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A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times by Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot

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comptroller-general on his defence. "All that is done in my name is done
by my orders," replied Louis XVI. to the deputation from Franche-Comte.
The deputation required nothing less than the convocation of the
States-general. On all sides the nation was clamoring after this ancient
remedy for their woes; the most clear-sighted had hardly a glimmering of
the transformation which had taken place in ideas as well as manners;
none had guessed what, in the reign of Louis XVI., those States-general
would be which had remained dumb since the regency of Mary de Medici.

Still more vehement and more proud than the Parliamentarians, the states
of Brittany, cited to elect the deputies indicated by the governor, had
refused any subsidy. "Obey," said the king to the deputies; "my orders
have nothing in them contrary to the privileges which my predecessors
were graciously pleased to grant to my province of Brittany." Scarcely
had the Bretons returned to the states, when M. Amelot, who had charge of
the affairs of Brittany, received a letter which he did not dare to place
before the king's eyes. "Sir," said the states of Brittany, "we are
alarmed and troubled when we see our franchises and our liberties,
conditions essential to the contract which gives you Brittany, regarded
as mere privileges, founded upon a special concession. We cannot hide
from you, Sir, the direful consequences of expressions so opposed to the
constant principles of our national code. You are the father of your
people, and exercise no sway but that of the laws; they rule by you and
you by them. The conditions which secure to you our allegiance form a
part of the positive laws of your realm." Contrary to all received
usages during the session of the states, the royal troops marched into
Rennes; the noblesse refused to deliberate, so long as the assembly had
not recovered its independence. The governor applied to the petty nobles
who preponderated in their order; ignorant and poor as they were, they
allowed themselves to be bought, their votes carried the day, and the
subsidies were at last voted, notwithstanding the opposition on the part
of the most weighty of the noblesse; a hundred of them persistently staid

Internal quarrels in the cabinet rendered the comptroller-general's
situation daily more precarious; he gave in his resignation. The king
sent for M. d'Ormesson, councillor of state, of a virtue and integrity
which were traditional in his family, but without experience of affairs
and without any great natural capacity. He was, besides, very young, and
he excused himself from accepting such a post on the score of his age and
his feeble lights. "I am only thirty-one, Sir," he said. "I am younger
than you," replied the king, "and my post is more difficult than yours."
A few months later, the honest magistrate, overwhelmed by a task beyond
his strength, had made up his mind to resign; he did not want to have any
hand in the growing disorder of the finances; the king's brothers kept
pressing him to pay their debts; Louis XVI. himself, without any warning
to the comptroller-general, had just purchased Rambouillet from the Duke
of Penthievre, giving a bond of fourteen millions; but Madame d'Ormesson
had taken a liking to grandeur; she begged her husband hard to remain,
and he did. It was not long before the embarrassments of the treasury
upset his judgment: the tax-farming contract, so ably concluded by M.
Necker, was all at once quashed; a _regie_ was established; the Discount-
fund (_Caisse d'Escompte+) had lent the treasury six millions: the secret
of this loan was betrayed, and the holders of bills presented themselves
in a mass demanding liquidation; a decree of the council forbade payment
in coin over a hundred livres, and gave the bills a forced currency. The
panic became general; the king found himself obliged to dismiss M.
d'Ormesson, who was persecuted for a long while by the witticisms of the
court. His incapacity had brought his virtue into ridicule.

Marshal de Castries addressed to the king a private note. "I esteem M.
d'Ormesson's probity," said the minister of marine frankly, "but if the
financial affairs should fall into such discredit that your Majesty finds
yourself forced at last to make a change, I dare entreat you to think of
the valuable man who is now left unemployed; I do beg you to reflect
that, without Colbert, Louis XIV. would never perhaps have been called
Louis le Grand; that the wish of the nation, to be taken into account by
a good king, is secretly demanding, Sir, that the enlightened,
economical, and incorruptible man whom Providence has given to your
Majesty, should be recalled to his late functions. The errors of your
other ministers, Sir, are nearly always reparable, and their places are
easily filled. But the choice of him to whom is committed the happiness
of twenty-four millions of souls and the duty of making your authority
cherished is of frightful importance. With M. Necker, Sir, even in
peace, the imposts would be accepted, whatever they might be, without a
murmur. The conviction would be that inevitable necessity had laid down
the laws for them, and that a wise use of them would justify them, . .
. whereas, if your Majesty puts to hazard an administration on which all
the rest depend, it is to be feared that the difficulties will be
multiplied with the selections you will be obliged to have recourse to;
you will find one day destroy what another set up, and at last there will
arrive one when no way will be seen of serving the state but by failing
to keep all your Majesty's engagements, and thereby putting an end to all
the confidence which the commencement of your reign inspired."

The honest zeal of Marshal de Castries for the welfare of the state had
inspired him with prophetic views; but royal weakness exhibits sometimes
unexpected doggedness. "As regards M. Necker," answered Louis XVI., "I
will tell you frankly that after the manner in which I treated him and
that in which he left me, I couldn't think of employing him at all."
After some court-intrigues which brought forward names that were not in
good odor, that of Foulon, late superintendent of the forces, and of the
Archbishop of Toulouse, Lomenie de Brienne, the king sent for M. de
Calonne, superintendent of Lille, and intrusted him with the post of

It was court-influence that carried the day, and, in the court, that of
the queen, prompted by her favorite, Madame de Polignac. Tenderly
attached to his wife, who had at last given him a son, Louis XVI.,
delivered from the predominant influence of M. de Maurepas, was yielding,
almost unconsciously, to a new power. Marie Antoinette, who had long
held aloof from politics, henceforth changed her part; at the instigation
of the friends whom she honored with a perhaps excessive intimacy, she
began to take an important share in affairs, a share which was often
exaggerated by public opinion, more and more hard upon her every day.

Received on her arrival in France with some mistrust, of which she had
managed to get the better amongst the public, having been loved and
admired as long as she was dauphiness, the young queen, after her long
period of constraint in the royal family, had soon profited by her
freedom; she had a horror of etiquette, to which the court of Austria had
not made her accustomed; she gladly escaped from the grand palaces of
Louis XIV., where the traditions of his reign seemed still to exercise a
secret influence, in order to seek at her little manor-house of Trianon
new amusements and rustic pleasures, innocent and simple, and attended
with no other inconvenience but the air of cliquedom and almost of
mystery in which the queen's guests enveloped themselves. Public rumor
soon reached the ears of Maria Theresa. She, tenderly concerned for her
daughter's happiness and conduct, wrote to her on this subject:--

"I am always sure of success if you take anything in hand, the good God
having endowed you with such a face and so many charms besides, added to
your goodness, that hearts are yours if you try and exert yourself, but I
cannot conceal from you, nevertheless, my apprehension: it reaches me
from every quarter and only too often, that you have diminished your
attentions and politenesses in the matter of saying something agreeable
and becoming to everybody, and of making distinctions between persons.
It is even asserted that you are beginning to indulge in ridicule,
bursting out laughing in people's faces; this might do you infinite harm
and very properly, and even raise doubts as to the goodness of your
heart; in order to amuse five or six young ladies or gentlemen, you might
lose all else. This defect, my dear child, is no light one in a
princess; it leads to imitation, in order to pay their court, on the part
of all the courtiers, folks ordinarily with nothing to do and the least
estimable in the state, and it keeps away honest folks who do not like
being turned into ridicule or exposed to the necessity of having their
feelings hurt, and in the end you are left with none but bad company,
which by degrees leads to all manner of vices. . . . Likings carried
too far are baseness or weakness; one must learn to play one's part
properly if one wishes to be esteemed; you can do it if you will but
restrain yourself a little and follow the advice given you; if you are
heedless, I foresee great troubles for you, nothing but squabbles and
petty cabals which will render your days miserable. I wish to prevent
this and to conjure you to take the advice of a mother who knows the
world, who idolizes her children, and whose only desire is to pass her
sorrowful days in being of service to them."

Wise counsels of the most illustrious of mothers uselessly lavished upon
her daughters! Already the Queen of Naples was beginning to betray the
fatal tendencies of her character; whilst, in France, frivolous
pleasures, unreflecting friendships, and petty court-intrigues were day
by day undermining the position of Marie Antoinette. "I am much affected
at the situation of my daughter," wrote Maria Theresa, in 1776, to Abbe
Vermond, whom she had herself not long ago placed with the dauphiness,
then quite a child, and whose influence was often pernicious: "she is
hurrying at a great pace to her ruin, surrounded as she is by base
flatterers who urge her on for their own interests."

Almost at the same moment she was writing to the queen "I am very pleased
to learn that you had nothing to do with the change that has been made in
the cases of MM. Turgot and Malesherbes, who, however, have a great
reputation among the public and whose only fault, in my opinion, is that
they attempted too much at once. You say that you are not sorry; you
must have your own good reasons, but the public, for some time past, has
not spoken so well of you, and attributes to you point blank petty
practices which would not be seemly in your place. The king loving you,
his ministers must needs respect you; by asking nothing that is not right
and proper, you make yourself respected and loved at the same time. I
fear nothing in your case (as you are so young) but too much dissipation.
You never did like reading, or any sort of application: this has often
caused me anxieties. I was so pleased to see you devoted to music; that
is why I have often plagued you with questions about your reading. For
more than a year past there has no longer been any question of reading or
of music; I hear of nothing but horse-racing, hunting too, and always
without the king and with a number of young people not over-select, which
disquiets me a great deal, loving you as I do so tenderly. I must say,
all these pleasures in which the king takes no part, are not proper. You
will tell me, 'he knows, he approves of them.' I will tell you, he is a
good soul, and therefore you ought to be circumspect and combine your
amusements with his; in the long run you can only be happy through such
tender and sincere union and affection."

[Illustration: MARIE ANTOINETTE 456]

The misfortune and cruel pangs of their joint lives were alone destined
to establish between Marie Antoinette and her husband that union and that
intimacy which their wise mother would have liked to create in the days
of tranquillity. Affectionate and kind, sincerely devoted to his wife,
Louis XVI. was abrupt and awkward; his occupations and his tastes were
opposed to all the elegant or frivolous instincts of the young queen.
He liked books and solid books; his cabinet was hung with geographical
charts which he studied with care; he had likewise a passion for
mechanical works, and would shut himself up for hours together in a
workshop in company with a blacksmith named Gamin. "The king used to
hide from the queen and the court to forge and file with me," this man
would remark in after days: "to carry about his anvil and mine, without
anybody's knowing anything about it required a thousand stratagems which
it would take no end of time to tell of." You will allow that I should
make a sorry figure at a forge," writes the queen to her brother Joseph
II.; "I should not be Vulcan, and the part of Venus might displease the
king more than those tastes of mine of which he does not disapprove."

Louis XVI. did not disapprove, but without approving. As he was weak in
dealing with his ministers, from kindliness and habit, so he was towards
the queen with much better reason. Whilst she was scampering to the
Opera ball, and laughing at going thither in a hackney coach one day when
her carriage had met with an accident, the king went to bed every evening
at the same hour, and the talk of the public began to mix up the name of
Marie Antoinette with stories of adventure. In the hard winter of 1775,
whilst the court amused themselves by going about in elegantly got-up
sledges, the king sent presents of wood to the poor. "There are my
sledges, sirs," said he as he pointed out to the gentlemen in attendance
the heavy wagons laden with logs. The queen more gladly took part in the
charities than in the smithy. She distributed alms bountifully; in a
moment of gratitude the inhabitants of Rue St. Honore had erected in her
honor a snow pyramid bearing these verses:

Fair queen, whose goodness is thy chiefest grace,
With our good king, here occupy thy place;
Though this frail monument be ice or snow,
Our warm hearts are not so.

[Illustration: "There are my Sledges, Sirs."----458]

Bursts of kindness and sympathy, sincere as they may be, do not suffice
to win the respect and affection of a people. The reign of Louis XV.
had used up the remnants of traditional veneration, the new right of the
public to criticise sovereigns was being exercised malignantly upon the
youthful thoughtlessnesses of Marie Antoinette.

