'The other generals are not very fond of him, you say? Parbleu! that is likely enough! It is like the conseillers here in the city—one of them does well, the others always find something to say behind his back! And that affair on the frontier! You know, Monsieur, he had all the army in hand—ah, well in hand—a hundred thousand men ready to march; and those rascals of Germans they knew it, and they gave up our man. I am glad we had no war. No! I do not want a war, but, dame, one must have teeth, you know, and be ready to show them!'
'You want to see your War Minister made president, then?' I asked.
'President? what does that signify? Chief of the State—Emperor; ah! those were the good times here in Amiens, Monsieur, not as it is to-day with the eternal debts that M. Dauphin made us a present of. Eh! an old hypocrite that man is! and with these centimes additionnels that never end! And then these water-metres! Eh! that is a pretty invention to make water as dear as wine at Amiens, and yet, God knows, wine is not too cheap, with the octroi of Amiens! It is worse than at Paris! Call him what you like, Monsieur, c'est Boulanger qu'il nous faut—that is to say, we must have a man at Paris. And you will see he is the man; all the mothers of soldiers will tell you that!'
From the point of view of the municipal finances, the 'good old times' of the Empire may well have a charm for the taxpayers of Amiens.
In 1870 Amiens, with 61,063 inhabitants, raised and spent a municipal revenue of rather more than a million and a half of francs, or, in round numbers, about 25 francs, or 20 shillings, per capita of the population. A public loan, made in 1854, had been almost wholly paid off, and the city treasury still held 600,000 francs of a loan of 1,600,000 francs made in 1862 for certain public improvements. The municipal government cost 372,000 francs, and 180,000 francs were spent on the public schools. Of the municipal income, 987,802 francs were derived from four forms of direct taxation, and 770,000 francs from the octroi. This gave an average of a little less than 13 francs per capita as the burden of the octroi upon the population.
In 1886 the population had increased to 74,000. The direct taxes brought in 1,184,724 francs, and the octroi, 1,498,459, making the average burden of the octroi per capita 20 fr. 20 c., or an increase of about 50 per cent. in the pressure of that form of tax upon the population, as compared with 1870. As the octroi is imposed upon food and beverages of all kinds—fuel, forage, and building materials—this tax is regarded in France as a measure for estimating the general well-being of the inhabitants. Thus measured, there would seem to be a falling off in the general well-being of the people of Amiens since 1883. For, while the pressure per capita of the octroi is much greater than it was in 1870, the actual receipts from the octroi were less with a population of 74,000 in 1886, than they were in 1883. In 1883 the octroi yielded 1,533,140 francs. In 1886 it yielded only 1,498,459 francs. The falling off was in the receipts from beverages, from provisions, from forage, and from building materials. The tariff of the octroi meanwhile has remained substantially without change from 1873 to the present time. It is an expensive tax to collect, the costs of collection in 1886 amounting to 11.85 per cent. of the receipts.
Adding together now the receipts from the direct taxes and the octroi of Amiens in 1886, we have a sum of 2,683,183 francs, or in round numbers about 1,100,000 francs more than in 1870. But while, as I have stated, in 1870 the receipts equalled and balanced the expenses of the municipal government, this is no longer the case.
In 1886 Amiens, with an income of 2,683,183 francs, spent 4,162,294 francs, giving an average municipal outlay of 56 fr. 10 c. per capita and an excess of expenditure over revenue of no less than 1,479,111 francs, or very nearly the total income and outlay of the city under the Empire. No wonder that the public debt of the department of the Somme, of which Amiens is the capital, seems in 1886 to have amounted to 18,303,496 francs! What inequalities of pressure upon the people of the department this involves may be estimated from the fact that, while there are in the Somme 836 communes, only 404, or less than half of these communes, are authorised to raise money by loans, and one-eighth of them to raise money by octrois. Yet we are constantly told that all inequalities and privileges were abolished throughout France by a stroke of the pen in the annus mirabilis 1789! The taxation in 20 communes is estimated at 15 centimes, or less; in 87, at from 15 to 30; in 268, at from 31 to 50; in 428, at from 51 to 100; and in 33, at 100 centimes and upwards. These are the communal taxes. To these must be added 51 centimes for the departmental taxes, ordinary and extraordinary; 2 centimes for the land-tax; 19 centimes for the personal tax and taxes on personal property; 18.8 centimes for the doors and windows tax; and 39.6 centimes for licences. For Amiens these fractions taken together mount up to 119-4/10 centimes.
 'Privileges' were, in fact, abolished only by Napoleon in 1804.
I have no wish to weary myself or my readers with figures. But these figures tell the story of the difference between the government of France under the much reviled Empire and under the present government, which is represented to us as the natural and admirable 'evolution' of republican institutions in this country. In 1870, as I have stated, the receipts and expenditure of the city of Amiens balanced one another. The city paid its way, and lived up to, not beyond, its means.
With the war came upon it, of course, heavy and unexpected burdens: German local exactions, its share of the general German ransom of France, local war expenses, and its share of the general war expenditure. For three years the citizens left their affairs, thus disturbed and encumbered, to be managed by a municipal council trained in the methodical habits of the imperial administration, with the result that in 1874 the expenses of Amiens amounted to 2,479,802 francs, and its revenues to 2,016,130 francs, leaving thus a deficit of 463,672 francs, substantially accounted for by the necessary payments on a loan of 5,000,000 francs negotiated in Brussels by M. Dauphin at the very high rate of 7-1/2 per cent. The affairs of Amiens were arranged three years afterwards by a municipal Commission, which turned them over, in 1878, to the 'Republicans of Gambetta,' with a budget involving an expenditure of 2,686,660 francs, against a revenue from taxation of 2,249,245 fr. 52 c., showing a reduced deficit of no more than 437,405 francs.
By 1880 the expenditure had risen to 3,156,616 francs, while the revenue stood at 2,531,762, showing a deficit of 624,854 francs, being an increase of nearly fifty per cent, in two years! From that time the gulf has gone on widening between the receipts and the expenditure of the ancient capital of Picardy, until the figures laid before me, as taken from the official reports, show during the seven years 1880-86, a total of 18,530,477.01 francs of receipts against a total of 24,551,977 francs of expenditure, leaving a deficit for these seven years of 5,021,500 francs, or more than the amount of the Dauphin loan incurred by Amiens as a consequence of the German occupation, and of the exactions of Count Lehndorff!
What has been done during the past three years can only as yet be conjectured. The accounts are made up at the mayoralty office, and thence sent to the prefecture, and they do not get within range of the taxpayer for at least a twelvemonth afterwards.
But M. Fleury assures me that between the years 1884 and 1888 the city expended in buildings, chiefly 'scholastic palaces' erected as batteries of aggressive atheism from which to beat down the temples of religion, no less than 1,700,000 francs; so that the total of deficit of the budget of Amiens, from 1880 to the present time, in all probability exceeds six millions of francs.
If we assume the local finances of the rest of France to have been handled during the last decade on the same lines, there is nothing extravagant in the estimate made by a friend of mine, who formerly held a very high post in the Treasury, and who puts the accumulation of local deficits and the local indebtedness in France, independently of the national deficits and the national loans, since 1880, at two milliards of francs, or eighty millions of pounds sterling. For, although Amiens is an important city, it represents only about one four-hundred-and-fiftieth part of the population of France.
While I was at Amiens in June M. Goblet came there and made a rather remarkable speech. It was in the main aimed at a society called the 'Association of the Conservative Young Men of Amiens,' all of whom, I am told, except the president, are young working men—mechanics, clerks, or the sons of clerks, mechanics, and working men—in short, a kind of French 'Tory democracy.' They are not Boulangists at all, but outspoken royalists. They support Boulanger simply and avowedly in order to get at a revision of the Constitution and make an end of the Republic. 'This association,' said M. Goblet, 'is making a tremendous stir. I admit its right to do this. It holds meetings and conferences; it listens to speeches in the city and the suburbs; it attacks both democracy and the Republic in no measured terms; it does not hesitate to denounce its enemies personally and by name, and neglects no means of acting on public opinion. These conservative young men speak and act energetically. They believe in the re-establishment of the monarchy; they desire it; they preach a reaction against all that we have done for twenty years past!'
There could hardly be a more signal proof given of the reality and vitality of the anti-Republican movement in this part of France than these words of a Republican leader who began his political career, as I have shown, twenty years ago in a hopeless minority of Republicans under the Empire, who has since worked his way up the municipal ladder at Amiens and up the legislative ladder in Paris; and who, after reaching the top of the tree, now finds himself in imminent peril of slipping down again to the point from which he started. The force of the testimony is certainly not weakened by the fact that at the legislative elections in September, M. Goblet, standing as a candidate for the Chamber, was completely beaten.
I have shown what a large part the octroi plays in the revenue of a city like Amiens. Nothing resembling it, I believe, exists in England since the abolition, two or three years ago, of the coal dues in London; and, though I suppose it would be within the power of any American State to establish a tax of this sort within its own boundaries, it would be practically impossible to enforce it without coming into collision with the commercial rights of other States under the Federal Constitution. I once had to pay the octroi tax on two brace of Maryland canvas-back ducks, which I was taking over from London to a Christmas dinner in Paris. But Maryland would not submit to an octroi upon her birds entering New York.
