'But has Carnot III. no value of his own? Has he not shown more firmness than people expected of him when this Boulangist business began?'
'Carnot III. is simply the firm-name of Ferry and De Freycinet. I am not fond of the scurrilities of Rochefort, as you know, but he sometimes hits the nail on the head very hard, as he did when, on the day after that comedy of the presidential election, he said "the fact that a man, if you ask him to dinner, will not put your spoons into his pocket is not a sufficient reason for making him president of a republic." Only,' he added reflectively, 'that was not quite their reason for making him president. It was that they thought he would let other people pocket the spoons.'
This reminded me of what used to be said of Secretary Seward by his enemies, that he was 'honest enough himself, but cared nothing about honesty in other people.'
'I don't mean that exactly,' said my friend. 'What I mean is, that Carnot III. is not clever enough to know whether the people around him are or are not honest. His grandfather was. Carnot I. would have cut a great figure in our present Senate, and in the party of the "sick at heart"—the respectable gentlemen, I mean, who are always consenting, under the stress of some "reason of State," to vote for one or another piece of rascality, though it makes them "sick at heart" to do so. Carnot I. voted in this way for the murder of Louis XVI., and he takes pains to tell us that all his colleagues in the Convention who voted for it did so in dread of the mob in the galleries. Just in the same way he was sharp enough to join Napoleon during the Hundred Days, because he saw that his best chance of saving his own head and staying in France was to keep out the Bourbons. This Carnot III. is, I dare say, more honest and less calculating—for he is certainly more dull—than his grandfather. Perhaps he may turn out to be the Louis XVI. of the Republic.'
How much has actually been spent on the works here to make Calais a great seaport, it is not easy to ascertain; but the lowest estimates stated to me seem to be quite out of proportion with the results actually achieved.
My conversation on this point with my friend from Picardy is worth recording.
'Ten years ago,' he said, 'the amount to be spent on Calais was set down at eleven millions of francs. I feel quite sure that at least twice this sum has been actually spent here since the work began in 1881.'
'Why do you feel sure of this?'
'Because twice the first estimate has been avowedly spent everywhere in France on the whole scheme. Calais alone figures this year in the budget for sixteen millions and a half! You were in France, were you not, in 1880, and you must surely remember the songs that used to be sung in the streets:—
"C'est Leon Say, c'est Freycinet, C'est Freycinet, c'est Leon Say."
'These two men, both of them men of business, both financiers (though the "white mouse" is a bit of a visionary) and both men of ability, deliberately adopted, in 1879, after a single conversation with Gambetta, a scheme improvised by him, who was neither a man of business nor a financier, but a declamatory Bohemian, for keeping up the war expenditure by committing France to the creation of a complete "commercial outfit."
 This is the popular nickname of M. de Freycinet.
'The Republicans won the elections in 1877 by frightening France into a belief that a Conservative victory at the polls would be followed by a new German invasion. I am not sure, mind you, that this was an idle scare. For under the Conservative administration of our affairs we had cleared off in six years' time the frightful burdens imposed upon us by the war, by the senseless Parisian revolution of 1870, and by the Communist insurrection of 1871; and it is likely enough that Bismarck may have made up his mind to attack us if he saw us persist in a sane and sensible public policy. Be that as it may, Gambetta, Leon Say, and Freycinet, between them, did his work for him by plunging the country back into the financial morass from which the Conservatives had rescued it. They carried the new chamber with them into Gambetta's scheme for doing systematically and successfully what had been clumsily attempted in the Ateliers Nationaux of 1848. France was to be made a republic by spending nearly the amount of the German War indemnity on the construction of railways, canals, and ports all over the country. The sum stated in the outset was four thousand five hundred millions of francs—rather a pretty penny you must see!'
'I remember it,' I replied, 'and I remember thinking, when the scheme was first developed, that the adoption of it was a wonderful evidence of the financial vigour and vitality of France.'
'Thank you,' he replied rather bitterly. 'It was just such a proof of vigour and vitality that Dr. Sangrado used to get from his patients with his lancet. It was a great political manoeuvre, no doubt, and it commended itself to all the hungry politicians in France so promptly and so warmly, that within three years' time, in 1882, M. Tirard, who was then Finance Minister, and who is now on the box of the Carnot coach, had to admit that the expenditure then contemplated in carrying out this great idea could not possibly fall short of nine thousand one hundred and fifty millions of francs! This, observe, was seven years ago. To-day it has swelled, at the least, into eleven and perhaps to twelve thousand millions of francs. Why not? Gambetta, Leon Say, and Freycinet proclaimed the millennium of civil engineers and local candidates. What becomes of equality and fraternity if the smallest hamlet in the recesses of the Jura is not as much entitled to a local railway at the public expense as the largest port on the Bay of Biscay? Once let it be understood that the Government means to spend ten thousand millions on public works, and all the voters are ready to believe the Government has found the philosopher's stone. Nobody but the tax-gatherer will ever make them understand where the money comes from. And between the tax-gatherer and the taxpayer, a truly clever finance minister can always interpose successfully, for a certain length of time, the anodyne banker with a new form of public loan! We are the sharpest and thriftiest people alive in private affairs, and in public matters the most absolute fly-gobblers in the whole world!'
I tried to console my friend by informing him that this particular kind of political financiering is not unknown in my own country. The scheme of Gambetta appears to me to be simply a development, on a grand scale, of the 'log-rolling principle,' on which, year after year, a measure known as the 'Rivers and Harbours Bill' is engineered, with more or less friction, through the Congress of the United States. It is regularly and diplomatically fought over between the two houses until an agreement about it is come to between the opposing forces, described by a recent American writer as 'the plutocracy at one end and the mobocracy at the other end' of our national legislature. In short, it has now become an 'institution,' and like other institutions it has its legendary hero, in a western legislator who is reputed to have re-elected himself for a number of years by 'putting through' successive appropriations for the 'improvement' of a stream which rose in an inaccessible mountain and emptied itself into an unfathomable swamp.
'That is very well,' said my friend gravely, 'very well indeed, but you have to do this thing every year, while Gambetta and Leon Say and De Freycinet committed France to it once for all and irremediably. And on what scale do you do this sort of thing?'
I was forced to own that, upon this point, Washington so far lags shamefully in the rear of Paris. Our grandest 'log-rolling' in finance is, to the colossal operations of Gambetta, Leon Say, and De Freycinet, as is the ordinary iron lamp-post of New York to the Eiffel Tower.
The 'Rivers and Harbours Bill,' in 1886, was only saved after a desperate struggle at the very end of the session, by a compromise over an 'ancient and fish-like' canal job in the North-West, the original promoter of which, long since passed beyond the hope, if not beyond the desire of hydraulic improvements, audaciously baptized it with the name of Father Hennepin, one of the glories of France in the New World. And yet the amount involved in the Bill did not exceed fourteen million dollars, or a beggarly seventy million francs.
'At that rate,' said my friend, 'it would take your great country more than a century to match what we have covered in ten years. And yet you are thought an enterprising people, and, what is more to the point, your treasury shows an annual surplus, while ours shows an annual deficit; and you have nearly twice our population, have you not, and more than ten times our area of territory?
'If I were to "improve" the roads and ponds on my property on the principle on which France has been "improving" her railway systems and her ports, I should bring up in bankruptcy. Where else can the country bring up? Nothing, so far, has saved us but the woollen stocking of the peasants. Come to my place in Picardy, and I will show you a dozen old fellows who go about dressed in blouses—who work like day-labourers—no! much better and harder than day-labourers now do. They will never tell you what they are thinking about; they will never tell me, though we are the best of friends; but you will see what they are—close at a bargain, shrewd, devoted to their farms and families. Well, they live on a third—yes, some of them on a quarter—of their incomes; they know just where every penny they have spent on the ground for twenty years has gone, and just what it has brought back to them, and every man of them can put his hand, if need be, on ten, twenty, thirty, forty thousand francs. That is the woollen stocking. But the most beautiful woman in the world can only give what she has. The woollen stocking holds no more than it holds. You can find the bottom of it if you keep on long enough—and then? And mark you, if I tell the shrewdest of these old fellows that the Government is spending ten thousand millions of francs on building railways from nowhere to nowhere, and digging ports in quicksands, what will he do? He will begin to think it is very hard that he can't get a railway built or a port dug. Do you wonder I am a pessimist?'
