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

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the crowd exclaims: Behold the true Romans, the fathers of the
country! and as the two counselors Pucelle and Menguy pass along they
fling them crowns." The quarrel between the Parliament and the Court,
constantly revived, is one of the sparks which provokes the grand
final explosion, while the Jansenist embers, smoldering in the ashes,
are to be of use in 1791 when the ecclesiastical edifice comes to be
attacked. But, within this old chimney-corner only warm embers are
now found, firebrands covered up, sometimes scattering sparks and
flames, but in themselves and by themselves, not incendiary; the flame
is kept within bounds by its nature, and its supplies limit its heat.
The Jansenist is too good a Christian not to respect powers
inaugurated from above. The parliamentarian, conservative through his
profession, would be horrified at overthrowing the established order
of things. Both combat for tradition and against innovation; hence,
after having defended the past against arbitrary power they are to
defend it against revolutionary violence, and to fall, the one into
impotency and the other into oblivion.


Change in the condition of the bourgeois. - He becomes wealthy.
- He makes loans to the State. - The danger of his creditorship. -
He interests himself in public matters.

The uprising is, however, late to catch on among the middle
class, and, before it can take hold, the resistant material must
gradually be made inflammable. -- In the eighteenth century a
great change takes place in the condition of the Third-Estate . The
bourgeois has worked, manufactured, traded, earned and saved money,
and has daily become richer and richer.[3] This great expansion of
enterprises, of trade, of speculation and of fortunes dates from
Law;[4] arrested by war it reappears with more vigor and more
animation at each interval of peace after the treaty of Aix-la-
Chapelle in 1748, and that of Paris in 1763, and especially after the
beginning of the reign of Louis XVI. The exports of France which
amounted to

106 millions in 1720

124 millions in 1735

192 millions in 1748

257 millions in 1755

309 millions in 1776

354 millions in 1788.

In 1786 Saint Domingo alone ships back to France for 131
millions of its products, and in return receives 44 millions in
merchandise. As a result of these exchanges we see, at Nantes, and at
Bordeaux, the creation of colossal commercial houses. "I consider
Bordeaux, says Arthur Young, as richer and doing more business than
any city in England except London; . . . of late years the progress
of maritime commerce has been more rapid in France than even in
England."[5] According to an administrator of the day, if the taxes on
the consumption of products daily increase the revenue, this is
because the industry since 1774 has developed a number of new
products[6]. And this progress is regular and constant. "We may
calculate," says Necker in 1781, "on an increase of two millions a
year on all the duties on consumption." -- In this great exertion
of innovation, labor and engineering, Paris, constantly growing, is
the central workshop. It enjoys, to a much greater extent than today,
the monopoly of all works of intelligence and taste, books, pictures,
engravings, statues, jewelry, toilet details, carriages, furniture,
articles of fashion and rarity, whatever affords pleasure and
ornamentation for an elegant worldly society; all Europe is supplied
by it. In 1774 its trade in books is estimated at 45 millions, and
that of London at only one-quarter of that sum[7]. Upon the profits
many immense and even more numerous moderate fortunes were built up,
and these now became available for investment. -- In fact, we see
the noblest hands stretching out to receive them, princes of the
blood, provincial assemblies, assemblies of the clergy, and, at the
head of all, the king, who, the most needy, borrows at ten percent and
is always in search of additional lenders. Already under Fleury, the
debt has augmented to 18 millions in interests, and during the Seven
years' War, to 34 millions. Under Louis XVI., M. Necker borrows a
capital of 530 millions; M. Joly de Fleury, 300 millions; M. de
Calonne, 800 millions; in all 1630 millions over a period of ten
years. The interest of the public debt, only 45 millions in 1755,
reaches 106 millions in 1776 and amounts to 206 millions in 1789[8].
What creditors which these few figures tell us about ! As the Third-
Estate , it must be noted, is the sole class making and saving money,
nearly all these creditors belong it. Thousands of others must be
added to these. In the first place, the financiers who make advances
to the government, advances that are indispensable, because, from time
immemorial, it has eaten its corn on the blade, so the present year is
always gnawing into the product of coming years; there are 80 millions
of advances in 1759, and 170 millions in 1783. In the second place
there are so many suppliers, large and small, who, on all parts of the
territory, keep accounts with the government for their supplies and
for public works, a veritable army and increasing daily, since the
government, impelled by centralization, takes sole responsibility for
all ventures, and, requested by public opinion, it increases the
number of undertakings useful to the public. Under Louis XV. the
State builds six thousand leagues of roads, and under Louis XVI. in
1788, to guard against famine, it purchases grain to the amount of
forty millions.

Through this increase of activity and its demands for capital
the State becomes the universal debtor; henceforth public affairs are
no longer exclusively the king's business. His creditors become
uneasy at his expenditures; for it is their money he wastes, and, if
he proves a bad administrator, they will be ruined. They want to know
something of his budget, to examine his books: a lender always has the
right to look after his securities. We accordingly see the bourgeois
raising his head and beginning to pay close attention to the great
machine whose performances, hitherto concealed from vulgar eyes, have,
up to the present time, been kept a state secret. He becomes a
politician, and, at the same time, discontented. For it cannot be
denied that these matters, in which he is interested, are badly
conducted. Any young man of good family managing affairs in the same
way would be checked. The expenses of the administration of the State
are always in excess of the revenue[9]. According to official
admissions[10] the annual deficit amounted to 70 in 1770, and 80
millions in 1783; when one has attempted to reduce this it has been
through bankruptcies; one to the tune of two milliards at the end of
the reign of Louis XIV, and another almost equal to it in the time of
Law, and another on from a third to a half of all the interests in the
time of Terray, without mentioning suppressions in detail, reductions,
indefinite delays in payment, and other violent and fraudulent means
which a powerful debtor employs with impunity against a feeble
creditor. "Fifty-six violations of public faith have occurred from
Henry IV down to the ministry of M. de Loménie inclusive,"[11] while a
last bankruptcy, more frightful than the others, loom up on the
horizon. Several persons, Bezenval and Linguet for instance,
earnestly recommend it as a necessary and salutary amputation. Not
only are there precedents for this, and in this respect the government
will do no more than follow its own example, but such is its daily
practice, since it lives only from day to day, by dint of expedients
and delays, digging one hole to stop up another, and escaping failure
only through the forced patience which it imposes on its creditors.
With it, says a contemporary, people were never sure of anything,
being always obliged to wait[12]. "Were their capital invested in its
loans, they could never rely on a fixed date for the payment of
interest. Did they build ships, repair highways, or the soldiers
clothed, they had no guarantees for their advances, no certificates of
repayment, being reduced to calculate the chances involved in a
ministerial contract as they would the risks of a bold speculation."
It pays if it can and only when it can, even the members of the
household, the purveyors of the table and the personal attendants of
the king. In 1753 the domestics of Louis XV had received nothing for
three years. We have seen how his grooms went out to beg during the
night in the streets of Versailles; how his purveyors "hid
themselves;" how , under Louis XVI in 1778, there were 792,620 francs
due to the wine-merchant, and 3,467,980 francs to the purveyor of fish
and meat[13]. In 1788, so great is the distress, the Minister de
Loménie appropriates and expends the funds of a private subscription
raised for a hospital, and, at the time of his resignation, the
treasury is empty, save 450,000 francs, half of which he puts in his
pocket. What an administration! -- In the presence of this debtor,
evidently becoming insolvent, all people, far and near, interested in
his business, consult together with alarm, and debtors are
innumerable, consisting of bankers, merchants, manufacturers,
employees, lenders of every kind and degree, and, in the front rank,
the capitalists, who have put all their means for life into his hands,
and who are to beg should he not pay them annually the 44 millions he
owes them; the industrialists and traders who have entrusted their
commercial integrity to him and who would shrink with horror from
failure as its issue; and after these come their creditors, their
clerks, their relations, in short, the largest portion of the laboring
and peaceable class which, thus far, had obeyed without a murmur and
never dreamed of bringing the established order of things under its
control. Henceforth this class will exercise control attentively,
distrustfully and angrily. Woe to those who are at fault, for they
well know that the ruin of the State is their ruin.


He rises on the social ladder. - The noble draws near to him.
- He becomes cultivated. - He enters into society. - He regards
himself as the equal of the noble. - Privileges an annoyance.