The importance of the octroi at this time in the financial system of France is one of the most conclusive and most amusing proofs of the essentially superficial and ephemeral character of the alleged 'Great Revolution' of 1789. The octroi was a revival in mediaeval France of the Roman portorium which survives in the Italian offices of the dazio consume and in the garitas of Spain and Spanish America. It was originally imposed as a local tax by a city, under the sanction of a royal charter. To get such a charter from a sovereign strong enough to enforce respect for it was essential to the citizens who bound themselves to one another to maintain their local independence against the barons in their neighbourhood; and when such a charter was granted by a sovereign it was said to be octroyee by him. The tax therefore is rooted in a privilege. Amiens obtained the right to impose it in the fourteenth century. Of course the 'Great Revolution of 1789' swept this right away, one of the most obvious 'rights of man' being to pluck an apple in an orchard, take it into a town in his pocket, and eat it there. But equally, of course, the Republic in the year VII. on the 29th Vendemiaire re-established it; and in the next year, VIII., provided that the privilege should be exercised as under the sanction of the National Government, the National Government reserving the right to revise the tariffs fixed by the municipal councils, and thereby making the restored privilege of the octrois another string whereby to fetter and control the local action of the people on their own affairs. The octroi of Amiens was re-established on the 3rd of Brumaire next following. Under the Empire, the Restoration, and the Monarchy of July, the Council of State granted the octrois. Under the Republic of 1848 this power naturally went to the National Assembly as a means of legislative pressure and corruption. The Second Empire restored it to the Council of State; and it has now, naturally, gone back to the Chambers. Neither the people of the cities nor the rural populations like the octroi, but, in the immortal words of the late Mr. Tweed of New York, 'What can they do about it?' It is a ready-money tax, from which the taxpayer receives no visible equivalent, as he does when he pays a penny for a postage stamp. When he has paid it, he is simply allowed to take his own property where he wishes to take it, and do with it what he wishes to do. It is quite likely that this octroi may have something to do with the disinclination of the common people in France to part with small change as readily as do the Americans, and even the English. They must always have 'money in the pocket' if they want to bring a sausage and a bottle of beer through a 'barrier,' whereas an American is never called upon to pay cash down to his Government except at a custom-house when he returns to his country from a foreign trip, or in exchange for a licence or a document of some sort which represents value received in one or another form.
The time wasted over this tax in a city like Amiens is an extraordinary burden on the patience of the people, trained as the French people are to submit to a torment of eternal red tape, a week of which would drive an American or English town into open revolt. At Amiens, for example, there is a central bureau of the octroi, where the tax is received from the great breweries and warehouses after the amounts have been fixed by the officers on duty at those establishments. Then there are ten bureaux or 'barriers' at the railway stations, the slaughter-houses, and the fish-markets; and then again eight secondary bureaux, where the people must go and pay amounts of less than one franc. There are, and I am told have long been, loud complaints as to the inconvenient location of the bureaux; but nothing comes of these outcries as yet, and I presume nothing ever will come of them until something like an independent local administrative life exists in the provinces of France.
The elements of such a life ought surely to be found, if anywhere, in this ancient province of Picardy. You cannot traverse it in any direction without being struck by the evident prosperity of the people. Arthur Young, a hundred years ago, travelling from Boulogne to Amiens, found only 'misery and miserable harvests.' He would find now only comfort and excellent crops. Possibly he would think of the country what he then thought of the region about Clermont and Liancourt, where, under the fostering care of the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, the farmers had developed a highly-diversified cultivation; 'here a field of wheat; there one of luzerne; clover in one direction, vetches in another; vines, cherry and other fruit trees making up a charming picture, which must, however, yield poor results.'
But he would be wrong. This diversified culture of modern Picardy has been highly remunerative, and the extensive kitchen-gardening of the province is so still. The 'agricultural crisis' has doubtless hit the large farmers rather hard, but I am told they are standing up well under it—thanks to their past savings, and to French protection—better, indeed, than the large farmers in England; while the peasants proper are actually profiting by it. They not only get as much for their labour as when the large farmers were making money, but they are buying up land at lower rates. This may very possibly help the Republicans in the coming elections, for the peasants always give the credit of a state of things which is satisfactory to them to the Government of the day—be that Government what it may—so that while the larger farmers tend to Conservatism, the peasants will probably lean the other way. It is next to impossible to get a political opinion out of a Picard peasant, but I have more than once heard a peasant speak of the farmers in his neighbourhood as 'aristocrats,' which I took to be as precise a formula of political opinion as one was likely to get from him. It seemed to me to represent, among the peasants of to-day, the enlightened 'principles of 1889,' very much as the same formula, applied to the noblesse of a century ago, represented, among the large farmers of that day, the 'principles of 1789.'
Both then and now the formula simply means 'the man who has what I want to have is an aristocrat.' I think I have observed something like this in other countries—as, for example, in Ireland—where the guilty possessor of acres, however, is not only an 'aristocrat' but an 'alien,' as appears from a song popular in Kerry:—
The alien landlords have no right To the land God made for you; So we'll blow them up with dynamite, The thieving, hellish crew!
Dynamite was unknown in Picardy a century and a half ago. And the Picard has very little, except his religion, in common with the Irish Celt. But the sentiment of this simple and pleasing little ditty glowed deep in the Picard heart long before the Revolution of 1789. The 'earth hunger,' which has given the act of 'land-grabbing' the first place in the category of human crimes, invented, long ago in Picardy, and especially in that part of Picardy now known as the Department of the Somme, a custom called the coutume de mauvais gre or the droit de marche. Under this custom a tenant-farmer in Picardy considered himself entitled to sell the right to till his landlord's fields to anybody he liked, to give it as a dowry to his daughter, or to leave it to be divided among his heirs; and all this without reference to the expiration of his lease. If the landlord objected and went so far as to lease his land to another person, the previous tenant was regarded by his friends and by other farmers as a depointe, entitled to take summary vengeance upon the 'land-grabber.' He might kill off his cattle, burn his crops and his buildings, and, if occasion served, shoot or knock him in the head. As the whole country was in a conspiracy, either of terror or of sympathy, to protect the depointe against the vengeance of the law, this cheerful 'custom' had a liberalising effect upon the Picard landholders. Rents fell, and if the value of landed property rose the landed proprietor got no advantage from that. The torch and the musket kept down the demand, which was equivalent practically to increasing the supply. The results of this 'custom' were such that in 1764, a quarter of a century before the Revolution of 1789, the king intervened, but in vain, to put a stop to it. The 'oppressed and downtrodden peasant' of Picardy under the ancien regime did what he liked with his neighbour's property—that neighbour being a landlord—as cheerily as the manacled Celt of Mayo or Tipperary in our own times. Two years before the Revolution, in 1787, the assembly of the Generality of Amiens, by its president the Duc d'Havre, vainly urged the royal government to take resolute action in this matter. With the Revolution, of course, things grew worse very rapidly. The depointes became ardent lovers of liberty, equality, and fraternity; tore up all their leases, sent their landlords and the land-grabbers to the guillotine, or into emigration as traitors, and made themselves proprietors, in fee simple. There seems to be no doubt that the traditions of this coutume de mauvais gre (which obviously had much more to do with the politics of Picardy a century ago than either Voltaire or Rousseau) still survive in the Department of the Somme, and every now and then break out in agrarian outrages, rick-burnings, and general incendiarism, whenever leases fall in and landlords try to raise their rents on the shallow pretext that land has risen in value.
While these traditions show that there was no lack of energy and force among the 'downtrodden' Picard peasantry before the Revolution of 1789, the local history of the province also proves that the liberal ideas which are commonly supposed to have been introduced into France by the Revolution were at work in Picardy among the noblesse and the clergy long before. The corvee, for example, of which we hear so much in many so-called histories of the French Revolution, was abolished under Louis XVI. in Picardy, before the States-General of 1789 were convened.
That the corvee, in itself, cannot have been the absolutely intolerable thing it is commonly supposed to have been may be inferred, I think, from the fact that, under the name of prestation en nature, it still exists in many parts of the French Republic. It figures in all the schedules of departmental taxation which I have seen down to the year 1889; and, for that matter, it existed in New England down to a very recent date, if it does not now exist there. It was obviously liable to abuse, and doubtless was abused, and the Intendant of Picardy, M. d'Aguay, made a striking speech, on the benefits to be expected from its abolition, to the Provincial Parliament in 1787. From this speech we learn that the money value of the corvee in hand had been computed at 900,000 livres, but that the Intendant working out the details of the abolition of the system, with the help of a number of the local landholders (commonly supposed to have been the tyrants who profited by the abuse), had reduced this estimate to 300,000 livres, at which sum the tax had been converted into a money payment for the maintenance of the roads, the province being thus relieved of two-thirds of the burden borne by it. It is instructive to learn that attempts to bring about similar results elsewhere in France were resented and resisted, not by the great landholders, but by the corveable peasants themselves! What they really wanted, it would seem, was not so much to be relieved of the obligation of forced labour by a payment of money, as to have their roads made for them at the expense of the State, under the impression, ineradicable down to our own day, and elsewhere than in France, that what everybody pays nobody pays, an impression which is the trusty shield and weapon at once of the Socialists and of the Protectionists all over the world.
