Two of the most important chateaux in this region in 1789 were those of Pinon and of Anizy. The first still exists, and stands substantially as it then stood, and is now admittedly the finest in the Laonnais. The second was wrecked and demolished. It is perhaps worth while to tell what befell Anizy, and how Pinon escaped.
Both Anizy and Pinon are of very ancient origin.
Anizy seems to have been a fortress of the Emperor Valentinian in the fourth century, and it was pillaged by the Vandals in the fifth. On December 26, 496, Clovis, in recognition of the baptism he had received on the preceding day at the hands of St.-Remi in the cathedral church of Reims, gave the lordships of Anizy, Coucy, and Leuilly to that prelate. Two years afterwards St.-Remi, who had made Laon a bishopric, gave Anizy to his nephew St.-Genebaud, the first bishop of Laon, to be held and the revenues thereof to be applied by the bishops of Laon for ever to the benefit of the poor of that diocese. He coupled the gift with a solemn curse and anathema upon all who should ever disturb or misapply the donation. From that time to 1789 Anizy was a lordship of the bishops of Laon, who in time were made dukes and peers of France.
The annals of Laon attest the loyalty through long ages of the bishops of Laon to the injunctions laid upon them by St.-Remi. The Normans came to Anizy, for example, in 883, and pillaged and ruined the place. Four years afterwards the bishop of Laon founded there a hospital, or Hotel-Dieu, for the poor and infirm of the diocese, and the king, Charles le Gros, endowed it handsomely. In 904 Jeanne, sister of Raoul, bishop of Laon, with the help of her brother, founded at Anizy a priory of Sisters to receive and care for the young girls of the place. In 996, Adalberon, bishop of Laon, founded a maladrerie, or lepers' hospital, at Anizy, to be 'a refuge and place of healing for the poor of Anizy, Wissignicourt, and Pinon.'
As time went on and the feudal system became more fully developed, the bishops of Laon found it judicious to establish one of those high feudal personages known as Vidames, and the relations of the Vidames of Laon with their episcopal superior, on the one hand, and with the people of such lordships as Anizy on the other, become very interesting.
They are made more interesting still by the entrance upon the scene of the kings of France, contending for a real royal authority, of great barons like the Sires de Coucy bent on getting a complete local independence of any central government, and of the people of the communes, who very early saw their own game as between the Church, the barons, and the king, and played it here, as in so many other places, with most respectable skill and success. There is a picturesque story of Pope Benedict VIII., who held a council at Laon, going from Laon to view the episcopal chateau at Anizy, with a cortege of cardinals and bishops, and on the way springing down nimbly from his horse to rescue the bishop of Cambray, obviously a prelate of much weight, under whom a little bridge gave way as they were crossing the river Lette. This was in the year 1018. A century later, in 1110, Gandri, bishop of Laon, summoned John Comte de Soissons, Robert II. Comte de Flandre, and Enguerrand I. Sire de Coucy, the three loftiest and lordliest personages then of this part of the world, to a conference at his chateau in Anizy, there to fix and define where the authority of the Sire de Coucy ended and that of the bishops of Laon began. In 1210 the burgh of Anizy became a free commune and elected its first mayor. The next year its seigneur, Robert de Chatillon, bishop-duke of Laon, at his own cost fortified the place with walls and towers, and did this so well that three years afterwards Enguerrand III. de Coucy, just then the most masterful person in all this part of France, thought it wise to treat with the bishop-duke as to their respective rights of ownership in the adjoining forest of Roncelais. They agreed so perfectly that the formidable lord of Coucy immediately afterwards did the bishop-duke and the people of Anizy the notable service of leading a band of his retainers against a company of brigands who were burning lonely farmhouses and carrying off the crops.
Having got their mayor and their walls and their towers, the burghers of Anizy took to quarrelling with the bishop-dukes of Laon, and so got their communal rights suppressed by one of those prelates in 1230, only to see them re-established again half a century later in 1278, by another bishop-duke, Geoffroi de Beaumont, who made a compromise with his troublesome vassals, reserving only to himself the right to nominate the officers of justice. The king of France, Philippe le Hardi, be it observed, took sides with the burghers in this affair, and they raised a monument to him in 1293.
This, with almost everything else of any importance in Anizy, was destroyed by the English of Edward III., in the next century, one of the local seigneurs, the lord of Locq (where a chateau still represents the extinct lordship) and the cure of the church of St.-Peter falling valiantly in the defence of their people. The bishop-duke came over to help them from Laon, and died in his chateau at Anizy the next year.
In 1352, another bishop-duke founded a free market at Anizy for three days in each year, at the feast of St.-George, and in 1408 his successor built a grain-hall there. In 1513 Louis XII. granted the burghers a free market every Monday. This so incensed the then bishop-duke, Louis de Bourbon-Vendome, that he tried to suppress the annual market and take back the grain-hall, in return for which attempts the worthy burghers pillaged his chateau at Anizy and pulled it nearly to pieces.
Clearly the seigneurs did not have things all their own way in these good old times! For after several years of contention Louis de Bourbon-Vendome came to terms with his burghers, and matters were put upon so friendly a footing that, in 1540, the bishop-duke began the erection at Anizy of a new chateau, to be surrounded with an extensive and beautiful park. The plans were made by the first architects and artists of the Renaissance; the sculptors of Francis I. were employed to decorate the facade with statues—the new buildings were connected with what remained of the earlier chateau by a grand gallery; pavilions flanked the main edifice and adorned the grand cour d'honneur. King Francis, during his stay at Folembray, frequently visited his cousin the Bishop-duke in this chateau, one of the great chambers of which was long known as the room of King Francis. When Louis de Bourbon-Vendome died in 1557, the chateau was not entirely finished, and a lawsuit followed his death, between his personal heirs and the bishop-dukes for the possession of the buildings. It lasted for nearly a century, and when the prelates at last were declared to be the owners, in 1645, the stately edifice had fallen into a sad state of dilapidation. The Cardinal d'Estrees restored the facade in 1660, but one of his successors actually unroofed it and sold the lead. In 1750, a bishop-duke of quite another type, the Cardinal de Rochechouart, spent great sums of money upon it, restored it, and decorated it throughout, and made it one of the noblest residences in this part of France. At the same time he put in order all the public buildings of Anizy, and had the roads carefully paved throughout the borough. He was followed by a prelate of a like mind, Louis de Sabran, the last bishop-duke of Laon, who is still remembered in his episcopal city for his public spirit and his benevolence, and who made the park of Anizy his special care.
Then came the Revolution.
In 1790, the local 'directory' of the district of Chauny laid violent hands upon the chateau. It was in great part demolished, and what was left of it defaced. It was robbed of its precious furniture, pictures, and ornaments, its valuable chimney-pieces, its elaborate iron and brass work. The old trees were cut down in the park, and the railings destroyed. The fine old church of Ste.-Genevieve at the same time was first turned into a hall of meeting for the electors, who distrusted each other so profoundly that when their first meeting was held, May 3, 1790, the documents relating to the elections were locked up in a confessional, lest they should be stolen, and then deliberately wrecked and looted by the 'friends of Liberty,' or, in other words, by a squad of ruffians from Chauny and the neighbourhood, who, after putting on the sacerdotal vestments, marched about the church carrying the dais, beat the crosses and the carved stalls to pieces, smashed and defaced the monuments and the altars, broke open the poor-box, and carried off all that was worth stealing. The stone slabs from the graves were sold, a saltpetre factory was established in the church, the presbytery was made a town-hall, and the 'worship of Reason,' in the person of a young woman of Chauny, was solemnly inaugurated at Anizy! The chateau and the park were sold by the self-constituted dictators of Anizy to one M. Orry de Sainte-Marie on August 7, 1792, for a nominal price. This M. Orry seems to have been an 'operator.' For in June, 1793, he sold the chateau to the 'ci-devant Vicomtesse de Courval,' the mother of the then owner of the Chateau of Pinon, about which I shall presently have something to say, and bought it back from her again in March 1795, leaving her the right to enjoy it until her death, which took place in 1806. All this curiously illustrates the perils and uncertainties of land-ownership in such times! In 1808, Orry de Sainte-Marie, having by that time become a justice of the peace at Anizy, and doubtless a fervent Imperialist, sold the chateau to M. Collet, Director of the Mint at Paris. From him it passed by sale, in 1824, to M. Senneville, and in 1841 to M. Lafont de Launoy.