Meanwhile this class has climbed up the social ladder, and,
through its élite, rejoined those in the highest position. Formerly
between Dorante and M. Jourdain, between Don Juan and M. Dimanche,[14]
between M. Sotenville himself and Georges Dandin, the distance was
vast; everything was different - dress, house, habits, characters,
points of honor, ideas and language. On the one hand the nobles are
drawn nearer to the Third-Estate and, on the other, the Third-Estate
is drawn nearer to the nobles, actual equality having preceded
equality as a right. -- On the approach of the year 1789 it was
difficult to distinguish one from the other in the street. The sword
is no longer worn by gentlemen in the city; they have abandoned
embroideries and laces, and walk about in plain frock-coats, or drive
themselves in their cabriolets[15]. "The simplicity of English
customs," and the customs of the Third-Estate seem to them better
adapted to ordinary life. Their prominence proves irksome to them and
they grow weary of being always on parade. Henceforth they accept
familiarity that they may enjoy freedom of action, and are content "to
mingle with their fellow-citizens without obstacle or ostentation. -
- "It is certainly a grave sign, and the old feudal spirits have
reason to tremble. The Marquis de Mirabeau, on learning that his son
wishes to act as his own lawyer, consoles himself by seeing others, of
still higher rank, do much worse[16].

"As it was difficult to accept the idea that the grandson of my
father, whom we just had seen pass by on the promenade, everybody,
young and old, raising their hats to him from afar, would soon be seen
at the bar of a lower tribunal, there to contest minor legal matters
with pettifoggers; but I said to myself, however, that Louis XIV would
be still more astonished had he seen the wife of his grand-successor
dressed in a peasant's frock and apron, with no attendants, not a page
or any one else, running about the palace and the terraces, requesting
the first scamp in a frock-coat she encountered to give her his hand,
which he simply does, all the way down to the foot of the steps."

But the leveling of manners and appearances of life reflected,
indeed, only an equalization of minds and tempers. The antique
scenery being torn away indicates the disappearance of the sentiments
to which it belonged. It indicated gravity, dignity, custom of self-
control and of exposed, in authority and command. It was the rigid
and sumptuous parade of a social corps of staff-officers. At this
time the parade is discontinued because the corps has been dissolved.
If the nobles dress like the bourgeoisie it is owing to their having
become bourgeois, that is to say, idlers retired from business, with
nothing to do but to talk and amuse themselves. -- Undoubtedly they
amuse themselves and converse like people of refinement; but it is not
very difficult to equal them in this respect. Now that the Third-
Estate has acquired its wealth a good many commoners have become
people of society. The successors of Samuel Bernard are no longer so
many Turcarets, but Paris-Duverneys, Saint-Jameses, Labordes, refined
men, people of culture and of feeling, possessing tact, literary and
philosophical attainments, benevolent, giving parties and knowing how
to entertain[17]. With them, slightly different, we find the same
company as with a grand lord, the same ideas and the same tone. Their
sons, messieurs de Villemer, de Francueil, d'Epinay, throw money out
of the window with as much elegance as the young dukes with whom they
sup. A parvenu with money and intellect soon learns the ropes, and
his son, if not himself, is initiated: a few years' exercises in an
academy, a dancing-master, and one of the four thousand public offices
which confer nobility, supply him with the deficient appearances.
Now, in these times, as soon as one knows how to conform to the laws
of good-breeding, how to bow and how to converse, one possesses a
patent for admission everywhere. An Englishman[18] remarks that one
of the first expressions employed in praise of a man is, "he has a
very graceful address." The Maréchale de Luxembourg, so high-spirited,
always selects Laharpe as her cavalier, because "he offers his arm so
well." -- The commoner not only enters the drawing-room, if he is
fitted for it, but he stands foremost in it if he has any talent. The
first place in conversation, and even in public consideration, is for
Voltaire, the son of a notary, for Diderot, the son of a cutler, for
Rousseau, the son of a watchmaker, for d'Alembert, a foundling brought
up by a glazier; and, after the great men have disappeared, and no
writers of the second grade are left, the leading duchesses are still
content to have the seats at their tables occupied by Champfort,
another foundling, Beaumarchais, the son of another watchmaker,
Laharpe, supported and raised on charity, Marmontel, the son of a
village tailor, and may others of less note, in short, every parvenu
possessing wit.

The nobility, to perfect their own accomplishments, borrow their
pens and aspire to their successes. "We have recovered from those old
Gothic and absurd prejudices against literary culture," says the
Prince de Hénin;[19] "as for myself I would compose a comedy to-morrow
if I had the talent, and if I happened to be made a little angry, I
would perform in it." And, in fact, "the Vicomte de Ségur, son of the
minister of war, plays the part of the lover in 'Nina' on Mlle. de
Guimard's stage with the actors of the Italian Comedy."[20] One of
Mme. de Genlis's personages, returning to Paris after five years'
absence, says that "he left men wholly devoted to play, hunting, and
their small houses, and he finds them all turned authors."[21] They
hawk about their tragedies, comedies, novels, eclogues, dissertations
and treatises of all kinds from one drawing room to another. They
strive to get their pieces played; they previously submit them to the
judgment of actors; they solicit a word of praise from the Mercure;
they read fables at the sittings of the Academy. They become involved
in the bickering, in the vainglory, in the pettiness of literary life,
and still worse, of the life of the stage, inasmuch as they are
themselves performers and play in company with real actors in hundreds
of private theaters. Add to this, if you please, other petty amateur
talents such as sketching in water-colors, writing songs, and playing
the flute. -- After this amalgamation of classes and this transfer
of parts what remains of the superiority of the nobles? By what
special merit, through what recognized capacity are they to secure
respect of a member of the Third-Estate? Outside of fashionable
elegance and a few points of breeding, in what respect they differ
from him? What superior education, what familiarity with affairs, what
experience with government, what political instruction, what local
ascendancy, what moral authority can be alleged to sanction their
pretensions to the highest places? -- In the way of practice, the
Third-Estate already does the work, providing the qualified men, the
intendants, the ministerial head-clerks, the lay and ecclesiastical
administrators, the competent laborers of all kinds and degrees. Call
to mind the Marquis of whom we have just spoken, a former captain in
the French guards, a man of feeling and of loyalty, admitting at the
elections of 1789 that "the knowledge essential to a deputy would most
generally be found in the Third-Estate , the mind there being
accustomed to business." -- In the way of theory: the commoner is
as well-informed as the noble, and he thinks he is still better
informed, because, having read the same books and arrived at the same
principles, he does not, like him, stop half-way on the road to their
consequences, but plunges headlong to the very depths of the doctrine,
convinced that his logic is clairvoyance and that he is more
enlightened because he is the least prejudiced. -- Consider the
young men who, about twenty years of age in 1780, born in industrious
families, accustomed to effort and able to work twelve hours a day, a
Barnave, a Carnot, a Roederer, a Merlin de Thionville, a Robespierre,
an energetic stock, feeling their strength, criticizing their rivals,
aware of their weakness, comparing their own application and education
to their levity and incompetence, and, at the moment when youthful
ambition stirs within them, seeing themselves excluded in advance from
any superior position, consigned for life to subaltern employment, and
subjected in every career to the precedence of superiors who they
hardly recognize as their equals. At the artillery examinations where
Chérin, the genealogist, refuses commoners, and where the Abbé Bosen,
a mathematician, rejects the ignorant, it is discovered that capacity
is wanting among the noble pupils and nobility among the capable
pupils,[22] the two qualities of gentility and intelligence seeming to
exclude each other, as there are but four or five out of a hundred
pupils who combine the two conditions. Now, as society at this time
is mixed, such tests are frequent and easy. Whether lawyer,
physician, or man of letters, a member of the Third-Estate with whom a
duke converses familiarly, who sits in a diligence alongside of a
count-colonel of hussars,[23] can appreciate his companion or his
interlocutor, weigh his ideas, test his merit and esteem him at his
correct value, and I am sure that he does not overrate him. --
Now that the nobles have lost their special capacities and the Third-
Estate have acquired general competence, and as they are on the same
level in education and competence, the inequality which separates them
has become offensive because it has become useless. Nobility being
instituted by custom is no longer sanctified by conscience; the Third-
Estate being justly excited against privileges that have no
justification, whether in the capacity of the noble or in the
incapacity of the bourgeois.


Philosophy in the minds thus fitted for it. - That of Rousseau
prominent. - This philosophy in harmony with new necessities. - It
is adopted by the Third-Estate .

Distrust and anger against a government putting all fortunes
at risk, rancor and hostility against a nobility barring all roads to
popular advancement, are, then, the sentiments developing themselves
among the middle class solely due to their advance in wealth and
culture. -- We can imagine the effect of the new philosophy upon
people with such attitudes. At first, confined to the aristocratic
reservoir, the doctrine filters out through numerous cracks like so
many trickling streams, to scatter imperceptibly among the lower
class. Already, in 1727, Barbier, a bourgeois of the old school and
having little knowledge of philosophy and philosophers except the
name, writes in his journal:

"A hundred poor families are deprived of the annuities on which
they supported themselves, acquired with bonds for which the capital
is obliterated; 56,000 livres are given in pensions to people who have
held the best offices, where they have amassed considerable property,
always at the expense of the people, and all this merely that they may
rest themselves and do nothing."[24]

One by one, reformative ideas penetrate to his office of
consulting advocate; conversation has sufficed to propagate them,
homely common sense needing no philosophy to secure their recognition.

