France and the Republic - A Record of Things Seen and Learned in the French Provinces - During the 'Centennial' Year 1889
by William Henry Hurlbert
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M. Baudrillart in one of his invaluable treatises on the condition of France before the Revolution of 1789, gives us the main key of this great difference between the condition of agricultural Artois in the eighteenth century and its condition to-day. He cites a most curious appeal to the estates of Artois in behalf of the rural populations, from which it appears that the citizens of the chief towns had combined with the noblesse and the higher clergy to keep the village curates and the farmers out of the provincial assemblies, and to throw the whole burden of taxation upon the agriculturists. 'The soil of Artois,' say the authors of this appeal, 'is quite as good as the soil of England; and yet the Artesian farmers can only get out of their labour on it one quarter as much as the English do.' It was the fiscal maladministration, they maintain, which checked the progress of agriculture and depressed the condition of the farmers; and it is interesting to observe that these rural reformers proposed to remedy the evils of which they complained, not by abolishing all the privileges of the privileged classes in a night, as did the headlong mob of the States-General at Paris in 1789, but by securing a fairer representation of the rural regions in the Provincial Estates, limiting the duration of the Provincial Parliaments to three years, and deciding that one-third of the seats should be vacated and refilled every year. This does not look as if the Artesians of the last century were particularly deficient either in intelligence or in practical sense.

On our way to the conference we saw several sugar factories, most of them now abandoned, though the beet crops of Artois are still very important; and my companions told me that the people here, with all their traditional conservatism, are very quick to abandon any industry which ceases to promise good returns, and to change their crops as the conditions of the market change. We saw but few chateaux. One of the most considerable, standing well in view from the road in the midst of an extensive park, and approached by a long avenue of well-grown trees, seemed to be shut up. The proprietor, the Count de——, I was told had not visited it for two years past, one of his gamekeepers having been murdered in a conflict with some poachers.

Under the existing laws in France, political conferences must be held within four walls. Trafalgar Square meetings would be as impossible in republican France as in monarchical Germany. As the commune in which M. Labitte was to meet his constituents possesses no convenient hall, and the local authorities were not particularly eager to facilitate the conference, one of the local Conservatives, a well-to-do farmer, had taken it upon himself to provide, at his own expense, a proper place of meeting, by fitting up a fine large barn with seats, and putting up a simple rustic platform in one corner of it for the speaker. It struck me that this was a symptom of genuine interest in the politics of his region not likely to be shown in similar circumstances by many English or American farmers. He was a man of middle age, with the quiet, self-possessed carriage, general among his class in all parts of France, and received us, in the large and neatly-furnished best room of his old-fashioned and very comfortable house, with frank and simple courtesy. On the walls hung a number of engravings and two or three small paintings. One of these represented the Duc d'Orleans, the father of the Comte de Paris, in the uniform of the celebrated corps of Chasseurs which he organised and to which he gave his name. 'That picture,' said the farmer, 'was given to my father by the prince. He used to stop here often while he was at the camp of the Chasseurs, and take his breakfast. I remember him perfectly, for I was then a well-grown lad, and he was always full of kindness and good spirits. Ah! if he had lived! We should not be where we are to-day in France, with all these debts and all these dangers!'

The constituents of my host, all of them specially invited by letter to attend the conference, had already begun to assemble when we arrived, but some of them had two or three miles to walk after service in their respective churches, and it was nearly six o'clock when the conference began. By that time the large farmyard and the rooms of the house were filled with a company of perhaps a hundred and fifty men, almost all of them farmers. Among them was only one landowner of the aristocratic class, the Comte de——, who had walked over from his chateau about three miles off. He was a type of the old-fashioned French country gentleman, tall and sinewy, with finely cut features, simply, not to say carelessly, dressed, but with an unmistakable air of distinction, and a certain peremptory courtesy of manner which would infallibly have got him into trouble in the days when, near Baume-les-Dames, Arthur Young had to clear himself of the suspicion that he was a gentleman on pain of being promptly hanged from a lantern hook.

The seats in the barn once filled, some fifty auditors grouped themselves in the farmyard about the wide-open doors of the barn, and M. Labitte mounted the extemporised platform. The proceedings had to be suspended for a few moments as the attention of the audience was suddenly drawn to the high road by the galloping past of two generals in full uniform, with their staff officers, from St.-Omer. There was no nomination of a chairman or a secretary, none of the inevitable formalities of an English or American political gathering. M. Labitte called the meeting to order by the simple process of beginning to address it. Nothing could be more direct and business-like than his speech. It was exactly what he told his hearers he meant it to be, an account of his stewardship as their councillor-general. He said not a word about the personal aspects of the party conflicts raging in France, and very little about the national aspects of that conflict. Speaking in a frank conversational way, and referring to his notes only for figures and dates, he gave his constituents a succinct picture of the effect upon their own local interests of the policy pursued by the Government of the Republic. He told them how much of their money had been spent under the action of the Council-General during the six years of his term, and on what it had been spent, and with what results. If they liked the picture, well and good; if not, the remedy was in their own hands at the next election. He had forewarned me to expect nothing demonstrative in the attitude of his audience. 'They listen most attentively,' he said, 'but they give you no sign either of agreement or disagreement, of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. At night, after the meeting is over, they will break up into little knots and coteries, and talk it all over among themselves. If they are pleased on the whole, one of the group finally will say: "Well, Labitte told us the truth," and that being admitted by the rest, the conference will be a success!'

On this occasion the auditors were much more outspoken during the conference. Speaking of the unequal pressure upon the different communes of the military service, M. Labitte told them a story of a youth who came to him to get an exemption from service. 'I told him,' said M. Labitte, 'that I should be very glad to get it for him, but that his commune was not at that moment entitled to an exemption, and that I could not be a party to putting an injustice upon another commune. He was annoyed at this, and thought I ought to do him a favour, no matter at whose cost. I declined, and he went away. Some time after I met him, when he exultingly told me that he had seen one of my colleagues, a Republican, and had got from him the exemption he wanted. After that I heard stories put about to the effect that Labitte cared nothing about the pressure of the military service on the labouring people! Was I not right? Was it not my duty to see no favouritism shown to one commune at the expense of another?'

To these queries there was a prompt and general response, 'Yes! yes! You were quite right,' and several voices cried out, 'Bravo!—quite right, Labitte.'

Again, in dealing with the question of education, M. Labitte told his hearers of three instances in which small communes had been made to expend sums inordinately disproportionate to their resources upon what he called 'scholastic palaces,' although a great majority of the people in each instance distinctly refused to send their children to the lay schools established in these 'palaces.' One case was that of a commune of some seven hundred souls compelled to expend more than sixty thousand francs, or 2,400l. sterling, upon a 'scholastic palace'! 'I opposed these expenditures,' he said, 'for I think it is part of the duty of a councillor-general to look closely into the use made of your money.'

This, also, the hearers applauded, not noisily at all, but with a kind of gratified murmur, not unlike the very loud purring of a very large cat. By this time it was evident that the speaker had his audience well in hand, and M. Labitte took up some points of attack made on himself. One of these was that he was a 'clerical.' He said that he certainly was a 'clerical,' if that meant a man who had a religion and respected it, and wished to see the religion of other people respected; and gliding on from this to the question of the religious education of children, he asked the people whether they wished to see the curates forbidden to teach their children the principles of their religion. He was instantly answered by a man standing in the crowd just outside the door of the barn, who, in a loud and rather husky voice, shouted out that 'the priest had no business in the school.' Several of the audience met this interruption with derisive laughter, and two or three of them sharply invited the man to hold his tongue and go about his business. For a moment it seemed as if we were about to have a scene. But M. Labitte interposed. With perfect good temper he replied to the man that he was quite of his opinion as to the proper place of a priest, and that he had no wish to see the children at school interfered with in their school hours by any instruction not a part of the school programme. He suggested, however, that, instead of shouting and clamouring, the man should wait till he, M. Labitte, had got through, and then come up 'amiably and prettily' on the platform and state his own views as fully as he liked. This made the man in the doorway angrier than ever, and as the audience good-naturedly laughed at him, he began to use rather abusive language. Upon this several stalwart peasants rose and made their way towards him with very plain intimations that if he did not take to the highway he would be carried there. The uproar was all over in five minutes. Some companions of the anti-clerical gentleman, not liking the look of the audience, contrived to surround him and led him off, and he disappeared uttering a threat or two of incoherent defiance as he went out of the farmyard. A burly farmer seated near me explained that 'the fellow was drunk. But,' he added, 'he was sent here to do all this, and I know who sent him. Do you see that high chimney across the road some way off among the trees? Well, he is a factory hand there. There are a number of them—they don't belong to this country, and the manufacturer is an intriguer. He wanted to be a councillor-general, and we beat him off. He doesn't like it—and that's at the bottom of it all.'

M. Labitte spoke for about an hour, the audience gradually increasing and listening with close attention. At the end the farmer, who had arranged the conference, got up and thanked the councillor-general for the account he had given of his services, and then the meeting broke up as quietly as it had assembled, and with as little ceremony.

Before the company began to leave the barn, a young man near the door asked for some information as to the duties likely to be imposed to protect the farmers, and getting a brief and clear reply, he said that would be very satisfactory—if only 'some proprietors would not put such high prices on their land.' The Count, who sat just in front of me and who had kept his hawk eye fixed on the speaker, chuckled to himself and said to me, 'That shot was meant for me!'

