After two or three hours spent in visiting the various departments of the glassworks overhead, M. Henrivaux led me through winding passages, which reminded me of the dismal vomitories at Baiae, down into this strange underworld. Walls and pillars, partly of the natural rock, left in the working of the quarries, partly of masonry built up to strengthen the reservoir, give this weird water, when you reach it, the aspect rather of a stream than of a lake. A workman, who had preceded and guided us with a swinging lantern, put out a long boathook, and drew slowly around to the landing-place a long, shallow boat, into which he invited us to step. M. Henrivaux had kindly sent orders in the morning to have the reservoir illuminated with Venetian and Chinese lanterns of various colours. These had been hung from hooks in the rocks and pillars with infinite good taste at long intervals, so as to illuminate not too brilliantly the mystical darkness of the scene. Looking upon the vague, indefinite vista, as it glimmered away into an indefinable distance, one seemed really to stand
Where Alp, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless by man, Down to a shoreless sea.
Seating ourselves carefully in the boat, our silent boatman, like a spectral gondolier, rowed us silently along the labyrinthine canals of this dim and ghostly Venice. Vathek Beckford would have made them waterways to the Hall of Eblis.
IN THE AISNE—continued
The lively little city of Chauny, standing in the heart of the rich and lovely valley of the Oise, the 'golden vale' of this part of France, has a history of its own of which I shall presently have something to say, and which throws some interesting light upon the general history of France.
But Chauny owes its actual prosperity mainly to its connection with the Company of St.-Gobain. From a very early period in the annals of the company, the plate-glass made at St.-Gobain was sent across the country to Chauny, and thence by water to Paris, where it was polished and 'tinned' at the company's works in the Rue de Reuilly.
When the first machines were invented for saving much of the manual labour spent upon these processes, it occurred to the managers of the company that these machines might be advantageously worked with the water-power of the Oise at Chauny. This was in the beginning of the present century. About the same time, thanks to the foreign wars provoked by the Girondists to promote the Revolution, it became very difficult to obtain the supplies of natural soda necessary for the manufacture of plate-glass, these supplies having been drawn, down to that time, almost exclusively from Alicante in Spain; and the chemist Leblanc hit upon a process for extracting soda on a great scale from sea-salt. Of this invention the managers of St.-Gobain promptly availed themselves; and, after a brief and unsatisfactory experiment at a place called Charlesfontaine, they established at Chauny some soda-works, which have since been developed into the most extensive chemical works in France.
Taken in conjunction with the glassworks also now established here, these works extend over an area of some thirty hectares, fourteen of which are occupied by buildings. Numerous canals fed from the Oise traverse this immense area, some of them supplying water-power, others serving as waterways. The place, in short, is an industrial Amsterdam or Rotterdam in miniature, lying between the river Oise, the Canal de St.-Quentin, and the Canal de St.-Lazare. The Cite Ouvriere, built for the workmen by the company, lies beyond the Canal de St.-Lazare and on the road from Chateau Thierry in Champagne (the birthplace of La Fontaine) to Bethune in Artois.
The streets and areas within the works are most appropriately baptized by the names of the eminent men of science to whom the company is indebted for great services either directly or indirectly: the Cour Lavoisier, the Rue Pelouze, the Rue Guyton de Morvaux, the Rue Leblanc, the Rue Gay-Lussac, the Cour Scheele, the Rue Hely d'Oisset.
Besides the dwellings put up for the benefit of the workmen at Chauny, the company has built here a chapel, established a free dispensary, and organised excellent schools for the children of both sexes, under the supervision of the devoted Sisters, who have not yet been 'converted' out of Chauny.
'What is the feeling of the people here on this question of clerical teaching?' I asked an acquaintance of mine, who formerly filled an important post in the local administration of this region, and who now devotes himself to his flowers and his library in a charming old house of the eighteenth century, the high-walled courtyard of which is tapestried with luxuriant vines and creepers.
'All the sensible people in Chauny,' he said—'and there are many sensible people in Chauny, though in the old times our neighbours used to speak of us as "the monkies of Chauny"—are quite disgusted with all this newfangled nonsense, and with these incessant attacks on the clergy. The troublesome element here in Chauny is not to be found among the workmen: it is to be found among the people who do not work. Of course, everybody knows that it is the great chemical and glass works here which make Chauny prosperous. But for St.-Gobain we should be where we were a hundred years ago. And so there is a tendency all through the Department to come to Chauny, in hopes of finding work under the company. Of course, in nine cases out of ten, those who seek it thus do not get it, for it is the rule of the company always to give the preference to people from Chauny, or the immediate neighbourhood.
'Of course the unsuccessful "immigrants" linger about the place, and as they don't find work they go lounging about the town, and take to drink too often and, in short, soon become the raw material of which in these days the freemasons are making what they call "Republicans." You have it all,' he added, 'in the letter which M. Allain-Targe has just written, refusing to be a candidate this year for the Chambers.'
I remembered very well the energy shown by M. Allain-Targe, as a Republican Minister of the Interior, at the time of the elections of October 18, 1885. He then issued an official circular instructing all the public functionaries that, while they were to be absolutely 'neutral' as between Republican candidates of different colours, they must exert themselves to the utmost as against all 'reactionary' candidates. I was much interested, therefore, to learn the present opinion of M. Allain-Targe as to the outlook of the Republic under his successor, M. Constans, in 1889. It was very instructive to find that M. Allain-Targe now declines to be a Republican candidate because, to use his own words, though the High Court of Justice may 'deliver the Republic from General Boulanger and his confederates, it is beyond the power of the High Court of Justice to bring France back—let us not say to the heroic age, but to the age of good faith, of disinterestedness, of common sense, and of that prudent, sincere, and loyal policy, thanks to which, during long years, France passed safely through so many serious trials.'
'The new generations of electors,' says M. Allain-Targe in this remarkable letter, 'exact of their representatives conditions to which I will not submit. I will not undertake to make the promises which it is now the fashion of candidates to lavish, and which I cannot regard as serious.' These 'new generations of electors' are the 'new social strata' about which Gambetta used to declaim so confidently only a few years ago, and I quite agreed with my philosophic friend near Chauny in thinking that no slight significance must attach to such a verdict upon them, pronounced in 1889 by an 'advanced Republican' like M. Allain-Targe, who only four years ago, in 1885, was the most active minister of a Government called into existence to carry out the ideas of Gambetta, and to found a stable republic upon these 'new social strata.'
Put into plain English, this letter of M. Allain-Targe, who had more than any of his colleagues to do directly and in the way of business both with the electors and with the elected of France four years ago, and who now declines to have anything more to do with them all—simply means that the electors sell their votes to the highest bidder, and that the man who will make the most unscrupulous bid is likeliest to get the votes. It is hard to see much difference between such a verdict and the outspoken declaration of M. Paul de Cassagnac that law, order, property, and liberty in France are threatened to-day, not by a 'democracy,' but by a 'voyoucratie' or 'blackguardocracy.'
The 'anti-clerical' agitation here, as elsewhere in France, I am assured, is plainly under the control of the 'freemasons.' Not that the 'freemasons' are avowedly very numerous here. But they are influential because they act together, in silence, and on lines common to the agitation all over France. 'Three or four energetic members of the order,' said one very intelligent man to me here at Chauny, 'can easily manage the whole official machinery of a large political district. To understand their methods and their organisation you must go back to the worship of Baphomet in the Middle Ages. In some of their lodges they reproduce with a goat one at least of the abominations which Von Hammer tells us were charged upon the Knights Templars as Baphometic. They are a sect—a persecuting sect, and a sect bent on absolutely destroying the Christian religion. To this end they parody the Christian symbols and the Christian scheme of charity and of good works. They do not, most of them, hold office, it being much more to the purpose for them to awe the officials, and that is their favourite way of working. There are, however, exceptions to this. If you go to Marmande in the South you will find a sub-prefect there who is a most energetic and mischievous "freemason." In the Aisne the Prefect is a freemason, and here all the public functionaries go in fear of the order. They own the newspaper, control profitable contracts of all sorts, and can make or mar the career of public servants, through their occult relations with people at headquarters in Paris.'
I suggested that in England and Germany and the United States the 'freemasons' are not only regarded as friends of order and of law, but number among their dignitaries men of the highest official and personal rank.
'That is quite true, no doubt,' he said. 'But this order in France has, I believe, no official relations now with the order in either of these countries. Its affiliations are with the "freemasons" of Italy, of Belgium, and of Spain, so far as it has any affiliations. There have been "freemasons," as you must know, among the Radical leaders in Belgium who have not hesitated, while holding high public positions, to denounce Christianity in open meetings as a "corpse blocking the way of modern progress"; and what the freemasonry of Italy and of Spain is I am sure you must know.'
I told him that in Spanish America and in Brazil I had met priests who were members of the order; and I particularly cited the case of an ecclesiastic of considerable importance, who in Costa Rica, some ten or twelve years ago, was at the head of the Order of Freemasons in that country.
'That may be,' he replied, 'but officers of our expedition into Mexico under Maximilian have told me that the freemasons in Mexico were active allies of the Liberals and of Juarez in their war against the Church.'
This I could not contradict, for while I never heard that President Juarez was himself a 'freemason,' I know, from my conversations with him after the fall of the Empire, in 1871, that, though educated by the priests in Oajaca, as Robespierre was by the priests in Arras, he was an unbeliever of the type of the advanced Encyclopaedists of the last century, and though not such a fanatic as Condorcet, strongly disposed, not only to deprive the Mexican clergy of their 'fueros' under the old Spanish system, but to make an end of Catholicism in Mexico if possible. Nor was he much more friendly to the Protestants, who were then trying, under Bishop Riley, to found a Protestant propaganda in Mexico.