In the home circle of the royal family, the queen had not found any
intimate; the king's aunts had never taken to her; the crafty ability of
the Count of Provence and the giddiness of the Count of Artois seemed in
the prudent eye of Maria Theresa to be equally dangerous; Madame
Elizabeth, the heroic and pious companion of the evil days, was still a
mere child; already the Duke of Chartres, irreligious and debauched,
displayed towards the queen, who kept him at a distance, symptoms of a
bitter rancor which was destined to bear fruit. Marie Antoinette,
accustomed to a numerous family, affectionately united, sought friends
who could "love her for herself," as she used to say: an illusive hope,
in one of her rank, for which she was destined to pay dearly. She formed
an attachment to the young Princess of Lamballe, daughter-in-law of the
Duke of Penthievre, a widow at twenty years of age, affectionate and
gentle, for whom she revived the post of lady-superintendent, abolished
by Mary Leczinska. The court was in commotion, and the public murmured;
the queen paid no heed, absorbed as she was in the new delights of
friendship; the intimacy, in which there was scarcely any inequality,
with the Princess of Lamballe, was soon followed by a more perilous
affection. The Countess Jules de Polignac, who was generally detained
in the country by the narrowness of her means, appeared at court on the
occasion of a festival; the queen was pleased with her, made her remain,
and loaded her, her and her family, not only with favors, but with
unbounded and excessive familiarity. Finding the court circles a
constraint and an annoyance, Marie Antoinette became accustomed to seek
in the drawing-room of Madame de Polignac amusements and a freedom which
led before long to sinister gossip. Those who were admitted to this
royal intimacy were not always prudent or discreet, they abused the
confidence as well as the generous kindness of the queen; their ambition
and their cupidity were equally concerned in urging Marie Antoinette to
take in the government a part for which she was not naturally inclined.
M. de Calonne was intimate with Madame de Polignac; she, created a
duchess and appointed governess to the children of France (the royal
children), was all-powerful with her friend the queen; she dwelt upon
the talents of M. de Calonne, the extent and fertility of his resources;
M. de Vergennes was won over, and the office of comptroller-general,
which had but lately been still discharged with lustre by M. Turgot and
M. Necker, fell on the 30th of October, 1784, into the hands of M. de

Born in 1734 at Douai, Charles Alexander de Calonne belonged to a family
of magistrates of repute and influence in their province; he commenced
his hereditary career by the perfidious manoeuvres which contributed to
the ruin of M. de la Chalotais. Discredited from the very first by a
dishonorable action, he had invariably managed to get his vices
forgotten, thanks to the charms of a brilliant and fertile wit. Prodigal
and irregular as superintendent of Lille, he imported into the
comptroller-generalship habits and ideas opposed to all the principles of
Louis XVI. "The peace would have given hope a new run," says M. Necker
in his Memoires, "if the king had not confided the important functions of
administering the finances to a man more worthy of being the hero of
courtiers than the minister of a king. The reputation of M. de Calonne
was a contrast to the morality of Louis XVI., and I know not by what
argumentation, by what ascendency such a prince was induced to give a
place in his council to a magistrate who was certainly found agreeable in
the most elegant society of Paris, but whose levity and principles were
dreaded by the whole of France. Money was lavished, largesses were
multiplied, there was no declining to be good-natured or complaisant,
economy was made the object of ridicule, it was daringly asserted that
immensity of expenditure, animating circulation, was the true principle
of credit."

M. de Calonne had just been sworn in at the Court of Aids, pompously
attended by a great number of magistrates and financiers; he was for the
first time transacting business with the king. "Sir," said he, "the
comptrollers-general have many means of paying their debts: I have at
this moment two hundred and twenty thousand livres' worth payable on
demand; I thought it right to tell your Majesty, and leave everything to
your goodness." Louis XVI., astounded at such language, stared a moment
at his minister, and then, without any answer, walked up to a desk.
"There are your two hundred and twenty thousand livres," he said at last,
handing M. de Calonne a packet of shares in the Water Company. The
comptroller-general pocketed the shares, and found elsewhere the
resources necessary for paying his debts. "If my own affairs had not
been in such a bad state, I should not have undertaken those of France,"
said Calonne gayly to M. de Machault, at that time advanced in age and
still the centre of public esteem. The king, it was said, had but lately
thought of sending for him as minister in the room of M. de Maurepas,
he had been dissuaded by the advice of his aunts; the late
comptroller-general listened gravely to his frivolous successor; the
latter told the story of his conversation with the king. "I had
certainly done nothing to deserve a confidence so extraordinary,"
said M. de Machault to his friends. He set out again for his estate
at Arnonville, more anxious than ever about the future.

If the first steps of M. de Calonne dismayed men of foresight and of
experience in affairs, the public was charmed with them, no less than the
courtiers. The _bail des fermes_ was re-established, the _Caisse
d'escompte_ had resumed payment, the stockholders (_rentiers_) received
their quarters' arrears, the loan whereby the comptroller-general met all
expenses had reached eleven per cent. "A man who wants to borrow," M. de
Calonne would say, "must appear rich, and to appear rich he must dazzle
by his expenditure. Act we thus in the public administration. Economy
is good for nothing, it warns those who have money, not to lend it to an
indebted treasury, and it causes decay among the arts which prodigality
vivifies." New works, on a gigantic scale, were undertaken everywhere.
"Money abounds in the kingdom," the comptroller-general would remark to
the king; "the people never had more openings for work; lavishness
rejoices their eyes, because it sets their hands going. Continue these
splendid undertakings, which are an ornament to Paris, Bordeaux, Lyons,
Nantes, Marseilles, and Nimes, and which are almost entirely paid for by
those flourishing cities. Look to your ports, fortify Havre, and create
a Cherbourg, braving the jealousy of the English. None of those measures
which reveal and do not relieve the straits of the treasury! The people,
whom declaiming jurisconsults so vehemently but vainly incite to speak
evil of lavishness, would be grieved if they saw any interruption in the
expenditure which a silly parsimony calls superfluous."

The comptroller-general's practice tallied with his theories; the
courtiers had recovered the golden age; it was scarcely necessary to
solicit the royal favor. "When I saw everybody holding out hands, I held
out my hat," said a prince. The offices abolished by M. Turgot and M.
Necker were re-established, the abuses which they had removed came back,
the acceptances (_acquits de comptant_) rose in 1785 to more than a
hundred and thirty-six millions of livres. The debts of the king's
brothers were paid; advantageous exchanges of royal lands were effected
to their profit; the queen bought St. Cloud, which belonged to the Duke
of Orleans; all the great lords who were ruined, all the courtiers who
were embarrassed, resumed the pleasant habit of counting upon the royal
treasury to relieve their wants. The polite alacrity of the
comptroller-general had subdued the most rebellious; he obtained for
Brittany the right of freely electing its deputies; the states-hall at
Rennes, which had but lately resounded with curses upon him, was now
repeating a new cry of "Hurrah for Calonne!" A vote of the assembly
doubled the gratuitous gift which the province ordinarily offered the
king. "If it is possible, it is done," the comptroller would say to
applicants; "if it is impossible, it will get done."

The captivation was general, the blindness seemed to be so likewise;
a feverish impulse carried people away into all newfangled ways, serious
or frivolous. Mesmer brought from Germany his mysterious revelations in
respect of problems as yet unsolved by science, and pretended to cure all
diseases around the magnetic battery; the adventurer Cagliostro,
embellished with the title of count, and lavishing gold by handfuls,
bewitched court and city, and induced Councillor d'Epremesnil to say,
"The friendship of M. de Cagliostro does me honor." At the same time
splendid works in the most diverse directions maintained at the topmost
place in the world that scientific genius of France which the great minds
of the seventeenth century had revealed to Europe. "Special men
sometimes testify great disdain as regards the interest which men of the
world may take in their labors, and, certainly, if it were merely a
question of appraising their scientific merit, they would be perfectly
right. But the esteem, the inclination of the public for science, and
the frequent lively expression of that sentiment, are of high importance
to it, and play a great part in its history. The times for that
sympathy, somewhat ostentatious and frivolous as it may be, have always
been, as regards sciences, times of impulse and progress, and, regarding
things in their totality, natural history and chemistry profited by the
social existence of M. de Buffon and of M. Lavoisier as much as by their
discoveries" [M. Guizot, _Melanges biographiques,_ Madame de Rumford].

[Illustration: Lavoisier----465]

It was this movement in the public mind, ignorant but sympathetic, which,
on the eve of the Revolution, supported, without understanding them, the
efforts of the great scholars whose peaceful conquests survived the
upheaval of society. Farmer-general (of taxes) before he became a
chemist, Lavoisier sought to apply the discoveries of science to common
and practical wants. "Devoted to the public instruction, I will seek to
enlighten the people," he said to the king who proposed office to him.
The people were to send him to the scaffold. The ladies of fashion
crowded to the brilliant lectures of Fourcroy.

The princes of pure science, M. de Lagrange, M. de Laplace, M. Monge, did
not disdain to wrench themselves from their learned calculations in order
to second the useful labors of Lavoisier. Bold voyagers were scouring
the world, pioneers of those enterprises of discovery which had appeared
for a while abandoned during the seventeenth century. M. de Bougainville
had just completed the round of the world, and the English captain, Cook,
during the war which covered all seas with hostile ships, had been
protected by generous sympathy. On the 19th of March, 1779, M. de
Sartines, at that' time minister of marine, wrote by the king's order, at
the suggestion of M. Turgot: "Captain Cook, who left Plymouth in the
month of July, 1776, on board the frigate Discovery, to make explorations
on the coasts, islands, and seas of Japan and California, must be on the
point of returning to Europe. As such enterprises are for the general
advantage of all nations, it is the king's will that Captain Cook be
treated as the commander of a neutral and allied power, and that all
navigators who meet this celebrated sailor do inform him of his Majesty's
orders regarding him."

Captain Cook was dead, massacred by the savages, but the ardor which had
animated him was not extinct; on the 10th of August, 1785, a French
sailor, M. de La Peyrouse, left Brest with two frigates for the purpose
of completing the discoveries of the English explorer. The king had been
pleased to himself draw up his instructions, bearing the impress of an
affectionate and over-strained humanity. "His Majesty would regard it as
one of the happiest successes of the expedition," said the instructions,
"if it were terminated without having cost the life of a single man." La
Peyrouse and his shipmates never came back. Louis XVI. was often
saddened by it. "I see what it is quite well," the poor king would
repeat, "I am not lucky."

M. de La Peyrouse had scarcely commenced the preparations for his fatal
voyage, when, on the 5th of June, 1783, the States of the Vivarais,
assembled in the little town of Annonay, were invited by MM. de
Montgolfier, proprietors of a large paper-manufactory, to be witnesses
of an experiment in physics. The crowd thronged the thoroughfare. An
enormous bag, formed of a light canvas lined with paper, began to swell
slowly before the curious eyes of the public; all at once the cords which
held it were cut, and the first balloon rose majestically into the air.
Successive improvements made in the Montgolfiers' original invention
permitted bold physicists ere long to risk themselves in a vessel
attached to the air-machine. There sailed across the Channel a balloon
bearing a Frenchman, M. Blanchard, and an Englishman, Dr. Jefferies; the
latter lost his flag. Blanchard had set the French flag floating over
the shores of England; public enthusiasm welcomed him on his return. The
queen was playing cards at Versailles. "What I win this game shall go to
Blanchard," she said. The same feat, attempted a few days later by a
professor of physics, M. Pilatre de Rozier, was destined to cost him his

So many scientific explorations, so many new discoveries of nature's
secrets were seconded and celebrated by an analogous movement in
literature. Rousseau had led the way to impassioned admiration of the
beauties of nature; Bernardin de St. Pierre had just published his
_Etudes de la Nature;_ he had in the press his _Paul et Virginie;_ Abbe
Delille was reading his _Jardin,_ and M. de St. Lambert his _Saisons_.
In their different phases and according to their special instincts, all
minds, scholarly or political, literary or philosophical, were tending to
the same end, and pursuing the same attempt. It was nature which men
wanted to discover or recover: scientific laws and natural rights divided
men's souls between them. Buffon was still alive, and the great sailors
were every day enriching with their discoveries the _Jardin du Roi;_ the
physicists and the chemists, in the wake of Lavoisier, were giving to
science a language intelligible to common folks; the jurisconsults were
attempting to reform the rigors of criminal legislation at the same time
with the abuses they had entailed, and Beaumarchais was bringing on the
boards his _Manage de Figaro_.

The piece had been finished and accepted at the Theatre Francais since
the end of 1781, but the police-censors had refused permission to bring
it out. Beaumarchais gave readings of it; the court itself was amused to
see itself attacked, caricatured, turned into ridicule; the friends of
Madame de Polignac reckoned among the most ardent admirers of the _Manage
de Figaro_. The king desired to become acquainted with the piece. He
had it read by Madame de Campan, lady of the chamber to the queen, and
very much in her confidence. The taste and the principles of Louis XVI.
were equally shocked. "Perpetually Italian concetti!" he exclaimed.
When the reading was over: "It is detestable," said the king; "it shall
never be played; the Bastille would have to be destroyed to make the
production of this play anything but a dangerous inconsistency. This
fellow jeers at all that should be respected in a government."

Louis XVI. had correctly criticised the tendencies as well as the effects
of a production sparkling with wit, biting, insolent, licentious; but he
had relied too much upon his persistency in his opinions and his personal
resolves. Beaumarchais was more headstrong than the king; the readings
continued. The hereditary grand-duke of Russia, afterwards Paul I.,
happening to be at Paris in 1782, under the name of Count North, no
better diversion could be thought of for him than a reading of the
_Manage de Figaro_. Grimm undertook to obtain Beaumarchais' consent.
"As," says Madame de Oberkirsch, who was present at the reading,--as the
mangy (_chafouin_) looks of M. de la Harpe had disappointed me, so the
fine face, open, clever, somewhat bold, perhaps, of M. de Beaumarchais
bewitched me. I was found fault with for it. I was told he was a
good-for-naught. I do not deny it, it is possible; but he has prodigious
wit, courage enough for anything, a strong will which nothing can stop,
and these are great qualities."