'But if this is the way in which they look at things, why do they clamour for Boulanger?'
'They don't clamour for Boulanger. That is to say the peasants, the rural people. It is in the towns—here in Calais, for example, at Boulogne, at Amiens—that they clamour for Boulanger. In the towns they read all manner of trash and listen to all manner of lies. You can get up a legend in the French towns for anybody or anything as easily to-day as in the middle ages—perhaps more easily. Look at this legend of Boulanger. It is a real legend to-day. You may be sure of that, and that is the real danger of it. The people who are fighting against it to-day are the people who made it. They wanted, they could not get on without, a great man. Ferry went to pieces, as you know, in 1885. Tonkin and the dead Courbet killed him. So they invented Boulanger. They made him War Minister. They put him on his black horse. They let him drive out the princes. Look at those five men seated there in front of that cafe. They are doubtless decent well-to-do shopkeepers, master mechanics—no matter what—I will wager you that of these five men, three believe Boulanger to be the first soldier of France, and that two of them believe the Government has driven him into exile to prevent the Germans from declaring war! That is enough to make them Boulangists.'
'Then they want war with Germany?'
'Yes, in this part of France I think they do. But the legend is just as effective where they do not want war with Germany. Last year I was in the country of Grevy, not far from Mont-sous-Vaudrey. There the peasants dread nothing so much as another war. They want peace there at any price. Well, then, a very shrewd old farmer told me he wanted to see Boulanger made Chief of the State. Why? Why because, as he said, Boulanger is the first general in Europe, and the Germans know it, and they go in fear of him; so that if Boulanger is made Chief of the State, they will think twice before they attack us! What do you say to that?'
'Is it not extraordinary,' I replied, 'that this legend, as you truly call it, should have been created so easily about a general who has no battle to show for it; not even a Montenotte, much less an Arcola or a Lodi?'
'What legend had Bonaparte when Barras put him at the head of the home army, and Petiet sent him to Italy? He did not command at Toulon, and his one victory had been to blow the marshalled blackguards and lunatics of Paris into the Seine, as Mandat might and would have done on that dismal August 10, but for that hypocritical scoundrel Petion. And didn't the authorities arrest Bonaparte after Toulon; and was he not struck from the active roll of general officers in France for refusing a command in La Vendee? So far as the army goes, there is better stuff for a legend to-day in Boulanger than there was in Bonaparte when he went to Italy.
'But observe that the Government made a legend of Boulanger, not for military but for political purposes. They were shut down to him. If they could have used M. de Lesseps, and if the Panama Canal had been a success, Lesseps would have served their purpose better than Boulanger. Without a "great Frenchman," I tell you the republic is impossible. Are they not trying to make a "great Frenchman" now of Carnot? If this could be done, if it were possible to make a "great Frenchman" of Carnot, I should not object. But it is absurd. And so for me, whatever the electors may do in September, the republic is hopeless. They made Boulanger to save it; now they are trying to unmake Boulanger to save it. It is childish, it is silly, it will not do! If they succeed in unmaking their legend of Boulanger, where are they? Not even where they were when they began to make it. On the contrary! They have made it perfectly plain that the republic is a parachute which falls without a balloon. Where are they to find the balloon? The Exposition has given the parachute a lift. The visit of the Prince of Wales gave it a lift. The Shah, if he comes, will give it a lift—not much—but a lift. But all these are expedients of a moment. All these will not give the republic a "great Frenchman."'
'All this,' I said, 'seems to bring us back to what you said this morning, that if you were not the most anarchical you would be the most monarchical people in Europe.'
'Precisely! and it is the plain truth. The republic was possible with MacMahon, for after all he was a personality. It was possible with Thiers, for though he was a little rascal and the greatest literary liar of the century except Victor Hugo, he was a personality, and a very positive personality. It might have been possible with Gambetta, for he too was a personality, odious and flatulent if you like, but still a personality. It was not possible with Grevy. It is not possible with Carnot.
'Let the elections go as they may, you will see that I am right. I wash my hands of it all. But when I think of it I see on the wall Finis Galliae! For while I despair of the republic, I have no hope of a monarchy. Nothing but a personality can carry on the republic—and nothing but a personality can restore the monarchy.
'The friends of the poor little Prince Imperial understood this when they consented to let him go off to South Africa. If he had been in the hands of an English general of common sense, or of an English captain of common courage, he would no doubt have come back safe and sound. And in that case the odds are that we should be living to-day under the Third Empire instead of the Third Republic.
'As it is, the Empire, between the significance of Plon-Plon, and the insignificance of Prince Victor, is like the Republic between Ferry, the Tonkinese, and Carnot, who ought to spell his name Carton!'
'But how is it with the royalists?'
'Ah! their only "personality" known to the people—and that is the value of a personality in France—is the Duc d'Aumale—and who knows whether the Duc d'Aumale is a royalist? I have no doubt—absolutely no doubt,' he said with some emphasis, 'that Say and De Freycinet to-morrow would gladly join forces with the Conservatives to make the Duc d'Aumale president if the Conservatives would agree to it, and if the Duc would accept the place; for that would give the Republic a new lease of life in the first place, and in the second place it would utterly disintegrate the royalists, both white and blue. If the Duc is not a "great Frenchman" in the electoral sense of the phrase, he is the most creditably conspicuous of living Frenchmen, which is something.'
'More so than his nephew the Comte de Paris?'
'Yes, certainly, in the popular mind. Personally, I do not think he would make either so good a president of a republic, or so good a king as the Comte de Paris, whose manifesto I think shows him to be a man of clear and sound constitutional ideas, but the French people do not know him. It was a blunder, by the way, in my opinion,' he added after a moment, 'of Boulanger to expel the Comte de Paris. His exile and his action in exile have made him better known in France than he would have been, had he been left to live quietly at Eu and in Paris. Furthermore, what sort of a republic is it in which a family of princes cannot live without tempting the whole population to make one of them king? The expulsion of the princes belongs to the same category of political idiocies with the pacte de famine. Either the Republic is a reality accepted by the French people, or it is a sham imposed upon them by a party. If it is a reality, the princes are simply French citizens, as much entitled to live in France under the protection of the laws as if they were peasants. From this there is no escape logically or morally, and the men who voted for such an edict are neither good Republicans nor good Frenchmen. From the moment it was enacted and executed, the Republic ceased to be a national government. It was a coup d'etat and not a legal act, and every legislator who voted for it committed perjury at least as distinctly as the author of the coup d'etat of 1851. Could such a law possibly have been passed in your republic?'
'Certainly not,' I said. 'In fact, the people of many American States are free to treat with all possible public and private distinction a personage who not only was elected to a position which may be called princely, but who actually exercised for several years a greater authority over millions of American citizens than has belonged to any French king since Louis XVI., and, exercising it, waged war against the United States. But was there no pretence of constitutional authority for the passage of this law which you so strongly denounce?'
'Certainly not. There was no shadow of a legal pretext for passing it. It is, I think, the worst and also the silliest instance in our recent history of an appeal to that argument of rogues and tyrants called salus populi, as to which I am of the opinion of Louis Blanc, that the "safety" of no nation under heaven "is worth the sacrifice of a single principle of common justice."
'It was a blow struck in broad daylight at the personal rights of every French citizen; just as the removal of the princes from the army was a blow struck in broad daylight at the property rights of every French officer. That it was possible for a Government to strike these blows in cold blood, with no popular excitement instigating them, and with no public resentment following them, should show you, I think, how absurd it is to talk of the French people as a republican people. Any Government in power at Paris may be as arbitrary as it likes, but it must not be stupid. The expulsion of the princes was a crime against liberty; it was as arbitrary an act as the issue of a lettre de cachet. But it was also very stupid. It was stupid of the Government because it put them for a time under the thumb of Boulanger. It was stupid of Boulanger, because it put the Comte de Paris at once on a pedestal and forced him before France and Europe into the position of a saviour of society, for whom all the conservative forces of French society must henceforth inevitably work. Whatever becomes of Boulanger in the next elections, he has condemned the Opportunists irretrievably either to hew wood for the Socialists or to carry water for the Monarchists. And with them he has condemned himself. Wait and see if I am not right.