Let us turn now to Pinon, two kilometres to the south of Anizy, long one of the chief seats of the power of the famous Sires de Coucy, one of whom seems to have been the real author of the arrogant motto since, in one or another form, attributed to more than one great family in France:
Roi ne suis Ne prince, ne comte aussy: Je suis le Sire de Coucy.
The Chateau of Pinon was originally built by Enguerrand II. of Coucy in the twelfth century. His grandfather Enguerrand I. had been invited by the Archbishop of Reims to establish himself at Pinon, which was a part of the splendid Christmas gift made by Clovis to the see of Reims, as I have already stated, after his baptism at Reims; and Enguerrand II., who appears to have been a typical baron, finding the place favourable for the feudal industry of levying toll on trade and commerce, there erected a great castle, one of the many legendary castles to be found all over Europe which boasted a window for every day in the year. He thought fit, however, to select for this castle a site which belonged to the Abbey of St.-Crispin the Great at Soissons, and thus got himself into trouble with the Church. Strong as he was, he found the Church too strong for him. The Bishop of Soissons compelled him to agree to pay an annual and perpetual rent to the Abbey, and made him also take the cross and go to the Holy Land to expiate his sacrilege. There he fell in battle. The grandson of this baron, Robert de Coucy, in 1213 granted the people of Pinon 'a right of assize according to the use and custom of Laon,' and the next year founded there a hospital. Twenty years afterwards Pinon became a commune, and John de Coucy granted the inhabitants a free market. The Chateau of Pinon passed in the 14th century to the elder branch of the great house of de Coucy, and in 1400 it was sold, under duress to Louis of France (Duc d'Orleans) by the last heiress of the house Marie de Coucy, daughter of Enguerrand VII. by his first wife Isabel, Princess Royal of England, and eldest daughter of Edward III. by Philippa of Hainault.
A hundred years afterwards Louis XII. had taken possession of the estates and the chateau, and made a gift of these to his daughter Claude de France. In spite of this, however, the property passed into the hands of the ancient family of De Lameth, and towards the end of the seventeenth century the Chateau de Pinon witnessed one of the most romantic and abominable murders recorded in the annals of French gallantry.
As Pinon is still, after all the chances and changes of seven hundred years, the finest inhabited chateau in the Soissonnais, and as, by a curious throw of the dice of Destiny, it now belongs to a fair compatriot of mine, perhaps I may be allowed to tell this somewhat gruesome tale, which has a flavour rather Italian than French.
Charles Marquis d'Albret, the last of that illustrious race, Prince de Mortagne and Comte de Massant, was the nephew of the Marechal d'Albret, and he came therefore, on the mother's side, of the royal blood of Henry of Navarre.
He loved, not wisely but too well, Henriette de Roucy, Comtesse de Lameth, called 'la belle Picarde,' whose husband was seigneur of the Chateau de Pinon. In August 1678, the Marquis d'Albret was at the Chateau de Coucy with the army of Flanders, then commanded by the Marshal-Duke of Schomberg, who afterwards fell fighting for King William III. in Ireland at the battle of the Boyne.
The Comte de Lameth, who had in some way discovered the relations which existed between his wife, 'la belle Picarde,' and the Marquis d'Albret, shut the comtesse into a room at Pinon, and compelled her, by threats and violence, to write a letter to the marquis giving him a rendezvous at Pinon. On the day mentioned in her letter the Comte de Lameth ordered six horses to be put to his coach, and (having previously put his wife under watch and ward) drove off with an escort to Laon. News of this was carried at once to Coucy. The Marquis set forth with a single attendant on horseback to Chavignon, where at the hostelry of La Croix Blanche, he was met, as from the letter of his lady-love he expected to be, by a servant from the Chateau de Pinon.
Armed only with pistols in his holsters, he mounted after dark and rode on from Chavignon to Pinon. There, as he entered the park-gates, just after midnight, three men, one of them Jocquet, the valet de chambre of the Comte de Lameth, sallied out upon him from under an archway, and, feigning to take him for a robber, opened fire upon him. He killed one of his assailants, and then himself fell.
About fifty years ago, the then proprietor of Pinon was building a lodge for one of his keepers when the workmen came upon a gold ring in digging for the foundation. It bore the engraved name of D'Albret, and the name of the royal regiment which he commanded. He had doubtless been buried where he fell in the park.
This proprietor was the father of the late Baron de Courval, formerly an officer in the French army, who, during the Second Empire, married Miss Ray of New York.
The De Courvals became possessors of Pinon through the murder of the Marquis d'Albret. The way in which this came about curiously illustrates the course of justice and injustice under the ancien regime. This differed more in form than in fact from the course of justice and injustice in our own time. Claude, Comte de Lameth, the jealous husband of 'la belle Picarde,' was a great personage, not only Comte de Lameth but Vicomte de Laon, d'Anizy, de Marchy, and de Croix, and seigneur of Bayencourt, Pinon, Bouchavannes, Clacy, Laniscourt, Quincy, 'et autres lieux.' But the Marquis d'Albret was a greater personage still, and the widow of the marquis, who refused to believe the story of his affair with 'la belle Picarde,' was a dame d'atours of the queen, Marie Therese. So also was the cousin-german of the marquis, and these two dames made such a clamour about the murder that the king, Louis XIV., and of course with the king the whole court, so waged war against the Comte de Lameth that his whole family found it wise to seek safety in flight, and fearing the confiscation of all his property, the Comte (whose wife had previously gone into an Ursuline convent) sold the estate and Chateau of Pinon, with other estates, to his friend Pierre Dubois de Courval, president of the parliament of Paris.
 The venom of this old history recurs in the Revolution, poisoning the minds of three Lameths, concerning whom Mr. Carlyle indulges in much quite unnecessary and grotesque emotion.
In 1730 Dubois de Courval pulled down the ancient Chateau de Pinon, and, on the designs of Mansard, built the present stately and imposing edifice. Le Notre laid out for him also the extensive park, and, when he died, in 1764, he left Coucy-la-Ville and Fresnes to his elder son, and to his younger, with the title of Vicomte de Courval, the chateau and estates of Pinon.
It was the widow of this younger son, Aime-Louis Dubois de Courval, who, as I have already said, saved what could be saved of the Chateau of Anizy in 1793 by buying it from the enterprising M. Orry de Sainte-Marie.
Her husband, a man of worth and of note in the parliament of Paris, died on the very eve of the great troubles, December 1, 1788. He was then in his sixty-seventh year, and as he had done nothing but good at Pinon, not only embellishing the chateau and the park, but giving much time and money to improve the condition of the people, he would probably have been sent to the guillotine at Paris by the local 'directory at Chauny' had he lived long enough, and his property confiscated, like the property of the bishops and dukes at Anizy. His oldest son was a lad of fifteen when the storm burst in 1789. His mother took his interests resolutely in hand. She came of two aristocratic stocks, the Millys and the Clermonts-Tonnerre, but she got the better of the democrats. Like old Madame Dupin at Chenonceaux, she carried herself and her property, by woman's wit and woman's will, through the Revolution. In 1791 she contrived to get her son, then only seventeen, elected commander of the National Guard at Anizy. He ripened rapidly, under the stress of the times, bought up the 'patriots' when it was necessary—and there is abundant evidence to show that they were always in the market, even at Paris and during the worst times of the Terror—was made a baron of the empire by Napoleon, elected President of the Canton of Anizy in 1811, a councillor-general of the Aisne in the same year, and deputy in 1814. With the Restoration he became once more Vicomte de Courval and seigneur of Pinon, having long before converted the park and gardens of the chateau into the 'English style,' with fine watercourses and an extensive lake, and died quietly at Paris in 1822. In 1794, at the age of twenty, he married a daughter of the Marquis de Saint-Mars.