Altogether the proceedings gave me a very favourable notion of the intelligence and the practical sense of the people. If all the constituencies in France could be handled in this direct fashion at the national elections in September, the result of those elections might be at least the approximative expression of the sense of the nation.

But this is not to be expected. There is much more canvassing done, I think, by legislative candidates in France, and much less public speaking than in America or in England, and the pressure of the Government upon the voters is very much greater here even than it is in America. The proportion of office-holders to the population is much more considerable, and the recent governments have made the tenure of office in France even more dependent upon the political activity of the officials than it has ever been in the United States. This is one of the many evil legacies of the First Republic. The maxim that, 'to the victors belong the spoils,' I am sorry to say has been pretty extensively reduced to practice on my side of the Atlantic; but it was first formulated, not by Jackson, but by Danton. Louis Blanc tells us that this brutal Boanerges of the Jacobins startled even his allies one day, by cynically declaring that 'the revolution was a battle, and, like all battles, ought to end by the division of the spoils among the victors.'

Gabriel Charmes, a republican of the republicans, reviewing the conduct of the governments which have succeeded each other in France with such kaleidoscope rapidity since the death of Thiers, deliberately declares that 'epuration is the watchword, and the true aim of Republican politics' in France. And 'epuration' is the euphemism invented to describe the simple process of kicking out the office-holder who is in, to make room for the office-seeker who is out. Gambetta began this process in December 1870, when he wrote to the Government at Paris: 'Authorise me and all my colleagues to "purify" the personnel of the public administration, and it shall be done in very short order.' Within a month, the Minister of the Interior telegraphed to the prefects, 'you are authorised to make all the changes among the public school teachers, which, from a republican and political point of view, you may think desirable.' M. Cremieux, Minister of Justice, followed the work up so energetically, that by the end of the year 1871 he declared that he had 'weeded out eighteen hundred justices of the peace, and two hundred and eighty-nine magistrates of the courts and tribunals.' When the republicans of the different Radical shades got into power in 1877, the newly elected deputies, according to M. Floquet, held a meeting, and insisted upon a further 'epuration.' They were of the mind of the sub-prefect of Roanne, who telegraphed to his superior, 'If Republicans alone are not put into office, the Republicans will rise and we shall have civil war.' In January 1880, M. de Freycinet, then, as now, a Minister, loudly called for a 'reform of the personnel of the Administration; and M. Gabriel Charmes, speaking of the then situation in France, tells us that only one prefect of the previous Republican Administration had escaped 'purification,' and not one procureur-general. 'Has a single justice of the peace,' he added, 'or a single public school teacher in the slightest degree open to suspicion, escaped the avenging hands of MM. Le Royes and Jules Ferry? Certainly not.'

This was nine years ago. So thorough was the weeding, M. Charmes tells us, that, 'even the rural constables had not escaped, and the epuration policy had carried terror and anarchy into all branches of the public service.'

In 1885 more than three millions of voters recorded their protest against these methods of government, and against the deputies who had identified these methods with the Republican form of government. This protest was met by M. de Freycinet, on January 16, 1886, with a speech, in the course of which he calmly said, 'Let no one henceforth forget that liberty to oppose the Government does not exist for the servants of the State.'

That is to say, the Republican Government, which is itself the servant, and the paid servant, of the State, will not permit any of its fellow-servants and subordinates, who are also presumably French citizens and taxpayers, to form and express at the polls any opinion on public affairs differing from the opinions held by the ministers who make up the Government.

It was upon this simple and beautiful principle that Mr. Tweed and his colleagues consolidated the local administration of affairs of the city of New York. Applied to the administration of the affairs of thirty-six millions of people in France, it ought certainly to produce results far transcending in splendour any achieved by the Tammany Ring. For M. Gabriel Charmes is quite in the right when he says that 'under this word of "epuration" lie concealed the most deplorable forms of personal greed, and the least avowable personal spites and rancours.' Like other clever devices, however, 'epuration' may possibly be carried too far. If it comes to pass that no actual functionary thinks his head safe, while, at the same time, every office the Government has to give represents a dozen or twenty 'expurgated,' and therefore exasperated and disaffected, previous holders of that office, the confidence of the garrison may be shaken while the animosity of the assailants is intensified. This point may possibly have been reached in France. If it has not been reached, the influence of the Government upon the voters must be very formidable. For the average French voter is hemmed in and hedged about by innumerable small functionaries who have it in their power to oblige or to disoblige him, to gratify or to vex him in all sorts of ways; and though the ballot is supposed to be sacred and secret in France, it can hardly be more sacred or more secret there than in other countries. And whatever protection against annoyance the ballot may give to the voter, nothing can protect the candidate.

What I have heard in other regions I hear in Artois, that nothing is so difficult as to persuade men of position and character to take upon themselves the troubles, and expose themselves to the inconveniences, of an important political candidacy. There are a hundred ways in which a triumphant Administration conducted on the principles of the 'epuration' policy may harass and annoy an unsuccessful banner-bearer of the Opposition. The question of expense is another obstacle in the way of a thorough organisation of public opinion against such a Government.

An average outlay of 400,000 francs per department would be required, I was told by an experienced friend in Paris, adequately to put into the line of political battle all the departments of France, large and small together. As there are eighty-three departments in France, this gives us a total of 33,200,000 francs, or some 1,300,000l. sterling, as the cost of a thorough political campaign against an established French Government. If we suppose each deputy to make a personal contribution of 20,000 francs to this war-chest, that will give us only about one-third of the necessary amount. The rest must be made up by the personal contributions of public-spirited citizens, and my own observation of public affairs, going back, now, over a good many lively and interesting political conflicts in the United States, leads me to believe that liberal contributions of this sort are, as a rule, more easily collected by the beneficiaries of a more or less unscrupulous Government actually in power, than by the disinterested advocates of a real political reformation.

We wound up the day of the Conference with a delightful little dinner at St.-Quentin. The traditions of the old French cuisine are not yet extinct in the provinces, nor, for that matter, in the private life of the true Parisians of Paris. They all centre in the famous saying of Brillat-Savarin, that a man may learn how to cook, but must be born to roast—a saying worthy of the philosophic magistrate who, coming to America, under the impression that he was to be fed upon roots and raw meat, went back to France convinced that a New England roast turkey and an Indian pudding were not to be matched in the old world. It is one of the many curious things of this curious world of the nineteenth century, that a cuisine of made dishes of which Grimod de La Reyniere long ago gave us the origin, in the downfall of the kitchens of the prince-bishops along the Rhine, should be gravely and generally accepted by Frenchmen themselves, or at least by the Parisians of literature and the boulevards, as the national cuisine of France. The charming daughter of my host at St.-Quentin knew better; and she received with a graceful, housewifely satisfaction the neatly-turned compliments which one of the guests was old-fashioned and sensible enough to pay her upon the skill of her cook.

The city of Aire-sur-la-Lys itself, like St.-Omer, shows traces still of its connection with Flanders and with Spain. I do not know if it is true of Aire as M. Lauwereyns de Roosendaele, writing about Jacqueline Robins, declares it to be of St.-Omer, that there are people there, even now, who think of the days of the Spanish rule as the 'good old times.' But there is a certain Castilian stateliness about the older buildings of Aire; and the portals of the larger residences, leading from the street into charming secluded courts, gay with trees and flowers, remind one of the zaguans of the Andalusian houses. Very Spanish, too, is the Jesuit Church, despite some extraordinary decorations due to the zeal of its more recent possessors.

The Flemish past of the city is commemorated especially by a very remarkable little building known as the Corps de Garde, and by certain portions of the Church of St.-Pierre.

Aire formerly had a cathedral, but during the worst period of the Terror that exemplary ruffian, Joseph Lebon of Arras, the unfrocked priest, who organised pillage and massacre throughout the Pas-de-Calais, frightened the good people of Aire into a frenzy of destruction and devilry. The Church of St.-Pierre was then a collegiate church, but it was turned over to the worship of the Supreme Being invented by Robespierre, desecrated and defaced and left in a deplorable state. It had already suffered, like so many other churches all over France and England, from the ingenious 'restorers' of the eighteenth century, who have left their sign-manual on the upper part of the edifice and on the mass of a huge organ loft which crushes and disfigures the main entrance. The greater part of the building is of the fifteenth century; and it has been restored within our own times as tastefully and effectively as in the circumstances was possible, under the supervision and in part, I believe, at the cost of a devoted and conscientious curate, a member of a Scotch family long fixed in Artois, the Abbe Scott, who took charge of the church at the end of the reign of Charles X. and who now lies buried in the building he did so much to preserve. It is a very considerable church, measuring three hundred feet in length and a hundred-and-twenty in width; with a height of seventy feet in the main nave. The ogival windows are filled with rich, stained glass; all the ancient monuments which escaped the fury of 1793 have been excellently restored, and the church bears witness in its condition to the active piety of the faithful of Aire.

The 'Corps de Garde' is a quadrilateral jewel of Flemish architecture of the end of the sixteenth century. It was of old the central point of the city, where the armed citizens met who patrolled the streets like the burghers of Rembrandt's magnificent 'Ronde de Nuit.' A gallery runs round it of arcades, and brickwork supported by monolithic columns. Above these arcades runs a frieze of trophies of arms with the attributes of St. James—the mayor of the city in whose time it was built bore the name of this apostle—and the cross of Burgundy.