'Come and see me in Picardy. You will find more royalist farmers than I could have believed possible six years ago. If the Comte de Chambord had not kept the Legitimist country gentlemen so much apart as a caste from the peasants, there would be nothing easier than to sweep the country with a monarchist propaganda. It was the royalist peasantry who brought about the great emigration in 1789, long before the Terror, by burning and pillaging the chateaux all over France under orders from Paris, which they believed to be orders from the king. What puzzles them now is the notion lurking down in the bottom of their minds that the restoration of the monarchy will somehow put the country gentlemen over them, and this has much to do with making them, not republicans, but imperialists. As to the republic the overthrow of Grevy had a very bad effect upon the peasants and the farmers in my part of the country, and I believe it had everywhere.'
'Was M. Grevy, then, popular with them?'
'No, it was not that at all. It was the feeling that the Republic meant changes and uncertainty. A farmer—a fair specimen of this class in my country—expressed this to me in his own fashion only the other day. I asked him if he was coming to see the President here at Calais. "What is the use of that?" he said, "it is money out of pocket, and for what? Who knows how long he will be President? There was Grevy. Here is Boulanger. All that can do no good. With these short leases what can be done for the land?" There you have it. In Picardy and in Artois the people have long memories about the land. All these countries, as you know, were fought over again and again. There were so many wars that people got out of the way of making long leases, and the land suffered accordingly. In the last century these provinces, now so well and so richly cultivated, were in a very bad way through this. With leases of three, six, nine years, the farmers naturally took as few risks as possible in the way of improving the land. They were always making up the waste caused by the previous tenant, or shy of investing for the benefit of the next tenant. Towards the end of the century, and before the Revolution, small holdings began to increase, and the English fashion of long leases came in, and the agriculture improved accordingly. So you see why our farmers tend to monarchy from the point of view of long leases and land ownership, just as these sailors and fishermen here in the Boulonnais tend to it from the point of view of seamanship. You will make republicans of them when you get them to let the forecastle elect the cook captain. That will not be to-morrow nor, I think, next week.'
I left Calais late at night for Boulogne, my friend going into Picardy, where I promised to join him later on. There was an immense crowd at the station, and I could not help admiring the good nature and cheery civility of the porters. The sub-officials in silver lace were not so admirable, but then they were only strutting about and objecting to things. The honest fellows who were getting twice as many passengers into a train as the train could possibly take, and helping bewildered provincials to find out where they really wanted to go, were, I thought, miraculously amiable and intelligent.
At the last moment, just as we were moving off, a lively Parisian journalist tumbled into our compartment with his despatch-box and his portmanteau. He was in the full evening dress in which he had been parading about all day with the Presidential party; his white cravat was loose and awry, and the grey dust of the Calais streets and piers lay thick upon his glossy bottines; but he was in the best of spirits, for he had caught the train and would now reach Paris in the morning.
'But the President is going on to Boulogne, is he not?' I asked.
'Oh, yes! but what of that? It will be just what it was to-day, and I know what he is going to say. He will leave Boulogne early in the afternoon, and we shall have it all, an excellent account. It's not worth while to waste the time on Boulogne.'
He had been with the President ever since the party left Paris, and thought the progression the whole, a success. 'Not at Calais,' that he admitted. There had certainly been no great enthusiasm at Calais. He did not think there had been any cries for Boulanger, but there was no emotion. This he explained by telling me that the people had not been properly 'style.' 'In these cases, you know,' he said with the air of a connoisseur in enthusiasm, 'you must have a certain subtle stylage.'
The word was new to me, but not so the thing. For I presently found that by a 'subtle stylage' of the people, my companion only meant what in America is known as 'working up a boom,' when the welfare of the Union requires that a President, or a presidential candidate, should perambulate a certain number of 'doubtful' States, or, in the picturesque language of the days of Andrew Johnson, go 'swinging round the circle.' If I am not misinformed, an analogous operation is occasionally performed in England, when some popular idol finds it worth his while to make an unpremeditated political tour.
'The thing was better done at Lens,' said my fellow-traveller. 'Do you know Lens? They are all miners there, you know—very curious people. I suppose they were glad to come up from under the ground and look at us. Some of the women, too, were pretty—really very pretty. It was all very well arranged. There is a good manager there, M.——. He made way, you know, in 1886, for Camescasse, to oblige the Government. The President gave him the Cross. It had a very good effect. At Bapaume, too, the President did a good thing. He decorated —— there, who had so much trouble with the Christian Brothers.'
'For having trouble with the Christian Brothers?' I could not help asking.
'No! but the courts decided against him, and that was a misfortune. The President put it right by decorating him, for it is evident that he meant to do his duty, and a Government must stand by its friends. Do you know Bapaume? It is a pretty place—all factories. It was there, you know, that Faidherbe beat the Germans. A very pretty place.'
IN THE PAS-DE-CALAIS—continued
Boulogne now, as in the days of Arthur Young, is surrounded with bright and pleasant villas and country houses, though many of the chateaux which Young was so much surprised to find inhabited by country gentlemen attending to their duties and living on their estates have disappeared.
It is not only a larger and a more lively place than Calais; it is a more picturesque and a more interesting place. The old walls and ramparts of the upper town make such a striking contrast with the modern streets and squares of the lower town as reminds one vaguely of Quebec, the Channel coming into the landscape like the St. Lawrence. As at Quebec, too, the two civilisations of France and of England meet without mingling; and at Boulogne, as at Quebec, the French type, if not the stronger of the two, certainly proves itself to be the subtler, and decides the local physiognomy.
I spent an hour at Boulogne, with a friend who now fills an important ecclesiastical position in one of the provinces of Central France, and who was passing a few weeks on the Channel for his health. He is one of the few French churchmen I personally know who heartily agree with Cardinal Manning in thinking that the abolition of the Concordat would greatly strengthen the Church in France, even if it involved a further serious sacrifice of the proprietary rights of the clergy. 'The way in which the people have come forward to the support of the congreganist schools against, the oppressive measures adopted in the law of 1886,' he said, 'confirms my old conviction, that a complete separation of the Church from the State in France, whatever its effect might be upon the State, would strengthen the Church.'
He cited a number of instances within his own knowledge in which rival communes had established, and were carrying on, at the direct expense of the local farmers and residents, free or congreganist schools, while, of course, at the same time they were paying taxes for the lay public schools to which they would not send their children. 'And this in spite,' he said, 'of the ingenious devices with which the law of 1886 bristles for making the establishment of free and Christian schools difficult and expensive. For example, to begin with, the legislature actually tried to prevent us from calling our schools free schools, though as schools supported by the free subscriptions of the people they were distinctly "free" schools, as distinguished from the schools established by the law at the expense of the taxpayers. We were gravely informed that it was an act of war to call a free school free! In this same petty and childish spirit the congregations are called "associations" in the text of the law. When a free school is to be opened, the teacher who is to have charge of it must run the gauntlet of a series of public officers, all of them, if they are on good terms with the Government, presumably hostile to him as a Christian. He begins with the mayor of the Commune, who may object to his opening the school in the place he has chosen, on grounds of "good morals or of hygiene." Then he must go through with the Prefect of the Department, the Academic Inspector, and the Procureur of the Republic.'
'That is to say,' I asked, 'the law officer of the department? Why should he be brought into the business?'
'Why, indeed,' replied my friend. 'You must ask M. Ferry or M. Clemenceau. He can stir up the Academic Inspector to make some objection to the opening of the free school, if the Academic Inspector does not find and make an objection himself. If no objections are made within a month the school may be opened. If objections are made they must be made before the Council of the Department within a month. If the Council support the objections, the teacher must appeal from the decision to the Academic Inspector within ten days, and the Inspector must submit this appeal to the Superior Council of Public Instruction at the next ensuing session of that body. Now the Superior Council only meets twice a year, and as the appeal, according to the law, is only required to be heard "with the least possible delay," you will see that nothing can be easier than for the Academic Inspector and the Procureur between them to keep a decision in the air for months, or for a year, or even longer, and pending the appeal the school cannot be opened.