Beaumarchais took advantage of the success of the reading to boldly ask
the keeper of the seals for permission to play the piece; he was
supported by public curiosity, and by the unreflecting enthusiasm of a
court anxious to amuse itself; the game appeared to have been won, the
day for its representation, at the _Menus-Plaisirs Theatre,_ was fixed,
an interdiction on the part of the king only excited the ill-humor and
intensified the desires of the public. "This prohibition appeared to be
an attack upon liberty in general," says Madame Campan. "The
disappointment of all hopes excited discontent to such a degree, that the
words oppression and tyranny were never uttered, in the days preceding
the fall of the throne, with more passion and vehemence." Two months
later, the whole court was present at the representation of the _Mariage
de Figaro,_ given at the house of M. de Vandreuil, an intimate friend of
the Duchess of Polignac, on his stage at Gennevilliers. "You will see
that Beaumarchais will have more influence than the keeper of the seals,"
Louis XVI. had said, himself foreseeing his own defeat. The _Mariage de
Figaro_ was played at the Theatre Francais on the 27th of April, 1784.

"The picture of this representation is in all the collections of the
period," says M. de Lomenie. "It is one of the best known reminiscences
of the eighteenth century; all Paris hurrying early in the morning to the
doors of the Theatre Francais, the greatest ladies dining in the
actresses' dressing-room in order to secure places." "The blue ribands,"
says Bachaumont, "huddled up in the crowd, and elbowing Savoyards; the
guard dispersed, the doors burst, the iron gratings broken beneath the
efforts of the assailants." "Three persons stifled," says La Harpe, "one
more than for Scudery; and on the stage, after the rising of the curtain,
the finest collection of talent that had probably ever had possession of
the _Theatre Francais,_ all employed to do honor to a comedy
scintillating with wit, irresistibly lively and audacious, which, if
it shocks and scares a few of the boxes, enchants, rouses, and fires an
electrified pit." A hundred representations succeeding the first
uninterruptedly, and the public still eager to applaud, such was the
twofold result of the audacities of the piece and the timid hesitations
of its censors. The _Mariage de Figgaro_ bore a sub-title, _la Folle
Journee_. "There is something madder than my piece," said Beaumarchais,
"and that is its success." Figaro ridiculed everything with a dangerously
pungent vigor; the days were coming when the pleasantry was to change
into insults. Already public opinion was becoming hostile to the queen:
she was accused of having remained devoted to the interests of her German
family; the people were beginning to call her the Austrian. During the
American war, M. de Vergennes had managed to prevail upon the king to
remain neutral in the difficulties that arose in 1778 between Austria and
Prussia on the subject of the succession to the elector palatine; the
young queen had not wanted or had not been able to influence the behavior
of France, as her mother had conjured her to do. "My dear lady--
daughter," wrote Maria Theresa, "Mercy is charged to inform you of my
cruel position, as sovereign and as mother. Wishing to save my dominions
from the most cruel devastation, I must, cost what it may, seek to wrest
myself from this war, and, as a mother, I have three sons who are not
only running the greatest danger, but are sure to succumb to the terrible
fatigues, not being accustomed to that sort of life. By making peace at
this juncture, I not only incur the blame of great pusillanimity, but I
render the king of Prussia still greater, and the remedy must be prompt.
I declare to you, my head whirls and my heart has for a long time been
entirely numb." France had refused to engage in the war, but she had
contributed to the peace of Teschen, signed on the 13th of May, 1779. On
the 29th of November, 1780, Maria Theresa died at the age of sixty-three,
weary of life and of that glory to which she "was fain to march by all
roads," said the Great Frederick, who added: "It was thus that a woman
executed designs worthy of a great man."

In 1784, Joseph II. reigned alone. Less prudent and less sensible than
his illustrious mother, restless, daring, nourishing useful or fanciful
projects, bred of humanity or disdain, severe and affectionate at the
same time towards his sister the queen of France, whose extravagance he
found fault with during the trip he made to Paris in 1777, he was now
pressing her to act on his behalf in the fresh embarrassments which his
restless ambition had just excited in Europe. The mediation of King
Louis XVI. between the emperor and the Dutch, as to the navigation of the
Scheldt, had just terminated the incident pacifically: the king had
concluded a treaty of defensive alliance with Holland. The minister of
war, M. de Segur, communicated to the queen the note he had drawn up on
this important question. "I regret," he said to Marie Antoinette, "to be
obliged to give the king advice opposed to the desire of the emperor."
"I am the emperor's sister, and I do not forget it," answered the queen;
"but I remember above all that I am queen of France and mother of the
dauphin." Louis XVI. had undertaken to pay part of the indemnity imposed
upon Joseph II.; this created discontent in France. "Let the emperor pay
for his own follies," people said; and the ill-humor of the public openly
and unjustly accused the queen.

This direful malevolence on the part of public opinion, springing from a
few acts of imprudence and fomented by a long series of calumnies, was
about to burst forth on the occasion of a scandalous and grievous
occurrence. On the 15th of August, 1785, at Mass-time, Cardinal Rohan,
grand almoner of France, already in full pontificals, was arrested in the
palace of Versailles and taken to the Bastille. The king had sent for
him into his cabinet. "Cardinal," said Louis XVI. abruptly, "you bought
some diamonds of Bcehmer?" "Yes, Sir." "What have you done with them?"
"I thought they had been sent to the queen." "Who gave you the
commission?" (The cardinal began to be uneasy.) "A lady, the Countess de
la Motte Valois, . . . she gave me a letter from the queen; I thought
I was obliging her Majesty. . . . "The queen interrupted. She had
never forgiven M. de Rohan for some malevolent letters written about her
when she was dauphiness. On the accession of Louis XVI. this intercepted
correspondence had cost the prince his embassy to Vienna. "How, sir,"
said the queen, "could you think, you to whom I have never spoken for
eight years, that I should choose you for conducting this negotiation,
and by the medium of such a woman?" "I was mistaken, I see; the desire I
felt to please your Majesty misled me, and he drew from his pocket the
pretended letter from the queen to Madame de la Motte. The king took it,
and, casting his eye over the signature: "How could a prince of your
house and my grand almoner suppose that the queen would sign Marie
Antoinette de France? Queens sign their names quite short. It is not
even the queen's writing. And what is the meaning of all these doings
with jewellers, and these notes shown to bankers?"

[Illustration: Cardinal Rohan's Discomfiture----470]

The cardinal could scarcely stand; he leaned against the table. "Sir,"
he stammered, "I am too much overcome to be able to reply." "Walk into
this room, cardinal," rejoined the king kindly; "write what you have to
say to me." The written explanations of M. de Rohan were no clearer than
his words; an officer of the body-guard took him off to the Bastille; he
had, just time to order his grand-vicar to burn all his papers.

The correspondence as well as the life of M. de Rohan was not worthy of a
prince of the church: the vices and the credulity of the cardinal had
given him over, bound hand and foot, to an intriguing woman as adroit as
she was daring. Descended from a bastard of Henry II.'s, brought up by
charity and married to a ruined nobleman, Madame de la Motte Valois had
bewitched, duped, and robbed Cardinal Rohan. Accustomed to an insensate
prodigality, asserting everywhere that a man of gallantry could not live
on twelve hundred thousand livres a year, he had considered it very
natural that the queen should have a fancy for possessing a diamond
necklace worth sixteen hundred thousand livres. The jewellers had,
in fact, offered this jewelry to Marie Antoinette; it was during the
American war. "That is the price of two frigates," the king had said.
"We want ships and not diamonds," said the queen, and dismissed her
jeweller. A few months afterwards he told anybody who would listen that
he had sold the famous collar in Constantinople for the favorite sultana.
"This was a real pleasure to the queen," says Madame Campan; "she,
however, expressed some astonishment that a necklace made for the
adornment of Frenchwomen should be worn in the seraglio, and, thereupon,
she talked to me a long while about the total change which took place in
the tastes and desires of women in the period between twenty and thirty
years of age. She told me that when she was ten years younger she loved
diamonds madly, but that she had no longer any taste for anything but
private society, the country, the work and the attentions required by the
education of her children. From that moment until the fatal crisis there
was nothing more said about the necklace."

The crisis would naturally come from the want of money felt by the
jewellers. Madame de la Motte had paid them some instalments on account
of the stones, which her husband had sold in England: they grew impatient
and applied to the queen. For a long while she did not understand their
applications: when the complaints of the purveyors at last made her
apprehend an intrigue, she sent for Abbe de Vermond and Baron de
Breteuil, minister of the king's household both detested the cardinal,
both fanned the queen's wrath; she decided at last to tell the king
everything. "I saw the queen after the departure of the baron and the
abbe," says Madame Campan; "she made me tremble at her indignation." The
cardinal renounced the privileges of his rank and condition; he boldly
accepted the jurisdiction of the Parliament.

The trial revealed a gross intrigue, a disgraceful comedy, a prince of
the church and a merchant equally befooled by a shameless woman, with the
aid of the adventurer Cagliostro, and the name, the favors, and even the
personality of the queen impudently dragged in. The public feeling was
at its height, constantly over-excited by the rumors circulated during
the sessions of the court. Opinion was hostile to the queen. "It was
for her and by her orders that the necklace was bought," people said.
The houses of Conde and Rohan were not afraid to take sides with the
cardinal: these illustrious personages were to be seen, dressed in
mourning, waiting for the magistrates on their way, in order to canvass
them on their relative's behalf. On the 31st of May, 1786, the court
condemned Madame de la Motte to be whipped, branded, and imprisoned; they
purely and simply acquitted Cardinal Rohan. In its long and continual
tussle with the crown, the Parliament had at last found the day of its
revenge: political passions and the vagaries of public opinion had
blinded the magistrates.

"As soon as I knew the cardinal's sentence, I went to the queen," says
Madame Campan. "She heard my voice in the room leading to her closet;
she called to me. I found her very sad. She said to me in a broken
voice: 'Condole with me; the intriguer who wanted to ruin me, or procure
money by using my name and forging my signature, has just been fully
acquitted. But,' she added vehemently, 'as a Frenchwoman, accept my
condolence. A people is very unfortunate to have for its supreme
tribunal a lot of men who consult nothing but their passions, and of whom
some are capable of bribery and others of an audacity which they have
always displayed towards authority, and of which they have just given a
striking example against those who are clothed therewith.' The king
entered at this moment. 'You find the queen in great affliction,' he
said to me: 'she has great reason to be. But what then! They would not
see in this business anything save a prince of the church and the prince
of Rohan, whereas it is only the case of a man in want of money and a
mere dodge for raising the wind, wherein the cardinal has been swindled
in his turn. Nothing can be easier to understand, and it needs no
Alexander to cut this Gordian knot.'"

Guilty in the king's eyes, a dupe according to the judgment of history,
Cardinal Rohan was exiled to his abbey of Chaise-Dieu, less to be pitied
than the unhappy queen abruptly wrenched from the sweet dreams of a
romantic friendship and confidence, as well as from the nascent joys of
maternal happiness, to find herself henceforth confronting a deluded
people and an ever increasing hostility which was destined to unjustly
persecute her even to the block.

M. de Calonne had taken little part in the excitement which the trial
of Cardinal Rohan caused in court and city he was absorbed by the
incessantly recurring difficulties presented by the condition of the
treasury; speculation had extended to all classes of society; loans
succeeded loans, everywhere there were formed financial companies,
without any resources to speak of, speculating on credit. Parliament
began to be alarmed, and enregistered no more credits save with
repugnance. Just as he was setting out on a trip to Normandy, which
afforded him one of the last happy days of his life and as it were a
dying flicker of his past popularity, the king scratched out on the
registers of the Parliament the restrictions introduced by the court into
the new loan of eighty millions presented by M. de Calonne. "I wish it
to be known that I am satisfied with my comptroller-general," said Louis
XVI. with that easy confidence which he did not always place wisely.
When he returned from Cherbourg, at the end of June, 1786, M. de Calonne
had at last arrived at the extremity of his financial expedients. He set
his views and his ideas higher. Speculation was succeeded by policy.

"Sir," said the note handed to the king by the comptroller-general, "I
will not go back to the fearful position in which the finances were when
your Majesty deigned to intrust them to me. It is impossible to recall
without a shudder that there was at that time neither money nor credit,
that the pressing debts were immense, the revenues exhausted in
anticipation, the resources annihilated, the public securities valueless,
the coinage impoverished and without circulation, the discount-fund
bankrupt, the general tax-exchequer (_ferme general_) on the point of
failing to meet its bills, and the royal treasury reduced to two bags of
1200 livres. I am far from claiming credit for the success of the
operations which, owing to the continuous support given by your Majesty,
promptly established abundance of coin, punctuality in the payments,
public confidence proved by the rise in all securities and by the highest
degree of credit, abroad as well as at home: what I must forcibly call
your Majesty's attention to is the importance of the present moment, the
terrible embarrassment concealed beneath the appearance of the happiest
tranquillity, the necessity of soon taking some measure for deciding the
lot of the state. It must be confessed, Sir, that France at this moment
is only kept up by a species of artifice; if the illusion which stands
for reality were destroyed, if the confidence at present inseparable from
the working staff were to fail, what would become of us with a deficit of
a hundred millions every year? Without a doubt no time must be lost in
filling up a void so enormous; and that can be done only by great
measures. The plan I have formed appears to me the one that can solve so
difficult a problem. Solely occupied with this great object, which
demands enormous labor, and for the accomplishment of which I would
willingly sacrifice my existence, I only beg your Majesty to accord to
me, until I have carried it out, so much support and appearance of favor
as I need to give me strength to attain it. It will perhaps be an affair
of six months or a year at most. After that your Majesty may do as you
please with me; I shall have followed the promptings of the heartiest
zeal for your service, I shall be able to say,--

'Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domino.'"

