The House of Lords has the advantage: first, of being possible; secondly, of being independent. It is accessible to no social bribe, and it has leisure. On the other hand, it has defects. In appearance, which is the important thing, it is apathetic. Next, it belongs exclusively to one class, that of landowners. This would not so greatly matter if the House of Lords could be of more than common ability, but being an hereditary chamber, it cannot be so. There is only one kind of business in which our aristocracy retain a certain advantage. This is diplomacy. And aristocracy is, in its nature, better suited to such work. It is trained to the theatrical part of life; it is fit for that if it is fit for anything. Otherwise an aristocracy is inferior in business. These various defects would have been lessened if the House of Lords had not resisted the creation of life peers.
The dignified aspect of the House of Commons is altogether secondary to its efficient use. Its main function is to choose our president. It elects the people whom it likes, and it dismisses whom it dislikes, too. The premier is to the house what the house is to the nation. He must lead, but he can only lead whither they will follow. Its second function is expressive, to express the mind of the English people. Thirdly, it ought to teach the nation. Fourthly, to give information, especially of grievances—not, as in the old days, to the crown, but to the nation. And, lastly, there is the function of legislation. I do not separate the financial function from the rest of the legislative. In financial affairs it lies under an exceptional disability; it is only the minister who can propose to tax the people, whereas on common subjects any member can propose anything. The reason is that the house is never economical; but the cabinet is forced to be economical, because it has to impose the taxation to meet, the expenditure.
Of all odd forms of government, the oddest really is this government by public meeting. How does it come to be able to govern at all? The principle of parliament is obedience to leaders. Change your leader if you will, but while you have him obey him, otherwise you will not be able to do anything at all. Leaders to-day do not keep their party together by bribes, but they can dissolve. Party organisation is efficient because it is not composed of warm partisans. The way to lead is to affect a studied and illogical moderation.
Nor are the leaders themselves eager to carry party conclusions too far. When an opposition comes into power, ministers have a difficulty in making good their promises. They are in contact with the facts which immediately acquire an inconvenient reality. But constituencies are immoderate and partisan. The schemes both of extreme democrats and of philosophers for changing the system of representation would prevent parliamentary government from working at all. Under a system of equal electoral districts and one-man vote, a parliament could not consist of moderate men. Mr. Hare's scheme would make party bands and fetters tighter than ever.
A free government is that which the people subject to it voluntarily choose. If it goes by public opinion, the best opinion which the nation will accept, it is a good government of its kind. Tried by this rule, the House of Commons does its appointing business well. Of the substantial part of its legislative task, the same may be said. Subject to certain exceptions, the mind and policy of parliament possess the common sort of moderation essential to parliamentary government. The exceptions are two. First, it leans too much to the opinions of the landed interest. Also, it gives too little weight to the growing districts of the country, and too much to the stationary. But parliament is not equally successful in elevating public opinion, or in giving expression to grievances.
IV.—Changes of Ministry
There is an event which frequently puzzles some people; this is, a change of ministry. All our administrators go out together. Is it wise so to change all our rulers? The practice produces three great evils. It brings in suddenly new and untried persons. Secondly, the man knows that he may have to leave his work in the middle, and very likely never come back to it. Thirdly, a sudden change of ministers may easily cause a mischievous change of policy. A quick succession of chiefs do not learn from each other's experience.
Now, those who wish to remove the choice of ministers from parliament have not adequately considered what a parliament is. When you establish a predominant parliament you give over the rule of the country to a despot who has unlimited time and unlimited vanity. Every public department is liable to attack. It is helpless in parliament if it has no authorised defender. The heads of departments cannot satisfactorily be put up for the defence; but a parliamentary head connected by close ties with the ministry is a protecting machine. Party organisation ensures the provision of such parliamentary heads. The alternative provided in America involves changing not only the head but the whole bureaucracy with each change of government.
This, it may be said, does not prove that this change is a good thing. It may, however, be proved that some change at any rate is necessary to a permanently perfect administration. If we look at the Prussian bureaucracy, whatever success it may recently have achieved, it certainly does not please the most intelligent persons at home. Obstinate officials set at defiance the liberal initiations of the government. In conflicts with simple citizens guilty officials are like men armed cap-a-pie fighting with the defenceless. The bureaucrat inevitably cares more for routine than for results. The machinery is regarded as an achieved result instead of as a working instrument. It tends to be the most unimproving and shallow of governments in quality, and to over-government in point of quantity.
In fact, experience has proved in the case of joint-stock banks and of railways that they are best conducted by an admixture of experts with men of what may be, called business culture. So in a government office the intrusion of an exterior head of the office is really essential to its perfection. As Sir George Lewis said: "It is not the business of a cabinet minister to work his department; his business is to see that it is properly worked."
In short, a presidential government, or a hereditary government are inferior to parliamentary government as administrative selectors. The revolutionary despot may indeed prove better, since his existence depends on his skill in doing so. If the English government is not celebrated for efficiency, that is largely because it attempts to do so much; but it is defective also from our ignorance. Another reason is that in the English constitution the dignified parts, which have an importance of their own, at the same time tend to diminish simple efficiency.
V.—Checks, Balances, and History
In every state there must be somewhere a supreme authority on every point. In some states, however, that ultimate power is different upon different points. The Americans, under the mistaken impression that they were imitating the English, made their constitution upon this principle. The sovereignty rested with the separate states, which have delegated certain powers to the central government. But the division of the sovereignty does not end here. Congress rules the law, but the president rules the administration. Even his legislative veto can be overruled when two-thirds of both houses are unanimous. The administrative power is divided, since on international policy the supreme authority is the senate. Finally, the constitution itself can only be altered by authorities which are outside the constitution. The result is that now, after the civil war, there is no sovereign authority to settle immediate problems.
In England, on the other hand, we have the typical constitution, in which the ultimate power upon all questions is in the hands of the same person. The ultimate authority in the English constitution is a newly-elected House of Commons. Whatever the question on which it decides, a new House of Commons can despotically and finally resolve. No one can doubt the importance of singleness and unity. The excellence in the British constitution is that it has achieved this unity. This is primarily due to the provision which places the choice of the executive in "the people's house." But it could not have been effected without what I may call the "safety valve" and "the regulator." The "safety valve" is the power of creating peers, the "regulator" is the cabinet's power of dissolving. The defects of a popular legislature are: caprice in selection, the sectarianism born of party organisation, which is the necessary check on caprice, and the peculiar prejudices and interests of the particular parliament. Now the caprice of parliament in the choice of a premier is best checked by the premier himself having the power of dissolution. But as a check on sectarianism such an extrinsic power as that of a capable constitutional king is more efficient. For checking the peculiar interests our colonial governors seem almost perfectly qualified. But the intervention of a constitutional monarch is only beneficial if he happens to be an exceptionally wise man. The peculiar interests of a specific parliament are seldom in danger of overriding national interests; hence, on the whole, the advantage of the premier being the real dissolving authority.
The power of creating peers, vested in the premier, serves constantly to modify the character of the second chamber. What we may call the catastrophe creation of peers is different. That the power should reside in the king would again be beneficial only in the case of the exceptional monarch. Taken altogether, we find that hereditary royalty is not essential to parliamentary government. Our conclusion is that though a king with high courage and fine discretion, a king with a genius for the place, is always useful, and at rare moments priceless, yet a common king is of no use at a crisis, while, in the common course of things, he will do nothing, and he need do nothing.
All the rude nations that have attained civilisation seem to begin in a consultative and tentative absolutism. The king has a council of elders whom he consults while he tests popular support in the assembly of freemen. In England a very strong executive was an imperative necessity. The assemblies summoned by the English sovereign told him, in effect, how far he might go. Legislation as a positive power was very secondary in those old parliaments; but their negative action was essential. The king could not venture to alter the law until the people had expressed their consent. The Wars of the Roses killed out the old councils. The second period of the constitution continues to the revolution of 1688. The rule of parliament was then established by the concurrence of the usual supporters of royalty with the usual opponents of it. Yet the mode of exercising that rule has since changed. Even as late as 1810 it was supposed that when the Prince of Wales became Prince Regent he would be able to turn out the ministry.
It is one of our peculiarities that the English people is always antagonistic to the executive. It is their natural impulse to resist authority as something imposed from outside. Hence our tolerance of local authorities as instruments of resistance to tyranny of the central authority.
Our constitution is full of anomalies. Some of them are, no doubt, impeding and mischievous. Half the world believes that the Englishman is born illogical. As a matter of fact, I am inclined to believe that the English care more even than the French for simplicity; but the constitution is not logical. The complexity we tolerate is that which has grown up. Any new complexity, as such, is detestable to the English mind. Let anyone try to advocate a plan of suffrage reform at all out of the way, and see how many adherents he can collect.
This great political question of the day, the suffrage question, is made exceedingly difficult by this history of ours. We shall find on investigation that so far from an ultra-democratic suffrage giving us a more homogeneous and decided House of Commons it would give us a less homogeneous and more timid house. With us democracy would mean the rule of money and mainly and increasingly of new money working for its own ends.
