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The Ancient Regime The Origins of Contemporary France, Volume 1 by Hippolyte A. Taine

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apostrophizes, reviles and improvises; it writes under the dictation
of impressions; it allows itself every species of utterance and, if
need be, the coarsest. It thinks by explosions; its emotions are
sudden starts, and its images so many sparks; it lets the rein go
entirely; it gives itself up to the reader and hence it takes
possession of him. Resistance is impossible; the contagion is too
overpowering. A creature of air and flame, the most excitable that
ever lived, composed of more ethereal and more throbbing atoms than
those of other men; none is there whose mental machinery is more
delicate, nor whose equilibrium is at the same time more shifting and
more exact. He may be compared to those accurate scales that are
affected by a breath, but alongside of which every other measuring
apparatus is incorrect and clumsy. - But, in this delicate balance
only the lightest weights, the finest specimen must be placed; on this
condition only it rigorously weighs all substances; such is Voltaire,
involuntarily, through the demands of his intellect, and in his own
behalf as much as in that of his readers. An entire philosophy, ten
volumes of theology, an abstract science, a special library, an
important branch of erudition, of human experience and invention, is
thus reduced in his hands to a phrase or to a stanza. From the
enormous mass of riven or compact scorioe he extracts whatever is
essential, a grain of gold or of copper as a specimen of the rest,
presenting this to us in its most convenient and most manageable form,
in a simile, in a metaphor, in an epigram that becomes a proverb. In
this no ancient or modern writer approaches him; in simplification and
in popularization he has not his equal in the world. Without
departing from the usual conversational tone, and as if in sport, he
puts into little portable phrases the greatest discoveries and
hypotheses of the human mind, the theories of Descartes, Malebranche,
Leibnitz, Locke and Newton, the diverse religions of antiquity and of
modern times, every known system of physics, physiology, geology,
morality, natural law, and political economy,[21] in short, all the
generalized conceptions in every order of knowledge to which humanity
had attained in the eighteenth century. - Voltaire's inclination
is so strong that it carries him too far; he belittles great things by
rendering them accessible. Religion, legend, ancient popular poesy,
the spontaneous creations of instinct, the vague visions of primitive
tunes are not thus to be converted into small current coin; they are
not subjects of amusing and lively conversation. A piquant witticism
is not an expression of all this, but simply a travesty. But how
charming to Frenchmen, and to people of the world! And what reader can
abstain from a book containing all human knowledge summed up in
piquant witticisms? For it is really a summary of human knowledge, no
important idea, as far as I can see, being wanting to a man whose
breviary consisted of the "Dialogues," the "Dictionary," and the
"Novels." Read them over and over five or six times, and we then form
some idea of their vast contents. Not only do views of the world and
of man abound in them, but again they swarm with positive and even
technical details, thousands of little facts scattered throughout,
multiplied and precise details on astronomy, physics, geography,
physiology, statistics, and on the history of all nations, the
innumerable and personal experiences of a man who has himself read the
texts, handled the instruments, visited the countries, taken part in
the industries, and associated with the persons, and who, in the
precision of his marvelous memory, in the liveliness of his ever-
blazing imagination, revives or sees, as with the eye itself,
everything that he states and as he states it. It is a unique talent,
the rarest in a classic era, the most precious of all, since it
consists in the display of actual beings, not through the gray veil of
abstractions, but in themselves, as they are in nature and in history,
with their visible color and forms, with their accessories and
surroundings in time and space, a peasant at his cart, a Quaker in his
meeting-house, a German baron in his castle, Dutchmen, Englishmen,
Spaniards, Italians, Frenchmen, in their homes,[22] a great lady, a
designing woman, provincials, soldiers, prostitutes,[23] and the rest
of the human medley, on every step of the social ladder, each an
abridgment of his kind and in the passing light of a sudden flash.

For, the most striking feature of this style is the prodigious
rapidity, the dazzling and bewildering stream of novelties, ideas,
images, events, landscapes, narratives, dialogues, brief little
pictures, following each other rapidly as if in a magic-lantern,
withdrawn almost as soon as presented by the impatient magician who,
in the twinkling of an eye, girdles the world and, constantly
accumulating one on top of the other, history, fable, truth and fancy,
the present time and times past, frames his work now with a parade as
absurd as that of a country fair, and now with a fairy scene more
magnificent than all those of the opera. To amuse and be amused, "to
diffuse his spirit in every imaginable mode, like a glowing furnace
into which all substances are thrown by turns to evolve every species
of flame, sparkle and odor," is his first instinct. "Life," he says
again, "is an infant to be rocked until it goes to sleep." Never was a
mortal more excited and more exciting, more incapable of silence and
more hostile to ennui,[24] better endowed for conversation, more
evidently destined to become the king of a sociable century in which,
with six pretty stories, thirty witticisms and some confidence in
himself, a man could obtain a social passport and the certainty of
being everywhere welcome. Never was there a writer possessing to so
high a degree and in such abundance every qualification of the
conversationalist, the art of animating and of enlivening discourse,
the talent for giving pleasure to people of society. Perfectly
refined when he chose to be, confining himself without inconvenience
to strict decorum, of finished politeness, of exquisite gallantry,
deferential without being servile, fond without being mawkish,[25] and
always at his ease, it suffices that he should be before the public,
to fall naturally into the proper tone, the discreet ways, the winning
half-smile of the well-bred man who, introducing his readers into his
mind, does them the honors of the place. Are you on familiar terms
with him, and of the small private circle in which he freely unbends
himself, with closed doors? You never tire of laughing. With a sure
hand and without seeming to touch it, he abruptly tears aside the veil
hiding a wrong, a prejudice, a folly, in short, any human idolatry.
The real figure, misshapen, odious or dull, suddenly appears in this
instantaneous flash; we shrug our shoulders. This is the risibility
of an agile, triumphant reason. We have another in that of the gay
temperament, of the droll improvisator, of the man keeping youthful, a
child, a boy even to the day of his death, and who "gambols on his own
tombstone." He is fond of caricature, exaggerating the features of
faces, bringing grotesques on the stage,[26] walking them about in all
lights like marionettes, never weary of taking them up and of making
them dance in new costumes; in the very midst of his philosophy, of
his propaganda and polemics, he sets up his portable theater in full
blast, exhibiting oddities, the scholar, the monk, the inquisitor,
Maupertuis, Pompignan, Nonotte, Fréron, King David, and countless
others who appear before us, capering and gesticulating in their
harlequin attire. - When a farcical talent is thus moved to tell the
truth, humor becomes all-powerful; for it gratifies the profound and
universal instincts of human nature: to the malicious curiosity, to
the desire to mock and belitte, to the aversion to being in need or
under constraint, those sources of bad moods which task convention,
etiquette and social obligation with wearing the burdensome cloak of
respect and of decency; moments occur in life when the wisest is not
sorry to throw this half aside and even cast it off entirely. - On
each page, now with the bold stroke of a hardy naturalist, now with
the quick turn of a mischievous monkey, Voltaire lets the solemn or
serious drapery fall, disclosing man, the poor biped, and in which
attitudes![27] Swift alone dared to present similar pictures. What
physiological crudities relating to the origin and end of our most
exalted sentiments! What disproportion between such feeble reason and
such powerful instincts! What recesses in the wardrobes of politics
and religion concealing their foul linen! We laugh at all this so as
not to weep, and yet behind this laughter there are tears; he ends
sneeringly, subsiding into a tone of profound sadness, of mournful
pity. In this degree, and with such subjects, it is only an effect of
habit, or as an expedient, a mania of inspiration, a fixed condition
of the nervous machinery rushing headlong over everything, without a
break and in full speed. Gaiety, let it not be forgotten, is still a
incentive of action, the last that keeps man erect in France, the best
in maintaining the tone of his spirit, his strength and his powers of
resistance, the most intact in an age when men, and women too,
believed it incumbent on them to die people of good society, with a
smile and a jest on their lips[28].

When the talent of a writer thus accords with public inclinations
it is a matter of little import whether he deviates or fails since he
is following the universal tendency. He may wander off or besmirch
himself in vain, for his audience is only the more pleased, his
defects serving him as advantageously as his good qualities. After
the first generation of healthy minds the second one comes on, the
intellectual balance here being equally inexact. "Diderot," says
Voltaire, "is too hot an oven, everything that is baked in it getting
burnt." Or rather, he is an eruptive volcano which, for forty years,
discharges ideas of every order and species, boiling and fused
together, precious metals, coarse scorioe and fetid mud; the steady
stream overflows at will according to the roughness of the ground, but
always displaying the ruddy light and acrid fumes of glowing lava. He
is not master of his ideas, but his ideas master him; he is under
submission to them; he has not that firm foundation of common
practical sense which controls their impetuosity and ravages, that
inner dyke of social caution which, with Montesquieu and Voltaire,
bars the way to outbursts. Everything with him rushes out of the
surcharged crater, never picking its way, through the first fissure or
crevice it finds, according to his haphazard reading, a letter, a
conversation, an improvisation, and not in frequent small jets as with
Voltaire, but in broad currents tumbling blindly down the most
precipitous declivities of the century. Not only does he descend thus
to the very depths of anti-religious and anti-social doctrines, with
logical and paradoxical rigidity, more impetuously and more
obstreperously than d'Holbach himself; but again he falls into and
sports himself in the slime of the age, consisting of obscenity, and
into the beaten track of declamation. In his leading novels he dwells
a long time on salacious equivocation, or on a scene of lewdness.
Crudity with him is not extenuated by malice or glossed over by
elegance. He is neither refined nor pungent; is quite incapable, like
the younger Crébillon, of depicting the scapegrace of ability. He is
a new-comer, a parvenu in standard society; you see in him a commoner,
a powerful reasoner, an indefatigable workman and great artist,
introduced, through the customs of the day, at a supper of fashionable
livers. He engrosses the conversation, directs the orgy, or in the
contagion or on a wager, says more filthy things, more "gueulées,"
than all the guests put together[29]. In like manner, in his dramas,
in his "Essays on Claudius and Nero," in his "Commentary on Seneca,"
in his additions to the "Philosophical History" of Raynal, he forces
the tone of things. This tone, which then prevails by virtue of the
classic spirit and of the new fashion, is that of sentimental
rhetoric. Diderot carries it to extremes in the exaggeration of tears
or of rage, in exclamations, in apostrophes, in tenderness of feeling,
in violences, indignation, in enthusiasms, in full-orchestra tirades,
in which the fire of his brains finds employment and an outlet. -
On the other hand, among so many superior writers, he is the only
genuine artist, the creator of souls, within his mind objects, events
and personages are born and become organized of themselves, through
their own forces, by virtue of natural affinities, involuntarily,
without foreign intervention, in such a way as to live for and in
themselves, safe from the author's intentions, and outside of his
combinations. The composer of the "Salons," the "Petits Romans," the
"Entretien," the "Paradoxe du Comédien," and especially the "Rêve de
d'Alembert" and the" Neveu de Rameau "is a man of an unique species in
his time. However alert and brilliant Voltaire's personages may be,
they are always puppets; their action is derivative; always behind
them you catch a glimpse of the author pulling the strings. With
Diderot, the strings are severed; he is not speaking through the lips
of his characters; they are not his comical loud-speakers or puppets,
but independent and detached persons, with an action of their own, a
personal accent, with their own temperament, passions, ideas,
philosophy, style and spirit, and occasionally, as in the "Neveu de
Rameau," a spirit so original, complex and complete, so alive and so
deformed that, in the natural history of man, it becomes an
incomparable monster and an immortal document. He has expressed
everything concerning nature,[30] art morality and life[31] in two
small treatises of which twenty successive readings exhaust neither
the charm nor the sense. Find elsewhere, if you can, a similar stroke
of power and a greater masterpiece, "anything more absurd and more
profound!"[32] - Such is the advantage of men of genius possessing
no control over themselves. They lack discernment but they have
inspiration. Among twenty works, either soiled, rough or nasty, they
produce a creation, and still better, an animated being, able to live
by itself, before which others, fabricated by merely intellectual
people, resemble simply well-dressed puppets. - Hence it is that
Diderot is so great a narrator, a master of dialogue, the equal in
this respect of Voltaire, and, through a quite opposite talent,
believing all he says at the moment of saying it; forgetful of his
very self, carried away by his own recital, listening to inward
voices, surprised with the responses which come to him unexpectedly,
borne along, as if on an unknown river, by the current of action, by
the sinuosities of the conversation inwardly and unconsciously
developed, aroused by the flow of ideas and the leap of the moment to
the most unexpected imagery, extreme in burlesque or extreme in
magnificence, now lyrical even to providing Musset with an entire
stanza,[33] now comic and droll with outbursts unheard of since the
days of Rabelais, always in good faith, always at the mercy of his
subject, of his inventions, of his emotions; the most natural of
writers in an age of artificial literature, resembling a foreign tree
which, transplanted to a parterre of the epoch, swells out and decays
on one side of its stem, but of which five or six branches, thrust out
into full light, surpass the neighboring underwood in the freshness of
their sap and in the vigor of their growth.