Public education in Picardy, as well as elsewhere in France, long antedates the Revolution of 1789. Three centuries ago Olivier de Serre and Bernard Palissy lamented the foolish disposition of French peasants in the Limousin and in Picardy to give their elder sons a better education than they had themselves received. 'The poor man will spend a great part of what he has earned in the sweat of his brow, to make his son a gentleman; and at last this same gentleman will be ashamed to be found in company with his father, and will be displeased to be called the son of a labouring man. And if by chance the good man has other children, this gentleman it will be who will devour the others and have the best of everything; he never concerns himself to think how much he cost at school while his brothers were working at home with their father.' This reads like a complaint of the nineteenth century in democratic America, but it is, in fact, a complaint of the sixteenth century in feudal France. It must have been frequent enough in this part of Picardy, now the Department of the Somme. For from a very early time this region has been full of small farmers bent on bettering their own condition or that of their sons. In the public library of Abbeville there is a land register drawn up in 1312 for the service of the officers of King Edward II. of England, who had married Isabel of France, from which it appears that the small tenants in this part of Picardy were then as numerous as the small proprietors now are. 'One is led to believe,' says M. Baudrillart, 'that the only difference between the condition of the country then and now in this respect is, that the enfranchised labourer has in many cases simply taken the place of the feudal tenant and become proprietor of the soil.' So great has long been the number of small landholders in Picardy that in the province, taken generally, a holding of sixty hectares may pass for a large property, one of fifteen for a moderate estate, and one of ten for a small holding. The action of the French code upon this state of things since the Revolution and the Empire has, in the opinion of many intelligent observers, been mischievous. It has made it difficult to check the excessive subdivision of the land into holdings too small to be profitably and intelligently cultivated. There is no provision in the French law it seems, as there is in the German law, making it obligatory upon the heirs of a small landed property so to arrange their respective shares as not to impede the proper cultivation of the land. The great prosperity of kitchen-gardening in modern Picardy modifies the evils flowing from this state of things however, and those who know the country best tell me that, taken as a body, the small landholders of Picardy, thanks to their thrift in regard both of time and of money, are substantially well off. They don't like the townspeople, for the old traditions are not yet forgotten of the time in which Amiens and the other large towns used to shift the main burden of the expenses of the province upon the shoulders of the peasantry; and if anything like a genuine provincial legislature could be established, with a working system of 'Home Rule,' all the elements are here which might be developed into a healthy political activity. The system of working on France from the centre at Paris to the circumference has certainly been tried long enough, and thoroughly enough, to show that nothing but evil, and that continually, can be expected from it.
More than fifty years have passed since Heine said: 'When I speak of France I speak of Paris—not of the provinces; just as when I speak of a man, I speak of his head, not of his legs. To talk about the opinion of the provinces is like talking about the opinion of a man's legs.'
In this spirit France is still judged abroad, for in this spirit France is still governed at home. But if, on some fine morning, the legs should suddenly wake up with a very positive opinion of their own, the results may be awkward—not only for the government at Paris but for the rest of Europe.
IN THE AISNE
The short railway journey from Amiens on the Somme to La Fere on the Oise takes you through a country which, on a fine summer's morning, reminds one of the old Kentuckian description of an agricultural paradise—'tickle it with a hoe, and it laughs with a harvest.' As, in one direction, Picardy extends into the modern Department of the Pas-de-Calais, so in other directions it includes no inconsiderable part of the modern Departments of the Oise and of the Aisne. In this way it touches the central province of the Ile-de-France, the main body of which is now divided into the three Departments of the Seine, the Seine-et-Oise, and the Seine-et-Marne. From Amiens to La Fere, therefore, the pulse of the French capital may be said to throb visibly about you in the rural beauty of a region which owes its value and its fertility less to the natural qualities of the soil than to the quickening influences of the great metropolis. For centuries Paris lived mainly on the Ile-de-France, and the Ile-de-France on Paris. Since the steam-engine and the railway have opened, both to the province and to the capital, the markets of all France and of all Europe, both the province and the capital are infinitely more prosperous than in the old days when the lack of communications and the lawlessness of men made them dependent one upon the other. The steppes of Russia and the prairies of America now compete with the grain-fields of the Ile-de-France; the timber of the Baltic with its timber; and I have no doubt that, during his six years in the prison of Ham, Louis Napoleon drank there better Chambertin than ever found its way to the table of the Grand Monarque at Versailles, after a certain enterprising peasant walked all the way from his native province to the capital, beside his oxcart laden with casks, to prove to the king the merits of the true Burgundian vintage.
Certainly it would never occur to anybody now in Soissons or Laon to make the journey to Paris, as people did a hundred and fifty years ago, to drink the water of the Seine, as being 'the best in the world, and a specific against burning fevers and obstructive ailments.'
But the vast commons which lay waste throughout the Ile-de-France a hundred years ago are now green with crops; meadows have replaced the marshes; orchards and gardens on every side show what the Campagna of Rome may become, at no distant day, if Italy can make her peace with the Church, and the Italian capital remain, on terms of justice and reason, the capital of the Catholic world.
Before the Revolution the Generality of Paris contained 150,000 arpents of waste commons; the Generality of Soissons 120,000 arpents. In 1778 a writer deplores the spectacle, 'within thirteen leagues of the capital, of vast marshes left to be inundated because they are common lands, producing not a single bundle of hay in a year, and affording scanty pasture to a few miserable cattle.' In a single hamlet this writer found 35 poor families feeding 22 cows and 220 sheep on 1,100 arpents of common land! I believe there are philanthropists in England and Scotland who think the enclosure and cultivation of common lands a crime against humanity; and it would be edifying to listen to a 'conference' between them and the shrewd, prosperous small farmers and gardeners who are tilling these great spaces to-day in the Ile-de-France. One of the few plainly advantageous results of the headlong Revolution of 1789 was the transfer into many private hands of the immense estates which were held by the abbeys and the clergy in and around Paris; and this transfer might perfectly well have been brought about by steady and systematic means without shaking the foundations of property and of order. We might then have seen throughout France what we see in England—the gradual and pacific evolution of a great industrial and commercial society on lines not contradicting, but conforming to, the traditions of the nation.
The influence of the capital, of course, has had much to do with the extraordinary development in these regions of all kinds of horticulture. Nurseries, kitchen-gardens, flower-gardens occupy an increasing area of the Ile-de-France, and a constantly growing proportion of its inhabitants. M. Baudrillart says that in the single Department of the Seine-et-Oise this proportion has increased tenfold since 1860, and he puts it down for that Department in 1880 at 50,000 persons out of a total population of 577,798.
The proportions can hardly, I should think, be much smaller in the Departments of the Aisne and of the Oise. How much this industry adds to the beauty of the country I need not say. Its influence is shown in a notable increase of the love of flowers among the population generally. The English villages no longer have the monopoly which they certainly once had of flower-plots before and around the cottages, and of plants carefully tended and blooming in the cottage windows. Years ago Dickens used to say that London was the only capital in the world in which you could count upon seeing something green and growing somewhere, no matter how gloomy otherwise might be the quarter into which you strolled. This is beginning to be true of not a few French towns and cities, while the conditions of successful horticulture, in its various branches, give the aspect of a garden to the rural regions in which it flourishes. The nursery gardens, which are the most extensive, seldom cover more than eight hectares; seed gardens range in extent from half a hectare to a hectare; the fruit gardens from half a hectare to two hectares; the gardeners who send up 'cut flowers' to market usually concentrate their activity upon half a hectare of soil. These cultivators are all capitalists in a small way, the least important of them requiring a capital of from four to five hundred pounds sterling. And land so employed is very often let on leases of three, six, or nine years, at thirty-five pounds a hectare.
It is a curious thing that what may be called the 'Home Departments' of France around Paris should be so much richer in these highly-developed and remunerative forms of cultivation than the home counties of England around London. Why should flowers, fruits, and vegetables, as a rule, be so much better, so much cheaper, and so much more plentiful in the French than in the English capital? The superiority of the French markets cannot arise wholly from a difference of climate. Great risks are run in this respect by the horticulturists of Picardy and the Ile-de-France. M. Baudrillart tells a story of a large flower-gardener in the Seine-et-Oise who, during the severe winter of 1879-80, found his gardens deep in snow one morning, and, upon examining them, carefully made up his mind that he stood to lose nearly 2,500l. sterling worth of his best plants. That same evening he left for England, brought back eleven waggon-loads of plants to supply the place of those killed by the cold, and, by the spring, not only covered his losses but made a profit.