'As for the departmental councils, which are first to consider the objections made to the opening of the school, they no longer include, as they did under the Empire, representatives of the Catholic clergy, the Protestant sects, and the Israelites. All of these are struck out of the councils by this law of 1886, though fully ninety-nine hundredths of all the taxes paid to support the machinery, not only of public education but of the State, are paid by the Catholics, Protestants, and Israelites. Nor are the councils any longer allowed to elect their own vice-presidents. The prefect, a government employe, presides over the councils. The Academic Inspector, another government employe, is officially the president; four councillors-general, elected by the whole body of the council-general of the department, sit on the Departments of Primary Instruction Council, as do also the director or directors of the Normal Schools of Public Teachers, and four teachers, two male and two female, to be elected by the whole body of lay public school teachers of both sexes in the department, all of them paid employes of the Government; and finally, two inspectors of public primary education nominated by the Minister of Public Instruction. So, as you see, out of a council consisting of fourteen members, ten are paid servants of the Government, directly concerned to discourage the development of the Christian schools. If questions and disputes between the lay public schools and the free Christian schools came before this council, one lay and one congreganist teacher may be admitted to join the council. But the wise and just provision of the earlier law, that two or more magistrates of the highest repute should be members of these councils, has been deliberately struck out of this aggressive law of 1886.
'Is it possible,' he said, 'to mistake either the spirit or the object of such a law?
'What gives me confidence and hope is the unquestionable effect which the law has had upon the religious life of France. It has aroused and stimulated it to more vigour and energy than I have seen it show for years past. If only the Church in France were to-day as free from any official connection with the State as it is in your country, I believe we should see such a revival of Catholic faith as has not been known in Europe for centuries.
'Do you remember,' he went on, 'how Ferry went to Rome after his expulsion from power? Yes? And doubtless you know what efforts he made there at that time to bring about a subterranean understanding between himself and the Vatican?'
'He is the only one of these Opportunists who really has a head on his shoulders, and you will find that he is under no illusions as to the possibility of any working alliance between the Opportunists and the Radicals which can save the former from going to the wall, like the Girondins in 1793.
'Perhaps,' he said, laughingly, 'we may live to see M. Ferry doing penance in a white sheet, with a candle in his hand, on the way to a seat in a monarchical Cabinet! Though I am no politician, yet—mark my words!—this republic has been so mismanaged that now it cannot live without the Radicals—and it cannot live with them!
'As for the Church; if you want to see what life and energy it is showing in its work, come and see me in the autumn. I will show you in the Limousin one of the establishments of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, or you can go into Mayenne and see twelve or fifteen of them. Or you ought to go to Ruille-sur-la-Loire, to see the modest cradle of this great congregation, which now, from its mother-house at Neuilly, is sending out Catholic life and faith all over the world, and the pulse of which is beating higher in France to-day than at any time since that true and simple servant of God, Dujarie, took it upon himself, from his obscure little parsonage, to begin the restoration of the Church from the crash of the Terror and the calamities of the First Empire.'
'How many years ago was it,' I asked, 'when this Congregation began its work in the United States?'
'Not quite fifty years ago,' he replied, 'and, as you know, its schools are flourishing in all parts of your Union, from the University (in Indiana) of Our Lady of the Lake, to New Orleans and New Jersey, and from Wisconsin to Texas. It numbers its pupils, too, by thousands here at home in France.
'I ask you to join me in the Limousin because I hope to be there in October, and then I can show you at Limoges what I am sure you would like to see—one of our best cathedrals, and some beautiful old glass in St.-Michel and St.-Pierre, not to mention the enamels still hidden away here and there in certain houses I wot of!'
Two of the most interesting places in the Pas-de-Calais are St.-Omer, once a name of terror to the worthy Englishmen who went in constant fear of the Pope and wooden shoes, and Aire-sur-la-Lys, which now embraces within its communal limits all that remains to-day of the once famous and important city of Therouanne, the ancient capital of Morinia, and for thirty years the episcopal seat of the great Swiss bishop, St.-Omer, who made North-Eastern Gaul Christian in the seventh century.
St.-Omer still preserves a certain grave and austere physiognomy, half-Spanish and half-scholastic; and it is easy for the imagination to people its quiet streets with the English and Irish students who frequented its collegiate halls from the days of Guy Faux to the days of Daniel O'Connell. But its importance is now military, not theological. M. Pierre de la Gorce, the accomplished historian of the Revolution of 1848, who lived here seven years as a magistrate, and who still resides here because he finds in the place 'a still air of delightful studies' congenial to his tastes and favourable to his historical labours, told me, in the course of a most interesting afternoon which I passed here with him, that the town is full of families living here on their incomes; and in going about the streets I was struck with the general air of quiet and unobtrusive well-being which marks the people. In his position as a magistrate, M. de la Gorce had the best possible opportunities for gauging the moral character of the inhabitants, and he assured me that during the whole period of his residence in St.-Omer, extending now over twelve or thirteen years, he has never known more than one serious domestic scandal to disturb the even tenour of its social life. Of how many towns of twenty thousand inhabitants could the same thing be truly said in England or the United States? During all these years, too, M. de la Gorce tells me, only two cases of alleged misconduct on the part of priests have occurred in St.-Omer, and in one of these cases the allegation was proved malignant and unfounded. Politically, St.-Omer seems to be strongly Republican. In 1886 it gave the Government candidate a majority of 1,281 votes on a total of 6,623, whereas in Boulogne at the same election the Republicans were beaten in the southern division, and carried the whole city by only a majority of 1,331 votes out of a total of 8,233.
What I heard in St.-Omer of the officers stationed there was particularly interesting. There is a large garrison, and the greatest pains are taken by the officers not only with the military discipline, but with the schooling and general conduct of the troops. My own observation leads me to think this true, not of St.-Omer only, but of all the considerable garrison towns which I have visited in France during the past six or seven years. The old type of swashbuckling, absinthe-tippling, rakehelly French officer of whom, during the last years of the Empire, one saw and heard so much, seems to have passed away into history and literature. However it may be with the 'gaiter-buttons' in the next great war, I do not believe the staff of the next invading army will have much to teach the French officers of to-day, either about the principles of scientific warfare or about the topography of France.
I am inclined to think that there are more French officers in St.-Omer alone to-day who can read and understand German than there were in all France in 1870. The morale and carriage of the soldiers, too, are distinctly higher. The calling of men of all ranks and conditions under the colours has necessarily raised the moral and social level of the rank and file as well as of the officers; and it is quite certain that the army holds a higher place in the estimation of the better classes in France than it used to hold. M. de la Gorce cited to me several instances, here at St.-Omer, of young ladies of excellent family, three of them at least considerable heiresses, who have married young officers of merit solely because they were officers of merit, and who have gladly turned their backs on the flutter and glitter of fashionable Paris to share the quiet, unpretending quarters, and take a sympathetic interest in the serious military career of their husbands in this rather out-of-the-way garrison town.
I do not find M. de la Gorce sanguine as to any early solution of the political problems with which France is still wrestling after a hundred years. He makes no secret of his conviction that nothing but a return to the constitutional monarchy can give the country lasting peace at home, or real influence abroad. But his impression seems to be that time alone can bring this about. He would have the royalists unfurl their banner, go into the elections with a plain declaration of their political creed, and await the progress of events. He cited, as a proof of the wisdom of this policy, the steady advance made by the Republicans after a mere handful of them came into the imperial legislature. They grew from five to thirty, simply because they stood firmly on their own principles, while the majority were disturbed and uncertain. The principle of the hereditary constitutional monarchy, he thought, should be plainly affirmed and presented to the French people, as their only real safeguard against the incessant disturbance and displacement of the executive machinery which results from the election of an executive chief.
'Let this be affirmed and presented,' said M. de la Gorce,' by a number—no matter how small it may be at first—of sincere and resolute men, and every successive shock and catastrophe will bring more and more support to them from all classes in France.'