Rousseau also is an artisan, a man of the people, ill-adapted to
elegant and refined society, out of his element in a drawing room and,
moreover, of low birth, badly brought up, sullied by a vile and
precocious experience, highly and offensively sensual, morbid in mind
and in body, fretted by superior and discordant faculties, possessing
no tact, and carrying the contamination of his imagination,
temperament and past life into his austere morality and into his
purest idylls;[34] besides this he has no fervor, and in this he is
the opposite of Diderot, avowing himself" that his ideas arrange
themselves in his head with the utmost difficulty, that certain
sentences are turned over and over again in his brain for five or six
nights before putting them on paper, and that a letter on the most
trifling subject costs him hours of fatigue," that he cannot fall into
an easy and agreeable tone, nor succeed otherwise than "in works which
demand application."[35] As an offset to this, style, in this ardent
brain, under the influence of intense, prolonged meditation,
incessantly hammered and rehammered, becomes more concise and of
higher temper than is elsewhere found. Since La Bruyère we have seen
no more ample, virile phrases, in which anger, admiration,
indignation, studied and concentrated passion, appear with more
rigorous precision and more powerful relief. He is almost the equal
of La Bruyère in the arrangement of skillful effects, in the aptness
and ingenuity of developments, in the terseness of impressive
summaries, in the overpowering directness of unexpected arguments, in
the multiplicity of literary achievements, in the execution of those
passages of bravura, portraits, descriptions, comparisons, creations,
wherein, as in a musical crescendo, the same idea, varied by a series
of yet more animated expressions, attains to or surpasses, at the last
note, all that is possible of energy and of brilliancy. Finally, he
has that which is wanting in La Bruyère; his passages are linked
together; he is not a writer of pages but of books; no logician is
more condensed. His demonstration is knitted together, mesh by mesh,
for one, two and three volumes like a great net without an opening in
which, willingly or not, we remain caught. He is a systematizer who,
absorbed with himself; and with his eyes stubbornly fixed on his own
reverie or his own principle, buries himself deeper in it every day,
weaving its consequences off one by one, and always holding fast to
the various ends. Do not go near him. Like a solitary, enraged
spider he weaves this out of his own substance, out of the most
cherished convictions of his brain and the deepest emotions of his
heart. He trembles at the slightest touch; ever on the defensive, he
is terrible,[36] beside himself;[37] even venomous through suppressed
exasperation and wounded sensibility, furious against an adversary,
whom he stifles with the multiplied and tenacious threads of his web,
but still more redoubtable to himself than to his enemies, soon caught
in his own meshes,[38] believing that France and the universe conspire
against him, deducing with wonderful subtlety the proofs of this
chimerical conspiracy, made desperate, at last, by his over-plausible
romance, and strangling in the cunning toils which, by dint of his own
logic and imagination, he has fashioned for himself.

With such weapons one might accidentally kill oneself, but one is
strongly armed. Rousseau was well equipped, at least as powerful as
Voltaire; it may be said that the last half of the eighteenth century
belongs to him. A foreigner, a Protestant, original in temperament,
in education, in heart, in mind and in habits, at once misanthropic
and philanthropic, living in an ideal world constructed by himself,
entirely opposed to the world as it is, he finds himself standing in a
new position. No one is so sensitive to the evils and vices of actual
society. No one is so affected by the virtues and happiness of the
society of the future. This accounts for his having two holds on the
public mind, one through satire and the other through the idyll. -
These two holds are undoubtedly slighter at the present day; the
substance of their grasp has disappeared; we are not the auditors to
which it appealed. The famous discourse on the influence of
literature and on the origin of inequality seems to us a collegiate
exaggeration; an effort of the will is required to read the " Nouvelle
Héloïse." The author is repulsive in the persistency of his
spitefulness or in the exaggeration of his enthusiasm. He is always
in extremes, now moody and with knit brows, and now streaming with
tears and with arms outstretched to Heaven. Hyperbole, prosopopaeia,
and other literary machinery are too often and too deliberately used
by him. We are tempted to regard him now as a sophist making the best
use of his arts, now as a rhetorician cudgeling his brains for a
purpose, now as a preacher becoming excited, that is to say, an actor
ever maintaining a thesis, striking an attitude and aiming at effects.
Finally, with the exception of the "Confessions" his style soon
wearies us; it is too studied, and too constantly overstrained. The
author is always the author, and he communicates the defect to his
personages. His Julie argues and descants for twenty successive pages
on dueling, on love, on duty, with a logical completeness, a talent
and phrases that would do honor to an academical moralist.
Commonplace exists everywhere, general themes, a raking fire of
abstractions and arguments, that is to say, truths more or less empty
and paradoxes more or less hollow. The smallest detail of fact, an
anecdote, a trait of habit, would suit us much better, and hence we of
to day prefer the precise eloquence of objects to the lax eloquence of
words. In the eighteenth century it was otherwise; to every writer
this oratorical style was the prescribed ceremonial costume, the
dress-coat he had to put on for admission into the company of select
people. That which seems to us affectation was then only proper; in a
classic epoch the perfect period and the sustained development
constitute decorum, and are therefore to be observed. - It must be
noted, moreover, that this literary drapery which, with us of the
present day, conceals truth did not conceal it to his contemporaries;
they saw under it the exact feature, the perceptible detail no longer
detected by us. Every abuse, every vice, every excess of refinement
and of culture, all that social and moral disease which Rousseau
scourged with an author's emphasis, existed before them under their
own eyes, in their own breasts, visible and daily manifested in
thousands of domestic incidents. In applying satire they had only to
observe or to remember. Their experience completed the book, and,
through the co-operation of his readers, the author possessed power
which he is now deprived of. If we were to put ourselves in their
place we should recover their impressions. His denunciations and
sarcasms, the harsh things of all sorts he says of the great, of
fashionable people and of women, his rude and cutting tone, provoke
and irritate, but are not displeasing. On the contrary, after so many
compliments, insipidities and petty versification all this quickens
the blunted taste; it is the sensation of strong common wine after
long indulgence in orgeat and preserved citron. Accordingly, his
first discourse against art and literature "lifts one at once above
the clouds." But his idyllic writings touch the heart more powerfully
than his satires. If men listen to the moralist that scolds them they
throng in the footsteps of the magician that charms them; especially
do women and the young adhere to one who shows them the promised land.
All accumulated dissatisfactions, weariness of the world, ennui, vague
disgust, a multitude of suppressed desires gush forth, like
subterranean waters, under the sounding line that for the first time
brings them to light. Rousseau with his soundings struck deep and
true through his own trials and through genius. In a wholly
artificial society where people are drawing room puppets, and where
life consists in a graceful parade according to a recognized model, he
preaches a return to nature, independence, earnestness, passion, and
effusion, a manly, active, ardent and happy existence in the open air
and in sunshine. What an opening for restrained faculties, for the
broad and luxurious fountain ever bubbling in man's breast, and for
which their nice society provides no issue! - woman of the court is
familiar with love as then practiced, simply a preference, often only
a pastime, mere gallantry of which the exquisite polish poorly
conceals the shallowness, coldness and, occasionally, wickedness; in
short, adventures, amusements and personages as described by
Crébillion jr. One evening, about to go out to the opera ball, she
finds the "Nouvelle Heloïse" on her toilet-table; it is not surprising
that she keeps her horses and footmen waiting from hour to hour, and
that at four o'clock in the morning she orders the horses to be
unharnessed, and then passes the rest of the night in reading, and
that she is stifled with her tears; for the first time in her life she
finds a man that loves[39]. In like manner if you would comprehend
the success of "Emile," call to mind the children we have described,
the embroidered, gilded, dressed-up, powdered little gentlemen, decked
with sword and sash, carrying the chapeau under the arm, bowing,
presenting the hand, rehearsing fine attitudes before a mirror,
repeating prepared compliments, pretty little puppets in which
everything is the work of the tailor, the hairdresser, the preceptor
and the dancing-master; alongside of these, little ladies of six
years, still more artificial, bound up in whalebone, harnessed in a
heavy skirt composed of hair and a girdle of iron, supporting a head-
dress two feet in height, so many veritable dolls to which rouge is
applied, and with which a mother amuses herself each morning for an
hour and then consigns them to her maids for the rest of the day[40].
This mother reads "Emile." It is not surprising that she immediately
strips the poor little thing, and determines to nurse her next child
herself. - It is through these contrasts that Rousseau is strong.
He revealed the dawn to people who never got up until noon, the
landscape to eyes that had thus far rested only on palaces and
drawing-rooms, a natural garden to men who had never promenaded
outside of clipped shrubs and rectilinear borders, the country, the
family, the people, simple and endearing pleasures, to townsmen made
weary by social avidity, by the excesses and complications of luxury,
by the uniform comedy which, in the glare of hundreds of lighted
candles, they played night after night in their own and in the homes
of others[41]. An audience thus disposed makes no clear distinction
between pomp and sincerity, between sentiment and sentimentality.
They follow their author as one who makes a revelation, as a prophet,
even to the end of his ideal world, much more through his
exaggerations than through his discoveries, as far on the road to
error as on the pathway of truth.

These are the great literary powers of the century. With inferior
successes, and through various combinations, the elements which
contributed to the formation of the leading talents also form the
secondary talents, like those below Rousseau, - Bernardin de St.
Pierre, Raynal, Thomas, Marmontel, Mably, Florian, Dupaty, Mercier,
Madame de Staël; and below Voltaire, - the lively and piquant
intellects of Duclos, Piron, Galiani, President Des Brosses, Rivarol,
Champfort, and to speak with precision, all other talents. Whenever a
vein of talent, however meager, peers forth above the ground it is for
the propagation and carrying forward of the new doctrine; scarcely can
we find two or three little streams that run in a contrary direction,
like the journal of Freron, a comedy by Palissot, or a satire by
Gilbert. Philosophy winds through and overflows all channels public
and private, through manuals of impiety, like the "Théologies
portatives," and in the lascivious novels circulated secretly, through
epigrams and songs, through daily novelties, through the amusements of
fairs,[42] and the harangues of the Academy, through tragedy and the
opera, from the beginning to the end of the century, from the "OEdipe"
of Voltaire, to the "Tarare" of Beaumarchais. It seems as if there
was nothing else in the world. At least it is found everywhere and it
floods all literary efforts; nobody cares whether it deforms them,
content in making them serve as a conduit. In 1763, in the tragedy of
Manco-Capac[43] the "principal part," writes a contemporary, "is that
of a savage who utters in verse all that we have read, scattered
through ' Emile' and the 'Contrat Social,' concerning kings, liberty,
the rights of man and the inequality of conditions." This virtuous
savage saves a king's son over whom a high-priest raises a poniard,
and then, designating the high-priest and himself by turns, he cries,

"Behold the civilized man; here is the savage man!"