His son and successor, Ernest-Alexis Dubois de Courval, was taken into high favour by Charles X., but was nevertheless made a councillor-general of the Aisne under Louis Philippe. He married the only daughter of Moreau, who was a child of nine years old when her father fell fighting against France and Napoleon in 1813. In a curious Gothic tower which he built at Pinon are still preserved some of the standards captured from the enemies of France by Moreau, and these I am assured are the only such standards, excepting those of the Invalides, recovered through the efforts of the House of Peers, which existed in France before the Crimean War. In this tower the Vicomte de Courval formed a remarkable collection of mediaeval arms and armour, antique furniture, stained glass, medals and coins. This region is very rich not only in Roman remains, but in druidical stones and other vestiges of the races which dwelt here before Caesar came. Marcus Aurelius, Trajan, Hadrian, Alexander Severus, Probus, Gordian, Constantine and Constantius are all represented on the coins found in and around the property of M. de Courval; but one of his most interesting acquisitions was a silver coin bearing the name of Clovis, with the title of 'imperator.' There is a record at Anizy of a treasure of coins of Aurelius, found there so long ago as in the middle of the twelfth century; and under the bishop-dukes of Laon a collection of Roman coins and vases was gradually formed at the mairie of Anizy, which 'disappeared' soon after the 'patriots' of Chauny undertook to 'liberate' that commune.
The American Vicomtesse de Courval, who now owns Pinon, and passes a part of each year there, is the widow of a son of this Ernest de Courval.
Looking backward dispassionately over this 'centennial record' of two considerable estates in the Department of the Aisne, what advantages, social, political, or economical, can be shown to have enured to the people of the commune of Anizy and of Pinon from the revolutionary processes to which those estates were subjected a hundred years ago? Not a man in Anizy or in Pinon owns a rood of land now which he might not just as easily have owned had the alienation of the Church property in those communes been conducted through the gradual and systematic processes of law and order. Instead of one remarkable and interesting chateau, these communes would now possess two, each in the natural course of things, a centre of local activity and civilisation. Instead of one ancient church, much despoiled and damaged, Anizy would now possess three such churches, each in its own way an object of interest to architects and artists, and it would be possible for an honest gendarme or a poor labourer on the highway to hear mass, if he liked, in any one of them, without incurring the wrath of his superiors and the loss of his daily bread.
IN THE AISNE—continued
The lofty hill on which the Sires de Coucy planted their chief fortress rises above the fields and forests of the Soissonnais as the Mont St.-Michel rises above the waves and the sands of the Norman coast.
The narrow streets and quaint old houses of the little town of Coucy-le-Chateau are huddled around the outworks of the colossal castle, almost as closely as are the climbing streets and the terraced houses of St.-Michel around the martial monastery; and each of these two places is, in its own kind, unique.
I had been strongly recommended to pass the night when I visited the chateau, not in the little city itself, though it boasts a 'Hotel des Ruines,' but at a little wayside inn, rather indeed a restaurant and a baiting-place for travellers by the highway than an inn, which stands at the foot of the hill of Coucy. I took the advice, and had no cause to repent it. The walk up the hill, of some two miles, to the tower and the castle was simply delightful on a fine afternoon in June. Opposite my little inn is a small and rather dilapidated chateau of the eighteenth century, which originally must have been a very pleasant residence; and in the extensive meadows about it were grazing a number of fine cattle, the property of M. de Vaublanche. 'He is the only man hereabouts who takes any trouble with his beasts,' said my cheery, athletic young host, and leading the way for me into the meadows, he pointed out the princes of the herd, all of them really fine animals of the best French breeds, with as much pride as if he had been the owner. 'It gives more pleasure to see these—does it not, sir?—than to look at yonder dead chimney,' he said, pointing to some extensive sugarworks, all closed and deserted, on the other side of the road. The sugar crisis has been very sharp here, as in other parts of France, and many smokeless chimneys are to be seen here as in other departments.
An embattled gateway of the thirteenth century welcomes the traveller now with its open arch as he approaches the town of Coucy, and the best views of the chateau are to be got from the road as you climb up the long ascent.
In the quaint little town the house is still carefully preserved, and the chamber itself religiously kept in order, in which, on June 7, 1594, Gabrielle d'Estrees gave birth to a son destined afterwards to make his mark in the military annals of France as Cesar, Duc de Vendome. An inscription on a tablet in the wall thus commemorates his advent into the world: 'In this chamber was born, and in the chamber above was baptized, the legitimised son of France, de Vendome, a prince of very good hopes, the child of the most Christian, most magnanimous, most invincible, and most clement King of France and of Navarre, Henry IV., and of Gabrielle d'Estrees, Duchesse de Beaufort.'
Not far from this house is the ancient belfry of Coucy, wherein swings a bell of dolorous prestige, the tradition of Coucy averring that, whenever a citizen of Coucy is about to die, this bell tolls of itself, and is heard by him alone.
Doubtless the communal schoolmaster will ere long drive this tradition out of the mind of the rising generation in Coucy. If so I trust, though I hardly expect, that he will drive out with it another and more mischievous tradition, born within the precincts of the ancient castle. Not once, but a dozen times, this year in different parts of France, I have seen allusions made, in political journals, to the monstrous right which the seigneurs of old possessed and exercised of hanging small boys for snaring and killing rabbits within their parks and woods. The old game laws of France, like the old game laws, and indeed like many other old laws, of England and of other countries, were not over-mild. Was not a woman first strangled and then burned in England for 'coining' in the year 1789, while the States-General were performing at Paris their fantastic overture to the ghastly drama of the Terror? Yet England in 1789 knew a great deal more of personal liberty than France knows now in 1889. The tradition of the seignorial right of hanging boys for killing rabbits originated, it is probable, with Enguerrand IV., Sire de Coucy, of whom it is told that, exasperated by three young lads, scholars of the monastic school of Saint-Nicolas-aux-Bois, whom he found shooting at rabbits and hares in his woods with bows and arrows, he had the lads seized and hanged. So far from doing this within his seignorial rights, however, was the Sire de Coucy, that the monks proceeded against him vigorously, and Saint-Louis had him arrested for it, and was with much difficulty restrained by the barons of the realm from hanging him in his turn. He was only pardoned on very severe conditions, one of which was that he should do penance for a number of years in his own castle of Coucy, where, the chroniclers tell us, he died 'in shame and repentance.' His successor, Enguerrand V., took the matter so much to heart that he led the life of an anchorite at Coucy, and had himself buried in the Abbey of Premontre near the doorway; like Alonzo de Ojeda the Conquistador, the slab upon whose grave I saw some years ago at the entrance of the ruined church of San Francisco in Santo Domingo, with an inscription reciting that he was there laid to rest, by his own request, as a great sinner, upon whose ashes all who passed should tread.
Tortuous little streets lead through the town of Coucy into a great green space which commands the castle. It is approached from the new and rather pretentious lodge in which the keeper of the castle now resides, through one of the finest and loftiest avenues in France. But the tallest trees are dwarfed by the gigantic donjon tower. This rises to a height still of at least 180 feet. It is 150 feet in circumference at the base, and slopes very gradually to the summit. The hall on the ground floor measures more than forty feet in diameter, the walls being of enormous thickness. Over one of the doorways is a defaced bas-relief representing a lion attacked and slain by Enguerrand I. de Coucy. The chimney-place in the ground floor hall would make a very respectable modern house, and there is a well within the hall said to be of unknown depth. The donjon consists of three storeys above the ground floor, the main hall on the first floor being particularly remarkable for its height. The vaulted ceiling of this hall must have been very fine, and throughout it is apparent that the builders of the Chateau de Coucy had the comfort of the inmates and a certain stately elegance of effect much more in mind than was common with the builders of castles in the thirteenth century. The walls at the summit are more than nine feet thick, and they were doubtless surmounted originally with a great circular gallery of wood covered in with a roof. The Sires de Coucy, like other crusaders, doubtless brought back all manner of rich carpets and stuffs from the East, and with these and the wonderful carved chests and massive woodwork of the time the Chateau de Coucy may well have been a much more agreeable place of abode than, from our modern acquaintance with their winding stone stairways and denuded walls, we are apt to imagine these great feudal fortresses to have been.
The views from the summit now are simply superb. The vast forests over which Enguerrand, the builder, gazed, seeking out the sites on which he planted so many strongholds—(it is known that besides Coucy he erected at least eight other castles, from Folembray to Saint-Lambert)—have been replaced in great part by fertile fields and smiling towns. But the land is still richly wooded. Far down, in a little wilderness beneath us, the guardian pointed out to me an odd edifice looking like a combination of a modern Gothic church with a seaside villa. This, he told me, was the residence of a distinguished artist of Paris, who passes a part of every year in this region, making studies of forest scenery. Beyond this, in a large park, is a chateau of the Marquis de la Chataigneraie, once a part of the domain of Coucy.