"The tax on property," said he, in 1750, "should be proportioned
and equally distributed among all the king's subjects and the members
of the government, in proportion to the property each really possesses
in the kingdom; in England, the lands of the nobility, the clergy and
the Third-Estate pay alike without distinction, and nothing is more

In the six years which follow the flood increases. People
denounce the government in the cafés, on their promenades, while the
police dare not arrest malcontents "because they would have to arrest
everybody." The disaffection goes on increasing up to the end of the
reign. In 1744, says the bookseller Hardy, during the king's illness
at Metz, private individuals cause six thousand masses to be said for
his recovery and pay for them at the sacristy of Notre Dame; in 1757,
after Damiens's attempt on the king's life, the number of masses
demanded is only six hundred; in 1774, during the malady which carries
him off, the number falls down to three. The complete discredit of
the government, the immense success of Rousseau, these two events,
occurring simultaneously, afford a date for the conversion of the
Third-Estate to philosophy[25]. A traveler, at the beginning of the
reign of Louis XVI, who returns home after some years' absence, on
being asked what change he noticed in the nation, replied, "Nothing,
except that what used to be talked about in the drawing-rooms is
repeated in the streets."[26] And that which is repeated in the
streets is Rousseau's doctrine, the Discourse on Inequality, the
Social Contract amplified, popularized and repeated by adherents in
every possible way and in all their forms. What could be more
fascinating for the man of the Third-Estate? Not only is this theory
in vogue, and encountered by him at the decisive moment when, for the
first time, he turns his attention to general principles, but again it
provides him with arms against social inequality and political
absolutism, and much sharper than he needs. To people disposed to put
restraints on power and to abolish privileges, what guide is more
sympathetic than the writer of genius, the powerful logician, the
impassioned orator, who establishes natural law, who repudiates
historic law, who proclaims the equality of men, who contends for the
sovereignty of the people, who denounces on every page the usurpation,
the vices, the worthlessness, the malefactions of the great and of
kings! And I omit the points by which he makes acceptable to a rigid
and laborious bourgeoisie, to the new men that are working and
advancing themselves, his steady earnestness, his harsh and bitter
tone, his eulogy of simple habits, of domestic virtues, of personal
merit, of virile energy, the commoner addressing commoners. It is not
surprising that they should accept him as a guide and welcome his
doctrines with that fervor of faith called enthusiasm, and which
invariably accompanies the newborn idea as well as the first love.

A competent judge, and an eye-witness, Mallet du Pan,[27] writes
in 1799:

"Rousseau had a hundred times more readers among the middle and
lower classes than Voltaire. He alone inoculated the French with the
doctrine of the sovereignty of the people and with its extremist
consequences. It would be difficult to cite a single revolutionary
who was not transported over these anarchical theories, and who did
not burn with ardor to realize them. That Contrat Social, the
disintegrator of societies, was the Koran of the pretentious talkers
of 1789, of the Jacobins of 1790, of the republicans of 1791, and of
the most atrocious of the madmen. . . . I heard Marat in 1788 read
and comment on the Contrat Social in the public streets to the
applause of an enthusiastic auditory."

The same year, in an immense throng filling the great hall of
the Palais de Justice, Lacretelle hears that same book quoted, its
dogmas put forward by the clerks of la Bazoche, "by members of the
bar,[28] by young lawyers, by the ordinary lettered classes swarming
with new-fledged specialist in public law." Hundreds of details show
us that it is in every hand like a catechism. In 1784[29] certain
magistrates' sons, on taking their first lesson in jurisprudence of an
assistant professor, M. Saveste, have the "Contrat Social" placed in
their hands as a manual. Those who find this new political geometry
too difficult learn at least its axioms, and if these repel them they
discover at least their palpable consequences, so many handy
comparisons, the trifling common practice in the literature in vogue,
whether drama, history, or romance[30]. Through the "Eloges" by
Thomas, the pastorals of Bernadin de Saint-Pierre, the compilation of
Raynal, the comedies of Beaumarchais and even the "Young Anarcharsis"
and the literature of the resuscitated Greek and Roman antiquity, the
dogmas of equality and liberty infiltrate and penetrate the class able
to read[31]. "A few days ago," says Métra,[32] "a dinner of forty
ecclesiastics from the country took place at the house of curate of
Orangis, five leagues from Paris. At the dessert, and in the truth
which came out over their wine, they all admitted that they came to
Paris to see the 'Marriage of Figaro.' . . Up to the present time it
seems as if comic authors intended to make sport for the great at the
expense of the little, but here, on the contrary, it is the little who
laugh at the expense of the great." Hence the success of the piece.
-- Hence a steward of a chateau has found a Raynal in the library,
the furious declamation of which so delights him that he can repeat it
thirty years later without stumbling, or a sergeant in the French
guards embroiders waistcoats during the night to earn the money with
which to purchase the latest books. -- After the gallant picture
of the boudoir comes the austere and patriotic picture; "Belisarious"
and the "Horatii" of David reflect the new attitude both of the public
and of the studios[33] The spirit is that of Rousseau, "the republican
spirit;"[34] the entire middle class, artists, employees, curates,
physicians, attorneys, advocates, the lettered and the journalists,
all are won over to it; and it is fed by the worst as well as the best
passions, ambition, envy, desire for freedom, zeal for the public
welfare and the consciousness of right.


Its effects therein. - The formation of revolutionary passions.
- Leveling instincts. - The craving for dominion. - The Third-Estate
decides and constitutes the nation. - Chimeras, ignorance,

All these passions intensify each other. There is nothing like
a wrong to quicken the sentiment of justice. There is nothing like
the sentiment of justice to quicken the injury proceeding from a
wrong[35]. The Third-Estate, considering itself deprived of the place
to which it is entitled, finds itself uncomfortable in the place it
occupies and, accordingly, suffers through a thousand petty grievances
it would not, formerly, have noticed. On discovering that he is a
citizen a man is irritated at being treated as a subject, no one
accepting an inferior position alongside of one of whom he believes
himself the equal. Hence, during a period of twenty years, the
ancient régime while attempting to grow easier, appear to be still
more burdensome, and its pinpricks exasperate as if they were so many
wounds. Countless instances might be quoted instead of one. -- At
the theater in Grenoble, Barnave,[36] a child, is with his mother in a
box which the Duc de Tonnerre, governor of the province, had assigned
to one of his satellites. The manager of the theater, and next an
officer of the guard, request Madame Barnave to withdraw. She
refuses, whereupon the governor orders four fusiliers to force her
out. The audience in the stalls had already taken the matter up, and
violence was feared, when M. Barnave, advised of the affront, entered
and led his wife away, exclaiming aloud, "I leave by order of the
governor." The indignant public, all the bourgeoisie, agreed among
themselves not to enter the theater again without an apology being
made; the theater, in fact, remaining empty several months, until
Madame Barnave consented to reappear there. This outrage afterwards
recurred to the future deputy, and he then swore "to elevate the caste
to which he belonged out of the humiliation to which it seemed
condemned." In like manner Lacroix, the future member of the
Convention,[37] on leaving a theater, and jostled by a gentleman who
was giving his arm to a lady, utters a loud complaint. "Who are you?
" says the person. Still the provincial, he is simple enough to give
his name, surname, and qualifications in full. "Very well," says the
other man, "good for you -- I am the Comte de Chabannes, and I am in
a hurry," saying which, "laughing heartily," he jumps into his
vehicle. "Ah, sir, exclaimed Lacroix, still much excited by his
misadventure, "pride and prejudice establish an awful gulf between man
and man !" We may rest assured that, with Marat, a veterinary surgeon
in the Comte d'Artois's stables, with Robespierre, a protégé of the
bishop of Arras, with Danton, an insignificant lawyer in Mery-sur-
Seine, and with many others beside, self-esteem, in frequent
encounters, bled in the same fashion. The concentrated bitterness
with which Madame Roland's memoirs are imbued has no other cause.
"She could not forgive society[38] for the inferior position she had
so long occupied in it."[39] Thanks to Rousseau, vanity, so natural to
man, and especially sensitive with a Frenchman, becomes still more
sensitive. The slightest discrimination, a tone of the voice, seems a
mark of disdain. "One day,[40] on alluding, before the minister of
war, to a general officer who had obtained his rank through his merit,
he exclaimed, 'Oh, yes, an officer of luck.' This expression, being
repeated and commented on, does much mischief." In vain do the
grandees show their condescending spirit, "welcoming with equal
kindness and gentleness all who are presented to them." In the mansion
of the Due de Penthièvre the nobles eat at the table of the master of
the house, the commoners dine with his first gentleman and only enter
the drawing room when coffee is served. There they find "in full
force and with a superior tone" the others who had the honor of dining
with His Highness, and "who do not fail to salute the new arrivals
with an obliging civility indicating patronage."[41] No more is
required; in vain does the Duke "carry his attentions to an extreme,"
Beugnot, so pliable, has no desire to return. They bear them ill-
will, not only on account of their slight bows but again on account of
their over-politeness. Champfort acrimoniously relates that
d'Alembert, at the height of his reputation, being in Madame du
Deffant's drawing room with President Hénault and M. de Pont-de-Veyle,
a physician enters named Fournier, and he, addressing Madame du
Deffant, says, "Madame, I have the honor of presenting you with my
very humble respects;'' turning to President Hénault, "I have the
honor to be your obedient servant," and then to M. de Pont-de-Veyle,
"Sir, your most obedient," and to d'Alembert, "Good day, sir."[42] To
a rebellious heart everything is an object of resentment. The Third-
Estate, following Rousseau's example, cherishes ill-feeling against
the nobles for what they do, and yet again, for what they are, for
their luxury, their elegance, their insincerity, their refined and
brilliant behavior. Champfort is embittered against them on account
of the polite attentions with which they overwhelm him. Sieyès bears
them a grudge on account of a promised abbey which he did not obtain.
Each individual, besides the general grievances, has his personal
grievance. Their coolness, like their familiarity, attentions and
inattentions, is an offense, and, under these millions of needle-
thrusts, real or imaginary, the mind gets to be full of gall. In
1789, it is full to overflowing.