* * * * *
The Age of Louis XIV
Voltaire's "History of the Age of Louis XIV.," was published when its author (see p. 259), long famous, was the companion of Frederick the Great in Prussia—from 1750 to 1753. Voltaire was in his twentieth year when the Grand Monarque died. Louis XIV. had succeeded his father at the age of five years, in 1643; his nominal reign covered seventy-one years, and throughout the fifty-three years which followed Mazarin's death his declaration "L'Etat c'est moi" had been politically and socially a truth. He controlled France with an absolute sway; under him she achieved a European ascendency without parallel save in the days of Napoleon. He sought to make her the dictator of Europe. But for William of Orange, Marlborough, and Eugene, he would have succeeded. Politically he did not achieve his aim; but under him France became the unchallenged leader of literary and artistic culture and taste, the universal criterion.
I.—France Under Mazarin
We do not propose to write merely a life of Louis XIV.; our aim is a far wider one. It is to give posterity a picture, not of the actions of a single man, but of the spirit of the men of an age the most enlightened on record. Every period has produced its heroes and its politicians, every people has experienced revolutions; the histories of all are of nearly equal value to those who desire merely to store their memory with facts. But the thinker, and that still rarer person the man of taste, recognises only four epochs in the history of the world—those four fortunate ages in which the arts have been perfected: the great age of the Greeks, the age of Caesar and of Augustus, the age which followed the fall of Constantinople, and the age of Louis XIV.; which last approached perfection more nearly than any of the others.
On the death of Louis XIII., his queen, Anne of Austria, owed her acquisition of the regency to the Parlement of Paris. Anne was obliged to continue the war with Spain, in which the brilliant victories of the young Duc d'Enghein, known to fame as the Great Conde, brought him sudden glory and unprecedented prestige to the arms of France.
But internally the national finances were in a terribly unsatisfactory state. The measures for raising funds adopted by the minister Mazarin were the more unpopular because he was himself an Italian. The Paris Parlement set itself in opposition to the minister; the populace supported it; the resistance was organised by Paul de Gondi, afterwards known as the Cardinal de Retz. The court had to flee from Paris to St. Germain. Conde was won over by the queen regent; but the nobles, hoping to recover the power which Richelieu had wrenched from them, took the popular side. And their wives and daughters surpassed them in energy. A very striking contrast to the irresponsible frivolity with which the whole affair was conducted is presented by the grim orderliness with which England had at that very moment carried through the last act in the tragedy of Charles I. In France the factions of the Fronde were controlled by love intrigues.
Conde was victorious. But he was at feud with Mazarin, made himself personally unpopular, and found himself arrested when he might have made himself master of the government. A year later the tables were turned; Mazarin had to fly, and the Fronde released Conde. The civil war was renewed; a war in which no principles were at stake, in which the popular party of yesterday was the unpopular party of to-day; in which there were remarkable military achievements, much bloodshed, and much suffering, and which finally wore itself out in 1653, when Mazarin returned to undisputed power. Louis XIV. was then a boy of fifteen.
Mazarin had achieved a great diplomatic triumph by the peace of Westphalia in 1648; but Spain had remained outside that group of treaties; and, owing to the civil war of the Fronde, Conde's successes against her had been to a great extent made nugatory—and now Conde was a rebel and in command of Spanish troops. But Conde, with a Spanish army, met his match in Turenne with a French army.
At this moment, Christina of Sweden was the only European sovereign who had any personal prestige. But Cromwell's achievements in England now made each of the European statesmen anxious for the English alliance; and Cromwell chose France. The combined arms of France and England were triumphant in Flanders, when Cromwell died; and his death changed the position of England. France was financially exhausted, and Mazarin now desired a satisfactory peace with Spain. The result, was the Treaty of the Pyrenees, by which the young King Louis took a Spanish princess in marriage, an alliance which ultimately led to the succession of a grandson of Louis to the Spanish throne. Immediately afterwards, Louis' cousin, Charles II., was recalled to the throne of England. This closing achievement of Mazarin had a triumphant aspect; his position in France remained undisputed till his death in the next year (1661). He was a successful minister; whether he was a great statesman is another question. His one real legacy to France was the acquisition of Alsace.
II.—-The French Supremacy in Europe
On Mazarin's death Louis at once assumed personal rule. Since the death of Henry the Great, France had been governed by ministers; now she was to be governed by the king—the power exercised by ministers was precisely circumscribed. Order and vigour were introduced on all sides; the finances were regulated by Colbert, discipline was restored in the army, the creation of a fleet, was begun. In all foreign courts Louis asserted the dignity of France; it was very soon evident that there was no foreign power of whom he need stand in fear. New connections were established with Holland and Portugal. England under Charles II. was of little account.
To the king on the watch for an opportunity, an opportunity soon presents itself. Louis found his when Philip IV. of Spain was succeeded by the feeble Charles II. He at once announced that Flanders reverted to his own wife, the new king's elder sister. He had already made his bargain with the Emperor Leopold, who had married the other infanta.
Louis' armies were overrunning Flanders in 1667, and Franche-Comte next year. Holland, a republic with John de Witt at its head, took alarm; and Sir William Temple succeeded in effecting the Triple Alliance between Holland, England, and Sweden. Louis found it advisable to make peace, even at the price of surrendering Franche-Comte for the present.
Determined now, however, on the conquest of Holland, Louis had no difficulty in secretly detaching the voluptuary Charles II. from the Dutch alliance. Holland itself was torn between the faction of the De Witts and the partisans of the young William of Orange. Overwhelming preparations were made for the utterly unwarrantable enterprise.
As the French armies poured into Holland, practically no resistance was offered. The government began to sue for peace. But the populace rose and massacred the De Witts; young William was made stadtholder. Ruyter defeated the combined French and English fleets at Sole Bay. William opened the dykes and laid the country under water, and negotiated secretly with the emperor and with Spain. Half Europe was being drawn into a league against Louis, who made the fatal mistake of following the advice of his war minister Louvois, instead of Conde and Turenne.
In every court in Europe Louis had his pensioners intriguing on his behalf. His newly created fleet was rapidly learning its work. On land he was served by the great engineer Vauban, by Turenne, Conde, and Conde's pupil, Luxembourg. He decided to direct his own next campaign against Franche-Comte. But during the year Turenne, who was conducting a separate campaign in Germany with extraordinary brilliancy, was killed; and after this year Conde took no further part in the war. Moreover, the Austrians were now in the field, under the able leader Montecuculi.
In 1676-8 town after town fell before Vauban, a master of siege work as of fortification; Louis, in many cases, being present in person. In other quarters, also, the French arms were successful. Especially noticeable were the maritime successes of Duquesne, who was proving himself a match for the Dutch commanders. Louis was practically fighting and beating half Europe single-handed, as he was now getting no effective help from England or his nominal ally, Sweden. Finally, in 1678, he was able practically to dictate his own terms to the allies. The peace had already been signed when William of Orange attacked Luxembourg before Mons; a victory, on the whole, for him, but entirely barren of results. With this peace of Nimeguen, Louis was at the height of his power.
By assuming the right of interpreting for himself the terms of the treaty, he employed the years of peace in extending his possessions. No other power could now compare with France, but in 1688 Louis stood alone, without any supporter, save James II. of England. And he intensified the general dread by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the expulsion of the French Huguenots.
The determination of James to make himself absolute, and to restore Romanism in England, caused leading Englishmen to enter on a conspiracy—kept secret with extraordinary success—with William of Orange. The luckless monarch was abandoned on every hand, and fled from his kingdom to France, an object of universal mockery. Yet Louis resolved to aid him. A French force accompanied him to Ireland, and Tourville defeated the united fleets of England and Holland. At last France was mistress of the seas; but James met with a complete overthrow at the Boyne. The defeated James, in his flight, hanged men who had taken part against him. The victorious William proclaimed a general pardon. Of two such men, it is easy to see which was certain to win.
Louis had already engaged himself in a fresh European war before William's landing in England. He still maintained his support of James. But his newly acquired sea power was severely shaken at La Hogue. On land, however, Louis' arms prospered. The Palatinate was laid waste in a fashion which roused the horror of Europe. Luxembourg in Flanders, and Catinat in Italy, won the foremost military reputations in Europe. On the other hand, William proved himself one of those generals who can extract more advantage from a defeat than his enemies from a victory, as Steinkirk and Neerwinden both exemplified. France, however, succeeded in maintaining a superiority over all her foes, but the strain before long made a peace necessary. She could not dictate terms as at Nimeguen. Nevertheless, the treaty of Ryswick, concluded in 1697, secured her substantial benefits.
III.—-The Spanish Succession
The general pacification was brief. North Europe was soon aflame with the wars of those remarkable monarchs, Charles XII. and Peter the Great; and the rest of Europe over the Spanish succession. The mother and wife of Louis were each eldest daughters of a Spanish king; the mother and wife of the Emperor Leopold were their younger sisters. Austrian and French successions were both barred by renunciations; and the absorption of Spain by either power would upset utterly the balance of power in Europe. There was no one else with a plausible claim to succeed the childless and dying Charles II. European diplomacy effected treaties for partitioning the Spanish dominions; but ultimately Charles declared the grandson of Louis his heir. Louis, in defiance of treaties, accepted the legacy.
The whole weight of England was then thrown on to the side of the Austrian candidate by Louis' recognition of James Edward Stuart as rightful King of England. William, before he died, had successfully brought about a grand alliance of European powers against Louis; his death gave the conduct of the war to Marlborough. Anne was obliged to carry on her brother-in-law's policy. Elsewhere, kings make their subjects enter blindly on their own projects; in London the king must enter upon those of his subjects.