The enceinte of the chateau is of enormous extent. The solidity of the walls and the towers resisted so successfully the mines and pickaxes of Richelieu that the great outlines of the immense building are still easily definable, with fine traces of the architecture of the great chapel. That St.-Louis and Henry IV. visited Coucy we know, and the guardian was good enough to give me very minute and particular information as to the chambers which they occupied.
He was a curious fellow, this guardian, an Alsatian immigrant, he informed me. The people here, he thought, were not so much pleased as they ought to be that the Government had given him the place, which brings him in 400 francs a year, with the lodge I have mentioned for a residence, and the right to all the crops of any kind he can raise on the land attached to the chateau. He was then cutting the grass, which grew very well within the precincts of the chateau. But he took great pains to impress upon me that he was doing this, not so much for the sake of the hay he expected to make as for the accommodation of visitors like myself, 'to make the ground pleasanter to walk upon.'
This was an attention which no right-minded person could fail to recognise with a pour-boire, particularly as the worthy guardian complained of the extremely poor quality of the wine grown about Coucy. I told him I had always heard that King Francis I. insisted on having his wine sent to him from this place. 'Ah!' he replied, 'in those days what did they know about good wine?'
The rooks in countless numbers were flying and cawing all over the beautiful old place. 'I have tried to kill these birds,' said the guardian wearily. 'They destroy my peas. But the cartridges cost too much, and I have had to give it up.' He had been in his place four months. I might think it very pleasant seeing it in June. But if I could see it in February, with the wind howling 'through the tall trees and around the huge tower!'
On my return to my neat little hostelry my host came out to meet me. 'He had just heard that four councillors-general, on their way home from a meeting, would like to dine at his house. Would I object to their dining with me—there was no other good room?' Naturally I was only too glad to share the room and the dinner with them. A very good dinner it was too. 'Men learn to cook, but are born to roast.' My host's cook was born to roast both fat chickens and a capital leg of mutton. One of the councillors-general, when they drove up, went out into the kitchen to examine and report upon the outlook. He came back presently rubbing his hands together with glee. 'Admirable!' he exclaimed; 'it will be a Belshazzar's feast—a superb leg of mutton, truly superb!'
'The first green peas of the season here!' said our host, coming in with them. 'You will see if they are good. They come late here, the green peas, but you see what they are when they do come.'
The four councillors-general were all Republicans. One of them, a country banker, as I learned, was a trifle sarcastic about the prospects of the party. 'They are too soft,' he said, 'at Paris. They lack wrist. They do not hit hard enough. What we want is a man; where are we to find him?' Another, a tall grey-bearded man, an attorney, agreed with the banker as to the 'softness' of the authorities. 'I am a Republican of yesterday,' he said. 'I remember, under the Empire, how, when I spoke at Chauny, I spoke with a gendarme at the table behind me, and a couple of spies in the hall. That is what we should have now in these meetings where they abuse the Republic.' I observed that while this councillor, by the way, always spoke of 'the Republic,' the banker as invariably spoke of 'the Republican party.' They both agreed, however, and their companions agreed with them, that the real want was the 'want of a man.'
'The President is doing well though,' said the grey-bearded 'Republican of yesterday.' 'He is beginning to stand out against the horizon, is he not?' The others were not so sure of this, and then there arose a most lively and singularly outspoken exchange of views as to the different leaders of the Republican party. It would be hardly fair for me to cite these; but one remark made by the banker, in regard to a very conspicuous political personage, amused me. 'Yes,' he said in reply to one of his companions: 'yes; —— is skilful—very skilful—but he has no foresight. Would you trust him with your pocket-book? No!' 'Oh certainly not!'
It seemed they had been attending a conference about agriculture. They were all agreed as to the existence of 'an agricultural crisis,' but beyond that they seemed to be at sea. One councillor was quite sure that the thing to be done was to get the farmers to use cattle instead of horses in their work. The cattle cost less, worked as well, and they could be killed for beef. They were also more valuable as fertilisers. Upon this another councillor, apparently the only agriculturist of the company, went into a disquisition on chemical fertilisers and the scientific applications of them.
'I never believed in these chemicals,' he said, 'till last year. But last year I was in my fields, talking with my neighbour So-and-so, who has spent I know not how much on these chemicals. He went away with his men after a while, and I saw they had been applying their chemicals to a field sown like mine. An idea occurred to me. I went and brought a basket. I stepped across into their field and took a certain quantity of their chemicals. These I applied in a particular part of my field. Do you know the plants came up there wonderfully—but really quite wonderfully! There is no doubt there is a good deal in these chemicals! But one should test them first!'
After dinner we sate out in front of the little inn for a time with our coffee. There was a good deal of coming and going, a tremendous clattering about of children in little wooden sabots, and much good-natured 'chaff' between the people of the inn, who came out to take the air after their day's work, and the passers-by. There seems to be little in the peasants here of that positive morgue, not to say arrogance, which marks the demeanour of their class in the western parts of France. There are regions in Brittany where the carriage of the peasants towards the 'bourgeois' gives reality and zest to the old story of the ci-devant noble who called a particularly insolent varlet to order in the days of the first Revolution by saying to him: 'Nay, friend, you will be good enough to remember that we are living in a republic, and that I am your equal!'
There was the most perfect civility and amiableness even in the interchange of not very delicate pleasantries between the people at Coucy. 'Don't go too near the butcher's shop!' called out one of the ostlers to a man with whom he had been talking as the latter drove off in his cart. 'Ah! you won't eat me, if I do,' the other replied; 'it would cost you too much!' An old farmer who sate sipping his petit verre near me, explained to me that the man was a resident of Barisis, a little village not very far off, the dwellers in which from time immemorial have been known as 'the pigs of Barisis.' 'Try and pick up a husband on the way,' another of the stable lads called out after a pretty girl who paused with a companion, as she went by the place, to chat with him—'try and pick up a husband on the way and we'll keep the wedding feast here!' 'Ah bah!' the damsel rejoined in a merry voice, 'more marryers come your way than ours. Tie up the first one that comes and keep him for me!' This quickness to catch and return the ball certainly shows a greater natural or acquired alertness of mind among these Picard peasants than is commonly found in people of the same condition in rural England.
The country all the way from Coucy to Laon is one continuous garden, and Laon itself is pre-eminently a city set on a hill. The Chateau de Coucy stands upon its pinnacle of rock, like a knight in armour, with folded arms, looking loftily down upon the world, conscious of his strength, and calmly awaiting attack. The fortress-city of Laon, a fortress from the earliest Roman days, looks out from the promontory on which it stands, over the wide expanse of plain beyond and around it, like an advanced sentinel, watchful and alert.
You go up to it by long flights of steps, as in the case of so many high-perched Italian towns, and the fine winding carriage-way which has been constructed around the hill, commands, from beneath the beautiful trees by which it is shaded, a series of the finest imaginable views. It has suffered much, of course, from war, and not a little from the revolutionists. But its magnificent cathedral and the ancient palace of the bishop-dukes, now occupied by the courts of justice, have fared better than many other monuments. For some time past, however, the cathedral has been undergoing repairs, which is as much as to say that the interior is practically hidden from the eye by a maze of scaffolds and hoardings and ladders. Mr. Ruskin somewhere complains, not wholly without reason, that 'the French are always doing something to their cathedrals,' and the complaint is in order now both as to Laon and as to Nantes. No one can tell when the fine recumbent statue of Raoul de Coucy, who fell at Mansourah by the side of St.-Louis, will again be visible at Laon, or the matchless tomb of the Duchesse Anne at Nantes.
Here, as in the region around Chauny and Coucy, I was struck with the extreme good-nature and simplicity of the people. Through the narrow, old-fashioned streets went the town-crier with his bell, calling 'Attention! attention! attention!' announcing an auction sale of furniture after the old custom which existed in some old American towns quite down to the middle of the present century.
The people were at their trades in the street, as in the Italian towns, shoemakers hammering at their lasts, ironworkers banging and thumping away. When I had found the house of a gentleman whom I wished to see, in the beautiful old cathedral close, and had rung in vain a dozen times at the bell, a courteous passer-by paused, and asked me if I wished to find M.——. 'Eh!' he said, 'the house is shut up because he is in the country for the day. I think he will be here to-morrow; but if you will come with me I will show you a little inn not far from here where I know you will find his coachman, who can tell you exactly when he will return.'
How long would a stranger have to ring at the door of a house in an English cathedral town before it would occur to anybody passing to stop and thus enlighten him?
