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This Etext prepared by Svend Rom
Translated by John Durand, New York 1880 Slightly corrected and
normalized by Svend Rom, whose remarks are signed (SR.)

The Ancient Regime

The Origins of Contemporary France, Volume 1

by Hippolyte A. Taine


BOOK FIRST. The Structure of the Ancient Society.

CHAPTER I. The Origin of Privileges.

CHAPTER II. The Privileged Classes.

CHAPTER III. Local Services Due by the Privileged Classes.

CHAPTER IV. Public services due by the privileged classes.

BOOK SECOND. Habits and Characters.

CHAPTER I. Social Habits.

CHAPTER II. Drawing room Life .

CHAPTER III. Disadvantages of this Drawing room Life.

BOOK THIRD. The Spirit and the Doctrine.

CHAPTER I. Scientific Acquisition.

CHAPTER II. The Classic Spirit, the Second Element.

CHAPTER III. Combination of the two elements.

CHAPTER IV. Organizing the Future Society.

BOOK FOURTH. The Propagation of the Doctrine.

CHAPTER I. Success in France.

CHAPTER II. The French Public.

CHAPTER III. The Middle Class.

BOOK FIFTH. The People

CHAPTER I. Hardships.

CHAPTER II. Taxation the principal cause of misery.

CHAPTER III. Intellectual state of the people.

CHAPTER IV. The Armed Forces.

CHAPTER V. Summary.


Why should we fetch Taine's work up from its dusty box in the
basement of the national library? First of all because his realistic
views of our human nature, of our civilization and of socialism as
well as his dark premonitions of the 20th century were proven correct.
Secondly because we may today with more accuracy call his work:

"The Origins of Popular Democracy and of Communism."

His lucid analysis of the current ideology remains as interesting
or perhaps even more interesting than when it was written especially
because we cannot accuse him of being part in our current political
and ideological struggle.

Even though I found him wise, even though he confirmed my own
impressions from a rich and varied life, even though I considered that
our children and the people at large should benefit from his insights
into the innermost recesses of the political Man, I still felt it
would be best to find out why his work had been put on the index by
the French and largely forgotten by the Anglo-Saxon world. So I
consulted a contemporary French authority, Jean-François Revel who
mentions Taine works in his book, "La Connaissance Inutile." (Paris
1988). Revel notes that a socialist historian, Alphonse Aulard
methodically and dishonestly attacked "Les Origines..", and that
Aulard was specially recruited by the University of Sorbonne for this
purpose. Aulard pretended that Taine was a poor historian by finding a
number of errors in Taine's work. This was done, says Revel, because
the 'Left' came to see Taine's work as "a vile counter-revolutionary
weapon." The French historian Augustin Cochin proved, however, that
Aulard and not Taine had made the errors but by that time Taine had
been defamed and his works removed from the shelves of the French

Now Taine was not a professional historian. Perhaps this was as
well since most professional historians, even when conscientious and
accurate, rarely are in a position to be independent. They generally
work for a university, for a national public or for the ministry of
education and their books, once approved, may gain a considerable
income once millions of pupils are compelled to acquire these.

Taine initially became famous, not as a professional historian but
as a literary critic and journalist. His fame allowed him to sell his
books and articles and make a comfortable living without cow-towing to
any government or university. He wrote as he saw fit, truthfully, even
though it might displease a number of powerful persons.

Taine did not pretend to be a regular historian, but rather someone
enquiring into the history of Public Authorities and their supporters.
Through his comments he appears not only as a decent person but also
as a psychologist and seer. He describes mankind, as I know it from my
life in institutions, at sea and abroad in a large international
organization. He describes mankind as it was, as it was seen by Darwin
the human being as he was and is and had the courage to tell the
French about themselves, their ancient rulers, and the men of the
Revolution, even if it went against the favorable opinion so many of
his countrymen had of this terrible period. His understanding of our
evolution, of mankind and of the evolution of society did not find
favor with men who believed that they in the socialist ideology had
found the solution to all social ills. Only recently has science begun
to return to Darwin in order to rediscover the human being as Taine
knew him. You can find Taine's views of humanity confirmed in Robert
Wright's book 'THE MORAL ANIMAL.' (Why we are the way we are.)

Taine had full access to the files of the French National archives
and these and other original documents. Taine had received a French
classical education and, being foremost among many brilliant men, had
a capacity for study and work which we no longer demand from our
young. He accepted Man and society, as they appeared to him, he
described his findings without compassion for the hang-ups of his
prejudiced countrymen. He described Man as a gregarious animal living
for a brief spell in a remote corner of space, whose different
cultures and nations had evolved haphazardly in time, carried along by
forces and events exceeding our comprehension, blindly following their
innate drives. These drives were followed with cunning but rarely with
far-sighted wisdom. Taine, the prophet, has more than ever something
to tell us. He warned his countrymen against themselves, their
humanity, and hence against their fears, anxieties, greed, ambitions,
conceit and excessive imagination. His remarks and judgments exhort us
to be responsible, modest and kind and to select wise and modest
leaders. He warns us against young hungry men's natural desire to mass
behind a tribune and follow him onwards, they hope, along the high
road to excitement, fame, power and riches. He warns us against our
readiness to believe in myth and metaphysics, demonstrating how Man
will believe anything, even the most mystical or incomprehensible
religion or ideology, provided it is preached by his leaders. History,
as seen by Taine, is one long series of such adventures and horrors
and nowhere was this more evident than in France before, during and
after the Revolution in 1789.

Taine became, upon reading 'On the Origins of the Species' a
convinced Darwinian and was, the year after Darwin, honored by the
University of Oxford with the title of doctor honoris causa in jure
civili for his 'History of English Literature'. Taine was not a
methodical ideologist creating a system. He did not defend any
particular creed or current. He was considered some kind of positivist
but he did not consider himself as belonging to any particular school.

The 6 volumes of "Les Origines de la France Contemporaine" appeared
one after the other in Paris between 1875 and 1893. They were
translated into English and published in New York soon afterwards.
They were also translated into German. Taine's direct views displeased
many in France, as the Royalists, the bonapartist and the Socialists
felt hurt. Still, the first edition of Volume II of "LE RÉGIME
MODERNE" published by Hachette in 1894 indicated that "L'ANCIEN
REGIME" at that time had been printed in 18 editions, "LA RÉVOLUTION"
volume I in 17 editions, volume II in 16 editions and volume III in 13
editions. "LE RÉGIME MODERNE" volume I had been printed in only 8
editions. Photographic reprints appeared in the US in 1932 and 1962.

Taine's description and analysis of events in France between 1750
and 1870 are, as you will see colorful, lucid, and sometimes intense.
His style might today appear dated since he writes in rather long
sentences, using parables to drive his points firmly home. His books
were widely read in academic circles and therefore influenced a great
many political students in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Lenin, who came to Paris around 1906, might well have profited by
Taine's analysis. Hitler is also likely to have profited by his
insights. Lenin was like so many other socialists of his day a great
admirer of Robespierre and his party and would undoubtedly have tried
to find out how Robespierre got into power and why he lost his hold on
France the way he did. Part of Taine's art was to place himself into
the place of the different people and parties who took part in the
great events. When pretends to speak for the Jacobins, it so
convincingly done, that it is hard to know whether he speaks on
'their' behalf or whether he is, in fact, quoting one of them.

Taine, like the Napoleon he described, believed that in order to
understand people you are aided if you try to imagine yourself in
their place. This procedure, as well as his painstaking research, make
his descriptions of the violent events of the past ring true.

Taine knew and described the evil inherent in human nature and in
the crowd. His warnings and explanations did not prevent Europe from
repeating the mistakes of the past. The 20th century saw a replay of
the French Revolution repeated in all its horror when Lenin, Mao,
Hoxa, and Pol Pot followed the its script and when Stalin and Hitler
made good use of Napoleon's example.

Taine irritated the elite of the 3rd French republic as well as
everyone who believed in the popular democracy based on one person one
vote. You can understand when you read the following preface which was
actually placed in front of "The Revolution" volume II. Since it
clarifies Taine's aims and justifications, I have moved and placed it

Not long before his death Taine, sensing that his wisdom and deep
insights into human nature and events, no longer interested the élite,
remarked to a friend that "the scientific truth about the human animal
is perhaps unacceptable except for a very few".[1] Now, 100 years
later, after a century of ideological wars between ambitious men, I am
afraid that the situation remains unchanged. Mankind remains reluctant
to face the realities of our uncontrolled existence! A few men begin,
however, to share my misgivings about the future of a system which has
completely given up the respect for wisdom and experience preferring a
system of elaborate human rights and new morals. There is reason to
recall Macchiavelli's words:

"In times of difficulty men of merit are sought after, but in easy
times it is not men of merit, but such as have riches and powerful
relations, that are most in favor."

And let me to quote the Greek historian Polybius' observations[2]
about the cyclic evolution of the Greek city states:

". . . What then are the beginnings I speak of and what is the
first origin of political societies? When owing to floods, famines,
failure of crops or other such causes there occurs such a destruction
of the human race as tradition tells us has more than once happened,
and as we must believe will often happen again, all arts and crafts
perishing at the same time, when in the course of time, when springing
from the survivors as from seeds men have again increased in numbers
and just like other animals form herds - it being a matter of course
that they too should herd together with those of their kind owing to
their natural weakness - it is a necessary consequence that the man
who excels in bodily strength and in courage will lead and rule over
the rest. We observe and should regard as a most genuine work of
nature this very phenomenon in the case of the other animals which act
purely by instinct and among who the strongest are always indisputable
the masters - I speak of bulls, boars, cocks, and the like. It is
probable then that at the beginning men lived thus, herding together
like animals and following the lead of the strongest and bravest, the
ruler's strength being here the sole limit to his power and the name
we should give his rule being monarchy.

But when in time feelings of sociability and companionship begin to
grow in such gatherings of men, then kingship has truck root; and the
notions of goodness, justice, and their opposites begin to arise in

6. The manner in which these notions come into being is as follows.
Men being all naturally inclined to sexual intercourse, and the
consequence this being the birth of children, whenever one of those
who have been reared does not on growing up show gratitude to those
who reared him or defend them, but on the contrary takes to speaking
ill of them or ill-treating them, it is evident that he will displease
and offend those who have been familiar with his parents and have
witnessed the care and pains they spent on attending to and feeding
their children. For seeing that men are distinguished from the other
animals possessing the faculty of reason, it is obviously improbable
that such a difference of conduct should escape them, as it escapes
the other animals: they will notice the thing and be displeased at
what is going on, looking to the future and reflecting that they may
all meet with the same treatment. Again when a man who has been helped
or succored when in danger by another does not show gratitude to his
preserver, but even goes to the length of attempting to do him injury,
it is clear that those who become aware of it will naturally be
displeased and offended by such conduct, sharing the resentment of
their injured neighbor and imagining themselves in the same situation.
From all this there arises in everyone a notion of the meaning and
theory of duty, which is the beginning and end of justice. Similarly,
again, when any man is foremost in defending his fellows from danger,
and braves and awaits the onslaught of the most powerful beasts, it is
natural that he should receive marks of favor and honor from the
people, while the man who acts in the opposite manner will meet with
reprobation and dislike. From this again some idea of what is base and
what is noble and of what constitutes the difference is likely to
arise among the people; and noble conduct will be admired and imitated
because advantageous, while base conduct will be avoided. Now when the
leading and most powerful man among people always throws the weight of
his authority the side of the notions on such matters which generally
prevail, and when in the opinion of his subjects he apportions rewards
and penalties according to desert, they yield obedience to him no
longer because they fear his force, but rather because their judgment
approves him; and they join in maintaining his rule even if he is
quite enfeebled by age, defending him with one consent and battling
against those who conspire to overthrow his rule. Thus by insensible
degrees the monarch becomes a king, ferocity and force having yielded
the supremacy to reason.