The principal facade fronts the 'Grande Place,' and is surmounted by a picturesque pointed roof. An attic storey, running all around the building, is richly decorated with sculptures of the Theological and Cardinal Virtues, the Four Elements, and the patron saints of Aire—St. Nicholas and St. Anthony. On another facade is the sculptured niche, now vacant, wherein stood a statue of the Virgin, before which all the great processions, civic and military, were used to halt and do obeisance.

In 1482, after the death of Charles the Bold, Louis XI. of France succeeded, 'by treachery and corruptions,' in annexing Aire for a time to the French crown, and the local records give a picturesque account of a French tournament held here in 1492, the year of the discovery of America, under the auspices of no less a person than the Chevalier 'sans peur et sans reproche.' Pierre du Terrail, dit le Bayard, came to Aire on July 19 in that year, and at once sent a trumpeter to proclaim through all the streets and squares that on the morrow, being July 20, he would hold a tournay under the walls of Aire, for all comers, 'of three charges with the lance, the steel points dulled; and twelve sword strokes to be exchanged, with no lists drawn, and on horseback in harness of battle.' The next day the combat to be renewed 'afoot with the lance until the breaking of the lance, and after that with the battle-axe so long as the judges might think fit.' The chroniclers celebrate in superlatives the valour and skill shown by the hero in these gentle and joyous assaults of arms, and the beauty of the Artesian dames and damsels who thronged from all the country round into Aire to witness the tournay, and take part in the dances and banquets which followed it. But the hearts of the people were evidently Flemish and Spanish, not French; for they hailed the restoration of the Austrian authority by Charles the Fifth with all manner of rejoicings. Charles, with his usual sagacity, confirmed all the ancient rights and privileges of the city and its corporations, which had been a good deal disturbed under the centralising rule of the French sovereigns, and a record of the year 1538 tells us that on the proclamation in that year of the truce of Borny, the Austrian authorities paid the treasurer of the city 'lxxviii. sols' for silver money 'thrown in joy to the people.' The treasurer himself seems to have been so enthusiastic on this occasion that he threw his own cap after the silver money, for the record adds a further payment to him 'for a certain cap belonging to him, which was likewise thrown to the people.' All the records of this age at Aire are picturesque with lively accounts of all manner of junketings, carousals, and festivities, and the good people seem to have passed no small part of their lives in merry-making. There is a curious entry on the occasion of the marriage of the Archduke Philip to Mary of England. This auspicious event was celebrated at Aire by a grand procession, followed by 'songs and ballads in honour of the married pair;' and the treasurer paid to 'Johan Gallant, goldsmith, iiii. livres iiii. sols for the silver presents, to wit, an eagle, a leopard, a lion, and a fool—all in silver—which were given to those who made the songs, ballads, and games in honour of the said good news!'

Like Calais, St.-Omer, and other cities of this region, Aire offered a refuge in 1553 to the unfortunate inhabitants of the ancient historic city of Therouanne, which, after a heroic defence by d'Esse de Montmorency, was taken in that year, five days after the death on the ramparts of the gallant commander, by the troops of Charles the Fifth, and by his orders razed to the ground. The details of this merciless destruction recall the sack of Rome by the Imperialists; and it is the blackest feature in the black record of the First French Revolution that the men who then got control for a time of the government of France, in the names of Liberty and Progress, deliberately and wantonly rivalled the most unscrupulous of the kings and emperors whom they were constantly denouncing, in their treatment, not of foreign fortresses conquered in war, but of French cities, of the lives and the property of French citizens, and of the most precious monuments of French history. Charles the Bold at Dinant and Charles the Fifth at Therouanne were outdone, in the prostituted name of the French people, by the younger Robespierre at Toulon and by the paralytic Couthon at Lyons.

The annals of these north-eastern cities of modern France are full of most curious and valuable materials for a really instructive history of the French people. The most cursory acquaintance with them suffices to show how much worse than worthless are the huge political pamphlets which during the last hundred years have passed current with the world as histories of the French Revolution, and how important to the future, not of France alone but of civilisation, is the work begun in our own times by writers like Mortimer-Ternaux, Granier de Cassagnac, Baudrillart, Bire, and Henri Taine. Here in Artois, under the conflicting influences of Flemish, Spanish, and French laws and customs, a genuine development of social and political life may be traced as clearly as in Scotland or in England, down to the sudden and violent strangulation of French progress by the incompetent States-General and the not less incompetent king in 1789.

The archives of Aire show that the question of public education was a practical question there, at least as far back as at the beginning of the seventeenth century. In 1613, the magistrates asked and obtained the permission of the Archduke Albert and the Archduchess Isabella to lay a special tax on the city of Aire and two adjoining villages, for the purpose of founding a college, private citizens having already given an endowment of 750 florins a year for this object. The importance of this contribution may be estimated from the fact that after the siege of Aire by the French in 1641, a sum of I,000 florins left to the Collegiate Church of Aire by a canon of Tournay was found sufficient to restore the chapel of Our Lady, the whole right wing of the church, and many houses belonging to the canons, which had all been destroyed by the French artillery. No time was lost in opening the college to the youth of the city and the suburbs, and only a few years afterwards the priests in charge of it wrote to the Seigneur de Thiennes, asking for further endowments in order to increase the number of the teachers to twenty, so great was the affluence of scholars from all the country around, 'to the number at that time of more than three hundred.' The collegiate chapter of Aire appointed one of its canons superintendent of the school, under the title of the 'Ecolatre.' There really seems to be as little foundation in fact for the common notion that there was no provision made for the education of the people in France before 1789, as for the notion, not less common, that there were no peasant proprietors in France before 1789. It is hardly excusable even that Mr. Carlyle, rhapsodising more than fifty years ago about the 'dumb despairing millions,' should have fallen into this error. For though De Tocqueville and Taine had not then exploded it in detail, Necker, in whose career Carlyle took so much interest, not only declared officially that there was 'an immense number' of such proprietors in France, but took the trouble to explain how it had come about. The law of 1790 establishing the land-tax required every parish to furnish a detailed account of the then existing properties in land, and it is shown by these that there then existed in France nearly two-thirds as many landholders as now exist, although the population of the country is now about twenty-five per cent. greater than it then was.




By turns English, French, and Burgundian, Upper Picardy, of which Amiens was the capital, became definitely French under the astute policy of Louis XI. The Calaisis and the Boulonnais, with Ponthieu and Vimieu, eventually constituted what was called Lower Picardy, and the whole province, divided under the Bourbons into the two 'generalities' of Amiens and Soissons, formed before 1789 one of the twelve great departments of the monarchy, and was brought under the domain of the Parliament of Paris.

The city of Amiens, associated now, I fear, chiefly, in the English and American mind, with 'twenty minutes' stop' on the way between Calais and Paris, and with a buffet which perhaps entitles it to be called the Mugby Junction of France, is really one of the most interesting of French cities. No student of Ruskin can need to be told that its glorious cathedral makes it one of the most interesting, not of French only, but of European cities; and two or three excellent small hotels make it a most comfortable as well as a most instructive midway station, not for 'twenty minutes,' but for a couple of days, between the capitals of England and France. Arthur Young found it so a hundred years ago, when he encountered there the illustrious Charles James Fox returning to London from a visit to the Anglomaniac Due d' Orleans, in the company of a charming 'Madame Fox,' of whom Arthur Young and London had no previous cognisance.

Like Dijon, and Nancy, and Toulouse, and Rennes, and Rouen, Amiens still wears that 'look of a capital' which is as unmistakeable, if also as undefinable, as Hazlitt found the 'look of a gentleman' to be. York and Exeter, for example, in England, have this look, while Liverpool and Hull have it not. There are traces of the Spaniards in Amiens, as there are wherever that most Roman of all the Latin peoples has ever passed, and the curious hortillonages of Amiens, which may be roughly described as a kind of floating kitchen gardens, remind one so strongly of the much more picturesque Chinampas of Mexico as to suggest the impression that the idea of establishing them may have come hither by way of Spain.

At the present time, Amiens is a point of no small political interest. It is the bailiwick of one of the few really notable men of the actual Republican party in France—- M. Goblet—and yet it is one of the strongholds of Boulangism. There is an old song, the refrain of which, as I heard it sung, more years ago than I care to recall, always haunts me when I visit this ancient city:—

Vive un Picard, vive un Picard, Quand il s'agit de tete!