M. de la Gorce is of the opinion that the laicisation of the schools, whatever may be said of the motives and intent of those who have promoted it, has had a good effect on the congreganist schools, by stimulating the teachers and directors to make greater efforts for the improvement of their methods and their general machinery of instruction. This is quite in accord with the views of my friend whom I met at Boulogne—and indeed it is in the nature of things.
The way in which the laicisation is carried out by the subaltern authorities seems to be admirably calculated also to inflame the religious zeal of the people. A very intelligent and liberal ecclesiastic, living here, tells me that, while M. Ferry is professing in the Chamber his great anxiety to co-operate with the Conservatives in modifying the decrees of 1791, in regard to religious associations, and talking about a more liberal treatment of the clergy and the Christian free schools, the local functionaries here, in Artois, lose no opportunity of irritating and annoying the Christian population. In the village of Moislains near Peronne, for example, he tells me the funeral took place the other day of the Abbe Sallier, for many years the cure of that parish; a man so much respected and beloved by the whole community that, notwithstanding an express request made by him in his will, that no discourse might be pronounced at his interment, and that it might be made as simple as possible, the people insisted on escorting the remains to the cemetery in a long procession headed by the mayor, the municipal council, and all the notabilities of the country round about. Naturally the people wished that their children, most of whom had been baptized by the abbe, might join in this procession; to prevent which an express order was issued by the school authorities, that the children should not be allowed to leave the school for that purpose. It is difficult to see how a petty persecution of this sort can be expected to promote the 'religious peace' about which M. Ferry perorates at Paris. The rural Artesians, my friend tells me, resent these proceedings very bitterly, and show their feelings in the most practical fashion, by subscribing freely to carry on the religious primary schools, and refusing to let their children attend the lay schools, which are kept up by the Government out of the taxes paid by themselves. This, with a thrifty and rather parsimonious population, like that which increases and multiplies so steadily in Artois, is a most significant fact.
The Marist Brethren, who have their headquarter at the Ecole de Notre Dame in Albert, a town of some 4,000 inhabitants, about half-way between Arras and Amiens, are carrying on these religious schools most successfully. Albert itself is a very curious and interesting place. There are remains here of Roman fortifications which show that it was a point of importance under the Empire, and subterranean excavations of a most remarkable character, one of them extending for more than two miles. Down to the time of Henry IV. Albert was known as Ancre. Concini, the Florentine favourite of Mary de' Medici, bought the lordship of Ancre with the title of marquis. With the help of his clever Florentine wife, Leonora Galigai, he completely subjugated the queen and her weak son, Louis XIII.; and, without so much as drawing his sword in battle, made himself a marshal of France, How all this led him on to his ruin I need not recite. He was stabbed to death in the precincts of the Louvre by Vitry; his wife, arraigned as a sorceress, was strangled and burned; and their unfortunate little son was degraded. The marquisate and lordship of Ancre were bought, oddly enough, by another and very different Florentine race, the Alberti, who had come into France and established themselves in the Venaissin a hundred years before. So intense was the general hatred of the Concinis, that, upon acquiring Ancre, the Alberti unbaptized the place and gave it their own French name of Albert, which is still most honourably borne by their representatives, the ducal houses of Luynes and of Chaulnes. It is common enough in France, as it is in England, to find the names of families perpetuated in conjunction with those of places once their property—Kingston-Lacy, Stanton-Harcourt, Bagot's Bromley, Melton Mowbray are English cases in point. But this displacement of an old territorial designation by a family name is unusual. Some thing like it has taken place in our own times and in a remote south-western corner of France, where the people of Arles-les-Bains changed the name of their pleasant little town of orange groves and olives to Amelie, to commemorate their respect and affection for the excellent queen of Louis Philippe.
There are factories at Albert; and a modern church is building there, not to the unmixed delight of architects and archaeologists. But my concern now is with the work of the Marist Brothers who have made Albert their headquarters.
This work is carried on with the direct and active co-operation of the people. At one little hamlet, for example, called, I think, Brebieres, nearly a hundred children now attend the Marist school, whose parents pay for each child a subscription of three francs a month. There, not long ago, it was found that in one poor family of peasants a family council had been called to raise this modest sum in order that one of the children now of an age to attend the school might be sent to it. The two elder children settled the question by insisting that they would give up their own daily ration of milk to meet the expense.
Will France be a nobler and stronger country when the priests who train the children of her peasantry into this spirit are driven out of the land?
This is the real question which must be met and answered by the advocates of compulsory lay education in the public schools.
The next step to be taken in the 'laicisation' of the schools has been already revealed in the famous 'Article 7' of M. Ferry. M. Ferry is the true, though more or less occult, head of the present Administration in France. 'M. Ferry,' said a caustic French Radical to me in Paris, 'ought to be the mask of M. Carnot. Nature gave him a Carnival nose for that purpose. Everything is topsy-turvy now in France, and so M. Carnot is the mask of M. Ferry. But the nose will come through before long.'
Many years ago the public conscience of Philadelphia, then as now one of the most Protestant of American Protestant cities, was scandalised by the will of a French merchant, Stephen Girard; who, after acquiring a large fortune in that city, left it to found a college, within the precincts of which no minister of religion was, on any pretext whatever, to be allowed to appear. The stupid bigotry of this ignorant millionaire was the high-water mark of French Republican liberality during the dismal orgie of the First Republic. It is still the high-water mark of French Republican liberality under the Third Republic. The dream and desire of M. Ferry and his friends are to prohibit ministers of religion from taking any part whatever in the education of the French people. Already the municipal council of Paris has undertaken to 'bowdlerise' the literature of the world in order to prevent the minds of the young from being perverted by coming into contact with the name of God. These good butchers and bakers and candlestick-makers of the Seine really believe, like certain more academical persons of higher social pretensions in England and America, that the ineffable simpletons and scoundrels who for three or four years during the last decade of the last century made ducks and drakes at Paris of the public fortune and the private rights of the French people, were inspired harbingers of a new era. Outside of France it may be hard to suppose this possible, but nothing can be more certain than that the educational legislation of France since 1882 has been aimed steadily and directly at the abolition, not of Christianity alone, but of all religion.
It is curious to see the common school system of New England, which in the beginning was the device of a theocracy bent on usurping the authority of parents over their children, taken up after more than two hundred years, and readjusted to the purposes of a set of men whom the Puritans would have unhesitatingly whipped to death at the cart's tail as blasphemers.
Only the other day, in the Chamber, an ardent Republican member, M. Pichon, made a speech in which he openly avowed the object of laicising the schools to be the destruction of religion. 'Between you, the Catholics,' he exclaimed, 'and us, who are Republicans, there is a great abyss. The interests of the Church are incompatible with those of the Republican Government.' That the Republicans in the Assembly should have applauded this declaration is rather astonishing, since it was in substance an admission that the interests of the 'Republican Government' are inconsistent with those of an admittedly immense majority of the French people. But they did applaud it, and not long before M. Pichon made the speech a solid Republican vote of 232 members had been recorded for the suppression of the French Embassy to the Vatican. Is it surprising that the Catholics of France should be asking themselves all over the country whether it is possible for them to accept the Republic without abjuring their religion?
The 'abyss' of which M. Pichon speaks has been dug, not by the Church, but by the theorists who have expelled the Sisters of Charity from the hospitals and the chaplains from the prisons of France, who refuse to the poor the right to pray in the almshouses, and who throw the crucifix out of school-houses which are maintained by the money of Catholic taxpayers. As between M. Pichon and M. Ferry and their fellow-conspirators on one side of this abyss, and the Marist Brethren and the little children of France on the other side of it, the history of the world hardly encourages the belief that it is the Marist Brethren and the little children who will finally be engulfed!
It is a notable proof of the hold which Catholic ideas have upon the people in this part of France, that notwithstanding a marked tendency to emigration among the peasantry of the Boulonnais and of Artois, the population has steadily increased through the excess of births over deaths. This is not true of France as a whole. On the contrary, while the deaths in France in 1888 were 837,857, against an annual average of 847,968 from 1884 to 1887, the births diminished from an annual average of 937,090 between 1881 and 1884 to 882,639 in 1888, leaving the small excess of 44,772 over the deaths. Of these only 33,458 were of French parentage! In Artois and the Boulonnais, the population is more dense than in any other part of France, excepting the metropolitan regions. While France, as a whole, in 1881, gave an average of seventy inhabitants to the square kilometre, which is the precise proportion in Bavaria—the arrondissement of Bethune in the coal-mining country of Artois (fed by an exceptional immigration from Belgium) gave 173 to the square kilometre, which exceeds the proportion in any division of the German Empire except Saxony, Luebeck, Bremen, and Hamburg.