7. Thus is formed naturally among men the first notion of goodness
and justice, and their opposites; this is the beginning and birth of
true kingship. For the people maintain the supreme power not only in
the hands of these men themselves, but in those of their descendants,
from the conviction that those born from and reared by such men will
also have principles like to theirs. And if they ever are displeased
with the descendants, they now choose their kings and rulers no longer
for their bodily strength and brute courage, but for the excellency of
their judgment and reasoning powers, as they have gained experience
from actual facts of the difference between the one class of qualities
and the other. In old times, then, those who had once been chosen to
the royal office continued to hold it until they grew old, fortifying
and enclosing fine strongholds with walls and acquiring lands, in the
one case for the sake of the security of their subjects and in the
other to provide them with abundance of the necessities of life. And
while pursuing these aims, they were exempt from all vituperation or
jealousy, as neither in their dress nor in their food and drink did
they make any great distinction, but lived very much like everyone
else, not keeping apart from the people. But when they received the
office by hereditary succession and found their safety now provided
for, and more than sufficient provision of food, they gave way to
their appetites owing to this superabundance, and came to think that
the rulers must be distinguished from their subjects by a peculiar
dress, that there should be a peculiar luxury and variety in the
dressing and serving of their viands, and that they should meet with
no denial in the pursuit of their amours, however lawless. These
habits having given rise in the one case to envy and offence and in
the other to an outburst of hatred and passionate resentment, the
kingship changed into a tyranny; the first steps towards its overthrow
were taken by the subjects, and conspiracies began to be formed. These
conspiracies were not the work of the worst men, but of the noblest,
most high-spirited, and most courageous, because such men are least
able to brook the insolence of princes.

8. The people now having got leaders, would combine with them
against the ruling powers for the reasons I stated above; king-ship
and monarchy would be utterly abolished, and in their place
aristocracy would begin to grow. For the commons, as if bound to pay
at once their debt of gratitude to the abolishers of monarchy, would
make them their leaders and entrust their destinies to them. At first
these chiefs gladly assumed this charge and regarded nothing as of
greater importance than the common interest, administering the private
and public affairs of the people with paternal solicitude. But here
again when children inherited this position of authority from their
fathers, having no experience of misfortune and none at all of civil
equality and liberty of speech, and having been brought up from the
cradle amid the evidences of the power and high position of their
fathers, they abandoned themselves some to greed of gain and
unscrupulous money-making, others to indulgence in wine and the
convivial excess which accompanies it, and others again to the
violation of women and the rape of boys; and thus converting the
aristocracy info an oligarchy aroused in the people feelings similar
to those of which I just spoke, and in consequence met with the same
disastrous end as the tyrant.

9. For whenever anyone who has noticed the jealousy and hatred with
which they are regarded by the citizens, has the courage to speak or
act against the chiefs of the state he has the whole mass of the
people ready to back him. Next, when they have either killed or
banished the oligarchs, they no longer venture to set a king over
them, as they still remember with terror the injustice they suffered
from the former ones, nor can they entrust the government with
confidence to a select few, with the evidence before them of their
recent error in doing so. Thus the only hope still surviving
unimpaired is in themselves, and to this they resort, making the state
a democracy instead of an oligarchy and assuming the responsibility
for the conduct of affairs. Then as long as some of those survive who
experienced the evils of oligarchical dominion, they are well pleased
with the present form of government, and set a high value on equality
and freedom of speech. But when a new generation arises and the
democracy falls into the hands of the grandchildren of its founders,
they have become so accustomed to freedom and equality that they no
longer value them, and begin to aim at pre-eminence; and it is chiefly
those of ample fortune who fall into this error. So when they begin to
lust for power and cannot attain it through themselves or their own
good qualities, they ruin their estates, tempting and corrupting the
people in every possible way. And hence when by their foolish thirst
for reputation they have created among the masses an appetite for
gifts and the habit of receiving them, democracy in its turn is
abolished and changes into a rule of force and violence. For the
people, having grown accustomed feed at the expense of others and to
depend for their livelihood on the property of others, as soon as they
find a leader who is enterprising but is excluded from the honors of
office by his poverty, institute the rule of violence; and now uniting
their forces massacre, banish, and plunder, until they degenerate
again into perfect savages and find once more a master and monarch.

Such is the cycle of political revolution, the course pointed by
nature in which constitutions change, disappear, and finally return to
the point from which they started. Anyone who clearly perceives this
may indeed in speaking of the future of any state be wrong in his
estimate of the time the process will take, but if his judgment is not
tainted by animosity or jealousy, he will very seldom be mistaken to
the stage of growth or decline it has reached, and as to the form into
which it will change. And especially in the case of the Roman state
will this method enable us to arrive at a knowledge of its formation,
growth, and greatest perfection, and likewise of the change for the
worse which is sure follow some day. For, as I said, this state, more
than any other, has been formed and has grown naturally, and will
undergo a natural decline and change to its contrary. The reader will
be able to judge of the truth of this from the subsequent parts this

The modern reader may think that all this is irrelevant to him,
that the natural sciences will solve all his problems. He would be
wise to recall that the great Roman republic in which Polybius lived
more than [22]00 years ago, did indeed become transformed into tyranny
and, in the end, into anarchy and oblivion. No wonder that the makers
of the American constitution keenly studied Polybius. Not only has
Taine's comments and factual description of the cyclic French
political history much to teach us about ourselves and the dangers
which lie ahead, but it also shows us the origins and weakness of our
political theories. It is obvious that should ask ourselves the
question of where, in the political evolution we are now? Are we still
ruled by the corrupt oligarchs or have we reached the stage where the
people has become used to be fed on the property of others? If so
dissolution and anarchy is just around the corner.

"The Revolution, Vol. II, 8th ed.

Svend Rom. Hendaye, France. February 2000.

In this volume, as in those preceding it and in those to come,
there will be found only the history of Public Authorities. Others
will write that of diplomacy, of war, of the finances, of the Church;
my subject is a limited one. To my great regret, however, this new
part fills an entire volume; and the last part, on the revolutionary
government, will be as long.

I have again to regret the dissatisfaction I foresee this work will
cause to many of my countrymen. My excuse is, that almost all of them,
more fortunate than myself, have political principles which serve them
in forming their judgments of the past. I had none; if indeed, I had
any motive in undertaking this work, it was to seek for political
principles. Thus far I have attained to scarcely more than one; and
this is so simple that will seem puerile, and that I hardly dare
express it. Nevertheless I have adhered to it, and in what the reader
is about to peruse my judgments are all derived from that; its truth
is the measure of theirs. It consists wholly in this observation: that


Hence the difficulty in knowing and comprehending it. For the same
reason it is not easy to handle the subject well. It follows that a
cultivated mind is much better able to do this than an uncultivated
mind, and a man specially qualified than one who is not. From these
two last truths flow many other consequences, which, if the reader
deigns to reflect on them, he will have no trouble in defining.

Paris 1881.


[1] Page XLVI of the Introduction to the Edition by Robert Lafont
in 1986 by "Les Origines de la France Contemporaine".





In 1849, being twenty-one years of age, and an elector, I was very
much puzzled, for I had to nominate fifteen or twenty deputies, and,
moreover, according to French custom, I had not only to determine what
candidate I would vote for, but what theory I should adopt. I had to
choose between a royalist or a republican, a democrat or a
conservative, a socialist or a bonapartist; as I was neither one nor
the other, nor even anything, I often envied those around me who were
so fortunate as to have arrived at definite conclusions. After
listening to various doctrines, I acknowledged that there undoubtedly
was something wrong with my head. The motives that influenced others
did not influence me; I could not comprehend how, in political
matters, a man could be governed by preferences. My assertive
countrymen planned a constitution just like a house, according to the
latest, simplest, and most attractive plan; and there were several
under consideration - the mansion of a marquis, the house of a common
citizen, the tenement of a laborer, the barracks of a soldier, the
kibbutz of a socialist, and even the camp of savages. Each claimed
that his was "the true habitation for Man, the only one in which a
sensible person could live." In my opinion, the argument was weak;
personal taste could not be valid for everyone. It seemed to me that a
house should not be built for the architect alone, or for itself, but
for the owner who was to live in it. Referring to the owner for his
advice, that is submitting to the French people the plans of its
future habitation, would evidently be either for show or just to
deceive them; since the question, obviously, was put in such a manner
that it provided the answer in advance. Besides, had the people been
allowed to reply in all liberty, their response was in any case not of
much value since France was scarcely more competent than I was; the
combined ignorance of ten millions is not the equivalent of one man's
wisdom. A people may be consulted and, in an extreme case, may declare
what form of government it would like best, but not that which it most
needs. Nothing but experience can determine this; it must have time to
ascertain whether the political structure is convenient, substantial,
able to withstand inclemency, and adapted to customs, habits,
occupations, characters, peculiarities and caprices. For example, the
one we have tried has never satisfied us; we have during eighty years
demolished it thirteen times, each time setting it up anew, and always
in vain, for never have we found one that suited us. If other nations
have been more fortunate, or if various political structures abroad
have proved stable and enduring, it is because these have been erected
in a special way. Founded on some primitive, massive pile, supported
by an old central edifice, often restored but always preserved,
gradually enlarged, and, after numerous trials and additions, they
have been adapted to the wants of its occupants. It is well to admit,
perhaps, that there is no other way of erecting a permanent building.
Never has one been put up instantaneously, after an entirely new
design, and according to the measurements of pure Reason. A sudden
contrivance of a new, suitable, and enduring constitution is an
enterprise beyond the forces of the human mind.

In any event, I came to the conclusion that if we should ever
discover the one we need it would not be through some fashionable
theory. The point is, if it exists, to discover it, and not to put it
to a vote. To do that would not only be pretentious it would be
useless; history and nature will do it for us; it is for us to adapt
ourselves to them, as it is certain they will accommodate themselves
to us. The social and political mold, into which a nation may enter
and remain, is not subject to its will, but determined by its
character and its past. It is essential that, even in its least
traits, it should be shaped on the living material to which it is
applied; otherwise it will burst and fall to pieces. Hence, if we
should succeed in finding ours, it will only be through a study of
ourselves, while the more we understand exactly what we are, the more
certainly shall we distinguish what best suits us. We ought,
therefore, to reverse the ordinary methods, and form some conception
of the nation before formulating its constitution. Doubtless the first
operation is much more tedious and difficult than the second. How much
time, how much study, how many observations rectified one by the
other, how many researches in the past and the present, over all the
domains of thought and of action, what manifold and age-long labors
before we can obtain an accurate and complete idea of a great people.
A people which has lived a people's age, and which still lives! But it
is the only way to avoid the unsound construction based on a
meaningless planning. I promised myself that, for my own part, if I
should some day undertake to form a political opinion, it would be
only after having studied France.

What is contemporary France? To answer this question we must know
how this France is formed, or, what is still better, to act as
spectator at its formation. At the end of the last century (in 1789),
like a molting insect, it underwent a metamorphosis. Its ancient
organization is dissolved; it tears away its most precious tissues and
falls into convulsions, which seem mortal. Then, after multiplied
throes and a painful lethargy, it re-establishes itself. But its
organization is no longer the same: by silent interior travail a new
being is substituted for the old. In 1808, its leading characteristics
are decreed and defined: departments, arondissements, cantons and
communes, no change have since taken place in its exterior divisions
and functions. Concordat, Code, Tribunals, University, Institute,
Prefects, Council of State, Taxes, Collectors, Cours des Comptes, a
uniform and centralized administration, its principal organs, are
still the same. Nobility, commoners, artisans, peasants, each class
has henceforth the position, the sentiments, the traditions which we
see at the present day (1875). Thus the new creature is at once stable
and complete; consequently its structure, its instincts and its
faculties mark in advance the circle within which its thought and its
action will be stimulated. Around it, other nations, some more
advanced, others less developed, all with greater caution, some with
better results, attempt similarly a transformation from a feudal to a
modern state; the process takes place everywhere and all but
simultaneously. But, under this new system as beneath the ancient, the
weak is always the prey of the strong. Woe to those (nations) whose
retarded evolution exposes them to the neighbor suddenly emancipated
from his chrysalis state, and is the first to go forth fully armed!
Woe likewise to him whose too violent and too abrupt evolution has
badly balanced his internal economy. Who, through the exaggeration of
his governing forces, through the deterioration of his deep-seated
organs, through the gradual impoverishment of his vital tissues is
condemned to commit inconsiderate acts, to debility, to impotency,
amidst sounder and better-balanced neighbors! In the organization,
which France effected for herself at the beginning of the (19th)
century, all the general lines of her contemporary history were
traced. Her political revolutions, social Utopias, division of
classes, role of the church, conduct of the nobility, of the middle
class, and of the people, the development, the direction, or deviation
of philosophy, of letters and of the arts. That is why, should we wish
to understand our present condition our attention always reverts to
the terrible and fruitful crisis by which the ancient regime produced
the Revolution, and the Revolution the new regime.