With its 'polygon' and its promenades the little city of La Fere, set in the midst of well-tilled and fertile fields, has a martial air which harmonises with its history. During the religious wars which ended with the coronation of Henry of Navarre, this small Catholic stronghold was besieged, taken, and retaken no fewer than four times in twenty years; and, if we may believe an old sixteenth-century local ballad, the Huguenots behaved in a way which showed that the 'Reformation' had not improved their morals. The 'Deploration des Dames de la ville de La Fere tenues forcement par les ennemis de la religion catholique' draws a doleful picture of life in a conquered city three centuries ago.
Est-ce pas bien chose assez deplorable De voir (helas) son haineux a sa table Rire, chanter et vivre opulement De ce qu'avions garde soigneusement? En nostre lict quand il veut il se couche, Faict nos maris aller a l'escarmouche Ou a la breche, enconstre notre foy, Pour resister a Jesus et au Roy.
There are soldiers enough in La Fere to-day, for it is an artillery station, as it was when Napoleon got his training here, but the peace of the picturesque little fortress-town is less troubled by them than by the politicians. A little local newspaper published here, which I bought of an urchin at the uninviting but thriving station of Tergnier, was full of paragraphs deriding and denouncing the clergy, which might have been inspired by that model patriot and philanthropist Curtius, who proposed in the year one of the Republic that the Government should make a bargain with the Deys of Tunis and Algiers to ransom the French held as slaves in those countries, exchanging them for French priests 'at the rate of three priests for one patriot'!
'What sort of a newspaper is this?' I asked a cheery, red-faced old man, well and substantially dressed, and, as he afterwards informed me, a cattle-breeder and dealer on his way from Amiens to Laon.
'That journal, Monsieur?' he replied with a kind of 'sniff': 'that leaf? It is a cabbage-leaf, Monsieur!' 'C'est une feuille de choux!' As for himself he was a Republican—no, not a Boulangist—but he had voted for Boulanger, and he would vote for him again. There must be an end of all those taxes. It was too strong. The land could not pay them. In his country a farm worth 30,000 francs eight years ago, to-day would not sell for 20,000 francs. The farms that were mortgaged would not pay the amount of the mortgages. Look at the taxes on cattle! These free-traders at Paris want to drive us out of our markets with meat on the hoof, and killed meat, from all the ends of the world. Here they are trying to patch up that treaty of commerce with Italy, and bring back all those competing cattle from Sardinia. That's a pretty idea! and for those Italians, who owe France everything and now lick the boots of M. de Bismarck. And now the Paris Chamber of Commerce wants an International Congress on treaties of commerce. The devil take the treaties of commerce!'
At the station of La Fere I found waiting for me, one lovely morning in July, the coupe of M. Henrivaux, the director of the famous and historical glassworks of St.-Gobain. When Arthur Young visited these works in 1787, he found them turning out, in the midst of extensive forests, 'the largest mirrors in the world.' The forests are less extensive now, but St.-Gobain still turns out the largest mirrors in the world. To this year's Exposition in Paris it has sent the most gigantic mirror ever made, showing a surface of 31.28 metres; and the glory of St.-Gobain is nightly proclaimed to the world at Paris by the electric light which, from the summit of the Eiffel Tower, flashes out over the great city and the valley of the Seine an auroral splendour of far-darting rays, thanks to St.-Gobain and to the largest lens ever made by man.
St.-Gobain, however, has other claims upon attention than its unquestioned rank as the most important seat of one of the most characteristic and important manufactures of our modern civilisation. In a most interesting paper upon the life and labours of M. Augustin Cochin, one of the most useful as well as one of the most distinguished of the many useful and distinguished Frenchmen whose names are associated with this great industry, M. de Falloux describes the works of St.-Gobain as 'an industrial flower upon a seignorial stalk springing from a feudal root.'
The description is both terse and pregnant. The history of this great and flourishing industry, stretching back now over two centuries and a half, is a history of evolution without revolution.
There is nothing in France more thoroughly French than St.-Gobain, nothing which has suffered less from the successive Parisian earthquakes of the past century, nothing which has preserved through them all more of what was good in its original constitution and objects. The establishment is like a green old oak, and, to borrow a phrase from Wordsworth, its days have been joined each to each 'by natural piety.' The place which it first took through privilege and favour, and could have taken in no other way, it has kept ever since for nearly two centuries and a half, and now holds by virtue of skill, energy, and that eternal vigilance which is both the price and the penalty of free competition.
The 'Knights of Labour' in our America of to-day put the cart before the horse when they undertake to make labourers knights. The Middle Ages knew better, and went to work in a wiser fashion by making knights labourers. As early as the thirteenth century the glassworkers of France had great privileges granted them, and an old proverb explains this by telling us that 'to make a gentleman glassworker—un gentilhomme verrier—you must first get a gentleman.' As soon as it was established that by going into such a costly and artistic industry as this, a gentleman did not derogate from his rank, the first important step was taken towards the emancipation of industry. The glassworkers were exempted from tailles, aydes et subsides, from ost, giste, chevaulchier et subventions, or, in other words, military taxes could not be levied upon them, nor troops quartered upon them, nor requisitions made upon them. The gentilhomme verrier had the right to carry a sword and to wear embroideries, to fish and to hunt, nor could the lord of a domain refuse to him, in return for a small fee, the right to cut whatever wood he needed for his furnaces, and to collect and burn the undergrowth into ashes for his manufacture. It was the richly and densely wooded country about St.-Gobain which led to the establishment at this spot in 1665 of the glassworks since developed into the great establishment of our day. Even now, though gas has long since taken the place of wood in the manufacture, and towns and farms have grown up in the neighbourhood, no less than 2,440 hectares of the 2,900 which make up the territory of St.-Gobain proper are still in woodland; and the forests extend far beyond the limits of the commune which bears the name of the Irish Catholic prince St.-Gobain, who came here in the seventh century, as St. Boniface went to the Rhine, to evangelise the country, and built himself a cell on the side of the mountain which overlooks the glassworks. Here he did his appointed work, and here, on June 2, 670, he was put to death. The mountain was then known as Mount Ereme or Mount Desert, and it is still heavily wooded throughout almost its whole extent.
The French Government also owns a very large domain around and beyond St.-Gobain, about two-thirds, I am told, of the 10,000 hectares constituting thirteen per cent. of the whole area of the Department of the Aisne, which are still covered with forests. These ten thousand hectares are the remnant of the immense sylvacum of the Laonnois, the Andradawald of Eastern Gaul, through which Agrippa opened a great Roman road connecting the capital of the world by way of Milan, Narbonnese Gaul, Reims, and Soissons with the British Channel. At a short distance from St.-Gobain a part of this ancient road running from south to north through the lower forests of Coucy, is still in use, and is known by the name of Queen Brunehild's Causeway. The chronicle of St.-Bertin, cited by Bergier, attributes to that extraordinary woman the restoration of this whole road throughout Gaul, and she certainly built a magnificent abbey in the immediate neighbourhood.
 The total revenue derived from the woods and forests of the State in France is set down in the Budget for 1890 at 25,614,300 francs, but the returns are 'lumped' and not given in detail. I am told that the forests around St.-Gobain yield about 400,000 francs of this revenue.
Encouraged by the wise administration of Colbert, an association of glassworkers established itself at St.-Gobain in 1665 under the direction of a 'gentleman glassworker,' M. du Noyer. Twenty years afterwards, in 1688, a Norman 'gentleman glassworker,' M. Lucas de Nehou, who had joined this association, invented the process known as the coulage of glass for mirrors, and this became the kernel of the great industry of St.-Gobain. The association took the name, in 1688, of the Thevart company, from De Nehou's most active colleague. It became the Plastrier Company in 1702, and ten years afterwards, in 1712, M. Geoffrin, the husband of the clever and enterprising friend of Voltaire and the Empress Catherine, took charge as administrator of the establishment. His wife really administered both the establishment and M. Geoffrin. It was she who confided the direction of the works in 1739 to M. Deslandes, and she is fairly entitled to her share of credit for the great progress made in the subsequent half-century down to 1789. Under the First Consulate St.-Gobain had to give up the privileges it had enjoyed and face the modern conditions of success. It has proved its claim to its ancient privileges by its triumphs ever since it surrendered them. The history of its relations with the crown and with the courts under the ancien regime is a most curious, interesting, and instructive chapter of the political and social, as well as of the industrial, annals of France, and it has been admirably told by M. Augustin Cochin in his book on the manufactory of St.-Gobain from 1665 to 1866.
A drive of less than an hour through a highly cultivated rolling country, made attractive by well-grown trees and luxuriant hedgerows, brought me to the clear, bright, prosperous-looking town of St.-Gobain. Its two thousand inhabitants owe their well-being, in one form or another, to the great company, and among the most comfortable as well as the most picturesque dwellings in the place are the houses built by the company, and conceded on very favourable terms to the families of men employed in the works. Piles of timber attested the activity of the forest administration. The people I passed, singly or in groups, saluted the director's carriage in a friendly, good-natured way, which seemed to show that here, at least, the 'irrepressible conflict' between capital and labour has not yet passed into the acute stage. A fine old church of the thirteenth century, with a tower of the sixteenth, and the noble trees which cover the slopes and shade the roadway of St.-Gobain, are no more in keeping with the standard English and American type of a manufacturing town than is the parklike domain in the midst of which rise the main buildings of the great manufactory itself.