"The most honorable title of the French nobility," writes
Champfort, "is a direct descent from some 30,000 armed, helmeted,
armletted and armored men who, on heavy horses sheathed in armor, trod
under foot 8 or 10 millions of naked men, the ancestors of the actual
nation. Behold these well-established claims to the respect and
affection of their descendants! And, to complete the respectability of
this nobility, it is recruited and regenerated by the adoption of
those who have acquired fortune by plundering the cabins of the poor
who are unable to pay its impositions."[43] --

"Why should not the Third-Estate send back," says Sieyès, "into
the forests of Franconia every family that maintains its absurd
pretension of having sprung from the loins of a race of conquerors,
and of having succeeded to the rights of conquest? [44] I can well
imagine, were there no police, every Cartouche[45] firmly establishing
himself on the high-road -- would that give him a right to levy
toll? Suppose him to sell a monopoly of this kind, once common enough,
to an honest successor, would the right become any more respectable in
the hands of the purchaser? . . . Every privilege, in its nature,
is unjust, odious, and against the social compact. The blood boils at
the thought of its ever having been possible to legally consecrate
down to the eighteenth century the abominable fruits of an abominable
feudal system. . . . The caste of nobles is really a population
apart, a fraudulent population, however, which, for lack of
serviceable faculties, and unable to exist alone, fastens itself upon
a living nation, like the vegetable tumors that support themselves on
the sap of the plants to which they are a burden, and which wither
beneath the load." -- They suck all, everything being for them.
"Every branch of the executive power has fallen into the hands of this
caste, which staffed (already) the church, the robe and the sword. A
sort of confraternity or joint paternity leads the nobles each to
prefer the other and all to the rest of the nation. . . . The
Court reigns, and not the monarch. The Court creates and distributes
offices. And what is the Court but the head of this vast aristocracy
that covers all parts of France, and which, through its members,
attains to and exercises everywhere whatever is requisite in all
branches of the public administration?" -- Let us put an end to "this
social crime, this long parricide which one class does itself the
honor to commit daily against the others. . . . Ask no longer what
place the privileged shall occupy in the social order; it is simply
asking what place in a sick man's body must be assigned to a malignant
ulcer that is undermining and tormenting it . . . to the loathsome
disease that is consuming the living flesh." -- The solution is self-
evident: let us eradicate the ulcer, or at least sweep away the
vermin. The Third-Estate, in itself and by itself, is "a complete
nation," requiring no organ, needing no aid to subsist or to govern
itself, and which will recover its health on ridding itself of the
parasites infesting its skin.

"What is the Third-Estate?" says Sieyès, "everything. What,
thus far, is it in the political body?[46] Nothing. What does it
demand? To become something."

Not something but actually everything. Its political ambition
is as great as its social ambition, and it aspires to authority as
well as to equality. If privileges are an evil that of the king is
the worst for it is the greatest, and human dignity, wounded by the
prerogative of the noble, perishes under the absolutism of the king.
Of little consequence is it that he scarcely uses it, and that his
government, deferential to public opinion, is that of a hesitating and
indulgent parent. Emancipated from real despotism, the Third-Estate
becomes excited against possible despotism, imagining itself in
slavery in consenting to remain subject. A proud spirit has recovered
itself, become erect, and, the better to secure its rights, is going
to claim all rights. To the people who since antiquity has been
subject to masters, it is so sweet, so intoxicating to put themselves
in their places, to put the former masters in their place, to say to
himself, they are my representatives, to regard himself a member of
the sovereign power, king of France in his individual sphere, the sole
legitimate author of all rights and of all functions! -- In
conformity with the doctrines of Rousseau the registers of the Third-
Estate unanimously insist on a constitution for France; none exists,
or at least the one she possesses is of no value. Thus far "the
conditions of the social compact have been ignored;"[47] now that they
have been discovered they must be written out. To say, with the
nobles according to Montesquieu, that the constitution exists, that
its great features need not be changed, that it is necessary only to
reform abuses, that the States-General exercise only limited power,
that they are incompetent to substitute another regime for the
monarchy, is not true. Tacitly or expressly, the Third-Estate refuses
to restrict its mandate and allows no barriers to be interposed
against it. It requires its deputies accordingly to vote "not by
orders but each by himself and conjointly." -- "In case the
deputies of the clergy or of the nobility should refuse to deliberate
in common and individually, the deputies of the Third-Estate,
representing twenty-four millions of men, able and obliged to declare
itself the National Assembly not-withstanding the scission of the
representation of 400,000 persons, will propose to the King in concert
with those among the Clergy and the Nobility disposed to join them,
their assistance in providing for the necessities of the State, and
the taxes thus assented to shall be apportioned among all the subjects
of the king without distinction."[48] -- Do not object that a
people thus mutilated becomes a mere crowd, that leaders cannot be
improvised, that it is difficult to dispense with natural guides,
that, considering all things, this Clergy and this Nobility still form
a select group, that two-fifths of the soil is in their hands, that
one-half of the intelligent and cultivated class of men are in their
ranks, that they are exceedingly well-disposed and that old historic
bodies have always afforded to liberal constitutions their best
supports. According to the principle enunciated by Rousseau we are
not to value men but to count them. In politics numbers only are
respectable; neither birth, nor property, nor function, nor capacity,
is a title to be considered; high or low, ignorant or learned, a
general, a soldier, or a hod-carrier, each individual of the social
army is a unit provided with a vote; wherever a majority is found
there is the right. Hence, the Third-Estate puts forth its right as
incontestable, and, in its turn, it proclaims with Louis XIV, "I am
the State."

This principle once admitted or enforced, they thought, all will
go well.

"It seemed," says an eye-witness,[49] "as if we were about to
be governed by men of the golden age. This free, just and wise
people, always in harmony with itself, always clear-sighted in
choosing its ministers, moderate in the use of its strength and power,
never could be led away, never deceived, never under the dominion of;
or enslaved by, the authority which it confided. Its will would
fashion the laws and the law would constitute its happiness."