Ancient régime, Revolution, new régime, I am going to try to
describe these three conditions with exactitude. I have no other
object in view. A historian may be allowed the privilege of a
naturalist; I have regarded my subject the same as the metamorphosis
of an insect. Moreover, the event is so interesting in itself that it
is worth the trouble of being observed for its own sake, and no effort
is required to suppress one's ulterior motives. Freed from all
prejudice, curiosity becomes scientific and may be completely
concentrated on the secret forces, which guide the wonderful process.
These forces are the situation, the passions, the ideas, the wills of
each group of actors, and which can be defined and almost measured.
They are in full view; we are not reduced to conjectures about them,
to uncertain divination, to vague indications. By singular good
fortune we perceive the men themselves, their exterior and their
interior. The Frenchmen of the ancient régime are still within visual
range. All of us, in our youth, (around 1840-50), have encountered one
or more of the survivors of this vanished society. Many of their
dwellings, with the furniture, still remain intact. Their pictures and
engravings enable us to take part in their domestic life, see how they
dress, observe their attitudes and follow their movements. Through
their literature, philosophy, scientific pursuits, gazettes, and
correspondence, we can reproduce their feeling and thought, and even
enjoy their familiar conversation. The multitude of memoirs, issuing
during the past thirty years from public and private archives, lead us
from one drawing room to another, as if we bore with us so many
letters of introduction. The independent descriptions by foreign
travelers, in their journals and correspondence, correct and complete
the portraits, which this society has traced of itself. Everything
that it could state has been stated, except,

* what was commonplace and well-known to contemporaries,

* whatever seemed technical, tedious and vulgar,

* whatever related to the provinces, to the bourgeoisie, the
peasant, to the laboring man, to the government, and to the household.

It has been my aim to fill this void, and make France known to
others outside the small circle of the literary and the cultivated.
Owing to the kindness of M. Maury[1] and the precious indications of
M. Boutaric, I have been able to examine a mass of manuscript
documents. These include the correspondence of a large number of
intendants, (the Royal governor of a large district), the directors of
customs and tax offices, legal officers, and private persons of every
kind and of every degree during the thirty last years of the ancient
regime. Also included are the reports and registers of the various
departments of the royal household, the reports and registers of the
States General in 176 volumes, the dispatches of military officers in
1789 and 1790, letters, memoirs and detailed statistics preserved in
the one hundred boxes of the ecclesiastical committee, the
correspondence, in 94 bundles, of the department and municipal
authorities with the ministries from 1790 to 1799, the reports of the
Councilors of State on mission at the end of 1801, the reports of
prefects under the Consulate, the Empire, and the Restoration down to
1823. There is such a quantity of unknown and instructive documents
besides these that the history of the Revolution seems, indeed, to be
still unwritten. In any event, it is only such documents, which can
make all these people come alive. The lesser nobles, the curates, the
monks, the nuns of the provinces, the aldermen and bourgeoisie of the
towns, the attorneys and syndics of the country villages, the laborers
and artisans, the officers and the soldiers. These alone enable us to
contemplate and appreciate in detail the various conditions of their
existence, the interior of a parsonage, of a convent, of a town-
council, the wages of a workman, the produce of a farm, the taxes
levied on a peasant, the duties of a tax-collector, the expenditure of
a noble or prelate, the budget, retinue and ceremonial of a court.
Thanks to such resources, we are able to give precise figures, to know
hour by hour the occupations of a day and, better still, read off the
bill of fare of a grand dinner, and recompose all parts of a full-
dress costume. We have even, on the one hand, samples of the materials
of the dresses worn by Marie Antoinette, pinned on paper and
classified by dates. And on the other hand, we can tell what clothes
were worn by the peasant, describe the bread he ate, specify the flour
it was made of, and state the cost of a pound of it in sous and
deniers.[2] With such resources one becomes almost contemporary with
the men whose history one writes and, more than once, in the Archives,
I have, while tracing their old handwriting on the time-stained paper
before me, been tempted to speak aloud with them.

H. A. Taine, August 1875.


[1]. Taine's friend who was the director of the French National
Archives. (SR.)

[2]. One sou equals 1/20th of a franc or 5 centimes. 12 diniers
equaled one sou. (SR.)



In 1789 three classes of persons, the Clergy, the Nobles and the
King, occupied the most prominent position in the State with all the
advantages pertaining thereto namely, authority, property, honors, or,
at the very least, privileges, immunities, favors, pensions,
preferences, and the like. If they occupied this position for so long
a time, it is because for so long a time they had deserved it. They
had, in short, through an immense and secular effort, constructed by
degrees the three principal foundations of modern society.

I. Services and Recompenses of the Clergy.

Of these three layered foundations the most ancient and deepest was
the work of the clergy. For twelve hundred years and more they had
labored upon it, both as architects and workmen, at first alone and
then almost alone. - In the beginning, during the first four
centuries, they constituted religion and the church. Let us ponder
over these two words; in order to weigh them well. One the one hand,
in a society founded on conquest, hard and cold like a machine of
brass, forced by its very structure to destroy among its subjects all
courage to act and all desire to live, they had proclaimed the "glad
tidings," held forth the "kingdom of God," preached loving resignation
in the hands of a Heavenly Father, inspired patience, gentleness,
humility, self-abnegation, and charity, and opened the only issues by
which Man stifling in the Roman 'ergastulum' could again breathe and
see daylight: and here we have religion. On the other hand, in a State
gradually undergoing depopulation, crumbling away, and fatally
becoming a prey, they had formed a living society governed by laws and
discipline, rallying around a common aim and a common doctrine,
sustained by the devotion of chiefs and by the obedience of believes,
alone capable of subsisting beneath the flood of barbarians which the
empire in ruin suffered to pour in through its breaches: and here we
have the church. - It continues to build on these two first
foundations, and after the invasion, for over five hundred years, it
saves what it can still save of human culture. It marches in the van
of the barbarians or converts them directly after their entrance,
which is a wonderful advantage. Let us judge of it by a single fact:
In Great Britain, which like Gaul had become Latin, but whereof the
conquerors remain pagan during a century and a half, arts, industries,
society, language, all were destroyed; nothing remained of an entire
people, either massacred or fugitive, but slaves. We have still to
divine their traces; reduced to the condition of beasts of burden,
they disappear from history. Such might have been the fate of Europe
if the clergy had not promptly tamed the fierce brutes to which it

Before the bishop in his gilded cope or before the monk, the
converted German "emaciated, clad in skins," wan, "dirtier and more
spotted than a chameleon,"[1] stood fear-stricken as before a
sorcerer. In his calm moments, after the chase or inebriety, the vague
divination of a mysterious and grandiose future, the dim conception of
an unknown tribunal, the rudiment of conscience which he already had
in his forests beyond the Rhine, arouses in him through sudden alarms
half-formed, menacing visions. At the moment of violating a sanctuary
he asks himself whether he may not fall on its threshold with vertigo
and a broken neck.[2] Convicted through his own perplexity, he stops
and spares the farm, the village, and the town, which live under the
priest's protection. If the animal impulse of rage, or of primitive
lusts, leads him to murder or to rob, later, after satiety, in times
of sickness or of misfortune, taking the advice of his concubine or of
his wife, he repents and makes restitution twofold, tenfold, a
hundredfold, unstinted in his gifts and immunities.[3] Thus, over the
whole territory the clergy maintain and enlarge their asylums for the
oppressed and the vanquished. - On the other hand, among the warrior
chiefs with long hair, by the side of kings clad in furs, the mitered
bishop and abbot, with shaven brows, take seats in the assemblies;
they alone know how to use the pen and how to discuss. Secretaries,
councilors, theologians, they participate in all edicts; they have
their hand in the government; they strive through its agency to bring
a little order out of immense disorder; to render the law more
rational and more humane, to re-establish or preserve piety,
instruction, justice, property, and especially marriage. To their
ascendancy is certainly due the police system, such as it was,
intermittent and incomplete, which prevented Europe from falling into
a Mongolian anarchy. If, down to the end of the twelfth century, the
clergy bears heavily on the princes, it is especially to repress in
them and beneath them the brutal appetites, the rebellions of flesh
and blood, the outbursts and relapses of irresistible ferocity which
are undermining the social fabric. - Meanwhile, in its churches and
in its convents, it preserves the ancient acquisitions of humanity,
the Latin tongue, Christian literature and theology, a portion of
pagan literature and science, architecture, sculpture, painting, the
arts and industries which aid worship. It also preserved the more
valuable industries, which provide man with bread, clothing, and
shelter, and especially the greatest of all human acquisitions, and
the most opposed to the vagabond humor of the idle and plundering
barbarian, the habit and taste for labor. In the districts depopulated
through Roman exactions, through the revolt of the Bagaudes, through
the invasion of the Germans, and the raids of brigands, the
Benedictine monk built his cabin of boughs amid briers and
brambles.[4] Large areas around him, formerly cultivated, are nothing
but abandoned thickets. Along with his associates he clears the ground
and erects buildings; he domesticates half-tamed animals, he
establishes a farm, a mill, a forge, an oven, and shops for shoes and
clothing. According to the rules of his order, he reads daily for two
hours. He gives seven hours to manual labor, and he neither eats nor
drinks more than is absolutely essential. Through his intelligent,
voluntary labor, conscientiously performed and with a view to the
future, he produces more than the layman does. Through his temperate,
judicious, economical system he consumes less than the layman does.
Hence it is that where the layman had failed he sustains himself and
even prospers.[5] He welcomes the unfortunate, feeds them, sets them
to work, and unites them in matrimony and beggars, vagabonds, and
fugitive peasants gather around the sanctuary. Their camp gradually
becomes a village and next a small town; man plows as soon as he can
be sure of his crops, and becomes the father of a family as soon as he
considers himself able to provide for his offspring. In this way new
centers of agriculture and industry are formed, which likewise become
new centers of population.[6]

To food for the body add food for the soul, not less essential.
For, along with nourishment, it was still necessary to furnish Man
with inducements to live, or, at the very least, with the resignation
that makes life endurable, and also with the poetic daydreams taking
the place of massing happiness.[7] Down to the middle of the
thirteenth century the clergy stands almost alone in furnishing this.
Through its innumerable legends of saints, through its cathedrals and
their construction, through its statues and their expression, through
its services and their still transparent meaning, it rendered visible
"the kingdom of God." It finally sets up an ideal world at the end of
the present one, like a magnificent golden pavilion at the end of a
miry morass.[8] The saddened heart, athirst for tenderness and
serenity, takes refuge in this divine and gentle world. Persecutors
there, about to strike, are arrested by an invisible hand; wild beasts
become docile; the stags of the forest come of their own accord every
morning to draw the chariots of the saints; the country blooms for
them like a new Paradise; they die only when it pleases them.
Meanwhile they comfort mankind; goodness, piety, forgiveness flows
from their lips with ineffable sweetness; with eyes upturned to
heaven, they see God, and without effort, as in a dream, they ascend
into the light and seat themselves at His right hand. How divine the
legend, how inestimable in value, when, under the universal reign of
brute force, to endure this life it was necessary to imagine another,
and to render the second as visible to the spiritual eye as the first
was to the physical eye. The clergy thus nourished men for more than
twelve centuries, and in the grandeur of its recompense we can
estimate the depth of their gratitude. Its popes, for two hundred
years, were the dictators of Europe. It organized crusades, dethroned
monarchs, and distributed kingdoms. Its bishops and abbots became
here, sovereign princes, and there, veritable founders of dynasties.
It held in its grasp a third of the territory, one-half of the
revenue, and two-thirds of the capital of Europe. Let us not believe
that Man counterfeits gratitude, or that he gives without a valid
motive; he is too selfish and too envious for that. Whatever may be
the institution, ecclesiastic or secular, whatever may be the clergy,
Buddhist or Christian, the contemporaries who observe it for forty
generations are not bad judges. They surrender to it their will and
their possessions, just in proportion to its services, and the excess
of their devotion may measure the immensity of its benefaction.