There M. Henrivaux gave me a cordial welcome. The chateau of St.-Gobain, in which the offices of the company have long been established, is a vast square edifice of the time and the style of Louis XIV. It occupies the site, and, I believe, comprises one remaining wing of an earlier chateau, which was stormed and partially destroyed by the English in the fourteenth century. Henry IV. was seigneur of St.-Gobain, and when the glassworks company, at the end of the seventeenth century, bought the domain and the buildings from the Count de Longueval, then governor of La Fere, the title of the crown to the property had to be extinguished as well as his.
Nothing can be finer in its way than the wide panorama of forest-clad hills and rolling vales, dotted here and there with towns, villages, and chateaux, over which you gaze from the terrace in front of this unique establishment. It has its pleasure-grounds and its park. Within the main building, besides the extensive suite of apartments assigned to the director, who resides there with his family, is another handsome suite of apartments, reserved for the administrators, six in number, whenever they may choose, collectively or severally, to visit St.-Gobain. These apartments are furnished with stately simplicity, and the whole interior preserves the grand air of the eighteenth century. The fleurs de lis still adorn the lofty chimney-pieces, the waxed floors are sedulously polished, and, as M. Henrivaux says, could the ghost of Lucas de Nehou have returned to St.-Gohain only a year or two ago, he would have been welcomed at the entrance gate by a Swiss wearing the royal liveries of the House of Bourbon, and resting majestically on his halberd, like the guards of the Scala Regia in the Vatican. This imposing warden has now passed away, at the ripe age of a hundred and two, and M. Henrivaux tells me that he was more alert and active to the last than his more celebrated contemporary at Paris, the venerable Chevreuil.
When a new administrator first makes his appearance at St.-Gobain, I am told, he is received with music by day and an illumination at night, a grand mass is celebrated in the chapel dedicated to the royal Irish martyr, and the whole place assumes for a moment the aspect of another age.
In one of the salons of the administration, two pictures commemorate visits paid to the manufactory: one, under the Restoration, by the Duchesse de Berri, the mother of the Count de Chambord; the other, under the Second Empire, by the Empress Eugenie—pathetic pictures both, making the room a place wherein to 'sit upon the floor and tell strange stories of the deaths of kings.'
Beside the canvas in which the Empress appears—a graceful, gracious woman in the prime of her life and her beauty—hangs a small mirror in a gilded frame, silvered by her own imperial hand in the great workroom of the manufactory. The work was well and deftly done, but so delicate is the process that when the light strikes athwart this mirror at a particular angle, you can clearly trace a faint hair line of shadow traversing it, the ineffaceable record of a ripple of laughter which broke from the Empress's lips at some gay remark made by one of the personages grouped about her while her hand was completing its task.
I spent a delightful day with M. and Mme. Henrivaux, inspecting all parts of the manufactory of mirrors, visiting the houses provided for a considerable number of the workmen and their families, on terms most advantageous to them by the company, and inquiring into the working of the co-operative association founded by M. Cochin.
This association is an association of consumers only, not of producers. Its original statutes were drawn up very carefully by M. Cochin, and as they have been as carefully observed by the members and the managers, it is the opinion of M. Henrivaux that the experiment has proved to be a success. This may be inferred from the fact that the title of 'co-operative' has been assumed in the town of St.-Gobain by a bakery, which seems to be managed on the principles of private competition under the 'co-operative' flag. If the 'trademark' were not popular, it would hardly have been assumed.
The company also encourages societies among its own workmen and in the town for educational purposes, including a philharmonic and a choral society, and is liberal in its expenditure upon the schools, both here and at Chauny, the seat of its very important chemical works.
At St.-Gobain alone, I understand, it is now making an outlay of some sixty thousand francs on new school-buildings, which is a larger sum than the total of the taxes paid by the people of the place. The 'budget' of the commune amounts to 27,500 francs, or rather more than ten francs per capita of the population. Obviously the prosperity of the glassworks makes the prosperity of St.-Gobain, which, but for them, would doubtless soon relapse into the proportions of the little hamlet gathered, twelve hundred years ago, by the Irish evangelist about the miraculous fountain, which is said to have been evoked by him with a blow of his staff, and which still flows beneath the shelter of his church.
When Arthur Young visited St.-Gobain a hundred years ago he congratulated himself on his 'good luck' in hitting upon a day when the furnaces were in full blast and the coulage going on. A traveller of the present day who should reach St.-Gobain armed with the letters of introduction necessary to secure his admission into the works, and find the furnaces not in full blast and the coulage not going on, would be in very bad luck indeed.
For while in 1789 St.-Gobain was a privileged company, enjoying, for the output of its works here and in Normandy, and in the Faubourg St.-Antoine at Paris, a chartered monopoly, the output of its works to-day, under the wholesome pressure of competition with a fair field and no favour, is enormously greater than it was a century ago, both in volume and in value; and the position of St.-Gobain among the glassworks of the world is at least as high under the presidency of the Duc de Broglie, in 1889, as it was under the presidency of the Duc de Montmorency in 1789. Yet the company is still administered, not indeed according to the letter of its original statutes of the time of the Grand Monarque, but in the spirit of those statutes. It is an ancient dynasty which has simply accepted the changed conditions of modern life and modern activity, and conformed its operations to them without abandoning its fundamental principles. The successful advance of this great industry, through all the changes, convulsions, and developments of the past century, is quite as instructive as are the successive catastrophes of French politics during the same time. 'I think,' said M. Henrivaux to me, 'that when you compare the St.-Gobain of 1702 with the St.-Gobain of 1889, you will perhaps agree with me that there is some force in our double motto, 'tradition dans le progres et heredite dans l'honneur.'
It is a curious fact that Lucas de Nehou, the inventor of plate glass, was originally induced by the founders of St.-Gobain to leave his own establishment at Tour-la-ville in Normandy and come to their works in Paris, because the Venetian glassworkers who had been invited by Colbert into France, refused to instruct the French workmen in their 'art and mystery.' They could not be blamed for this. Venice was then the acknowledged headquarters of the glass manufacture, and it was the unchangeable policy of the 'most serene Republic' to keep all her secrets to herself. A fundamental statute ordained that if any artisan or artist took his art into a foreign country he should be ordered to return. If he did not obey, his nearest relatives were to be imprisoned, in order that his affection for them might lead him to submit. If he submitted, his emigration should be forgiven, and he should be established in his industry at Venice. If he did not submit, a person was sent after him to kill him, and after he was well and duly killed his relatives were to be released. In the thirteenth century Venetian artists suffered death under this statute in Bologna, Florence, Mantua, and other Italian cities. Even in Venice the glassworks were rigidly confined to the island of Murano, in order to keep the workmen from coming into contact with strangers visiting the city. When the Republic, in 1665, as a matter of policy allowed a certain number of glassworkers to go to France, at the request of Colbert, and to take service there under Du Noyer at Paris, in his manufactory of mirrors, these workmen were forbidden to teach their trade to any Frenchman. The result, as I have said, was that Du Noyer finally brought about a combination with M. de Nehou, the owner of certain glassworks at Tour-la-ville in Normandy, that De Nehou came to Paris, that out of their joint enterprise eventually arose the company now known as the Company of St.-Gobain, that the French workmen trained by De Nehou did excellent work, and that De Nehou put himself in the way of making, towards the end of the seventeenth century, his invention of plate glass, which finally drove Venetian mirrors out of the markets of the world. The Venetian mirrors, charming as they are from the aesthetic point of view of decorative art, are simply blown glass rolled flat, cut, polished, and tinned. The art of making them came, like other arts, to Venice from the East, and in the sixteenth century the Venetian mirror was the true 'glass of fashion' all over Europe. The famous 'Galerie des Glaces' at Versailles, of which Louis XIV. was so proud, was filled up with mirrors of 'French manufacture after the fashion of Venice,' as the royal expense-rolls state, and it took De Nehou and his workmen five years—from 1678 to 1683—to do the work. Eight years afterwards, in 1691, he presented King Louis with certain 'large mirrors of plate glass,' the firstfruits of his invention, made in 1689. In 1693, he was made Director of the 'Royal Manufactory of Grand Mirrors,' and the manufactory was established in the ruined Chateau de St.-Gobain.
A hundred years afterwards, in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Venice with a French army and made an end of that 'most serene' republic, as he did, not long afterwards, of the least serene republic at Paris. He put Berthier in command, and a commission of French savants, of which Berthollet was a member, proceeded to pick the locks and investigate the mysteries of Venetian art. Their report upon the Venetian glassworks was to the effect that France knew more about the matter than Venice. 'The industries of Venice,' said these irreverent conquerors, 'as precocious as the industries of China, have stood still like them.'