When Louis entered on the war of the Spanish Succession he had already, though unconsciously, lost that grasp of affairs which had distinguished him; while he still dictated the conduct of his ministers and his generals. The first commander who took the field against him was Prince Eugene of Savoy, a man born with those qualities which make a hero in war and a great man in peace. The able Catinat was superseded in Italy by Villeroi, whose failures, however, led to the substitution of Vendome.
But the man who did more to injure the greatness of France than any other for centuries past was Marlborough—the general with the coolest head of his time; as a politician the equal, and as a soldier immeasurably the superior, of William III. Between Marlborough and his great colleague Eugene there was always complete harmony and complete understanding, whether they were campaigning or negotiating.
In the Low Countries, Marlborough gained ground steadily, without any great engagement. In Germany the French arms were successful, and at the end of 1703 a campaign was planned with Vienna for its objective. The advance was intercepted in 1704 by the junction of Eugene and the forces from Italy with Marlborough and an English force. The result was the tremendous overthrow of Hochstedt, or Blenheim. The French were driven over the Rhine.
Almost at the same moment English sailors surprised and captured the Rock of Gibraltar, which England still holds. In six weeks, too, the English mastered Valencia and Catalonia for the archduke, under the redoubtable Peterborough. Affairs went better in Italy (1705); but in Flanders, Villeroi was rash enough to challenge Marlborough at Ramillies in 1706. In half an hour the French army was completely routed, and lost 20,000 men; city after city opened its gates to the conqueror; Flanders was lost as far as Lille. Vendome was summoned from Italy to replace Villeroi, whereupon Eugene attacked the French in their lines before Turin, and dispersed their army, which was forced to withdraw from Italy, leaving the Austrians masters there.
Louis seemed on the verge of ruin; but Spain was loyal to the Bourbon. In 1707 Berwick won for the French the signal victory of Almanza. In Germany, Villars made progress. Louis actually designed an invasion of Great Britain in the name of the Pretender, but the scheme collapsed. He succeeded in placing a great army in the field in Flanders; it was defeated by Marlborough and Eugene at Oudenarde. Eugene sat down before Lille, and took it. The lamentable plight of France was made worse by a cruel winter.
Louis found himself forced to sue for peace, but the terms of the allies were too intolerably humiliating. They demanded that Louis should assist in expelling his own grandson from Spain. "If I must make war, I would rather make it on my enemies than on my children," said Louis. Once more an army took the field with indomitable courage. A desperate battle was fought by Villars against Marlborough and Eugene at Malplaquet. Villars was defeated, but with as much honour to the French as to the allies.
Louis again sued for peace, but the allies would not relax their monstrous demands. Marlborough, Eugene, and the Dutch Heinsius all found their own interest in prolonging the war. But with the Bourbon cause apparently at its last gasp in Spain, the appearance there of Vendome revived the spirit of resistance.
Then the death of the emperor, and the succession to his position of his brother, the Spanish claimant, the Archduke Charles, meant that the allies were fighting to make one dominion of the Spanish and German Empires. The steady advance of Marlborough in the Low Countries could not prevent a revulsion of popular sentiment, which brought about his recall and the practical withdrawal from the contest of England, where Bolingbroke and Oxford were now at the head of affairs. Under Villars, success returned to the French standards in Flanders.
Hence came in 1713 the peace of Utrecht, for the terms of which England was mainly responsible. It was fair and just, but the English ministry received scant justice for making it. The emperor refused at first to accept it; but, when isolated, he agreed to its corollary, the peace of Rastadt. Philip was secured on the throne of Spain.
Never was there a war or a peace in which so many natural expectations were so completely reversed in the outcome. What Louis may have proposed to himself after it was over, no one can say for he died the year after the treaty of Utrecht.
IV.—The Court of the Grand Monarque
The brilliancy and magnificence of the court, as well as the reign of Louis XIV., were such that the least details of his life seem interesting to posterity, just as they excited the curiosity of every court in Europe and of all his contemporaries. Such is the effect of a great reputation. We care more to know what passed in the cabinet and the court of an Augustus than for details of Attila's and Tamerlane's conquests.
One of the most curious affairs in this connection is the mystery of the Man with the Iron Mask, who was placed in the Ile Sainte-Marguerite just after Mazarin's death, was removed to the Bastille in 1690, and died in 1703. His identity has never been revealed. That he was a person of very great consideration is clear from the way in which he was treated; yet no such person disappeared from public life. Those who knew the secret carried it with them to their graves.
Once the man scratched a message on a silver plate, and flung it into the river. A fisherman who picked it up brought it to the governor. Asked if he had read the writing, he said, "No; he could not read himself, and no one else had seen it." "It is lucky for you that you cannot read," said the governor. And the man was detained till the truth of his statement had been confirmed.
The king surpassed the whole court in the majestic beauty of his countenance; the sound of his voice won the hearts which were awed by his presence; his gait, appropriate to his person and his rank, would have been absurd in anyone else. In those who spoke with him he inspired an embarrassment which secretly flattered an agreeable consciousness of his own superiority. That old officer who began to ask some favour of him, lost his nerve, stammered, broke down, and finally said: "Sire, I do not tremble thus in the presence of your enemies," had little difficulty in obtaining his request.
Nothing won for him the applause of Europe so much as his unexampled munificence. A number of foreign savants and scholars were the recipients of his distinguished bounty, in the form of presents or pensions; among Frenchmen who were similarly benefited were Racine, Quinault, Flechier, Chapelain, Cotin, Lulli.
A series of ladies, from Mazarin's niece, Marie Mancini, to Mme. la Valliere and Mme. de Montespan, held sway over Louis' affections; but after the retirement of the last, Mme. de Maintenon, who had been her rival, became and remained supreme. The queen was dead; and Louis was privately married to her in January, 1686, she being then past fifty. Francoise d'Aubigne was born in 1635, of good family, but born and brought up in hard surroundings. She was married to Scarron in 1651; nine years later he died. Later, she was placed, in charge of the king's illegitimate children. She supplanted Mme. de Montespan, to whom she owed her promotion, in the king's favour. The correspondence in the years preceding the marriage is an invaluable record of that mixture of religion and gallantry, of dignity and weakness, to which the human heart is so often prone, in Louis; and in the lady, of a piety and an ambition which never came into conflict. She never used her power to advance her own belongings.
In August, 1715, Louis was attacked by a mortal malady. His heir was his great-grandson; the regency devolved on Orleans, the next prince of the blood. His powers were to be limited by Louis' will but the will could not override the rights which the Paris Parliament declared were attached to the regency. The king's courage did not fail him as death drew near.
"I thought," he said to Mme. de Maintenon, "that it was a harder thing to die." And to his servants: "Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal?" The words he spoke while he embraced the child who was his heir are significant. "You are soon to be king of a great kingdom. Above all things, I would have you never forget your obligations to God. Remember that you owe to Him all that you are. Try to keep at peace with your neighbours. I have loved war too much. Do not imitate me in that, or in my excessive expenditure. Consider well in everything; try to be sure of what is best, and to follow that."
V.—How France Flourished Under Louis XIV.
At the beginning of the reign the genius of Colbert, the restorer of the national finances, was largely employed on the extension of commerce, then almost entirely in the hands of the Dutch and English. Not only a navy, but a mercantile marine was created; the West India and East India companies were both established in 1664. Almost every year of Colbert's ministry was marked by the establishment of a new industry.
Paris was lighted and paved and policed, almost rebuilt. Louis had a marked taste for architecture, for gardens, and for sculpture. The law owed many reforms to this monarch. The army was reorganised; merit, not rank, became the ground of promotion: the bayonet replaced the pike, and the artillery was greatly developed. When Louis began to rule there was no navy. Arsenals were created, sailors were trained, and a fleet came into being which matched those of Holland and England.
Even a brief summary shows the vast changes in the state accomplished by Louis. His ministers seconded his efforts admirably. Theirs is the credit for the details, for the execution; but the scheme, the general principles, were due to him. The magistrates would not have reformed the laws, order would not have been restored in the finances, discipline in the army, police throughout the kingdom; there would have been no fleets, no encouragement of the arts; none of all those improvements carried out systematically, simultaneously, resolutely, under various ministers, had there not been a master, greater than them all, imbued with the general conceptions and determined on their fulfilment.
The spirit of commonsense, the spirit of criticism, gradually progressing, insensibly destroyed much superstition; insomuch that simple charges of sorcery were excluded from the courts in 1672. Such a measure would have been impossible under Henry IV. or Louis XIII. Nevertheless, such superstitions were deeply rooted. Everyone believed in astrology; the comet of 1680 was regarded as a portent.
In science France was, indeed, outstripped by England and Florence. But in eloquence, poetry, literature, and philosophy the French were the legislators of Europe. One of the works which most contributed to. forming the national taste was the "Maxims" of La Rochefoucauld. But the work of genius which in itself summed up the perfections of prose and set the mould of language was Pascal's "Lettres Provinciales." The age was characterised by the eloquence of Bossuet. The "Telemaque" of Fenelon, the "Caracteres" of La Bruyere, were works of an order entirely original and without precedent.
Racine, less original than Corneille, owes a still increasing reputation to his unfailing elegance, correctness, and truth; he carried the tender harmonies of poetry and the graces of language to their highest possible perfection. These men taught the nation to think, to feel, and to express itself. It was a curious stroke of destiny that made Moliere the contemporary of Corneille and Racine. Of him I will venture to say that he was the legislator of life's amenities; of his other merits it is needless to speak.