This mysterious plan, which was to produce results as desirable as rare,
and which M. de Calonne had hit upon to strengthen his shaky position,
was the same which, in 1628, had occurred to Cardinal Richelieu, when he
wanted to cover his responsibility in regard to the court of Rome. In
view of the stress at the treasury, of growing discontent, of vanished
illusions, the comptroller-general meditated convoking the Assembly of
Notables, the feeble resource of the old French kingship before the days
of pure monarchy, an expedient more insufficient and more dangerous than
the most far-seeing divined after the lessons of the philosophers and the
continuous abasement of the kingly Majesty.

The convocation of the Notables was the means upon which M. de Calonne
relied; the object was the sanctioning of a financial system new in
practice but old in theory. When the comptroller-general proposed to the
king to abolish privileges, and assess the impost equally, renouncing the
twentieths, diminishing the gabel, suppressing custom-houses in the
interior and establishing provincial assemblies, Louis XVI. recognized an
echo of his illustrious ministers. "This is sheer Necker!" he exclaimed.
"In the condition in which things are, Sir, it is the best that can be
done," replied M. de Calonne. He had explained his reasons to the king
in an intelligent and able note.

"Such a plan," said the comptroller-general, after having unfolded his
projects, "demands undoubtedly the most solemn examination and the most
authentic sanction. It must be presented in the form most calculated.
to place it beyond reach of any retardation and to acquire for it
unassailable strength by uniting all the suffrages of the nation. Now,
there is nothing but an assembly of notables that can fulfil this aim.
It is the only means of preventing all parliamentary resistance, imposing
silence on the clergy, and so clinching public opinion that no special
interest dare raise a voice against the overwhelming evidence of the
general interest. Assemblies of notables were held in 1558, in 1583, in
1596, in 1617, and in 1626; none was convoked for objects so important as
those in question now, and never were circumstances' more favorable to
success; as the situation requires strong measures, so it permits of the
employment of strong means."

The king hesitated, from instinctive repugnance and the traditions of
absolutism, at anything that resembled an appeal to the people. He was
won, however, by the precedent of Henry IV. and by the frank honesty of
the project. The secret was strictly kept. The general peace was
threatened afresh by the restless ambition of Joseph II. and by the
constant encroachments of the Empress Catherine. The Great Frederick was
now dead. After being for a long while the selfish disturber of Europe,
he had ended by becoming its moderator, and his powerful influence was
habitually exerted on behalf of peace. The future was veiled and charged
with clouds. M. de Vergennes, still possessing Louis XVI.'s confidence,
regarded with dread the bold reforms proposed by M. de Calonne; he had
yielded to the comptroller-general's representations, but he made all
haste to secure for France some support in Europe; he concluded with
England the treaty of commerce promised at the moment of signing the
peace. There was a lively debate upon it in the English Parliament. Mr.
Fox, then in opposition, violently attacked the provisions of the treaty;
Mr. Pitt, quite young as yet, but already established in that foremost
rank among orators and statesmen which he was to occupy to his last hour,
maintained the great principles of European policy. "It is a very false
maxim," said he, "to assert that France and England are not to cease to
be hostile because they have been so heretofore. My mind revolts at so
monstrous a principle, which is an outrage upon the constitution of
societies as well as upon the two nations. Situated as we are in respect
of France, it is expedient, it is a matter of urgency for the welfare of
the two countries, to terminate this constant enmity which has been
falsely said to be the basis of the true sentiments felt by the two
nations towards each other. This treaty tends to augment the means of
making war and to retard its coming."

Generous and sound maxims, only too often destined to be strikingly
belied by human passions! When he supported in the House of Commons, in
1786, an alliance with monarchical France, Mr. Pitt did not foresee the
terrible struggle he--would one day maintain, in the name of England and
of Europe, against revolutionary, anarchical, or absolutist France.

The treaty had just been signed (September 26, 1786). M. de Vergennes
was not long to survive his latest work: he died on the 13th of February,
1787, just before the opening of the Assembly of Notables, as if he would
fain escape the struggle and the crisis he dreaded. Capable and
far-sighted in his foreign policy, ever conciliatory and sometimes
daring, M. de Vergennes, timid and weak as he was in home affairs, was
nevertheless esteemed: he had often served as a connect ing link between
the different elements of the government. The king gave his place to
M. de Montmorin, an honest but insignificant man, without influence in
France as well as in Europe.

On the 29th of December, 1786, at the close of the despatch-council, the
king at last broke the silence he had so long kept even as regarded the
queen herself. "Gentlemen," he said, "I shall convoke for the 29th of
January an assembly composed of persons of different conditions and the
best qualified in the state, in order to communicate to them my views for
the relief of my people, the ordering of the finances, and the
reformation of several abuses." Louis XVI.'s hesitations had
disappeared: he was full of hope. "I have not slept a wink all night,"
he wrote on the morning of the 30th of December to M. de Calonne, "but it
was for joy."

The sentiments of the public were very diverse: the court was in
consternation. "What penalty would King Louis XIV. have inflicted upon
a minister who spoke of convoking an assembly of notables?" asked old
Marshal Richelieu, ever witty, frivolous, and corrupt. "The king sends
in his resignation," said the young Viscount de Segur. At Paris
curiosity was the prevalent feeling; but the jokes were bitter. "The
comptroller-general has raised a new troop of comedians; the first
performance will take place on Monday the 20th instant," said a sham
play-bill: "they will give us the principal piece _False Confidences,_
followed by _Forced Consent_ and an allegorical ballot, composed by M. de
Calonne, entitled _The Tub of the Danaids_."

The convocation of the notables was better received in the provinces: it
was the first time for a hundred and sixty years that the nation had been
called upon to take a part, even nominally, in the government of its
affairs; it already began to feel powerful and proud. A note had been
sent to the _Journal de Paris_ to announce the convocation of the
Assembly. "The nation," it said, "will see with transport that the king
deigns to draw near to her." The day of excessive humiliation was no
more, even in forms; M. de Calonne modified the expression thus: "The
nation will see with transport that the king draws near to her."

Indisposition on the part of the comptroller-general had retarded the
preparatory labors; the session opened on the 22d of February, 1787.
The Assembly numbered one hundred and forty-four members, all nominated
by the king: to wit, seven princes of the blood; fourteen archbishops and
bishops; thirty-six dukes and peers, marshals of France and noblemen;
twelve councillors of state and masters of requests; thirty-eight
magistrates of sovereign courts; twelve deputies of states-districts, the
only ones allowed to present to the king memorials of grievances; and
twenty-five municipal officers of the large towns. In this Assembly,
intended to sanction the abolition of privileges, a few municipal
officers alone represented the third estate and the classes intended to
profit by the abolition. The old Marquis of Mirabeau said facetiously:
"This Calonne assembles a troop of Guillots, which he calls the nation,
to present them with the cow by the horns, and say to them, 'Gentlemen,
we take all the milk and what not, we devour all the meat and what not,
and we are going to try and get that what not out of the rich, whose
money has no connection with the poor, and we give you notice that the
rich means you. Now, give us your opinion as to the manner of

The king's speech was short and unimportant. Though honestly impressed
with reminiscences of Henry IV., he could not manage, like him, to say to
the notables he had just convoked, "I have had you assemble to take your
counsels, to trust in them, to follow them, in short, to place myself
under tutelage in your hands,--a feeling which is scarcely natural to
kings, graybeards, and conquerors; but the violent love I bear my
subjects, the extreme desire I have to add the title of liberator and
restorer of this realm to that of king, make me find everything easy and
honorable." M. de Calonne had reserved to himself the duty of explaining
the great projects he had suggested to the king. "Gentle men," said he
in his exordium, "the orders I am under at present do me the more honor
in that the views of which the king has charged me to set before you the
sum and the motives have been entirely adopted by him personally." Henry
IV. might have said to the notables assembled by his successor, as he had
said regarding his predecessors: "You were summoned hither not long ago
to approve of the king's wishes."

The state was prosperous, at any rate in appearance; the
comptroller-general assumed the credit for it. "The economy of a
minister of finance," he said, "may exist under two forms so different
that one might say they were two sorts of economy: one, which strikes the
eye by its external strictness, which proclaims itself by startling and
harshly uttered refusals, which flaunts its severity in the smallest
matters in order to discourage the throng of applicants. It has an
imposing appearance which really proves nothing, but which does a great
deal as regards opinion; it has the double advantage of keeping
importunate cupidity at arm's length and of quieting anxious ignorance.
The other, which considers duty rather than force of character, can do
more, whilst showing less strictness and reserve, as regards whatever is
of any importance; it affects no austerity as regards that which is of
none; it lets the talk be of what it grants, and does not talk about what
it saves. Because it is seen to be accessible to requests, people will
not believe that it refuses the majority of them; because it has not the
useful and vulgar character of inflexibility, people refuse it that of
wise discretion, and often, whilst by assiduous application to all the
details of an immense department, it preserves the finances from the most
fatal abuses and the most ruinously unskilful handling, it seems to
calumniate itself by an easy-going appearance which the desire to injure
transforms very soon into lavishness."

So much easy grace and adroitness succeeding the austere stiffness of M.
Necker had been powerless to relieve the disorder of the finances; it was
great and of ancient date. "A deficit has been existing in France for
centuries," the comptroller-general asserted. It at last touched the
figure of a hundred millions a year. "What is left for filling up so
frightful a void and for reaching the desired level?" exclaimed M. de
Calonne: "abuses! Yes, gentlemen, it is in abuses themselves that there
is to be found a mine of wealth which the state has a right to reclaim
and which must serve to restore order. Abuses have for their defenders
interests, influence, fortune, and some antiquated prejudices which time
seems to have respected. But of what force is such a vain confederation
against the public welfare and the necessity of the state? Let others
recall this maxim of our monarchy: 'As willeth the king, so willeth the
law;' his Majesty's maxim is: 'As willeth the happiness of the people, so
willeth the king.'"

Audaciously certain of the success of his project, M. de Calonne had not
taken the trouble to disguise the vast consequences of it; he had not
thought any the more about pre-securing a majority in the assembly. The
members were divided into seven committees presided over by the princes;
each committee disposed of one single vote; the comptroller-general had
not taken exception to the selections designated by his adversaries.
"I have made it a point of conscience," he said, "to give suitable
nominations according to the morality, and talent, and importance of
individuals." He had burned his ships, and without a care for the
defective composition of the assembly, he set forth, one after the other,
projects calculated to alarm the privileged orders. "More will be paid,"
he said in the preamble printed at the head of his notes and circulated
in profusion over the whole of France, "undoubtedly more will be paid,
but by whom? . . . By those only who do not pay enough; they will pay
what they ought, according to a just proportionment, and nobody will be
aggrieved. Privileges will be sacrificed! Yes! Justice wills it,
necessity requires it! Would it be better to surcharge the
non-privileged, the people?"

The struggle was about to begin, with all the ardor of personal interest;
the principle of provincial assemblies had been favorably received by the
notables; the committees (_bureaux_) had even granted to the third estate
a representation therein equal to that of the two upper orders, on
condition that the presidents of the delegates should be chosen from the
nobility or the clergy. The recognition of a civil status for
Protestants did not seem likely to encounter any difficulty. For more
than twenty years past the parliaments, especially the parliament of
Toulouse, had established the ruling of the inadmissibility of any one
who disputed the legitimacy of children issue of Protestant marriages.
In 1778, the parliament of Paris had deliberated as to presenting to the
king a resolution in favor of authentic verification of non-Catholic
marriages, births, and deaths; after a long interval, on, the 2d of
February, 1787, this resolution had been formally, promulgated.

It was M. de Lafayette who had the honor of supporting in the assembly of
notables the royal project announced by M. de Calonne and advised by the
Parliament. In the ministry, MM. de Castries and De Breteuil had
supported the equitable measure so long demanded by Protestants. M. de
Rulhieres had drawn up for the king a note, entitled: _Historic Evidences
as to the Causes of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes,_ and M. de
Malesherbes had himself presented to Louis XVI. a scheme for a law. "It
is absolutely necessary," said he, "that I should render the Protestants
some kind offices; my great-uncle De Baville did them so much injury!"
The Assembly of notables appealed to the king's benevolence on behalf of
"that considerable portion of his subjects which groans under a regimen
of proscription equally opposed to the general interests of religion, to
good morals, to population, to national industry, and to all the
principles of morality and policy." "In the splendid reign of Louis
XIV.," M. de Calonne had said, "the state was impoverished by victories,
and the kingdom dispeopled through intolerance." "Are assemblies of non-
Catholics dangerous?" asked M. Turgot. "Yes, as long as they are
forbidden; no, when they are authorized."