With all their kindness and good-nature, however, the people of Laon are not lukewarm in politics. I found a hairdresser, the local Figaro, a raging Boulangist. 'He had served in Tonkin; he had seen, with his own eyes seen the soldiers robbed and starved and left to die. He had seen, with his own eyes seen the Government people taking huge "wine-pots" from the natives. It was infecte! And the governor Richaud, whom they called back to France because he wished to expose the way in which his predecessor had taken thousands of francs and a diamond belt from the king of Cambodia, Norodom. I had surely heard of that?'
I certainly had heard of that, for all France rang with the exposure made of it in the Chamber of Deputies—that is to say, all France rang with it for a couple of days.
'Yes! that is true. Paris forgets everything in a day, and Monsieur is speaking of Paris; but here in Laon we do not forget; Monsieur will see. Was it natural, I ask, Monsieur, that of all the people on board of the ship which was bringing back M. Richaud to France—he, only he, and his valet, his Chinese valet—I ask was it natural only they two should on the ocean have the cholera, and die? Was it natural? And if they died was that a reason why all the effects, all the papers—note that, Monsieur—all the papers of M. Richaud, the papers to prove that corruption exists there in Tonkin, should be thrown overboard, all thrown into the sea? Yes! and on what pretext? To save the rest of the ship from the cholera! Is it transparent, that? No! we must have Boulanger!'
'The light must be let in; we must have the light!'
'Were there many people of Figaro's mind in Laon and in the Department?'
'If there are many? You will see, Monsieur; here in the Aisne we shall elect the greatest friend of General Boulanger. Monsieur does not know him? M. Castelin—Andre Castelin. Ah! he is strong, Castelin! He was in Africa with General Boulanger. He was there with the General when he put his hand on that governor of Tunis, that Cambon, the brother, Monsieur knows, of that Cambon who was a deputy? Castelin saw the General at work in Tunis. He is with him, he will be with him in the new Chamber. We shall elect Castelin, and then—you will see!'
My notes of Figaro's very clear and positive talk in the summer are not without interest to me now when I revise them in the autumn. For Figaro prophesied truly, and the Department of the Aisne certainly did elect M. Andre Castelin to be one of its Deputies at Paris.
Another worthy citizen of Laon with whom I talked in his shop, a shoemaker, while much less confident than Figaro as to the results of the elections, was quite as positive in his hostility to the Government. It is the tendency of shoemakers all over the world, within my observations, to be extreme Radicals. The shoemakers of Lynn in Massachusetts long ago were the advanced guard, I remember, of the Abolitionists. They were the strength of the 'Old Org.—' the 'old organisation'—enemies of slavery, as slavery, without compromise or hesitation. Every man of them was as ready as the Simple Cobbler of Agawam to tackle any problem, terrestrial or celestial, at a moment's notice. It was idle to cite ne sutor to them in matters of art or of politics, of science or of theology. My shoemaker of Laon was less of a fanatic, but not less of a philosopher, than his brethren of Lynn. He was opposed to the Republic, but he was equally opposed to the monarchy. He had his idea; it was that government must be abolished, and the affairs of the country carried on by committees of experts. He liked the law authorising professional syndicates; there he thought was the germ of the true system. The professional syndicates should nominate the experts, each syndicate the experts in its own business. These should meet, settle the general necessary budget, recommend measures. Then the people, in their communes, should act upon all this. It was his system. It would be long to develop. He was not a man to write or to speak, but he thought.
As to the present situation he bitterly condemned the Exposition. It was a mistake, for it brought all the world to see the progress of France and to steal the French ideas. It also took too many people to Paris; that was good for the railways. But Proudhon long ago was right; the railways were the new feudal system; they were the enemy more than clericalism. Then see to what corruption this Exposition led. Had I not seen the votes, the credits given to the Ministers for entertaining? 'Ah! it was monstrous!' With this he drew a paper out of his pocket; he had it all there, with the dates and the figures. 'Observe, Monsieur, here, on April 6, the Chamber votes one million of francs—yes, one million of francs to be allowed for dinners, for balls, for punches, for I know not what, to the Ministers—only to the Ministers! How many are they? Ten! Yes! one hundred thousand francs to each of them for eating and drinking during the famous Exposition! Only there are some who get more, some who get less. That little watchmaker Tirard, they give him 250,000 francs! Did he ever earn 250,000 francs in his life? Never! and will they spend all this money on dinners and punches? No, never in life! It is just simply to pocket a million of the money of the people!'
That the political contest will be sharp in Laon I am assured by a friend who is thoroughly familiar with the whole machinery of politics in this department of the Aisne. Laon, it seems, is the true headquarters of the freemasonry of this department, and in the Aisne, to use his language, 'the freemasons are the Government.' 'I mean this,' he said, 'in a more extensive sense than you may, perhaps, be disposed to accept. You will find, I think, if the Government secures a majority in the next Chamber, that the Aisne will have a good deal to say in the organisation of the Chamber. Then, perhaps, you will understand the true meaning of that letter of M. Allain-Targe, of which you heard at Chauny. There is a pretty comedy under it, for M. Allain-Targe, remember, is a freemason!
'It would be very amusing, but we taxpayers have to pay too much for the play. What you were told at Chauny about the freemasons in the department was quite true. Only you did not get the whole of the truth. Look at the press of the department! You saw at Chauny the building of the local journal there, La Defense Nationale'?
Certainly I had seen it, for it is the most conspicuous and the newest edifice in the main street of Chauny, and so glorious with golden letters that I took it for a great insurance office.
'Very well; that journal is under the control of a Brother of the Order, a hatter at Chauny, M. Bugnicourt. Here, at Laon, the Tribune, the chief Republican organ of the department, is entirely in the hands of the Order. The chairman of the publishing company is Brother Dupuy. Go on towards Hirson by the railway and you will come to the busy little town of Vervins. Brother Dupuy sits in the Chamber of Deputies for Vervins, and at Vervins Brother Dupuy owns and prints another journal, Le Liberal de Vervins. The political director of the Tribune here at Laon is Brother Doumer. Brother Doumer, as you know, is also a Deputy! And how did he become a Deputy? Let me tell you. It is an instructive story, and you will find M. Allain-Targe at work in it—that excellent man who will not make promises to the electors which he cannot keep.'
'In the winter of 1888, M. Ringuier, a Deputy from the second circumscription of Laon, unexpectedly died. The Order at once determined to capture his seat. With Brother Allain-Targe as Prefect, what could be easier? M. Allain-Targe hastened the new election almost indecently. Hardly a fortnight after the death of M. Ringuier, early in March 1888, the Brethren came up from all quarters to Laon, and it was announced that Brother Doumer had received the orthodox Republican nomination. Of course, with the prefecture and the freemason press of Laon, Chauny, Soissons, Chateau Thierry, Vervins, behind him, Doumer was elected. This year he will find it harder work, for all the opposition will be concentrated in support of Castelin, the friend of Boulanger. Brother Allain-Targe is no longer prefect, but his secretary, another Brother, Huc (no kinsman of the famous Abbe), is sub-prefect at Soissons, and the Brethren all over the department help each other in every circumscription. They are very strong among the Revenue officers, and that, as you will easily understand, gives them and the Order generally a very important invisible leverage! I could tell you now of a Brother at Soissons whom they mean to put into the Chamber. They knew his money value; they have got him into their shop. He is as stupid as he is rich—just as fit to be a deputy as to command the garrison of Paris. But they will get him nominated, and then the Government will get him elected, and then he will do the bidding of Brother Doumer and the others, to help them to put pressure on the ministers and on the President, and be helped by them to recoup himself, in one way or another, for all the cash advances he will make before he is elected.'
Laon sends two deputies to the Chamber. My friend's opinion in August was that the Opposition now control the city, and that both of these seats would be carried against the Government. The event proved that he was right. He was right, too, as to the outlook at Chateau Thierry, the charming birthplace of La Fontaine, on the road to Epernay. There he expected to see the Republican candidate who sat in the late Chamber, M. Lesguillier, hold his seat against the monarchical candidate, M. de Mandat-Grancey, the author of a well-known and interesting book on Ireland, Chez Paddy. M. de Mandat-Grancey is a landed proprietor who has taken an active and successful part in promoting the improvement of the breed of horses in this country. He is a man of liberal ideas as well as a man of enterprise, and in the present agricultural 'crisis,' of which one hears so much in France, such men would certainly be of use in the Chamber. But at Chateau Thierry, according to my friend, 'everything is organised by the freemasons. They control a journal there, the Avenir de l'Aisne. The mayor, M. Morlot, is a freemason. Another freemason, an ex-deputy, M. Deville, wields great influence there. You will see that the recent deputy, who is an insignificant person, will be re-elected, and that M. de Mandat-Grancey, who would be of use, will be beaten.'