II. Services and Recompenses of the Nobles.

Up to this point no aid is found against the power of the sword and
the battle-ax except in persuasion and in patience. Those States
which, imitating the old empire, attempted to rise up into compact
organizations, and to interpose a barrier against constant invasion,
obtained no hold on the shifting soil; after Charlemagne everything
melts away. There are no more soldiers after the battle of Fontanet;
during half a century bands of four or five hundred outlaws sweep over
the country, killing, burning, and devastating with impunity. But, by
way of compensation, the dissolution of the State raises up at this
very time a military generation. Each petty chieftain has planted his
feet firmly on the domain he occupies, or which he withholds; he no
longer keeps it in trust, or for use, but as property, and an
inheritance. It is his own manor, his own village, his own earldom; it
no longer belongs to the king; he contends for it in his own right.
The benefactor, the conservator at this time is the man capable of
fighting, of defending others, and such really is the character of the
newly established class. The noble, in the language of the day, is the
man of war, the soldier (miles), and it is he who lays the second
foundation of modern society.

In the tenth century his extraction is of little consequence. He is
oftentimes a Carlovingian count, a beneficiary of the king, the sturdy
proprietor of one of the last of the Frank estates. In one place he is
a martial bishop or a valiant abbot in another a converted pagan, a
retired bandit, a prosperous adventurer, a rude huntsman, who long
supported himself by the chase and on wild fruits.[9] The ancestors
of Robert the Strong are unknown, and later the story runs that the
Capets are descended from a Parisian butcher. In any event the noble
of that epoch is the brave, the powerful man, expert in the use of
arms, who, at the head of a troop, instead of flying or paying ransom,
offers his breast, stands firm, and protects a patch of the soil with
his sword. To perform this service he has no need of ancestors; all
that he requires is courage, for he is himself an ancestor; security
for the present, which he insures, is too acceptable to permit any
quibbling about his title.-Finally, after so many centuries, we find
each district possessing its armed men, a settled body of troops
capable of resisting nomadic invasion; the community is no longer a
prey to strangers. At the end of a century this Europe, which had been
sacked by the Vikings, is to throw 200,000 armed men into Asia.
Henceforth, both north and south, in the face of Moslems and of
pagans, instead of being conquered it is to conquer. For the second
time an ideal figure becomes apparent after that of the saint,[10]
the hero; and the newborn sentiment, as effective as the old one, thus
groups men together into a stable society. -This consists of a
resident corps of men-at-arms, in which, from father to son, one is
always a soldier. Each individual is born into it with his hereditary
rank, his local post, his pay in landed property, with the certainty
of never being abandoned by his chieftain, and with the obligation of
giving his life for his chieftain in time of need. In this epoch of
perpetual warfare only one set-up is valid, that of a body of men
confronting the enemy, and such is the feudal system; we can judge by
this trait alone of the perils which it wards off, and of the service
which it enjoins. "In those days," says the Spanish general chronicle,
"kings, counts, nobles, and knights, in order to be ready at all
hours, kept their horses in the rooms in which they slept with their
wives." The viscount in his tower defending the entrance to a valley
or the passage of a ford, the marquis thrown as a forlorn hope on the
burning frontier, sleeps with his hand on his weapon, like an American
lieutenant among the Sioux behind a western stockade. His dwelling is
simply a camp and a refuge. Straw and heaps of leaves cover the
pavement of the great hall, here he rests with his troopers, taking
off a spur if he has a chance to sleep. The loopholes in the wall
scarcely allow daylight to enter; the main thing is not to be shot
with arrows. Every taste, every sentiment is subordinated to military
service; there are certain places on the European frontier where a
child of fourteen is required to march, and where the widow up to
sixty is required to remarry. Men to fill up the ranks, men to mount
guard, is the call, which at this moment issues from all institutions
like the summons of a brazen horn. - Thanks to these braves, the
peasant(villanus) enjoys protection. He is no longer to be
slaughtered, no longer to be led captive with his family, in herds,
with his neck in the yoke. He ventures to plow and to sow, and to
reply upon his crops; in case of danger he knows that he can find an
asylum for himself, and for his grain and cattle, in the circle of
palisades at the base of the fortress. By degrees necessity
establishes a tacit contract between the military chieftain of the
donjon and the early settlers of the open country, and this becomes a
recognized custom. They work for him, cultivate his ground, do his
carting, pay him quittances, so much for house, so much per head for
cattle, so much to inherit or to sell; he is compelled to support his
troop. But when these rights are discharged he errs if, through pride
or greed, he takes more than his due. - As to the vagabonds, the
wretched, who, in the universal disorder and devastation, seek refuge
under his guardianship, their condition is harder. The soil belongs to
the lord because without him it would be uninhabitable. If he assigns
them a plot of ground, if he permits them merely to encamp on it, if
he sets them to work or furnishes them with seeds it is on conditions,
which he prescribes. They are to become his serfs, subject to the laws
on mainmorte.[11] Wherever they may go he is to have the right of
fetching them back. From father to son they are his born domestics,
applicable to any pursuit he pleases, taxable and workable at his
discretion. They are not allowed to transmit anything to a child
unless the latter, "living from their pot," can, after their death,
continue their service. "Not to be killed," says Stendhal, "and to
have a good sheepskin coat in winter, was, for many people in the
tenth century, the height of felicity"; let us add, for a woman, that
of not being violated by a whole band. When we clearly represent to
ourselves the condition of humanity in those days, we can comprehend
how men readily accepted the most obnoxious of feudal rights, even
that of the droit du seigneur. The risks to which they were daily
exposed were even worse.[12] The proof of it is that the people
flocked to the feudal structure as soon as it was completed. In
Normandy, for instance, when Rollo had divided off the lands with a
line, and hung the robbers, the inhabitants of the neighboring
provinces rushed in to establish themselves. The slightest security
sufficed to repopulate a country.

People accordingly lived, or rather began to live once more, under
the rude, iron-gloved hand which used them roughly, but which afforded
them protection. The seignior, sovereign and proprietor, maintains for
himself under this double title, the moors, the river, the forest, all
the game. It is no great evil, since the country is nearly a desert,
and he devotes his leisure to exterminating large wild beasts. He
alone possessed the resources. He is the only one that is able to
construct the mill, the oven, and the winepress; to establish the
ferry, the bridge, or the highway, to dike in a marsh, and to raise or
purchase a bull. To indemnify himself he taxes for these, for forces
their use. If he is intelligent and a good manager of men, if he seeks
to derive the greatest profit from his ground, he gradually relaxes,
or allows to become relaxed, the meshes of the net in which his
peasants and serfs work unprofitably because they are too tightly
drawn. Habits, necessity, a voluntary or forced conformity, have their
effect. Lords, peasants, serfs, and bourgeois, in the end adapted to
their condition, bound together by a common interest, form together a
society, a veritable corporation. The seigniory, the county, the duchy
becomes a patrimony which is loved through a blind instinct, and to
which all are devoted. It is confounded with the seignior and his
family; in this relation people are proud of him. They narrate his
feats of arms; they cheer him as his cavalcade passes along the
street; they rejoice in his magnificence through sympathy.[13] If he
becomes a widower and has no children, they send deputations to him to
entreat him to remarry, in order that at his death the country may not
fall into a war of succession or be given up to the encroachment of
neighbors. Thus there is a revival, after a thousand years, of the
most powerful and the most vivacious of the sentiments that support
human society. This one is the more precious because it is capable of
expanding. In order that the small feudal patrimony to become the
great national patrimony, it now suffices for the seigniories to be
combined in the hands of a single lord, and that the king, chief of
the nobles, should overlay the work of the nobles with the third
foundation of France.

III. Services and Recompenses of the King.

Kings built the whole of this foundation, one stone after
another. Hugues Capet laid the first one. Before him royalty conferred
on the King no right to a province, not even Laon; it is he who added
his domain to the title. During eight hundred years, through conquest,
craft, inheritance, the work of acquisition goes on; even under Louis
XV France is augmented by the acquisition of Lorraine and Corsica.
Starting from nothing, the King is the maker of a compact State,
containing the population of twenty-six millions, and then the most
powerful in -Europe. - Throughout this interval he is at the head of
the national defense. He is the liberator of the country against
foreigners, against the Pope in the fourteenth century, against the
English in the fifteenth, against the Spaniards in the sixteenth. In
the interior, from the twelfth century onward, with the helmet on his
brow, and always on the road, he is the great justiciary, demolishing
the towers of the feudal brigands, repressing the excesses of the
powerful, and protecting the oppressed.[14] He puts an end to
private warfare; he establishes order and tranquility. This was an
immense accomplishment, which, from Louis le Gros to St. Louis, from
Philippe le Bel to Charles VII, continues uninterruptedly up to the
middle of the eighteenth century in the edict against duels and in the
"Grand Jours."[15] Meanwhile all useful projects carried out under
his orders, or developed under his patronage, roads, harbors, canals,
asylums, universities, academies, institutions of piety, of refuge, of
education, of science, of industry, and of commerce, bears his imprint
and proclaim the public benefactor.-Services of this character
challenge a proportionate recompense; it is allowed that from father
to son he is wedded to France; that she acts only through him; that he
acts only for her; while every souvenir of the past and every present
interest combine to sanction this union. The Church consecrates it at
Rheims by a sort of eighth sacrament, accompanied with legends and
miracles; he is the anointed of God.[16] The nobles, through an old
instinct of military fealty, consider themselves his bodyguard, and
down to August 10, 1789, rush forward to die for him on his staircase;
he is their general by birth. The people, down to 1789, regard him as
the redresser of abuses, the guardian of the right, the protector of
the weak, the great almoner and the universal refuge. At the beginning
of the reign of Louis XVI "shouts of Vive le roi, which began at six
o'clock in the morning, continued scarcely interrupted until after
sunset."[17] When the Dauphin was born the joy of France was that of
a whole family. "People stopped each other in the streets, spoke
together without any acquaintance, and everybody embraced everybody he
knew."[18] Every one, through vague tradition, through immemorial
respect, feels that France is a ship constructed by his hands and the
hands of his ancestors. In this sense, the vessel is his property; it
is his right to it is the same as that of each passenger to his
private goods. The king's only duty consists in being expert and
vigilant in guiding across the oceans and beneath his banner the
magnificent ship upon which everyone's welfare depends.-Under the
ascendancy of such an idea he was allowed to do everything. By fair
means or foul, he so reduced ancient authorities as to make them a
fragment, a pretense, a souvenir. The nobles are simply his officials
or his courtiers. Since the Concordat he nominates the dignitaries of
the Church. The States-General were not convoked for a hundred and
seventy-five years; the provincial assemblies, which continue to
subsist, do nothing but apportion the taxes; the parliaments are
exiled when they risk a remonstrance. Through his council, his
intendants, his sub-delegates, he intervenes in the most trifling of
local matters. His revenue is four hundred and seventy-seven
millions.[19] He disburses one-half of that of the Clergy. In short,
he is absolute master, and he so declares himself.[20] -Possessions,
freedom from taxation, the satisfactions of vanity, a few remnants of
local jurisdiction and authority, are consequently all that is left to
his ancient rivals; in exchange for these they enjoy his favors and
marks of preference.-Such, in brief, is the history of the privileged
classes, the Clergy, the Nobles, and the King. It must be kept in mind
to comprehend their situation at the moment of their fall; having
created France, they enjoy it. Let us see clearly what becomes of them
at the end of the eighteenth century; what portion of their advantages
they preserved; what services they still render, and what services
they do not render.