The preliminary discussions had been calm, the great question was coming
on; in theory, the notables were forced to admit the principle of equal
assessment of the impost; in practice, they were, for the most part,
resolved to restrict its application. They carried the war into the
enemy's camp, and asked to examine the financial accounts. The king gave
notice to the committees that his desire was to have the deliberations
directed not to the basis of the question but to the form of collection
of taxes. The Archbishop of Narbonne (Dillon) raised his voice against
the king's exclusive right to decide upon imposts. "Your Royal Highness
will allow me to tell you," was the reply made to the Count of Artois,
president of his committee, by an attorney-general of the parliament of
Aix, M. de Castillon, "that there exists no authority which can pass a
territorial impost such as that proposed, nor this assembly, august as it
may be, nor the parliaments, nor the several states, nor the king
himself; the States-general alone would have that power."

Thus was proposed, in the very midst of the Assembly intended to keep it
out, that great question of the convocation of the States-general which
had been so long uppermost in all minds. "It is the States-general you
demand!" said the Count of Artois to M. de La Fayette. "Yes, my lord,"
replied the latter, "and something better still if possible!" The
comptroller-general continued to elude inquiry into the state of the
treasury. M. Necker, offended by the statements of his successor, who
questioned the truthfulness of the Report, addressed explanatory notes to
the several committees of the Assembly. He had already, in 1784,
published an important work in explanation and support of his financial
system; the success of the book had been immense; in spite of the
prohibition issued, at first, against the sale, but soon tacitly
withdrawn, the three volumes had sold, it was said, to the extent of
eighty thousand copies. In 1787, the late director-general asked leave
to appear before the Assembly of notables to refute the statements of M.
de Calonne; permission was refused. "I am satisfied with your services,"
the king sent word to him, "and I command you to keep silence."
A pamphlet, without any title, was however sent to the notables. "I
served the king for five years," said M. Necker, "with a zeal which knew
no limits the duties I had taken upon myself were the only object of my
solicitude. The interests of the state had become my passion and
occupied all my faculties of heart and mind. Forced to retire through a
combination of singular circumstances, I devoted my powers to the
composition of a laborious work, the utility of which appears, to me to
have been recognized. I heard it said that a portion of those ideas
about administration which had been so dear to me formed the basis of the
projects which were to be submitted to the Assembly of notables. I
rendered homage to the beneficent views of his Majesty. Content with the
contributions I had offered to the common weal, I was living happily and
in peace, when all at once I found myself attacked or rather assailed in
the most unjust and the strangest manner. M. de Calonne, finding it
advisable to trace to a very remote period the causes of the present
condition of the finances, was not afraid, in pursuance of this end,
to have recourse to means with which he will, probably, sooner or later
reproach himself; he declared in a speech, now circulated throughout
Europe, that the Report to his Majesty, in 1781, was so extraordinarily
erroneous, that, instead of the surplus published in that Report, there
was, at that very time, an enormous deficit."

At the moment when M. Necker was publishing, as regarded the statements
of M. de Calonne, an able rectification which did not go to the bottom
of things any more than the Report had previously gone, the
comptroller-general was succumbing beneath his enemies' attacks and his
own errors. Justly irritated at the perfidious manoeuvres practised
against him by the keeper of the seals in secretly heading at the
Assembly of notables the opposition of the magistracy, Calonne had
demanded and obtained from the king the recall of M. Miromesnil. He was
immediately superseded by M. de Lamoignon, president of the parliament of
Paris and a relative of M. de Malesherbes. The comptroller-general had
the imprudence to push his demands further; he required the dismissal of
M. de Breteuil. "I consent," said Louis XVI. after some hesitation; "but
leave me time to forewarn the queen, she is much attached to M. de
Breteuil." When the king quitted Marie Antoinette, the situation had
changed face; the disgrace of M. de Calonne was resolved upon.

The queen had represented the dissatisfaction and opposition of the
notables, which "proceeded solely," she said, "from the mistrust inspired
by the comptroller-general;" she had dwelt upon the merits and resources
of the Archbishop of Toulouse. "I don't like priests who haven't the
virtues of their cloth," Louis XVI. had answered dryly. He called to the
ministry M. Fourqueux, councillor of state, an old man, highly esteemed,
but incapable of sustaining the crushing weight of affairs. The king
himself presented M. de Calonne's last projects to the Assembly of
notables; the rumor ran that the comptroller-general was about to
re-enter the cabinet. Louis XVI. was informed of the illicit manoeuvres
which M. de Calonne had authorized in operations on 'Change: he exiled
him to his estate in Berry, and a few days afterwards to Lorraine.
M. Necker had just published without permission his reply to the attacks
of M. de Calonne the king was put out at it. "The eye of the public
annoys those who manage affairs with carelessness," M. Necker had but
lately said in his work on financial administration, "but those who are
animated by a different spirit would be glad to multiply lights from
every quarter." "I do not want to turn my kingdom into a republic
screeching over state affairs as the city of Geneva is, and as happened
during the administration of M. Necker," said Louis XVI. He, banished
his late minister to a distance of twenty leagues from Paris. Madame
Necker was ill, and the execution of the king's order was delayed for a
few days.

Meanwhile the notables were in possession of the financial accounts,
but the satisfaction caused them by the disgrace of M. de Calonne was of
short duration; they were awaiting a new comptroller-general, calculated
to enlighten them as to the position of affairs. M. de Montmorin and M.
de Lamoignon were urgent for the recall of M. Necker. The king's ill
feeling against his late minister still continued. "As long as M. Necker
exists," said M. de Montmorin, "it is impossible that there should be any
other minister of finance, because the public will always be annoyed to
see that post occupied by any but by him." "I did not know M. Necker
personally," adds M. de Montmorin in his notes left to Marmontel; "I had
nothing but doubts to oppose to what the king told me about his
character, his haughtiness, and his domineering spirit." Louis XVI.
yielded, however. "Well!" he said, snappishly, "if it must be, recall
him." M. de Breteuil was present. "Your Majesty," said he, "has but
just banished M. Necker he has scarcely arrived at Montargis; to recall
him now would have a deplorable effect." He once more mentioned the name
of Leonie de Brienne, and the king again yielded. Ambitious, intriguing,
debauched, unbelieving, the new minister, like his predecessor, was
agreeable, brilliant, capable even, and accustomed in his diocese to
important affairs. He was received without disfavor by public opinion.
The notables and the chief of the council of finance undertook in concert
the disentanglement of the accounts submitted to them.

In this labyrinth of contradictory figures and statements, the deficit
alone came out clearly. M. de Brienne promised important economies, the
Assembly voted a loan: they were not willing to accept the responsibility
of the important reforms demanded by the king. The speeches were long
and vague, the objections endless. All the schemes of imposts were
censured one after the other. "We leave it to the king's wisdom," said
the notables at last; "he shall himself decide what taxes will offer the
least inconveniences, if the requirements of the state make it necessary
to impose new sacrifices upon the people." "The notables have seen with
dismay the depth of the evil caused by an administration whereof your
parliament had more than once foreseen the consequence," said the premier
president of the parliament of Paris. "The different plans proposed to
your Majesty deserve careful deliberation. The most respectful silence
is at this moment our only course."

The notables had themselves recognized their own impotence and given in
their resignation. A formal closing session took place on the 25th of
May, 1787. The keeper of the seals, enumerating the results of the
labors of the Assembly, enregistered the royal promises as accomplished
facts: "All will be set right without any shock, without any ruin of
fortunes, without any alteration in the principles of government, without
any of those breaches of faith which should never be so much as mentioned
in the presence of the monarch of France.

"The resolved or projected reform of various abuses, and the permanent
good for which the way is being paved by new laws concerted with you,
gentlemen, are about to co-operate successfully for the present relief of
the people.

"Forced labor is proscribed, the gabel (or salt-tax) is revised
(_juyee_), the obstacles which hamper home trade are destroyed, and
agriculture, encouraged by the free exportation of grain, will become day
by day more flourishing.

"The king has solemnly promised that disorder shall not appear again in
his finances, and his Majesty is about to take the most effective
measures for fulfilling this sacred engagement, of which you are the

"The administration of the state will approach nearer and nearer to the
government and vigilance of a private family, and a more equitable
assessment, which personal interest will incessantly watch over, will
lighten the burden of impositions."

Only the provincial administrations were constituted; the hopes which had
been conceived of the Assembly of notables remained more vague than
before its convocation: it had failed, like all the attempts at reform
made in succession by Louis XVI.'s advisers, whether earnest or
frivolous, whether proved patriots or ambitious intriguers. It had,
however, revealed to the whole country the deplorable disorder of the
finances; it had taught the third estate and even the populace how deep
was the repugnance among the privileged classes towards reforms which
touched their interests. Whilst spreading, as a letter written to
America by M. de La Fayette put it, "the salutary habit of thinking about
public affairs," it had at the same time betrayed the impotence of the
government, and the feebleness of its means of action. It was a stride,
and an immense stride, towards the Revolution.


Thirteen years had rolled by since King Louis XV. had descended to a
dishonored grave, and on the mighty current which was bearing France
towards reform, whilst dragging her into the Revolution, King Louis XVI.,
honest and sincere, was still blindly seeking to clutch the helm which
was slipping from his feeble hands. Every day his efforts were becoming
weaker and more inconsistent, every day the pilot placed at the tiller
was less and less deserving of public confidence. From M. Turgot to M.
Necker, from Calonne to Lomenie de Brienne, the fall had been rapid and
deep. Amongst the two parties which unequally divided the nation,
between those who defended the past in its entirety, its abuses as well
as its grandeurs, and those who were marching on bewildered towards a
reform of which they did not foresee the scope, the struggle underwent
certain moments of stoppage and of abrupt reaction towards the old state
of things. In 1781, the day after M. Necker's fall, an ordinance of the
minister of war, published against the will of that minister himself, had
restored to the verified and qualified noblesse (who could show four
quarterings) the exclusive privilege of military grades. Without any
ordinance, the same regulation had been applied to the clergy. In 1787,
the Assembly of notables and its opposition to the king's projects
presented by M. de Calonne were the last triumph of the enthusiastic
partisans of the past. The privileged classes had still too much
influence to be attacked with success by M. de Calonne, who appeared to
be in himself an assemblage of all the abuses whereof he desired to be
the reformer. A plan so vast, however ably conceived, was sure to go to
pieces in the hands of a man who did not enjoy public esteem and
confidence; but the triumph of the notables in their own cause was a
fresh warning to the people that they would have to defend theirs with
more vigor." [_Memoires de Malouet,_ t. i. p. 253]. We have seen how
monarchy, in concert with the nation, fought feudality, to reign
thenceforth as sovereign mistress over the great lords and over the
nation; we have seen how it slowly fell in public respect and veneration,
and how it attempted unsuccessfully to respond to the confused wishes of
a people that did not yet know its own desires or its own strength; we
shall henceforth see it, panting and without sure guidance, painfully
striving to govern and then to live. "I saw," says M. Malouet in his
_Memoires,_ "under the ministry of the archbishop (of Toulouse, and
afterwards of Sens), all the _avant-couriers_ of a revolution in the
government. Three parties were already pronounced: the first wanted to
take to itself all the influence of which it despoiled the king, whilst
withstanding the pretensions of the third estate; the second proclaimed
open war against the two upper orders, and already laid down the bases of
a democratic government; the third, which was at that time the most
numerous, although it was that of the wisest men, dreaded the ebullience
of the other two, wanted compromises, reforms, and not revolution." By
their conflicts the two extreme parties were to stifle for a while the
party of the wise men, the true exponent of the national aspirations and
hopes, which was destined, through a course of cruel vicissitudes and
long trials, to yet save and govern the country.

The Assembly of notables had abdicated; contenting itself with a negative
triumph, it had left to the royal wisdom and responsibility the burden of
decisions which Louis XVI. had hoped to get sanctioned by an old and
respected authority. The public were expecting to see all the edicts,
successively presented to the notables as integral portions of a vast
system, forthwith assume force of law by simultaneous registration of
Parliament. The feebleness and inconsistency of governors often stultify
the most sensible foresight. M. de Brienne had come into office as a
support to the king's desires and intentions, for the purpose of
obtaining from the notables what was refused through their aversion for
M. de Calonne; as soon as he was free of the notables as well as of M. de
Calonne, he hesitated, drew back, waited, leaving time for a fresh
opposition to form and take its measures. "He had nothing but bad moves
to make," says M. Mignet. Three edicts touching the trade in grain,
forced labor, and the provincial assemblies, were first sent up to the
Parliament and enregistered without any difficulty; the two edicts
touching the stamp-tax and equal assessment of the impost were to meet
with more hinderance; the latter at any rate united the sympathies of all
the partisans of genuine reforms; the edict touching the stamp-tax was by
itself and first submitted for the approval of the magistrates: they
rejected it, asking, like the notables, for a communication as to the
state of finance. "It is not states of finance we want," exclaimed a
councillor, Sabatier de Cabre, "it is States-general." This bold sally
became a theme for deliberation in the Parliament. "The nation
represented by the States-general," the court declared, "is alone
entitled to grant the king subsidies of which the need is clearly
demonstrated." At the same time the Parliament demanded the impeachment
of M. de Calonne; he took fright and sought refuge in England. The mob
rose in Paris, imputing to the court the prodigalities with which the
Parliament reproached the late comptroller-general. Sad symptom of the
fatal progress of public opinion! The cries heretofore raised against
the queen under the name of Austrian were now uttered against Madame
Deficit, pending the time when the fearful title of Madame Veto would
give place in its turn to the sad name of the woman Capet given to the
victim of October 16, 1793.