The other arts—of music, painting, sculpture and architecture—had made little progress in France before this period. Lulli introduced an order of music hitherto unknown. Poussin was our first great painter in the reign of Louis XIII.; he has had no lack of successors. French sculpture has excelled in particular. And we must remark on the extraordinary advance of England during this period. We can exhaust ourselves in criticising Milton, but not in praising him. Dryden was equalled by no contemporary, surpassed by no predecessor. Addison's "Cato" is the one English tragedy of sustained beauty. Swift is a perfected Rabelais. In science, Newton and Halley stand to-day supreme; and Locke is infinitely the superior of Plato.
VI.—Religion Under Louis XIV.
To preserve at once union with the see of Rome and maintain the liberties of the Gallican Church—her ancient rights; to make the bishops obedient as subjects without infringing on their rights as bishops; to make them contribute to the needs of the state, without trespassing on their privileges, required a mixture of dexterity which Louis almost always showed. The one serious and protracted quarrel with Rome arose over the royal claim to appoint bishops, and the papal refusal to recognise the appointments. The French Assembly of the Clergy supported the king; but the famous Four Resolutions of that body were ultimately repudiated by the bishops personally, with the king's consent.
Dogmatism is responsible for introducing among men the horror of wars of religion. Following the Reformation, Calvinism was largely identified with republican principles. In France, the fierce struggles of Catholics and Huguenots were stayed by the accession of Henry IV.; the Edict of Nantes secured to the former the privileges which their swords had practically won. But after his time they formed an organisation which led to further contests, ended by Richelieu.
Favoured by Colbert, to Louis the Huguenots were suspect as rebels who had with difficulty been forced to submission. By him they were subjected to constantly increasing disabilities. At last the Huguenots disobeyed the edicts against them. Still harsher measures were adopted; and the climax came in 1685 with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, following on the "dragonnades" in Alsace. Protestantism was proscribed. The effect was not the forcible conversion of the Calvinists. but their wholesale emigration; the transfer to foreign states of an admirable industrial and military population. Later, the people of the Cevennes rose, and were put down with great difficulty, though Jean Cavalier was their sole leader worthy the name. In fact, the struggle was really ended by a treaty, and Cavalier died a general of France.
Calvinism is the parent of civil wars. It shakes the foundations of states. Jansenism can excite only theological quarrels and wars of the pen. The Reformation attacked the power of the Church; Jansenism was concerned exclusively with abstract questions. The Jansenist disputes sprang from problems of grace and predestination, fate and free-will—that labyrinth in which man holds no clue.
A hundred years later Cornells Jansen, Bishop of Ypres, revived these questions. Arnauld supported him. The views had authority from Augustine and Chrysostom, but Arnauld was condemned. The two establishments of Port Royal refused to sign the formularies condemning Jansen's book, and they had on their side the brilliant pen of Pascal. On the other were the Jesuits. Pascal, in the "Lettres Provinciales," made the Jesuits ridiculous with his incomparable wit. The Jansenists were persecuted, but the persecution strengthened them. But full of absurdities as the whole controversy was to an intelligent observer, the crown, the bishops, and the Jesuits were too strong for the Jansenists, especially when Le Tellier became the king's confessor. But the affair was not finally brought to a conclusion, and the opposing parties reconciled, till after the death of Louis. Ultimately, Jansenism became merely ridiculous. The fall of the Jesuits was to follow in due time.
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The Old Regime
Born at Paris on July 29, 1805, Alexis Henri Charles Clerel de Tocqueville came of an old Norman family which had distinguished itself both in law and in arms. Educated for the Bar, he proceeded to America in 1831 to study the penitentiary system. Four years later he published "De la Democratie en Amerique" (see Miscellaneous Literature), a work which created an enormous sensation throughout Europe. De Tocqueville came to England, where he married a Miss Mottley. He became a member of the French Academy; was appointed to the Chamber of Deputies, took an important part in public life, and in 1849 became vice-president of the Assembly, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. His next work, "L'Ancien Regime" ("The Old Regime"), translated under the title "On the State of Society in France before the Revolution of 1789; and on the Causes which Led to that Event," appeared in 1856. It is of the highest importance, because it was the starting point of the true conception of the Revolution. In it was first shown that the centralisation of modern France was not the product of the Revolution, but of the old monarchy, that the irritation against the nobility was due, not to their power, but to their lack of power, and that the movement was effected by masses already in possession of property. De Tocqueville died at Cannes on April 16, 1859.
I.—-The Last Days of Feudal Institutions
The French people made, in 1789, the greatest effort which was ever attempted by any nation to cut, so to speak, their destiny in halves, and to separate by an abyss that which they had heretofore been from that which they sought to become hereafter.
The municipal institutions, which in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had raised the chief towns of Germany into rich and enlightened small republics, still existed in the eighteenth; but they were a mere semblance of the past.
All the powers of the Middle Ages which were still in existence seemed to be affected by the same disease; all showed symptoms of the same languor and decay.
Wherever the provincial assemblies had maintained their ancient constitution unchanged, they checked instead of furthering the progress of civilisation.
Royalty no longer had anything in common with the royalty of the Middle Ages; it enjoyed other prerogatives, occupied a different place, was imbued with a different spirit, and inspired different sentiments; the administration of the state spread in all directions upon the ruin of local authorities; the organised array of public officers superseded more and more the government of the nobles.
This view of the state of things, which prevailed throughout Europe as well as within the boundaries of France, is essential to the comprehension of what is about to follow, for no one who has seen and studied France only can ever, I affirm, understand anything of the French Revolution.
What was the real object of the revolution? What was its peculiar character? For what precise reason was it made, and what did it effect? The revolution was not made, as some have supposed, in order to destroy the authority of religious belief. In spite of appearances, it was essentially a social and political revolution; and within the circle of social and political institutions it did not tend to perpetuate and give stability to disorder, or—as one of its chief adversaries has said—to methodise anarchy.
However radical the revolution may have been, its innovations were, in fact, much less than have been commonly supposed, as I shall show hereafter. What may truly be said is that it entirely destroyed, or is still destroying—for it is not at an end—every part of the ancient state of society that owed its origin to aristocratic and feudal institutions.
But why, we may ask, did this revolution, which was imminent throughout Europe, break out in France rather than elsewhere? And why did it display certain characteristics which have appeared nowhere else, or, at least, have appeared only in part?
One circumstance excites at first sight surprise. The revolution, whose peculiar object it was, as we have seen, everywhere to abolish the remnant of the institutions of the Middle Ages, did not break out in the countries in which these institutions, still in better preservation, caused the people most to feel their constraint and their rigour, but, on the contrary, in the countries where their effects were least felt; so that the burden seemed most intolerable where it was in reality least heavy.
In no part of Germany, for instance, at the close of the eighteenth century, was serfdom as yet completely abolished. Nothing of the kind had existed in France for a long period of time. The peasant came, and went, and bought and sold, and dealt and laboured as he pleased. The last traces of serfdom could only be detected in one or two of the eastern provinces annexed to France by conquest; everywhere else the institution had disappeared. The French peasant had not only ceased to be a serf; he had become an owner of land.
It has long been believed that the subdivision of landed property in France dates from the revolution of 1789, and was only the result of that revolution. The contrary is demonstrable by all the evidence.
The number of landed proprietors at that time amounted to one-half, frequently to two-thirds, of their present number. Now, all these small landowners were, in reality, ill at ease in the cultivation of their property, and had to bear many charges, or easements, on the land which they could not shake off.
Although what is termed in France the old regime is still very near to us, few persons can now give an accurate answer to the question—How were the rural districts of France administered before 1789?
In the eighteenth century all the affairs of the parish were managed by a certain number of parochial officers, who were no longer the agents of the manor or domain, and whom the lord no longer selected. Some of these persons were nominated by the intendant of the province, others were elected by the peasants themselves. The duty of these authorities was to assess the taxes, to repair the church, to build schools, to convoke and preside over the vestry or parochial meeting. They attended to the property of the parish, and determined the application of it; they sued, and were sued, in its name. Not only the lord of the domain no longer conducted the administration of the small local affairs, but he did not even superintend it. All the parish officers were under the government or control of the central power, as we shall show in a subsequent chapter. Nay, more; the seigneur had almost ceased to act as the representative of the crown in the parish, or as the channel of communication between the king and his subjects.
If we quit the parish, and examine the constitution of the larger rural districts, we shall find the same state of things. Nowhere did the nobles conduct public business either in their collective or their individual capacity. This was peculiar to France.
Of all the peculiar rights of the French nobility, the political element had disappeared; the pecuniary element alone remained, in some instances largely increased.
II.—-A Shadow of Democracy
Picture to yourself a French peasant of the eighteenth century. Take him as he is described in the documents—so passionately enamoured of the soil that he will spend all his savings to purchase it, and to purchase it at any price. To complete his purchase he must first pay a tax, not to the government, but to other landowners of the neighbourhood, as unconnected as himself with the administration of public affairs, and hardly more influential than he is. He possesses it at last; his heart is buried in it with the seeds he sows. This little nook of ground, which is his own in this vast universe, fills him with pride and independence. But again these neighbours call him from his furrow, and compel him to come to work for them without wages. He tries to defend his young crops from their game; again they prevent him. As he crosses the river they wait for his passage to levy a toll. He finds them at the market, where they sell him the right of selling his own produce; and when, on his return home, he wants to use the remainder of his wheat for his own sustenance—of that wheat which was planted by his own hands, and has grown under his eyes—he cannot touch it till he has ground it at the mill and baked it at the bakehouse of these same men. A portion of his little property is paid away in quit-rents to them also, and these dues can neither be extinguished nor redeemed.