At this line the applause breaks forth, and the success of the
piece is such that it is demanded at Versailles and played before the

The same ideas have to be expressed with skill, brilliancy, gaiety,
energy and scandal, and this is accomplished in "The Marriage of
Figaro." Never were the ideals of the age displayed under a more
transparent disguise, nor in an attire that rendered them more
attractive. Its title is the " Folle journee," and indeed it is an
evening of folly, an after-supper like those occurring in the
fashionable world, a masquerade of Frenchmen in Spanish costumes, with
a parade of dresses, changing scenes, couplets, a ballet, a singing
and dancing village, a medley of odd characters, gentlemen, servants,
duennas, judges, notaries, lawyers, music-masters, gardeners,
pastoureaux; in short, a spectacle for the eyes and the ears, for all
the senses, the very opposite of the prevailing drama in which three
pasteboard characters, seated on classic chairs, exchange didactic
arguments in an abstract saloon. And still better, it is an imbroglio
displaying a superabundance of action, amidst intrigues that cross,
interrupt and renew each other, through a pêle-mêle of travesties,
exposures, surprises, mistakes, leaps from windows, quarrels and
slaps, and all in sparkling style, each phrase flashing on all sides,
where responses seem to be cut out by a lapidary, where the eyes would
forget themselves in contemplating the multiplied brilliants of the
dialogue if the mind were not carried along by its rapidity and the
excitement of the action. But here is another charm, the most welcome
of all in a society passionately fond of Parny; according to an
expression of the Comte d'Artois, which I dare not quote, this appeals
to the senses, the arousing of which constitutes the spiciness and
savor of the piece. The fruit that hangs ripening and savory on the
branch never falls but always seems on the point of falling; all hands
are extended to catch it, its voluptuousness somewhat veiled but so
much the more provoking, declaring itself from scene to scene, in the
Count's gallantry, in the Countess's agitation, in the simplicity of
Fanchette, in the jestings of Figaro, in the liberties of Susanne, and
reaching its climax in the precocity of Cherubino. Add to this a
continual double sense, the author hidden behind his characters, truth
put into the mouth of a clown, malice enveloped in simple utterances,
the master duped but saved from being ridiculous by his deportment,
the valet rebellious but preserved from acrimony by his gaiety, and
you can comprehend how Beaumarchais could have the ancient regime
played before its head, put political and social satire on the stage,
publicly attach an expression to each wrong so as to become a by-word,
and ever making a loud report,[44] gather up into a few traits the
entire polemics of the philosophers against the prisons of the State,
against the censorship of literature, against the venality of office,
against the privileges of birth, against the arbitrary power of
ministers, against the incapacity of people in office, and still
better, to sum up in one character every public demand, give the
leading part to a commoner, bastard, bohemian and valet, who, by dint
of dexterity, courage and good-humor, keeps himself up, swims with the
tide, and shoots ahead in his little skiff, avoiding contact with
larger craft and even supplanting his master, accompanying each pull
on the oar with a shower of wit cast broadside at all his rivals.

After all, in France at least, the chief power is intellect.
Literature in the service of philosophy is all-sufficient. The public
opposes but a feeble resistance to their complicity, the mistress
finding no trouble in convincing those who have already been won over
by the servant



[1] How right Taine was. The 20th century should see a rebirth of
violent Jacobinism in Russia, China, Cambodia, Korea, Cuba, Germany,
Italy, Yugoslavia and Albania and of soft and creeping Jacobinism in
the entire Western world. (SR.)

[2]. "Who, born within the last forty years, ever read a word of
Collins, and Toland, and Tindal, or of that whole race who called
themselves freethinkers?" (Burke, "Reflexions on the French
Revolutions," 1790).

[3]. The "Oedipe," by Voltaire, belongs to the year 1718, and his
"Lettres sur les Anglais," to the year 1728. The "Lettres Persanes,"
by Montesquieu, published in 1721, contain the germs of all the
leading ideas of the century.

[4]. "Raison" (cult of). Cult proposed by the Hébertists and
aimed at replacing Christianity under the French Revolution. The Cult
of Reason was celebrated in the church of Notre Dame de Paris on the
10th of November 1793. The cult disappeared with the Hébertists
(March 1794) and Robespierre replaced it with the cult of the Superior
Being. (SR.)

[5]. Joseph de Maistre, Oeuvres inédites," pp. 8, 11.

[6]. Diderot's letters on the Blind and on the Deaf and Dumb are
addressed in whole or in part to women.

[7]. "Correspondence of Gouverneur Morris," (in English), II, 89.
(Letter of January 24, 1790)

[8]. John Andrews in "A comparative view," etc. (1785). - Arthur
Young, I. 123. "I should pity the man who expected, without other
advantages of a very different nature, to be well received in a
brilliant circle in London, because he was a fellow of the Royal
Society. But this would not be the case with a member of the Academy
of Sciences at Paris, he is sure of a good reception everywhere."

[9]. "I met in Paris the d'Alemberts, the Marmontels, the Baillys
at the houses of duchesses, which was an immense advantage to all
concerned. . . . When a man with us devotes himself to writing
books he is considered as renouncing the society equally of those who
govern as of those who laugh. . . Taking literary vanity into
account the lives of your d'Alemberts and Baillys are as pleasant as
those of your seigniors." (Stendhal, "Rome, Naples et Florence," 377,
in a narrative by Col. Forsyth).

[10]. "Entretien d'un philosophe avec la Maréchale -."

[11]. The television audience today cannot threaten never again to
invite the boring "philosopher" to dinner, but will zap away, a move
that the system accurately senses. The rules that Taine describes
are, alas, therefore once more valid. (SR.)

[12]. The same process is observable in our day in the "Sophismes
économiques" of Bastiat, the "Eloges historiques" of Flourens, and in
"Le Progrès," by Edmond About.

[13]. The "Portier de Chartreux." (An infamous pornographic book.

[14]. "Thérese Philosophe." There is a complete literature of this

[15]. See the edition of M. Dauban in which the suppressed
passages are restored.

[16]. "Esprit des Lois," ch. XV. book V. (Reasons in favor of
slavery). The "Defence of the Esprit des Lois," I. Reply to the
second objection. II. Reply to the fourth objection.

[17]. Letter 24 (on Louis XIV.)

[18]. Letter 18 (on the purity and impurity of things). Letter 39
(proofs of the mission of Mohammed).

[19]. Letters 75 and 118.

[20]. Letters 98 (on the modern sciences), 46 (on a true system of
worship), 11 and 14 (on the nature of justice).

[21]. Cf "Micromégas," "L'homme aux quarantes écus," "Dialogues
entre A, B, C," Dic. Philosophique," passim. - In verse, "Les
systèmes," "La loi naturelle," "Le pour et le countre,", "Discours sur
l'homme," etc.

[22]. "Traité de métaphysique," chap. I. p.1 (on the peasantry).
- "Lettres sur les Anglais," passim. - "Candide," passim. -
"La Princesse de Babylone," ch. VII. VIII. IX. and XI.

[23] "Dict. Phil." articles, "Maladie," (Replies to the princess).
- "Candide," at Madame de Parolignac. The sailor in the wreck.
Narrative of Paquette. - The "Ingénu," the first chapters.

[24]. "Candide," the last chapter. When there was no dispute
going on, it was so wearisome that the old woman one day boldly said
to him: "I should like to know which is worse to be ravished a hundred
times by Negro pirates, to have one's rump gashed, or be switched by
the Bulgarians, to be scourged or hung in an auto-da-fé, to be cut to
pieces, to row in the galleys, to suffer any misery through which we
have passed, or sit still and do nothing?" - "That is the great
question," said Candide.

[25]. For example, in the lines addressed to the Princess Ulrique
in the preface to "Alzire," dedicated to Madame du Chatelet:

"Souvent un peu de verité," etc.

[26] The scholar in the dialogue of "Le Mais," (Jenny). - The
canonization of Saint Cucufin. - Advice to brother Pediculuso. -
The diatribe of Doctor Akakia. - Conversation of the emperor of
China with brother Rigolo, etc.

[27]. "Dict. Philosophique," the article "Ignorance." - "Les
Oreilles du Comte de Chesterfied." - "L'homme au quarante écus,"
chap. VII. and XI.

[28]. Bachaumont, III, 194. (The death of the Comte de Maugiron).

[29]. "The novels of the younger Crébillon were in fashion. My
father spoke with Madame de Puisieux on the ease with which licentious
works were composed; he contended that it was only necessary to find
an arousing idea as a peg to hang others on in which intellectual
libertinism should be a substitute for taste. She challenged him to
produce on of this kind. At the end of a fortnight he brought her
'Les bijoux indiscrets' and fifty louis." (Mémoires of Diderot, by his
daughter). - "La Religieuse," has a similar origin, its object
being to mystify M. de Croismart.

[30]. "Le Rêve de d'Alembert."

[31]. "Le neveau de Rameau."

[32]. The words of Diderot himself in relation to the "Rêve de

[33] One of the finest stanzas in "Souvenir" is almost literally
transcribed (involuntarily, I suppose), from the dialogue on Otaheite

[34]. "Nouvelle Héloise," passim., and notably Julie's
extraordinary letter, second part, number 15. - "Émile," the
preceptor's discourse to Émile and Sophie the morning after their
marriage. - Letter of the comtesse de Boufflers to Gustavus III.,
published by Geffroy, ("Gustave III. et la cour de France"). "I
entrust to Baron de Lederheim, though with reluctance, a book for you
which has just been published, the infamous memoirs of Rousseau
entitled 'Confessions.' They seem to me those of a common scullion and
even lower than that, being dull throughout, whimsical and vicious in
the most offensive manner. I do not recur to my worship of him (for
such it was) I shall never console myself for its having caused the
death of that eminent man David Hume, who, to gratify me, undertook to
entertain that filthy animal in England."

[35]. "Confessions," part I, book III.

[36]. Letter to M, de Beaumont.

[37]. "Émile," letter IV. 193. "People of the world must
necessarily put on disguise; let them show themselves as they are and
they would horrify us," etc.

[38]. See, especially, his book entitled "Rousseau juge de Jean-
Jacques," his connection with Hume and the last books of the

[39]. "Confessions," part 2. book XI. "The women were
intoxicated with the book and with the author to such an extent that
there were few of them, even of high rank, whose conquest I could not
have made if I had undertaken it. I possess evidence of this which I
do not care, to publish, and which, without having been obliged to
prove it by experience, warrant, my statement." Cf. G. Sand,
"Histoire de ma vie," I.73.

[40]. See an engraving by Moreau called "Les Petits Parrains." -
Berquin, passim., and among others "L'épée." - Remark the ready-
made phrases, the style of an author common to children, in Berquin
and Madame de Genlis.

[41]. See the description of sunrise in "Émile," of the Élysée (a
natural garden), in "Héloise." And especially in "Emile," at the end
of the fourth book, the pleasures which Rousseau would enjoy if he
were rich.

[42]. See in Marivaux, ("La double inconstance,") a satire on the
court, courtiers and the corruptions of high life, opposed to the
common people in the country.

[43] Bachmaumont, I. 254.

[44]. "A calculator was required for the place but a dancer got
it." - "The sale of offices is a great abuse." -"Yes, it would he
better to give them for nothing." - "Only small men fear small
literature." - "Chance makes the interval, the mind only can alter
that !" - "A courtier? - they say it is a very difficult
profession." - "To receive, to take, and to ask, is the secret in
three words," etc, - Also the entire monologue by Figaro, and all
the scenes with Bridoisin.



The Aristocracy. - Novelty commonly repugnant to it. -
Conditions of this repugnance. - Example in England.

This public has yet to be made willing to be convinced and to be
won over; belief occurs only when there is a disposition to believe,
and, in the success of books, its share is often greater than that of
their authors. On addressing men about politics or religion their
opinions are, in general already formed; their prejudices, their
interests, their situation have confirmed them beforehand; they listen
to you only after you have uttered aloud what they inwardly think.
Propose to them to demolish the great social edifice and to rebuild it
anew on a quite an opposite plan: ordinarily you auditors will consist
only of those who are poorly lodged or shelterless, who live in
garrets or cellars, or who sleep under the stars, on the bare ground
in the vicinity of houses. The common run of people, whose lodgings
are small but tolerable, dread moving and adhere to their accustomed
ways. The difficulty becomes much greater on appealing to the upper
classes who occupy superior habitations; their acceptance of your
proposal depends either on their great delusions or on their great
disinterestedness. In England they quickly foresee the danger.

In vain is philosophy there indigenous and precocious; it does not
become acclimatized. In 1729, Montesquieu writes in his memorandum-
book: "No religion in England; four or five members of the House of
Commons attend mass or preaching in the House. . . . When
religion is mentioned everybody begins to laugh. A man having said:
I believe that as an article of faith, everybody laughed. A
committee is appointed to consider the state of religion, but it is
regarded as absurd." Fifty years later the public mind undergoes a
reaction; all with a good roof over their heads and a good coat on
their backs[1] see the consequence of the new doctrines. In any
event they feel that closet speculations are not to become street
preaching. Impiety seems to them an indiscretion; they consider
religion as the cement of public order. This is owing to the fact
that they are themselves public men, engaged in active life, taking a
part in the government, and instructed through their daily and
personal experience. Practical life fortifies them against the
chimeras of theorists; they have proved to themselves how difficult it
is to lead and to control men. Having had their hand on the machine
they know how it works, its value, its cost, and they are not tempted
to cast it aside as rubbish to try another, said to be superior, but
which, as yet, exists only on paper. The baronet, or squire, a
justice on his own domain, has no trouble in discerning in the
clergyman of his parish an indispensable co-worker and a natural ally.
The duke or marquis, sitting in the upper house by the side of
bishops, requires their votes to pass bills, and their assistance to
rally to his party the fifteen hundred curates who influence the rural
conscience. Thus all have a hand on some social wheel, large or
small, principal or accessory, and this endows them with earnestness,
foresight and good sense. On coming in contact with realities there
is no temptation to soar away into the imaginary world; the fact of
one being at work on solid ground of itself makes one dislike aerial
excursions in empty space. The more occupied one is the less one
dreams, and, to men of business, the geometry of the " Contrat Social'
is merely intellectual gymnastics.