The Department of the Pas-de-Calais, as a whole, gave 117 inhabitants to the square kilometre, which is the precise proportion in Saxe-Altenburg, and exceeds by five the proportion in the British Islands taken as a whole. In the arrondissement of St.-Omer the rate of increase by natural growth some years ago outran that of the older sea-board States of the American Union.
This phenomenon cannot be explained by the improvidence of the Artesians, for they are admittedly remarkable, even in France, for their frugality and their forecasting habit of mind. A friend of mine, who lives near St.-Omer, is probably right when he attributes it to their strong domestic tastes and habits, and to the influence over them of their religion. He says they are 'fanatics of the family.' Certainly in the cottages the children seem to have things all their own way, almost as much as in America. 'The Artesian parents,' my friend tells me, 'make their children the objects of their lives.' In the rural regions there is not much immorality. Concubinage, which is by no means uncommon in the towns, is exceedingly uncommon in the country of Artois.
The agricultural Artesian wishes to be the recognised head of his house, hates to have things at loose ends, and habitually makes his wife a consulting partner in all his affairs. Even when he is not particularly devout he likes to be on good terms with, his curate, and has very positive ideas as to what is decent and becoming. 'In short,' said my friend, 'he is an ideal husbandman in every sense of that English word, for which we have no equivalent. The assize records show that offences against public morality are almost wholly confined to the towns in Artois, and it is a notable fact that these particular offences are much more frequently committed by persons who can read and write than by the illiterate.'
My friend seemed to be startled when I told him that this 'notable fact' appeared to me to be quite in accordance with the nature of things, as set forth in the sound old maxim cited by the Apostle, that 'evil communications corrupt good manners.' So long as thirty years ago, the American Census showed that in the six New England States, in which the proportion of illiterate native Americans to the native white population was 1 to 312, the proportion to the native white population of native white criminals was 1 to 1,084; whereas, in the six southern States of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, and the two Carolinas, the proportion of native white illiterates being 1 to 12 of the native white population, the proportion of native white criminals to the native white population was only 1 to 6,670. Mr. Montgomery of California, Assistant-Attorney-General of the United States in the Administration of President Cleveland, working on the lines of inquiry suggested by such facts as these, did not hesitate, two years ago, to assert that 'the boasted New England public school system, as now by law established throughout the length and breadth of the American Republic, is a poisonous fountain fraught with the seeds of human misery and moral death.' He cites the official statistics given by a New England professor, Mr. Royce, to prove that 'there is hardly a state or country in the civilised world, where atrocious and flagrant crimes are so common as in educated Massachusetts,' and he shows that the alarming and unquestionable increase of crime in the United States cannot be attributed, as it too often is, to the 'foreign element in American society, the criminal rate of which has remained the same or even lessened, while the native criminals increased during 1860-1870, from 10,143 to 24,173.' During that decade the total population of the United States increased from 31,443,321 to 38,567,617. Deducting 2,466,752 for the increase by immigration, we have a general increase of 4,657,538 in the native American population, or of less than 15 per cent, against an increase of about 140 per cent. in the number of native white criminals! It is no part of my present purpose to discuss Mr. Montgomery's contention. But it seems to me to deserve grave consideration in connection with the adventure to which the French Republican Government has committed itself, of suddenly substituting for the religious and parental system of education in France, a French modification, in the interest of unbelief, of that American public school system which, as Mr. Montgomery maintains, rests upon the principle 'that the whole people must be educated to a certain degree at the public expense, irrespectively of any social distinctions.'
I have already said that St.-Omer appears to be in its politics decidedly Republican. An odd illustration of this I found in a hot local controversy waging there over the setting up of a statue in one of the public squares, to commemorate the courage and patriotism of a local heroine, Jacqueline Robins. This statue, which, as a work of art is not unworthy to be compared with the statue of Jeanne Hachette at Beauvais, was set up, with much ceremony, in 1884 (I believe the State paid for it), and stands upon a pedestal, with an inscription setting forth how Jacqueline Robins, in the year 1710, saved the besieged city of St.-Omer by going off herself with a train of boats down the Aa to Dunkirk, and bringing back the provisions and munitions of war necessary for the defence of the city.
As the city of St.-Omer was certainly not besieged in 1710, this inscription naturally excited the critical indignation of the local antiquaries, and on July 27, 1885, an exceedingly clear and conclusive report on the subject was laid before the Society of Antiquaries of Morinia, a body which has done good service to the cause of history in Northern France. From this report it plainly appears that St.-Omer was not besieged at all in 1710. Prince Eugene, who marched into Artois with the Duke of Marlborough in that year in pursuit of Villars, wished to attack St.-Omer after the fall of Douai and Bethune, but the States-General of Holland would not hear of it; and the gallant defence made of Aire-sur-la-Lys by the Marquis de Goesbriant kept the allies at bay so late in the year that no attempt upon St.-Omer could be made. The local chronicles rejoice over this escape, particularly, because they say the Duke of Marlborough had vowed special vengeance against the city, its authorities having refused to oblige him by getting out of the English Jesuits' College and sending him certain papers which the Duchess of Hamilton (the wife of the brilliant duke who was killed in Hyde Park by Lord Mohun and General Macartney) desired him to procure for her use in a law suit against 'Lord Bromley.' St.-Omer, then, not having been besieged in 1710, why should a statue be set up in honour of an Audomaraise dame for delivering it? On this point the Report of the Society of Antiquaries throws a sufficient and interesting light. It seems that there really lived in St.-Omer in 1710 a certain dame Jacqueline Isabelle Robins, obviously a woman of mark and force, since she carried on a number of thriving industries, and among them the management, under a contract, of the boats between St.-Omer, Calais, and Dunkirk. Napoleon would have thought her much superior to Madame de Stael, for before she was forty years old she had married three husbands, and surrounded herself with six or seven flourishing olive branches. She was constantly in the law courts fighting for her rights, not against private persons only, but against the 'mayor and echevins of the city of St.-Omer.' Though St.-Omer, as I have said, was not besieged by the allies, it was constantly occupied by the troops of his Most Christian Majesty, who gave the magistrates and the people almost as much trouble as if they had been enemies, and the records show that not long before the surrender of Aire-sur-la-Lys to the allies in November 1710, the Comte d'Estaing (an ancestor of the Admiral who did such good service to the American cause), under orders from Versailles succeeded in bringing to St.-Omer from Dunkirk a complete supply of powder and other munitions of war. It seems to be likely enough that in this operation the military authorities availed themselves of the services of dame Jacqueline and of her boats. As she was a masterful dame, and, burying her third husband, who was twelve years her junior, in 1720, lived on to depart at the age of seventy-five in 1732, a local legend evidently grew up about her personal share in the events of the great war of 1710. The first official historian of St.-Omer, a worthy priest Dom Devienne, writing in 1782, gave this legend form. As he transformed Jacqueline from a rich and prosperous woman of affairs into a 'woman of the dregs of the people,' calling her Jane, by the way, instead of Jacqueline, she became, after the Revolution, a popular heroine; her third husband, who appears to have been a young Squire de Boyaval and a dashing grey mousquetaire of King Louis, was metamorphosed into a brewer's apprentice (Jacqueline among her other possessions owned a brewery); and now, in the year 1889 we have the thrifty dame who helped the king's officers carry out the king's orders for the supplying of St.-Omer, immortalised in bronze as an Audomaraise Jeanne Hachette or Maid of Saragossa!