Notes :

[1]. "Les Moines d'Occident," by Montalembert, I. 277. St. Lupicin
before the Burgundian King Chilperic, II. 416. Saint Karileff before
King Childebert. Cf. passim, Gregory of Tours and the Bollandist

[2]. No legend is more frequently encountered; we find it as late
as the twelfth century.

[3]. Chilperic, for example, acting under the advice of Fredegonde
after the death of all their children.

[4]. Montalembert, ibid., II. book 8; and especially "Les Forêts de
la France dans l'antiquité et au Moyen Age," by Alfred Maury. Spinoe
et vepres is a phrase constantly recurring in the lives of the saints.

[5]. We find the same thing to day with the colonies of Trappists
in Algiers.

[6]. "Polyptique d'Irminon," by Guérard. In this work we see the
prosperity of the domain belonging to the Abbey of St. Germain des
Près at the end of the eighth century. According to M. Guérard's
statistics, the peasantry of Paliseau were about as prosperous in the
time of Charlemagne as at the present day.

[7]. Taine's definition would also fit contemporary (1999) drugs
and video entertainment which also provide mankind with both hope,
pleasure and entertainment. (SR.)

[8]. There are twenty-five thousand lives of the saints, between
the sixth and the tenth centuries, collected by the Bollandists. - The
last that are truly inspired are those of St. Francis of Assisi and
his companions at the beginning of the fourteenth century. The same
vivid sentiment extends down to the end of the fifteenth century in
the works of Fra Angelico and Hans Memling. - The Sainte Chapelle in
Paris, the upper church at Assisi, Dante's Paradise, and the Fioretti,
furnish an idea of these visions. As regards modern literature, the
state of a believer's soul in the middle ages is perfectly described
in the "Pélerinage à Kevlaar," by Henri Heine, and in "Les Reliques
vivantes," by Tourgueneff.

[9]. As, for example, Tertulle, founder of the Platagenet family,
Rollo, Duke of Normandy, Hugues, Abbot of St. Martin of Tours and of
St. Denis.

[10]. See the "Cantilenes" of the tenth century in which the
"Chansons de Geste" are foreshadowed.

[11]. Laws governing the feudal system (1372) where the feudal lord
is unable to transmit his property by testament but has to leave them
to the next holder of the title. The "mainmortables" were serfs who
belonged to the property. (SR.)

[12]. See in the "Voyages du Caillaud," in Nubia and Abyssinia, the
raids for slaves made by the Pacha's armies; Europe presented about
the same spectacle between the years 800 and 900.

[13]. See the zeal of subjects for their lords in the historians of
the middle ages; Gaston Phoebus, Comte de Foix, and Guy, Comte de
Flandres in Froissart; Raymond de Béziers and Raymond de Toulouse, in
the chronicle of Toulouse. This profound sentiment of small local
patrimonics is apparent at each provincial assembly in Normandy,
Brittany, Franche-Comté, etc.

[14]. Suger, Life of Louis VI.

[15]. "Les Grand Jours d'Auvergne," by Fléchier, ed. Chéruel. The
last feudal brigand, the Baron of Plumartin, in Poitou, was taken,
tried, and beheaded under Louis XV in 1756.

[16]. As late as Louis XV a procès verbal is made of a number of
cures of the King's evil.

[17]. "Mémoires of Madame Campan," I. 89; II. 215.

[18]. In 1785 an Englishman visiting France boasts of the political
liberty enjoyed in his country. As an offset to this the French
reproach the English for having decapitated Charles I., and "glory in
having always maintained an inviolable attachment to their own king; a
fidelity, a respect which no excess or severity on his part has ever
shaken." ("A Comparative View of the French and of the English
Nation," by John Andrews, p.257.)

[19]. Memoirs of D'Augeard, private secretary of the Queen, and a
former farmer-general.

[20]. The following is the reply of Louis XV. to the Parliament of
Paris, March 3, 1766, in a lit de justice : "The sovereign authority
is vested in my person. . . The legislative power, without dependence
and without division, exists in myself alone. Public security emanates
wholly from myself; I am its supreme custodian. My people are one only
with me; national rights and interests, of which an attempt is made to
form a body separate from those of the monarch, are necessarily
combined with my own, and rests only in my hands."


I. Number of the Privileged Classes.

The privileged classes number about 270,000 persons, comprising of
the nobility, 140,000 and of the clergy 130,000.[1] This makes from
25,000 to 30,000 noble families; 23,000 monks in 2,500 monasteries,
and 37,000 nuns in 1,500 convents, and 60,000 curates and vicars in as
many churches and chapels. Should the reader desire a more distinct
impression of them, he may imagine on each square league of
territory[2], and to each thousand of inhabitants, one noble family in
its weathercock mansion. In each village there is a curate and his
church, and, every six or seven leagues, a community of men or of
women. We have here the ancient chieftains and founders of France;
thus entitled, they still enjoy many possessions and many rights.

II. Their Possessions, Capital, and Revenue.

Let us always keep in mind what they were, in order to comprehend
what they are. Great as their advantages may be, these are merely the
remains of still greater advantages. This or that bishop or abbot,
this or that count or duke, whose successors make their bows at
Versailles, was formerly the equals of the Carlovingians and the first
Capets. A Sire de Montlhéry held King Philippe I in check.[3] The
abbey of St. Germain des Prés possessed 430,000 hectares of land
(about 900,000 acres), almost the extent of an entire department. We
need not be surprised that they remained powerful, and, especially,
rich; no stability is greater than that of an. associative body. After
eight hundred years, in spite of so many strokes of the royal ax, and
the immense change in the culture of society, the old feudal root
lasts and still vegetates. We remark it first in the distribution of
property.[4] A fifth of the soil belongs to the crown and the
communes, a fifth to the Third-Estate, a fifth to the rural
population, a fifth to the nobles and a fifth to the clergy.
Accordingly, if we deduct the public lands, the privileged classes own
one-half of the kingdom. This large portion, moreover, is at the same
time the richest, for it comprises almost all the large and imposing
buildings, the palaces, castles, convents, and cathedrals, and almost
all the valuable movable property, such as furniture, plate, objects
of art, the accumulated masterpieces of centuries.-- We can judge of
it by an estimate of the portion belonging to the clergy. Its
possessions, capitalized, amount to nearly 4,000,000,000 francs.[5]
Income from this amounts to 80 or 100 millions. To this must be added
the dime (or tithes), 123 millions per annum, in all 200 millions, a
sum which must be doubled to show its equivalent at the present day.
We must also add the chance contributions and the usual church
collections.[6] To fully realize the breadth of this golden stream let
us look at some of its affluents. 399 monks at Prémontré estimate
their revenue at more than 1,000,000 livres, and their capital at
45,000,000. The Provincial of the Dominicans of Toulouse admits, for
his two hundred and thirty-six monks, "more than 200,000 livres net
revenue, not including the convent and its enclosure; also, in the
colonies, real estate, Negroes and other effects, valued at several
millions." The Benedictines of Cluny, numbering 298, enjoy an income
of 1,800,000 livres. Those of Saint-Maur, numbering 1672, estimate the
movable property of their churches and houses at 24,000,000, and their
net revenue at 8 millions, "without including that which accrues to
Messieurs the abbots and priors commendatory," which means as much and
perhaps more. Dom Rocourt, abbot of Clairvaux, has from 300,000 to
400,000 livres income; the Cardinal de Rohan, archbishop of
Strasbourg, more than 1,000,000.[7] In Franche-Comté, Alsace and
Roussillon the clergy own one-half of the territory, in Hainaut and
Artois, three-quarters, in Cambrésis fourteen hundred plow-areas out
of seventeen hundred.[8] Almost the whole of Le Velay belongs to the
Bishop of Puy, the abbot of La Chaise-Dieu, the noble chapter of
Brionde, and to the seigniors of Polignac. The canons of St. Claude,
in the Jura, are the proprietors of 12,000 serfs or 'mainmorts.'[9] -
Through fortunes of the first class we can imagine those of the
second. As along with the noble it comprises the ennobled. As the
magistrates for two centuries, and the financiers for one century had
acquired or purchased nobility, it is clear that here are to be found
almost all the great fortunes of France, old or new, transmitted by
inheritance, obtained through court favors, or acquired in business.
When a class reaches the summit it is recruited out of those who are
mounting or clambering up. Here, too, there is colossal wealth. It has
been calculated that the possessions of the princes of the royal
family, the Comtés of Artois and of Provence, the Ducs d'Orléans and
de Penthiévre then covered one-seventh of the territory.[10] The
princes of the blood have together a revenue of from 24 to 25
millions; the Duc d'Orléans alone has a rental of 11,500,000.[11] --
These are the vestiges of the feudal régime. Similar vestiges are
found in England, in Austria, in Germany and in Russia.
Proprietorship, indeed, survives a long time survives the
circumstances on which it is founded. Sovereignty had constituted
property; divorced from sovereignty it has remained in the hands
formerly sovereign. In the bishop, the abbot and the count, the king
respected the proprietor while overthrowing the rival, and, in the
existing proprietor a hundred traits still indicate the annihilated or
modified sovereign.