The Picards have always shown, not only sense, but a kind of stubborn independence of character. In the days of anarchy which came upon France with the brief but ill-omened triumph of the Girondins, Amiens was the first of the French provincial cities to resist and denounce the too successful attempt of Danton and the commune of Paris to terrorise France by a skilful abuse of the imbecility of Roland. The authorities of Amiens were the first to protest against the outrageous pretensions of the 'commissioners,' who came there with Roland's commissions in one hand, and the secret instructions of Roland's colleague and master, Danton, in the other, to pillage the property of the inhabitants under the pretence of gathering supplies for the national defence, and to establish an irresponsible local despotism under the pretence of suppressing 'treason.' To them, in the first instance, belongs the credit of compelling Roland to get up before the Assembly on September 17, 1792, and confess that he had 'signed in the council commissions without knowing anything about the commissioners who were to use them;' and to them, therefore, in the first instance, history is indebted for the formal record which shows that the actual fall of the French monarchy was followed, and its formal abolition preceded, by the letting loose upon France of a swarm of scoundrels, who filled 'the prisons with prisoners as to whom no one knew by whom they were arrested; who gave over to pillage the treasures accumulated in the Tuileries, and in the houses of the emigrant aristocracy; who conveyed away everything which could tempt the cupidity of a subaltern, without any record whatever; and who were delivering over Paris and France to the most absurd folly and the most insatiable greed.' It was not the fault of Amiens if the efforts of Mazuyer and Kersaint demanding a law to show 'whether the French nation was sovereign, or the Commune of Paris,' and the sonorous eloquence of Vergniaud denouncing the 'citizens of Paris' as the 'slaves of the vilest scoundrels alive,' only led in the end to making France herself for a time the slave of these same 'vilest scoundrels alive.'

In more recent times, Amiens received and entertained Gambetta on his way by balloon from Paris to Tours. I asked the veteran Count Leon de Chassepot, who for years was regularly returned at every election at the head of the municipal councillors of Amiens, how the people received Gambetta on that memorable occasion. His answer was that there really was no 'reception.' Gambetta came down in his balloon at a little place some way off, between Amiens and Montdidier, and when he reached Amiens he was too tired and hungry to think of 'receiving' people or making speeches. Count Leon de Chassepot had nothing, I believe, to do with the invention of the guns which bear his name. But he has a glance like a rifle-shot, and at fourscore years 'Spring still makes spring in the mind' of this vivacious veteran. I asked him how Amiens behaved when the news came there of the capture of Paris by the revolutionists of September 4, 1870. Was the new republic hailed with enthusiasm? 'Enthusiasm!' he said scornfully; 'why should it be? The people of Amiens were thinking of fighting the Prussians, not of upsetting the Government! They received the news with stupefaction, as a matter of little consequence in comparison with the invasion. The disaster of Sedan had afflicted them profoundly. The Empire was popular in Picardy. At the municipal elections which took place in Amiens just after the declaration of war—early in August 1870, that is—the Imperialist candidates had all been elected by overwhelming majorities. M. Goblet, now so prominent in the Republican counsels, made his appearance then as an anti-governmental candidate, together with M. Petit, the present Radical mayor of Amiens. M. Goblet got 530 votes, and M. Petit 423. They were the leading persons on that side, and the leading persons on the side of the Government received, respectively, 5,099 and 4,964 votes. This being the temper of the good people of Amiens at that time, you will understand that they were more astounded than pleased by the so-called revolution of September in Paris. But they were more patriotic than the people of Paris, and they acquiesced in the overthrow of the Government to show a united front to the enemy. He was within striking distance of Amiens, by the way, and the boulevardiers unfortunately thought that Paris was out of his reach.'

The first act of the revolutionists of September, it appears, was to disorganise as far as they could the public service by removing the prefects, and putting their own people into place and power. They sent a certain M. Lardiere down post-haste to Amiens to take the place of the then prefect of the Somme, M. de Guigne, and that was all they did to defend Amiens!

In the course of a pleasant morning spent with M. Ansart, a gentleman of high character and position in Amiens, and with several of his friends, I heard much that was interesting as to this critical period. The attitude of the leading men throughout Picardy seems to have been in complete conformity with M. de Chassepot's account of the bearing of the city of Amiens. The mayor of a commune not far from Amiens, a marquis and a leading Imperialist, on getting the news of the political somersault executed at Paris, read out the bulletin to the people from the mairie, reminded them that the enemy were sure to come into Picardy, and then exclaimed, 'Well, my friends, since it seems we are in a republic, Long live the Republic!'

This was the general feeling of good men everywhere at that time in France. Said one gentleman, a landed proprietor from Brittany, 'Nobody out of Paris who had a head on his shoulders approved what had been done in Paris. But by common consent a great blank credit was opened for the Republic all over France. If the Republicans would do their duty to France, not as party men but as patriots, France was ready to accept them. It is their own fault, and their fault alone, that the men who made this change at Paris went to pieces so fast in the public estimation. It is the fault of the Republicans, and their fault alone, that now, after nearly eighteen years, they are an offence to sensible and liberal men from one end of France to the other.'

The new prefect sent down from Paris turned out to be a wind-bag. By the middle of November it became clear that Amiens must fall into the power of the enemy. The new prefect launched a ridiculous proclamation, blazing with adjectives, at the advancing Teutons, and then one fine night got out of the way as fast as possible, leaving the city and the department of the Somme to face the wrath of the not very placable conquerors.

On November 28, the Prussians occupied the city, one French officer, Commandant Vogel, falling at his post, which he refused to surrender. Count Lehndorff, appointed to be German Prefect of the Somme, came down upon the people heavily for war contributions, which were raised under the management of M. Dauphin, who had been the Imperialist mayor of the city ever since 1868, and who has of late years been a conspicuous Republican. As peace drew near, Amiens had to borrow five millions of francs, for which M. Dauphin agreed the city should pay M. Oppenheim of Brussels a commission of 10 per cent., and issued its obligations at 7-1/2 per cent. for fifty years.

Naturally the Germans are not much liked at Amiens. Count de Chassepot thinks the Picards in general really want war with Germany. They turned out very generally during the contest. He commanded a battalion of National Guards who turned out in full force, not a man missing, though they were armed with wretched old muskets, and perfectly understood what that must lead to for them. On making his rounds very early in the morning, he found, in an advanced post, at a point of great danger, a picket, a sentinelle perdue, who proved to be one of the most respectable men in Amiens, the first president of the Upper Court of the city, nearly sixty years of age, doing his duty as a private soldier. 'In a hospital here,' said M. de Chassepot, 'I have six hundred patients. Every man of them is eager for another turn with the Germans.'

I was anxious to learn when and how it was that M. Goblet, just now the leading Republican personage of this part of France, began to appear conspicuously on the horizon. 'Not till Gambetta's new social strata began to appear,' I was told. This was in 1874. The finances of the city, left in a sad condition by the war, had been put into order by the municipal council which was elected during the German occupation in 1871; the public works had been restored, fine barracks built, and a sufficient number of school-houses. In return for those services the councillors who had rendered them were turned out in 1874, M. Dauphin among them, by the newly-organised 'Union republicaine.' This put M. Goblet at last into the council with his ally, M. Petit, the latter being the editor of a Radical journal, the Progres de la Somme, which the military governor of Paris had ordered to be suppressed early in 1874, for its attacks on the then President, Marshal MacMahon. In 1876 M. Goblet became mayor of Amiens.

'The very next year, when the contest began between Gambetta as head of the Union of the Left and the President of the Republic, M. Goblet threw himself as ex-mayor of Amiens openly on the side of the ex-dictator, and made such speeches that he was dismissed from his office by the President in June 1877.'

'Did he like this?'

'No, he didn't like it at all. As Minister of the Interior, in more recent times, M. Goblet has knocked off the heads of a great number of mayors. But when his own head was knocked off in 1877, he loudly and scornfully denounced all municipal officers who would stoop to accept their positions from the national government.'

'In that you have the whole character of M. Goblet,' said another gentleman. 'I have known him from childhood. He is not a bad man, and, as you know, he is a man of ability, one of the very few able men to be found acting with President Carnot. But he is very vain, very ambitious, very excitable. As the associate of Petit, who is a rampant atheist, and of the anti-clericals generally, he has to pose as an unbeliever; but he is, in fact, nothing of the sort. His wife is a good woman, and he goes in great awe of her, which I think to his credit. I think if he felt his health suffering he would go to confession in a quiet way by night, just as the Gambetta prefect ran away from the Prussians in 1871. When the grand funeral of Admiral Courbet took place at Abbeville, and it was announced that Monseigneur Freppel would come and deliver the funeral service over that noble Christian sailor and patriot, the victim of Ferry, M. Goblet was in a dreadful state of mind. He said to me, "I think I shall not attend the funeral." "Pray why?" "Well, I wish to attend it, but I am sure that Bishop Freppel will say things offensive to me." "Pray accept my congratulations," I replied; "you really are in great luck that the first orator in France should take the trouble to come all the way to Picardy expressly to insult you on such an occasion!" So he thought better of it and attended, and his sensible wife afterwards thanked me for preventing her husband from behaving like a donkey.'

'An excellent woman, Madame Goblet!'

'Her husband owes her much, and he has some good friends. Comte de Chassepot prevented him from playing the stupid farce of a Roman son by sacrificing his father's funeral to a discussion on the laicisation of the schools; for, seeing what he had in his mind, Comte de Chassepot simply moved an adjournment of the council. His evil genius is M. Petit, now a senator, the present mayor of Amiens. I have caught M. Goblet offering the holy water with his hand behind my back to his wife; but M. Petit is an outspoken unbeliever, and a very type of the anti-christian demagogue.'

Upon this he told me a story which, as it is certainly typical of the proceedings taken against religion all over France by functionaries of M. Petit's way of thinking, I shall set down here.

