone, with his wife, as William and Mary. “It looks like anrevolution,” remarked John Evelyn in his diary in Decembern1688, reporting James II’s flight to France; but it is stillndoubtful if Evelyn knew of any sense of the word other thannthe preservative. The traditional rights of Englishmen, in thencommon view, were being asserted by Parliament. Locke,nsimilarly, only uses the word in neutral terms: he nowherensees revolution as a specifically radical act. EighteenthcenturynWhigs saw 1689 as affirming age-old rights: indeednHorace Walpole in a letter speaks of placing Magna Cartanover his bed along with the Bill of Rights as twin guarantorsnof English liberty. Revolution affirmed what was there,nagainst the rash attempts of tyrants to alter.nFrance did nothing like that after Louis XVI recalled thenEstates General in the summer of 1789. It might bennnJUNE 1989/17n