The opposite conditions found in France. - Indolence of the upper
class. - Philosophy seems an intellectual drill. - Besides this, a
subject for conversation. - Philosophic conversation in the 18th
century. - Its superiority and its charm. - The influence it

It is quite the reverse in France. "I arrived there in 1774,"[2]
says an English gentleman, "having just left the house of my father,
who never came home from Parliament until three o'clock in the
morning, and who was busy the whole morning correcting the proofs of
his speech for the newspapers, and who, after hastily kissing us, with
an absorbed air, went out to a political dinner. . . . In
France I found men of the highest rank enjoying perfect leisure.
They had interviews with the ministers but only to exchange
compliments; in other respects they knew as little about the public
affairs of France as they did about those of Japan; and less of local
affairs than of general affairs, having no knowledge of their
peasantry other than that derived from the accounts of their stewards.
If one of them, bearing the title of governor, visited a province, it
was, as we have seen, for outward parade; whilst the intendant carried
on the administration, he exhibited himself with grace and
magnificence by giving receptions and dinners. To receive, to give
dinners, to entertain guests agreeably is the sole occupation of a
grand seignior; hence it is that religion and government only serve
him as subjects of conversation. The conversation, moreover, occurs
between him and his equals, and a man may say what he pleases in good
company. Moreover the social system turns on its own axis, like the
sun, from time immemorial, through its own energy, and shall it be
deranged by what is said in the drawing-room? In any event he does not
control its motion and he is not responsible. Accordingly there is
no uneasy undercurrent, no morose preoccupation in his mind.
Carelessly and boldly he follows in the track of his philosophers;
detached from affairs he can give himself up to ideas, just as a young
man of family, on leaving college, lays hold of some principle,
deduces its consequences, and forms a system for himself without
concerning himself about its application[3].

Nothing is more enjoyable than this speculative inspiration. The
mind soars among the summits as if it had wings; it embraces vast
horizons in a glance, taking in all of human life, the economy of the
world, the origin of the universe, of religions and of societies.
Where, accordingly, would conversation be if people abstained from
philosophy? What circle is that in which serious political problems
and profound criticism are not admitted? And what motive brings
intellectual people together if not the desire to debate questions of
the highest importance? - For two centuries in France the
conversation has been related to all that, and hence its great charm.
Strangers find it irresistible; nothing like it is found at home; Lord
Chesterfield sets it forth as an example:

"It always turns, he says, on some point in history, on criticism
or even philosophy which is much better suited to rational beings than
our English discussions about the weather and whist."

Rousseau, so querulous, admits "that a moral subject could not be
better discussed in a society of philosophers than in that of a pretty
woman in Paris." Undoubtedly there is a good deal of idle talk, but
with all the chattering "let a man of any authority make a serious
remark or start a grave subject and the attention is immediately fixed
on this point; men and women, the old and the young, all give
themselves up to its consideration on all its sides, and it is
surprising what an amount of reason and good sense issues, as if in
emulation, from these frolicsome brains." The truth is that, in this
constant holiday which this brilliant society gives itself philosophy
is the principal amusement. Without philosophy the ordinary ironical
chit-chat would be vapid. It is a sort of superior opera in which
every grand conception that can interest a reflecting mind passes
before it, now in comic and now in sober attire, and each in conflict
with the other. The tragedy of the day scarcely differs from it
except in this respect, that it always bears a solemn aspect and is
performed only in the theaters; the other assumes all sorts of
physiognomies and is found everywhere because conversation is
everywhere carried on. Not a dinner nor a supper is given at which
it does not find place. One sits at a table amidst refined luxury,
among agreeable and well-dressed women and pleasant and well-informed
men, a select company, in which comprehension is prompt and the
company trustworthy. After the second course the inspiration breaks
out in the liveliest sallies, all minds flashing and scintillating.
When the dessert comes on what is to prevent the gravest of subjects
from being put into witticisms? On the appearance of the coffee
questions on the immortality of the soul and on the existence of God
come up.

To form any idea of this attractive and bold conversation we must
consult the correspondence of the day, the short treatises and
dialogues of Diderot and Voltaire, whatever is most animated, most
delicate, most piquant and most profound in the literature of the
century; and yet this is only a residuum, a lifeless fragment. The
whole of this written philosophy was uttered in words, with the
accent, the impetuosity, the inimitable naturalness of improvisation,
with the versatility of malice and of enthusiasm. Even to day,
chilled and on paper, it still excites and seduces us. What must it
have been then when it gushed forth alive and vibrant from the lips of
Voltaire and Diderot? Daily, in Paris, suppers took place like those
described by Voltaire,[4] .at which "two philosophers, three clever
intellectual ladies,M. Pinto the famous Jew, the chaplain of the
Batavian ambassador of the reformed church, the secretary of the
Prince de Galitzin of the Greek church, and a Swiss Calvinist
captain," seated around the same table, for four hours interchanged
their anecdotes, their flashes of wit, their remarks and their
decisions "on all subjects of interest relating to science and taste."
The most learned and distinguished foreigners daily visited, in turn,
the house of the Baron d'Holbach, - Hume, Wilkes, Sterne, Beccaria,
Veri, the Abbé Galiani, Garrick, Franklin, Priestley, Lord Shelburne,
the Comte de Creutz, the Prince of Brunswick and the future Elector of
Mayence. With respect to society in general the Baron entertained
Diderot, Rousseau, Helvétius, Duclos, Saurin, Raynal, Suard,
Marmontel, Boulanger, the Chevalier de Chastellux, the traveler La
Condamine, the physician Barthèz, and Rouelle, the chemist. Twice a
week, on Sundays and Thursdays, "without prejudice to other days,"
they dine at his house, according to custom, at two o'clock; a
significant custom which thus leaves to conversation and gaiety a
man's best powers and the best hours of the day. Conversation, in
those days, was not relegated to night and late hours; a man was not
forced, as at the present day, to subordinate it to the exigencies of
work and money, of the Assembly and the Exchange. Talking is the
main business. "Entering at two o'clock," says Morellet,[5] "we
almost all remained until seven or eight o'clock in the evening. .
. . Here could be heard the most liberal, the most animated, the
most instructive conversation that ever took place. . . .
There was no political or religious temerity which was not brought
forward and discussed pro and con. . . . Frequently some one
of the company would begin to speak and state his theory in full,
without interruption. At other times it would be a combat of one
against one, of which the rest remained silent spectators. Here I
heard Roux and Darcet expose their theory of the earth, Marmontel the
admirable principles he collected together in his 'Elements de La
Littérature,' Raynal, telling us in livres, sous and deniers, the
commerce of the Spaniards with Vera-Crux and of the English with their
colonies." Diderot improvises on the arts and on moral and
metaphysical subjects, with that incomparable fervor and wealth of
expression, that flood of logic and of illustration, those happy hits
of style and that mimetic power which belonged to him alone, and of
which but two or three of his works preserve even the feeblest image.
In their midst Galiani, secretary of the Neapolitan Embassy, a clever
dwarf; a genius, "a sort of Plato or Machiavelli with the spirit and
action of a harlequin," inexhaustible in stories, an admirable
buffoon, and an accomplished skeptic, "having no faith in anything, on
anything or about anything,"[6] not even in the new philosophy, braves
the atheists of the drawing-room, beats down their dithyrambs with
puns, and, with his perruque in his hand, sitting cross-legged on the
chair on which he is perched, proves to them in a comic apologia that
they raisonnent (reason) or résonnent (resound or echo) if not as
cruches (blockheads) at least as cloches (bells);" in any event almost
as poorly as theologians. One of those present says, "It was the
most diverting thing possible and worth the best of plays."

How can the nobles, who pass their lives in talking, refrain from
the society of people who talk so well? They might as well expect
their wives, who frequent the theater every night, and who perform at
home, not to attract famous actors and singers to their receptions,
Jelyotte, Sainval, Préville, and young Molé who, quite ill and needing
restoratives, "receives in one day more than 2,000 bottles of wine of
different sorts from the ladies of the court," Mlle. Clairon, who,
consigned to prison in Fort l'Eveque, attracts to it "an immense crowd
of carriages," presiding over the most select company in the best
apartment of the prison[7]. With life thus regarded, a philosopher
with his ideas is as necessary in a drawing room as a chandelier with
its lights. He forms a part of the new system of luxury. He is an
article of export. Sovereigns, amidst their splendor, and at the
height of their success, invite them to their courts to enjoy for once
in their life the pleasure of perfect and free discourse. When
Voltaire arrives in Prussia Frederic II. is willing to kiss his
hand, fawning on him as on a mistress, and, at a later period, after
such mutual fondling, he cannot dispense with carrying on
conversations with him by letter. Catherine II. sends for Diderot,
and, for two or three hours every day, she plays with him the great
game of the intellect. Gustavus III., in France, is intimate with
Marmontel, and considers a visit from Rousseau as the highest
honor[8]. It is said with truth of Voltaire that "he holds the four
kings in his hand," those of Prussia, Sweden, Denmark and Russia,
without mentioning lower cards, the princes, princesses, grand dukes
and markgraves. The principal rôle in this society evidently belongs
to authors; their ways and doings form the subject of gossip; people
never weary of paying them homage. Here, writes Hume to
Robertson,[9] "I feed on ambrosia, drink nothing but nectar, breathe
incense only and walk on flowers. Every man I meet, and especially
every woman, would consider themselves as failing in the most
indispensable duty if they did not favor me with a lengthy and
ingenious discourse on my celebrity." Presented at court, the future
Louis XVI, aged ten years, the future Louis XVIII, aged eight years,
and the future Charles X, aged four years, each recites a compliment
to him on his works. I need not narrate the return of Voltaire, his
triumphant entry,
[10] the Academy in a body coming to welcome him, his
carriage stopped by the crowd, the thronged streets, the windows,
steps and balconies filled with admirers, an intoxicated audience in
the theater incessantly applauding, outside an entire population
carrying him off with huzzahs, in the drawing-rooms a continual
concourse equal to that of the king, grand seigniors pressed against
the door with outstretched ears to catch a word, and great ladies
standing on tiptoe to observe the slightest gesture. "To form any
conception of what I experienced," says one of those present, "one
should breathe the atmosphere of enthusiasm I lived in. I spoke with
him." This expression at that time converted any new-comer into an
important character. He had, in fact, seen the wonderful orchestra-
leader who, for more than fifty years, conducted the tumultuous
concert of serious or court-vêtues ideas, and who, always on the
stage, always chief, the recognized leader of universal conversation,
supplied the motives, gave the pitch, marked the measure, stamped the
inspiration, and drew the first note on the violin.


Further effects of indolence. - The skeptical, licentious and
seditious spirit. - Previous resentment and fresh discontent at the
established order of things. - Sympathy for the theories against it.
- How far accepted.