 This is a curious sidelight on English political history. 'Lord Bromley' was obviously Sir William Bromley, M.P., the bitter enemy of Marlborough, who earned the undying hatred of the Duchess by comparing her to Alice Perrers, the mistress of Edward III. In 1705 Harley prevented the election of Bromley as Speaker by re-publishing an account of the 'Grand Toure' written by him, and foisting into it notes intended to show that Bromley was a 'Papist.' Bromley was again a candidate for the same office in 1710, and Marlborough evidently hoped to get from St.-Omer documentary proof of the 'papistry' of his foe. The second Duchess of Hamilton came, I think, of a Catholic family, and may have thought she had a clue to these documents. The intrigue, however, failed, and Bromley was elected Speaker without opposition in November, 1710.
Is not this worthy to stand on record with Sir Roger de Coverley's tale of the old coachman who had a monument in Westminster Abbey because he figured on the box of the coach in which Thomas Thynne of Longleat was barbarously murdered by Count Konigsmark?
The Republican Mayor of St.-Omer took sides on the question of Jacqueline Robins in 1885 with the Republican 'Professor of History in the Lyceum,' both of them being 'officers of the Academy,' against the Society of Antiquaries; and I dare say the matter may affect the Parliamentary elections in September, 1889!
IN THE PAS-DE-CALAIS—continued
It is a local tradition at Aire-sur-la-Lys that, about half a century ago, the good people of this ancient and picturesque town (which, like St.-Omer, remained a part of the Spanish dominions when all the rest of the Artois became French by the treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659) turned out with flags and music to welcome their mayor back from Paris, bringing the good news that the projected Northern railway should not pass through their territory, to disturb their settled trade.
This unique incident is often cited to show the tenacious conservatism of the Artesians. I believe, however, it only proves that the people of Aire, dwelling in a region which has been fought over from time immemorial, had a well-grounded objection to the exclusively military views with which Marshal Soult then desired that the Government of Louis Philippe should take up and carry out the projected enterprise.
At all events, Aire-sur-la-Lys now rejoices in a comfortable little railway station, which makes it an important point in the system of the Northern Railway of France.
There, on a lovely evening in June, I found the carriage of M. Labitte, one of the Councillors-General of the department, waiting to take me to his charming and hospitable home in the richly-cultivated agricultural commune of St.-Quentin.
It was on the eve of Pentecost when, as the German poet tells us, 'the woods and fields put off all sadness,' and a lovelier summer evening it would be hard to find even in England.
M. Labitte is a Conservative and a devout Catholic. As I have already mentioned, he was a candidate in the Pas-de-Calais in 1886 for the seat in the Chamber now held by M. Camescasse, and received 74,554 votes against 86,356 for his opponent. In Aire he was beaten by only 22 votes out of a total of 3,536. His influence in the country here is, in a certain sense, hereditary, for he came of a family which in the last century gave many excellent ecclesiastics to the service of the Church, among a population then, as now, remarkable for its strong religious feeling. When the States-General were convened by Louis XVI. a century ago, the first date fixed for the elections in Artois had to be postponed, at the request of the Duc de Guines, because it interfered with Easter. The Artesians cared more for the Church than for the State. Yet, in no part of France was the calling of the States-General more popular, and nowhere were more efforts made before 1789 than in Artois to improve the condition of the people and to secure a more just and liberal fiscal administration. The clergy were extraordinarily powerful in Artois, alike by reason of their property and of the religious disposition of the people; and it is a curious and interesting fact that under the constitution of the Estates of Artois it was established (thanks to the union of the clergy with the Third Estate) that, while no votes of the nobility and the clergy united should bind the Third Estate, any joint vote of the Third Estate with either of the other two orders should bind them all. Here, long before the much-bewritten date of 1789, we have the Church in Artois arraying itself on the side of the tax-paying people against the privileged classes. Modern inquiries show, indeed, that this was the attitude of the great body of the French clergy long before what is called the 'Revolution.' The majority of the representatives of the clergy in the States-General of 1789 did not wait for the theatrical demonstrations in the Tennis Court of Versailles, about which so much nonsense has been talked and written, to join the Third Estate in insisting upon a real reform of the public service. No French historian has ventured to make such a picture of the Catholic clergy of France under the Bourbons as Lord Macaulay thought himself authorised to paint of the Protestant clergy of England under the Stuarts. There were flagrant scandals among the higher orders of the Church in France, no doubt, as there were in England. The names of Dubois, of Lomenie de Brienne, of De Rohan are not associated with the cardinal virtues. De Jarente, Bishop of Orleans, driving Mdlle. Guimard to the opera in his coronetted and mitred coach, is not an edifying figure, nor is Louis de Grimaldi, Bishop of Mans, saying Mass in his red hunting-coat and breeches. But the Protestant Dean of St. Patrick's thought the execution for felony of another Protestant dean a capital theme for a merry ballad; and at the end of the eighteenth century Arthur Young painted the English rural clergy in very dark colours. The curates, the rectors, the monks of France as a body, showed under the old regime the same qualities of devout faith and Christian sympathy with the people with which they met and baffled their persecutors after the crash of the monarchy. The three representatives of the clergy who first struck hands with the Third Estate on June 13, 1789, were curates sent to Paris by a province more intensely Catholic than Artois. They were Poitevin priests from the region which we now know as La Vendee, and which only four years afterwards rose in arms to defend its altars and its homes against the intolerable despotism of the 'patriots' of Paris.
When Turgot was put in charge of that work of fiscal reform which might have spared France the horrors and the disasters of the Revolution, had Louis XVI. been capable of standing even by Turgot to the end, he carried on an extensive correspondence with curates in Artois as well as in the other provinces of France, as the best means of educating the people to an intelligent appreciation of his purposes and of his plans. Condorcet, who treated the brutal murderers of the Duc de la Rochefoucauld with a complaisance which entitles him to the confidence of the most advanced anti-clerical philosophers of our own day, bears witness to the good intentions of Turgot's correspondents. He says, in his memoir of Turgot, printed at Philadelphia seven years before the Revolution of '89, that 'the curates, accustomed to preach sound morals, to appease the quarrels of the people, and to encourage peace and concord, were in a better position than any other men in France to prepare the minds of the people for the good work it was the intents of the ministers to do.'
What was true of the French curates a hundred years ago is true of them to-day, the duties prescribed to them by the Church being still precisely what they were when Condorcet bore this testimony to the good dispositions of men much more conscientious than himself. Then, too, as now, the curates were required to look carefully after the education of the children in their parishes. France is indebted, not to the Revolution, but to a great Protestant historian and statesman, Guizot, and to King Louis Philippe for the foundation of her system of public education. The revolutionists of 1789 left the country worse off in this matter than they found it. The royal ordinance of Louis XIV. in 1698, which required the establishment of schoolmasters and schoolmistresses in every parish in which they were not then to be found, and fixed the salaries to be paid these masters and mistresses out of a public tax in every parish in which no foundations for their support existed, was distinctly a public-school law. This ordinance made it incumbent upon all parents and other persons who had charge of children to send them to the schools until they were fourteen years of age, and it also enjoined upon the curates the duty of 'watching with particular attention over the education of the children in their respective parishes.' The spirit in which the clergy of Artois, at least, discharged this duty appears in an ordinance of the Bishop of Arras issued in 1740, half a century before the Revolution of 1789, in which the bishop lays it down as a maxim that 'the greatest charity which can be shown the poor is to ensure them the means of obtaining an education.'
This, down to thirty years ago, was the principle of legislation in Virginia upon the public school question, the State not attempting to interfere with the authority of parents over their children in the matter of education, but making an appropriation for the instruction of the children of the poor. That mischievous wind-bag Lakanal lived in Mississippi and Louisiana during his exile in America, and it is possible that his influence may have had something to do with the early adoption by another southern State, Louisiana, of the general public school system. However that may be, Louisiana in 1850 spent upon her public schools three times as much money annually as any of the New England States, with the result that, out of a native white population of 186,577, she had in her prisons 240 native white criminals, or 1 in 777 of the whole number, being 'the largest proportion of criminals to population at that time to be found in America, if not in the world.' Virginia, out of a native white population of 1,070,395 in 1860, had no more than 163 native white criminals in her prisons, or 1 in 6,566 of her native white population.