III. Their Immunities.

Such is the total or partial exemption from taxation. The tax-
collectors halt in their presence because the king well knows that
feudal property has the same origin as his own; if royalty is one
privilege seigniory is another; the king himself is simply the most
privileged among the privileged. The most absolute, the most
infatuated with his rights, Louis XIV, entertained scruples when
extreme necessity compelled him to enforce on everybody the tax of the
tenth.[12] Treaties, precedents, immemorial custom, reminiscences of
ancient rights again restrain the fiscal hand. The clearer the
resemblance of the proprietor to the ancient independent sovereign
the greater his immunity. - In some places a recent treaty guarantees
him by his position as a stranger, by his almost royal extraction. "In
Alsace foreign princes in possession, with the Teutonic order and the
order of Malta, enjoy exemption from all real and personal
contributions." "In Lorraine the chapter of Remiremont has the
privilege of assessing itself in all state impositions."[13] Elsewhere
he is protected by the maintenance of the provincial Assemblies, and
through the incorporation of the nobility with the soil: in Languedoc
and in Brittany the commoners alone paid the taille[14] -Everywhere
else his quality preserved him from it, him, his chateau and the
chateau's dependencies; the taille reaches him only through his
farmers. And better still, it is sufficient that he himself should
work, or his steward, to communicate to the land his original
independence. As soon as he touches the soil, either personally or
through his agent, he exempts four plowing-areas (quatre charrues),
three hundred arpents,[15] which in other hands would pay 2,000 francs
tax. Besides this he is excempt on "the woods, the meadows, the vines,
the ponds and the enclosed land belonging to the chateau, of whatever
extent it may be." Consequently, in Limousin and elsewhere, in regions
principally devoted to pasturage or to vineyards, he takes care to
manage himself, or to have managed, a certain portion of his domain;
in this way he exempts it from the tax collector.[16] There is yet
more. In Alsace, through an express covenant he does not pay a cent of
tax. Thus, after the assaults of four hundred and fifty years,
taxation, the first of fiscal instrumentalities, the most burdensome
of all, leaves feudal property almost intact.[17] -- For the last
century, two new tools, the capitation-tax and the vingtièmes, appear
more effective, and yet are but little more so. - First of all,
through a masterstroke of ecclesiastical diplomacy, the clergy diverts
or weakens the blow. As it is an organization, holding assemblies, it
is able to negotiate with the king and buy itself off. To avoid being
taxed by others it taxes itself. It makes it appear that its payments
are not compulsory contributions, but a "free gift." It obtains then
in exchange a mass of concessions, is able to diminish this gift,
sometimes not to make it, in any event to reduce it to sixteen
millions every five years, that is to say to a little more than three
millions per annum. In 1788 it is only 1,800,000 livres, and in 1789
it is refused altogether.[18] And still better: as it borrows to
provide for this tax, and as the décimes which it raises on its
property do not suffice to reduce the capital and meet the interest on
its debt, it has the adroitness to secure, besides, a grant from the
king. Out of the royal treasury, each year, it receives 2,500,000
livres, so that, instead of paying, it receives. In 1787 it receives
in this way 1,500,000 livres.-As for the nobles, they, being unable to
combine together, to have representatives, and to act in a public way,
operate instead in a private way. They contact ministers, intendants,
sub-delegates, farmer-generals, and all others clothed with authority,
their quality securing attentions, consideration and favors. In the
first place, this quality exempts themselves, their dependents, and
the dependents of their dependents, from drafting in the militia, from
lodging soldiers, from (la corvée) laboring on the highways. Next, the
capitation being fixed according to the tax system, they pay little,
because their taxation is of little account. Moreover, each one brings
all his credit to bear against assessments. "Your sympathetic heart,"
writes one of them to the intendant, "will never allow a father of my
condition to be taxed for the vingtiémes rigidly like a father of low
birth."[19] On the other hand, as the taxpayer pays the capitation-tax
at his actual residence, often far away from his estates, and no one
having any knowledge of his personal income, he may pay whatever seems
to him proper. There are no proceedings against him, if he is a noble;
the greatest circumspection is used towards persons of high rank. "In
the provinces," says Turgot, " the capitation-tax of the privileged
classes has been successively reduced to an exceedingly small matter,
whilst the capitation-tax of those who are liable to the taille is
almost equal to the aggregate of that tax." And finally, "the
collectors think that they are obliged to act towards them with marked
consideration" even when they owe; "the result of which," says Necker,
"is that very ancient, and much too large amounts, of their
capitation-tax remain unpaid." Accordingly, not having been able to
repel the assault of the revenue services in front they evaded it or
diminished it until it became almost unobjectionable. In Champagne, on
nearly 1,500,000 livres provided by the capitation-tax, they paid in
only 14,000 livres," that is to say, "2 sous and 2 deniers for the
same purpose which costs 12 sous per livre to those chargeable with
the taille." According to Calonne, "if concessions and privileges had
been suppressed the vingtièmes would have furnished double the
amount." In this respect the most opulent were the most skillful in
protecting themselves. "With the intendants," said the Duc d'Orleans,
"I settle matters, and pay about what I please," and he calculated
that the provincial administration, rigorously taxing him, would cause
him to lose 300,000 livres rental. It has been proved that the princes
of the blood paid, for their two-twentieths, 188,000 instead of
2,400,000 livres. In the main, in this régime, exception from taxation
is the last remnant of sovereignty or, at least, of independence. The
privileged person avoids or repels taxation, not merely because it
despoils him, but because it belittles him; it is a mark of the
commoner, that is to say, of former servitude, and he resists the fisc
(the revenue services) as much through pride as through interest.

IV. Their Feudal Rights.

These advantages are the remains of primitive sovereignty.

Let us follow him home to his own domain. A bishop, an abbé, a
chapter of the clergy, an abbess, each has one like a lay seignior;
for, in former times, the monastery and the church were small
governments like the county and the duchy. -Intact on the other bank
of the Rhine, almost ruined in France, the feudal structure everywhere
discloses the same plan. In certain places, better protected or less
attacked, it has preserved all its ancient externals. At Cahors, the
bishop-count of the town had the right, on solemnly officiating, "to
place his helmet, cuirass, gauntlets and sword on the altar."[20] At
Besançon, the archbishop-prince has six high officers, who owe him
homage for their fiefs, and who attend at his coronation and at his
obsequies. At Mende,[21] the bishop, seignior-suzerain for Gévaudan
since the eleventh century, appoints "the courts, ordinary judges and
judges of appeal, the commissaries and syndics of the country." He
disposes of all the places, "municipal and judiciary." Entreated to
appear in the assembly of the three orders of the province, he
"replies that his place, his possessions and his rank exalting him
above every individual in his diocese. He cannot sit under the
presidency of any person; that, being seignior-suzerain of all estates
and particularly of the baronies, he cannot give way to his vassals."
In brief that he is king, or but little short of it, in his own
province. At Remiremont, the noble chapter of canonesses has,
"inferior, superior, and ordinary judicature in fifty-two bans of
seigniories," nominates seventy-five curacies and confers ten male
canonships. It appoints the municipal officers of the town, and,
besides these, three lower and higher courts, and everywhere the
officials in the jurisdiction over woods and forests. Thirty-two
bishops, without counting the chapters, are thus temporal seigniors,
in whole or in part, of their episcopal town, sometimes of the
surrounding district, and sometimes, like the bishop of St. Claude, of
the entire country. Here the feudal tower has been preserved.
Elsewhere it is plastered over anew, and more particularly in the
appanages. In these domains, comprising more than twelve of our
departments, the princes of the blood appoint to all offices in the
judiciary and to all clerical livings. Being substitutes of the king
they enjoy his serviceable and honorary rights. They are almost
delegated kings, and for life; for they not only receive all that the
king would receive as seignior, but again a portion of that which he
would receive as monarch. For example, the house of Orleans collects
the excises,[22] that is to say the duty on liquors, on works in gold
or silver, on manufactures of iron, on steel, on cards, on paper and
starch, in short, on the entire sum-total of one of the most onerous
indirect taxes. It is not surprising, if, having a nearly sovereign
situation, they have a council, a chancellor, an organized debt, a
court,[23] a domestic ceremonial system, and that the feudal edifice
in their hands should put on the luxurious and formal trappings which
it had assumed in the hands of the king.

Let us turn to its inferior personages, to a seignior of medium
rank, on his square league of ground, amidst the thousand inhabitants
who were formerly his villeins or his serfs, within reach of the
monastery, or chapter, or bishop whose rights intermingle with his
rights. Whatever may have been done to abase him his position is still
very high. He is yet, as the intendants say, "the first inhabitant;" a
prince whom they have half despoiled of his public functions and
consigned to his honorary and available rights, but who nevertheless
remains a prince.[24] -- He has his bench in the church, and his right
of sepulture in the choir; the tapestry bears his coat of arms; they
bestow on him incense, "holy water by distinction." Often, having
founded the church, he is its patron, choosing the curate and claiming
to control him; in the rural districts we see him advancing or
retarding the hour of the parochial mass according to his fancy. If he
bears a title he is supreme judge, and there are entire provinces,
Maine and Anjou, for example, where there is no fief without the
judge. In this case he appoints the bailiff; the registrar, and other
legal and judicial officers, attorneys, notaries, seigniorial
sergeants, constabulary on foot or mounted, who draw up documents or
decide in his name in civil and criminal cases on the first trial. He
appoints, moreover, a forest-warden, or decides forest offenses, and
enforces the penalties, which this officer inflicts. He has his prison
for delinquents of various kinds, and sometimes his forked gibbets. On
the other hand, as compensation for his judicial costs, he obtains the
property of the man condemned to death and the confiscation of his
estate. He succeeds to the bastard born and dying in his seigniory
without leaving a testament or legitimate children. He inherits from
the possessor, legitimately born, dying in testate in his house
without apparent heirs. He appropriates to himself movable objects,
animate or inanimate, which are found astray and of which the owner is
unknown; he claims one-half or one-third of treasure-trove, and, on
the coast, he takes for himself the waif of wrecks. And finally, what
is more fruitful, in these times of misery, he becomes the possessor
of abandoned lands that have remained untilled for ten years.-Other
advantages demonstrate still more clearly that he formerly possessed
the government of the canton. Such are, in Auvergne, in Flanders, in
Hainaut, in Artois, in Picardy, Alsace, and Lorraine, the dues de
poursoin ou de sauvement (care or safety within the walls of a town),
paid to him for providing general protection. The dues of de guet et
de garde (watch and guard), claimed by him for military protection; of
afforage, are exacted of those who sell beer, wine and other
beverages, whole-sale or retail. The dues of fouage, dues on fires, in
money or grain, which, according to many common-law systems, he levies
on each fireside, house or family. The dues of pulvérage, quite common
in Dauphiny-and Provence, are levied on passing flocks of sheep. Those
of the lods et ventes (lord's due), an almost universal tax, consist
of the deduction of a sixth, often of a fifth or even a fourth, of the
price of every piece of ground sold, and of every lease exceeding nine
years. The dues for redemption or relief are equivalent to one year's
income, aid that he receives from collateral heirs, and often from
direct heirs. Finally, a rarer due, but the most burdensome of all, is
that of acapte ou de plaid-a-merci, which is a double rent, or a
year's yield of fruits, payable as well on the death of the seignior
as on that of the copyholder. These are veritable taxes, on land, on
movables, personal, for licenses, for traffic, for mutations, for
successions, established formerly on the condition of performing a
public service which he is no longer obliged to perform.

Other dues are also ancient taxes, but he still performs the
service for which they are a quittance. The king, in fact, suppresses
many of the tolls, twelve hundred in 1724, and the suppression is kept
up. A good many still remain to the profit of the seignior, - on
bridges, on highways, on fords, on boats ascending or descending,
several being very lucrative, one of them producing 90,000 livres[25].
He pays for the expense of keeping up bridge, road, ford and towpath.
In like manner, on condition of maintaining the market-place and of
providing scales and weights gratis, he levies a tax on provisions and
on merchandise brought to his fair or to his market. - At Angoulême a
forty-eighth of the grain sold, at Combourg near Saint-Malo, so much
per head of cattle, elsewhere so much on wine, eatables and fish[26]
Having formerly built the oven, the winepress, the mill and the
slaughterhouse, he obliges the inhabitants to use these or pay for
their support, and he demolishes all constructions, which might enter
into competition with him[27]. These, again, are evidently monopolies
and octrois going back to the time when he was in possession of public

Not only did he then possess the public authority but also
possessed the soil and the men on it. Proprietor of men, he is so
still, at least in many respects and in many provinces. "In Champagne
proper, in the Sénonais, in la Marche, in the Bourbonnais, in the
Nivernais, in Burgundy, in Franche-Comté, there are none, or very few
domains, no signs remaining of ancient servitude . . . . A good many
personal serfs, or so constituted through their own gratitude, or that
of their progenitors, are still found."[28] There, man is a serf,
sometimes by virtue of his birth, and again through a territorial
condition. Whether in servitude, or as mortmains, or as cotters, one
way or another, 1,500,000 individuals, it is said, wore about their
necks a remnant of the feudal collar; this is not surprising since, on
the other side of the Rhine, almost all the peasantry still wear it.
The seignior, formerly master and proprietor of all their goods and
chattels and of all their labor, can still exact of them from ten to
twelve corvées per annum and a fixed annual tax. In the barony of
Choiseul near Chaumont in Champagne, "the inhabitants are required to
plow his lands, to sow and reap them for his account and to put the
products into his barns. Each plot of ground, each house, every head
of cattle pays a quit-claim; children may inherit from their parents
only on condition of remaining with them; if absent at the time of
their decease he is the inheritor." This is what was styled in the
language of the day an estate "with excellent dues." -Elsewhere the
seignior inherits from collaterals, brothers or nephews, if they were
not in community with the defunct at the moment of his death, which
community is only valid through his consent. In the Jura and the
Nivernais, he may pursue fugitive serfs, and demand, at their death,
not only the property left by them on his domain, but, again, the
pittance acquired by them elsewhere. At Saint-Claude he acquires this
right over any person that passes a year and a day in a house
belonging to the seigniory. As to ownership of the soil we see still
more clearly that he once had entire possession of it. In the district
subject to his jurisdiction the public domain remains his private
domain; roads, streets and open squares form a part of it; he has the
right to plant trees in them and to take trees up. In many provinces,
through a pasturage rent, he obliges the inhabitants to pay for
permits to pasture their cattle in the fields after the crop, and in
the open common lands, (les terres vaines et vagues). Unnavigable
streams belong to him, as well as islets and accumulations formed in
them and the fish that are found in them. He has the right of the
chase over the whole extent of his jurisdiction, this or that commoner
being sometimes compelled to throw open to him his park enclosed by