'In France, at all events under the Third Republic,' he went on, 'the "freemasons" are the implacable enemies of religion. It was in full accord with them, and as a battle-cry in their interest, that Gambetta uttered his famous declaration that "Clericalism is the enemy!" And if the "freemasons" of any other country recognise and in any fashion affiliate with the Grand Orient of France, they ought to understand what they are doing, and to what objects they are lending themselves, consciously or unconsciously. You tell me that General Washington was a freemason. Yes, no doubt, but the freemasonry which he accepted was no more like the modern "freemasonry" of France than this Third Republic of ours is like the republic of which he was the founder!'
The processes carried on in the great chemical works at Chauny are in their way as interesting as the processes carried on at St.-Gobain or in the glassworks here. But I cannot say they are as pleasant, or even as picturesque. Commercially speaking, the output of the chemical works of this great company is at least as important now as the output of its glassworks. The chemical works grew up out of the necessities of the glassworks. When the company was led, at the beginning of this century, by the pressure of the war epoch, to adopt in its glassworks the use of the artificial soda made by Leblanc, the Director soon found it advisable to have the artificial soda manufactured by the company itself. This led to the establishment of the chemical works at Chauny, and down to 1867 the company itself was the chief consumer of these chemical products. The Exposition of that year widened the horizon, by making France acquainted with the agricultural importance of the English fabrication of 'superphosphates' as fertilisers. At the Exposition of 1878 the Company of St.-Gobain exhibited, and received a gold medal, for superphosphates, which it was then turning out at the rate of 20,000 tons a year from three establishments—one at Chauny, one at L'Oseraie, and one at Montlucon. As the company was then turning out a great production of sulphuric acid, and owned the only important mine of pyrites in France, it went on with increasing energy, and now, in 1889, shows an output of 110,000 tons of superphosphates, from no fewer than six establishments—Chauny, Aubervilliers, Marennes, Saint-Fons near Lyon, L'Oseraie, and Montlucon. Besides these it possesses salt-works at Art-sur-Meurthe, its iron pyrites works at Sain-Bel, and some important deposits of phosphates at Beauval. These give employment to no fewer than 3,300 workmen, independently of those employed by the company at its various glassworks in the glass manufacture. At Chauny alone the chemical works employ 1,350 of these workmen. For these, as for its glassworkers, the company has established a system of savings institutions and of pensions. Medical advice and medicines are given gratuitously to the workmen and their families. The co-operative association founded by M. Cochin at St.-Gobain has not, I believe, been extended to the chemical works; but the company maintains establishments which supply the chief wants of the workpeople at cost price, and the dwellings provided for them, either gratuitously or at very low rents, now number more than seven hundred, independently of the dormitories for unmarried workmen. Retiring pensions, varying from one-fifth to one-fourth of the wages of the workmen, are granted to all after a certain number of years of service, and to workmen disabled by disease or by accidents.
At the pyrites-mine of Sain-Bel, in the South, near Tarare, where more than 400 workmen are employed—300 as miners and the rest in the works above named, the former earning on an average 1,309 fr. 25 c., and the latter on an average 1,114 fr. 90 c. a year—a system exists under which any workman who chooses to put aside his savings in a caisse de la vieillesse receives from the company, when he has completed twenty-five years of service, or has attained the age of fifty-five years, an annual pension more than equal to the amount at that time of his savings in the caisse.
As I have said, the manufacture of chemical products is not so pleasant or so picturesque in itself as the manufacture of plate-glass and mirrors. Within the last decade the output of sulphuric acid alone from the company's works has more than doubled, and now amounts to more than 200,000 tons a year. The gases disengaged in the manufacture of chemical fertilisers, such as carbonic acid, sulphuretted hydrogen, fluorine of silicium, and so on, it was found at Chauny, destroyed entirely in a very short time the polish of the glass in the window-panes of the houses opposite to the works, and certainly did not improve either the respiratory organs or the general health of the workmen. The company therefore spent a good deal of time and of money in working out a system for the complete condensation of these gases. I am told that it has proved completely successful, and is now established in all the chemical works of the company, to the great advantage not only of the workmen, but of the company also.
Although Chauny is really a very ancient city—dating back at least to the age of Charlemagne, when the monks of Cuissy and St.-Eloi-Fontaine, with the keen eye of those early agriculturists for a good thing, reclaimed its marshes and turned them into a fat land, yielding, as an old local dicton tells us, the
'septem commoda vitae, Poma, nemus, segetes, linum, pecus, herba, racemus.'
—it has almost nothing to show to-day in the way of antique architecture. Of the 'seven comforts of life,' the vine has vanished also; but all the others flourish abundantly, and the people of Chauny have little to complain of on the score of the natural resources of their region. During the wars, though, of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the place was so often taken and retaken that its buildings were pretty well battered to pieces. The English of Harry the Fifth stormed it in 1417, and England held it for a quarter of a century, during which period an incident occurred much more creditable to the burghers of Chauny than is the taking of the Bastille in 1789 to the citizens of Paris. Monstrelet tells the story in a quaint and vigorous fashion. Chauny at that time was part of the appanage of the Duc d'Orleans, then a prisoner in England, and it was held for the conquerors by a French, nobleman, 'Messire Collard de Mailly,' who had accepted the office of Bailli of Vermandois from King Henry of England. The burghers of Chauny, who had lived for two centuries in the enjoyment of the rights and privileges granted them in a royal charter by Philip Augustus, did not like this state of things at all. So they made up their minds to demolish the castle, lest 'Messire Collard de Mailly' should fill it with English soldiers and make himself quite unendurable.
It was a rather hardy enterprise, and the burghers went about it with great coolness and good sense. Theirs was a real rising of the citizens of a town to abate a nuisance which threatened their liberties, and not, like the attack on the Bastille, a blow struck at law, order, and the constituted authorities of a great kingdom by a subsidised mob; and their leaders were the most respectable men of Chauny—not a crew of thieves and murderers like the infamous Maillard, that 'hero of the Bastille,' against whom his own employers and allies were eventually forced to proceed as the chief of a gang of ruffians, and who, not content with assassinating political prisoners and stealing their property in Paris, roamed all over the Departments of the Seine and the Seine-et-Oise, torturing farmers to make them give up their money, and maddening the countryside with outrages not to be described.
Jean and Mathieu de Longueval, Pierre Piat, and other 'notable persons' of Chauny, bound themselves together by an oath, in 1432, to 'take the fortress of the city and demolish it.' They chose an occasion when the bailli, Collard de Mailly, and his brother, Ferry de Mailly, with some of their men, went riding out of the fortress 'to take their pleasure in the town.'
 That 'Pierre Piat' was a man of character as well as of substance appears from the fact that he was charged with seeing that his wife, the cousin of a rich and charitable lady of Chauny, Marie Martine de Feure, who died in 1400, should each year receive, under the will of this good dame, 'a large piece of linen cloth whereof to make shrouds for the poor who might die in the hospital of the Hotel-Dieu at Chauny.' Obviously there was much better stuff for the making of a true republic among these good burghers of Chauny in the fifteenth century than was to be
found among the shouting mobs of the Palais-Royal in the eighteenth.
With a few courageous 'companion adventurers,' previously posted in hiding near the castle, these determined burghers suddenly sallied 'forth from the place where they were watching the castle gates, and, no one paying any heed to them, entered the castle courtyard, drew up the bridge after them, and took possession.'
'News of this going after the two brothers, they were sore displeased, but they could do nothing,' says the chronicler; 'for the citizens who were in the plot straightway fell to sounding the tocsin, and gathering about the castle in great numbers, with arms and with sticks, were soon admitted into it.'
The castle being thus secured, 'sundry notables of the city went to meet the two knights, and assured them that no harm should come to them or theirs, for that what had been done was done only for the peace and prosperity of the city.' Quite different this from the cowardly murder of the Governor of the Bastille, struck down after his surrender by some of Maillard's confederates, while that scoundrel himself still had his hand upon the unfortunate De Launay's collar.
The 'Messires de Mailly' made the best of a bad business, and, with all their friends and followers, withdrew into an hotel in the town. There all their property was brought from the castle and delivered to them, which, having been done, the good people of Chauny 'with one accord fell to work to slight and demolish the said fortress, and this with such good-will that in a few days' time it was wholly razed and destroyed from top to bottom.'
The bailli and his brother soon departed out of the place, and 'Messires Hector de Flavy and Waleran de Moreul,' who were sent to govern it by the Comte de Luxembourg, 'found the citizens much more stiff and disobedient than they had ever been before the desolation of the aforesaid castle!'
After Joan of Arc had driven the English out of the realm, Charles VII. had the good sense to pardon the citizens of Chauny for destroying the castle, and it was never rebuilt. The Spanish occupied Chauny after their victory of St.-Quentin in 1557. Five years afterwards Conde and his Huguenots took the place, and did so much proselytising there that in 1589 Chauny was one of the first towns in France to recognise Henry of Navarre as King of France. It stood out for him when Laon and other important towns in this region had joined the League, and during his long struggle with the House of Guise it was a central point about which the hostile forces constantly manoeuvred. Henry himself came here often, and during the siege of La Fere 'La Belle Gabrielle' kept him company at Chauny, Sinceny, and Folembray.