The lord, when deprived of his former power, considered himself liberated from his former obligations; and no local authority, no council, no provincial or parochial association had taken his place. No single being was any longer compelled by law to take care of the poor in the rural districts, and the central government had boldly undertaken to provide for their wants by its own resources.
Every year the king's council assigned to each province certain funds derived from the general produce of the taxes, which the intendant distributed.
Sometimes the king's council insisted upon compelling individuals to prosper, whether they would or no. The ordinances constraining artisans to use certain methods and manufacture certain articles are innumerable; and, as the intendants had not time to superintend the application of all these regulations, there were inspectors general of manufactures, who visited in the provinces to insist on their fulfilment.
So completely had the government already changed its duty as a sovereign into that of a guardian.
In France municipal freedom outlived the feudal system. Long after the landlords were no longer the rulers of the country districts, the towns still retained the right of self-government.
In most instances the government of the towns was vested in two assemblies. All the great towns were thus governed, and some of the small ones. The first of these assemblies was composed of municipal officers, more of less numerous according to the place. These municipal officers never received any stipend, but they were remunerated by exemptions from taxation and by privileges.
The second assembly, which was termed the general assembly, elected the corporation, wherever it was still subject to election, and always continued to take a part in the principal concerns of the town.
If we turn from the towns to the villages, we meet with different powers and different forms of government.
In the eighteenth century the number and the name of the parochial officers varied in the different provinces of France. In most of the parishes they were, in the eighteenth century, reduced to two persons—the one named the "collector," the other most commonly named the "syndic." Generally, these parochial officers were either elected, or supposed to be so; but they had everywhere become the instruments of the state rather than the representatives of the community. The collector levied the taille, or common tax, under the direct orders of the intendant. The syndic, placed under the daily direction of the sub-delegate of the intendant, represented that personage in all matters relating to public order or affecting the government. He became the principal agent of the government in relation to military service, to the public works of the state, and to the execution of the general laws of the kingdom.
Down to the revolution the rural parishes of France had preserved in their government something of that democratic aspect which they had acquired in the Middle Ages. The democratic assembly of the parish could express its desires, but it had no more power to execute its will than the corporate bodies in the towns. It could not speak until its mouth had been opened, for the meeting could not be held without the express permission of the intendant, and, to use the expression of those times, which adapted language to the fact, "under his good pleasure."
III.—The Ruin of the Nobility
If we carefully examine the state of society in France before the revolution, we may see that in each province men of various classes, those, at least, who were placed above the common people grew to resemble each other more and more, in spite of differences of rank.
Time, which had perpetuated, and, in many respects, aggravated the privileges interposed between two classes of men, had powerfully contributed to render them alike in all other respects.
For several centuries the French nobility had grown gradually poorer and poorer. "Spite of its privileges, the nobility is ruined and wasted day by day, and the middle classes get possession of the large fortunes," wrote a nobleman in a melancholy strain in 1755-Yet the laws by which the estates of the nobility were protected still remained the same, nothing appeared to be changed in their economical condition. Nevertheless, the more they lost their power the poorer they everywhere became in exactly the same proportion.
The non-noble classes alone seemed to inherit all the wealth which the nobility had lost; they fattened, as is were, upon its substance. Yet there were no laws to prevent the middle class from ruining themselves, or to assist them in acquiring riches; nevertheless, they incessantly increased their wealth—in many instances they had become as rich, and often richer, than the nobles. Nay, more, their wealth was of the same kind, for, though dwelling in the towns, they were often country landowners, and sometimes they even bought seignorial estates.
Let us now look at the other side of the picture, and we shall see that these same Frenchmen, who had so many points of resemblance among themselves, were, nevertheless, more completely isolated from each other than perhaps the inhabitants of any other country, or than had ever been the case before in France.
The fact is, that as by degrees the general liberties of the country were finally destroyed, involving the local liberties in their ruin, the burgess and the noble ceased to come into contact with public life.
The system of creating new nobles, far from lessening the hatred of the roturier to the nobleman, increased it beyond measure; it was envenomed by all the envy with which the new noble was looked upon by his former equals. For this reason the tiers etat, in all their complaints, always displayed more irritation against the newly ennobled than against the old nobility.
In the eighteenth century the French peasantry could no longer be preyed upon by petty feudal despots. They were seldom the object of violence on the part of the government; they enjoyed civil liberty, and were owners of a portion of the soil. But all the other classes of society stood aloof from this class, and perhaps in no other part of the world had the peasantry ever lived so entirely alone. The effects of this novel and singular kind of oppression deserve a very attentive consideration.
This state of things did not exist in an equal degree among any other of the civilised nations of Europe, and even in France it was comparatively recent. The peasantry of the fourteenth century were at once oppressed and more relieved. The aristocracy sometimes tyrannised over them, but never forsook them.
In the eighteenth century a French village was a community of persons, all of whom were poor, ignorant, and coarse; its magistrates were as rude and as contemned as the people; its syndic could not read; its collector could not record in his own handwriting the accounts on which the income of his neighbour and himself depended.
Not only had the former lord of the manor lost the right of governing this community, but he had brought himself to consider it a sort of degradation to take any part in the government of it. The central power of the state alone took any care of the matter, and as that power was very remote, and had as yet nothing to fear from the inhabitants of the villages, the only care it took of them was to extract revenue.
A further burden was added. The roads began to be repaired by forced labour only—that is to say, exclusively at the expense of the peasantry. This expedient for making roads without paying for them was thought so ingenious that in 1737 a circular of the Comptroller-General Orry established it throughout France.
Nothing can better demonstrate the melancholy fate of the rural population; the progress of society, which enriches all the other classes, drives them to despair, and civilisation itself turns against that class alone.
The system of forced labour, by becoming a royal right, was gradually extended to almost all public works. In 1719 I find it was employed to build barracks. "Parishes are to send their best workmen," said the ordinance, "and all other works are to give way to this." The same forced service was used to escort convicts to the galleys and beggars to the workhouse; it had to cart the baggage of troops as often as they changed their quarters—a burthen which was very onerous at a time when each regiment carried heavy baggage after it. Many carts and oxen had to be collected for the purpose.
IV.—Reform and Destruction Inevitable
One further factor, and that the most important, remains to be noted: the universal discredit into which every form of religious belief had fallen, at the end of the eighteenth century, and which exercised without any doubt the greatest influence upon the whole of the French Revolution; it stamped its character.
Irreligion had produced an enormous public evil. The religious laws having been abolished at the same time that the civil laws were overthrown, the minds of men were entirely upset; they no longer knew either to what to cling or where to stop. And thus arose a hitherto unknown species of revolutionists, who carried their boldness to a pitch of madness, who were surprised by no novelty and arrested by no scruple, and who never hesitated to put any design whatever into execution. Nor must it be supposed that these new beings have been the isolated and ephemeral creation of a moment, and destined to pass away as that moment passed. They have since formed a race of beings which has perpetuated itself, and spread into all the civilised parts of the world, everywhere preserving the same physiognomy, the same character.
From the moment when the forces I have described, and the added loss of religion, matured, I believe that this radical revolution, which was to confound in common ruin all that was worst and all that was best in the institutions and condition of France, became inevitable. A people so ill-prepared to act for themselves could not undertake a universal and simultaneous reform without a universal destruction.
One last element must be remembered before we conclude. As the common people of France had not appeared for one single moment on the theatre of public affairs for upwards of 140 years, no one any longer imagined that they could ever again resume their position. They appeared unconscious, and were therefore believed to be deaf. Accordingly, those who began to take an interest in their condition talked about them in their presence just as if they had not been there. It seemed as if these remarks could only be heard by those who were placed above the common people, and that the only danger to be apprehended was that they might not be fully understood by the upper classes.
The very men who had most to fear from the fury of the people declaimed loudly in their presence on the cruel injustice under which the people had always suffered. They pointed out to each other the monstrous vices of those institutions which had weighed most heavily upon the lower orders; they employed all their powers of rhetoric in depicting the miseries of the people and their ill-paid labour; and thus they infuriated while they endeavoured to relieve them.
Such was the attitude of the French nation on the eve of the revolution, but when I consider this nation in itself it strikes me as more extraordinary than any event in its own annals. Was there ever any nation on the face of the earth so full of contrasts and so extreme in all its actions; more swayed by sensations, less by principles; led therefore always to do either worse or better than was expected of it, sometimes below the common level of humanity, sometimes greatly above it—a people so unalterable in its leading instincts that its likeness may still be recognised in descriptions written two or three thousand years ago, but at the same time so mutable in its daily thoughts and in its tastes as to become a spectacle and an amazement to itself, and to be as much surprised as the rest of the world at the sight of what it has done—a people beyond all others the child of home and the slave of habit, when left to itself; but when once torn against its will from the native hearth and from its daily pursuits, ready to go to the end of the world and to dare all things.
Such a nation could alone give birth to a revolution so sudden, so radical, so impetuous in its course, and yet so full of reactions, of contradictory incidents and of contrary examples. Without the reasons I have related the French would never have made the revolution; but it must be confessed that all these reasons united would not have sufficed to account for such a revolution anywhere else but in France.