One more trait serves to complete the picture. This head of the
State, a proprietor of man and of the soil, was once a resident
cultivator on his own small farm amidst others of the same class, and,
by this title, he reserved to himself certain working privileges which
he always retained. Such is the right of banvin, still widely
diffused, consisting of the privilege of selling his own wine, to the
exclusion of all others, during thirty or forty days after gathering
the crop. Such is, in Touraine, the right of préage, which is the
right to send his horses, cows and oxen "to browse under guard in his
subjects' meadows." Such is, finally, the monopoly of the great dove-
cot, from which thousands of pigeons issue to feed at all times and
seasons and on all grounds, without any one daring to kill or take
them. Through another effect of the same qualification he imposes
quit-claims on property on which he has formerly given perpetual
leases, and, under the terms cens, censives (quit-rents), carpot
(share in wine), champart (share in grain), agrier (a cash commission
on general produce), terrage parciere (share of fruits). All these
collections, in money or in kind, are as various as the local
situations, accidents and transactions could possibly be. In the
Bourbonnais he has one-quarter of the crop; in Berry twelve sheaves
out of a hundred. Occasionally his debtor or tenant is a community:
one deputy in the National Assembly owned a fief of two hundred casks
of wine on three thousand pieces of private property.[29] Besides,
through the retrait censuel (a species of right of redemption), he can
"retain for his own account all property sold on the condition of
remunerating the purchaser, but previously deducting for his benefit
the lord's dues (lods and ventes)." The reader, finally, must take
note that all these restrictions on property constitute, for the
seignior, a privileged credit as well on the product as on the price
of the ground, and, for the copyholders, an unprescriptive,
indivisible and irredeemable debt.-Such are the feudal. To form an
idea of them in their totality we must always imagine the count,
bishop or abbot of the tenth century as sovereign and proprietor in
his own canton. The form which human society then takes grows out of
the exigencies of near and constant danger with a view to local
defense. By subordinating all interests to the necessities of living,
in such a way as to protect the soil by fixing on the soil, through
property and its enjoyment, a troop of brave men under the leadership
of a brave chieftain. The danger having passed away the structure
became dilapidated. For a pecuniary compensation the seigniors allowed
the economical and tenacious peasant to pick off it a good many
stones. Through constraint they suffered the king to appropriate to
himself the public portion. The primitive foundation remains, property
as organized in ancient times, the fettered or exhausted land
supporting a social conformation that has melted away, in short, an
order of privileges and of thralldom of which the cause and the
purpose have disappeared. [30]

V. They may be justified by local and general services.

All this does not suffice to render this order detrimental or even
useless. In reality, the local chief who no longer performs his
ancient service may perform a new one in exchange for it. Instituted
for war when life was militant, he may serve in quiet times when the
régime is pacific, while the advantage to the nation is great in which
this transformation is accomplished; for, retaining its chiefs, it is
relieved of the uncertain and perilous operation which consists in
creating others. There is nothing more difficult to establish than a
government, that is to say, a stable government: this involves the
command of some and the obedience of all, which is against nature.
That a man in his study, often a feeble old person, should dispose of
the lives and property of twenty or thirty million men, most of whom
he has never seen; that he should order them to pay away a tenth or a
fifth of their income and they should do it; that he should order them
to go and slaughter or be slaughtered and that they should go; that
they should thus continue for ten years, twenty years, through every
kind of trial, defeat, misery and invasion, as with the French under
Louis XIV, the English under Pitt, the Prussians under Frederick II.,
without either sedition or internal disturbances, is certainly a
marvelous thing. And, for a people to remain free it is essential that
they should be ready to do this always. Neither this fidelity nor this
concord is due to sober reflection (la raison raisonnante); reason is
too vacillating and too feeble to bring about such a universal and
energetic result. Abandoned to itself and suddenly restored to a
natural condition, the human flock is capable only of agitation, of
mutual strife until pure force at length predominates, as in barbarous
times, and until, amidst the dust and outcry, some military leader
rises up who is, generally, a butcher. Historically considered it is
better to continue so than to begin over again. Hence, especially when
the majority is uncultivated, it is beneficial to have chiefs
designated beforehand through the hereditary custom by which people
follow them, and through the special education by which they are
qualified. In this case the public has no need to seek for them to
obtain them. They are already at hand, in each canton, visible,
accepted beforehand; they are known by their names, their title, their
fortune, their way of living; deference to their authority is
established. They are almost always deserving of this authority; born
and brought up to exercise it they find in tradition, in family
example and in family pride, powerful ties that nourish public spirit
in them; there is some probability of their comprehending the duties
with which their prerogative endows them.

Such is the renovation, which the feudal régime admits of. The
ancient chieftain can still guarantee his pre-eminence by his
services, and remain popular without ceasing to be privileged. Once a
captain in his district and a permanent gendarme, he is to become the
resident and beneficent proprietor, the voluntary promoter of useful
undertakings, obligatory guardian of the poor, the gratuitous
administrator and judge of the canton, the unsalaried deputy of the
king, that is to say, a leader and protector as previously, through a
new system of patronage accommodated to new circumstances. Local
magistrate and central representative, these are his two principal
functions, and, if we extend our observation beyond France we find
that he exercises either one or the other, or both together.


[1]. See note 1 at the end of the volume

[2]. One league (lieu) ca. 4 km. (SR.)

[3]. Suger "Vie de Louis VI.," chap. VIII. - Philippe I. became
master of the Château de Montlhéry only by marrying one of his sons to
the heiress of the fief. He thus addressed his successor: "My child,
take good care to keep this tower of which the annoyances have made me
grow old, and whose frauds and treasons have given me no peace nor

[4]. Léonce de Lavergne, "Les Assemblées Povinciales," p. 19. -
Consult the official statement of the provincial assemblies, and
especially the chapters treating of the vingtièmes (an old tax of one-
twentieth on incomes.-TR.)

[5]. A report made by Treilhard in the name of the ecclesiastic
committee, (Moniteur, 19th December, 1789): The religious
establishments for sale in Paris alone were valued at 150 millions.
Later (in the session of the 13th February, 1791), Amelot estimates
the property sold and to be sold, not including forests, at 3,700
millions. M. de Bouillé estimates the revenue of the clergy at 180
millions. (Mémoires, p.44). [French currency is so well known to
readers in general it is not deemed necessary to reduce statements of
this kind to the English or American standard, except in special

[6] A report by Chasset on Tithes, April, 1790. Out of 123
millions 23 go for the costs of collection: but, in estimating the
revenue of an individual the sums he pays to his intendants, overseers
and cashiers are not deducted. - Talleyrand (October l0, 1789)
estimates the revenue of real property at 70 millions and its value at
2,100 millions. On examination however both capital and revenue are
found considerably larger than at first supposed. (Reports of
Treilbard and Chasset). Moreover, in his valuation, Talleyrand left
out habitations and their enclosures as well as a reservation of one-
fourth of the forests. Besides this there must be included in the
revenue before 1789 the seigniorial rights enjoyed by the Church.
Finally, according to Arthur Young, the rents which the French
proprietor received were not two and a half per cent. as nowadays but
three and three quarters per cent - The necessity of doubling the
figures to obtain a present money valuation is supported by
innumerable facts, and among others the price of a day's labor, which
at that time was nineteen sous. (Arthur Young). (Today, in 1999, in
France the minimum legal daily wage is around 300 francs. 20 sous
constituted a franc. So the sums referred to by Taine under the
Revolution must be multiplied with at least 300 in order to compare
them with 1990 values. To obtain dollars multiply with 50. SR.)

[7]. National archives, among the papers of the ecclesiastical
committee, box (portfolios) 10, 11, 13, 25. - Beugnot's Memoirs, I.
49, 79. - Delbos, "L'Eglise de France," I. 399. - Duc de Lévis,
"Souvenirs et Portraits," p.156.

[8]. Léonce de Lavergne, "Économie Rurale en France," p.24. -
Perin, "La Jeunesse de Robespierre," (Statements of grievances in
Artois), p.317. ( In French "cahiers des doleances" - statements of
local complaints and expectations - prepared all over France for use
by their delegates for the Ètats Generaux. SR.)

[9]. Boiteau, "État de la France en 1789," p.47. Voltaire,
"Politique et Legislation," the petition of the serfs of St. Claude.

[10]. Necker, "De l'Administration des Finances," II. 272.

[11]. De Bouillé, "Mémoires," p.41. It must not be forgotten that
these figures must be doubled to show corresponding sums of the
present day. 10,000 livres (francs) rental in 1766 equal in value
20,000 in 1825. (Madame de Genlis, "Memoirs," chap. IX). Arthur
Young, visiting a château in Seine-et-Marne, writes: "I have been
speaking to Madame de Guerchy; and I have learned from this
conversation that to live in a château like this with six men
servants, five maids, eight horses, a garden and a regular table, with
company, but never go to Paris, might be done for 1,000 louis per
annum. It would in England cost 2,000. At the present day in France
24,000 francs would be 50,000 and more." Arthur Young adds: "There are
gentlemen (noblesse) that live in this country on 6,000 or 8000 and
keep two men, two maids, three horses and a cabriolet." To do this
nowadays would require from 20,000 to 25,000. - It has become much
more expensive, especially due to the rail-ways, to live in the
provinces. "According to my friends du Rouergue," he says again, "I
could live at Milhau with my family in the greatest abundance on 100
louis (2,000 francs); there are noble families supporting themselves
on revenues of fifty and even twenty-five louis." At Milhau, to day,
prices are triple and even quadruple. - In Paris, a house in the Rue
St. Honore which was rented for 6,000 francs in 1787 is now rented for
16,000 francs.

[12]. "Rapports de l'Agence du clergé de 1780 à 1785." In
relation to the feudal rights the abolition of which is demanded in
Boncerf's work, the chancellor Séguier said in 1775: "Our Kings have
themselves declared that they are, fortunately, impotent to make any
attack on property."

[13]. Léonce de Lavergne, "Les Assemblées provinciales," p.296.
Report of M. Schwendt on Alsace in 1787. - Warroquier, "Etat de la
France en 1789," I.541. - Necker, "De l'Administration des Finances,"
I. 19, 102. - Turgot, (collection of economists), "Réponse aux
observations du garde des sceaux sur la suppression des corvées," I.

[14]. This term embraces various taxes originating in feudal times,
and rendered particularly burdensome to the peasantry through the
management of the privileged classes. -TR.

[15]. The arpent measures between one and one and a half acres. -TR

[16]. De Tocqueville, "L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution," p. 406.
"The inhabitants of Montbazon had subjected to taxation the stewards
of the duchy which belonged to the Prince de Rohan. This prince caused
this abuse to be stopped and succeeded in recovering the sum of 5,344
livres which he had been made to pay unlawfully under this right"

[17]. Necker, "Administration des Finances:" ordinary taxation (la
taille) produced 91 millions; les vingtièmes 76,500,000; the
capitation tax 41,500,000.

[18]. Raudot, "La France avant la Révolution," p. 51. - De Bouillé,
"Mémoires," p. 44. - Necker, "De 1'Administration des Finances," II,
p. 181. The above relates to what was called the clergy of France,
(116 dioceses). The clergy called foreign, consisted of that of the
three bishoprics and of the regions conquered since Louis XIV; it had
a separate régime and paid somewhat like the nobles. - The décimes
which the clergy of France levied on its property amounted to a sum of
10,500,000 livres.