In the next century the French and the Imperialists fought all around the place, to the great disgust of the poor peasants, who hid themselves as eagerly in the woods from the troops of their own sovereign as from those of his imperial enemy; and in 1652, Chauny, after a sharp but short siege, surrendered to the Spaniards, who, however, agreed, by the terms of the capitulation, to 'maintain the burgesses in all their goods, rights, privileges, charges, and offices.' The Mayor of Chauny, Claude le Coulteux, behaved so well in the siege, that Louis XIV. ennobled him; and the cure of the church of St.-Martin, it is recorded, fought at the ramparts, and 'pointed the cannon with his own hand.'
This was the last deed of arms in the annals of this little city, though the fortune of war has twice put Chauny under foreign rule. In 1814 the allies, and in 1870-71 the victorious Germans, occupied it, and laid it under contribution.
That the Revolution of 1789 left the citizens of Chauny much less determined to do battle for their rights than their ancestors were in the days of the English invaders, may be fairly inferred, I think, from the very curious circumstance that, in 1815, they actually made a public subscription for the purpose of presenting a very handsome gold medal, weighing two ounces, to the Prussian Commander of Chauny, Colonel Von Beulwitz.
This medal bore the inscription, in French, 'The grateful city of Chauny to M. Von Beulwitz, Commandant of Chauny.' The local authorities also asked, and obtained, for their Prussian satrap and his secretary the cross of the Legion of Honour!
All this was no doubt very creditable to the German authorities, and not discreditable to the good people of Chauny. But it certainly seems to show that at the end of the Napoleonic era, the French people in the provinces were thoroughly weary of the Revolution and all its consequences. They welcomed peace at any price from any quarter. The testimony of all impartial contemporary observers accords with the deliberate opinion given by Gouverneur Morris to Alexander Hamilton in 1796, that the French people in general were royalists at heart, and utterly averse to the general overthrow of their institutions by the legislative mob at Paris, or, as Mirabeau comprehensively called them, 'that Wild Ass of the National Assembly.'
At Chauny, in 1816, the inhabitants held a meeting under the presidency of the mayor, at which they declared, with great unanimity, that 'the people of Chauny had never, in fact and of their own free will, adopted the impious and seditious principles introduced in France by a factious minority, and that they regarded the death of the most Christian king, Louis XVI., as the most execrable of crimes.'
Chauny was a city then of less than 4,000 inhabitants, but the peripatetic 'patriots' of 1793 had contrived to do mischief enough, even in this small and quiet corner of France, to earn the detestation of its people. They desecrated its churches, turning Notre-Dame into a saltpetre factory, stealing the church bells to sell them, pulling down the steeples and towers, and defacing the monuments.
They arrested and imprisoned numbers of the best citizens, broke up the ancient hospitals, driving away the Sisters of Charity, and brought about the murder, by the revolutionary tribunals, of a celebrated French admiral, who co-operated in America with Rochambeau to secure the independence of the United States—the Comte d'Estaing, who was well known and very popular in Chauny.
When the tribunal, after its fashion, called upon the fearless sailor for his name, he replied, 'You know my name perfectly well,—it suits you, perhaps, to pretend that you do not. But when you have cut off my head, as you mean to do, send it to the English fleet, and they will tell you my name!'
Here at Chauny, as elsewhere, the first concern of these revolutionary 'friends of the people,' when they got possession of the machinery of the State, was to confiscate the funds devoted by the piety and the benevolence of past ages to the service of the people. The more closely one looks into the social annals of France, the more amazing it is that the world should so long have swallowed the monstrous misrepresentations current in our century, as to the condition of the French people before 1789, and especially as to the organisation, under the ancien regime, of public charity and of public education in France.
Chauny possessed, as far back as the beginning of the twelfth century, a public hospital or Hotel-Dieu, and a hospital for lepers called the 'Maladrerie.' Who founded the Hotel-Dieu is not known, for in those 'ages of faith,' so lovingly described by Kenelm Digby, it was not thought so extraordinary a thing that a man or a woman should devote his or her substance to benevolent purposes, as it is fast coming to be in our own times.
The mayor and sworn magistrates of the city were the official governors of the hospital, and the chaplain was taken from among the monks of Saint-Eloi-Fontaine. A century and a half afterwards, in 1250, the Abbot of Saint-Eloi-Fontaine received, under the wills of three burghers of Chauny, a sum equal to about 40,000 francs of our time for the service of the hospital of the Hotel-Dieu. It is worth remembering that the Third French Republic has passed a law forbidding ecclesiastics to receive or execute such benevolent trusts as this.
I have already alluded in a note to a subsequent legacy made to this institution in the fifteenth century by a pious dame of Chauny. A few years later, in 1419, Colart Le Miroirier, a resident of Chauny, left to the Hotel-Dieu all his lands and goods at Chauny, Ognes, and Roy.
The 'religious wars' wrecked the Hotel-Dieu in the sixteenth century; but in 1620 a devout woman, Marie Dubuisson, took the work of reconstruction in hand, and the citizens followed it up; so that, by the end of the seventeenth century, it was well in order once more, and it continued to be administered for the benefit of the poor of Chauny till the 'patriots' confiscated it in 1793.
Under the Empire, in 1811, the re-established hospital was combined with an orphan asylum, and both were put under the charge of the Sisters of Charity, one of whom, Sister Renee Canet, had the good sense to found here a little manufactory of hosiery and caps, which holds its own, I am told, despite the not very benevolent combinations against it of the local hosiers. The old buildings of the Hotel-Dieu, however, no longer exist, and the chief public hospital of Chauny is installed in a large edifice put up under the Second Empire in 1865, and known as the 'Hospice-Sainte-Eugenie,' in honour of the Empress. It says something for the common sense of the local authorities that they have not insisted on changing the name of the institution.
During the orgies of 1793 the paintpot was busy with all the streets and places of Chauny. The Rue de Premontre, so called because some property there belonging to the famous abbey of the Praemonstratensians, became the cul-de-sac or 'bag-bottom of Fraternity;' the Rue des Moinets took the name of Jean-Jacques Rousseau; while the Rue Ganton, the licensed abode of the social evil of Chauny, received, with exquisite tact and propriety, the name of the Roman hero Scaevola! The monastery of the Holy Cross, founded by Mary of Cleves, Duchesse d'Orleans, about the end of the fifteenth century, was confiscated, and made the headquarters of the Republican Commission, the street on which it stood receiving the name of the 'Bag-bottom of Vigilance,' from the banner which was borne upon public occasions through the streets by this commission, on which was depicted 'the Eye of Vigilance, a symbol of that exercised by it over the enemies of the Republic and the people.'
Another street in Chauny, the Rue des Bons Enfans, preserves the memory of the early foundation in the little city of public schools for the children of the poor—'les bons enfans escholiers.'
Where now stands the communal school of Chauny stood, I am told, a public college, founded here in the earliest years of the fourteenth century. The buildings of this college were restored under the Regency and Louis XV. They were confiscated, and the establishment swept away by the worthy Revolutionists of 1793, at the same time that they gave a public ball in the Church of Notre-Dame in honour of the Tree of Liberty, which the young girls of the place were expected to attend 'in dresses of white, symbolic of their innocence, and adorned only with their virtues!'
Besides this public college, Chauny, before the beneficent epoch of the Revolution, possessed a public school in each parish of the town. The schoolmaster, besides his regular scholars, who paid for their education, was expected to receive and educate eight poor children nominated by the mayor and sworn magistrates. For this he received, under Louis XIV., in 1706, forty setiers of wheat and fifty livres in money. It is interesting, also, to learn that the principal of the public college, when he happened to be a layman, received a salary, under Louis XIV., of 400 livres in addition to his dwelling-house. When he was a priest he received only 300 livres, but he might also receive 172 livres more as chaplain of the Hotel-Dieu. The well-to-do citizens who sent their children to the college paid for each child forty sols a year.
When law and order had been re-established by Napoleon in France, two citizens of Chauny, Carra and Dumoulin, in December 1802, got permission to re-open the college, which the Revolution had closed. It has never recovered its former importance however, and Chauny now possesses only a communal school, I am told, and two religious or free schools, besides the establishments maintained by the Company of St.-Gobain. One educational foundation of the ancien regime, however, still survives, in the bursaries of the Abbe Bouzier.
Antoine Bouzier d'Estouilly, priest, abbot of Notre-Dame-les-Ardres, doctor in science, doctor of the Sorbonne, canon and ecolatre of the collegiale of St.-Quentin, was a noble as well as a priest. He founded, on October 10, 1713, a fund for endowing two poor boys with the funds necessary to enable them, in his own words, 'to serve the Church as ecclesiastics, or the public in civil functions.' This phraseology is worth noting by people who are tempted to believe the nonsense current in our day to the effect that 'almost everything we know as modern civilisation in connection with institutions of a philanthropic sort has taken shape within the last hundred years, and is due to the influence of the Revolution of 1789 in France.'
Nothing can be wider of the truth than this. On the contrary, the progress of modern civilisation in connection with such institutions was distinctly checked and thwarted for a time in France by the shock of this Revolution, and in other countries by the horror and indignation which the follies and crimes of the French Revolutionists excited.