The king summoned the Parliament to Versailles, and on the 6th of August,
1787, the edicts touching the stamp-tax and territorial subvention were
enregistered in bed of justice. The Parliament had protested in advance
against this act of royal authority, which it called "a phantom of
deliberation." On the 13th of August, the court declared "the
registration of the edicts null and without effect, incompetent to
authorize the collection of imposts, opposed to all principles;" this
resolution was sent to all the seneschalties and bailiwicks in the
district. It was in the name of the privilege of the two upper orders
that the Parliament of Paris contested the royal edicts and made appeal
to the supreme jurisdiction of the States-general; the people did not see
it, they took out the horses of M. d'Espremesnil, whose fiery eloquence
had won over a great number of his colleagues, and he was carried in
triumph. On the 15th of August the Parliament was sent away to Troyes.

Banishment far away from the capital, from the ferment of spirits, and
from the noisy centre of their admirers, had more than once brought down
the pride of the members of Parliament; they were now sustained by the
sympathy ardently manifested by nearly all the sovereign courts.
"Incessantly repeated stretches of authority," said the Parliament of
Besanccon, "forced registrations, banishments, constraint and severity
instead of justice, are astounding in an enlightened age, wound a nation
that idolizes its kings, but is free and proud, freeze the heart and
might break the ties which unite sovereign to subjects and subjects to
sovereign." The Parliament of Paris declared that it needed no authority
for its sittings, considering that it rendered justice wherever it
happened to be assembled. "The monarchy would be transfigured into a
despotic form," said the decree, "if ministers could dispose of persons
by sealed letters (_lettres de cachet_), property by beds of justice,
criminal matters by change of venue (_evocation_) or cassation, and
suspend the course of justice by special banishments or arbitrary

Negotiations were going on, however; the government agreed to withdraw
the new imposts which it had declared to be indispensable; the
Parliament, which had declared itself incompetent as to the establishment
of taxes, prorogued for two years the second twentieth. "We left Paris
with glory upon us, we shall return with mud," protested M. d'Espremesnil
in vain; more moderate, but not less resolute, Duport, Robert de St.
Vincent, and Freteau sought to sustain by their speeches the wavering
resolution of their colleagues. The Parliament was recalled to Paris on
the 19th of September, 1787.

The state of Europe inclined men's minds to reciprocal concessions; a
disquieting good understanding appeared to be growing up between Russia
and Austria. The Emperor Joseph II. had just paid a visit to the Crimea
with the czarina. "I fancy I am still dreaming," wrote the Prince of
Ligne, who had the honor of being in the trip, "when in a carriage with
six places, which is a real triumphal car adorned with ciphers in
precious stones, I find myself seated between two persons on whose
shoulders the heat often sets me dozing, and I hear, as I wake up, one of
my comrades say to the other 'I have thirty' millions of subjects, they
say, counting males only.' 'And I twenty-two,' replies the other, 'all
included.' 'I require,' adds the former, 'an army of at least six
hundred thousand men between Kamtchatka and Riga.' 'With half that,'
replies the other, 'I have just what I require.' God knows how we settle
all the states and great personages. 'Rather than sign the separation of
thirteen provinces, like my brother George,' says Catherine II. sweetly,
'I would have put a bullet through my head.' 'And rather than give in my
resignation like my brother and brother-in-law, by convoking and
assembling the nation to talk over abuses, I don't know what I wouldn't
have done,' says Joseph II." Before the two allies could carry out their
designs against Turkey, that ancient power, enfeebled as it was, had
taken the offensive at the instigation of England; the King of Sweden,
on his side, invaded Russia; war burst out in all directions. The
traditional influence of France remained powerless in the East to
maintain peace; the long weakness of the government was everywhere
bearing fruit.

Nowhere was this grievous impotence more painfully striking than in
Holland. Supported by England, whose slavish instrument he had been for
so long, the stadtholder William V. was struggling, with the help of the
mob, against the patriotic, independent, and proud patricians. For the
last sixty years the position of Holland had been constantly declining in
Europe. "She is afraid of everything," said Count de Broglie in 1773;
"she puts up with everything, grumbles at everything, and secures herself
against nothing." "Holland might pay all the armies of Europe," people
said in 1787, "she couldn't manage to hold her own against any one of
them." The civil war imminent in her midst and fomented by England had
aroused the solicitude of M. de Calonne; he had prepared the resources
necessary for forming a camp near Givet; his successor diverted the funds
to another object. When the Prussians entered Dutch territory, being
summoned to the stadtholder's aid by his wife, sister of the young King
Frederick William II., the French government afforded no assistance to
its ally; it confined itself to offering an asylum to the Dutch patriots,
long encouraged by its diplomatists, and now vanquished in their own
country, which was henceforth under the yoke of England. "France has
fallen, I doubt whether she will get up again," said the Emperor Joseph
II. "We have been caught napping," wrote M. de La Fayette to Washington;
"the King of Prussia has been ill advised, the Dutch are ruined, and
England finds herself the only power which has gained in the bargain."

The echo of humiliations abroad came to swell the dull murmur of public
discontent. Disturbance was arising everywhere. "From stagnant chaos
France has passed to tumultuous chaos," wrote Mirabeau, already an
influential publicist, despite the irregularity of his morals and the
small esteem excited by his life; "there may, there should come a
creation out of it." The Parliament had soon resumed its defiant
attitude; like M. de La Fayette at the Assembly of notables, it demanded
the convocation of the States-general at a fixed epoch, in 1792; it was
the date fixed by M. de Brienne in a vast financial scheme which he had
boldly proposed for registration by the court. By means of a series of
loans which were to reach the enormous total of four hundred and twenty
millions, the States-general, assembled on the conclusion of this vast
operation, and relieved from all pecuniary embarrassment, would be able
to concentrate their thoughts on the important interests of the future.
At the same time with the loan-edict, Brienne presented to the Parliament
the law-scheme, for so long a time under discussion, on behalf of

The king had repaired in person to the palace in royal session; the
keeper of the seals, Lamoignon, expounded the necessity of the edicts.
"To the monarch alone," he repeated, "belongs the legislative power,
without dependence and without partition." This was throwing down the
gauntlet to the whole assembly as well as to public opinion. Abbe
Sabatier and Councillor Freteau had already spoken, when Robert de St.
Vincent rose, an old Jansenist and an old member of Parliament,
accustomed to express his thoughts roughly. "Who, without dismay, can
hear loans still talked of?" he exclaimed "and for what sum? four hundred
and twenty millions! A plan is being formed for five years? But, since
your Majesty's reign began, have the same views ever directed the
administration of finance for five years in succession? Can you be
ignorant, sir (here he addressed himself to the comptroller-general),
that each minister, as he steps into his place, rejects the system of his
predecessor in order to substitute that which he has devised? Within
only eight months, you are the fourth minister of finance, and yet you
are forming a plan which cannot be accomplished in less than five years!
The remedy, sir, for the wounds of the state has been pointed out by your
Parliament: it is the convocation of the Statesgeneral. Their
convocation, to be salutary, must be prompt. Your ministers would like
to avoid this assembly whose surveillance they dread. Their hope is
vain. Before two years are over, the necessities of the state will force
you to convoke the States-general."

M. d'Espremesnil was overcome; less violent than usual, he had, appealed
to the king's heart; for a moment Louis XVI. appeared to be moved, and so
was the assembly with him; the edicts were about to be enregistered
despite the efforts of the opposition; already the premier president was
collecting the votes; the keeper of the seals would not, at this grave
moment, renounce any kingly prerogative. "When the king is at the
Parliament, there is no deliberation; his will makes law," said the legal
rule and the custom of the magistracy. Lamoignon went up to the throne;
he said a few words in a low voice. "Mr. Keeper of the seals, have the
edicts enregistered," said Louis XVI. The minister immediately repeated
the formula used at beds of justice. A murmur ran through the assembly;
the Duke of Orleans rose; he had recently become the head of his house
through his father's death, and found himself more than ever involved in
intrigues hostile to the court. "Sir," said he in a broken voice, "this
registration appears to me illegal. . . . It should be distinctly
stated that the registration is done by the express command of your
Majesty." The king was as much moved as the prince. "It is all the same
to me," he replied. "You are master, of course." "Yes,--it is legal,
because I so will." The edict relative to non-Catholics was read, and
Louis XVI. withdrew.

There was violent commotion in the assembly; the protest of the Duke of
Orleans was drawn up in a more explicit form. "The difference between a
bed of justice and a royal session is, that one exhibits the frankness of
despotism and the other its duplicity," cried d'Espremesnil.
Notwithstanding the efforts of M. de Malesherbes and the Duke of
Nivernais, the Parliament inscribed on the registers that it was not to
be understood to take any part in the transcription here ordered of
gradual and progressive loans for the years 1788, 1789, 1790, 1791, and
1792. In reply, the Duke of Orleans was banished to Villers-Cotterets,
whilst Councillors Freteau and Sabatier were arrested and taken to a

By the scandalousness of his life, as well as by his obstructive
buildings in the Palais-Royal, the Duke of Orleans had lost favor with
the public; his protest and his banishment restored him at once to his
popularity. The Parliament piled remonstrance upon remonstrance, every
day more and more haughty in form as well as in substance. Dipping into
the archives in search of antiquated laws, the magistrates appealed to
the liberties of olden France, mingling therewith the novel principles of
the modern philosophy. "Several pretty well-known facts," they said,
"prove that the nation, more enlightened as to its true interests, even
in the least elevated classes, is disposed to accept from the hands of
your Majesty the greatest blessing a king can bestow upon his subjects
--liberty. It is this blessing, Sir, which your Parliament come to ask
you to restore, in the name of a generous and faithful people. It is no
longer a prince of your blood, it is no longer two magistrates whom your
Parliament ask you to restore in the name of the laws and of reason, but
three Frenchmen, three men."

To peremptory demands were added perfidious insinuations.

"Such ways, Sir," said one of these remonstrances, "have no place in your
heart, such samples of proceeding are not the principles of your Majesty,
they come from another source." For the first time the queen was thus
held up to public odium by the Parliament which had dealt her a fatal
blow by acquitting Cardinal Rohan; she was often present at the king's
conferences with his ministers, reluctantly and by the advice of M. de
Brienne, for and in whom Louis XVI. never felt any liking or confidence.
"There is no more happiness for me since they have made me an intriguer,"
she said sadly to Madame Campan. And when the latter objected: "Yes,"
replied the queen, "it is the proper word: every woman who meddles in
matters above her lights and beyond the limits of her duty, is nothing
but an intriguer; you will remember, however, that I do not spare myself,
and that it is with regret I give myself such a title. The other day,
as I was crossing the Bull's Eye (_Eil de Boeuf_), to go to a private
committee at the king's, I heard one of the chapel-band say out loud,
'A queen who does her duty remains in her rooms at her needlework.'
I said to myself: 'Thou'rt quite right, wretch; but thou know'st not my
position; I yield to necessity and my evil destiny.'" A true daughter of
Maria Theresa in her imprisonment and on the scaffold, Marie Antoinette
had neither the indomitable perseverance nor the simple grandeur in
political views which had restored the imperial throne in the case of her
illustrious mother. She weakened beneath a burden too heavy for a mind
so long accustomed to the facile pleasures of youth. "The queen
certainly has wits and firmness which might suffice for great things,"
wrote her friend, the Count of La Marck, to M. de Mercy Argenteau, her
mother's faithful agent in France; "but it must be confessed that,
whether in business or in mere conversation, she does not always exhibit
that degree of attention and that persistence which are indispensable for
getting at the bottom of what one ought to know, in order to prevent
errors and to insure success."

The same want of purpose and persistence of which the Count of La Marck
complained was strikingly apparent everywhere and in all matters; the
Duke of Orleans was soon tired of banishment; he wrote to the queen, who
obtained his recall. The ministers were making mysterious preparations
for a grand stroke. The Parliament, still agitated and anxious, had at
last enregistered the edict relating to non-Catholics. Public opinion,
like the government, supported it eagerly; the principles of tolerance
which had prompted it were henceforth accepted by all; certain bishops
and certain bigots were still trying to hinder this first step towards a
legal status for a long while refused to Protestants. M. d'Espremesnil,
an earnest disciple of the _philosophe inconnu,_ the mystic St. Martin,
just as he had been the dupe of Mesmer and of Cagliostro, was almost
single-handed in the Parliament in his opposition to the registration of
the edict. Extending his hand towards the crucifix, he exclaimed with
violence: "Would you crucify him a second time?" The court was a better
judge of Christian principles, and Protestants were permitted to be born,
to marry, and to die on French territory. The edict did not as yet
concede to them any other right.

The contest extended as it grew hotter; everywhere the parliaments took
up the quarrel of the court of Paris; the formation of the provincial
assemblies furnished new centres of opposition; the petty noblesse made
alliance with the magistracy; the antagonism of principles became every
day more evident; after the five months elapsed since the royal session,
the Parliament was still protesting against the violence done to it.
"I had no need to take or count the votes," said the king's reply; "being
present at the deliberation, I judged for myself without taking any
account of plurality. If plurality in my courts were to force my will,
the monarchy would be nothing but an aristocracy of magistrates." "No,
sir, no aristocracy in France, but no despotism either," replied the
members of parliament.