It is a curious fact, by the way, that but for the fidelity of the French clergy before 1789, in carrying out the work imposed upon them by the ordinance of Louis XIV., and commended in the ordinance of the Bishop of Arras in 1740, two of the most conspicuous actors in the grotesquely horrible drama of the French Revolution would have starved to death in the streets of Arras, or grown up there in vagabondage. The clergy of St.-Vaast in the diocese of Arras found, in 1768, two wretched urchins thrown upon the world by an unnatural father. One of these, Maximilian Isidore de Robespierre, was born in 1758; the other, Augustus Bai Joseph de Robespierre, in 1764. The good priests picked them up, cared for them, and put them in the way of getting a good education, which they turned to such purpose that both of them eventually came to the guillotine in the flower of their years, and amid the cordially contemptuous execrations of decent people all over the world. One of the most accomplished public men in Massachusetts told me years ago, that he was stopped on his way to school one morning in 1794, by a friend of the family, who bade him run back at once and tell his father the news had come from Europe that 'the head of Robert Spear had been cut off.' 'Make haste,' said this gentleman, 'and your papa will give you a silver dollar, he will be so glad to hear it!'
It was rather instructive to think of the 'sea-green incorruptible' and his idiotic 'Feast of the Supreme Being' on that beautiful clay of Pentecost, in the charming rural commune of St.-Quentin, the peace and happiness of which was for a time so cruelly broken up by his atrocities and follies a hundred years ago. The fine old church, near by my host's residence, has been restored with great taste and good sense. It was crowded at early mass with the farmers and their families, many of the men wearing their blouses, but all well-to-do, for this region is one of the richest and best cultivated districts of Northern France. The service was celebrated with much simplicity, but with no lack of due ceremony; the singing was excellent; and the priest's homily, a brief and very good discourse on the spirit of Christian charity, was listened to with great attention.
The pretty custom prevails here, as in Normandy, of handing about in the congregation, at a certain point in the service, a basket of bread. Two gravely courteous old peasants presented the baskets in turn to all the people. The service over, the farmers stood and chatted together in groups in the churchyard and about the porch, and I heard much talk of the outlook for the crops, of the price of cattle, and of certain properties which had recently changed hands. Of politics next to nothing.
My host was for many years a notary at Aire. He has transferred this position now to the husband of his only daughter, and occupies himself mainly with his agricultural interests. The notary, who is a personage everywhere in France, is especially a personage in Artois. This has come about in part through the great changes which have taken place in the proprietorship of land in this province during the last three centuries. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, after the province was substantially united with France by Louis XIV., great numbers of small proprietors, who had done well enough under the Spanish rule, found themselves forced, by the pressure of taxation, to part with their land, and there was a marked increase in the great estates, not only of the clergy but of the laity. After the First Consul took the country in hand, and began to reorganise it socially, on the principle laid down by him so often and so energetically, in his dealings with his councillors, that 'true civil liberty in a State depends upon the absolute safety of property,' there began to grow up in Artois a great middle class of landholders, corresponding in many conditions to the 'strong farmers' of Ireland. With the increase of this class came a natural increase in the importance and influence of the notaries, already and through the Spanish traditions very considerable in this region. In many parts of the province the notary is recognised as an unofficial, but authoritative, social arbiter, to whom may be safely referred for settlement all sorts of disputes, including very often questions of property which would elsewhere be taken before the courts of law. It was pleasant to see that the relation thus established between M. Labitte and the people generally had not been affected by the political agitation of the last ten years. When I drove about the country with him, I observed that he was saluted everywhere in the friendliest fashion, and that, as he more than once told me, by persons politically quite hostile to his re-election as councillor-general.
After luncheon on Pentecost, a most interesting ceremony took place at St.-Quentin. A long procession made up of the inhabitants of the commune, the men wearing their best clothes, the young girls garlanded and dressed in white, set forth from the porch of the church, after a brief service there, and marched around the commune. It was the English beating of the bounds without the beating, and with the old religious rites. In the midst of the procession, which extended perhaps a quarter of a mile, the parish priest walked alone under an embroidered canopy borne up by young villagers. Acolytes, with lighted candles, moved on either side of the canopy. Before it was borne a white silk banner of the Virgin, and behind it a banner embroidered in gold. All the park and grounds of M. Labitte lying within the commune, and being thrown open to the people, a very beautiful altar of verdure and roses had been set up under a bower in the great garden behind the house, by the daughter of M. Labitte. Before this altar the procession paused, a brief service was performed there, and then the long line resumed its march, a chorus of some twenty male voices chanting, as it went, the Magnificat. Nothing could exceed the unaffected simplicity and seriousness of the people of both sexes and of all ages. The day was one of those perfect days, which, as Mr. Lowell says, come to the world in June, if ever they come at all; and as the long line wound its way around the fields, green with the prospering crops, beneath the orchards and the groves, and between the fragrant hedgerows, the silvery chiming of the bells in the old church alternated with the far-off chanting of the choristers, and the fitful breeze brought us, from time to time, the grave deep voice of the priest reciting, as he moved, the ancient prayers of hope and of thanksgiving.
It was interesting to remember that under the first French attempt at a republic, this lovely rural spectacle would have been as impossible as it would be to-day under the rule of the Mahdi in the Soudan; and also, to reflect that France is governed to-day by men who dream of making it thus impossible once more.
IN THE PAS-DE-CALAIS—continued
My host at St.-Quentin being a councillor-general, his term of office expires with the elections fixed to take place on July 28. There is no reason in the nature of things why councillors-general should be elected on the same lines with deputies and senators. On the contrary, it would seem to be very desirable that local rather than national considerations should govern the election of such functionaries. But it has been found difficult, even in England and Wales, to keep national party politics out of the election of the new county councillors, whose duties are modelled in some important respects upon those assigned to the councillors-general in France; and it is evident that the French local elections in July will be largely determined by considerations affecting the national elections which must take place in September and October. M. Labitte, who was elected a councillor-general by the Conservatives in this department six years ago, was defeated in 1886, as I have already said, in a by-election, held to fill a vacancy in the Chamber of Deputies. It is the wish of his party friends that he should offer himself as a candidate for re-election as a councillor-general on July 28; but he does not seem disposed to do this, preferring, I think, to keep himself quite free to do his very best to bring about a Conservative victory in the national elections in September, with the importance of which to the future of France he is deeply impressed. Meanwhile, he is giving a personal account of his stewardship as a councillor-general to his constituents in a series of 'conferences.' One of these conferences he was good enough to invite me to attend.
It was held in a commune, distant some ten or twelve miles from St.-Quentin-par-Aire, and, as the custom of France is, it was held on a Sunday afternoon. M. Labitte's son-in-law drove out from Aire with his wife to dine and spend the evening with us. And about three o'clock M. Labitte, his son-in-law, and myself set out for the conference. Our road lay through a level but richly cultivated and, in its way, very beautiful region. In the last century, Artois seems to have been a kind of Ireland. The climate was excessively damp, the lack of forests and the undeveloped coal-mines left the peasantry dependent upon turf and peat for fuel; the roads were few and bad. There were good crops of grain; but the Intendant Bignon, drawing up a report on the province at the close of the seventeenth century, for the Duke of Burgundy, tells us the wars had made an end of all the manufactures, including the long-famous tapestry-works of Arras. 'There were few fruit-trees, little hay, and little manure.' Here and there some linen was made; but the trade of the province was carried on almost exclusively in grain, hops, flax, and wool. Iron and copper utensils, and coal and slates came to Artois from Flanders, cod-fish and cheese from the Low Countries, butter and all kinds of manufactured goods from England. Yet the population steadily increased all through the eighteenth century, while it was falling off in the neighbouring provinces of France. The worthy intendant thought the people sadly wanting in 'intelligence, activity, and practical sense,' and seems indeed, like a Malthusian before Malthus, half-inclined to attribute the phenomena of increase and multiplication in Artois to these defects. It would surprise him, I fancy, to look on the people and the land of Artois to-day. The land has become one of the most fertile and prosperous regions of France; the people, unaffected to any appreciable extent by immigration, and unchanged alike in race and in religion, increase and multiply as of old. The well-tilled fields, the well-kept and beautiful roads, the neat, green hedgerows, the orchards bear witness on every side to the intelligence, the activity, the practical sense of the inhabitants.