The nation is to be regenerated, a phrase found in all writings
and in every mouth. At Nangis, Arthur Young finds this the sub-stance
of political conversation[50]. The chaplain of a regiment, a curate
in the vicinity, keeps fast hold of it; as to knowing what it means
that is another matter. It is impossible to find anything out through
explanations of it otherwise than "a theoretic perfection of
government, questionable in its origin, hazardous in its progress, and
visionary in its end." On the Englishman proposing to them the British
constitution as a model they "hold it cheap in respect of liberty" and
greet it with a smile; it is, especially, not in conformity with "the
principles." And observe that we are at the residence of a grand
seignior, in a circle of enlightened men. At Riom, at the election
assemblies,[51] Malouet finds "persons of an ordinary stamp,
practitioners, petty lawyers, with no experience of public business,
quoting the 'Contrat Social,' vehemently declaiming against tyranny,
and each proposing his own constitution." Most of them are without any
knowledge whatever, mere traffickers in chicane; the best instructed
entertain mere schoolboy ideas of politics. In the colleges of the
University no history is taught[52]. "The name of Henry IV., says
Lavalette, was not once uttered during my eight years of study, and,
at seventeen years of age, I was still ignorant of the epoch and the
mode of the establishment of the Bourbons on the throne." The stock
they carry away with them consists wholly, as with Camille Desmoulins,
of scraps of Latin, entering the world with brains stuffed with
"republican maxims," excited by souvenirs of Rome and Sparta, and
"penetrated with profound contempt for monarchical governments."
Subsequently, at the law school, they learn something about legal
abstractions, or else learn nothing. In the lecture-courses at Paris
there are no students; the professor delivers his lecture to copyists
who sell their copy-books. If a pupil should attend himself and take
notes he would be regarded with suspicion; he would be charged with
trying to deprive the copyists of the means of earning their living.
A diploma, consequently, is worthless. At Bourges one is obtainable
in six months; if the young man succeeds in comprehending the law it
is through later practice and familiarity with it. -- Of foreign
laws and institutions there is not the least knowledge, scarcely even
a vague or false notion of them. Malouet himself entertains a meager
idea of the English Parliament, while many, with respect to
ceremonial, imagine it a copy of the Parliament of France. -- The
mechanism of free constitutions, or the conditions of effective
liberty, that is too complicated a question. Montesquieu, save in the
great magisterial families, is antiquated for twenty years past. Of
what avail are studies of ancient France? "What is the result of so
much and such profound research? Laborious conjecture and reasons for
doubting."[53] It is much more convenient to start with the rights of
man and to deduce the consequences. Schoolboy logic suffices for that
to which collegiate rhetoric supplies the tirades. -- In this great
void of enlightenment the vague terms of liberty, equality and the
sovereignty of the people, the glowing expressions of Rousseau and his
successors, all these new axioms, blaze up like burning coals,
discharging clouds of smoke and intoxicating vapor. High-sounding and
vague language is interposed between the mind and objects around it;
all outlines are confused and the vertigo begins. Never to the same
extent have men lost the purport of outward things. Never have they
been at once more blind and more chimerical. Never has their
disturbed reason rendered them more tranquil concerning real danger
and created more alarm at imaginary danger. Strangers with cool blood
and who witness the spectacle, Mallet du Pan, Dumont of Geneva, Arthur
Young, Jefferson, Gouverneur Morris, write that the French are insane.
Morris, in this universal delirium, can mention to Washington but one
sane mind, that of Marmontel, and Marmontel speaks in the same style
as Morris. At the preliminary meetings of the clubs, and at the
assemblies of electors, he is the only one who opposes unreasonable
propositions. Surrounding him are none but the excited, the exalted
about nothing, even to grotesqueness[54]. In every act of the
established régime, in every administrative measure, "in all police
regulations, in all financial decrees, in all the graduated
authorities on which public order and tranquility depend, there was
naught in which they did not find an aspect of tyranny. . . . On
the walls and barriers of Paris being referred to, these were
denounced as enclosures for deer and derogatory to man." --

"I saw," says one of these orators, "at the barrier Saint-
Victor, sculptured on one of the pillars -- would you believe it? -
- an enormous lion's head, with open jaws vomiting forth chains as a
menace to those who passed it. Could a more horrible emblem of
slavery and of despotism be imagined!" -- "The orator himself
imitates the roar of the lion. The listeners were all excited by it
and I, who passed the barrier Saint-Victor so often, was surprised
that this horrible image had not struck me. That very day I examined
it closely and, on the pilaster, I found only a small buckler
suspended as an ornament by a little chain attached by the sculptor to
a little lion's mouth, like those we see serving as door-knockers or
as water-cocks." -- Perverted sensations and delirious conceptions
of this kind would be regarded by physicians as the symptoms of mental
derangement, and we are only in the early months of the year 1789! --
In such excitable and over-excited brains the powerful fascination of
words is about to create phantoms, some of them hideous, the
aristocrat and the tyrant, and others adorable, the friend of the
people and the incorruptible patriot, so many disproportionate,
imaginary figures, but which will replace actual living persons, and
which the maniac is to overwhelm with his praise or pursue with his


Thus does the philosophy of the eighteenth century descend
among the people and propagate itself. Ideas, on the first story of
the house, in handsome gilded rooms, serve only as an evening
illumination, as drawing room explosives and pleasing Bengal lights,
with which people amuse themselves, and then laughingly throw from the
windows into the street. Collected together in the story below and on
the ground floor, transported to shops, to warehouses and into
business cabinets, they find combustible material, piles of wood a
long time accumulated, and here do the flames enkindle. The
conflagration seems to have already begun, for the chimneys roar and a
ruddy light gleams through the windows; but "No," say the people
above, "those below would take care not to set the house on fire, for
they live in it as we do. It is only a straw bonfire and a burning
chimney, and a little water will extinguish it; and, besides, these
little accidents clear the chimney and burn out the soot."

Take care! Under the vast deep arches supporting it, in the
cellars of the house, there is a magazine of powder.



[1] I have verified these sentiments myself, in the narration of
aged people deceased twenty years ago. Cf. manuscript memoirs of
Hardy the bookseller (analyzed by Aubertin), and the "Travels of
Arthur Young."

[2] Aubertin, ibid., 180, 362.

[3] Voltaire, "Siècle de Louis XV," ch. XXXI; "Siècle de Louis
XIV," ch. XXX. "Industry increases every day. To see the private
display, the prodigious number of pleasant dwellings erected in Paris
and in the provinces, the numerous equipages, the conveniences, the
acquisitions comprehended in the term luxe, one might suppose that
opulence was twenty times greater than it formerly was. All this is
the result of ingenuity, much more than of wealth. . . The middle
class has become wealthy by industry. . . . Commercial gains have
augmented. The opulence of the great is less than it was formerly and
much larger among the middle class, the distance between men even
being lessened by it. Formerly the inferior class had no resource but
to serve their superiors; nowadays industry has opened up a thousand
roads unknown a hundred years ago."

[4] John Law (Edinbourgh 1672- dead in Venice 1729) Scotch
financier, who founded a bank in Paris issuing paper money whose value
depended upon confidence and credit. He had to flee France when his
system collapsed and died in misery. (SR.)

[5] Arthur Young, II. 360, 373.

[6] De Tocqueville, 255.

[7] Aubertin, 482.

[8] Roux and Buchez, "Histoire parlementaire." Extracted from the
accounts made up by the comptrollers-general, I. 175, 205. - The
report by Necker, I. 376. To the 206,000,000 must be added
15,800,000 for expenses and interest on advances.

[9] Compare this to the situation in year 1999 where irresponsible
democratic governments sell enormous fortunes in the form of bonds to
the popular pension funds, fortunes which they expect that the next
generation shall repay. (SR.)

[10] Roux and Buchez, I. 190. "Rapport," M. de Calonne.

[11] Champfort, p. 105.

[12] De Tocqueville, 261.

[13] D'Argenson, April 12, 1752, February 11, 1752, July 24, 1753,
December 7, 1753. - Archives nationales, O1, 738.

[14] Characters in Molière's comedies. - TR.

[15] De Ségur. I. 17.

[16] Lucas de Montigny, Letter of the Marquis de Mirabeau, March
23, 1783.

[17] Mme. Vigée-Lebrun, I. 269, 231. (The domestic establishment
of two farmers-general, M. de Verdun, at Colombes, and M. de St.
James, at Neuilly). - A superior type of the bourgeois and of the
merchant has already been put on the stage by Sedaine in "Le
Philosophe sans le Savoir."

[18] John Andrews, "A comparative view," etc. p. 58.

[19] De Tilly, "Mémoires," I. 31.

[20] Goffroy, "Gustave III," letter of Mme. Staël (August, 1786).

[21] Mme. de Genlis, "Adele et Théodore" (1782), I. 312. --
Already in 1762, Bachaumont mentions several pieces written by grand
seigniors, such as "Clytemnestre," by the Comte de Lauraguais;
"Alexandre," by the Chevalier de Fénélon; "Don Carlos," by the Marquis
de Ximènès.

[22] Champfort, 119.

[23] De Vaublanc, I. 117. - Beugnot, "Mémoires," (the first and
second passages relating to society at the domiciles of M. de Brienne,
and the Duc de Penthièvre.)

[24] Barbier, II, 16; III. 255 (May, 1751). "The king is robbed
by all the seigniors around him, especially on his journeys to his
different châteaux, which are frequent." -- And September, 1750. -
- Cf. Aubertin, 291, 415 ("Mémoires," manuscript by Hardy).

[25] Treaties of Paris and Hubersbourg, 1763. - The trial of La
Chalotais, 1765. - Bankruptcy of Terray, 1770. - Destruction of the
Parliament, 1771. - The first partition of Poland, 1772. - Rousseau,
"Discours sur l'inégalité," 1753. - "Héloise," 1759. - "Emile" and
"Contrat Social," 1762.

