The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica sums up Robespierre as a bright young theorist out of his depth of experience: "A well-educated and accomplished young lawyer, he might have acquired a good provincial practice and lived a happy provincial life had it not been for the Revolution. Like thousands of other young Frenchmen, he had read the works of Rousseau and taken them as gospel. Just at the very time in life when this illusion had not been destroyed by the realities of life, and without the experience which might have taught the futility of idle dreams and theories, he was elected to the states-general."
The Britannica then goes on to write, "At Paris he was not understood till he met with his audience of fellow disciples of Rousseau at the Jacobin Club. His fanaticism won him supporters; his singularly sweet and sympathetic voice gained him hearers; and his upright life attracted the admiration of all. As matters approached nearer and nearer to the terrible crisis, he failed, except in the two instances of the question of war and of the kings trial, to show himself a statesman, for he had not the liberal views and practical instincts which made Mirabeau and Danton great men. His admission to the Committee of Public Safety gave him power, which he hoped to use for the establishment of his favorite theories, and for the same purpose he acquiesced in and even heightened the horrors of the Reign of Terror. It is here that the fatal mistake of allowing a theorist to have power appeared:
"Billaud-Varenne systematized the Terror because he believed it necessary for the safety of the country; Robespierre intensified it in order to carry out his own ideas and theories. Robespierre's private life was always respectable: he was always emphatically a gentleman and man of culture, and even a little bit of a dandy, scrupulously honest, truthful and charitable. In his habits and manner of life he was simple and laborious; he was not a man gifted with flashes of genius, but one who had to think much before he could come to a decision, and he worked hard all his life."