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History of the French Revolution
Francois Auguste Alexis Mignet was born at Aix, in Provence, on May 8, 1796, and began life at the Bar. It soon became apparent that his true vocation was history, and in 1818 he left his native town for Paris, where he became attached to the "Courier Francais," in the meantime delivering with considerable success a series of lectures on modern history at the Athenee. Mignet may be said to be the first great specialist to devote himself to the study of particular periods of French history. His "History of the French Revolution, from 1789 to 1814," published in 1824, is a strikingly sane and lucid arrangement of facts that came into his hands in chaotic masses. Eminently concise, exact, and clear, it is the first complete account by one other than an actor in the great drama. Mignet was elected to the French Academy in 1836, and afterwards published a series of masterly studies dealing with the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, among which are "Antonio Perez and Philip II.," and "The History of Mary, Queen of Scots," and also biographies of Franklin and Charles V. He died on March 24, 1884.
I.—The Last Resort of the Throne
I am about to take a rapid review of the history of the French Revolution, which began the era of new societies in Europe, as the English revolution had begun the era of new governments.
Louis XVI. ascended the throne on May 11, 1774. Finances, whose deficiencies neither the restorative ministry of Cardinal de Fleury, nor the bankrupt ministry of the Abbe Terray had been able to make good, authority disregarded, an imperious public opinion; such were the difficulties which the new reign inherited from its predecessors. And in choosing, on his accession to the throne, Maurepas as prime minister, Louis XVI. eminently contributed to the irresolute character of his reign. On the death of Maurepas the queen took his place with Louis XVI., and inherited all his influence over him. Maurepas, mistrusting court ministers, had always chosen popular ministers; it is true he did not support them; but if good was not brought about, at least evil did not increase. After his death, court ministers succeeded the popular ministers, and by their faults rendered the crisis inevitable which others had endeavoured to prevent by their reforms. This difference of choice is very remarkable; this it was which, by the change of men, brought on the change of the system of administration. The revolution dates front this epoch; the abandonment of reforms and the return of disorders hastened its approach and augmented its fury.
After the failure of the queen's minister the States-General had become the only means of government, and the last resources of the throne. The king, on August 8, 1788, fixed the opening for May 1, 1789. Necker, the popular minister of finance, was recalled, and prepared everything for the election of deputies and the holding of the States.
A religious ceremony preceded their installation. The king, his family, his ministers, the deputies of the three orders, went in procession from the Church of Notre Dame to that of St. Louis, to hear the opening mass.
The royal sitting took place the following day in the Salle des Menus. Galleries, arranged in the form of an amphitheatre, were filled with spectators. The deputies were summoned, and introduced according to the order established in 1614. The clergy were conducted to the right, the nobility to the left, and the commons in front of the throne at the end of the hall. The deputations from Dauphine, from Crepy-en-Valois, to which the Duke of Orleans belonged, and from Provence, were received with loud applause. Necker was also received on his entrance with general enthusiasm.
Barentin, keeper of the seals, spoke next after the king. His speech displayed little knowledge of the wishes of the nation, or it sought openly to combat them. The dissatisfied assembly looked to M. Necker, from whom it expected different language.
The court, so far from wishing to organise the States-General, sought to annul them. No efforts were spared to keep the nobility and clergy separate from and in opposition to the commons; but on May 6, the day after the opening of the States, the nobility and clergy repaired to their respective chambers, and constituted themselves. The Third Estate being, on account of its double representation, the most numerous order, had the Hall of the States allotted to it, and there awaited the two other orders; it considered its situation as provisional, its members as presumptive deputies, and adopted a system of inactivity till the other orders should unite with it. Then a memorable struggle began, the issue of which was to decide whether the revolution should be effected or stopped.
The commons, having finished the verification of their own powers of membership on June 17, on the motion of Sieyes, constituted themselves the National Assembly, and refused to recognise the other two orders till they submitted, and changed the assembly of the States into an assembly of the people.
It was decided that the king should go in state to the Assembly, annul its decrees, command the separation of the orders as constitutive of the monarchy, and himself fix the reforms to be effected by the States-General. It was feared that the majority of the clergy would recognise the Assembly by uniting with it; and to prevent so decided a step, instead of hastening the royal sittings, they and the government closed the Hall of the States, in order to suspend the Assembly till the day of that royal session.
At an appointed hour on June 20 the president of the commons repaired to the Hall of the States, and finding an armed force in possession, he protested against this act of despotism. In the meantime the deputies arrived, and dissatisfaction increased. The most indignant proposed going to Marly and holding the Assembly under the windows of the king; one named the Tennis Court; this proposition was well received, and the deputies repaired thither in procession.
Bailly was at their head; the people followed them with enthusiasm, even soldiers volunteered to escort them, and there, in a bare hall, the deputies of the commons, standing with upraised hands, and hearts full of their sacred mission, swore, with only one exception, not to separate till they had given France a constitution.
By these two failures the court prefaced the famous sitting of June 23.
At length it took place. A numerous guard surrounded the hall of the States-General, the door of which was opened to the deputies, but closed to the public. After a scene of authority, ill-suited to the occasion, and at variance with his heart, Louis XVI. withdrew, having commanded the deputies to disperse. The clergy and nobility obeyed. The deputies of the people, motionless, silent, and indignant, remained seated.
The grand-master of the ceremonies, finding the Assembly did not break up, came and reminded them of the king's order.
"Go and tell your master," cried Mirabeau, "that we, are here at the command of the people, and nothing but the bayonet shall drive us hence."
"You are to-day," added Sieyes calmly, "what you were yesterday. Let us deliberate."
The Assembly, full of resolution and dignity, began the debate accordingly.
On that day the royal authority was lost. The initiative in law and moral power passed from the monarch to the Assembly. Those who, by their counsels, had provoked this resistance did not dare to punish it Necker, whose dismissal had been decided on that morning, was, in the evening, entreated by the queen and Louis XVI. to remain in office.
II.—-"A la Bastille!"
The court might still have repaired its errors, and caused its attacks to be forgotten. But the advisers of Louis XVI., when they recovered from the first surprise of defeat, resolved to have recourse to the use of the bayonet after they had failed in that of authority.
The troops arrived in great numbers; Versailles assumed the aspect of a camp; the Hall of the States was surrounded by guards, and the citizens refused admission. Paris was also encompassed by various bodies of the army ready to besiege or blockade it, as the occasion might require; when the court, having established troops at Versailles, Sevres, the Champ de Mars, and St. Denis, thought it able to execute its project. It began on July 11, by the banishment of Necker, who received while at dinner a note from the king enjoining him to leave the country immediately.
On the following day, Sunday, July 12, about four in the afternoon, Necker's disgrace and departure became known in Paris. More than ten thousand persons flocked to the Palais Royal. They took busts of Necker and the Duke of Orleans, a report also having gone abroad that the latter would be exiled, and covering them with crape, carried them in triumph. A detachment of the Royal Allemand came up and attempted to disperse the mob; but the multitude, continuing its course, reached the Place Louis XV. Here they were assailed by the dragoons of the Prince de Lambese. After resisting a few moments they were thrown into confusion; the bearer of one of the busts and a soldier of one of the French guards were killed.
During the evening the people had repaired to the Hotel de Ville, and requested that the tocsin might be sounded. Some electors assembled at the Hotel de Ville, and took the authority into their own hands. The nights of July 12 and 13 were spent in tumult and alarm.
On July 13 the insurrection took in Paris a more regular character. The provost of the merchants announced the immediate arrival of twelve thousand guns from the manufactory of Charleville, which would soon be followed by thirty thousand more.
The next day, July 14, the people that had been unable to obtain arms on the preceding day came early in the morning to solicit some from the committee, hurried in a mass to the Hotel des Invalides, which contained a considerable depot of arms, found 28,000 guns concealed in the cellars, seized them, took all the sabres, swords, and cannon, and carried them off in triumph; while the cannon were placed at the entrance of the Faubourgs, at the palace of the Tuileries, on the quays and on the bridges, for the defence of the capital against the invasion of troops, which was expected every moment.
From nine in the morning till two the only rallying word throughout Paris was "A la Bastille! A la Bastille!" The citizens hastened thither in bands from all quarters, armed with guns, pikes, and sabres. The crowd which already surrounded it was considerable; the sentinels of the fortress were at their posts, and the drawbridges raised as in war. The populace advanced to cut the chains of the bridge. The garrison dispersed them with a charge of musketry. They returned, however, to the attack, and for several hours their efforts were confined to the bridge, the approach to which was defended by a ceaseless fire from the fortress.
The siege had lasted more than four hours when the French guards arrived with cannon. Their arrival changed the appearance of the combat. The garrison itself begged the governor to yield.
The gates were opened, the bridge lowered, and the crowd rushed into the Bastille.
The multitude which was enrolled on July 14 was not yet, in the following autumn, disbanded. And the people, who were in want of bread, wished for the king to reside at Paris, in the hope that his presence would diminish or put a stop to the dearth of provisions. On the pretext of protecting itself against the movements in Paris, the court summoned troops to Versailles, doubled the household guards, and sent in September (1789) for the dragoons and the Flanders regiment.