Listen to the shouts that greet him: Hurrah for the author of the
Henriade! the defender of Calas, the author of La Pucelle! Nobody of
the present day would utter the first, nor especially the last hurrah.
This indicates the tendency of the century; not only were writers
called upon for ideas, but again for antagonistic ideas. To render
an aristocracy inactive is to render it rebellious; people are more
willing to submit to rules they have themselves helped to enforce.
Would you rally them to the support of the government? Then let them
take part in it. If not they stand by as an onlooker and see nothing
but the mistakes it commits, feeling only its irritations, and
disposed only to criticize and to hoot at it. In fact, in this case,
they are as if in the theater, where they go to be amused, and,
especially, not to be put to any inconvenience. What inconveniences
in the established order of things, and indeed in any established
order! - In the first place, religion. To the amiable "idlers"
whom Voltaire describes,[11] to "the 100,000 persons with nothing to
do but to play and to amuse themselves," religion is the most
disagreeable of pedagogues, always scolding, hostile to sensible
amusement and free discussion, burning books which one wants to read,
and imposing dogmas that are no longer comprehensible. In plain
terms religion is an eyesore, and whoever wishes to throw stones at
her is welcome. -- There is another bond, the moral law of the
sexes. It seems onerous to men of pleasure, to the companions of
Richelieu, Lauzun and Tilly, to the heroes of Crebillon the younger,
and all others belonging to that libertine and gallant society for
whom license has become the rule. Our fine gentlemen are quite ready
to adopt a theory which justifies their practices.[12] They are very
glad to be told that marriage is conventional and a thing of
prejudice. Saint- Lambert obtains their applause at supper when,
raising a glass of champagne, he proposes as a toast a return to
nature and the customs of Tahiti[13]. The last fetter of all is the
government, the most galling, for it enforces the rest and keeps man
down with its weight, along with the added weight of the others. It
is absolute, it is centralized, it works through favorites, it is
backward, it makes mistakes, it has reverses: how many causes of
discontent embraced in a few words! It is opposed by the vague and
suppressed resentment of the former powers which it has dispossessed,
the provincial assemblies, the parliaments, the grandees of the
provinces, the old stock of nobles, who, like the Mirabeau, retain the
old feudal spirit, and like Châteaubriand's father, call the Abbé
Raynal a "master-man." Against it is the spite of all those who
imagine themselves frustrated in the distribution of offices and of
favors, not only the provincial nobility who remain outside[14] while
the court nobility are feasting at the royal banquet, but again the
majority of the courtiers who are obliged to be content with crumbs,
while the little circle of intimate favorites swallow down the large
morsels. It has against it the ill-humor of those under its
direction who, seeing it play the part of Providence and providing for
all, accuses it of everything, the high price of bread as well as of
the decay of a highway. It has against it the new humanity which, in
the most elegant drawing-rooms, lays to its charge the maintenance of
the antiquated remains of a barbarous epoch, ill-imposed, ill-
apportioned and ill-collected taxes, sanguinary laws, blind
prosecutions, atrocious punishments, the persecution of the
Protestants, lettres-de-cachet, and prisons of State. And I do not
include its excesses, its scandals, its disasters and its disgraces,
- Rosbach, the treaty of Paris, Madame du Barry, and bankruptcy. -
Disgust intervenes, for everything is decidedly bad. The spectators
of the play say to each other that not only is the piece itself poor,
but the theater is badly built, uncomfortable, stifling and
contracted, to such a degree that, to be at one's ease, the whole
thing must be torn down and rebuilt from cellar to garret.

Just at this moment the new architects appear, with their specious
arguments and their ready-made plans, proving that every great public
structure, religious and moral, and all communities, cannot be
otherwise than barbarous and unhealthy, since, thus far, they are
built up out of bits and pieces, by degrees, and generally by fools
and savages, in any event by common masons, who built aimlessly,
feeling their way and devoid of principles. As far as they are
concerned, they are genuine architects, and they have principles, that
is to say, Reason, Nature, and the Rights of Man, straightforward and
fruitful principles which everybody can understand, all that has to be
done is to draw their consequences making it possible to replace the
imperfect tenements of the past with the admirable edifice of the
future. - To irreverent, Epicurean and philanthropic malcontents
the temptation is a great one. They readily adopt maxims which seem
in conformity with their secret wishes; at least they adopt them in
theory and in words. The imposing terms of liberty, justice, public
good, man's dignity, are so admirable, and besides so vague! What
heart can refuse to cherish them, and what intelligence can foretell
their innumerable applications? And all the more because, up to the
last, the theory does not descend from the heights, being confined to
abstractions, resembling an academic oration, constantly dealing with
Natural Man (homme en soi) of the social contract, with an imaginary
and perfect society. Is there a courtier at Versailles who would
refuse to proclaim equality in the lands of the Franks! - Between
the two stories of the human intellect, the upper where abstract
reasoning is spun and the lower where an active faith reposes,
communication is neither complete nor immediate. A number of
principles never leave the upper stories; they remain there as
curiosities, so many fragile, clever mechanisms, freely to be seen but
rarely employed. If the proprietor sometimes transfers them to the
lower story he makes but a partial use of them; established customs,
anterior and more powerful interests and instincts restrict their
employment. In this respect he is not acting in bad faith, but as a
man; each of us professing truths which he does not put in practice.
One evening Target, a dull lawyer, having taken a pinch from the
snuff-box of the Maréchale de Beauvau, the latter, whose drawing room
is a small democratic club, is amazed at such monstrous familiarity.
Later, Mirabeau, on returning home just after having voted for the
abolition of the titles of nobility, takes his servant by the ear,
laughingly proclaiming in his thunderous voice, "Look here, you
rascal, I trust that to you I shall always be Monsieur le Comte !" -
This shows to what extent new theories are admitted into an
aristocratic brain. They occupy the whole of the upper story, and
there, with a pleasing murmur, they weave the web of interminable
conversation; their buzzing lasts throughout the century; never have
the drawing-rooms seen such an outpouring of fine sentences and of
fine words. Something of all this drops from the upper to the lower
story, if only as dust, I mean to say, hope, faith in the future,
belief in Reason, a love of truth, the generous and youthful good
intentions, the enthusiasm that quickly passes but which may, for a
while, become self-abnegation and devotion.


The diffusion among the upper class. - Progress of incredulity in
religion. - Its causes.- It breaks out under the Regency. -
Increasing irritation against the clergy. - Materialism in the
drawing-room. - Estimate of the sciences. - Final opinion on
religion. - Skepticism of the higher clergy.

Let us follow the progress of philosophy in the upper class.
Religion is the first to receive the severest attacks. The small
group of skeptics, which is hardly perceptible under Louis XIV, has
obtained its recruits in the dark; in 1698 the Palatine, the mother of
the Regent, writes that "we scarcely meet a young man now who is not
ambitious of being an atheist."[15] Under the Regency, unbelief comes
out into open daylight. "I doubt," says this lady again, in 1722,
"if; in all Paris, a hundred individuals can be found, either
ecclesiastics or laymen, who have any true faith, or even believe in
our Lord. It makes one tremble. . . ." The position of an
ecclesiastic in society is already difficult. He is looked upon,
apparently, as either a puppet or a dickey (a false shirt front)[16].
"The moment we appear," says one of them, "we are forced into
discussion; we are called upon to prove, for example, the utility of
prayer to an unbeliever in God, and the necessity of fasting to a man
who has all his life denied the immortality of the soul; the effort is
very irksome, while those who laugh are not on our side." It is not
long before the continued scandal of confession tickets and the
stubbornness of the bishops in not allowing ecclesiastical property to
be taxed, excites opinion against the clergy, and, as a matter of
course, against religion itself. "There is danger," says Barbier in
1751, "that this may end seriously; we may some day see a revolution
in this country in favor of Protestantism."[17] "The hatred against
the priests," writes d'Argenson in 1753, "is carried to extremes.
They scarcely show themselves in the streets without being hooted at.
. . .As our nation and our century are quite otherwise enlightened
(than in the time of Luther), it will be carried far enough; they will
expel the priests, abolish the priesthood and get rid of all
revelation and all mystery. . . . One dare not speak in behalf
of the clergy in social circles; one is scoffed at and regarded as a
familiar of the inquisition. The priests remark that, this year,
there is a diminution of more than one-third in the number of
communicants. The College of the Jesuits is being deserted; one
hundred and twenty boarders have been withdrawn from these so greatly
defamed monks. It has been observed also that, during the carnival
in Paris, the number of masks counterfeiting ecclesiastical dress,
bishops, abbés, monks and nuns, was never so great." - So deep is
this antipathy, the most mediocre books become the rage so long as
they are anti-Christian and condemned as such. In 1748 a work by
Toussaint called "Les Moeurs," in favor of natural religion, suddenly
becomes so famous, "that there is no one among a certain class of
people," writes Barbier, "man or woman, pretending to be intellectual,
who is not eager to read it." People accost each other on their
promenades, Have you read "Les Moeurs"? - Ten years later they are
beyond deism. "Materialism," Barbier further said, "is the great
grievance. . . . " "Almost all people of erudition and taste,
writes d'Argenson, "inveigh against our holy religion. . . .
It is attacked on all sides, and what animates unbelievers still more
is the efforts made by the devout to compel belief. They publish
books which are but little read; debates no longer take place,
everything being laughed at, while people persist in materialism."
Horace Walpole, who returns to France in 1765,[18] and whose good
sense anticipates the danger, is astonished at such imprudence: "I
dined to day with a dozen scholars and scientists, and although all
the servants were around us and listening, the conversation was much
more unrestrained, even on the Old Testament, than I would allow at my
own table in England even if a single footman was present." People
dogmatize everywhere. "Joking is as much out of fashion as jumping
jacks and tumblers. Our good folks have no time to laugh! There is
God and the king to be hauled down first; and men and women, one and
all, are devoutly employed in the demolition. They think me quite
profane for having any belief left. . . . Do you know who the
philosophers are, or what the term means here? In the first place it
comprehends almost everybody; and in the next, means men, who, avowing
war against popery, take aim, many of them, at a subversion of all
religion. . . . These savants, - I beg their pardons, these
philosophers - are insupportable, superficial, overbearing and
fanatic: they preach incessantly, and their avowed doctrine is
atheism; you would not believe how openly. Voltaire himself does not
satisfy them. One of their lady devotees said of him, 'He is a
bigot, a deist!' "

This is very strong, and yet we have not come to the end of it;
for, thus far, impiety is less a conviction than the fashion.
Walpole, a careful observer, is not deluded by it. "By what I have
said of their religious or rather irreligious opinions, you must not
conclude their people of quality atheists - at least not the men.
Happily for them, poor souls! they are not capable of going so far
into thinking. They assent to a great deal because it is the
fashion, and because they don't know how to contradict." Now that
"dandies are outmoded" and everybody is "a philosopher," "they are
philosophers." It is essential to be like all the rest of the world.
But that which they best appreciate in the new materialism is the
pungency of paradox and the freedom given to pleasure. They are like
the boys of good families, fond of playing tricks on their
ecclesiastical preceptor. They take out of learned theories just
what is wanted to make a dunce-cap, and derive the more amusement from
the fun if it is seasoned with impiety. A seignior of the court
having seen Doyen's picture of "St. Genevieve and the plague-
stricken," sends to a painter the following day to come to him at his
mistress's domicile: "I would like," he says to him, "to have Madame
painted in a swing put in motion by a bishop; you may place me in such
a way that I may see the ankles of that handsome woman, and even more,
if you want to enliven your picture."[19] The licentious song
"Marotte" "spreads like wildfire; " "a fortnight after its
publication," says Collé, "I met no one without a copy; and it is the
vaudeville, or rather, the clerical assembly, which gives it its
popularity." The more irreligious a licentious book is the more it is
prized; when it cannot be printed it is copied in manuscript. Collé
counts "perhaps two thousand manuscript copies of' La Pucelle 'by
Voltaire, scattered about Paris in one month." The magistrates
themselves burn it only for form's sake. "It must not be supposed
that the hangman is allowed to burn the books whose titles figure in
the decree of the Court. Messieurs would be loath to deprive their
libraries of the copy of those works which fall to them by right, and
make the registrar supply its place with a few poor records of
chicanery of which there is no scanty provision."[20]

But, as the century advances, unbelief, less noisy, becomes more
solid. It invigorates itself at the fountain-head; the women
themselves begin to be infatuated with the sciences. In 1782,[21]
one of Mme. de Genlis's characters writes,