The foundation of the Abbe Bouzier was expressly intended by him to benefit 'the poorest' of those who should compete for its advantages, regard being had to their natural ability and aptitudes for study. Each beneficiary was to enjoy his scholarship for eight consecutive years, dating from his entrance into the third class. If he had got beyond the third class when he secured his nomination the difference was to run against him. For example, a scholar ready to enter the class of rhetoric who received a nomination was to hold his scholarship for six years only; if he was ready to enter upon the study of theology, law or medicine, for three years only; after the expiration of which another must be appointed to enjoy it. Provisions were also made to secure the good conduct of the beneficiaries. How this excellent foundation escaped the cupidity of the Revolutionists is not clear.
From June, 1793, to March, 1795, the Societe Populaire of Chauny, organised by emissaries from Paris, ruled the town absolutely. The official authorities of the city and of the district went in abject terror of them; for a denunciation sent to the headquarters in Paris by this society was like a report sent thither from an army in the field by one of the legislative spies who accompanied the generals of the Republic, and swaggered about in the camps wearing the mountebank costumes which may be studied with amusement and advantage in the museum of the Revolution established this year in the Pavillon de Flore at Paris. The members of this Societe Populaire openly pillaged the churches and convents, made domiciliary visits, sold certificates of 'civism,' and dictated the most extraordinary measures of confiscation and outrage. Their loudest leader was a certain Pierre Gogois, who used to wind up their meeting by singing songs of his own composition, addressed to the 'crowned brigands who were trying to re-establish the abominable monarchy with the help of their anthropophagous hordes!' These worthies abolished the school kept by the 'Daughters of the Cross,' confiscated their property, and set up their own headquarters in the convent.
In some way the Bouzier fund escaped their clutches, and it has been so well managed that in 1871 the income was found large enough to warrant the managers in establishing three scholarships instead of two.
The good example of the Abbe has been followed in our own times by a Christian lady, Madame Lacroix of Sinceny. In memory of her son, a Councillor-General of the Aisne, who was universally esteemed throughout the department, and who died at the early age of thirty-five, this lady founded, a few years ago in perpetuity, eight prizes, to be annually competed for by the pupils of all the communal schools of the canton of Chauny, and by the pupils of the schools established here by the Company of St.-Gobain, as well as four full scholarships at the School of Arts and Industries in Chalons-sur-Marne.
The prizes are to be competed for in applied geometry, in linear and ornamental drawing, as well as in all the obligatory studies of the schools concerned. The competitors for the four Chalons scholarships must be the sons of workmen, domestic servants, labourers, or persons employed in agriculture or in manufactures within the canton of Chauny, whose incomes or earnings do not amount to 2,000 francs a year.
In 1874 the Municipal Council of Chauny founded six purses of 450 francs a year, each to be competed for by candidates wishing to fit themselves to compete for the Lacroix scholarships, the successful candidates being left at liberty to enter any one of the free schools in Chauny. As Madame Lacroix has made the curates of the churches of Notre-Dame and St.-Martin ex-officio members of the council of her fund, it is to be presumed that the Government at Paris will find some way of striking these clergymen out of the list, as it has already struck all ministers of religion out of the local committees of supervision in educational matters throughout France, for a French Republic is nothing if not logical.
My likening of Chauny to a French Rotterdam or Amsterdam may be excused when I say that in the middle of the last century the Mayor of Chauny assured the Intendant of Soissons that the municipality had to keep up no fewer than twenty-seven bridges. What with the Oise and its affluents, and the many watercourses created about the place, either to drain the marsh lands or to facilitate navigation, Chauny really is an aquatic little capital like Annecy in Savoy. Naturally its citizens set a certain value on their fishing rights, and it may edify those who obstinately insist on regarding the feudal ages as ages of brute force, to know that so early as in 1175 the citizens of Chauny, by the lieutenant of the bailliage, Messire Regnault Doucet, asserted and successfully maintained before the royal representatives their right to fish in all the waters round about their town in all lawful ways against the pretensions of no less a personage than the Duchesse d'Orleans. In 1540 this right was confirmed to them anew, and it was then shown that at an inquest held in 1475 the witnesses had testified that from time whereof the memory of man ran not to the contrary no citizen of Chauny had ever been molested in the exercise of his right to fish in the waters of Chauny either on behalf of the Duc d'Orleans or on behalf of the King. The local archives, which are singularly rich and well-preserved, are full of instances like this, which show that the general current of life in this corner of France, long before the Revolution, was determined neither by the caprices of the great, nor by the passions of the mob, but by systematic considerations of law and of tradition, until for the confusion of France, and more or less of the civilised world, the natural evolution and development of law and order were suddenly and insanely interrupted through the inconceivable weakness of a most amiable and useless king, by the 'wild asses' of Mirabeau, acting in 1789 under the pressure of what so friendly an eyewitness of their conduct as Gouverneur Morris calls the 'abominable' populace of Paris.
So complete was the civilisation of this region long before the Revolution of 1789, that the mayor, the magistrates, and the citizens of Chauny, early in the seventeenth century, succeeded in breaking down and ruining an Italian gentleman, Cesare de Rusticis, who, thanks to Concini, had secured a royal patent for canalising the Oise from La Fere to Chauny. They got a notable advocate, M. Louis Vrevin, to draw up a protest against the enterprise in the most florid and elaborate fashion of the Plaideurs of Racine, and by dint of bombarding the King's Council with the names of Julius Caesar, Pompey, Xerxes, Sesostris, Cleopatra, Cicero, Tertullian, and others, got, in 1625, what we in America now call an 'injunction,' putting a stop to the works begun by this foreigner, who 'had come into France to fix the eye of curiosity upon the river Oyse and to disturb it.' And a century later I find an operation carried out here for converting a not very satisfactory private investment into cash at the expense of the State which really would not discredit the most ingenious American 'railway king' of our own times. This also concerned a canal, the canal which unites the Oise with the Somme. This waterway became the property in 1728 of a celebrated millionaire of that time, Antoine de Crozat, and after his death fell, in the division of his estates, to the share of his granddaughter, the Duchesse de Choiseul. It was not very profitable, and it represented a capital which ought to have yielded 2,200,000 livres a year. So a certain M. Laurent, who had built for the Duc de Choiseul his magnificent Chateau de Chanteloup, near Amboise (pulled down fifty years ago by Chaptal, the first great producer of beetroot sugar in France), undertook to get the canal turned into money. The plate-glass works of St.-Gobain were then under the direction of M. Deslandes, the clever nominee of Mme. Geoffrin. M. Laurent tried to persuade M. Deslandes to employ Picard coal (which could be brought by the canal) instead of wood in the furnaces at St.-Gobain. M. Deslandes made the experiment, but soon gave it up, as the coal smoke injured the plate-glass. He consented, however, to take four boatloads of the Picard coal and use it in the forges connected with the works. This was enough for M. Laurent, who went to Paris with an invoice of the four boatloads of coal, laid it before the Council with an elaborate paper setting forth the value to the canal of a traffic necessary to carry on the manufacture of the famous plate glass at St.-Gobain, and got the Council finally to purchase the Duchesse's canal on his own terms. I really do not see what M. Laurent had to learn either from the 'Contrat Social' of Rousseau or even from the American Declaration of Independence! If he had lived now he would have been a sharp competitor with a countryman of mine, of whom I am told in Chauny that he came here only a few years ago, inspected the chemical works, looked into the composition of certain heaps of rubbish thrown aside even by the sagacious managers of these works, and setting up near one of the canals a genuine wooden American shed, so applied to what he found in this rubbish certain processes for the vulcanisation of indiarubber as to produce at very low cost certain articles for which a great and increasing demand exists, and thus founded a considerable industry here. He has since turned his establishment over, I am told, to a company at a great profit to himself, and gone back 'to the Rocky Mountains.' I am sorry for this, for I should have been glad to 'interview' him!
IN THE AISNE—continued
It would be hard to find in France, or out of France, on a pleasant summer's day, a more charming drive than the highway which leads from Chauny, with its great modern industries and its lively, bustling people, to the little feudal town of Coucy-le-Chateau, perched upon its lofty hill and dominated by one of the grandest, if not, indeed, the grandest, of feudal fortress-homes.
I do not know that Gargantua would now find the people of Chauny as entertaining as Rabelais tells us they were in his time. Then he 'amused himself much with the boatmen, and above all with those of Chauny in Picardy—wonderful chatterboxes, and great at bandying chaff on the subject of green monkeys.' There is no lack of boatmen now at Chauny, though the railway has taken away much of their living; but the glory of the green monkeys, I fear, has departed. In the days of Gargantua, the Chaunois were as famous as the Savoyards now are, for wandering over France with trained monkeys and trained dogs. On October 1 in each year, on the feast of St. Remy, every one of these peripatetic citizens was expected to appear in his native town, there to join in a procession which marched from what is now known as the Port Royal to the Bailliage, bearing to the lieutenant-general of the king a traditional present in the form of a huge pasty, decorated with eggs and chestnuts, and surmounted by a pastry tower.
To the confection of this pasty the famous mills of Chauny, reputed the best in France, were bound to contribute five setiers of wheat, and the guild of the butchers a calf's head.
Before the procession marched a learned dog, trained to all manner of tricks and devices, and upon either side of the dog the town trumpeters, sounding their finest and loudest fanfares.
At the Bailliage the lieutenant-general received the procession, seated in a great chair of state in the midst of the hall, with wide open doors, that all the people crowding into the Place might see what went on within. Before this high functionary the learned dog advanced, quite alone, and performed all his best tricks. He then gave way to the bearer of the pasty. This having been gravely accepted, after the manner of a feudal homage, by the lieutenant-general, the bearer, passing it on to the servants of the Bailliage, proceeded himself to imitate as exactly and as skilfully as possible all the performances of his predecessor the learned dog, amid the shouting and applause of the multitude.