In this age of jointstock companies and limited liabilities, it may be interesting to see on what terms the original founders of the Company of St.-Gobain put their heads and their purses together, to establish a great industrial enterprise. Their articles of association were signed by twelve associates on February 1, 1703, some ten years after William Paterson and Lord Halifax laid the foundations of the Bank of England and of the British public debt. The capital of the company, estimated at 2,040,000 livres, was divided into twenty-four shares of 85,000 livres each, called 'sols,' and these again into twelve parts each, called 'deniers,' making a total of 288 'deniers.' These curious designations, taken from the currency of the time, were used down to the overthrow of the restored Bourbon monarchy in 1830. The owners of these shares, or 'deniers,' bound themselves solemnly never to make a loan, but to meet all the expenses of the enterprise by assessments in proportion to their holdings, and always to keep in hand a fund for current expenses of at least one million of livres. They were to receive ten per cent. on their capital, a special honorarium of 1,000 livres a year apiece, and a fee of two crowns for attendance at meetings. All misunderstandings were to be settled by arbitration, and all the proceedings were to be secret. Under these articles St.-Gobain grew up, prospered, withstood the shock of successive political revolutions in France, and kept its place in the front of the great industrial movement of the nineteenth century down to the year 1830.
During this long life of over a century and a quarter, the payment of dividends seems to have been suspended for three years only, and that after the Terror, from 1794 to 1797. In 1792, when the Girondins and the Jacobins were tearing France to pieces between them, and courting foreign invasion as a stimulus to domestic anarchy, the works were stopped for a time in Paris, at Tour-la-ville and at St.-Gobain, but only for a time. The very able director of the company, M. Deslandes, originally selected, as I have said, by Madame Geoffrin, and who had vindicated her good judgment by managing the affairs of the company with success for thirty years, resigned his post in 1789. He was a model disciplinarian of the old school.
In 1775, finding that some of the workmen at Tour-la-ville had been seduced from their duty by a glassmaker at La Fere-en-Tardenois, M. Deslandes called upon the Intendant at Soissons to clap them into prison. Turgot, the friend of Franklin, objected to this, but M. Deslandes gave him plainly to understand that 'a government which should tolerate such misconduct would be detestable.'
When a great mirror was to be cast at St.-Gobain, M. Deslandes always took command of the works in full dress, his peruke well powdered and his sword by his side. Clearly such a director as this was out of keeping with a king who would not let his officers fire upon a howling mob, and who put on a red cap to oblige a swarm of drunken ruffians.
M. Deslandes was followed into retirement by several of the administrators of the company, who emigrated, and in 1793 the Republic caused the cashier of the company, M. Guerin, to be guillotined on the heinous charge of corresponding with his former employers and friends beyond the frontier. Naturally this crime was committed, like so many similar crimes of that day, with an eye to the main chance. The shares of the administrators who had emigrated were confiscated, in the names of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and the confiscators sent sundry 'patriots' to sit on the administrative council of the company. Their incompetency was so ludicrous and mischievous that Robespierre, representing the State which had thus stolen an interest in the enterprise, could not stand it. He actually 'requisitioned' two noblemen—two 'aristocrats'—among the as yet undisturbed owners of the property, to come forward and direct it, just as the leader of a successful mutiny of convicts on board of a transport might 'requisition' the deposed captain and mate of the vessel to carry her safely through a storm!
With the return of law and order in the person of the Corsican conqueror things resumed their normal course at St.-Gobain; and as I have already said, the company flourished under its old organisation down to the establishment of the Monarchy of July. Then the owners of the 'deniers' put themselves and their property under the general Civil Code, in the form of what is called in modern France a 'societe anonyme,' and at the first general meeting of the 'societe' in April 1831 the accounts of 128 years, over which no question had ever arisen among the representatives of the original holders, were presented and approved. Certainly this must be admitted to be a most noteworthy case of 'l'heredite dans l'honneur.'
The new 'societe' has greatly extended and strengthened its operations since 1831. The works at Tour-la-ville have been abandoned, the site sold, and the workmen transferred to St.-Gobain. The glassworks of St.-Quirin, the proprietors of which, on the abolition in 1804 of privileges in general, had taken to making plate glass, were taken over in 1858 by the St.-Gobain company, together with certain other works at Mannheim in Germany and the chemical works at Cirey, and the 'societe' assumed the name under which it is now known of 'The Company of Mirrors and Chemical Products of St.-Gobain, Chauny, and Cirey.' In 1863 it bought up the works at Stolberg near Aix-la-Chapelle in Rhenish Prussia, in 1868 a minor manufactory at Montlucon in the Department of the Allier, and finally during this current year 1889 it is establishing a manufactory at Pisa in Italy.
The operations of the company, as it now exists, extend to six manufactories of mirrors, six manufactories of chemicals, a mine of iron pyrites, a salt mine, many thousand hectares of forests in this department of the Aisne and in the province of Lorraine, and to a local railway connecting St.-Gobain with Chauny, where the plate glass cast at St.-Gobain is polished and the mirrors are silvered. At St.-Gobain, besides the plate glass mirrors, glass is made for roofs, for floors, for pavements, for optical instruments, including the finest lenses used in the lighthouses of France. Here, as I have said, the lens was made now used at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, from which, night after night, a gigantic auroral ray of electric light leaps into space and shoots for miles athwart the sky, to the inexpressible delight of the gaping crowds below, and I hope to the edification of the world of science.
Since 1870 the output of the company from its various manufactories has more than doubled. It now amounts, in round numbers, to 800,000 square metres a year of polished plate glass; to 500,000 square metres a year of rough glass; to a million kilogrammes a year of blocks and castings for floors and roofings, and to eighty thousand kilogrammes a year of optical glasses of all sorts.
In the time of Louis XIV. and before Lucas de Nehou had made his invention of plate glass, there was absolutely no public demand for what in those days were called 'large mirrors' made in the Venetian fashion, mirrors which to-day would not find a market in the most remote frontier towns of America or Australia. Colbert then wrote to the Comte d'Avaux apropos of the works of Lucas de Nehou in Normandy, that 'there was absolutely no market for large mirrors in the kingdom, the king being the only person who could possibly need them!'
This was in 1673.
In 1702, ten years after the invention of the process by which plate glass is made, a mirror with a surface area of one metre cost 165 francs. In 1889 such a mirror costs 30 f. 25 c. A mirror with four metres of surface area cost, in 1702, 2,750 francs. In 1889 it costs 136 francs.
When we come down to modern times and to the much larger mirrors produced of late years, the fall in prices is extraordinary. In 1873 a mirror with ten square metres of surface cost 1,200 francs. To-day such a mirror can be bought at St.-Gobain for 467 francs, showing a fall of nearly two-thirds in price within sixteen years!
To-day the total production of polished plate glass in the world is estimated as follows:—
square metres England (4 companies) 900,000 Belgium (6 companies) 600,000 Germany (4 companies) 150,000 United States (7 companies) 500,000 France (not including St.-Gobain) 130,000 St.-Gobain 800,000 ————- Total 3,080,000
From this it will be seen that nearly one quarter of the plate glass of a world in which plate glass, like champagne, is rapidly ceasing to be a luxury and becoming a necessity, is produced at this ancient establishment. With a keen perception of the tendencies of this age St.-Gobain, of late years, has been fitting its machinery to produce the very largest plates of glass possible to be made. Go where you like, from the Eden Theatre in Paris to the Casino of Monte Carlo, from the new monster hotel at the Gare St.-Lazare to the enormous edifice which an enterprising firm of tradesmen has planted in the centre of the Corso at Rome, and the vast glittering sheets of silvered glass turned out from the great forges everywhere confront you. At the French Exposition of 1878 St.-Gobain enabled the 'fly gobblers' of two hemispheres to admire themselves in the most gigantic mirror ever made down to that date. It measured six metres and a half in height, by four metres and eleven centimetres in width, which gave it a surface area of 26 metres 12 centimetres. Naturally M. Henrivaux determined to surpass this prodigy in 1889, and to match the Eiffel Tower with a mirror. The Belgian rivals of St.-Gobain suspected this, it seems, and sent forth subtle persons to spy out the plans of the great French manufactory. These colossal plates of glass are cast upon immense 'tables' of metal, and by ascertaining the dimensions of the tables ordered for St.-Gobain the ingenious Belgians hoped to get the measure of the effort it would be necessary for them to outdo. In anticipation of this subtlety the director of St.-Gobain ordered two immense tables, and when these were sent to the manufactory, had them skilfully thrown into one. Upon the gigantic table thus prepared the grand mirror of the Exposition of 1889 was cast at the eleventh hour. This mirror was the special delight of the Shah of Persia during his visit of this year to Paris; and as I suppose the seven plate-glass manufactories which have grown up in my own beloved country under the benediction of the Protective Tariff, since a prohibitive duty was originally clapped on plate glass to encourage the one solitary establishment of the sort then existing in America, will give themselves up to producing something more stupendous still for the New York Exposition of 1892, I here set down its dimensions. It measures in height 7 metres 63 centimetres, and in width 4 metres 10 centimetres, giving it a superficial area of 34 metres 24 centimetres. It is 12 millimetres thick, and weighs 940 kilogrammes. This enormous glass was cast from a single crucible, containing 1,600 kilogrammes of vitreous matter. To have seen this operation would have been worth a very much longer journey than that from New York to St.-Gobain, for the colour and glow of such a mass of vitreous matter in fusion can only be matched by the evanescent hues of a crimson aurora on a fine night in the North, or by the intense lights which play over the surface of a stream of molten lava.