The officers of the Flanders regiment, received with anxiety in the town of Versailles, were feted at the chateau, and even admitted to the queen's card tables. Endeavours were made to secure their devotion, and on October 1, a banquet was given to them by the king's guards. The king was announced. He entered attired in a hunting dress, the queen leaning on his arm and carrying the dauphin. Shouts of affection and devotion arose on every side. The health of the royal family was drunk with swords drawn, and when Louis XVI. withdrew the music played "O Richard! O mon roi! L'univers t'abandonne." The scene now assumed a very significant character; the march of the Hullans and the profusion of wine deprived the guests of all reserve. The charge was sounded; tottering guests climbed the boxes as if mounting to an assault; white cockades were distributed; the tri-colour cockade, it is said, was trampled on.
The news of this banquet produced the greatest sensation in Paris. On the 4th suppressed rumours announced an insurrection; the multitude already looked towards Versailles. On the 5th the insurrection broke out in a violent and invincible manner; the entire want of flour was the signal. A young girl, entering a guardhouse, seized a drum and rushed through the streets beating it and crying, "Bread! Bread!" She was soon surrounded by a crowd of women. This mob advanced towards the Hotel de Ville, increasing as it went. It forced the guard that stood at the door, and penetrated into the interior, clamouring for bread and arms; it broke open doors, seized weapons, and marched towards Versailles. The people soon rose en masse, uttering the same demand, till the cry "To Versailles!" rose on every side. The women started first, headed by Maillard, one of the volunteers of the Bastille. The populace, the National Guard, and the French guards requested to follow them.
During this tumult the court was in consternation; the flight of the king was suggested, and carriages prepared. But, in the meantime, the rain, fatigue, and the inaction of the household troops lessened the fury of the multitude, and Lafayette arrived at the head of the Parisian army.
His presence restored security to the court, and the replies of the king to the deputation from Paris satisfied the multitude and the army.
About six next morning, however, some men of the lower class, more enthusiastic than the rest, and awake sooner than they, prowled round the chateau. Finding a gate open, they informed their companions, and entered.
Lafayette, apprised of the invasion of the royal residence, mounted his horse and rode hastily to the scene of danger. On the square he met some of the household troops surrounded by an infuriated mob, who were on the point of killing them. He threw himself among them, called some French guards who were near, and having rescued the household troops and dispersed their assailant, he hurried to the chateau. But the scene was not over. The crowd assembled again in the marble court under the king's balcony, loudly called for him, and he appeared. They required his departure for Paris. He promised to repair thither with his family, and this promise was received with general applause. The queen was resolved to accompany him, but the prejudice against her was so strong that the journey was not without danger. It was necessary to reconcile her with the multitude. Lafayette proposed to her to accompany him to the balcony. After some hesitation, she consented. They appeared on it together, and to communicate by a sign with the tumultuous crowd, to conquer its animosity and to awaken its enthusiasm, Lafayette respectfully kissed the queen's hand. The crowd responded with acclamations.
Thus terminated the scene; the royal family set out for Paris, escorted by the army, and its guards mixed with it.
The autumn of 1789 and the whole of the year 1790 were passed in the debate and promulgation of rapid and drastic reforms, by which the Parliament within eighteen months reduced the monarchy to little more than a form. Mirabeau, the most popular member, and in a sense the leader of the Parliament, secretly agreed with the court to save the monarchy from destruction; but on his sudden death, on April 2, 1791, the king and queen, in terror at their situation, determined to fly from Paris. The plan, which was matured during May and June, was to reach the frontier fortress of Montmedy by way of Chalons, and to take refuge with the army on the frontier.
The royal family made every preparation for departure; very few persons were informed of it, and no measures betrayed it. Louis XVI. and the queen, on the contrary, pursued a line of conduct calculated to silence suspicion, and on the night of June 20 they issued at the appointed hour from the chateau, one by one, in disguise, and took the road to Chalons and Montmedy.
The success of the first day's journey, the increasing distance from Paris, rendered the king less reserved and more confident. He had the imprudence to show himself, was recognised, and arrested at Varennes on the 21st.
The king was provisionally suspended—a guard set over him, as over the queen—and commissioners were appointed to question him.
IV.—Europe Declares War on the Revolution
While this was passing in the Assembly and in Paris, the emigrants, whom the flight of Louis XVI. had elated with hope, were thrown into consternation at his arrest. Monsieur, who had fled at the same time as his brother, and with better fortune, arrived alone at Brussels with the powers and title of regent. The emigrants thenceforth relied only on the assistance of Europe; the officers quitted their colours; 290 members of the Assembly protested against its decrees; in order to legitimatise invasion, Bouille wrote a threatening letter, in the inconceivable hope of intimidating the Assembly, and at the same time to take up himself the sole responsibility of the flight of Louis XVI.; finally the emperor, the King of Prussia, and the Count d'Artois met at Pilnitz, where they made the famous declaration of August 27, 1791, preparatory to the invasion of France.
On April 20, 1792, Louis XVI. went to the Assembly, attended by all his ministers. In that sitting war was almost unanimously decided upon. Thus was undertaken against the chief of confederate powers that war which was protracted throughout a quarter of a century, which victoriously established the revolution, and which changed the whole face of Europe.
On July 28, when the allied army of the invaders began to move from Coblentz, the Duke of Brunswick, its commander-in-chief, published a manifesto in the name of the emperor and the King of Prussia. He declared that the allied sovereigns were advancing to put an end to anarchy in France, to arrest the attacks made on the altar and the throne. He said that the inhabitants of towns who dared to stand on the defensive should instantly be punished as rebels, with the rigour of war, and their houses demolished or burned; and that if the Tuileries were attacked or insulted, the princes would deliver Paris over to military execution and total subversion.
This fiery and impolitic manifesto more than anything else hastened the fall of the throne, and prevented the success of the coalition.
The insurgents fixed the attack on the Tuileries for the morning of August 10. The vanguard of the Faubourgs, composed of Marseillese and Breton Federates, had already arrived by the Rue Saint Honore, stationed themselves in battle array on the Carrousel, and turned their cannon against the Tuileries, when Louis XVI. left his chamber with his family, ministers, and the members of the department, and announced to the persons assembled for the defence of the palace that he was going to the National Assembly. All motives for resistance ceased with the king's departure. The means of defence had also been diminished by the departure of the National Guards who escorted the king. The Swiss discharged a murderous fire on the assailants, who were dispersed. The Place du Carrousel was cleared. But the Marseillese and Bretons soon returned with renewed force; the Swiss were fired on by the cannon, and surrounded; and the crowd perpetrated in the palace all the excesses of victory.
Royalty had already fallen, and thus on August 10 began the dictatorial and arbitrary epoch of the revolution.
During three days, from September 2, the prisoners confined in the Carmes, the Abbaye, the Conciergerie, the Force, etc., were slaughtered by a band of about three hundred assassins. On the 20th, the in itself almost insignificant success of Valmy, by checking the invasion, produced on our troops and upon opinion in France the effect of the most complete victory.
On the same day the new Parliament, the Convention, began its deliberations. In its first sitting it abolished royalty, and proclaimed the republic. And already Robespierre, who played so terrible a part in our revolution, was beginning to take a prominent position in the debates.
The discussion on the trial of Louis XVI. began on November 13. The Assembly unanimously decided, on January 20, 1793, that Louis was guilty; when the appeal was put to the question, 284 voices voted for, 424 against it; 10 declined voting. Then came the terrible question as to the nature of the punishment. Paris was in a state of the greatest excitement; deputies were threatened at the very door of the Assembly. There were 721 voters. The actual majority was 361. The death of the king was decided by a majority of 26 votes.
He was executed at half-past ten in the morning of January 21, and his death was the signal for an almost universal war.
This time all the frontiers of France were to be attacked by the European powers.
The cabinet of St. James, on learning the death of Louis XVI., dismissed the Ambassador Chauvelin, whom it had refused to acknowledge since August 10 and the dethronement of the king. The Convention, finding England already leagued with the coalition, and consequently all its promises of neutrality vain and illusive, on February 1, 1793, declared war against the King of Great Britain and the stadtholder of Holland, who had been entirely guided by the cabinet of St. James since 1788.
Spain came to a rupture with the republic, after having interceded in vain for Louis XVI., and made its neutrality the price of the life of the king. The German Empire entirely adopted the war; Bavaria, Suabia, and the Elector Palatine joined the hostile circles of the empire. Naples followed the example of the Holy See, and the only neutral powers were Venice, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and Turkey.
In order to confront so many enemies, the Convention decreed a levy of 300,000 men.
The Austrians assumed the offensive, and at Liege put our army wholly to the rout.
Meanwhile, partial disturbances had taken place several times in La Vendee. The Vendeans beat the gendarmerie at Saint Florens. The troops of the line and the battalions of the National Guard who advanced against the insurgents were defeated.
At the same time tidings of new military disasters arrived, one after the other. Dumouriez ventured a general action at Neerwinden, and lost it. Belgium was evacuated, Dumouriez had recourse to the guilty project of defection. He had conference with Colonel Mack, and agreed with the Austrians to march upon Paris for the purpose of re-establishing the monarchy, leaving them on the frontiers, and having first given up to them several fortresses as a guarantee. He proceeded to the execution of his impractical design. He was really in a very difficult position; the soldiers were very much attached to him, but they were also devoted to their country. He had the commissioners of the Convention arrested by German hussars, and delivered them as hostages to the Austrians. After this act of revolt he could no longer hesitate. He tried to induce the army to join him, but was forsaken by it, and then went over to the Austrian camp with the Duc de Chartres, Colonel Thouvenot, and two squadrons of Berchiny. The rest of his army went to the camp at Famars, and joined the troops commanded by Dampierre.