This over, a great silence fell upon the whole assembly, and it then became the duty of the performer, assuming an attitude of profound and deferential obeisance, to salute the lieutenant-general after a fashion more easily describable by Rabelais or by M. Armand Silvestre than by me, and which seems to have been derived from some of the singular rites attributed by Von Hammer to the Templars, as a part of the ceremonial observed by them in their secret conclaves.
When all this had been duly gone through with, the 'jongleurs' of Chauny received the Royal permission to resume their perambulations of the realm for another year, and the day wound up with junketings and jollifications all over the town.
The 'jongleurs' and the learned dogs and the green monkeys have passed away, with the lieutenant-general of the king. But I found a certain homely shrewdness and vivacity in the people with whom I talked as they went in and out of the 'Pot d'Etain,' the chief hostelry of the place, and the fact that this chief hostelry still keeps its good old-time name of the 'Tin Pot,' and has not changed itself into a 'Grand Hotel de Chauny,' seemed to me to argue a survival here of common sense and sound local feeling. The host of the 'Tin Pot,' a solid, well-to-do personage, learned in crops and horses, gave me a capital trap, shaded with an awning such as is worn on the delightful little basket-waggons at Nice and Monte-Carlo, and a wide-awake driver for my trip to Coucy and Anizy, on the way to Laon. His daughter, a decidedly good-looking young lady, not wholly unconscious of her natural advantages, who kept the guests of the cafe in capital order, seemed to have no high opinion of the powers that be in France. She took up an English sovereign which I laid down on the counter when settling a bill, and looked at it with much interest. 'That weighs more than a napoleon,' she said; 'and who is the young lady? She is pretty, and it is a good head.'
I explained that the lady was young because the coin was old, and that the head was the head of the Queen of Great Britain, who had reigned over that realm for more than fifty years.
'More than fifty years!' exclaimed the damsel; 'is it possible! And still the same queen! Ah! they are well behaved the English; no wonder they are rich. They are not such babies as we are!'
After passing through the well-built and neatly kept cites ouvrieres of the Chauny branch of the Company of St.-Gobain, and the little suburb of Autreville, the highway to Coucy-le-Chateau, and to the once royal city of Soissons, runs through such fine woodlands, alternating with parks and highly-cultivated fields, that one seems to be traversing a great private domain. The trees are as well-grown as any you see in England; the hedges are luxuriant, the roadway is admirably made and perfectly well kept. The Comte de Brigode has a handsome chateau here, standing well in a large park; and there is a good deal of hunting and shooting here in the season.
Near by, too, is the pleasant chateau of Lavanture, long the home of a branch established here of the once famous Dauphinese family of De Theis. It was brought here from the land of Bayard and of De Comines by a stalwart soldier, one of the lansquenet officers of Francis I., but its renown in Picardy is of a gentler and more humane type; and after giving a long succession of kindly and learned men to the public service through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it finally died out with Constance de Theis, Princesse de Salm, who was known under the Directory and the Empire in Paris as the 'Muse of Reason,' and the 'Boileau of Women,' and with her nephew, the last Baron de Theis, one of the most charming of men, and one of the most conscientious and accurate of archaeologists and collectors. The baron died in 1874. The 'objets d'art et de haute curiosite,' brought together by him with infinite pains and unerring taste into his chateau of Lavanture, were dispersed under the hammer of the auctioneer, and Lavanture itself passed into the possession of another race.
This whole region of the Laonnais and the Soissonnais is full of historic souvenirs. It may be almost called the cradle of the French monarchy. Its reasonably well authenticated annals go back to the Roman domination. Its mediaeval monasteries were among the richest; its mediaeval monks among the most learned and industrious and useful of France, draining the marsh-lands, reclaiming the wastes, clearing the forests. Its feudal barons were typical men of their order, alike in their virtues and in their vices. The seigneurs of Lizy and of Mareilly, of Esternay and of Roncy, of Mauny and Trucy, come and go through the archives of the towns and communes here, now defying the kings of France and trampling on the peasants, now standing by the peasants and still defying the kings; quarrelling with and plundering the Church to-day, doing penance to-morrow, and endowing chapels and convents. You continually come amid the smiling farms and fertile acres upon some shattered hold whose towers once rose above the hamlet and the church.
A region such as this in England would be rich, not in historic ruins and historic recollections alone, but in ancient strongholds of feudal power converted gradually, through the gradual progress of a strong and steadfast race, into stately modern homes. It would have its Warwick Castle and its Charlecote, its Guy's Cliff and its Stoneleigh, as well as its Kenilworth.
But in the great houses and the chateaux, of which there is no lack in the Laonnais and the Soissonnais, there is little now that is historic, save their names and their sites. They are standing witnesses to the essentially criminal and senseless character of the Revolution of 1789. The Jacqueries which Arthur Young found raging all over France during that year of ill omen were not much less brutal and they were much more inexcusable than the Jacqueries of 1357 for which the Comte de Foix and the Captal de Buch exacted the stern vengeance chronicled by Froissart. They were the cause and not the consequence of that emigration of the landed classes which contributed so much to the downfall of law and order in France.
They were one of the justifying causes, not one of the excusable consequences, of the armed coalitions of the Continent against Revolutionary France. Petion and the other scoundrels in Paris who stirred them up were doubtless 'political' criminals, to adopt a distinction without a difference much in favour in our times. But the peasants who took an active part in these crimes were simply brigands and assassins. They murdered men, they tortured women and children, they pillaged houses, while the King of France and Navarre was assembling the States-General to reform the abuses of the government. France was at peace with all the world. It was the fashion at Versailles and in the drawing-rooms of Paris to fall into spasms of sentimental emotion over periwinkles and over peasants—to rave about the instinctive nobility of human nature and the inherent Rights of Man. Never was any country in the world in less danger of being trampled under foot by 'tyrants and oppressors' than was France in 1789, when of a sudden, all over the kingdom, the peasants, who were about to be liberated and crowned with flowers, rose like wolves upon the landholders who were to liberate and to crown them—burst by night into defenceless chateaux, dragged tender women and young children out of their beds, and drove them out into the world penniless and to starve, demolished all the valuables they could not carry away, wrecked the buildings, burned the pictures, the works of art, and the libraries.
The 'Terror' of 1793 at Paris was black and vile enough. But the Terror of 1789 in the provinces was blacker and more vile. Arthur Young met on the highway seigneurs flying from their homes half-naked, with their families, in the vain hope of finding shelter in the nearest town. At Montcuq, in what is now the Department of the Lot, the peasants broke into the chateau of the Marquise de Fondani, and carried off all the grain, all the beds, a hundred and twenty sheets, forty-two dozen towels, fifty-four tablecloths, two hundred and forty chemises, eleven silk dresses, twelve dresses of Indian muslin, thirty-two pairs of silk stockings, five fine Aubusson tapestries. The plundered mistress of the house was driven out, to live on the charity of her friends. Her aunt, aged ninety-four years, was thrown upon a dunghill, where she died gazing on the peasants whom she had cared for and treated with kindness for years, as they divided among themselves her house-linen, her furniture, her plate, her porcelains, the very doors and windows of her home. All this was in the summer of 1789, long before a German trumpet sounded to arms on the French frontier. And all this went on throughout the glorious year 1789 all over France. At Mamers, on the Dive, in Brittany, in July 1789, while the Gardes-Francaises were dishonouring the uniform they wore and disgracing the name of France by joining in the cowardly attack of a howling mob on the Bastille, and protecting the ruffians who butchered the unfortunate De Launay, the estimable peasants of that place seized two ladies, Madame de Barneval and Madame des Malets, and beat their teeth to pieces with stones like so many Comanche savages.
The people of the city of Le Mans at the same time beat to death M. de Guilly, burned alive the aged Comte de Falconniere, broke into the Chateau de Juigne, cut off the ears and the noses of all the persons they found there, and drove them out with pitchforks, following and striking them till they died. In Provence similar horrors were committed at the same time, under the direct instigation of the local authorities, called there the consuls.
In August, 1789, M. de Barras was cut in pieces before the eyes of his wife. Madame de Listenay and her two daughters were tied naked to trees and tormented. Madame de Monteau and all the inmates of her house were tormented for eight hours and then drowned in the lake in her own grounds. At Castelnau de Montmirail, near Cahors, the head of one of two brothers, De Ballud, was cut off and the blood left to drip upon the face of the surviving brother; the Comtesse de la Mire was seized in her own house by the peasants and her arms cut to pieces; M. Guillin was slain, roasted, and eaten before the eyes of his wife. At Bordeaux the Abbes de Longovian and Dupuy were beheaded and their heads carried about on pikes. M. de Bar was burned alive in his chateau. All these horrors, and innumerable others not less revolting, were committed all over France in cold blood, before the advance of the 'standard of the tyrants' had set M. Rouget de l'Isle to composing the declamatory rigmarole of the Marseillaise. Is it possible to regard a revolution which began in this hideous, cowardly, and burglarious fashion with any feelings other than those inspired by the Gordon riots of 1780 in London? If the truth in regard to these things could have been known in America in 1789, as it may now be learned from the unanswerable testimony of authentic contemporary documents in France, there can be little doubt that Washington would have treated anyone who begged him to accept a key of the Bastille as he would have treated Dickens's Hugh or Dennis tendering to him a key of Newgate prison, with the compliments of Lord George Gordon.