At every stage in the operation the utmost skill and delicacy of handling are required to convert what might easily pass for a heap of rubbish swept together from a macadamised roadway into the smooth, glittering, lustrous plate which the French so picturesquely call a glace, and which indeed most nearly resembles the evenly frozen surface of a crystal lakelet. These sands, silicates, chalks, and carbonates—rough contributions from Oken's 'silent realm of the minerals'—are first crushed and mingled together by machines—one of the best of them, I was glad to hear, of American invention—then passed on into the great rectangular hall, in which they are shot into the crucibles of the melting furnaces and fused, mainly by gas, on a system invented and perfected by the late Dr. Siemens, I believe, who made such a stir a decade ago at Glasgow by his discourse on the storage of force before the British Association. The furnaces which, according to their varying capacity, now require from eight to ten tons of coal a day, consumed, before the development of the Siemens system, from sixteen to twenty tons. Twenty-four hours now suffice for the fusion and the casting of the glass, and if the casting were now to be conducted as ceremoniously as in the time of that fine old martinet M. Deslandes, M. Henrivaux would pass his life in a cocked hat, knee-breeches, peruke, embroidered coat, and sword, for the casting now takes place every day and at a fixed hour. None the less, rather the more, it is a work still of extreme nicety, one to be done by experts, who must be as cool as soldiers under fire. In a certain way and measure it is like ladling out the molten lava of Vesuvius and pressing it into slabs for a lady's toilette-table. The plates, once cast, must be smoothed and made even. This is a very pretty process, and used to be performed by machines which bore the very pretty names of valseuses. That paviour's rammers should be called demoiselles has always seemed to me an outrage and an impertinence, though I may suppose it finds its excuse in the short-waisted costumes of our grandmothers. But the movement of the glass-smoothing valseuses was really a sort of waltz movement. The plates of glass were fixed with plaster on a solid rectangular table. Granite-dust was scattered upon the plates, and then a wooden plateau, armed on the under side with bands of cast iron or steel, was set to waltzing over it backwards and forwards with a semi-rotatory motion, the granite-dust supplied becoming finer and finer as the waltzing went on.
Instead of these valseuses two great plates of glass are now fixed side by side with plaster on huge tables, and two large ashlars are set turning by steam on their own axes while they describe a great orbit over the plates of glass. A stream of water constantly plays upon the plates, which are also constantly powdered with fine sand. The ashlars turn on their axes thirty or forty times a minute, and the plates of glass are usually smoothed and 'evened' on both faces now by these machines in from eight to nine hours, including the time spent in taking them out of the plaster after one face has been smoothed, and fixing them anew in the plaster, that the other face may fare as well. Here again a considerable economy of time has been made. And, after all, when one looks into the practical production of any of these great marvels of human industry, it is in this economy of time that the real advance of modern science beyond the results of ancient invention seems to consist. With all our nineteenth-century chorus of 'self-praising, self-admiring,' where should we be if certain—for the most part, uncertain and forgotten—men of genius had not invented the primordial processes which made art and civilisation possible? The workshop came first, and was the real marvel in the case of every great industry. To talk of the 'invention' of the steam-engine, for example, is an absurdity. The 'invention' was the engine, an invention as old as Egypt or China. The discovery that steam could be made to work the engine is the more modest modern achievement. In this industry of glass-making the amazing thing is that it should have come into the mind of a man so to apply the heat of burning wood to sands and silicates enclosed in an earthen vessel as to convert them into an entirely new substance possessing qualities not perceivable by any human sense in the sands, the silicates, or the earth.
What our modern progress in chemistry and in mechanics has enabled the makers of glass to do, is greatly to reduce the trouble and cost of producing this entirely new substance, greatly to improve the quality of the substance produced, and to extend the range of the uses to which it can be applied.
What would the Egyptians, who paid their tribute in glass to Rome, have thought of a serious order to pave the Via Sacra with blocks of purple glass? Yet such an order could be executed now at St.-Gobain, and when one sees the great flags weighing nine kilogrammes made here and used to let light into the cellarage below the carriage-ways, for example, of the huge Hotel Continental, at Paris, it comes easily within the probabilities that the whole underworld of our great cities in time may thus come to be made available for divers uses, as so much of the underworld of Broadway now is in New York.
The great 'pavement question' is an open question still, in spite of asphalte and of wood, and there would seem to be nothing in the nature of things to prevent its being eventually solved by the glassworkers. The roofing question clearly belongs to them. The casting of glass for roofs began, I believe, with England, in the time of Sir Joseph Paxton, but it has been immensely developed at St.-Gobain. Over a hundred thousand square metres of glass roofing made here were required for the building of the Exposition of this year at Paris. All the most important railway stations in France, from Nantes to Strasburg (unless the Germans have changed this), and from Calais to Marseilles, are thus roofed. In great warehouses, markets, public museums, street galleries—like those of Victor Emmanuel at Milan—factories, workshops all over France and the Continent, this conversion of the roof into a colossal window has revolutionised matters within the last twenty years. The light is making its way even into Turkey, where the great bazaar at Salonica has been roofed in glass by St.-Gobain, and as the Chinese, who, despite their early invention of glass, never got beyond using it for beads and little bottles, have condescended to admit great French mirrors into the Imperial Palace at Pekin, the glass roof may, ere long, make its way even into China.
In the form of tiles, such as are now made here, glass must inevitably, sooner or later, displace slates and shingles and terra-cotta for the roofs, even of private houses, it being quite certain that these glass tiles can be so used as to give a much better light in the garrets of private houses than can possibly be got through the windows. When that comes to pass the burglar's occupation of clambering stealthily from roof to roof will be seriously interfered with. What with glass roofs and glass floors and electricity, indeed, the city of the future is likely to be much more easily 'policed' and patrolled, as well as incomparably more cheery and habitable, than the city of to-day. Perhaps, too, when we all come to living in glass houses, the cause of peace and good neighbourhood may gain, and even Mrs. Grundy may grow more careful about looking into the affairs of her friends and acquaintances.
If that much maligned potentate the Emperor Nero had any real notion of the capabilities of glass when he established the first glassworks at Rome, the lamentation with which he took farewell of the world, 'qualis artifex pereo,' may have been inspired by regret at his not being allowed time enough to develop them. Certainly such gigantic mirrors as those which St.-Gobain has this year sent to the Exposition would have shown to better advantage in his colossal 'Golden House' than in any of our petty modern palaces. In what palace in England or in France to-day could a mirror measuring 7 metres x 63 centimetres in height by 4 metres x 12 centimetres in width, and thus displaying a surface of more than 30 square metres, be placed, without dwarfing everything about it? These immense and magnificent mirrors must go hereafter to decorate palaces of public resort—'palaces of the people,' not palaces of princes. What was a royal luxury when Colbert wrote to D'Avaux in 1673 has become a popular attraction. The smallest restaurant in Paris would think itself discredited to-day were it decorated with one of the grandes glaces for which Colbert in 1693 thought St.-Gobain would find no purchaser save the king; but the Grand Cafe and the Hotel Terminus of the Gare St.-Lazare order mirrors in 1889 which no king of our times would very well know what to do with.
Yet, once more, how the cost of these mirrors has fallen! In 1702 a plate-glass mirror showing two square metres only by surface, cost, at St.-Gobain, 540 francs. In 1889 such a mirror, showing four square metres of surface, costs, at St.-Gobain, 136 francs. A mirror showing ten square metres of surface, which could not have been made in 1702 at any price, can now be had for 467 francs!
In 1802, under Napoleon, a mirror showing four square metres of surface cost 3,644 francs, or very nearly three times the present cost of a mirror, not tinned like the mirrors of 1802, but silvered, of twice and a half that size. While new markets are constantly opening to this great industry all over the world, the progress of chemical science and of mechanics is as constantly suggesting new economies and new improvements in the manufacture of glass, and St.-Gobain, though one of the most thoroughly French of all French 'institutions,' shows no Chauvinism in its incessant study and prompt appropriation of these economies and these improvements. During the invasion of 1814 the workmen of St.-Gobain marched off to Chauny to resist the advance of the Prussians, and the manufactory had to pay a heavy fine for its patriotism. But it avails itself as readily of German as of French science to-day, and I found M. Henrivaux entirely and minutely familiar with the very latest phenomena of the great change which is coming over the glassworks, as well as all the other industries, of Pittsburg, through the use there of natural gas instead of coal gas and coal. All the most recently invented furnaces—English, German, American—have been tried and tested here as soon as they were made; and the latest American 'crushers' and 'regulators' get to St.-Gobain as soon as they do to Pittsburg. The materials which go to the making of a plate-glass mirror pass through seven processes before the original heap of pebbles, dust, and ashes is transformed into a sheet of splendour and light.