Five years ago I left them thinking only of their attire and the
preparation of their suppers; I now find them all scientific and
witty." We find in the study of a fashionable woman, alongside of a
small altar dedicated to Benevolence or Friendship, a dictionary of
natural history and treatises on physics and chemistry. A woman no
longer has herself painted as a goddess on a cloud but in a
laboratory, seated amidst squares and telescopes[22]. The Marquise
de Nesle, the Comtesse de Brancas, the Comtesse de Pons, the Marquise
de Polignac, are with Rouelle when he undertakes to melt and
volatilize the diamond. Associations of twenty or twenty-five
persons are formed in the drawing-rooms to attend lectures either on
physics, applied chemistry, mineralogy or on botany. Fashionable
women at the public meetings of the Academy of Inscriptions applaud
dissertations on the bull Apis, and reports on the Egyptian,
Phoenician and Greek languages. Finally, in 1786, they succeed in
opening the doors of the College de France. Nothing deters them.
Many of them use the lancet and even the scalpel; the Marquise de
Voyer attends at dissections, and the young Comtesse de Coigny
dissects with her own hands. The current infidelity finds fresh
support on this foundation, which is that of the prevailing
philosophy. Towards the end of the century[23] "we see young persons
who have been in society six or seven years openly pluming themselves
on their irreligion, thinking that impiety makes up for wit, and that
to be an atheist is to be a philosopher." There are, undoubtedly, a
good many deists, especially after Rousseau appeared, but I question
whether, out of a hundred persons, there were in Paris at this time
ten Christian men or women. "The fashionable world for ten years
past," says Mercier[24] in 1783, "has not attended mass. People go
only on Sundays so as not to scandalize their lackeys, while the
lackeys well know that it is on their account." The Duc de Coigny,[25]
on his estate near Amiens, refuses to be prayed for and threatens his
curate if he takes that liberty to have him cast out of his pulpit;
his son becomes ill and he prohibits the administering of the
sacraments; the son dies and he opposes the usual obsequies, burying
the body in his garden; becoming ill himself he closes his door
against the bishop of Amiens, who comes to see him twelve times, and
dies as he had lived. A scandal of this kind is doubtless notorious
and, therefore, rare. Almost everybody, male and female, "ally with
freedom of ideas a proper observance of forms."[26] When a maid
appears and says to her mistress, "Madame la Duchesse, the Host (le
bon Dieu) is outside, will you allow him to enter? He desires to have
the honor of administering to you," appearances are kept up. The
troublesome individual is admitted and he is politely received. If
they slip away from him it is under a decent pretext; but if he is
humored it is only out of a sense of decorum. "At Sura when a man
dies, he holds a cow's tail in his hand." Society was never more
detached from Christianity. In its eyes a positive religion is only
a popular superstition, good enough for children and innocents but not
for "sensible people" and the great. It is your duty to raise your
hat to the Host as it passes, but your duty is only to raise your hat.

The last and gravest sign of all! If the curates who work and who
are of the people hold the people's ideas, the prelates who talk, and
who are of society hold the opinions of society. And I do not allude
merely to the abbés of the drawing-room, the domestic courtiers,
bearers of news, and writers of light verse, those who fawn in
boudoirs, and who, when in company, answer like an echo, and who,
between one drawing room and another, serve as megaphone; an echo, a
megaphone only repeats the phrase, whether skeptical or not, with
which it is charged. I refer to the dignitaries, and, on this point,
the witnesses all concur. In the month of August, 1767, the Abbé
Bassinet, grand vicar of Cahors, on pronouncing the panegyric of St.
Louis in the Louvre chapel,[27] "suppressed the sign of the cross,
making no quotation from Scripture and never uttering a word about
Christ and the Saints. He considered Louis IX merely on the side of
his political, moral and military virtues. He animadverted on the
Crusades, setting forth their absurdity, cruelty and even injustice.
He struck openly and without caution at the see of Rome." Others
"avoid the name of Christ in the pulpit and merely allude to him as a
Christian legislator."[28] In the code which the prevailing opinions
and social decency impose on the clergy a delicate observer[29] thus
specifies distinctions in rank with their proper shades of behavior:
"A plain priest, a curate, must have a little faith, otherwise he
would be found a hypocrite; at the same time, he must not be too well
satisfied, for he would be found intolerant. On the contrary, the
grand vicar may smile at an expression against religion, the bishop
may laugh outright, and the cardinal may add something of his own to
it." "A little while ago," a chronicle narrates, "some one put this
question to one of the most respectable curates in Paris: Do you think
that the bishops who insist so strenuously on religion have much of it
themselves? The worthy pastor replied, after a moment's hesitation:
There may be four or five among them who still believe." To one who is
familiar with their birth, their social relations, their habits and
their tastes, this does not appear at all improbable. "Dom
Collignon, a representative of the abbey of Mettach, seignior high-
justiciary and curate of Valmunster," a fine-looking man, fine talker,
and an agreeable housekeeper, avoids scandal by having his two
mistresses at his table only with a select few; he is in other
respects as little devout as possible, and much less so than the
Savoyard vicar, "finding evil only in injustice and in a lack of
charity," and considering religion merely as a political institution
and for moral ends. I might cite many others, like M. de Grimaldi,
the young and gallant bishop of Le Mans, who selects young and gallant
comrades of his own station for his grand vicars, and who has a
rendezvous for pretty women at his country seat at Coulans[30].
Judge of their faith by their habits. In other cases we have no
difficulty in determining. Scepticism is notorious with the Cardinal
de Rohan, withM. de Brienne, archbishop of Sens, withM. de Talleyrand,
bishop of Autun, and with the Abbé Maury, defender of the clergy.
Rivarol,[31] himself a skeptic, declares that at the approach of the
Revolution, "the enlightenment of the clergy equaled that of the
philosophers." "Who would believe it, but body with the fewest
prejudices," says Mercier,[32] "is the clergy." And the Archbishop of
Narbonne, explaining the resistance of the upper class of the clergy
in I791[33] attributes it, not to faith but to a point of honor. "We
conducted ourselves at that time like true gentlemen, for, with most
of us, it could not be said that it was through religious feeling."


Progress of political opposition. - Its origin. - The
economists and the parliamentarians. - They prepare the way for the
philosophers. - Political fault-finding in the drawing-rooms. -
Female liberalism.

The distance between the altar and the throne is a short one, and
yet it requires thirty years for opinion to overcome it. No
political or social attacks are yet made during the first half of the
century. The irony of the "Lettres Persanes"is as cautious as it is
delicate, and the " Esprit des Lois" is conservative. As to the Abbé
de Saint-Pierre his reveries provoke a smile, and when he undertakes
to censure Louis XIV the Academy strikes him off its list. At last,
the economists on one side and the parliamentarians on the other, give
the signal. - Voltaire says[34] that "about 1750 the nation,
satiated with verse, tragedies, comedies, novels, operas, romantic
histories, and still more romantic moralizings, and with disputes
about grace and convulsions, began to discuss the question of corn."
What makes bread dear? Why is the laborer so miserable? What
constitutes the material and limits of taxation? Ought not all land to
pay taxes, and should one piece pay more than its net product? These
are the questions that find their way into drawing-rooms under the
king's auspices, by means of Quesnay, his physician, "his thinker,"
the founder of a system which aggrandizes the sovereign to relieve the
people, and which multiplies the number of tax-payers to lighten the
burden of taxation. - At the same time, through the opposite door,
other questions enter, not less novel. "Is France[35] a mild and
representative monarchy or a government of the Turkish stamp? Are we
subject to the will of an absolute master, or are we governed by a
limited and regulated power? . . . The exiled parliaments are
studying public rights at their sources and conferring together on
these as in the academies. Through their researches, the opinion is
gaining ground in the public mind that the nation is above the king,
as the universal church is above the pope." - The change is
striking and almost immediate. "Fifty years ago," says d'Argenson,
again, "the public showed no curiosity concerning matters of the
State. Today everybody reads his Gazette de Paris, even in the
provinces. People reason at random on political subjects, but
nevertheless they occupy themselves with them." - Conversation
having once provided itself with this diet holds fast to it, the
drawing-rooms, accordingly, opening their doors to political
philosophy, and, consequently, to the Social Contract, to the
Encyclopedia, to the preachings of Rousseau, Mably, d'Holbach, Raynal,
and Diderot. In 1759, d'Argenson, who becomes excited, already
thinks the last hour has come. "We feel the breath of a
philosophical anti-monarchical, free government wind; the idea is
current, and possibly this form of government, already in some minds,
is to be carried out the first favorable opportunity. Perhaps the
revolution might take place with less opposition than one supposes,
occurring by acclamation.[36]

The time is not yet come, but the seed is coming up. Bachaumont,
in 1762, notices a deluge of pamphlets, tracts and political
discussions, "a rage for arguing on financial and government matters."
In 1765, Walpole states that the atheists, who then monopolize
conversation, inveigh against kings as well as against priests. A
formidable word, that of citizen, imported by Rousseau, has entered
into common speech, and the matter is settled on the women adopting it
as they would a cockade. "As a friend and a citoyenne could any news
be more agreeable to me than that of peace and the health of my dear
little one?"[37] Another word, not less significant, that of energy,
formerly ridiculous, becomes fashionable, and is used on every
occasion[38]. Along with language there is a change of sentiment,
ladies of high rank passing over to the opposition. In 1771, says
the scoffer Bezenval, after the exile of the Parliament "social
meetings for pleasure or other purposes had become petty States-
Generals in which the women, transformed into legislators, established
the premises and confidently propounded maxims of public right." The
Comtesse d'Egmont, a correspondent of the King of Sweden, sends him a
paper on the fundamental law of France, favoring the Parliament, the
last defender of national liberty, against the encroachments of
Chancellor Maupeou. "The Chancellor," she says,[39] "within the last
six months has brought people to know the history of France who would
have died without any knowledge of it. . . . I have no doubt,
sire," she adds, "that you never will abuse the power an enraptured
people have entrusted to you without limitation. . . . May
your reign prove the epoch of the re-establishment of a free and
independent government, but never the source of absolute authority."
Numbers of women of the first rank, Mesdames de la Marck, de
Boufflers, de Brienne, de Mesmes, de Luxembourg, de Croy, think and
write in the same style. "Absolute power," says one of these, "is a
mortal malady which, insensibly corrupting moral qualities, ends in
the destruction of states. . . . The actions of sovereigns are
subject to the censure of their subjects as to that of the universe.
. . . France is undone if the present administration lasts."[40]
- When, under Louis XVI, a new administration proposes and withdraws
feeble measures of reform. their criticism shows the same firmness:
"Childishness, weakness, constant inconsistency," writes another,[41]
"incessant change; and always worse off than we were before.
Monsieur and M. le Comte d'Artois have just made a journey through the
provinces, but only as people of that kind travel, with a frightful
expenditure and devastation along the whole road, coming back
extraordinarily fat; Monsieur is as big as a hogshead; as to M. le
Comte d'Artois he is bringing about order by the life he leads." -
An inspiration of humanity animates these feminine breasts along with
that of liberty. They interest themselves in the poor, in children,
in the people; Madame d'Egmont recommends Gustavus III to plant
Dalecarlia with potatoes. On the appearance of the engraving
published for the benefit of Calas[42] "all France and even all
Europe, hastens to subscribe for it, the Empress of Russia giving
5,000 livres[43]. "Agriculture, economy, reform, philosophy," writes
Walpole, "are bon ton, even at the court." - President Dupaty
having drawn up a memorandum in behalf of three innocent persons,
sentenced "to be broken on the wheel, everybody in society is talking
about it;" "idle conversation no longer prevails in society," says a
correspondent of Gustavus III[44] "since it is that which forms public
opinion. Words have become actions. Every sensitive heart praises
with joy a publication inspired by humanity and which appears full of
talent because it is full of feeling." When Latude is released from
the prison of Bicêtre Mme. de Luxembourg, Mme. de Boufflers, and
Mme. de Staël dine with the grocer-woman who "for three years and a
half moved heaven and earth " to set the prisoner free. It is owing
to the women, to their sensibility and zeal, to a conspiracy of their
sympathies, that M. de Lally succeeds in the rehabilitation of his
father. When they take a fancy to a person they become infatuated
with him; Madame de Lauzun, very timid, goes so far as to publicly
insult a man who speaks ill of M. Necker. - It must be borne in
mind that, in this century, the women were queens, setting the
fashion, giving the tone, leading in conversation and naturally
shaping ideas and opinions[45]. When they take the lead on the
political field we may be sure that the men will follow them: each one
carries her drawing room circle with her.


Infinite, vague aspirations. - Generosity of sentiments and of
conduct. - The mildness and good intentions of the government. -
Its blindness and optimism.

An aristocracy imbued with humanitarian and radical maxims,
courtiers hostile to the court, privileged persons aiding in
undermining privileges, presents to us a strange spectacle in the
testimony of the time. A contemporary states that it is an accepted
principle "to change and upset everything."[46] High and low, in
assemblages, in public places, only reformers and opposing parties are
encountered among the privileged classes.