'Perhaps because he is an avowed monarchist,' I replied, 'and the people may be Republicans,'
My friend looked at me for a moment. 'Are you speaking seriously?'
Of course I was.
'Well, then, that astonishes me! Can you possibly suppose, after all you have seen and known of France, that the people in a place like Chateau Thierry are such simpletons as to believe that it makes the slightest difference what name you give to a government? They leave that sort of thing to the journalists and the village actors! They have long memories in the provinces! And they judge governments, not at all by their names, but by their men. They know the functionaries by heart. "Not much of a government," they say to one another, "that sends us so and so!"
'In this region the Empire is still very popular, thanks mainly to this. No! outside of the influence of the freemasons, which will be exerted against him through the pressure put upon the friends and families of the small army of government employes, and will therefore be formidable, what M. de Mandat-Grancey will have most to fear will be not the preference of the people for the Republic—for that, I tell you, does not exist—but the indiscreet zeal of some of the clergy in his behalf.
'It is natural the clergy should wish to be rid of this persecuting gang at Paris, and of these disgusting freemasons—quite natural. But they do not always remember one peculiarity of our peasants. There is a great love for the culte here among our people—a very great love for it; but they do not like to be meddled with in politics by the cures or the priests. They will vote for the cure if the cure lets them alone. But if he bothers them about it they are much more likely to vote against him.
'If Constans knows his business he will tell that freemason Thevenot, the Keeper of the Seals, to let the cures and the clergy do all they feel disposed to do in politics. Pardie, I am not sure he has not already been suborning some of our cures to go into a conservative propaganda!'
'This is my great fear,' he added presently, 'for Soissons in September. We ought to carry that seat. The freemasons mean to make the Republicans accept a most absurd candidate there, as I have told you, and if we can only keep some of our clerical friends quiet, we shall beat him. But we shall see! If the cures hurt us sometimes by their over-zeal, on the other hand the Republican deputies and functionaries help us by making the Republic disreputable in the eyes of serious people, and that in all classes of society.
'Look at the working-men, for example, here in Laon. There are a good many of them who know M. Doumer much better since he became a deputy than they knew him when he was first a candidate!
'The question of the Societes Ouvrieres is a question which means a good deal for the working-men. M. Doumer would have been well advised had he let it alone. But no! M. Doumer gets himself appointed to draw up a Report of the Chamber of Deputies on this question, with a Project of a Law to supersede, modify, extend the Law of 1867, under which co-operative societies have so far grown up in France.
'The Report and the Project, as finally edited by the aspiring deputy for Laon, a freemason as I have told you, are to be printed by another freemason, the worthy hatter, M. Bugnicourt, at Chauny, who is the chief personage of the Defense Nationale, and all the voters are to see how Brother Doumer devotes himself to the interests of the working classes, at Paris, while other deputies go about amusing themselves with the danseuses du ventre, and the other marvels of the Exposition.
'This is all very well.
'But Brother Doumer, in his desire to pose before the voters of the Aisne as the heaven-born deputy in whom the working-man may put his trust, takes the trouble to make it quite clear that the Republic has done absolutely nothing but appoint committees to sit upon "the great question" of co-operation among the working classes!
'Brother Doumer, as I have told you, was made a deputy in 1888. After taking his seat he was made a member of the Committee which has been conducting an "extra-parliamentary enquiry" on the subject of co-operative societies among working-men for work and for production, and with the question of contracts between employers and working-men for participation in the profits of industrial enterprises.
'This committee, he says in his Report, took the matter in hand in 1883, and spent five years over it, getting its project of a law on these subjects into shape only in 1888, on the eve of the election of a new Chamber of Deputies!
'During these five long years, according to Brother Doumer, the Republic was content to let co-operation among working-men take its chances under a law passed in 1867, under the Second Empire. And yet, according still to Brother Doumer, the idea of co-operation among the working classes was an exclusively French idea, and not only an exclusively French idea, but an idea which came to birth only under the Republic of 1848 (he glides silently over the famous experiment of the National workshops of 1848). Is it not really remarkable that the Republicans of 1879 should have been willing to leave this "beautiful and generous" idea at the mercy of a law passed by the Empire, and which—still according to Brother Doumer—left the co-operative societies of working-men without privileges, without favour, and with no particular facilities for constituting themselves and for keeping themselves alive?
'I say the "Republicans of 1879" advisedly, for you will see, if you look at page 5 of this delightful Report, that—still according to Brother Doumer—we really had no republic, in fact, in France till 1879. These are his own words; "the Republic, having been reconstituted, (after the fall of the Empire) first in name, and afterwards in fact, a new impulse was given to co-operation. The ill-will towards all societies of working-men of the Governments of May 21 and of May 16, retarded the movement. It was only in 1879 that, the wounds of the country having been healed and liberty reconquered, we had leisure to occupy ourselves with the question of the organisation of labour."
'Is not this charming? Really, when one remembers what the "wounds of the country" were in 1871, and how those "wounds" were got first through the collapse of the wretched Government of the National Defence, and then through the Commune of Paris, the Governments of May 21 and May 16 may be credited with having done a good piece of work by "healing those wounds" and by "reconquering liberty." Is not this plain?
'But the "wounds having been healed," and "liberty having been reconquered," the true Republic, still according to Brother Doumer, was set free in 1879, to occupy itself with the question of the organisation of labour. Very good.
'1879! that is ten years ago! And only in 1888 do we find the Republic really occupying itself, in the person of Brother Doumer, with this great question, this beautiful and generous idea! How very odd! And what a strange coincidence that Brother Doumer, elected a deputy by the grace of the freemasons in 1888, and wishing to be re-elected a deputy by their grace in 1889, should be the man of destiny called upon to solve this great question!
'He makes this perfectly plain!
'Two Ministers of Public Works, M. de Freycinet and M. Sadi Carnot,' he blandly observes, 'studied measures which might be taken in view of facilitating the concession to societies of working-men of certain public works!
'Ah! This is hard upon M. de Freycinet and M. Sadi Carnot, now President of the ideal Republic! They "studied," did they, "measures which might be taken"! But they never took any such measures! Oh, no! not they!'
'So the first year of the "true Republic" went by, and still co-operation languished under the Imperial law of 1867. Then in 1880 came M. de Lacretelle, who "presented to the Chambers a proposed law tending" to the same end which M. de Freycinet and M. Sadi Carnot had so unprofitably "studied"! Of course the Chamber eagerly adopted it? Not at all! It was never discussed!
'Two years thrown away by the true Republic!
'Then in 1881 M. Floquet (now the favourite candidate of Brother Doumer for the Presidency of the Chamber if the Republicans carry the elections of 1889), being made Prefect of the Seine, had a great impulse! "He wished to revive the decree of 1848 as to that department." Excellent man! But he did not in fact revive it! He did what he could. He "appointed a Committee to study the question!" And this studious Committee eventually evolved—what? "A new schedule of prices for the public works of the City of Paris, which favoured co-operative societies and contractors whose workmen were to participate in their profits!"
'So the fourth year of the true Republic began, and found the "beautiful and generous idea" still prostrate under the Imperial law of 1867!
'In 1882, still according to Brother Doumer, two deputies, M. Ballue backed by several colleagues, and M. Laroche-Joubert heroically rushed before the Chamber, each with a proposed law "tending" (how all these laws "tend"!) to make it obligatory upon all contractors for public works to give their workmen a share in their profits! But the Chamber paid no heed, and the fourth year of the true Republic ended, leaving the "beautiful and generous idea" still under the iron heel of the Imperial law of 1867!
'Then came March 20, 1883, and the Minister of the Interior rose at last to the height of his mission. He took it upon himself to issue a decree—instituting what? An extra-parliamentary committee to "study" the question of working-men's associations, and if, and how, they should be admitted to take part in the public works of the State!'
'And the committee was appointed. It consisted' (it is still Brother Doumer who speaks) "of directors and high functionaries of all the ministerial departments." It went to work. It heard "a great number of witnesses." It also showed conclusively "how complex was the question, and how urgent the necessity of a solution."'