A hundred years ago more than ten days were required to complete these seven processes, from the crushing and mixing and putting into the furnace of the soda and the silicious sand and the charcoal and the lime and the broken glass, called here calcin, through the fusion, and the moulding, and the squaring, and the smoothing, and the washing, and the polishing. Now this is all done in half the time—127 hours instead of 246.
With all this the condition of the workmen employed at St.-Gobain has also steadily improved. It seems always to have been good, relatively to the general conditions of workmen in other industries and other establishments in France. Under the original statutes, and in the time of the excellent M. Deslandes, the nominee of Madame Geoffrin, who ruled St.-Gobain with great success from 1759 down to the Revolution, the workmen of St.-Gobain, as I have shown, were looked after, as well as kept to their duty, on strictly patriarchal principles, not likely to find favour in modern eyes. That they did not themselves dislike the system may be inferred from the fact that no such thing as a strike has ever been known at St.-Gobain, and that a considerable proportion of the workmen employed here now are the direct descendants of workmen employed here in the last century. There are even workers by inheritance, as men may be soldiers and sailors or magistrates by inheritance. Of course with the great extension in our own time of the operation of the company, great numbers of workmen other than glassworkers have come into its employment. But in the glass manufactures alone there are now employed: at St.-Gobain 375 workmen, at Chauny 583, at Cirey-sur-Vezouze 628, at Montlucon 473, at Stolberg, in Rhenish Prussia, 842, at Waldhof, in Baden-Baden, 518; making, in all, 3,419.
The wages of the workmen are paid by the day, by the month, or by the piece, according to the special work which they do, but in all cases (and this, I believe, has been the rule here from the beginning) the workman is interested in his work by one premium on the amount, and by another on the quality of the work done. Furthermore (and this also dates from the beginning) the company look after the primary education of the children of the workmen. At St.-Gobain, at Chauny, at Cirey, at Montlucon, and I believe, also, at Waldhof, it maintains schools for both sexes at its own expense, together with asylums and training schools for the children. In these there are now more than 1,400 children. When the company owns no such school it pays a subvention to the nearest school for the benefit of the children of its workmen.
Here at St.-Gobain the company owns a number of houses, each house having a garden and dependencies, which it lets to the workmen at an average rental of eight francs a month. I saw not long ago, at one of the stations on a line newly opened by the Great Eastern Railway Company of England, very neat and even handsome cottages well built of brick and thoroughly comfortable, which are leased to servants of the company at 2s. 6d. a week, or ten shillings a month. The houses I saw at St.-Gobain let at less than seven shillings a month, were quite as large as those of the Great Eastern Company, and the gardens were much larger.
I gathered from the remarks made to me at St.-Gobain by people who seemed to be both well-informed and well-disposed, that of late years the liberality of the company in regard to these houses has, in not a few cases, worked mischief rather than good. They are not confined to St.-Gobain, and the company owns and leases no fewer than 1,256 of them. A good many allotments of land around the factories are also made at nominal rates to the workmen, who cultivate them assiduously. The glass-founders are particularly favoured in making these leases and allotments. Besides these houses meant for families, the company provides lodgings near the factories for unmarried workmen, or for workmen whose homes are at a considerable distance from their work.
Within the buildings of the manufactory itself at St.-Gobain, M. Henrivaux showed me some such lodgings, as well as several bath-rooms which the workmen are allowed to use on the payment of a very slight fee. It is his experience that the workmen prefer to consider the bath as a luxury, and to pay for it.
All the relations between the company and its workmen, indeed, seem to me to be governed by a sensible avoidance on the part of the company of everything like fussy paternalism; and to this, in some measure, I have no doubt, must be attributed the remarkably smooth and easy working of these relations through so long a course of years. The workmen are treated, not like children, but like reasonable beings, who may be expected to avail themselves of advantages which are offered them with an eye at once to their own interests and to the interests of the company.
The co-operative societies at St.-Gobain and at Chauny, for example, were founded in 1866, not by the company, but by the employees of the company under statutes carefully drawn up by M. Cochin, and the company simply undertook to assist them; in the first place by leasing them, at a low rent, the buildings necessary for the business, and in the next place by taking charge gratuitously of their financial operations. The goods supplied are sold only to members of the societies, as in the co-operative stores in England. The transactions amount to about 1,500,000 francs a year, the goods are sold at prices below those charged in the local shops, and the members divide an average annual profit of from eight to ten per cent. The management is entirely in the hands of the members.
The company has founded at St.-Gobain a kind of savings-bank in which the workman may make deposits of from one franc to 400 francs, drawing interest at the rate of 4 per cent. per annum, until the maximum is reached, when the money is either paid back to the depositor or, if he prefers, invested for him, without charge by the company, in the public funds or in railway securities. In this way many of the workmen are coming to be small capitalists. If they wish also to become house-owners the company advances, at the lowest possible rate of interest, the necessary funds for the purchase, and workmen in good standing with the company find no difficulty in getting gratuitous advances of money repayable in small fixed amounts, upon showing good reasons for the advance. And in all the establishments of the company, except at Montlucon, where there is a special fund to give assistance in cases of accident or disease, the workmen and their families are entitled to medical advice and medicines at the expense of the company.
In addition to all these arrangements for promoting a real community of interests between the company and its employees, there is a pension fund out of which retiring pensions, varying from one-fifth to one-fourth of the wages earned by the pensioner, are granted to employees who have served the company for a certain number of years, or who find themselves disabled from further service by age or by disease. A certain proportion, determinable by the circumstances of each case, of these pensions is settled upon the widows and young children of the pensioners; and in order to encourage habits of thrift and forecast among the workmen, the company undertakes to manage without charge the investment of a certain proportion of his wages by any workman in the 'pension fund' of the national government.
The total outlay of the company upon these various methods of promoting a community of interests between itself and its employees amounted in 1888 to 438,033 francs, thus divided:—
francs Pensions 241,657 Medical Service 100,055 Schools and Religious Services 57,788 Recreations 17,667 Gifts and Assistance 19,758
The outlay upon 'recreation' is made in the form of subventions and prizes granted to associations of the workmen, such as shooting and gymnastic clubs and musical societies. The manufactory, for example, boasts a philharmonic society of its own, and there is a Choral Society of St.-Gobain. Both of these have scored successes in various public exhibitions. There is a rifle club, founded in 1861, and reconstituted in 1874, with an eye to the possible military necessities of the country.
The relations between the company and its employees under this system, the germs of which were planted here two centuries ago, have assumed such a character that the workmen habitually speak not of the manufactory but of the 'maison.' They are and feel themselves to be members of a great economic family. Of 2,650 persons now actively employed in St.-Gobain, Chauny, and Cirey, 432, or 16.3 per cent., have been employed for more than thirty years; 411, or 15.5 per cent., for more than twenty and less than thirty years; 553, or 20.9 per cent., for more than ten and less than twenty years; and only 1,254, or 47.3 per cent., for less than ten years.
It would be instructive to compare this record with the records of the most important industrial establishments in England and America during the past thirty years, and I should be glad to see this done by some of the people who talk so glibly in England and America of the inherent fickleness and instability of the French character, as offering an adequate explanation of the political catastrophes which have so often recurred in France during the past century.
One of the most curious features of the establishment at St.-Gobain is a subterranean lake. The fine forests around St.-Gobain and La Fere—forests of oak, beech, elm, ash, birch, maple, yoke-elm, aspen, wild cherry, linden, elder, and willow—flourish upon a tertiary formation. The surface of clay keeps the soil marshy and damp, but this checks the infiltration of the rainwater and therefore favours the growth of the trees. In the calcareous rock the early inhabitants hollowed out for themselves caverns, in which they took refuge from their enemies and from the beasts of the forest; and these caverns, called by the people creuttes—an obvious corruption of the name of crypts, given them by the Roman conquerors of Gaul, just as the early French trappers gave the name of 'caches' to the Indian hiding-places of the Far West—are to be found all about Soissons and Laon. The more modern lords of St.-Gobain, its monks and its barons, dug out of the calcareous rock the stones which they used to build their chateaux and their churches, and they created great creuttes beneath St.-Gobain. It seems to have occurred to M. Deslandes, during his long and skilful supervision of the works here, that these caverns might be put to the very practical use of securing an adequate water-supply. The idea has been thoroughly carried out, and the subterranean reservoir of St.-Gobain is much more impressive as a spectacle than the crypts of the Cisterns at Constantinople. It is kept filled to an average depth of one metre by the infiltration of the surface waters and by the overflow of a pond, La Marette, on the plateau of St.-Gobain, and it covers an area of some 1,200 square metres.