In 1869 all the crosses and stones in the cemetery of the Madeleine at Amiens set up on graves held by temporary concessions had to be removed by reason of the lapse of these concessions. The then mayor and municipal council had them sold, and ordered the proceeds to be spent in erecting a large and beautiful cross with an image of the Saviour, and an inscription stating that this crucifix was erected in memory of all the dead buried in the cemetery whose crosses and tombs had been removed. This crucifix, called the 'Calvary of the Poor,' was thus a touching monument of the family affection of the poor among the people of Amiens. Outraged by this symbol, the Radical mayor of Amiens caused this Calvary to be dismantled, in the night of November 10, 1880, and the crosses to be sawn in pieces and thrown away beyond the limits of the cemetery. Surely this is an advance beyond Robespierre, and even beyond the senseless Vandalism which solemnly ordered the destruction of the tombs of the kings and heroes of France. Even Robespierre, when Cambon made his proposal that the Convention should violate the public faith pledged by the Constituent Assembly to the support of the French clergy by the State in exchange for the seizure by the State of the property of the Church, had sense enough to say, in a letter to his constituents opposing the project, that 'to attack religion directly was to strike a blow at the morals of the people.' I am not surprised to be told that, notwithstanding the support given him by the central government of the Republic at Paris, this worthy mayor has speedily lost popularity even with his own Radical party, and that in the most recent elections he barely escaped defeat. 'He is ensconced, though, comfortably as senator,' said my shrewd informant, 'and I dare say he will see his friend, M. Goblet, turned out of the Chamber! So—what does he care? His zeal against the Calvary in Amiens may hurt him with the poor people upon whose faith and whose affections he tramples; but, like his brutal expulsion of the Sisters from their schools and hospitals, and his truculence towards the religious processions in which the Picards delight, it recommends him to the clique who have got our poor France into their clutches at Paris, and who pose before all the gaping world at the Universal Exposition as friends of Liberty and Progress!'

The laicisation of the schools has been pushed forward at Amiens, as elsewhere. It began under M. Spuller, now Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was made Prefect of the Somme in 1879. M. Goblet, who had then been mayor for a year, resigned, to become under-secretary in the Ministry of Justice, and the prefect put M. Delpech in his place. Everything, it will be seen, was moved from the centre at Paris.

'This M. Delpech and his associates,' said one of my informants, 'began the laicisation of the boys' schools. They were men who would not think of picking a man's pocket, but see how they behaved in this business!

'There were six primary schools at Amiens conducted by the Christian Brothers. Five of these had always been so conducted, and the sixth for twenty years. The Christian Brothers agreed to give up this sixth school, M. Petit promising them that, if they did this, they should not be disturbed in the others. Very soon this promise was broken, and they were turned out of the school of Notre-Dame. Then a charge was brought against one of the brethren of the school of St.-Leu. It was serious and went before the Assize Court, where the accused was promptly acquitted. But this took time, and while the proceedings were pending, our admirable M. Petit sent in a report to the Council recommending that the Brethren be dismissed from their four remaining schools. On August 26, 1879, the Council adopted this report, and within a week M. Spuller, the prefect, issued an order of expulsion, "in obedience," as he wrote, "to the resolution of the Municipal Council of Amiens, and to the wishes of the population."'

M. Spuller appears to be a true disciple of Robespierre, who, in his famous socialistic speech before the Convention, affirming that bread, meat, and all provisions are not private, but common, property, laid down the maxim that, 'even if the measures proposed as their desire by the people are not necessary in the eyes of law-makers, they should be adopted.' Civium ardor prava jubentium is a moral law for legislators of this admirable school.

I should note by the way that these Brethren, thus expelled summarily, were refused payment of their already fixed salaries for the month of September.

A debate ensuing, the question was finally remitted to M. Jules Ferry, 'Grand Master of the University of France,' who decided that the salaries were indeed due and the property of the Brethren, but that, as the work could not be done by reason of their expulsion, the salaries need not be paid!

Furthermore, the municipality appraised the school furniture, which had been bought and paid for by the Brethren, and having ascertained its value, decided—that it belonged to the municipality!

Will my readers think the expression of M. Fleury, an accomplished journalist of Amiens, to whom I am indebted for these details, at all too vigorous, when he described these proceedings as 'exactly defined in the French Dictionary, and in the 379th article of the Penal Code, under the word "theft"'?

In August 1880, on the refusal of the Sisters in charge of the girls' school to take their pupils to an 'obligatory festival' during the time fixed on Sunday for divine service, M. Petit, the municipal Emperor Julian of Amiens, moved for 'the immediate laicisation of all the girls' schools in Amiens.' This was too much even for M. Goblet, who, to his credit, not only protested but voted against the proposition. It was, however, carried. M. Goblet and six other councillors withdrew, including the mayor, M. Delpech; and M. Petit thus became, by seniority, mayor of Amiens.

'When this happened,' said a citizen of Amiens to me, 'and M. Petit was thus put in charge of the rights and the property of the Sisters, it had been perfectly well known for ten years that, by the Parliamentary Inquest of 1871 into the story of the Commune of Paris, M. Petit had been proved to be the founder at Amiens of the secret society known as the "International," and yet he was never prosecuted, and he is now a senator of the Republic. How do you expect honest people, who respect the ordinary laws of order and civilisation, to support a Republic which accepts and promotes the members of such a society?

'On October 2, 1880, this remarkable mayor went in person with a locksmith and some others to the communal girls' school of St.-Leu, then managed by the Sisters. The Sisters had been already that day notified to leave the school-buildings "the next day." M. Petit ordered them to go out immediately. They showed the notification and declined to go till the next day. The curate of St.-Leu, with his vicar and with a member of the board of Churchwardens, came up and protested against this invasion of the school. "Show me the documents proving this house to be the property of the municipality," said the curate. M. Petit showed no documents, but demanded the keys. The curate refused to give them up. M. Petit ordered his locksmith to pick the locks, which was done, and then turning to the curate shouted out, "As for you, if you are here when the commissary comes, I will have you turned out by force." Upon this the curate, a venerable old man, withdrew.

'From the school of St.-Leu our local Robespierrot drove to the girls' school of St.-Jacques, sprang out of the municipal coach (paid for by the public treasury), dashed into the house, and seated himself without a word.

'One of the Sisters asked him civilly what he wished. "I wish you to get out of this house," he replied, "We cannot possibly leave in this way," answered a Sister who has for years devoted herself to this work. "I have nothing to say to you," he cried; "I want the Superior." The Superior quietly came and informed the mayor that the church officers had told her not to leave, excepting under force. "Very well, you shall have force! If you are not all out of here by Tuesday, I will put you all into the street!"

'Now observe the consequences to the taxpayer of Amiens! The Church of St.-Leu, as it happens, owned the greater part of the school-buildings. The church began proceedings against the city, and in August 1881, the tribunal ordered the city to give up the buildings seized by this adventurous mayor, and to withdraw its lay teachers. The upshot was that the performances of M. Petit, in one way or another—although M. Goblet, then in the ministry at Paris, came to the rescue of his demagogic ally—cost the taxpayers, in round numbers, some fifty thousand francs. Now you see why the laicising Republicans are so anxious to shake the whole system of the French magistracy. There may be judges at Berlin. It is not convenient there should be judges in Republican France!'

This recalled to me what I heard the other day at Calais about the functionary decorated at Bapaume by President Carnot, because the tribunal had given a decision against him in a case raised by certain Christian Brothers whom he had unlawfully put out of property which, under the law, belonged to them.

'You think that a remarkable case!' said the Picard friend to whom I mentioned it. 'It is an everyday affair. Wait a minute! Let me show you the documents in regard to a performance of our worthy mayor and senator, which throws President Carnot into the shade. They are as amusing, too, as they are instructive, and I will give you copies of them which you may use as you like. You tell me people in England and America have no idea of what is going on in France? I assure you that people in France who know what is going on around them, have no idea of what it all means, or of what it must lead to in the end.

'Sometimes I think we were so stunned as a nation by the invasion and the Commune that we are still staggering about like a man knocked on the head in a dark road.

'But let me tell you the tale of M. Petit and Mademoiselle Colombel. Mademoiselle Colombel was a lay teacher at the head of one of our schools, the school of the Petit St.-Jean. I don't quite see, by the way,' he observed, 'why M. Petit and his squad have not changed the names of these schools. In Paris, you know, they had the courage to change the name of one of the great lyceums into the Lyceum Lakanal. To be sure it didn't stay changed very long, for even Paris—which suffers one of its boulevards to commemorate that wretched creature Victor Noir—wouldn't stand Lakanal. But to infect the minds of children with the names of little Saints—surely this is a monstrous thing! Well, Mademoiselle Colombel lost her temper one day, and tried to find it about the person of one of her little pupils, with slaps, and pinches, and other caresses of the kind. She was brought up before the police for it, and sentenced to pay a small fine with costs. She appealed, but the court confirmed the sentence of the police magistrate, who had acted strictly within the law. What followed? This was in May 1885. Mdlle. Colombel declared herself to be a persecuted martyr of "laicisation," and in that capacity called upon the mayor, M. Petit, for aid and comfort. I believe they were old allies in the sacred cause. Be this as it may, the mayor made himself her champion against the magistrate, and wrote her, for public use, this letter. Pray print it. It is a great thing for Amiens to possess a mayor, and for France to possess a senator, who can write such a letter. It ought to have been sent to the Exposition.

'"Amiens, May 1885.

'"Madame,—On the strength of calumnious imputations fomented by an Ulysses who could not console himself for the departure of Calypso, and complacently listened to, you have been prosecuted for cruelty to your pupils.