[26] De Barante, "Tableau de la littérature française au dix-
huitième siècle," 312.

[27] "Mercure britannique," vol. II, 360.

[28] Lacretelle, "Dix ans d'épreuves," p. 21.

[29] "Memoires," by PASQUIER (Etienne-Dennis, duc), chancelier de
France. in VI volumes, Librarie Plon, Paris 1893.

[30] "Le Compère Mathieu," by Dulaurens (1766). "Our sufferings
are due to the way in which we are brought up, namely, the state of
society in which we are born. Now that state being the source of all
our ills its dissolution must become that of all our good."

[31] The "Tableau de Paris," by Mercier (12 vols.), is the
completest and most exact portrayal of the ideas and aspirations of
the middle class from 1781 to 1788.

[32] "Correspondence," by Métra, XVII, 87 (August 20, 1784).

[33] "Belisarious," is from 1780, and the "Oath of the Horatii,"
from 1783.

[34] Geffroy, "Gustave II et la cour de France." "Paris, with its
republican spirit, generally applauds whatever fails at
Fontainebleau." (A letter by Madame de Staël, Sept. 17, 1786).

[35] Taine uses the French term "passe-droit", meaning both passing
over, slight, unjust promotion over the heads of others, a special
favour, or privilege. (SR.)

[36] Sainte-Beuve, "Causeries du Lundi," II. 24, in the article on

[37] Dr Tilly, "Mémoires," I. 243.

[38] The words of Fontanes, who knew her and admired her. (Sainte-
Beuve, "Nouveaux Lundis," VIII. 221).

[39] "Mémoires de Madame Roland," passim. At fourteen years of
age, on being introduced to Mme. de Boismorel, she is hurt at hearing
her grandmother addressed "Mademoiselle." -- Shortly after this,
she says: "I could not concoal from myself that I was of more
consequence than Mlle. d'Hannaches, whose sixty years and her
genealogy did not enable her to write a common-sense letter or one
that was legible." -- About the same epoch she passes a week at
Versailles with a servant of the Dauphine, and tells her mother, "A
few days more and I shall so detest these people that I shall not know
how to suppress my hatred of them." -- "What injury have they done
you?" she inquired. "It is the feeling of injustice and the constant
contemplation of absurdity!" -- At the château of Fontenay where
she is invited to dine, she and her mother are made to dine in the
servants' room, etc. -- In 1818, in a small town in the north, the
Comte de -- dining with a bourgeois sub-prefect and placed by the
side of the mistress of the house, says to her, on accepting the soup,
'Thanks, sweetheart,' But the Revolution has given the lower class
bourgeoisie the courage to defend themselves tooth and nail so that, a
moment later, she addresses him, with one of her sweetest smiles,
'Will you take some chicken, my love?' (The French expression 'mon
coeur' means both sweetheart and my love. SR.)

[40] De Vaublanc, I. 153.

[41] Beugnot, "Mémoires," I. 77.

[42] Champfort, 16. -- "Who would believe it! Not taxation, nor
lettres-de-cachet, nor the abuses of power, nor the vexations of
intendants, and the ruinous delays of justice have provoked the ire of
the nation, but their prejudices against the nobility towards which it
has shown the greatest hatred. This evidently proves that the
bourgeoisie, the men of letters, the financial class, in short all
who envy the nobles have excited against these the inferior class in
the towns and among the rural peasantry." (Rivarol, "Mémoires.")

[43] Champfort, 335.

[44] Sieyès, "Qu'est ce que le Tiers?" 17, 41, 139, 166.

[45] Cartouche (Luis Dominique) (Paris, 1693 - id. 1721).
Notorious French bandit, leader of a gang of thieves. He died broken
alive on the wheel. (SR.)

[46] "The nobility, say the nobles, is an intermediary between the
king and the people. Yes, as the hound is an intermediary between the
hunter and the hare." (Champfort).

[47] Prud'homme, III. 2. ("The Third-Estate of Nivernais,"
passim.) Cf, on the other hand, the registers of the nobility of Bugey
and of Alençon.

[48] Prud'homme, ibid.., Cahiers of the Third-Estates of Dijon,
Dax, Bayonne, Saint-Sévère, Rennes, etc.

[49] Marmontel, "Mémoires," II. 247.

[50] Arthur Young, I. 222.

[51] Malouet, "Mémoires," I. 279.

[52] De Lavalette, I. 7. -- "Souvenirs", by PASQUIER (Etienne-
Dennis, duc), chancelier de France. in VI volumes, Librarie Plon,
Paris 1893. -- . Cf. Brissot, Mémoires, I.

[53] Prudhomme, "Résumé des cahiers," the "preface," by J. J.

[54] Marmontel, II. 245.



I. Privations.

Under Louis XIV. - Under Louis XV. - Under Louis XVI.

La Bruyère wrote, just a century before 1789,[1]:

"Certain savage-looking animals, male and female, are seen in the
country, black, livid and sunburned, and attached to the soil which
they dig and grub with invincible stubbornness. They seem capable of
speech, and, when they stand erect, they display a human face. They
are, in fact, men. They retire at night into their dens where they
live on black bread, water and roots. They spare other human beings
the trouble of sowing, plowing and harvesting, and thus should not be
in want of the bread they have planted."

They are, however, in want during the twenty-five years after this,
and die in droves. I estimate that in 1715 more than one-third of the
population,[2] six millions, perish with hunger and of destitution.
This description is, in respect of the first quarter of the century
preceding the Revolution, far from being too vivid, it is rather too
weak; we shall see that it, during more than half a century, up to the
death of Louis XV. is exact; so that instead of weakening any of its
details, they should be strengthened.

"In 1725," says Saint-Simon, "with the profusion of Strasbourg and
Chantilly, the people, in Normandy, live on the grass of the fields.
The first king in Europe could not be a great king if it was not for
all the beggars and the poor-houses full of dying from whom all had
been taken even though it was peace-time.[3]

In the most prosperous days of Fleury and in the finest region in
France, the peasant hides "his wine on account of the excise and his
bread on account of the taille," convinced "that he is a lost man if
any doubt exists of his dying of starvation."[4] In 1739 d'Argenson
writes in his journal[5]:

"The famine has just caused three insurrections in the provinces,
at Ruffec, at Caen, and at Chinon. Women carrying their bread with
them have been assassinated on the highways. . . M. le Duc d'Orléans
brought to the Council the other day a piece of bread, and placed it
on the table before the king 'Sire,' said he, 'there is the bread on
which your subjects now feed themselves.'" "In my own canton of
Touraine men have been eating herbage more than a year." Misery finds
company on all sides. "It is talked about at Versailles more than
ever. The king interrogated the bishop of Chartres on the condition of
his people; he replied that 'the famine and the morality were such
that men ate grass like sheep and died like so many flies.'"

In 1740,[6] Massillon, bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, writes to

"The people of the rural districts are living in frightful
destitution, without beds, without furniture; the majority, for half
the year, even lack barley and oat bread which is their sole food, and
which they are compelled to take out of their own and their children's
mouths to pay the taxes. It pains me to see this sad spectacle every
year on my visits. The Negroes of our colonies are, in this respect,
infinitely better off; for, while working, they are fed and clothed
along with their wives and children, while our peasantry, the most
laborious in the kingdom, cannot, with the hardest and most devoted
labor, earn bread for themselves and their families, and at the same
time pay their charges." In 1740[7] at Lille, the people rebel against
the export of grain. "An intendant informs me that the misery
increases from hour to hour, the slightest danger to the crops
resulting in this for three years past. . . .Flanders, especially, is
greatly embarrassed; there is nothing to live on until the harvesting,
which will not take place for two months. The provinces the best off
are not able to help the others. Each bourgeois in each town is
obliged to feed one or two poor persons and provide them with fourteen
pounds of bread per week. In the little town of Chatellerault, (of
4,000 inhabitants), 1800 poor, this winter, are in that situation. . .
. The poor outnumber those able to live without begging . . . while
prosecutions for unpaid dues are carried on with unexampled rigor. The
clothes of the poor, their last measure of flour and the latches on
their doors are seized, etc. .. . The abbess of Jouarre told me
yesterday that, in her canton, in Brie, most of the land had not been
planted." It is not surprising that the famine spreads even to Paris.
"Fears are entertained of next Wednesday. There is no more bread in
Paris, except that of the damaged flour which is brought in and which
burns (when baking). The mills are working day and night at
Belleville, regrinding old damaged flour. The people are ready to
rebel; bread goes up a sol a day; no merchant dares, or is disposed,
to bring in his wheat. The market on Wednesday was almost in a state
of revolt, there being no bread in it after seven o'clock in the
morning. . . . The poor creatures at Bicêtre prison were put on short
rations, three quarterons (twelve ounces), being reduced to only half
a pound. A rebellion broke out and they forced the guards. Numbers
escaped and they have inundated Paris. The watch, with the police of
the neighborhood, were called out, and an attack was made on these
poor wretches with bayonet and sword. About fifty of them were left on
the ground; the revolt was not suppressed yesterday morning."