The Convention on learning the arrest of the commissions, established itself as a permanent assembly, declared Dumouriez a traitor, authorised any citizen to attack him, set a price on his head, and decreed the famous Committee of Public Safety.
V.—-The Committee of Public Safety
Thus was created that terrible power which first destroyed the enemies of the Mountain, then the Mountain and the commune, and, lastly, itself. The committee did everything in the name of the Convention, which it used as an instrument. It nominated and dismissed generals, ministers, representatives, commissioners, judges, and juries. It assailed factions; it took the initiative in all measures. Through its commissioners, armies and generals were dependent upon it, and it ruled the departments with sovereign sway.
By means of the law touching suspected persons, it disposed of men's liberties; by the revolutionary tribunal, of men's lives; by levies and the maximum, of property; by decrees of accusation in the terrified Convention, of its own members. Lastly, its dictatorship was supported by the multitude who debated in the clubs, ruled in the revolutionary committees; whose services it paid by a daily stipend, and whom it fed with the maximum. The multitude adhered to a system which inflamed its passions, exaggerated its importance, assigned it the first place, and appeared to do everything for it.
Two enemies, however, threatened the power of this dictatorial government. Danton and his faction, whose established popularity gave him great weight, and who, as victory over the allies seemed more certain, demanded a cessation of the "Terror," or martial law of the committee; and the commune, or extreme republican municipal government of Paris.
The Committee of Public Safety was too strong not to triumph over the commune, but, at the same time, it had to resist the moderate party, which demanded the cessation of the revolutionary government and the dictatorship of the committees. The revolutionary government had only been created to restrain, the dictatorship to conquer; and as Danton and his party no longer considered restraint within and further victory abroad essential, they sought to establish legal order. Early in 1794 it was time for Danton to defend himself; the proscription, after striking the commune, threatened him. He was advised to be on his guard and to take immediate steps. His friends implored him to defend himself.
"I would rather," said he, "be guillotined than be a guillotiner; besides, my life is not worth the trouble, and I am sick of the world!"
"Well, then, thou shouldst depart."
"Depart!" he repeated, curling his lip disdainfully, "Depart! Can we carry your country away on the sole of our shoe?"
On Germinal 10, as the revolutionary calendar went (March 31, 1796), he was informed that his arrest was being discussed in the Committee of Public Safety. His arrest gave rise to general excitement, to a sombre anxiety. Danton and the rest of the accused were brought before the revolutionary tribunal. They displayed an audacity of speech and a contempt of their judges wholly unusual. They were taken to the Conciergerie, and thence to the scaffold.
They went to death with the intrepidity usual at that epoch. There were many troops under arms, and their escort was numerous. The crowd, generally loud in its applause, was silent. Danton stood erect, and looked proudly and calmly around. At the foot of the scaffold he betrayed a momentary emotion. "Oh, my best beloved—my wife!" he cried. "I shall not see thee again!" Then suddenly interrupting himself: "No weakness, Danton!"
Thus perished the last defender of humanity and moderation; the last who sought to promote peace among the conquerors of the revolution and pity for the conquered. For a long time no voice was raised against the dictatorship of terror. During the four months following the fall of the Danton party, the committee exercised their authority without opposition or restraint. Death became the only means of governing, and the republic was given up to daily and systematic executions.
Robespierre, who was considered the founder of a moral democracy, now attained the highest degree of elevation and of power. He became the object of the general flattery of his party; he was the great man of the republic. At the Jacobins and in the Convention his preservation was attributed to "the good genius of the republic" and to the Supreme Being, Whose existence he had decreed on Floreal 18, the celebration of the new religion being fixed for Prairial 20.
But the end of this system drew near. The committees opposed Robespierre in their own way. They secretly strove to bring about his fall by accusing him of tyranny.
Naturally sad, suspicious, and timid, he became more melancholy and mistrustful than ever. He even rose against the committee itself. On Thermidor 8 (July 25, 1794), he entered the Convention at an early hour. He ascended the tribunal, and denounced the committee in a most skilful speech. Not a murmur, not a mark of applause welcomed this declaration of war.
The members of the two committees thus attacked, who had hitherto remained silent, seeing the Mountain thwarted and the majority undecided, thought it time to speak. Vadier first opposed Robespierre's speech and then Robespierre himself. Cambon went further. The committees had also spent the night in deliberation. In this state of affairs the sitting of Thermidor 9 (July 27) began.
Robespierre, after attempting to speak several times, while his voice was drowned by cries of "Down with the tyrant!" and the bell which the president, Thuriot, continued ringing, now made a last effort to be heard. "President of assassins," he cried, "for the last time, will you let me speak?"
Said one of the Mountain: "The blood of Danton chokes you!" His arrest was demanded, and supported on all sides. It was now half-past five, and the sitting was suspended till seven. Robespierre was transferred to the Luxembourg. The commune, after having ordered the gaolers not to receive him, sent municipal officers with detachments to bring him away. Robespierre was liberated, and conducted in triumph to the Hotel de Ville. On arriving, he was received with the greatest enthusiasm. "Long live Robespierre! Down with the traitors!" resounded on all sides. But the Convention marched upon the Hotel de Ville.
The conspirators, finding they were lost, sought to escape the violence of their enemies by committing violence on themselves. Robespierre shattered his jaw with a pistol shot. He was deposited for some time at the Committee of Public Safety before he was transferred to the Conciergerie; and here, stretched on a table, his face disfigured and bloody, exposed to the looks, the invectives, the curses of all, he beheld the various parties exulting in his fall, and charging upon him all the crimes that had been committed.
On Thermidor 10, about five in the evening, he ascended the death-cart, placed between Henriot and Couthon, mutilated like himself. His head was enveloped in linen, saturated with blood; his face was livid, his eyes were almost visionless. An immense crowd thronged round the cart, manifesting the most boisterous and exulting joy. He ascended the scaffold last. When his head fell, shouts of applause arose in the air, and lasted for some minutes.
Thermidor 9 was the first day of the revolution it which those fell who attacked. This indication alone manifested that the ascendant revolutionary movement had reached its term. From that day the contrary movement necessarily began.
From Thermidor 9, 1794, to the summer of 1795, the radical Mountain, in its turn, underwent the destiny it had imposed on others—for in times when the passions are called into play parties know not how to come to terms, and seek only to conquer. From that period the middle class resumed the management of the revolution, and the experiment of pure democracy had failed.
* * * * *
History of the French Revolution
Carlyle's "History of the French Revolution" appeared in 1837, some three years after the author had established himself in London. Never has the individuality of a historian so completely permeated his work; it is inconceivable that any other man should have written a single paragraph, almost a single sentence, of the history. To Carlyle, the story presents itself as an upheaval of elemental forces, vast elemental personalities storming titanically in their midst, vividly picturesque as a primeval mountain landscape illumined by the blaze of lightning, in a night of storms, with momentary glimpses of moon and stars. Although it was impossible for Carlyle to assimilate all the wealth of material even then extant, the "History," considered as a prose epic, has a permanent and unique value. His convictions, whatever their worth, came, as he himself put it, "flamingly from the heart." (Carlyle, biography: see vol. ix.)
I.—-The End of an Era
On May 10, 1774, "with a sound absolutely like thunder," has the horologe of time struck, and an old era passed away. Is it the healthy peace or the ominous unhealthy, that rests on France for the next ten years? Dubarrydom and its D'Aiguillons are gone for ever. There is a young, still docile, well-intentioned king; a young, beautiful and bountiful, well-intentioned queen; and with them all France, as it were, become young. For controller-general, a virtuous, philosophic Turgot. Philosophism sits joyful in her glittering salons; "the age of revolutions approaches" (as Jean Jacques wrote), but then of happy, blessed ones.
But with the working people it is not so well, whom we lump together into a kind of dim, compendious unity, monstrous but dim, far off, as the canaille. Singular how long the rotten will hold together, provided you do not handle it roughly. Visible in France is no such thing as a government. But beyond the Atlantic democracy is born; a sympathetic France rejoices over the rights of man. Rochambeaus, Lameths, Lafayettes have drawn their swords in this sacred quarrel; return, to be the missionaries of freedom. But, what to do with the finances, having no Fortunatus purse?
For there is the palpablest discrepancy between revenue and expenditure. Are we breaking down, then, into the horrors of national bankruptcy? Turgot, Necker, and others have failed. What apparition, then, could be welcomer than that of M. de Calonne? A man of indisputable genius, even fiscal genius, more or less; of intrinsically rich qualities! For all straits he has present remedy. Calonne also shall have trial! With a genius for persuading—before all things for borrowing; after three years of which, expedient heaped on expedient, the pile topples perilous.
Whereupon a new expedient once more astonishes the world, unheard of these hundred and sixty years—Convocation of the Notables. A round gross of notables, meeting in February, 1787; all privileged persons. A deficit so enormous! Mismanagement, profusion, is too clear; peculation itself is hinted at. Calonne flies, storm-driven, over the horizon. To whom succeeds Lomenie-Brienne, Archbishop of Toulouse—adopting Calonne's plans, as Calonne had proposed to adopt Turgot's; and the notables are, as it were, organed out in kind of choral anthem of thanks, praises, promises.