'"After an inquiry as long and as voluminous as if the matter at issue had been a case for the Assize Court, this intrigue came to a miserable end before a simple police tribunal. From the moment, when, through a singular sort of suspicion about your natural judges, you were removed from the disciplinary action of your superiors, without any preliminary inquiry made by them, and, indeed, without apprising them of the matter, you should have been taken before the Courts. Nobody seemed to understand this, so you were condemned by default to pay a fine, trifling indeed, but so imposed as to take from you the right of appeal. Be this as it may, since some of the law officers of the Republic are ready to revive against the lay instructors of our schools, the methods of the law officers of the Empire, it is well your colleagues should know that, whilst I am at the head of the municipal administration of Amiens, they shall not be given over defenceless to the rancour of the clerical world, its dupes, or its accomplices. I have therefore the honour to inform you that I not only relieve you from all the costs of your case, but that, in order to soothe the trouble it may have caused you, I grant you an indemnity of one hundred francs!

'"Against the sentence which condemned you put this proof of esteem and sympathy. Honest people and Republicans will think this testimony at least as good as any other. Accept, Madame, the assurances of my most distinguished consideration.

'"The Mayor of Amiens,


'Ulysses bewailing the departure of Calypso is charming, is it not?' said my friend. 'M. Petit is a cotton-velvet manufacturer, and his classics are cotton classics. But what do you say to the applause of "honest people" acclaiming a mayor who puts his hand into the public treasury and makes a present out of it to soothe the injured feelings of a schoolmistress fined by a public tribunal for ill-treating her pupils? Can you ask for a more flagrant illustration of the state to which this Republic is bringing our public services? And the mayor who wrote this letter, and took this money out of the public treasury, and offered this open insult to the tribunals of the city of Amiens, has since then been made a senator of the Republic, with the help and concurrence of M. Dauphin, then First President of our Courts, whose plain official duty it was to revoke his commission as mayor as soon as this letter was published! With such men as this in the French Senate do you wonder the country laughs at senatorial courts of justice? I have no great opinion of General Boulanger, though I have as good an opinion of him as of M. Clemenceau, who invented him. But really is it not grotesque to see such cotton-velvet senators as this mayor of Amiens going about to decide questions of fidelity to public duty? Take my word for it' he continued, 'it is the direct personal knowledge which the people have of just such personages as the mayor of Amiens all over France, which makes two-thirds of the popular strength of General Boulanger. If the Senate and the Government succeed in putting about the impression that General Boulanger is no better than they are, they will no doubt weaken him with the people, but they will not strengthen themselves. This Third Republic is dying, not of any passion for the monarchy, not even of the Imperialist legend, which is very strong in the country—more because France was so prosperous under the third Napoleon than because France dominated Europe under the first Napoleon: it is dying of popular contempt. It is dying of the Goblets, the Petits, the Dauphins. They are to be found all over France—under different names—yes—but always the same: shallow, vain, vulgar sycophants of universal suffrage while they are out of place, bullies and traders when they are in power. And then!' he exclaimed after a pause, 'what most exasperates me is that they are such a pack of wordmongers, for ever ranting about things which may have intoxicated our grandfathers in 1792—they don't seem to me to have invented gunpowder, our grandfathers!—but which simply make sensible men sick to-day.

'Wait a moment! Let me complete the picture of our model Picard Republican senator for you. The Comte de Chassepot told you the story, did he not, of the Calvary in the cemetery of the Madeleine? Yes. But he did not show you the correspondence about it between the bishop and this charlatan of twopenny Atheism? No? Well it is a tit-bit, and I give it to you! Petit sent his order to the keeper of the cemetery of the Madeleine in November 1880, to raze the cross, saw off the arms, and detach from it the image of Christ. He was then, observe, not really mayor of Amiens, but only mayor by reason of the refusal of his senior to serve in the office.

'The work was done at night. The cross was destroyed. The image of the Saviour was thrown into a shed.

'Two days afterwards, the Bishop of Amiens wrote this letter to the Prefect of the Somme, Spuller, the same person who is now—heaven save the mark!—Minister of Foreign Affairs of the French Republic!

'"Amiens: Nov. 12, 1880.

'"Mr. Prefect,—A most deplorable incident—indeed a grave scandal—has just taken place at the cemetery of the Madeleine, and is exciting, with too much reason, the strongest and most painful feelings among the people of Amiens.

'"The figure of our Saviour Christ, set up there in very special circumstances, and with a solemn ceremony in which more than 30,000 spectators took part, was clandestinely thrown down and taken away the night before last. It is impossible for me to imagine that the authorities can have ordered such a thing to be done.

'"I must request you, Mr. Prefect, to order an inquiry to be made into this inexplicable affair, and to cause the authors of the act to be prosecuted according to law. Please accept the assurance of my respectful regard.

'" AIME VICTOR-FRANCIS, '"Bishop of Amiens."

'To this letter, written by the highest ecclesiastical authority of the chief city of his prefecture—will you believe it?—M. Spuller, who is after all not a perfectly illiterate person like Petit, actually made no reply!

'But the cotton-velvet bagman of blasphemy three days afterwards, reading in the papers the letter of Bishop Guilbert, burst into print with this incredible but most instructive effusion, addressed to his friend the Prefect:

'"Amiens: Nov. 15, 1880.

'"Mr. Prefect,—I find this morning in the journals of the bishopric the text of a letter addressed to you by the Bishop of Amiens in regard to the suppression of the Catholic emblem placed at the entrance of the general cemetery of the Madeleine.

'"It was by my order, and my written order, that the Christ of the Madeleine was removed. The only failure to comply with my orders was that the operation was performed in the evening after the cemetery was closed, instead of in the morning as I had directed. In acting thus, I have shown great tolerance; for, in virtue of Article 13 of the Law of the 7th Vendemiaire of the Year IV., circumscribed in its application, but not abrogated by the Law of the 18th Germinal year X., as is shown by a ministerial decree of the 7th Fructidor following: 'No sign special to any religion can be raised, fixed, and attached in any place whatever, so as to strike the eyes of citizens, except in an enclosure intended for the exercises of this religion, or in the interior of private houses, in the studios or warehouses of artists or merchants, or in public edifices destined to contain monuments of the arts."'

'Then followed a dozen pages of similar twaddle, meant to show that the mayor of Amiens was a most tolerant prince, in that he had not ordered the destruction of every cross set up on a private grave!

'Of course all these laws of the First Republic were long ago shot into space under the Consulate and the Empire, and of course, even if they had not been shot into space, a consecrated cemetery is an "enclosure intended for the exercises of religion." But what did that signify to M. Petit, who, in a public speech the year after, boasted that he "had not been married in church, and that his children had never been baptized."

'Did all this give the man any right to destroy and carry away a costly piece of artistic work, the property of the city?'

Obviously, it is as absurd to expect peace and order in France under a republic in which men like M. Petit, and M. Spuller, and M. Dauphin, and M. Goblet are leading friends of the Government, as it would have been to expect peace and order in the England of the seventeenth century, when churchwardens—as at Banbury, for example—went about breaking at night into the churches confided to their care, and smashing the statues of the saints and defacing the glorious monuments of the past.

After considering all these humours and graces of the most recent French Republic, as set forth by the senatorial mayor of Amiens, for the edification of Picardy and France, it was interesting to walk with Mr. Ruskin from the Place de Perigord up the 'Street of the Three Pebbles,' past the theatre and the Palais de Justice, to the south transept of that glorious cathedral which has not as yet been taken down by night, under the senatorial mayor or his friends the ministers, M. Spuller and M. Yves Guyot. Why should this 'Parthenon of Gothic architecture,' as M. Viollet-le-Duc calls it, be left standing when the Calvary of the poor at Amiens is cast down and sawn in pieces?

For surely Mr. Ruskin, who has written many true and eloquent things, has written nothing truer than these words with which he brings to a close his remarkable paper called the 'Bible of Amiens':—

'The life and gospel and power of Christianity are all written in the mighty works of its true believers, in Normandy and Sicily, on river-islets of France and in the river glens of England, on the rocks of Orvieto and by the sands of Arno. But of all, the simplest, completest, and most authoritative in its lessons to the active mind of Northern Europe, is this on the foundation-stones of Amiens. Believe it or not as you will—only understand how thoroughly it was once believed—and that all beautiful things were made and all brave deeds done in the strength of it—until what we may call "this present time," in which it is gravely asked whether religion has any effect on morals, by persons (senatorial and other) who have essentially no idea whatever of the meaning of either religion or morality.'