"In 1787, almost every prominent man of the peerage in the
Parliament declared himself in favor of resistance. . . . I
have seen at the dinners we then attended almost every idea put
forward, which, soon afterwards, produced such startling effects."[47]
Already in 1774, M. de Vaublanc, on his way to Metz, finds a diligence
containing an ecclesiastic and a count, a colonel in the hussars,
talking political economy constantly[48]. "It was the fashion of the
day. Everybody was an economist. People conversed together only
about philosophy, political economy and especially humanity, and the
means for relieving the people, (le bon peuple), which two words were
in everybody's mouth." To this must be added equality; Thomas, in a
eulogy of Marshal Saxe says, "I cannot conceal it, he was of royal
blood," and this phrase was admired. A few of the heads of old
parliamentary or seigniorial families maintain the old patrician and
monarchical standard, the new generation succumbing to novelty. "For
ourselves," says one of them belonging to the youthful class of the
nobility,[49] "with no regret for the past or anxiety for the future,
we marched gaily along over a carpet of flowers concealing an abyss.
Mocking censors of antiquated ways, of the feudal pride of our fathers
and of their sober etiquette, everything antique seemed to us annoying
and ridiculous. The gravity of old doctrines oppressed us. The
cheerful philosophy of Voltaire amused and took possession of us.
Without fathoming that of graver writers we admired it for its stamp
of fearlessness and resistance to arbitrary power. . . .
Liberty, what-ever its language, delighted us with its spirit, and
equality on account of its convenience. It is a pleasant thing to
descend so long as one thinks one can ascend when one pleases; we were
at once enjoying, without forethought, the advantages of the
patriciate and the sweets of a commoner philosophy. Thus, although
our privileges were at stake, and the remnants of our former supremacy
were undermined under our feet, this little warfare gratified us.
Inexperienced in the attack, we simply admired the spectacle.
Combats with the pen and with words did not appear to us capable of
damaging our existing superiority, which several centuries of
possession had made us regard as impregnable. The forms of the
edifice remaining intact, we could not see how it could be mined from
within. We laughed at the serious alarm of the old court and of the
clergy which thundered against the spirit of innovation. We
applauded republican scenes in the theater,[50] philosophic discourses
in our Academies, the bold publications of the literary class."- If
inequality still subsists in the distribution of offices and of
places, "equality begins to reign in society. On many occasions
literary titles obtain precedence over titles of nobility. Courtiers
and servants of the passing fashion, paid their court to Marmontel,
d'Alembert and Raynal. We frequently saw in company literary men of
the second and third rank greeted and receiving attentions not
extended to the nobles of the provinces. . . . Institutions
remained monarchical, but manners and customs became republican. A
word of praise from d'Alembert or Diderot was more esteemed than the
most marked favor from a prince. . . It was impossible to pass
an evening with d'Alembert, or at the Hôtel de Larochefoucauld among
the friends of Turgot, to attend a breakfast at the Abbé Raynal's, to
be admitted into the society and family of M. de Malesherbes, and
lastly, to approach a most amiable queen and a most upright king,
without believing ourselves about to enter upon a kind of golden era
of which preceding centuries afforded no idea. . . . We were
bewildered by the prismatic hues of fresh ideas and doctrines, radiant
with hopes, ardently aglow for every sort of reputation, enthusiastic
for all talents and beguiled by every seductive dream of a philosophy
that was about to secure the happiness of the human species. Far
from foreseeing misfortune, excess, crime, the overthrow of thrones
and of principles, the future disclosed to us only the benefits which
humanity was to derive from the sovereignty of Reason. Freedom of
the press and circulation was given to every reformative writing, to
every project of innovation, to the most liberal ideas and to the
boldest of systems. Everybody thought himself on the road to
perfection without being under any embarrassment or fearing any kind
of obstacle. We were proud of being Frenchmen and, yet again,
Frenchmen of the eighteenth century. . . . Never was a more
terrible awakening preceded by a sweeter slumber or by more seductive

They do not content themselves with dreams, with pure desires, with
passive aspirations. They are active, and truly generous; a worthy
cause suffices to secure their devotion. On the news of the American
rebellion, the Marquis de Lafayette, leaving his young wife pregnant,
escapes, braves the orders of the court, purchases a frigate, crosses
the ocean and fights by the side of Washington. "The moment the
quarrel was made known to me," he says, "my heart was enlisted in it,
and my only thought was to rejoin my regiment." Numbers of gentlemen
follow in his footsteps. They undoubtedly love danger; "the chance
of being shot is too precious to be neglected."[51] But the main
thing is to emancipate the oppressed; "we showed ourselves
philosophers by becoming paladins,"[52] the chivalric sentiment
enlisting in the service of liberty. Other services besides these,
more sedentary and less brilliant, find no fewer zealots. The chief
personages of the provinces in the provincial assemblies,[53] the
bishops, archbishops, abbés, dukes, counts, and marquises, with the
wealthiest and best informed of the notables in the Third-Estate, in
all about a thousand persons, in short the social elect, the entire
upper class convoked by the king, organize the budget, defend the tax-
payer against the fiscal authorities, arrange the land-registry,
equalize the taille, provide a substitute for the corvée, provide
public roads, multiply charitable asylums, educate agriculturists,
proposing, encouraging and directing every species of reformatory
movement. I have read through the twenty volumes of their procès-
verbaux: no better citizens, no more conscientious men, no more
devoted administrators can be found, none gratuitously taking so much
trouble on themselves with no object but the public welfare. Never
was an aristocracy so deserving of power at the moment of losing it;
the privileged class, aroused from their indolence, were again
becoming public men, and, restored to their functions, were returning
to their duties. In 1778, in the first assembly of Berry, the Abbé
de Seguiran, the reporter, has the courage to state that "the
distribution of the taxes should be a fraternal partition of public
obligations."[54] In 1780 the abbés, priors and chapters of the same
province contribute 60,000 livres of their funds, and a few gentlemen,
in less than twenty-four hours, contribute 17,000 livres. In 1787,
in the assembly of Alençon the nobility and the clergy tax themselves
30,000 livres to relieve the indigent in each parish subject to
taxation[55]. in the month of April, 1787, the king, in an assembly
of the notables, speaks of "the eagerness with which archbishops and
bishops come forward claiming no exemption in their contributions to
the public revenue." In the month of March, 1789, on the opening of
the bailiwick assemblies, the entire clergy, nearly all the nobility,
in short, the whole body of the privileged class voluntarily renounce
their privileges in relation to taxation. The sacrifice is voted
unanimously; they themselves offer it to the Third-Estate, and it is
worth while to see their generous and sympathetic tone in the
manuscript procès-verbaux.

"The nobility of the bailiwick of Tours," says the Marquis de
Lusignan,[56] "considering that they are men and citizens before being
nobles, can make amends in no way more in conformity with the spirit
of justice and patriotism that animates the body, for the long silence
to which it has been condemned by the abuse of ministerial power, than
in declaring to their fellow-citizens that, in future, they will claim
none of the pecuniary advantages secured to them by custom, and that
they unanimously and solemnly bind themselves to bear equally, each in
proportion to his fortune, all taxes and general contributions which
the nation shall prescribe."

"I repeat," says the Comte de Buzançois at the meeting of the
Third-Estate of Berry, "that we are all brothers, and that we are
anxious to share your burdens. . . . We desire to have but one
single voice go up to the assembly and thus manifest the union and
harmony which should prevail there. I am directed to make the
proposal to you to unite with you in one memorandum. "

"These qualities are essential in a deputy," says the Marquis de
Barbancon speaking for the nobles of Chateauroux, "integrity, firmness
and knowledge; the first two are equally found among the deputies of
the three orders; but knowledge will be more generally found in the
Third-Estate, which is more accustomed to public affairs."

"A new order of things is unfolding before us," says the Abbé
Legrand in the name of the clergy of Chateauroux; "the veil of
prejudice is being torn away and giving place to Reason. She is
possessing herself of all French hearts, attacking at the root
whatever is based on former opinion and deriving her power only from

Not only do the privileged classes make advances but it is no
effort to them; they use the same language as the people of the Third-
Estate; they are disciples of the same philosophers and seem to start
from the same principles. The nobility of Clermont in Beauvoisis[57]
orders its deputies "to demand, first of all, an explicit declaration
of the rights belonging to all men." The nobles of Mantes and Meulan
affirm "that political principles are as absolute as moral principles,
since both have reason for a common basis." The nobles of Rheims
demand "that the king be entreated to order the demolition of the
Bastille." Frequently, after such expressions and with such a yielding
disposition, the delegates of the nobles and clergy are greeted in the
assemblies of the 'Third-Estate with the clapping of hands, "tears"
and enthusiasm. On witnessing such effusions how can one avoid
believing in concord? And how can one foresee strife at the first turn
of the road on which they have just fraternally entered hand in hand?

Wisdom of this melancholy stamp is not theirs. They set out with
the principle that man, and especially the man of the people, is good;
why conjecture that he may desire evil for those who wish him well?
They are conscientious in their benevolence and sympathy for him.
Not only do they utter these sentiments but they give them proof.
"At this moment," says a contemporary,[58] "the most active pity
animates all breasts; the great dread of the opulent is to appear
insensible." The archbishop of Paris, subsequently followed and
stoned, is the donator of 100,000 crowns to the hospital of the Hôtel-
Dieu. The intendant Berthier, who is to be massacred, draws up the
new assessment-roll of the Ile-de-France, equalizing the taille, which
act allows him to abate the rate, at first, an eighth, and next, a
quarter[59]. The financier Beaujon constructs a hospital. Necker
refuses the salary of his place and lends the treasury two millions to
re-establish public credit. The Duc de Charost, from 1770[60] down,
abolishes seigniorial corvées on his domain and founds a hospital in
his seigniory of Meillant. The Prince de Beaufremont, the presidents
de Vezet, de Chamolles, de Chaillot, with many seigniors beside in
Franche-Comté, follow the example of the king in emancipating their
serfs[61]. The bishop of Saint-Claude demands, in spite of his
chapter, the enfranchisement of his mainmorts. The Marquis de
Mirabeau establishes on his domain in Limousin a gratuitous bureau for
the settlement of lawsuits, while daily, at Fleury, he causes nine
hundred pounds of cheap bread to be made for the use of "the poor
people, who fight to see who shall have it."[62] M. de Barral, bishop
of Castres, directs his curates to preach and to diffuse the
cultivation of potatoes. The Marquis de Guerchy himself mounts on
the top of a pile of hay with Arthur Young to learn how to construct a
hay-stack. The Marquis de Lasteyrie imports lithography into France.
A number of grand seigniors and prelates figure in the agricultural
societies, compose or translate useful books, familiarize themselves
with the applications of science, study political economy, inform
themselves about industries, and interest themselves, either as
amateurs or promoters, in every public amelioration. " Never," says
Lacretelle again, "were the French so combined together to combat the
evils to which nature makes us pay tribute, and those which in a
thousand ways creep into all social institutions." Can it be admitted
that so many good intentions thus operating together are to end in
destruction? - All take courage, government as well as the higher
class, in the thought of the good accomplished, or which they desire
to accomplish. The king remembers that he has restored civil rights
to the Protestants, abolished preliminary torture, suppressed the
corvée in kind, established the free circulation of grains, instituted
provincial assemblies, built up the marine, assisted the Americans,
emancipated his own serfs, diminished the expenses of his household,
employed Malesherbes, Turgot and Necker, given full play to the press,
and listened to public opinion[63]. No government displayed greater
mildness; on the 14th of July, 1789, only seven prisoners were
confined in the Bastille, of whom one was an idiot, another kept there
by his family, and four under the charge of counterfeiting[64]. No
sovereign was more humane, more charitable, more preoccupied with the
unfortunate. In 1784, the year of inundations and epidemics, he
renders assistance to the amount of three millions. Appeals are made
to him direct, even for personal accidents. On the 8th of June,
1785, he sends two hundred livres to the wife of a Breton laboring-man
who, already having two children, brings three at once into the
world[65]. During a severe winter he allows the poor daily to invade
his kitchen. It is quite probable that, next to Turgot, he is the
man of his day who loved the people most. -- His delegates under
him conform to his views; I have read countless letters by intendants
who try to appear as little Turgots. "One builds a hospital, another
admits artisans at his table;"[66] a certain individual undertakes the
draining of a marsh. M. de la Tour, in Provence, is so beneficent
during a period of forty years that the Tiers-Etat vote him a gold
medal in spite of himself[67]. A governor delivers a course of
lectures on economical bread-making. - What possible danger is
there for shepherds of this kind amidst their flocks? On the king
convoking the States-General nobody had "any suspicion," nor fear of
the future. "A new State constitution is spoken of as an easy
performance, and as a matter of course."[68] - "The best and most
virtuous men see in this the beginning of a new era of happiness for
France and for the whole civilized world. The ambitious rejoice in
the broad field open to their desires. But it would have been
impossible to find the most morose, the most timid, the most
enthusiastic of men anticipating any one of the extraordinary events
towards which the assembled states were drifting."