From the private conversation and correspondence of the few Americans then in Europe who really knew what was going on in France, the most thoughtful and alert of our public men gathered enough of the truth to regard the first French Republic with loathing and contempt. Their general feeling on the subject is expressed in an entry in his diary made during the month of October, 1789, long before 'the Terror,' by Gouverneur Morris. 'Surely it is not the usual order of Divine Providence to leave such abominations unpunished. Paris is, perhaps, as wicked a spot as exists. Incest, murder, bestiality, fraud, rapine, oppression, baseness, cruelty, and yet this is the city which has stepped forward in the sacred cause of Liberty!'
This picture of Paris in 1789 is the more impressive that it was not drawn by a Puritan or a Pharisee. Gouverneur Morris was eminently what is called a 'man of the world,' His diary abounds in proofs that, to use his own language, he was 'no enemy to the tender passion.' Indeed, while the elections for the States-General were going on, he appears to have been almost as much interested in finding out the fair author of an anonymous billet-doux as in unravelling the politics of the day. He was not so much scandalised by the immorality as appalled by the lawlessness of the French capital. He foresaw the failure of the Revolution from the outset. A week before the States-General met in April, 1789, he wrote to General Washington: 'One fatal principle pervades all ranks. It is a perfect indifference to the violation of all engagements.'
He noted at the same time the fears of Necker lest it should be 'found impossible to trust the troops.'
Of the Tiers-Etat, when it had carried into effect the grotesque and senseless dictum, of the Abbe Sieyes, that the Tiers-Etat, having thitherto been nothing in France, ought thenceforth to be everything, Morris expected only what came of it under its self-assumed title of a 'National Assembly.' 'It is impossible,' he wrote to Robert Morris in America, 'to imagine a more disorderly body. They neither reason, examine, nor discuss. They clap those whom they approve, and hiss those whom they disapprove.... I told their President frankly that it was impossible for such a mob to govern the country. They have unhinged everything. It is anarchy beyond conception, and they will be obliged to take back their chains.'
All this was long before 'the Terror,' I repeat. It was long before 'the Terror' that the hotel of the Duc de Castries was stormed and pillaged in Paris by a mob because the son of the Duc, having been grossly insulted by a popular favourite, De Lameth, had called Lameth out, allowed Lameth's seconds to choose swords as the weapons, and then wounded Lameth. This monstrous performance the Assembly sanctioned.
'I think,' wrote Morris very quietly, 'it will lead to consequences not now dreamt of.'
In this same year, 1789, long before 'the Terror,' Morris, noting in his diary a conversation with General Dalrymple, a kinsman of the rather celebrated Madame Elliot, observes, 'he tells me of certain horrors committed in Arras, but to these things we are familiarised.'
It was this essentially criminal and anarchical character of the Revolution of 1789 which brought on 'the Terror,' not 'the Terror' which engendered the crime and the anarchy.
Why should 'horrors' have been committed at Arras in 1789? The contemporary documents show that the people in and about Arras were much better off in 1789 than they had ever before been. The renting value of farms about Arras was nearly or quite thirty per cent. higher in 1750 than it had been in 1700, and it was nearly or quite 100 per cent. higher in 1800 than in 1750. M. de Calonne cites a farm which had brought only 1,800 livres in 1714 as bringing, in 1784, 3,800 livres. Men paid these advanced prices not for the ownership of the land, which before 1789 carried with it certain social distinctions and advantages, but for the use, the productive and commercial use, of the land. The horrors of which General Dalrymple spoke, at Arras as elsewhere throughout France—here, in the Laonnais and the Soissonnais, in Provence, in Normandy, in Languedoc—were perpetrated not by a downtrodden peasantry, rising to shake off oppression, nor yet in the frenzy of a great popular rally to resist a foreign invader. They were an outburst of crime stimulated, no doubt, as we are now enabled, by fearless and conscientious investigators of the documentary history of France, to see, by cabals of political conspirators at Paris, just as the Gordon riots at London in 1780 were stimulated by anti-Catholic fanatics. But in both cases the perpetrators were governed by the mere lust of pillage and destruction. Chateaux were broken into, sacked, and burned here in the Laonnais and the Soissonnais, as Lord Mansfield's house was broken into, sacked, and burned in London, because they were full of valuables to be looted. As the drama went on, other passions came into play—passions not less but more ignoble than the mere savage lust of plunder and destruction. A branded rogue and libeller, Brissot, hurried back from his exile beyond the Atlantic to compete with Camille Desmoulins in that noble work of 'denouncing' his fellow-citizens, which earned for Camille the ghastly title of 'procureur de la lanterne.' Madame Roland, 'the soul of the Gironde,' sustained, inspired, and animated that most mischievous group with all the concentrated fires of envy, jealousy, and revenge, which had smouldered in her own heart from the time when, as a girl of seventeen, she had passed a week 'in the garrets' of the palace at Versailles with Madame Le Grand, one of the tirewomen of the Dauphiness. The firmness with which Madame Roland met her own fate on the scaffold has been sufficiently celebrated in poetry and in prose. But it is wholesome also to remember the ferocity with which, in the 'glorious' month of July, 1789, a fortnight after the capture of the Bastille, she clamoured for the blood of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. In 1771 Marie Phlipon, the engraver's daughter, a girl of seventeen, educated, as her own Memoirs tell us, on 'Candide,' the 'Confessions of Rousseau,' and the 'Adventures of the Chevalier de Faublas,' came away from Versailles so gangrened with envy of the glittering personages among whom she had been condemned to play the part of a humble spectator, that 'she knew not what to do with the hatred in her heart.' In 1780 she took as her husband M. Roland, a small Government official. He styled himself M. Roland de la Platiere, from the name of a small estate which belonged not to him but to his elder brother, an excellent priest and canon of Villefranche (who, by the way, was guillotined at Lyons in 1793), and in 1781 his young wife made him take her to Paris, where they spent some time in vain efforts to secure letters patent of nobility! The efforts failing, they went back to live at Lyons, where M. Roland was an inspector of manufactories, and from Lyons, in July, 1789, Madame Roland, now become at last a most classical Republican, wrote to her friend M. Bosc (who afterwards published her Memoirs), a letter denouncing the timidity of their political friends. 'Your enthusiasm,' she exclaims, 'is only a fire of straw! If the National Assembly does not regularly bring to trial two illustrious heads, or if some generous imitators of Decius do not strike them down, you will all go to the devil.'
I soften and tone down the final phrase of this extraordinary outburst, for though in the original it is but an indecorum as compared with that famous passage in the 'Memoirs of Madame Roland' which M. de Sainte-Beuve gracefully describes as 'an immortal act of indecency,' it is yet an indecorum of a sort more tolerable in the French than in the English tongue. If the style is the man, the style is also the woman. In 1771 Marie Phlipon 'knew not what to do with the hatred in her heart.' In 1789 Marie Roland, then on the eve of her appearance upon the public stage of the Revolution, had found 'what to do with the hatred in her heart.'
In this letter to Bosc we have the 'soul of the Gironde' tout entiere a sa proie attachee. She clung to her regicide purpose with the tenacity of a tigress. Everything which furthered it she approved, everything which retarded it she denounced. When the king and queen were brought back captives from Varennes to Paris in June 1791 she wrote, in an ecstasy of delight, to Bancal des Issarts, that 'thirty or forty thousand National Guards surrounded our great brigands'; and her desire was that 'the royal mannikin should be shut up, and his wife brought to trial.' She was then inclined to favour the scheme of a regency, of which her ally Petion should be the chief. We know from his own nauseating account of his conduct while journeying back from Varennes to Paris with the unfortunate royal family, how unbridled were Petion's dreams of his own probable share in this regency; and by a very curious coincidence a passage in the diary of Gouverneur Morris confirms, on the authority of Vicq d'Azyr, the Queen's physician, Petion's odious revelations of his own vanity and vulgarity.
Under the spell of this scheme Madame Roland seems for a time to have suspended her merciless pursuit of the sovereign whom she hated. She even got so far as almost to regret the failure of the royal fugitives to escape. Why? Because their escape 'would have made civil war inevitable!' These are her own words in a letter written to Bancal des Issarts, June 25, 1791: 'We can only be regenerated by blood!' This was the horrible core of her Republican creed.
It made her the ally, the accomplice, the apologist by turns of all the most sanguinary wretches who grasped at power in her distracted country—of Marat, when in a spasm of unusual energy La Fayette sought to suppress his abominable journal; of Robespierre, whose eventual triumph was to seal her own fate and that of all her personal friends, including the one man whom in all her life she seems to have passionately loved; and of Danton, red with the blood of the helpless prisoners butchered in these massacres of September 1792, of which her husband, then a member of what called itself a 'Government' in France, did not hesitate publicly, and under his official signature, to speak to the people of Paris in these terms: 'I admired the 10th of August; I shuddered at the consequences of the 2nd of September' (at the consequences of the horrors that day perpetrated, as M. Edmond Bire very aptly points out, not at all at the horrors themselves); 'I well understood what must come of the long-deceived patience and of the justice of the people. I did not inconsiderately blame a first terrible movement, but I thought that it was well to prevent its being kept up, and those who sought to perpetuate it were deceived by their imagination!'
This monstrous language was used by Roland in a placard published on the walls of Paris on September 13. The massacres had not then really ceased, and the 'first terrible movement' seemed likely to be followed by a second not less 'terrible,' which might make things dangerous, not for the prisoners huddled under lock and key only, but for certain members of the Legislative Assembly, the Girondists themselves!