IN THE SOMME—continued


Where party names are taken from persons, there we may be sure that the people are either losing, or have never had, the political instincts which alone can make popular government a government of law and order. The Englishmen who are readiest to proclaim themselves 'Gladstonians,' whatever may be their other merits, are hardly perhaps the most devoted champions either of the British constitution as it is, or of strictly constitutional reform. In France to-day, the Republican party is made up of clans, each taking the name of its chief. There are Ferryists and Clementists, as there were Gambettists; and the Government of the day is putting forth all its strength to check the drift over of what I suppose I may without impropriety call the Republican residuum into Boulangism. Here in Amiens the tide seems to be too strong for the authorities at Paris, and for that matter throughout the department of the Somme. At the election nearly a year ago, on August 19, 1888, of a deputy to fill the vacancy caused by the death of a Royalist member, M. de Berly, General Boulanger came forward as a candidate and was elected by an overwhelming majority. There are 160,400 electors in the department. Of these, 121,955 voted. General Boulanger received 76,094 votes, and his Republican competitor, M. Barnot, only 41,371, General Boulanger having been elected at the same time for the Nord and the Charente-Inferieure. General Boulanger resigned his seat and his Republican followers cast their votes for a Royalist, General de Montauban, who was elected. In the arrondissement of Amiens, with 57,527 registered voters, General Boulanger had a majority, in 1888, of 15,274 voters, the whole vote thrown there being 42,609. Yet, in 1881, on a total registration of 47,923 voters, the Republican candidates for Amiens, M. Goblet and M. Dieu, were elected by a combined majority of 7,094 votes. If the Boulangists carry Amiens, therefore, at the legislative election this year, it may be taken for granted, I think, that M. Goblet and his friend the senatorial mayor have not educated their fellow-citizens into very staunch and trustworthy supporters of the Republic.

M. Fleury, the editor-in-chief of the Conservative Echo de la Somme, who made a pretty thorough canvass of the department before the election of August 19, 1888, gives me some curious details as to that election.

The monarchists, both royalists and imperialists, gave a general and tacit, and in many cases an overt and active, support to General Boulanger, their object being the same as his—to bring about a repeal of the existing law of 1884, which was passed to prevent any real revision of the constitution in a sense hostile to the existing republican form of government. Of course if the people of the Somme had really cared anything about the Republic as a form of government, they ought to have defeated General Boulanger. It is the opinion of M. Fleury that the people of the Somme, and indeed of Picardy, not only care little or nothing about the Republic as a form of government, but actually and by a considerable majority prefer some monarchical form—probably, on the whole, the Empire.

They are not in the least likely to express this preference at the polls, because, in common with the vast majority of the electors throughout France, they have been born and brought up to take their form of government from Paris. So long as the government at Paris—be it royal, imperial, or republican—controls the executive, the people of the provinces are extremely unlikely to make an emphatic effort of their own to be rid of that government. If Louis Philippe, in 1848, would have allowed Marshal Bugeaud to use the force at his command in Paris, the Republic improvised in February of that year would have been strangled before birth, to the extreme satisfaction of an enormous majority of the French people. This was afterwards overwhelmingly shown by the election of Louis Napoleon, when General Cavaignac, with all the advantage of the control of the machinery of government at Paris, could secure only a relatively insignificant popular vote at the polls against the representative of the imperial monarchy. I spent the winter in Paris two years afterwards as a youth, during my first tour in Europe, and I there heard an American resident of Paris, well known at that time in the world of French politics, Mr. George Sumner, a brother of the senator from Massachusetts, relate in the salon of M. de Tocqueville a curious story of the days of February, which strikingly illustrates the disposition of the French provinces at that time to take whatever Paris might send them in the way either of administration or of revolution.

The king refused to let the Marechal Duc d'Isly restore order (as there is no doubt he could easily and quickly have done), on the ground that he had received the Crown from the National Guard in Paris, and that he would not allow it to be defended by the line against them. The recently published letters of his very popular son, the Duc d'Orleans, prove that, had that prince been then living, he probably would never have allowed this scruple to stand in the way of averting a social and political catastrophe. But the duc was in his untimely grave, and the control of events fell most unexpectedly into the hands of a few men who had no concerted plan of action, and, indeed, hardly knew whether they were awake or dreaming. 'They proclaimed a republic,' said Mr. Sumner, 'because they did not know what else to do;' but they were in a state of utter bewilderment at first, as to how they should get the republic accepted by the provinces. A happy thought struck M. Armand Marrast. In those days the French railway system was little developed. Most of the mails from Paris were carried through the country by malles-postes and diligences, and every evening an immense number of these coaches left the central bureau for all parts of France. M. Marrast sent into all the quarters of Paris and impounded, in one way or another, the services and the paintpots of every house and furniture painter upon whom his people could lay hands. These were all set to work upon the mail coaches. The royal arms, with the Charter and the Crown, were painted over, and the vehicles which, from Paris, carried to all parts of France the news of the proclamation of the Republic carried everywhere also an outward and visible sign of the establishment of the new government in the words 'Republique Francaise' brightly blazoned upon their panels.

I recalled this story to Mr. Sumner years afterwards in New York, and he assured me not only that it was literally correct, but that he had been consulted himself about it by M. Marrast at the time. This particular device could not now be used as effectively. But, with the telegraph wires and the telephones in its control, any government which may get itself installed to-morrow in Paris would certainly have tremendous odds in its favour, from one end of France to the other. The immense increase of the French public debt under the republican administration since 1877 has correspondingly increased, all over France, the number of people known as petits rentiers, who, having invested their savings, in part or wholly, in the public securities, will be as quick to acquiesce in any revolution which they believe to have been successful at Paris, as they are slow to promote any revolution, no matter how desirable otherwise a change in the government may seem to them to be. So long as it is not shaken out of the public offices at Paris, the government of the Republic may probably count upon this vast body of quiet people, as confidently as the Empire counted upon it twenty years ago, or as the monarchy or the dictatorship might count upon it to-morrow, were the king or the dictator acclaimed in the capital.

M. Fleury cites one of General Boulanger's most active supporters, M. Mermieix, as saying to him during the election in 1888, 'with a few millions of francs, the liberty of the press and of public billsticking, and three thousand rowdies, I can change the government of this country in less than a year.'

The remark is slightly cynical. But the extreme anxiety of the government of the Republic to get General Boulanger either into a prison or out of Paris certainly goes far to justify the boast of M. Mermeix.

'I told General Boulanger at Doullens,' said M. Fleury, after going thither in company with him from Amiens, 'that he was sure of his election. My reason was that while I saw little real enthusiasm for him at Amiens, none at all indeed among the middle classes, and no open display of any on the part of the workmen, I found the peasants for him almost to a man. They crowded about his railway carriage. They insisted on shaking hands with him, many of them kissed his hand (that ancient form of homage lingering still in their traditions), they fired off guns, and, above all, the women held up their children to be kissed by him. This settled the question for me. When I saw him kissing the little girls, I knew that he had captured the mammas, and the mammas govern the rural regions of Picardy.

'At Doullens I said to him, "You may be sure of your results now. You will win by twenty-five thousand majority." He was very modest about it; but, though he certainly is not a great politician, he seemed to understand the meaning of this unquestionable popular interest in him and his progress. I could not help, however, calling his attention to the evidence it gave of what I believe to be the profoundly monarchical instincts of the peasantry in this part of France.'

'How did he take it?

'Oh! he said nothing, but smiled in a way which might mean anything. Of course his idea of a republic of honest men means, and can mean, nothing but a republic with a chief who is beyond the reach of deputies and contractors.'

'That,' I said, 'seems to have been simply Lafayette's idea, in 1792, of an American republic for France, with a hereditary executive; or, in other words, a French edition of the English "republic with a crown."'

M. Fleury replied, that this is rather the aim of the monarchists than of the Boulangists. One of General Boulanger's lieutenants, M. Mermeix, already cited, told him frankly that the Boulangists want a sort of consulate stopping short of the Empire—a strong republic with a nationally nominated chief, freedom of conscience, freedom of education, no more parliaments, a simpler public administration, and the cutting out of the financial cancer which is destroying the resources of France. The coalition now existing between the royalists, the imperialists, and the Boulangists, in view of the elections of 1889, obviously rests upon the conviction, common to all these parties, that the Republic, as at present constituted, is so far committed to a policy of reckless public expenditure and of deliberately irreligious propagandism that its leaders cannot, if they would, either readjust the national finances or let the religious question alone.

A man of much ability and of very high character, who has filled important financial posts under the Empire in this part of France, tells me that there has been no real balancing, now, of the public books for several years, because the members of the Cour des Comptes whose duty it is to get this done have found it impossible (and so reported) to get all the necessary accounts from the Ministry of Finance. As no Conservative members are permitted to sit on the Committee of the Budget, even such a monstrous thing as this passes unchecked by the Chamber. No wonder that he should tell me, M. Bethmont, one of the members of the Cour des Comptes and a Republican, is of the opinion that nothing can make matters straight again in France but an Emperor with a Liberal constitution, or, in other words, a revival of the Ollivier experiment of 1870.

I tried in vain to get from M. Fleury some definite notion of the political programme of General Boulanger. As I have been constantly assured that the General formed his programme from his observation of the institutions of my own country during the short time which he spent in America, as one of the chosen representatives of France during the centennial celebration of the crowning victory of Yorktown, in 1881, I have long been not unnaturally curious to ascertain precisely how he proposes to 'Americanise' the actual government of France. But on this point I can get no more light from M. Fleury in Picardy—though M. Fleury spent some time with the General as a not unsympathetic ally—than I have been able to get from any of the General's most devoted partisans in Paris. In Picardy as in Paris, Boulangism seems to represent a destructive—or, if the phrase be more polite, a detergent—rather than a constructive force. It is not the less worthy of consideration, perhaps, on this account. But on this account it appears to me more likely to play a subordinate than a leading part in the political movement of these times. It is rather a broom, if I may so speak, than a sceptre which the 'brav' general' is expected to wield. In conversation with M. Fleury, another of General Boulanger's intimate and confidential lieutenants, M. Turquet, formerly an Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Fine Arts, who ran for a seat as deputy in the Aisne in 1885, summed up the programme of Boulangism as 'a programme of liberty.' 'I mean,' he said, 'real liberty, such as exists in America, not our Liberalism, which is spurious and archaic. Our actual republicans of to-day are Jacobins, sectarians. Their only notion is to persecute and proscribe, and they are infinitely further from liberty than you royalists are, for you have at your head a prince who has a thoroughly open mind. The form of government, after all, signifies little. The real question is not whether we shall have a monarchy or an empire, an autocracy or a democracy. It is whether we shall have liberty.'[3]

[3] M. Turquet ran in September in the first arrondissement of the Seine against M. Yves Guyot, and there was no election. At the election in October the Government proclaimed M. Yves Guyot elected by a small majority.