[1] Macaulay.

[2] Stendhal, "Rome, Naples et Florence," 371.

[3] Morellet, "Mémoires," I. 139 (on the writings and
conversations of Diderot, d,Holbach and the atheists). "At that
time, in this philosophy, all seemed innocent enough, it being
confined to the limits of speculation, and never seeking, even in its
boldest flights, anything beyond a calm intellectual exercise.

[4] "L'Homme aux quarante écus." Cf. Voltaire, "Mémoires," the
suppers given by Frederick II. "Never in any place in the world was
there greater freedom of conversation concerning the superstitions of

[5] Morellet, Mémoires," I. 133.

[6] Galiani, "Correspondance, passim.

[7] Bachaumont, III. 93 (1766), II. 202 (1765).

[8] Geffroy, "Gustave III.," I. 114.

[9] Villemain, "Tableau de la Litterature au dix-huitième siècle,"
IV. 409.

[10] Grimm, "corresp. littéraire," IV. 176. De Ségur,
"Mémoires," I. 113.

[11] "Princesse de Babylone." - Cf. "le Mondain."

[12] Here we may have an important motive for the socialist attitudes
towards sexual morality as it was during the activie nineteen
seventies until the unexpected appearance of AIDS put an abrupt end to
the proceedings. (SR.)

[13] Mme. d'Epinay, ed. Boiteau, I. 216: at a supper given by
Mlle. Quinault, the comedian, at which are present Saint-Lambert,
the Prince de . . . . , Duclos and Mme. d'Epinay.

[14] For example, the father of Marmant, a military gentleman, who,
having won the cross of St. Louis at twenty-eight, abandons the
service because he finds that promotion is only for people of the
court. In retirement on his estates he is a liberal, teaching his
son to read the reports made by Necker. (Marshal Marmont,
"Mémoires," I. 9).

[15] Aubertin, "L'Esprit public," in the 18th century, p. 7.

[16] Montesquieu, "Lettres Persanes," (Letter 61). - Cf.
Voltaire, ("Dîner du Comte de Boulainvilliers").

[17] Aubertin, pp. 281, 282, 285, 289.

[18] Horace Walpole, "Letters and Correspondence," Sept. 27th,
1765, October 18th, 28th, and November 19th, 1766.

[19] "Journal et Mémoires de Collé," published by H. Bonhomme,
II. 24 (October, 1755), and III.165 (October 1767).

[20] "Corresp. littéraire," by Grimm (September, October, 1770).

[21] Mme. De Genlis, "Adèle et Théodore," I, 312.

[22] De Goncourt, "La femme au dix-huitième siècle," 371-373. -
Bachaumont, I. 224 (April 13, 1763).

[23] Mme. de Genlis, "Adèle et Théodore," II. 326.

[24] "Tableau de Paris," III.44.

[25] Métra. "Correspondance secrète," XVII. 387 (March 7,

[26] De Goncourt, ibid. 456. - Vicomtesse de Noailles, "Vie de
la Princesse de Poix," formerly de Beauvau.

[27] The Abbé de Latteignaut, canon of Rheims, the author of some
light poetry and convivial songs, "has just composed for Nicolet's
theater a parade in which the intrigue is supported by a good many
broad jests, very much in the fashion at this time. The courtiers
who give the tone to this theater think the canon of Rheims superb."
(Bachaumont, IV. 174, November, 1768).

[28] Bachaumont, III. 253. - Châteaubriand, "Mémoires," I.

[29] Champfort, 279.

[30] Merlin de Thionville, "Vie et correspondance," by Jean
Raynaud. ("La Chartreuse du Val Saint-Pierre." Read the entire
passage). - "Souvenirs Manuscrits," by M - ..

[31] Rivarol, "Mémoires," I. 344.

[32] Mercier, IV. 142. "In Auvergne, says M. de Montlosier, I
formed for myself a society of priests, men of wit, some of whom were
deists and others open atheists, with whom I carried on a contest with
my brother." ("Mémoires," I.37).

[33] Lafayette. "Mémoires," III. 58.

[34] "Dict. Phil." article "Wheat." - The most important work of
Quesnay is of the year 1758, "Tableau économique."

[35] D'Argenson, "Mémoires," IV. 141; VI. 320, 465; VII. 23;
VIII. 153, (1752, 1753, 1754). - Rousseau's discourse on
Inequality belongs also to 1753. On this steady march of opinion
consult the excellent work of d'Aubertin, "L'Esprit public au dix-
huitième siècle."

[36] This seems to be prophetic of the night of August 4, 1789.

[37] "Corresp. de Laurette de Malboissière," published by the
Marquise de la Grange. (Sept. 4, 1762, November 8, 1762).

[38] Madame du Deffant in a letter to Madame de Choiseul, (quoted
by Geffroy), "Gustave et la cour de France," I. 279.

[39] Geffroy, ibid. I. 232, 241, 245.

[40] Geffroy, ibid. I.267, 281. See letters by Madame de
Boufflers (October, 1772, July 1774).

[41] Ibid.. I. 285. The letters of Mme. de la March (1776,
1777, 1779).

[42] A victim of religious rancor against the protestants, whose
cause, taken op by Voltaire, excited great indignation.- TR.

[43] Bachaumont, III. 14 (March 28, 1766. Walpole, Oct. 6,

[44] Geffloy, ibid. (A letter by Mme Staël, 5776).

[45] Collé, "Journal," III. 437 (1770) : "Women have got the
upper hand with the French to such an extent, they have so subjugated
them, that they neither feel nor think except as they do."

[46] "Correspondance," by Métra, III. 200; IV. 131.

[47] "Mémoires du Chancelier Pasquier, _Ed. Plon Paris 1893, Vol.
I. page26.

[48] De Vaublanc, "Souvenirs," I. 117, 377.

[49] De Ségur, "Mémoires," I. 17.

[50] Ibid. I. 151. "I saw the entire Court at the theater in
the château at Versailles enthusiastically applaud Voltaire's tragedy
of 'Brutus,' and especially these lines:

Je suis fils de Brutus, et je porte en mon coeur
La liberté gravée et les rois en horreur."

[51] De Lauzun, 80 (in relation to his expedition into Corsica).

[52] De Ségur, I. 87.

[53] The assemblies of Berry and Haute-Guyenne began in 1778 and
1779; those of other generalships in 1787. All functioned until
1789. (Cf. Léonce de Lavergne, "Les Assemblées provinciales").

[54] Léonce de Lavergne, ibid. 26, 55, 183. The tax department
of the provincial assembly of Tours likewise makes its demands on the
privileged class in the matter of taxation.

[55] Procés-verbaux of the prov. ass. of Normandy, the
generalship of Alençon, 252. - Cf. Archives nationales, II,
1149: in 1778 in the generalship of Moulins, thirty-nine persons,
mostly nobles, supply from their own funds 18,950 livres to the 60,000
livres allowed by the king for roads and asylums.

[56] Archives nationales, procès-verbaux and registers of the
States-General, vol. XLIX. p.712, 714 (the nobles and clergy of
Dijon); vol. XVI. p. 183 (the nobles of Auxerre) vol. XXIX.
pp.352, 455, 458 (the clergy and nobles of Berry); vol. CL. p.266
(the clergy and nobles of Tours); vol. XXIX; the clergy and nobles
of Chateauroux, (January 29, 1789); pp. 572, 582. vol. XIII.
765 (the nobles of Autun). - See as a summary of the whole, the
"Résumé des Cahiers" by Prud'homme, 3 vols.

[57] Prud'homme, ibid.. II. 39, 51, 59. De Lavergne, 384.
In 1788, two hundred gentlemen of the first families of Dauphiny sign,
conjointly with the clergy and the Third-Estate of the province, an
address to the king in which occurs the following passage: "Neither
time nor obligation legitimizes despotism; the rights of men derive
from nature alone and are independent of their engagements."

[58] Lacretelle, "Hist. de France au dix-huitième siècle," V.2.

[59] Procès-verbeaux of the prov. ass. of the Ile-de-France
(1787), p.127.

[60] De Lavergne, ibid.. 52, 369.

[61] "Le cri de la raison," by Clerget, curé d'Onans (1789), p.258.

[62] Lucas de Montigny, "Mémoires de Mirabeau," I. 290, 368. -
Théron de Montaugé, "L'agriculture et les classes rurales dans le pays
Toulousain," p. 14.

[63] "Foreigners generally could scarcely form an idea of the power
of public opinion at this time in France; they can with difficulty
comprehend the nature of that invisible power which commands even in
the king's palace." (Necker, 1784, quoted by De Tocqueville).

[64] Granier de Cassagnac, II. 236. - M. de Malesherbes,
according to custom, inspected the different state prisons, at the
beginning of the reign of Louis XVI. "He told me himself that he had
only released two." (Senac de Meilhan, "Du gouvemement, des moeurs, et
des conditions en France.").

[65] Archives nationales, II. 1418, 1149, F. 14, 2073.
(Assistance rendered to various suffering provinces and places.)

[66] Aubertin, p.484 (according to Bachaumont).

[67] De Lavergne, 472.

[68] Mathieu Dumas, "Mémoires," I.426. - Sir Samuel Romilly,
"Mémoires," I. 99.-- "Confidence increased even to extravagance,"
(Mme. de Genlis). - On the 29th June, 1789, Necker said at the
council of the king at Marly, "What is more frivolous than the fears
now entertained concerning the organization of the assembly of the
States-General? No law can be passed without obtaining the king's
assent" (De Barentin, "Mémoires," p. 187). - Address of the
National Assembly to its constituents, October 2, 1789. "A great
revolution of which the idea should have appeared chimerical a few
months since has been effected amongst us."



The former spirit of the Third-Estate. - Public matters concern
the king only. - Limits of the Jansenist and parliamentarian

The new philosophy, confined to a select circle, had long served
as a mere luxury for refined society. Merchants, manufacturers,
shopkeepers, lawyers, attorneys, physicians, actors, professors,
curates, every description of functionary, employee and clerk, the
entire middle class, had been absorbed with its own cares. The
horizon of each was limited, being that of the profession or
occupation which each exercised, that of the corporation in which each
one was comprised, of the town in which each one was born, and, at the
utmost, that of the province which each one inhabited[1]. A dearth of
ideas coupled with conscious diffidence restrained the bourgeois
within his hereditary barriers. His eyes seldom chanced to wander
outside of them into the forbidden and dangerous territory of state
affairs; hardly was a furtive and rare glance bestowed on any of the
public acts, on the matters which "belonged to the king." There was no
critical irritability then, except with the bar, the compulsory
satellite of the Parliament, and borne along in its orbit. In 1718,
after a session of the royal court (lit de justice), the lawyers of
Paris being on a strike the Regent exclaims angrily and with
astonishment, "What! those fellows meddling too!"[2] It must be
stated furthermore that many kept themselves in the background. "My
father and myself," afterwards writes the advocate Barbier, "took no
part in the uproars, among those caustic and turbulent spirits." and
he adds this significant article of faith: "I believe that one has to
fulfill his duties honorably, without concerning oneself with state
affairs, in which one has no mission and exercises no power." During
the first half of the eighteenth century I am able to discover but one
center of opposition in the Third-Estate , the Parliament; and around
it, feeding the flame, the ancient Gallican or Jansenist spirit. "The
good city of Paris," writes Barbier in 1733, "is Jansenist from top to
bottom," and not alone the magistrates, the lawyers, the professors,
the best among the bourgeoisie, "but again the mass of the Parisians,
men, women and children, all upholding that doctrine, without
comprehending it, or understanding any of its distinctions and
interpretations, out of hatred to Rome and the Jesuits. Women, the
silliest, and even chambermaids, would be hacked to pieces for it. .
. " This party is increased by the honest folks of the kingdom who
detest persecutions and injustice. Accordingly, when the various
chambers of magistrates, in conjunction with the lawyers, tender their
resignations and file out of the palace "amidst a countless multitude,

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