Is it conceivable that now, after a hundred years, rational beings should look back with any feelings but those of contempt and horror upon these 'patriots' of 1789? Madame Roland, 'the soul of the Gironde,' was simply the soul of a conspiracy of ambitious criminals masquerading in the guise of philanthropists and philosophers. There is something biblical in the dramatic completeness of the chastisement which overtook this unhappy woman. 'They that take the sword shall perish by the sword.'
The murder of the king, which Madame Roland did so much to compass, led not indirectly to the ruin of her own most trusted political friends and associates. The murder of the queen, for which she had longed and laboured, was brought to pass, on October 16, 1793, by men who had then made up their minds to send herself to the scaffold, and who sent her to it, three weeks afterwards, on November 8, 1793. In the ridiculous revolutionary calendar of the epoch, this date stood as the 18th Brumaire; Year II. It was celebrated six years afterwards on the 18th Brumaire of the year VIII. of the Republic, by the advent to supreme authority of the Corsican soldier who was to found a despotic empire upon the results of that 'universal war' into which France had been insanely driven by 'the soul of the Gironde.' A mere coincidence, of course! It was a mere coincidence, too, that the Girondist, Dufriche-Valaze, who, at the trial of Louis XVI., especially gratified the personal malignity of Madame Roland by the insolence with which he treated the royal captive, should have tried to save his own head when he and his comrades at last were writhing in the iron grip of Robespierre, by eagerly denouncing his friend and associate, Valady, as the real author of a particularly virulent placard intended by the Girondists to turn the fury of the Parisian mob against the Jacobins! Seeing that he had disgraced himself to no purpose, the wretched creature, who had contrived to conceal a dagger about his person, drew it out when the merciless prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville, rising in his place, demanded, on October 29, 1793, that all the Girondists then on trial, having been found guilty by the jury—though no plea had been heard in their defence, and the judge had not summed up—should be instantly condemned to suffer death and the confiscation of their property under the Law of December 16, 1792—a law passed by the Girondists themselves, and highly approved by 'the soul of the Gironde.'
Unobserved in the general excitement Valaze drove the dagger into his heart, and crying out, 'I am a dead man!' fell bleeding to the floor. When his companions had been removed by the guards, Fouquier-Tinville rose again in his place, and requested that the tribunal would order the corpse before them to be taken with the living criminals to the Place de la Revolution, and there with them guillotined!
From this even the Convention shrank. But the dead body of Valaze was in fact carried in a little cart through the streets of Paris, behind the dismal cortege of the condemned, 'lying stretched upon the back, and the face uncovered,' on October 31. After the execution was over it was flung, with the remains of his companions, into a great pit.
This was the end, for Madame Roland and her worshippers, in four short years, of the 'great reformation' of which, on May 17, 1790, she had written to one of her friends that it could only be carried through by 'burning many more chateaux!'
For France, and the French people, the end of it, I fear, has not yet come.
Rapine and confiscation have not been unknown, unfortunately, in the history of any civilised State. But under what modern government, excepting the government of the first French Republic, has sheer pillage, mere downright robbery, been recognised as a legitimate instrument of political propagandism, and, in fact, as a title to property? While the Girondists predominated in France, Brissot, self-styled de Warville, was their avowed leader; and Brissot, ten years before the Revolution, in his 'Philosophic Researches into the Rights of Property, and Robbery considered in the Light of Nature,' published at Chartres in 1780, had laid it down as a great principle that 'exclusive ownership is, in Nature, a real crime.' 'Our institutions,' said this worthy man, 'punish theft, which is a virtuous action, commended by Nature herself.' Clearly such 'institutions' needed a great reformation. It came. France was 'regenerated by blood,' and the disciples of Rousseau widened the area of human happiness, not by burning only, but by 'looting' all the houses they could break into.
The chateaux having been duly pillaged and burned, and their owners driven to fly for their lives, the government, controlled by the 'principles' of Brissot, made emigration a crime, seized the remaining property of the 'emigrants,' and turned it over with a national title, to other people!
A most interesting and valuable chapter in history is still to be written on the relation of the French Revolution to property in France. Such a history cannot be written by the unassisted light of the statutes and the code. Family records, private correspondence, the reports and despatches of the diplomatic agents of the successive French Governments between 1789 and 1799, must all be laid under contribution, if we are to get at the truth concerning the conditions under which a very large proportion of the land of France passed during that period, from the ownership of men who had much to lose by the changes of the Revolution, into the ownership of men who had everything to gain from those changes.
The landed proprietors of France were driven into emigration, not that France might be free—for France was much more free before the emigration began in 1789 than she was in 1791—but that other people might get possession of their estates. Without understanding this, it is impossible to understand some of the most atrocious measures adopted, chiefly while the Girondists were masters, first by the Legislative Assembly, and then by the Convention, in regard to 'emigrants.'
This subject was evidently dealt with in the Assembly and the Convention, as the American Colonel Swan discovered, in 1791, that the tobacco question was dealt with—'by a knot of men who disposed of all things as they liked, and who turned everything to account.'
On October 23, 1792, for example, a decree was adopted inflicting the penalty of death on any emigrant who should return to France! A fortnight later, on November 8, 1791, a similar decree made it a capital offence for any 'emigrant' to enter a French colony!
The first of these decrees was levelled at emigrants whose estates had been seized by the 'popular societies' all over France, and sold, or put in the way of being sold. The second was aimed at the owners of estates in such colonies as Hayti, then one of the richest and most flourishing, as it is now one of the most wretched and uncivilised islands in the world. A curious 'Minute Book' of the 'Friends of Liberty' at Port-au-Prince, which was given to me in 1871 by an old French resident of Santo Domingo, contains a list of the great proprietors of the island, annotated and marked in a way which indicates that a systematic plan of action against them was either then adopted, or about to be adopted, by the agents of the 'Friends' at Paris. As the spoliation went on, the decrees became more and more Draconian. In March and April 1793, it was decreed that 'any person convicted of emigration, or any priest within the category of priests ordered to be transported, who should be found on French territory, should be put to death within twenty-four hours!' As in many cases the question of the crime of emigration was to be decided by persons actually enjoying the property of the alleged emigrant, this short shrift was a most effectual 'warranty of title.'
On March 5, 1793, it was decreed that, 'any young girl aged fourteen or more, who, having emigrated, should have come back and have then been sent out of France by the authorities, and who should return to France a second time, should be forthwith put to death.' This is perhaps the most shamelessly felonious of all these felonious decrees, adopted, be it remembered, while Madame Roland was still the 'soul of the Gironde,' and still taking an active part in the preparation and promulgation of all the acts of the State!
The object of this abominable decree was obvious.
In some cases the property of families in France was actually saved and carried through the tempest of the Revolution by young girls, who fearlessly faced all the horrors of the time, remained in their homes, and, supported by a few faithful friends and servants, such as for the credit of human nature and the confusion of Schopenhauer, are really sometimes to be found doing their duty in such emergencies, successfully maintained their right to the estates of their fathers. Near the picturesque old capital of Le Puy in the Haute-Loire, Mademoiselle Irene de Tencin, after her father was driven from his chateau, remained there with her young brother and a few loyal servants—maintained her rights, collected what money she could, bought assignats for gold, and so bought back the confiscated land and the furniture of her home. A tailor of Le Puy wished to marry her, and the 'Republican' council threatened her with death if she refused! 'Death on the spot!' she replied. Then they actually locked her up in prison for a year! But she held out to the end and carried her young brother safely through until the days of law came back. The decree of March 5, 1793, condemning girls of fourteen to death in certain cases, was intended to prevent 'emigrants' from sending back any more daughters of this type to France, to represent the rights of the family.
About this there can be no manner of doubt. Could a more signal proof than this decree affords be given of the essentially predatory and criminal direction which was given to the domestic policy of France by the 'knot of men who disposed of all things as they liked, and who turned everything to account'? They had their tentacles out all over France. The 'Societes populaires,' of which I have seen it stated by writers of authority that no fewer than 52,000 existed, and were at work in 1792, served them everywhere, the local leaders of these 'societies' of course sharing with them in the general booty according to their several deserts.
The story of a single family in Provence, as told in an admirable monograph by M. Forneron, illustrates perfectly the methods and the results of this organisation of confiscation in the name of patriotism and philanthropy.
When the States-General were summoned in 1789 the Marquis de Saporta, a kinsman of the great house of Crillon, now represented by the Duchesse d'Uzes, was the seigneur of Montsallier, a domain near the ancient and picturesque little city of Apt between Avignon and Vaucluse. His own estate was large, and he had greatly increased it in 1770, by marrying a daughter of one of the richest planters in Hayti. Like many other men of his rank at that time, he was an ardent admirer of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and a firm believer in the native nobility and general perfectibility of man. He was a very popular landlord, and his generosity was equal to his wealth. During six months of a severe famine he fed the peasants of Montsallier at his own expense. He was one of the believers in Madame de Stael's man of destiny, her father, the Genevese banker, Necker. In November 1790 he was elected constitutional mayor of Apt, and inducted into office 'with much applause' by a solemn service in the parish church. In February 1791, a local patriot named Reboulin surnamed the 'Roman,' and an armourer named Thiebault who had joined the Marseilles club, and consequently were in correspondence with Paris, organised a systematic attack upon the Marquis. 'This man,' they said at Marseilles, 'is an enemy of the constitution by reason of his rank and of his rage at what is going on. He is a ci-devant noble, who became mayor by intrigues and cabals.'