'What then happened?'
'The committee immediately went to sleep!
'"After an interruption of more than a year" (it is still Brother Doumer who speaks), "the extra-parliamentary committee resumed its sittings, on January 16, 1885!"
'Six years of the true Republic having now been spent in these desperate efforts to deal with the "beautiful and generous idea," and the election of a new Chamber being imminent for the autumn of 1885, M. Waldeck-Rousseau, Minister of the Interior, proceeded to lay before the re-awakened committee—what? A project of a law to relieve the co-operative idea from the crushing weight of the Imperial law of 1867? Not a bit of it!
'He proceeded (it is still Brother Doumer who speaks!) to lay before the Committee "a summary of the studies upon which it ought to enter!"
'According to Brother Doumer this "summary" was truly grand and even "vast." But alas! "the general elections," says Brother Doumer, sadly, "and afterwards successive ministerial crises, suspended the inquiry during more than two years! It was only in 1888 that the extra-parliamentary committee resumed its labours!"
'The Universal Exposition of 1889 was then organising and organising—let me ask you not for a moment to forget—with a specific eye, not so much to the "principles of 1789," about which our worthy ministers care as much as they do about the Edict of Nantes or the philosophy of Pascal, as to the Legislative elections of 1889!
'So what did the extra-parliamentary committee do in this ninth year of the one "true Republic" for the "beautiful and generous idea" of co-operation?
'They adopted a decree—"a firm and practical decree"—promulgated June 6, 1888, "permitting several co-operative societies to contract for public works, especially in connection with the Exposition"! and they also adopted "two projects of laws"!
'"The first of these projects" (it is still Brother Doumer who speaks), "aimed at the creation of a general provident fund, industrial, commercial, and agricultural, to be managed by the 'Caisse des Depots et Consignations.'"
'"This very interesting project," says Brother Doumer, "has not yet been submitted to the Chamber. Sent up to be examined by the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Commerce, it is there undergoing a prolonged and inexplicable delay!"
'No! no! Brother Doumer! "prolonged" if you like, but not "inexplicable!"
'And so, after now ten years, we have the true Republic which got complete possession in 1879 of all the machinery for giving force and effect to the "beautiful and generous" idea of co-operation, and for giving wings to that idea, leaving it still under the blighting curse of the Imperial law of 1867.
'And Doumer alone! Brother Doumer, whom Providence and the freemasons of Laon sent to the Chamber in 1888, has met the questions which have been "urgent" ever since 1848 with the grand practical solution of a "report" fifteen pages long, and of a "project of law" consisting of six titles and about a hundred clauses!
'Take this pamphlet with you,' said my friend, after going over it with me; 'take it, look into it minutely, and tell me if anything you have ever heard or read in the way of our Conservative attacks upon the flatulence, the fatuity, and the hypocrisy of these pretended friends of labour and of the working-man is to be compared, for cold-blooded cruelty, with this exposition made by Brother Doumer of the methods of his party.
'I don't know,' he added, 'what portfolio Brother Doumer expects to get if the Government carry these elections of 1889. He has kicked M. de Freycinet, as you see, into one corner, and President Carnot into another, for the benefit of his friend and ally, M. Floquet, so I suppose he expects to secure some commanding position, neither M. de Freycinet nor President Carnot being strong enough to resent the impertinences of an eminent freemason. But wherever they put him, this wonderful Report of his ought to be printed and circulated freely all over France by the Conservative committees. It is the most concise and eloquent history, that I know, of ten years of the true Republic in its relation to the working classes of France. You have seen at St.-Gobain the results of a co-operative association of working-men organized under statutes drawn up by a practical and liberal friend of labour, M. Cochin, in 1866, a year before the Imperial law of 1867 was passed.
'Wherever elsewhere in France you find the principle of co-operation adopted and bearing fruit for the benefit of working-men, pray remember that the "true Republic" has for ten years persistently evaded and dodged the problems with which the Empire grappled, and to which the Emperor gave a practical answer nearly a quarter of a century ago!'
After following my friend carefully through his amusing and instructive vivisection of the Report presented to the late Chamber by the masonic member for Laon upon the project of law touching co-operation proposed by M. Floquet, I was not surprised, of course, to learn that the 'project' still remains a 'project.' It was adopted in what is called a 'Friday session' by the Chamber, and then sent up to die a natural death in the Senate—the Senate, be it remembered, being the absolute stronghold of the existing Republican Government.
So that still, after ten years of power, the Republicans of M. Doumer's 'true Republic' leave the working-men of France, so far as co-operation can affect their interests, under the control of a law passed under the Empire more than twenty years ago.
Clearly one of two things must be true: either this law, passed under the Empire more than twenty years ago, is a good and sufficient law, assuring to the working-men of France all the advantages, and protecting them against all the disadvantages, incident to the principle of co-operation, so far as this influence and this protection can be given by laws; or the Republicans of M. Doumer's 'true Republic' have been humbugging and trifling with the working-men of France on the subject ever since they contrived, ten years ago, to get the control of power at Paris. Upon one horn or the other of this dilemma, the 'true Republicans' clearly must elect to take their seats.
The voters of Laon would appear to be of the mind that the 'true Republicans' of M. Doumer have been humbugging and trifling with them. For at the election of this year, M. Doumer lost his seat, and the candidate favoured by my Boulangist Figaro at Laon, M. Castelin, was elected. What followed is worth noting, to complete this picture of the working of representative institutions in one of the great French provinces under the Third Republic.
M. Doumer, in his address to the electors of the Aisne, issued at Laon on August 15, 1889, was at great pains to explain what his own relations had been with Boulangism and with General Boulanger in 1888, before he became a deputy from Laon in the place of M. Ringuier.
'I frankly admit,' he observes in this very curious document, 'that I felt a lively sympathy with General Boulanger while he was Minister of War!... In the journal which I conducted I insisted on his being put back into the Cabinet, on the fall of the Goblet Ministry.'
When, by the death of M. Ringuier in the early spring of 1888, a seat from the Aisne was suddenly vacated, the freemasons of Laon, as I have stated, selected M. Doumer as the Republican candidate to fill it. M. Doumer's friend, M. Floquet, was not then at the head of the Government, and General Boulanger was still in command of his army-corps at Clermont, coming up to Paris, as the Government affirmed, disguised and wearing blue spectacles, to organise political mischief, and generally making himself a terror and a trouble to the 'true Republicans,' who had made a great man of him for their own purposes.
'Eight days before the election, which was fixed for March 25, 1888,' says M. Doumer, in his address of this year to the voters, "I had no competitor, and my election seemed to be certain."'
No doubt. The 'Brethren' had arranged everything.
But suddenly the skies darkened! The Government of M. Tirard plucked up courage to make head against the 'brav' General.' General Boulanger was relieved of his command at Clermont.
Thereupon the Boulangists resolved to avail themselves of the impending election at Laon as an opportunity of responding to the attack of the Government by a demonstration of their strength in the provinces; and M. Doumer was suddenly served with a notice that the seat of which he had felt so sure would be wanted for General Boulanger!
It was a cruel and a critical moment. What was to be done? To withdraw from the contest was to take sides virtually with General Boulanger against the Tirard Government, and much as M. Floquet and the friends of M. Doumer disliked M. Tirard, they were not ready to throw in their lot at that moment against him. So the Brethren, as my friend believes, were called upon to bring about an arrangement. What General Boulanger wanted was not to fill the seat for Laon; it was only to be elected to fill the seat for Laon. Plainly, therefore, the course of practical wisdom, for M. Doumer was to come to an understanding with the friends of General Boulanger. So this was done.
The Parisian Committee of the General came into the Aisne, and at a conference, which M. Doumer admits that he held with them at Tergnier, it was agreed that after the first balloting, on March 31, 'the voters who then voted for General Boulanger as a protest, should vote for M. Doumer at the second balloting, and so elect him.'
The first balloting came off in due course of time. Both M. Doumer, the Republican candidate, and M. Jacquemont, the Conservative candidate, were left in the rear by General Boulanger, who received some forty thousand votes—the election being held in 1888 under the scrutin de liste adopted, before the elections of 1885, by the Republicans, in order to remedy what they had denounced as the 'intolerable' evils of the scrutin d'arrondissement. Under the stress of the Boulangist panic, these same Republicans suddenly threw the scrutin de liste over again in 1889, to readopt and reimpose upon their beloved country the 'intolerable' evils of the scrutin d'arrondissement!