The indiscretion of a printer made M. d'Espremesnil acquainted with
the great designs which were in preparation; at his instigation the
Parliament issued a declaration as to the reciprocal rights and duties
of the monarch and the nation. "France," said the resolution, "is a
monarchy hereditary from male to male, governed by the king following the
laws; it has for fundamental laws the nation's right to freely grant
subsidies by means of the States-general convoked and composed according
to regulation, the customs and capitulations of the provinces, the
irremovability of the magistrates, the right of the courts to enregister
edicts, and that of each citizen to be judged only by his natural judges,
without liability ever to be arrested arbitrarily." "The magistrates
must cease to exist before the nation ceases to be free," said a second

Bold and defiant in its grotesque mixture of the ancient principles of
the magistracy with the novel theories of philosophy, the resolution of
the Parliament was quashed by the king. Orders were given to arrest
M. d'Espremesnil and a young councillor, Goislard de Montsabert, who had
proposed an inquiry into the conduct of the comptrollers commissioned to
collect the second twentieth. The police of the Parliament was perfect
and vigilant; the two magistrates were warned and took refuge in the
Palace of Justice; all the chambers were assembled and the peers
convoked. Ten or a dozen appeared, notwithstanding the king's express

The Parliament had placed the two threatened members "under the
protection of the king and of the law;" the premier president, at the
head of a deputation, had set out for Versailles to demand immunity for
the accused; the court was in session awaiting his return.

The mob thronged the precincts of the Palace, some persons had even
penetrated into the grand chamber; no deliberations went on. Towards
midnight, several companies of the French guards entered the hall of the
Pas-Perdus; all the exits were guarded. The court was in commotion, the
young councillors demanded that the deliberations should go on publicly.
"Gentlemen," said President de Gourgues, "would you derogate from the
ancient forms?" The spectators withdrew. The Marquis d'Agoult,
aide-major of the French guards, demanded admission; he had orders from
the king. The ushers opened the doors; at sight of the magistrates in
scarlet robes, motionless upon their seats, the officer was for a moment
abashed; he cast his eye from bench to bench, his voice faltered when he
read the order signed by the king to arrest "MM. d'Espremesnil and De
Montsabert, in the grand chamber or elsewhere." "The court will proceed
to deliberate thereon, sir," replied the president. "Your forms are to
deliberate," hotly replied M. d'Agoult, who had recovered himself; "I
know nothing of those forms, the king's orders must be executed without
delay; point out to me those whom I have to arrest." Silence reigned
throughout the hall; not a word, not a gesture indicated the accused.
Only the dukes and peers made merry aloud over the nobleman charged with
so disagreeable a mission: he repeated his demand: "We are all
d'Espremesnil and Montsabert," exclaimed the magistrates. M. d'Agoult
left the room.

He soon returned, accompanied by an exon of the short robe, named
Larchier. "Show me whom I have to arrest," was the officer's order.
The exon looked all round the room; he knew every one of the magistrates;
the accused were sitting right in front of him. "I do not see
MM. d'Espremesnil and Montsabert anywhere," he at last said, tremulously.
M. d'Agoult's threats could not get any other answer out of him.

The officer had gone to ask for fresh orders; the deputation sent to
Versailles had returned, without having been received by Louis XVI., of
whom an audience had not been requested. The court wanted to send some
of the king's people at once to notify a fresh request; the troops
guarded all the doors, nobody could leave the Palace.

"Gentlemen," said d'Espr4mesnil at last, "it would be contrary to our
honor as well as to the dignity of the Parliament to prolong this scene
any further; and, besides, we cannot be the ruin of Larchier; let
M. d'Agoult be shown in again." The officer was recalled, the
magistrates were seated and covered. "Sir," said M. d'Espremesnil,
"I am one of those you are in search of. The law forbids me to obey
orders irregularly obtained (_surpris_) of the sovereign, and it is to
be faithful to him that I have not mentioned who I am until this moment.
I call upon you to state whether, in case I should not go with you
voluntarily, you have orders to drag me from this building." "Certainly,
sir." D'Agoult was already striding towards the door to order in his
troops. "Enough," said M. d'Espremesnil; "I yield to force;" and,
turning to his colleagues, "Gentlemen," he said, "to you I protest
against the violence of which I am the object; forget me and think
henceforth of nothing but the common weal; I commend to you my family;
whatever may be my fate, I shall never cease to glory in professing to
the last hour the principles which do honor to this court." He made a
deep obeisance, and followed the major, going out by the secret
staircases in order to avoid the crowd whose shouts could be heard even
within the palace buildings. Goislard de Montsabert followed his
colleague's example: he was confined at Pierre-Encise; M. d'Espremesnil
had been taken to the Isle of St. Marguerite.

Useless and ill-judged violence, which excited the passions of the public
without intimidating opponents! The day after the scene of May 6th, at
the moment when the whole magistracy of France was growing hot over the
thrilling account of the arrest of the two councillors, the Parliament of
Paris was sent for to Versailles (May 8, 1788).

[Illustration: Arrest of the Members----502]

The magistrates knew beforehand what fate awaited them. The king uttered
a few severe words. After a pompous preamble, the keeper of the seals
read out six fresh edicts intended to ruin forever the power of the
sovereign courts.

Forty-seven great baillie-courts, as a necessary intermediary between the
parliaments and the inferior tribunals, were henceforth charged with all
civil cases not involving sums of more than twenty thousand livres, as
well as all criminal cases of the third order (estate). The
representations of the provincial assembly of Dauphiny severely
criticised the impropriety of this measure. "The ministers," they said,
"have not been afraid to flout the third estate, whose life, honor, and
property no longer appear to be objects worthy of the sovereign courts,
for which are reserved only the causes of the rich and the crimes of the
privileged." The number of members of the Parliament of Paris was
reduced to sixty-nine. The registration of edicts, the only real
political power left in the hands of the magistrates, was transferred to
a plenary court, an old title without stability and without tradition,
composed, under the king's presidency, of the great functionaries of
state, assisted by a small number of councillors. The absolute power was
thus preparing a rampart against encroachments of authority on the part
of the sovereign courts; it had fortified itself beforehand against the
pretensions of the States-general, "which cannot pretend to be anything
but a more extended council on behalf of the sovereign, the latter still
remaining supreme arbiter of their representations and their grievances."

Certain useful ameliorations in the criminal legislation, amongst others
total abolition of torture, completed the sum of edicts. A decree of the
council declared all the parliarnents prorogued until the formation of
the great bailliecourts. The plenary court was to assemble forthwith at
Versailles. It only sat once; in presence of the opposition amongst the
majority of the men summoned to compose it, the ministers, unforeseeing
and fickle even with all their ability and their boldness, found
themselves obliged to adjourn the sittings indefinitely. All the members
of the Parliament of Paris had bound themselves by a solemn oath not to
take a place in any other assembly. "In case of dispersal of the
magistracy," said the resolution entered upon the registers of the court,
"the Parliament places the present act as a deposit in the hands of the
king, of his august family, of the peers of the realm, of the States-
general, and of each of the orders, united or separate, representing the

At sight of this limitation, less absolute and less cleverly calculated,
of the attempts made by Chancellor Maupeou, after seventeen years' rapid
marching towards a state of things so novel and unheard of, the commotion
was great in Paris; the disturbance, however, did not reach to the
masses, and the disorder in the streets was owing less to the Parisian
populace than to mendicants, rascals of sinister mien, flocking in, none
knew why, from the four points of the compass. The provinces were more
seriously disturbed. All the sovereign courts rose up with one accord;
the Parliament of Rouen declared "traitors to the king, to the nation, to
the province, perjured and branded with infamy, all officers and judges"
who should proceed in virtue of the ordinances of May 8. "The authority
of the king is unlimited for doing good to his subjects," said one of the
presidents, "but everybody should put limits to it when it turns towards
oppression." It was the very commandant of the royal troops whom the
magistrates thus reproached with their passive obedience.

Normandy confined herself to declarations and speeches; other provinces
went beyond those bounds: Brittany claimed performance "of the marriage
contract between Louis XII. and the Duchess Anne." Notwithstanding the
king's prohibition, the Parliament met at Rennes. A detachment of
soldiers having been ordered to disperse the magistrates, a band of
gentlemen, supported by an armed mob, went to protect the deliberations
of the court. Fifteen officers fought duels with fifteen gentlemen. The
court issued a decree of arrest against the holders of the king's
commission. The youth of Nantes hurried to the aid of the youth of
Rennes. The intermediary commission of the states ordered the bishops to
have the prayers said which were customary in times of public calamity,
and a hundred and thirty gentlemen carried to the governor a declaration
signed by the noblesse of almost the whole province. "We, members of the
noblesse of Brittany, do declare infamous those who may accept any place,
whether in the new administration of justice or in the administration of
the states, which is not recognized by the laws and constitutions of the
province." A dozen of them set off for Versailles to go and denounce the
ministers to Louis XVI. Being put in the Bastille, eighteen of their
friends went to demand then back; they were followed by fifty others.
The officers of the Bassigny regiment had taken sides with the
opposition, and discussed the orders sent to them. Among the great lords
of the province, attached to the king's own person, MM. de La Tremoille,
de Rieux, and de Guichen left the court to join their protests to those
of their friends; the superintendent, Bertrand de Molleville, was hanged-
in effigy and had to fly.

In Bearn, the peasantry had descended from the mountains; hereditary
proprietors of their little holdings, they joined the noblesse to march
out and meet the Duke of Guiche, sent by the king to restore order.
Already the commandant of the province had been obliged to authorize the
meeting of the Parliament. The Bearnese bore in front of their ranks the
cradle of Henry IV., carefully preserved in the Castle of Pau. "We are
no rebels," they said: "we claim our contract and fidelity to the oaths
of a king whom we love. The Bearnese is free-born, he will not die a
slave. Let the king have all from us in love and not by force; our blood
is his and our country's. Let none come to take our lives when we are
defending our liberty."

Legal in Normandy, violent in Brittany, tumultuous in Bearn, the
parliamentary protests took a politic and methodical form in Dauphiny.
An insurrection amongst the populace of Grenoble, soon supported by the
villagers from the mountains, had at first flown to arms at the sound of
the tocsin. The members of the Parliament, on the point of leaving the
city, had been detained by force, and their carriages had been smashed.
The troops offered little resistance; an entry was effected into the
house of the governor, the Duke of Clermont-Tonnerre, and, with an axe
above his head, the insurgents threatened to hang him to the chandelier
in his drawing-room if he did not convoke the Parliament. Ragged
ruffians ran to the magistrates, and compelled them to meet in the
sessions-hall. The members of Parliament succeeded with great difficulty
in pacifying the mob. As soon as they found themselves free, they
hastened away into exile. Other hands had taken up their quarrel. A
certain number of members of the three orders met at the town hall, and,
on their private authority, convoked for the 21st of July the special
states of Dauphiny, suppressed a while before by Cardinal Richelieu.

The Duke of Clermont-Tonnerre had been superseded by old Marshal Vaux,
rough and ready. He had at his disposal twenty thousand men. Scarcely
had he arrived at Grenoble, when he wrote to Versailles. "It is too
late," he said. The prerogatives of royal authority were maintained,
however. The marshal granted a meeting of the states-provincial, but he
required permission to be asked of him. He forbade the assembly to be
held at Grenoble. It was in the Castle of Vizille, a former residence
of the dauphins, that the three orders of Dauphiny met, closely united
together in wise and patriotic accord. The Archbishop of Vienne, Lefranc
de Pompignan, brother of the poet, lately the inveterate foe of Voltaire,
an ardently and sincerely pious man, led his clergy along the most
liberal path; the noblesse of the sword, mingled with the noblesse of the
robe, voted blindly all the resolutions of the third estate; these were
suggested by the real head of the assembly, M. Mounier, judge-royal of
Grenoble, a friend of M. Necker's, an enlightened, loyal, honorable man,
destined ere long to make his name known over the whole of France by his
courageous resistance to the outbursts of the National Assembly.
Unanimously the three orders presented to the king their claims to the
olden liberties of the province; they loudly declared, however, that they
were prepared for all sacrifices and aspired to nothing but the common
rights of all Frenchmen. The double representation of the third in the
estates of Dauphiny was voted without contest, as well as equal
assessment of the impost intended to replace forced labor. Throughout
the whole province the most perfect order had succeeded the first
manifestations of popular irritation.