From that moment no peace was given to the Saporta family till, one by one, they were driven out of France. The Marquis held out bravely as long as he could, and was the last to leave. When his wife left he gave her a passport signed by himself as mayor, in which he described her as the 'citoyenne Laporte,' the object of this being that no evidence should exist to show that Madame de Saporta had really 'emigrated.' In default of such evidence there was some chance that her property rights might be respected.
After the fall of the Directory the Saportas ventured to come back, and in 1800 they finally recovered so much of their property as had not before that time been sold 'by the State.' There was not much left. A sister of the Marquis, the Marquise d'Eyragues, who had enjoyed a very large income before the Revolution, wrote to her nephew in 1800 that she esteemed herself very happy to recover a 'house to live in and two thousand francs a year.'
Here in this beautiful region around Laon and Chauny and Coucy, the story of those evil days is told almost as instructively by the properties which then escaped ruin as by those which, like the estate of the Saportas, were confiscated and broken up.
In the eighteenth century it was full of fine buildings—chateaux, churches, monasteries, hospitals. Go where you please, you come upon the sites of edifices, once local centres of civilisation, which were pillaged, burned, and demolished, while the 'national agents' ruled the provinces for the benefit of the speculators at Paris. Here stood the stately Chateau de Molerepaire, of which nothing now remains but a farmhouse; there, the ancient parish church of St. Paul at Mons-en-Laonnois, one of the finest in the district, now utterly gone, all its materials having been sold for the profit of certain 'national agents' in 1794. Wissignicourt possessed in 1789 one of the most beautiful churches in Northern France and two considerable chateaux. The church of St.-Remi was first robbed of all its ornaments, and finally, in 1793, completely demolished.
The Chateau de la Cressonniere, built in the sixteenth century by Claude de Massary, and inhabited by his descendants as resident landlords until the Revolution, has entirely disappeared. Of the Chateau de Wissignicourt, founded in the twelfth century by a baron of the great Picard family of De Hangest, some portions still exist. But this little commune, which occupies one of the most naturally charming sites in the Laonnois, between Anizy and Laon, is indebted to the 'patriots' of Chauny, who domineered over it during the Revolution, for the annihilation of local features, which in these days of railway travel and picturesque tourists would have materially enhanced the value of its not very fertile territory. These buildings, these chateaux and churches, were part of the accumulated capital of France, and certainly not the least important part of the accumulated capital of the commune of Wissignicourt. If they had been destroyed in the heat of conflict, as so many such buildings were destroyed in this country during the wars of religion, and in Germany, and even in Great Britain, the philosophers might have some plausible pretext at least for citing their favourite proverb that you 'cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs.' And we might be invited to set off, against this loss of accumulated capital, certain important gains in the way of more liberal institutions and an enfranchised industry. But this is not the case. The vandalism of the Revolution of 1789 was perpetrated in cold blood. I speak, of course, now of the real authors of it all, at Paris, not of the mere mobs in the provinces, hot with the sordid lust of plunder or with personal spites and rancours—and it was perpetrated for the profit of those who promoted it. The bronzes and brasses and lead and hammered iron of the desecrated churches were turned into money, and the money went into the pockets of the 'patriots.' Monuments that would now be priceless were destroyed, for example, at St.-Denis, not in the least that the metal might be cast into cannon—I am told the military records show that the republican armies fought their battles, when finally they got to fighting them, exclusively with the artillery of the monarchy—but that the metal might be sold in the markets, and the proceeds confiscated by the vendors. Certain rogues at Chauny and their employers in Paris were doubtless the richer a hundred years ago for the desecration of the Church of St.-Remi and the pillage of La Cressonniere and the Chateau de Wissignicourt. But Wissignicourt and its people are the poorer to-day for these performances.
An instructive estimate might be made of the dead loss which the little city of Bourg-en-Bresse would have sustained during the past century if the sensible Savoyards of that place had not cunningly protected the magnificent statue-tombs of Marguerite d'Autriche, Marguerite de Bourbon and Philibert le Beau in their grand old church of Notre-Dame de Brou, against the rapacity of the revolutionary 'operators,' by cramming the whole church full of straw and hay.
Soissons, in reality one of the very oldest cities in France, the seat, when Caesar first assailed it, of a Gallic prince, whose authority extended beyond the Channel into Britain, and the cradle long afterwards of the first Frankish monarchy, might be taken, so far as its general aspect goes, for a creation of the Second Empire, were it not for its beautiful old cathedral, sadly damaged in 1793, but very successfully restored, and for the graceful towers of St.-Jean-des-Vignes. These latter were rescued with extreme difficulty by the townspeople themselves from the felonious fury of the democratic operators, who despoiled their city for ever of all the rest of that superb castellated abbey. Of St.-Medard without the walls, which, were it now standing, would be to the history of the French people what Winchester Cathedral is to the history of the English, only the subterranean chapels remain. The materials and the contents of the abbey itself were turned into cash.
St.-Medard-lez-Soissons was only one of eighteen considerable Benedictine abbeys which down to the Revolution existed within the limits of the modern department of the Aisne of which Laon is the chief town. Besides these, this region, the early reclamation and cultivation of which, as I have already said, was chiefly due to the monastic orders, possessed, before 1793, sixteen abbeys and monasteries of the Premonstratensians. The mother abbey of this great order, founded by Saint-Norbert in the twelfth century, commemorates in its name the great agricultural work done by him and his disciples. Premontre, 'the meadows of the monastery,' was the chief seat of the Order which a hundred years ago comprised more than eighteen hundred monasteries, the chapters-general of which were held here. The vast and stately buildings of Presmontre are still standing. They were constructed on a scale of royal grandeur, worthy of the Order, under the Abbe de Muyn, towards the end of the reign of Louis XIV., and they much resemble the buildings erected at the same time at the Grande Chartreuse, near Grenoble. Like these, they were seized upon in 1793 by the revolutionists. But in both cases the buildings were saved, those of the Grande Chartreuse because there was no temporal use to which they could be put, standing, as they do, high up above the gorges of the Guier, in their glorious solitude amid the pine-forests of Dauphine; and these of Premontre for exactly the opposite reason, because they were available for purposes more profitable than the sale of their materials was likely to be. They were converted first into a saltpetre factory by the little knot of financial operators who bought them for a song as 'national property.' Afterwards an attempt was made to establish glassworks in them. Then they became an orphan asylum, and now they are a great asylum for lunatics!
St.-Jean-des-Vignes at Soissons, already mentioned, was the only monastery of the Joannists in France, and it was one of fifteen Cistercian abbeys in this region. The remaining ruins of the church of one of these Cistercian abbeys at Longpont, near Soissons, vindicate its ancient fame as one of the jewels of French religious architecture. It was built under St.-Louis, and consecrated in his presence. It shared, in 1793, the fate of the almost equally beautiful church of St.-Leger at Soissons, the apse, transepts, and cloisters of which, even in their present condition, suffice to show what Soissons lost when it was looted and desecrated. A worthy bishop of Soissons, M. de Garsignies, bought what remained of St.-Leger in 1850, and established there a seminary.
Add to these edifices those of twelve commanderies of the Temple, ten commanderies of St. John of Jerusalem, two Chartreuses, ten collegiate churches, and more than a hundred and fifty priories, nunneries, and other religious communities, and it will be seen what a grand field of enterprise and speculation was thrown open in the Laonnais and the Soissonnais to the disciples of Brissot de Warville and of Condorcet by the seizure of the Church property alone.
Scarcely less numerous than the religious edifices in this region were the chateaux. Of these comparatively few are now standing, either as picturesque ruins or as residences. The bas-reliefs and tapestry of the ancient buildings of La Ferte-Milon, the birthplace of Racine, are still worthy of a visit. Of Nanteuil, a fine chateau of the time of Francis I., a single tower remains. The magnificent manor-house of the Ducs de Valois at Villers-Cotterets (a little beyond the limits of the region I am now treating of) was made an historic monument by Napoleon III.; but it is none the better for base uses against which it surely ought to have been protected as the birthplace of Alexandre Dumas by the ghosts of Porthos, Athos, and Aramis! The towers and the donjon of the Chateau of Nesle on the Somme, whence sallied forth, in the time of Louis XV., the four much too famous sisters De Mailly, were not so maltreated in 1793 as to be quite uninhabitable when the first Napoleon passed a night there, during his final struggle for empire; and there still is to be seen the old Lombard-Roman church of St.-Leger, wherein was held a council strong enough to coerce Philip Augustus into doing what Henry VIII. refused, three centuries afterwards, to do, and to make him take back his divorced queen Ingelburga of Denmark. Braisnes, planted upon a peak, overlooks what is left of the exquisite twelfth-century church of St.-Yved, ruthlessly battered and abused in 1793, and robbed of certain matchless monuments in enamelled copper for the benefit of a syndicate of patriotic rogues. The Chateaux de Gandelu, de Neuville, de St.-Lambert are ruins. The lordly cradle of the great House of Guise; the tower of Marchais in which, tradition tells us, the League was first conceived by which the princes of Lorraine were backed in their struggle for the throne of France; the keep of Beaurevoir, one of the prisons of the Maid of Orleans—these may be seen. Of how many others, the names of which ring out as from a chronicle of French history, nothing but the names is left! Caulincourt, Coeuvres d'Estrees, de Bohain de Luxembourg, d'Armentieres, de Conflans, de Conde, de Comin, de Buzancy, de Puysegur.