Ten years later the evil is greater.[8]

"In the country around me, ten leagues from Paris, I find increased
privation and constant complaints. What must it be in our wretched
provinces in the interior of the kingdom? . . . My curate tells me
that eight families, supporting themselves on their labor when I left,
are now begging their bread. There is no work to be had. The wealthy
are economizing like the poor. And with all this the taille is exacted
with military severity. The collectors, with their officers,
accompanied by locksmiths, force open the doors and carry off and sell
furniture for one-quarter of its value, the expenses exceeding the
amount of the tax . . . " - "I am at this moment on my estates in
Touraine. I encounter nothing but frightful privations; the melancholy
sentiment of suffering no longer prevails with the poor inhabitants,
but rather one of utter despair; they desire death only, and avoid
increase. . . . It is estimated that one-quarter of the working-days
of the year go to the corvées, the laborers feeding themselves, and
with what? . . . I see poor people dying of destitution. They are paid
fifteen sous a day, equal to a crown, for their load. Whole villages
are either ruined or broken up, and none of the households recover. .
. . Judging by what my neighbors tell me the inhabitants have
diminished one-third. . . . The daily laborers are all leaving and
taking refuge in the small towns. In many villages everybody leaves. I
have several parishes in which the taille for three years is due, the
proceedings for its collection always going on. . . . The receivers of
the taille and of the taxes add one-half each year in expenses above
the tax. . . . An assessor, on coming to the village where I have my
country-house, states that the taille this year will be much
increased; he noticed that the peasants here were fatter than
elsewhere; that they had chicken feathers before their doors, and that
the living here must be good, everybody doing well, etc. - This is
the cause of the peasant's discouragement, and likewise the cause of
misfortune throughout the kingdom." - "In the country where I am
staying I hear that marriage is declining and that the population is
decreasing on all sides. In my parish, with a few fire-sides, there
are more than thirty single persons, male and female, old enough to
marry and none of them considering it. On being urged to marry they
all reply alike that it is not worth while to bring unfortunate beings
like themselves into the world. I have myself tried to induce some of
the women to marry by offering them assistance, but they all reason in
this way as if they had consulted together."[9] - "One of my curates
sends me word that, although he is the oldest in the province of
Touraine, and has seen many things, including excessively high prices
for wheat, he remembers no misery so great as that of this year, even
in 1709. . . . Some of the seigniors of Touraine inform me that, being
desirous of setting the inhabitants to work by the day, they found
very few of them, and these so weak that they were unable to use their

Those who are able to leave, go.

"A person from Languedoc tells me of vast numbers of peasants
deserting that province and taking refuge in Piedmont, Savoy, and
Spain, tormented and frightened by the measures resorted to in
collecting tithes. . . . The extortioners sell everything and imprison
everybody as if prisoners of war, and even with more avidity and
malice, in order to gain something themselves." - "I met an
intendant of one of the finest provinces in the kingdom, who told me
that no more farmers could be found there; that parents preferred to
send their children to the towns; that living in the surrounding
country was daily becoming more horrible to the inhabitants. . . . A
man, well-informed in financial matters, told me that over two hundred
families in Normandy had left this year, fearing the collections in
their villages." - At Paris, "the streets swarm with beggars. One
cannot stop before a door without a dozen mendicants besetting him
with their importunities. They are said to be people from the country
who, unable to endure the persecutions they have to undergo, take
refuge in the cities . . . preferring begging to labor." - And yet
the people of the cities are not much better off. "An officer of a
company in garrison at Mezieres tells me that the poverty of that
place is so great that, after the officers had dined in the inns, the
people rush in and pillage the remnants." - "There are more than
12,000 begging workmen in Rouen, quite as many in Tours, etc. More
than 20,000 of these workmen are estimated as having left the kingdom
in three months for Spain, Germany, etc. At Lyons 20,000 workers in
silk are watched and kept in sight for fear of their going abroad." At
Rouen,[10] and in Normandy, "those in easy circumstances find it
difficult to get bread, the bulk of the people being entirely without
it, and, to ward off starvation, providing themselves with food
otherwise repulsive to human beings." - "Even at Paris," writes
d'Argenson,[11] "I learn that on the day M. le Dauphin and Mme. la
Dauphine went to Notre Dame, on passing the bridge of the Tournelle,
more than 2,000 women assembled in that quarter crying out, 'Give us
bread, or we shall die of hunger.' . . . A vicar of the parish of
Saint-Marguerite affirms that over eight hundred persons died in the
Faubourg St. Antoine between January 20th and February 20th; that the
poor expire with cold and hunger in their garrets, and that the
priests, arriving too late, see them expire without any possible

Were I to enumerate the riots, the sedition of the famished, and
the pillaging of storehouses, I should never end; these are the
convulsive twitching of exhaustion; the people have fasted as long as
possible, and instinct, at last, rebels. In 1747,[12] "extensive
bread-riots occur in Toulouse, and in Guyenne they take place on every
market-day." In 1750, from 6 to 7,000 men gather in Bearn behind a
river to resist the clerks; two companies of the Artois regiment fire
on the rebels and kill a dozen of them. In 1752, a sedition at Rouen
and in its neighborhood lasts three days; in Dauphiny and in Auvergne
riotous villagers force open the grain warehouses and take away wheat
at their own price; the same year, at Arles, 2,000 armed peasants
demand bread at the town-hall and are dispersed by the soldiers. In
one province alone, that of Normandy, I find insurrections in 1725, in
1737, in 1739, in 1752, in 1764, 1765, 1766, 1767 and I768,[13] and
always on account of bread.

"Entire hamlets," writes the Parliament, "being without the
necessities of life, hunger compels them to resort to the food of
brutes. . . . Two days more and Rouen will be without provisions,
without grain, without bread."

Accordingly, the last riot is terrible; on this occasion, the
populace, again masters of the town for three days, pillage the public
granaries and the stores of all the communities. - Up to the last
and even later, in 1770 at Rheims, in 1775 at Dijon, at Versailles, at
St. Germain, at Pontoise and at Paris, in 1772 at Poitiers, in 1785 at
Aix in Provence, in 1788 and 1789 in Paris and throughout France,
similar eruptions are visible.[14] - Undoubtedly the government
under Louis XVI is milder; the intendants are more humane, the
administration is less rigid, the taille becomes less unequal, and the
corvée is less onerous through its transformation, in short, misery
has diminished, and yet this is greater than human nature can bear.

Examine administrative correspondence for the last thirty years
preceding the Revolution. Countless statements reveal excessive
suffering, even when not terminating in fury. Life to a man of the
lower class, to an artisan, or workman, subsisting on the labor of his
own hands, is evidently precarious; he obtains simply enough to keep
him from starvation and he does not always get that[15]. Here, in four
districts, "the inhabitants live only on buckwheat," and for five
years, the apple crop having failed, they drink only water. There, in
a country of vine-yards,[16] "the wine-growers each year are reduced,
for the most part, to begging their bread during the dull season."
Elsewhere, several of the day-laborers and mechanics, obliged to sell
their effects and household goods, die of the cold; insufficient and
unhealthy food generates sickness, while, in two districts, 35,000
persons are stated to be living on alms[17]. In a remote canton the
peasants cut the grain still green and dry it in the oven, because
they are too hungry to wait. The intendant of Poitiers writes that "as
soon as the workhouses open, a prodigious number of the poor rush to
them, in spite of the reduction of wages and of the restrictions
imposed on them in behalf of the most needy." The intendant of Bourges
notices that a great many tenant farmers have sold off their
furniture, and that "entire families pass two days without eating,"
and that in many parishes the famished stay in bed most of the day
because they suffer less. The intendant of Orleans reports that "in
Sologne, poor widows have burned up their wooden bedsteads and others
have consumed their fruit trees," to preserve themselves from the
cold, and he adds, "nothing is exaggerated in this statement; the
cries of want cannot be expressed; the misery of the rural districts
must be seen with one's own eyes to obtain an idea of it." From Rioni,
from La Rochelle, from Limoges, from Lyons, from Montauban, from Caen,
from Alençon, from Flanders, from Moulins come similar statements by
other intendants. One might call it the interruptions and repetitions
of a funeral knell; even in years not disastrous it is heard on all
sides. In Burgundy, near Chatillon-sur-Seine,

"taxes, seigniorial dues, the tithes, and the expenses of
cultivation, split up the productions of the soil into thirds, leaving
nothing for the unfortunate cultivators, who would have abandoned
their fields, had not two Swiss manufacturers of calicoes settled
there and distributed about the country 40,000 francs a year in

In Auvergne, the country is depopulated daily; many of the
villages have lost, since the beginning of the century, more than one-
third of their inhabitants[19].