'I answered him,' said M. Fleury, 'that what he said was very fine, and that the friend of Fourier, Victor Considerant, had said it before him. What I wanted to know, however, was, what the Boulangists proposed to do with the Catholics, the believers, in France should the General get into power.'

'We shall begin,' said M. Turquet, 'by suppressing the budget of worship. We shall do this to satisfy the blockheads who are a noun of multitude.

'But we shall restore, in another shape, to the clergy the indemnity which is certainly due to them. We shall give the bishoprics either a fixed sum, or a revenue proportional to the population of each bishopric, so that the people may receive gratuitously the offices of religion. This is a public service, and it shall be remunerated as it ought to be. As to the Religious Orders, they shall have full liberty to constitute themselves, to educate children, to care for the sick and infirm, so long as they keep within the limits of the common law. All property in mortmain shall be suppressed. A community of teachers, for instance, may own the college necessary for the students, but not a forest adjoining that college.'

To M. Fleury's natural question how the college should be maintained, M. Turquet replied, 'You know as well as I do, that wealth no longer consists in real estate alone. You can now carry in your pocket a fortune in bonds payable to the bearer. The Religious Orders may own these, like other people. A dozen of us in the Chamber hold these views. You seem to think us Utopianists. But General Boulanger will make it possible for us to apply these ideas!'

If General Boulanger and M. Turquet really imagine these views to be 'American,' it would be instructive for them to look into the masterly protests of the Catholic Archbishop of New York, against the doctrines of Mr. Henry George as adopted and expounded by Father McGlynn. The Catholic Church in the United States holds its own property, real and personal, and manages it to suit itself. It would be interesting to see an attempt made in the legislature of an American State, to carry through a law like the decrees issued in France in 1881, forbidding curates and vicars to receive legacies left to them for the benefit of the poor in their parishes, or to distribute to the poor sums left to the Bureau of Public Charity, with an express proviso that they should be distributed by the clergy of the place.

On one very important question of French politics, M. Fleury, as a practical politician in this great and active department, gives me a good deal of useful light. This is the question of the expenses of the electoral machine. In France, as in America, no limit is set by the law to the possible expenditure of a political candidate. I have already given the estimate made for me in Artois of the general cost of the legislative elections, and I have been told by more than one well-informed French politician in other parts of France, that the average cost of a candidacy for a seat in the Chamber may be roughly estimated at twenty-five thousand francs, or a thousand pounds sterling. This would show, allowing two candidates only for each seat, an expenditure of thirty millions of francs, or twelve hundred thousand pounds, at each French parliamentary election, being very nearly the figure given me in Artois. We send only 330 members to Washington, but we elect a new House every two years. The British House of Commons, though more numerous even than the French Chamber, probably spends a good deal less upon getting itself elected than either the French or the American House.[4]

[4] At this time (October, 1889) there is a difficulty in New York about a good candidate for the seat vacated by the death of the late Mr. S. S. Cox, being a prominent democratic member of Congress, because the candidate must consent to an annual 'assessment' on his salary for political purposes. The French Government, I am told, collects these 'contributions' easily, the deputies 'recouping' themselves by patronage.

One of the 'working sub-prefects' of the Boulangist party in Picardy gave M. Fleury a very frank estimate of the expense of electing the General in 1888, in the Somme. He put it, in round numbers, at nearly or quite one hundred and twenty-five thousand francs, or five thousand pounds. This unusual outlay was made necessary by the great efforts of the Government to defeat the General. Furthermore, it was swollen by the disinterested devotion of many of the General's friends. Some of these auxiliaries spent days at the best hotels in Picardy labouring for the cause, with the result of a special hotel account, amounting to several thousand francs. Nothing makes men so thirsty as political emotion. Another partisan, at the head of a journal, sent in a bill for forty-five thousand francs expended by him upon printing and stationery, no charge being made for his personal services! The chief agents received about two thousand francs apiece. One of them must have worked very hard, for he earned no less than fifteen thousand francs. While all this expense was incurring in Picardy, furthermore, two other elections were pending, in each of which the General was a candidate, one in the Charente and one in the Nord. It would seem to be probable enough, therefore, that on these three elections In 1888 General Boulanger, or the Boulangists, must have spent at least two hundred and fifty thousand francs, or ten thousand pounds.

'Where did all this money come from?' is a not unnatural question. For M. Fleury tells me the General's bills were paid much more promptly than the bills of the Government candidates. It is an open secret apparently that the Government candidates are very bad paymasters when they are beaten. Some of the bills incurred by them in 1885, when the Conservatives swept so large a part of Northern France, were still due, it appears, in 1888. But the bills of General Boulanger were settled very soon after the close of the campaign.

M. Mermeix insisted to M. Fleury that the General's war-chest was supplied by voluntary subscriptions. 'Every day,' he said, the General finds some ten thousand francs in his mails, and his followers 'are all either beggars or millionaires.'

Another of the General's managers gave M. Fleury the names of two very rich persons, one of them a cattle merchant at La Villette, who subscribed between them a hundred and forty thousand francs to carry on the campaign in Picardy. The enormous importance given to General Boulanger by his terrified former associates in the Government seems to me to be a very striking proof of the little confidence they really have in their own hold upon the country, or in the permanency of 'republican institutions' as they now exist in France, and this adequately explains the readiness of speculators to 'invest' in what may be called the 'Boulangist bonds.' Such a report as that presented not very long ago to the Chamber by M. Gerville-Reache on the state of the navy in France suffices to show that the speculative maladministration of the French finances has been so great as to make it quite certain that any 'honest government' coming into power must reconstruct the system of the public indebtedness. That is an operation which can hardly be carried out by the most scrupulously honest government without very great profits to the financiers concerned in it, and I only set down what is said to me by respectable Frenchmen when I say that the Boulanger campaign funds are openly described, by persons not at all hostile to 'Boulangism,' as 'bets on the General.' 'The difference between the managers of the Boulangist campaign and the managers of the Government campaign,' said a gentleman to me in Amiens, 'is simply this—that the Boulangist managers are playing the game with private funds, and the others with public funds. So the latter, I think, will win, for they have the longest purse to draw on.' This gentleman is of the opinion, however, that but for General Saussier, in command of the garrison of Paris, General Boulanger, after the election of January 27, 1889, in which he took the capital by storm, might have turned the Government neck and heels out of doors. The weak point of Boulangism,' he said, 'is Boulanger.' 'He has no strength with the officers of the army. They have no confidence either in his character or in his ability; not that they think his character bad or deny his ability, but only that they regard him as a shallow, vacillating, and mediocre person who made himself valuable to the Republican politicians by going into alliances with them to which other officers of strong character and high ability would not stoop. As for the quarrel between Boulanger and these politicians, it is a beggars' quarrel, to be made up over the pot of broth. But it won't be made up, because they can't agree as to the distribution of the broth. Meanwhile all the chickens of France are going into the broth, and the peasant's pot will see them no more, as in the good old days of Henry IV.!'

As for the absurd story that the Boulangist funds come from America, the only foundation I can find for that seems to be the intimacy, which, I believe, is no longer as close as it was, between General Boulanger, M. de Rochefort, and a French nobleman of an ancient historic family, who has married a very wealthy American wife, and who has long been known to entertain the most extreme, not to say revolutionary, notions in politics. The honest Boulangists who really hope to see a good government established by putting out M. Carnot and putting in General Boulanger, swell the tide of his supporters, apparently, here as elsewhere in France, because they blindly hope for everything from him which their experience forbids them to hope for from the men actually in power. As one of his most cynical supporters long ago said in Paris, he is 'the grand common sewer of the disgust of France.'

His popularity with the common soldiers is another element to be counted with in estimating the strength of this military French Mahdi.

I have struck up a friendship here at Amiens with an excellent woman who presides over a shop—not one of the patisseries so justly celebrated by Mr. Ruskin—and who is a very good type of the shrewd, sensible French 'petite bourgeoise,' such a woman as, I dare say, Jacqueline Robins of St.-Omer was in her own time. She has a son in the army, who is likely soon to be a corporal. 'Dame, Monsieur,' she said to me, 'if M. Boulanger is not the best General in France, why did they make him Minister of War? You do not know what he did for the soldiers! My son when he gets his stripes is to marry—she is a very nice girl, an only child, do you know? and her father, who is very solid, will put her in her own furniture—and more than that! and they will have their own establishment. They could not have that, you know, but for General Boulanger, who made the new rule about the wives of the sub-officers. And they used to shave the soldiers—imagine it!—just like prisoners, and such beds as they gave them—it was a horror! Well, all that he changed, and he made the soup fit to eat.'

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