It was now more than a year since Brienne had become chief minister.
MM. de Segur and de Castries had retired, refusing to serve under a man
whom they did not esteem. Alone, shut up in his closet, the archbishop
listened without emotion to the low murmur of legal protests, the noisy
tumult of insurrections. "I have foreseen all, even civil war. The king
shall be obeyed, the king knows how to make himself obeyed," he kept
repeating in the assured tones of an oracle. Resolved not to share the
responsibility of the reverse he foresaw, Baron de Breteuil sent in his

Meanwhile the treasury was found to be empty; Brienne appealed to the
clergy, hoping to obtain from ecclesiastical wealth one of those
gratuitous gifts which had often come in aid of the State's necessities.
The Church herself was feeling the influence of the times. Without
relaxing in her pretensions to the maintenance of privileges, the
ecclesiastical assembly thought itself bound to plead the cause of that
magistracy which it had so, often fought. "Our silence," said the
remonstrances, "would be a crime, of which the nation and posterity would
never absolve us. Your Majesty has just effected at the bed of justice
of May 8, a great movement as regards things and persons. Such ought to
be a consequence rather than a preliminary of the States-general; the
will of a prince which has not been enlightened by his courts may be
regarded as a momentary will. Your Majesty has issued an edict carrying
the restoration of the plenary court, but that court has recalled an
ancient reign without recalling ancient ideas. Even if it had been once
the supreme tribunal of our kings, it now presents no longer that
numerous assemblage of prelates, barons, and lieges united together. The
nation sees nothing in it but a court-tribunal whose complaisance it
would be afraid of, and whose movements and intrigues it would dread in
times of minority and regency. . . . Our functions are sacred, when,
from the height of the altars, we pray heaven to send down blessings on
kings and on their subjects; they are still so, when, after teaching
people their duties, we represent their rights and make solicitations on
behalf of the afflicted, on behalf of the absent despoiled of their
position and their liberty. The clergy of France, Sir, stretch forth to
you their suppliant hands; it is so beautiful to see might and puissance
yielding to prayer! The glory of your Majesty is not in being King of
France, but in being King of the French, and the heart of your subjects
in the fairest of your domains." The assembly of the clergy granted to
the treasury only a poor gift of eighteen hundred thousand livres.

All the resources were exhausted, disgraceful tricks had despoiled the
hospitals and the poor; credit was used up, the payments of the State
were backward; the discount-bank (_caisse d'escompte_) was authorized to
refuse to give coin. To divert the public mind from this painful
situation, Brienne proposed to the king to yield to the requests of the
members of Parliament, of the clergy, and of the noblesse themselves.
A decree of August 8, 1788, announced that the States-general would be
convoked May 1, 1789: the re-establishment of the plenary court was
suspended to that date. Concessions wrested from the weakness and
irresolution of governments do not strengthen their failing powers.
Brienne had exhausted his boldness as well as his basenesses; he
succumbed beneath the outcry of public wrath and mistrust. He offered
the comptroller-generalship to M. Necker, who refused. "He told XVI.
"Mercy," is the expression in Brienne's own account, "that under a
minister who, like me, had lost the favor of the public, he could not do
any good." A court-intrigue at last decided the minister's fall. The
Count of Artois, egged on by Madame de Polignac, made urgent entreaties
to the queen; she was attached to Brienne; she, however, resigned herself
to giving him up, but with so many favors and such an exhibition of
kindness towards all his family, that the public did not feel at all
grateful to Marie Antoinette. Already Brienne had exchanged the
archbishopric of Toulouse for that of Sens, a much richer one. "The
queen offered me the hat and anything I might desire," writes the
prelate, "telling me that she parted from me with regret, weeping at
being obliged to do so, and permitting me to kiss her (_l'embrasser_) in
token of her sorrow and her interest." "After having made the mistake of
bringing him into the ministry," says Madame Campan [_Memoires,_ t. i.
p. 33], "the queen unfortunately made an equally grave one in supporting
him at the time of a disgrace brought upon him by the despair of the
whole nation. She considered it only consistent with her dignity to give
him, at his departure, ostensible proofs of her esteem, and, her very
sensibility misleading her, she sent him her portrait adorned with
precious stones and the patent of lady of the palace for his niece,
Madame de Courcy, saying that it was necessary to indemnify a minister
sacrificed by the trickery of courts and the factious spirit of the
nation. I have since seen the queen shed bitter tears over the errors
she committed at this period."

On the 25th of August, 1788, the king sent for M. Necker.

A burst of public joy greeted the fall of the detested minister and
the return of the popular minister. There were illuminations in the
provinces as well as at Paris, at the Bastille as well as the houses of
members of Parliament; but joy intermingled with hate is a brutal and a
dangerous one: the crowd thronged every evening on the Pont-Neuf, forcing
carriages as well as foot passengers to halt in front of Henry IV.'s
statue. "Hurrah for Henry IV.! To the devil with Lamoignon and
Brienne!" howled the people, requiring all passers to repeat the same
cry. It was remarked that the Duke of Orleans took pleasure in crossing
over the Pont-Neuf to come in for the cheers of the populace. "He was
more crafty than ambitious, more depraved than naturally wicked," says M.
Malouet: "resentment towards the court had hurried him into intrigue; he
wanted to become formidable to the queen. His personal aim was vengeance
rather than ambition, that of his petty council was to effect an upheaval
in order to set the prince at the head of affairs as lieutenant-general
and share the profits."

The tumult in the streets went on increasing; the keeper of the seals,
Lamoignon, had tried to remain in power. M. Necker, supported by the
queen, demanded his dismissal. His departure, like that of Brienne, had
to be bought; he was promised an embassy for his son; he claimed a sum of
four hundred thousand livres; the treasury was exhausted, and there was
no finding more than half. The greedy keeper of the seals was succeeded
by Barentin, premier-president of the Court of Aids. Two dummies, one
dressed in a _simarre_ (gown) and the other in pontifical vestments, were
burned on the Pont-Neuf: the soldiers, having been ordered to disperse
the crowds, some persons were wounded and others killed; the mob had felt
sure that they would not be fired upon, whatever disorder they showed;
the wrath and indignation were great; there were threats of setting fire
to the houses of MM. de Brienne and de Lamoignon; the quarters of the
commandant of the watch were surrounded. The number of folks of no
avocation, of mendicants and of vagabonds, was increasing every day in

Meanwhile the Parliament had gained its point, the great baillie-courts
were abolished; the same difficulty had been found in constituting them
as in forming the plenary court; all the magistrates of the inferior
tribunals refused to sit in them; the Breton deputies were let out of the
Bastille; everywhere the sovereign courts were recalled. The return of
the exiles to Paris was the occasion for a veritable triumph and the
pretext for new disorders among the populace. It was the Parliament's
first duty to see to the extraordinary police (_haute police_) in its
district; it performed the duty badly and weakly. The populace had
applauded its return and had supported its cause during its exile; the
first resolution of the court was directed against the excesses committed
by the military in repressing the disorders. When it came to trying the
men seized with arms in their hands and the incendiaries who had
threatened private houses, all had their cases dismissed; by way of
example, one was detained a few days in prison. Having often been served
in its enterprises by the passions of the mob, the Parliament had not
foreseen the day when those same outbursts would sweep it away like chaff
before the wind with all that regimen of tradition and respect to which
it still clung even in its most audacious acts of daring.

For an instant the return of M. Necker to power had the effect of
restoring some hope to the most far-sighted. On his coming into office,
the treasury was empty, there was no scraping together as much as five
thousand livres. The need was pressing, the harvests were bad; the
credit and the able resources of the great financier sufficed for all;
the funds went up thirty percent. in one day, certain capitalists made
advances, the chamber of the notaries of Paris paid six millions into the
treasury, M. Necker lent two millions out of his private fortune.
Economy had already found its way into the royal household; Louis XVI.
had faithfully kept his promises; despite the wrath of courtiers, he had
reduced his establishment. The Duke of Coigny, premier equerry, had
found his office abolished. "We were truly grieved, Coigny and I," said
the king, kindly, "but I believe he would have beaten me had I let him."
"It is fearful to live in a country where one is not sure of possessing
to-morrow what one had the day before," said the great lords who were
dispossessed; "it's a sort of thing seen only in Turkey." Other
sacrifices and more cruel lessons in the instability of human affairs
were already in preparation for the French noblesse.

The great financial talents of M. Necker, his probity, his courage, had
caused illusions as to his political talents; useful in his day and in
his degree, the new minister was no longer equal to the task. The
distresses of the treasury had powerfully contributed to bring about, to
develop the political crisis; the public cry for the States-general had
arisen in a great degree from the deficit; but henceforth financial
resources did not suffice to conjure away the danger; the discount-bank
had resumed payment, the state honored its engagements, the phantom of
bankruptcy disappeared from before the frightened eyes of stockholders;
nevertheless the agitation did not subside, minds were full of higher and
more tenacious concernments. Every gaze was turned towards the States-
general. Scarcely was M. Necker in power, when a royal proclamation,
sent to the Parliament returning to Paris, announced the convocation of
the Assembly for the month of January, 1789.

The States-general themselves had become a topic of the most lively
discussion. Amid the embarrassment of his government, and in order to
throw a sop to the activity of the opposition, Brienne had declared his
doubts and his deficiency of enlightenment as to the form to be given to
the deliberations of that ancient assembly, always convoked at the most
critical junctures of the national history, and abandoned for one
hundred and seventy-five years past. "The researches ordered by the
king," said a decree of the council, "have not brought to light any
positive information as to the number and quality of the electors and
those eligible, any more than as to the form of the elections: the king
will always try to be as close as possible to the old usages; and, when
they are unknown, his Majesty will not supply the hiatus till after
consulting the wish of his subjects, in order that the most entire
confidence may hedge a truly national assembly. Consequently the king
requests all the municipalities and all the tribunals to make researches
in their archives; he likewise invites all scholars and well-informed
persons, and especially those who are members of the Academy of
Inscriptions and Literature, to study the question and give their
opinion." In the wake of this appeal a flood of tracts and pamphlets had
inundated Paris and the provinces: some devoted to the defence of ancient
usages; the most part intended to prove that the Constitution of the
olden monarchy of France contained in principle all the political
liberties which were but asking permission to soar; some, finally, bolder
and the most applauded of all, like that of Count d'Entraigues, _Note on
the States-General, their Rights and the Manner of Convoking them;_ and
that of Abbe Sieyes, _What is the Third Estate?_ Count d'Entraigues'
pamphlet began thus: "It was doubtless in order to give the most heroic
virtues a home worthy of them that heaven willed the existence of
republics, and, perhaps to punish the ambition of men, it permitted great
empires, kings, and masters to arise." Sieyes' pamphlet had already sold
to the extent of thirty thousand copies; the development of his ideas was
an audacious commentary upon his modest title. "What is the third
estate?" said that able revolutionist. "Nothing. What ought it to be?
Everything?" It was hoisting the flag against the two upper orders.
"The deputies of the clergy and of the noblesse have nothing in common
with national representation," he said, "and no alliance is possible
between the three orders in the States-general."

It may be permissible to quote here a page or, so from the second volume
of this history. "At the moment when France was electing the constituent
assembly, a man, whose mind was more powerful than accurate, Abbe Sieyes,
could say, 'What is the third estate? Everything. What has it been
hitherto in the body politic? Nothing. What does it demand? To be
something.' There were in these words three grave errors. In the course
of the regimen anterior to 1789, so far was the third estate from being
nothing that it had every day become greater and stronger. What was
demanded for it in 1789 by M. Sieyes and his friends was not that it
should become something, but that it should be everything. It was to
desire what was beyond its right and its might; the Revolution, which was
its victory, itself proved this. Whatever may have been the weaknesses
and the faults of its adversaries, the third estate had to struggle
terribly to vanquish them, and the struggle was so violent and so
obstinate that the third estate was shattered to pieces in it and paid
right dearly for its triumph. It first of all found despotism instead of
liberty; and when the liberty returned, the third estate found itself
face to face with a twofold hostility: that of its adversaries of the old
regimen and that of absolute democracy, which, in its turn, claimed to be
everything. Excessive pretension entails unmanageable opposition, and
excites unbridled ambition. What there was in the words of Abbe Sieyes,
in 1789, was not the truth as it is in history; it was a lying programme
of revolution. Taking the history of France in its totality and in all
its phases, the third estate has been the most active and most decisive
element in French civilization. If we follow it in its relations with
the general government of the country, we see it first of all allied
during six centuries with the kingship, struggling pauselessly against
the feudal aristocracy, and giving the prevalence in place of that to a
central and unique power, pure monarchy to wit, closely approximating,
though with certain often-repeated but vain reservations, to absolute
monarchy. But, so soon as it has gained this victory and accomplished
this revolution, the third estate pursues another: it attacks this unique
power which it had contributed so much to establish, and it undertakes
the task of changing pure monarchy into constitutional monarchy. Under
whatever aspect we consider it in its two great and so very different
enterprises, whether we study the progressive formation of French society
itself or that of its government, the third estate is the most powerful
and the most persistent of the forces which have had influence over
French civilization. Not only is this fact novel, but it has for France
quite a special interest; for, to make use of an expression which is much
abused in our day, it is a fact eminently French, essentially national.
Nowhere has burgessdom had a destiny so vast, so fertile as that which
has fallen to it in France. There have been commons all over Europe, in
Italy, in Spain, in Germany, in England, as well as in France. Not only
have there been commons everywhere, but the commons in France are not
those which, _qua_ commons, under that name and in the middle ages, have
played the greatest part and held the highest place in history. The
Italian commons begot glorious republics. The German commons became free
towns, sovereign towns, which have their own special history, and
exercised throughout the general history of Germany a great deal of
influence. The commons of England allied themselves with a portion of
the English feudal aristocracy, formed with it the preponderating house
in the British government, and thus played, full early, a powerful part
in the history of their country. The French commons, under that name and

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