[19]. De Toqueville, ib. 104, 381, 407. - Necker, ib. I. 102. -
Boiteau, ib. 362. - De Bouillé, ib. 26, 41, and the following pages.
Turgot, ib. passim. - Cf. passim. - Cf. Book V, ch. 2, on the

[20]. See "La France ecclésiastique, 1788," for these details.

[21]. Official statements and manuscript reports of the States-
General of 1789. "Archives nationales," vol. LXXXVIII pp. 23, 85, 121,
122], 152. Procès-verbal of January 12, 1789.

[22]. Necker, "De l'Administration des Finances," V. II. pp. 271,
272. "The house Orleans, he says, is in possession of the excises." He
estimates this tax at 51,000,000 for the entire kingdom.

[23]. Beugnot, "Mémoires," V. I. p. 77. Observe the ceremonial
system with the Duc de Penthièvre, chapters I., III. The Duc d'Orléans
organizes a chapter and bands of canonesses. The post of chancellor to
the Duc d'Orléans is worth 100,000 livres per annum, ("Gustave III. et
la cour de France," by Geffroy, I. 410.)

[24]. De Tocqueville, ibid. p.40. - Renauldon, advocate in the
bailiwick of Issoudun, "Traité historique et pratique des droits
seigneuriaux, 1765," pp. 8, 10, 81 and passim. - Statement of
grievance of a magistrate of the Chatelet on seigniorial judgments,
1789. - Duvergier, "Collection des Lois," Decrees of the 15-28 March,
1790, on the abolition of the feudal régime, Merlin of Douai,
reporter, I. 114 Decrees of 19-23 July, 1790, I. 293. Decrees of the
13-20 April, 1791, (I. 295.)

[25]. National archives, G, 300, (1787). "M. de Boullongne,
seignior of Montereau, here possesses a toll-right consisting of 2
deniers (farthings) per ox, cow, calf or pig; 1 per sheep; 2 for a
laden animal; 1 sou and 8 deniers for each four-wheeled vehicle; 5
deniers for a two- wheeled vehicle, and 10 deniers for a vehicle drawn
by three, four, or five horses; besides a tax of 10 deniers for each
barge, boat or skiff ascending the river; the same tax for each team
of horses dragging the boats up; 1 denier for each empty cask going
up." Analogous taxes are enforced at Varennes for the benefit of the
Duc de Chatelet, seignior of Varennes.

[26]. National archives, K, 1453, No.1448: A letter by M. de
Meulan, dated June 12, 1789. This tax on grain belonged at that time
to the Comte d'Artois. - Châteaubriand, "Mémoires," I.73.

[27]. Renauldon, ibid.. 249, 258. "There are few seignioral towns
which have a communal slaughter-house. The butcher must obtain special
permission from the seignior." - The tax on grinding was an average of
a sixteenth. In many provinces, Anjou, Berry, Maine, Brittany, there
was a lord's mill for cloths and barks.

[28]. Renauldon, ibid.. pp. 181, 200, 203; observe that he wrote
this in 1765. Louis XVI. suppressed serfdom on the royal domains in
1778; and many of the seigniors, especially in Franche-Comté, followed
his example. Beugnot, "Mémoires," V. I. p.142. - Voltaire, "Mémoire
au roi sur les serfs du Jura." - "Mémoires de Bailly," II. 214,
according to an official report of the Nat. Ass., August 7, 1789. I
rely on this report and on the book of M. Clerget, curate of Onans in
Franche-Comté who is mentioned in it. M. Clerget says that there are
still at this time (1789) 1,500,000 subjects of the king in a state of
servitude but he brings forward no proofs to support these figures.
Nevertheless it is certain that the number of serfs and mortmains is
still very great. National archives, H; 723, registers on mortmains in
Franche-Comté in 1788; H. 200, registers by Amelot on Burgundy in
1785. "In the sub-delegation of Charolles the inhabitants seem a
century behind the age; being subject to feudal tenures, such as mort-
main, neither mind nor body have any play. The redemption of mortmain,
of which the king himself has set the example, has been put at such an
exorbitant price by laymen, that the unfortunate sufferers cannot, and
will not be able to secure it.

[29]. Boiteau, ibid.. p. 25, (April, 1790), - Beugnot, "Mémoires,"
I. 142.

[30]. See END-NOTE 2 at the end of the volume


I. Examples in Germany and England. - These services are not
rendered by the privileged classes in France.

LET us consider the first one, local government. There are
countries at the gates of France in which feudal subjection, more
burdensome than in France, seems lighter because, in the other scale,
the benefits counterbalance disadvantages. At Munster, in 1809,
Beugnot finds a sovereign bishop, a town of convents and a large
seigniorial mansion, a few merchants for indispensable trade, a small
bourgeoisie, and, all around, a peasantry composed of either colons or
serfs. The seignior deducts a portion of all their crops in provisions
or in cattle, and, at their deaths, a portion of their inheritances.
If they go away their property revert to him. His servants are
chastised like Russian moujiks, and in each outhouse is a trestle for
this purpose "without prejudice to graver penalties," probably the
bastinado and the like. But "never did the culprit entertain the
slightest idea of complaint or appeal." For if the seignior whips them
as the father of family he protects them "as the father of a family,
ever coming to their assistance when misfortune befalls them, and
taking care of them in their illness." He provides an asylum for them
in old age; he looks after their widows, and rejoices when they have
plenty of children. He is bound to them by common sympathies they are
neither miserable nor uneasy; they know that, in every extreme or
unforeseen necessity, he will be their refuge.[1] In the Prussian states
and according to the code of Frederick the Great, a still more
rigorous servitude is atoned for by similar obligations. The
peasantry, without their seignior's permission, cannot alienate a
field, mortgage it, cultivate it differently, change their occupation
or marry. If they leave the seigniory he can pursue them in every
direction and bring them back by force. He has the right of
surveillance over their private life, and he chastises them if drunk
or lazy. When young they serve for years as servants in his mansion;
as cultivators they owe him corvees and, in certain places, three
times a week. But, according to both law and custom, he is obliged "to
see that they are educated, to succor them in indigence, and, as far
as possible, to provide them with the means of support." Accordingly
he is charged with the duties of the government of which he enjoys the
advantages, and, under the heavy hand which curbs them, but which
sustains them, we do not find his subjects recalcitrant. In England,
the upper class attains to the same result by other ways. There also
the soil still pays the ecclesiastic tithe, strictly the tenth, which
is much more than in France.[2] The squire, the nobleman, possesses a
still larger portion of the soil than his French neighbor and, in
truth, exercises greater authority in his canton. But his tenants, the
lessees and the farmers, are no longer his serfs, not even his
vassals; they are free. If he governs it is through influence and not
by virtue of a command. Proprietor and patron, he is held in respect.
Lord-lieutenant, officer in the militia, administrator, justice, he is
visibly useful. And, above all, he lives at home, from father to son;
he belongs to the district. He is in hereditary and constant relation
with the local public through his occupations and through his
pleasures, through the chase and caring for the poor, through his
farmers whom he admits at his table, and through his neighbors whom he
meets in committee or in the vestry. This shows how the old
hierarchies are maintained: it is necessary, and it suffices, that
they should change their military into a civil order of things and
find modern employment for the chieftain of feudal times.

II. Resident Seigniors.

Remains of the beneficent feudal spirit.-They are not rigorous
with their tenants but no longer retain the local government.-Their
isolation.-Insignificance or mediocrity of their means of
subsistence.-Their expenditure.-Not in a condition to remit dues.-
Sentiments of peasantry towards them.

If we go back a little way in our history we find here and there
similar nobles.[3] Such was the Duc de Saint-Simon, father of the
writer, a real sovereign in his government of Blaye, a respected by
the king himself. Such was the grandfather Mirabeau, in his chateau of
Mirabeau in Provence, the haughtiest, most absolute, most intractable
of men, "demanding that the officers whom he appointed in his regiment
should be favorably received by the king and by his ministers,"
tolerating the inspectors only as a matter of form, but heroic,
generous, faithful, distributing the pension offered to himself among
six wounded captains under his command, mediating for poor litigants
in the mountain, driving off his grounds the wandering attorneys who
come to practice their chicanery, "the natural protector of man even
against ministers and the king. A party of tobacco inspectors having
searched his curate's house, he pursues them so energetically on
horseback that they hardly escape him by fording the Durance.
Whereupon, "he wrote to demand the dismissal of the officers,
declaring that unless this was done every person employed in the
Excise should be driven into the Rhine or the sea; some of them were
dismissed and the director himself came to give him satisfaction."
Finding his canton sterile and the settlers on it idle he organized
them into groups, women and children, and, in the foulest weather,
puts himself at their head, with his twenty severe wounds and neck
supported by a piece of silver. He pays them to work making them clear
off the lands, which he gives them on leases of a hundred years, and
he makes them enclose a mountain of rocks with high walls and plant it
with olive trees. "No one, under any pretext could be excused from
working unless he was ill, and in this case under treatment, or
occupied on his own property, a point in which my father could not be
deceived, and nobody would have dared to do it." These are the last
offshoots of the old, knotty, savage trunk, but still capable of
affording shelter. Others could still be found in remote cantons, in
Brittany and in Auvergne, veritable district commanders, and I am sure
that in time of need the peasants would obey them as much out of
respect as from fear. Vigor of heart and of body justifies its own
ascendancy, while the superabundance of energy, which begins in
violence, ends in beneficence.

Less independent and less harsh a paternal government subsists
elsewhere, if not in the law at least through custom. In Brittany,
near Tréguier and Lannion, says the bailiff of Mirabeau,[4] "the entire
staff of the coast-guard is composed of people of quality and of stock
going back a thousand years. I have not seen one of them get irritated
with a peasant-soldier, while, at the same time, I have seen on the
part of the latter an air of filial respect for them . . . . It is a
terrestrial paradise with respect to patriarchal manners, simplicity
and true grandeur; the attitude of the peasants towards the seigniors
is that of an affectionate son with his father; and the seigniors in
talking with the peasants use their rude and coarse language, and
speak only in a kind and genial way. We see mutual regard between
masters and servants." Farther south, in the Bocage, a wholly
agricultural region, and with no roads, where ladies are obliged to
travel on horseback and in ox-carts, where the seignior has no
farmers, but only twenty-five or thirty métayers who work for him on
shares, the supremacy of the great is no offense to their inferiors.
People live together harmoniously when living together from birth to
death, familiarly, and with the same interests, occupations and
pleasures; like soldiers with their officers, on campaigns and under
tents, in subordination although in companionship, familiarity never
endangering respect. "The seignior often visits them on their small
farms,[5] talks with them about their affairs, about taking care of
their cattle, sharing in the accidents and mishaps which likewise
seriously affect him. He attends their children's weddings and drinks
with the guests. On Sunday there are dances in the chateau court, and
the ladies take part in them." When he is about to hunt wolves or
boars the curate gives notice of it in the sermon; the peasants, with
their guns gaily assemble at the rendezvous, finding the seignior who
assigns them their posts, and strictly observing the directions he
gives them. Here are soldiers and a captain ready made. A little
later, and of their own accord, they will choose him for commandant in
the national guard, mayor of the commune, chief of the insurrection,
and, in 1792, the marksmen of the parish are to march under him
against " the blues" as, at this epoch against the wolves. Such are
the remnants of the good feudal spirit, like the scattered remnants of
a submerged continent. Before Louis XIV., the spectacle was similar
throughout France. "The rural nobility of former days," says the
Marquis de Mirabeau, "spent too much time over their cups, slept on
old chairs or pallets, mounted and started off to hunt before
daybreak, met together on St. Hubert's, and did not part until after
the octave of St. Martin's. . . . These nobles led a gay and hard
life, voluntarily, costing the State very little, and producing more
through its residence and manure than we of today with our tastes, our
researches, our cholics and our vapors . . The custom, and it may be

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