The second balloting was to take place on March 31. Suppose that General Boulanger should take it into his head to force the fighting on that day at Laon—worse still, try to make an 'arrangement' with the Conservative candidate? What would then become of M. Doumer? So, on March 28, M. Doumer tells us he went up to Paris, from Laon in company with the chairman of one of the Republican committees, and there had an interview with a leading member of the committee of General Boulanger, the result of which was that the 'brav' General' published a letter, in which he announced to the electors of the Aisne that he could not accept a seat which he could only occupy to the detriment of competitors 'beside whom, and not against whom, he had allowed himself to be made a candidate.' He wound up by requesting his friends in the Aisne 'to vote at the second balloting for the candidate who would best support the honour of the country and the interests of the Republic.'
Then came, at Laon, a meeting of the Republican Committee of the Aisne, at which the chairman of the meeting, M. Lesguillier, was instructed to do his best to 'dissipate the somewhat equivocal effect' of the language used by General Boulanger in his letter, and to induce the Boulangist committee to work, on the 31st, for the election of M. Doumer. And so, on March 31, 1888, M. Doumer was finally put into the seat, which enabled him to draw up his model report on the great question of 'co-operation.' That the Boulangists of Laon are not wholly delighted with the course of M. Doumer in the late Chamber, and that the working-men of Laon are not deeply impressed by the value to them of his model report on 'co-operation,' may be inferred from his defeat by the Boulangist candidate M. Castelin under the scrutin d'arrondissement in September, 1889.
But M. Doumer is a typical French politician of the Third Republic, and as his alliance with M. Floquet seems to be firmer than ever, my friend in the Aisne is probably right in thinking that M. Doumer will still be heard of perhaps as a prefect, perhaps as a deputy filling the seat of some 'invalidated' deputy from Paris, perhaps as a Tresorier-General, occupying one of the large number (I think there are eighty in all) of these lucrative posts, which it has been the custom of successive administrations under the Third Republic to distribute among their friends and supporters on retiring from power, as in England premiers, in like circumstances, distribute peerages and baronetcies and accolades of knighthood, one special difference between the two systems being that the rewards of political service bestowed in England not only entail no expense upon the taxpayers, but actually, I believe, bring a certain amount in the way of fees into the Treasury, whereas in France such rewards mean a steady increase of the public outlay.
As the late parliament on the very last day of its existence adopted a plan proposed by M. Doumer himself for re-organising the system of Tresoriers-Generaux, and making these officers regular members of the staff of the Finance Ministry with fixed salaries, my friend in the Aisne thinks it likely enough that one of these posts may fill the eventual perspective of M. Doumer's political career.
Meanwhile the defeated candidate for Laon has been comfortably lodged, at the public cost, in the Legislative Palace, as Secretary of the President of the Chamber, M. Floquet being President, and receives a salary of 15,000 francs, with perquisites and other advantages.
We do this sort of thing occasionally in the United States, for the benefit of defeated political candidates. But in one important respect the professional politician in France is better off than the professional politician in America. Our pension list is by far the largest in the world, but we do not offer any prospect of a pension to civil servants.
Nor have we so many paid legislative berths in which to lodge our professional politicians. The parliamentary business of the sixty millions of people who now inhabit the United States is done by eighty-four senators and 330 representatives, who receive something over $2,000,000 a year. The parliamentary business of less than forty millions of people inhabiting France is supposed to require the services of 300 senators and 578 deputies, who receive for doing it 11,937,940 francs, or, in round numbers, about $2,587,560. Whether the 878 French legislators really earn half a million of dollars more by their annual labours than do the 414 American legislators is a question which I leave my readers to settle after they shall have settled the previous question, whether either of those considerable sums of money is really earned by either body. But there can be no doubt, I think, that, under the existing economical conditions of society in the two republics, the aggregate number of professional politicians aiming at the 878 prizes of the profession in France is likely to be considerably in excess of the aggregate number of professional politicians aiming at the 414 prizes of the profession in the United States. Of course, too, this increase in the aggregate number of the competitors must necessarily be attended by a decline in the average standard of character and capacity among them: and as it is the settled policy of the French Republicans of the 'true Republic,' who have been in power for the past decade, to exclude all persons not of their party from any share in the general administration of the Republic, it is obvious that this lowering of the level of character and of capacity must be most marked among the professional politicians of the Republican party. This is a matter of scientific necessity, and not at all of sentiment; and it suffices to account for the unquestionable average inferiority of the Government members of the Senate and the Chamber to the Opposition members in point both of character and of capacity.
The intense centralisation of power in France is another and a very important force working in the same direction. Outside of the Federal field of political ambition in the United States we have the State governments. But there can be no more than forty-two State governors in the United States, whereas in France there are eighty-six prefects, and three in Algiers, without counting the administrative authorities in the Regency of Tunis and in the French colonies. The governorships of the American States are elective offices, to be won only by local services and local combinations. But the administrative prizes of French politics can only be secured through the central administration at Paris, under pressure from the all-powerful cliques and combinations in the National Legislature. Briefly, therefore, it seems to me quite clear that under the Third Republic in France the profession of politics is rapidly becoming, if it has not already become, much more easy of access, and, in proportion to the capital of character and of ability required for entering upon it, much more remunerative, than it has ever yet been in the United States, unless perhaps during the domination of Mr. Tweed and the Tammany Ring over the taxpayers of New York.
IN THE NORD
It says but little for what Texans call the 'sabe' of the municipal authorities of Valenciennes that this, which ought to be one of the most picturesque and attractive, is really one of the shabbiest historic towns of North-eastern France. The streets are ill-paved and ill-kept, the public buildings are untidy, and the whole place contrasts most unfavourably, from this point of view, with the rich and beautifully cultivated region through which you reach it by the railway from Douai. This is the finest agricultural region in France—the old French Flanders, a 'fat' country as well as a flat. You hardly see a weed between Douai and Valenciennes. Great fields of beetroot are cultivated like flower-gardens, and the green and growing crops are as daintily ordered as the coils and plateaux of flowers with which it is the fashion to adorn dinner-tables a la Russe. It is not pleasant to be assured that the industrious dwellers in this land of Goshen are as fond of cock-fighting as the Spaniards, who probably enough introduced the amusement here during their long domination over what is now known as French Flanders, and that they are addicted also in a systematic way to the abominable practice of blinding bullfinches to make them better singers. I am told that in many communes the authorities actually give prizes for the best singing birds thus produced, and that 'blind bullfinch societies' are among the many associations regularly established and nourishing among the fields and villages. The old Flemish love of strong drink also survives here, as is shown by the number and the prosperous appearance of the cabarets.
These average, for the whole Department of the Nord, no fewer than one to every sixty-six inhabitants, and around Valenciennes, the proportion rises as high as one to every forty-four. There is much subdivision of property, but it has not been pushed so far around Valenciennes as in some other portions of the department, a majority of the small properties extending to twenty-five hectares, and properties of from one hundred to three hundred hectares being considered large estates.
Thanks to the energy and intelligence of many considerable landholders, a great improvement has taken place of late years in the agricultural methods and instruments in use throughout this department: the open drains have practically disappeared, the country has become more wholesome, as well as more fertile, and the farmers in general are admittedly much better off, despite the crisis. This increasing prosperity is given as an explanation of the decreasing average number of children.
But French Flanders is nevertheless one of the densely populated parts of France, showing a population of 267 to the square league. It is proper to say, however, that this is chiefly due to the growth of certain great manufacturing centres. In the rural regions the population is much less dense, and the population of Valenciennes is actually declining. It fell from 23,291 in 1881 to 22,919 in 1886. The explanation is that people are moving out from Valenciennes into the new suburbs. Anzin, Thiers, Denain, and St.-Amand are increasing with the development of the manufactories which are growing up here around the great coal-fields.
While I was at Valenciennes, there was a terrible commotion in the Paris newspapers over a certain colonel in the army, who, being in the service of a well-known arms factory, loudly protested against the alleged sale of that factory to the Germans, and the threatened consequent closing of its works near Paris.
After much journalistic and parliamentary gunpowder had been burned, it came to light that the proprietors were simply making up their minds to transfer their works to the vicinity of Valenciennes as a necessary measure of economy.