"Had not steps been promptly taken to lighten the burden of a
down-trodden people," says the provincial assembly in 1787, "Auvergne
would have forever lost its population and its cultivation."

In Comminges, at the outbreak of the Revolution, certain
communities threaten to abandon their possessions, should they obtain
no relief[20].

"It is a well-known fact," says the assembly of Haute-Guyenne, in
1784," that the lot of the most severely taxed communities is so
rigorous as to have led their proprietors frequently to abandon their
property[21]. Who is not aware of the inhabitants of Saint-Servin
having abandoned their property ten times, and of their threats to
resort again to this painful proceeding in their recourse to the
administration? Only a few years ago an abandonment of the community
of Boisse took place through the combined action of the inhabitants,
the seignior and the décimateur of that community;" and the desertion
would be still greater if the law did not forbid persons liable to the
taille abandoning over-taxed property, except by renouncing whatever
they possessed in the community. In the Soissonais, according to the
report of the provincial assembly,[22] "misery is excessive." In
Gascony the spectacle is "heartrending." In the environs of Toul, the
cultivator, after paying his taxes, tithes and other dues, remains

"Agriculture is an occupation of steady anxiety and privation, in
which thousands of men are obliged to painfully vegetate."[23] In a
village in Normandy, "nearly all the inhabitants, not excepting the
farmers and proprietors, eat barley bread and drink water, living like
the most wretched of men, so as to provide for the payment of the
taxes with which they are overburdened." In the same province, at
Forges, "many poor creatures eat oat bread, and others bread of soaked
bran, this nourishment causing many deaths among infants."[24] People
evidently live from day to day; whenever the crop proves poor they
lack bread. Let a frost come, a hailstorm, an inundation, and an
entire province is incapable of supporting itself until the coming
year; in many places even an ordinary winter suffices to bring on
distress. On all sides hands are seen outstretched to the king, who is
the universal almoner. The people may be said to resemble a man
attempting to wade through a pool with the water up to his chin, and
who, losing his footing at the slightest depression, sinks down and
drowns. Existent charity and the fresh spirit of humanity vainly
strive to rescue them; the water has risen too high. It must subside
to a lower level, and the pool be drawn off through some adequate
outlet. Thus far the poor man catches breath only at intervals,
running the risk of drowning at every moment.


The condition of the peasant during the last thirty years of the
Ancient Regime. - His precarious subsistence. - State of agriculture.
- Uncultivated farms. - Poor cultivation. - Inadequate wages. - Lack
of comforts.

Between 1750 and 1760,[25] the idlers who eat suppers begin to
regard with compassion and alarm the laborers who go without dinners.
Why are the latter so impoverished; and by what misfortune, on a soil
as rich as that of France, do those lack bread who grow the grain? In
the first place many farms remain uncultivated, and, what is worse,
many are deserted. According to the best observers "one-quarter of the
soil is absolutely lying waste. . . . Hundreds and hundreds of arpents
of heath and moor form extensive deserts."[26] Let a person traverse
Anjou, Maine, Brittany, Poitou, Limousin, la Marche, Berry, Nivernais,
Bourbonnais and Auvergne, and he finds one-half of these provinces in
heaths, forming immense plains, all of which might be cultivated." In
Touraine, in Poitou and in Berry they form solitary expanses of 30,000
arpents. In one canton alone, near Preuilly, 40,000 arpents of good
soil consist of heath. The agricultural society of Rennes declares
that two-thirds of Brittany is lying waste. This is not sterility but
decadence. The régime invented by Louis XIV has produced its effect;
the soil for a century past has been reverting to a wild state.

"We see only abandoned and ruinous chateaux; the principal towns
of the fiefs, in which the nobility formerly lived at their ease, are
all now occupied by poor tenant herdsmen whose scanty labor hardly
suffices for their subsistence, and a remnant of tax ready to
disappear through the ruin of the proprietors and the desertion of the

In the election district of Confolens a piece of property rented
for 2,956 livres in 1665, brings in only 900 livres in 1747. On the
confines of la Marche and of Berry a domain which, in 166o, honorably
supported two seigniorial families is now simply a small unproductive
tenant-farm; "the traces of the furrows once made by the plow-iron
being still visible on the surrounding heaths." Sologne, once
flourishing,[27] becomes a marsh and a forest; a hundred years earlier
it produced three times the quantity of grain; two-thirds of its mills
are gone; not a vestige of its vineyards remains; "grapes have given
way to the heath." Thus abandoned by the spade and the plow, a vast
portion of the soil ceases to feed man, while the rest, poorly
cultivated, scarcely provides the simplest necessities[28].

In the first place, on the failure of a crop, this portion remains
untilled; its occupant is too poor to purchase seed; the intendant is
often obliged to distribute seed, without which the disaster of the
current year would be followed by sterility the following year[29].
Every calamity, accordingly, in these days affects the future as well
as the present; during the two years of 1784 and 1785, around
Toulouse, the drought having caused the loss of all draft animals,
many of the cultivators are obliged to let their fields lie fallow. In
the second place, cultivation, when it does take place, is carried on
according to medieval modes. Arthur Young, in 1789, considers that
French agriculture has not progressed beyond that of the tenth
century[30]. Except in Flanders and on the plains of Alsace, the
fields lie fallow one year out of three, and oftentimes one year out
of two. The implements are poor; there are no plows made of iron; in
many places the plow of Virgil's time is still in use. Cart-axles and
wheel-tires are made of wood, while a harrow often consists of the
trestle of a cart. There are few animals and but little manure; the
capital bestowed on cultivation is three times less than that of the
present day. The yield is slight: "our ordinary farms," says a good
observer, "taking one with another return about six times the seed
sown."[31] In 1778, on the rich soil around Toulouse, wheat returns
about five for one, while at the present day it yields eight to one
and more. Arthur Young estimates that, in his day, the English acre
produces twenty-eight bushels of grain, and the French acre eighteen
bushels, and that the value of the total product of the same area for
a given length of time is thirty-six pounds sterling in England and
only twenty-five in France. As the parish roads are frightful, and
transportation often impracticable, it is clear that, in remote
cantons, where poor soil yields scarcely three times the seed sown,
food is not always obtainable. How do they manage to live until the
next crop? This is the question always under consideration previous
to, and during, the Revolution. I find, in manuscript correspondence,
the syndics and mayors of villages estimating the quantities for local
subsistence at so many bushels in the granaries, so many sheaves in
the barns, so many mouths to be filled, so many days to wait until

the August wheat comes in, and concluding on short supplies for
two, three and four months. Such a state of inter-communication and of
agriculture condemns a country to periodical famines, and I venture to
state that, alongside of the small-pox which out of eight deaths
causes one, another endemic disease exists, as prevalent and as
destructive, and this disease is starvation.

We can easily imagine that it is the common people, and especially
the peasants who suffers. An increase of the price of bread prevents
him from getting any, and even without that increase, he obtains it
with difficulty. Wheat bread cost, as today, three sous per pound,[32]
but as the average day's work brought only nineteen sous instead of
forty, the day-laborer, working the same time, could buy only the half
of a loaf instead of a full loaf[33]. Taking everything into account,
and wages being estimated according to the price of grain, we find
that the husbandman's manual labor then procured him 959 litres of
wheat, while nowadays it gives him 1,851 litres; his well-being,
accordingly, has advanced ninety-three per cent., which suffices to
show to what extent his predecessors suffered privations. And these
privations are peculiar to France. Through analogous observations and
estimates Arthur Young shows that in France those who lived on field
labor, and they constituted the great majority, are seventy-six per
cent. less comfortable than the same laborers in England, while they
are seventy-six per cent. less well fed and well clothed, besides
being worse treated in sickness and in health. The result is that in
seven-eighths of the kingdom, there are no farmers, but simply
métayers (a kind of poor tenants)[34]. The peasant is too poor to
undertake cultivation on his own account, possessing no agricultural
capital[35]. "The proprietor, desirous of improving his land, finds no
one to cultivate it but miserable creatures possessing only a pair of
hands; he is obliged to advance everything for its cultivation at his
own expense, animals, implements and seed, and even to advance the
wherewithal to this tenant to feed him until the first crop comes in."
- "At Vatan, for example, in Berry, the tenants, almost every year,
borrow bread of the proprietor in order to await the harvesting." -
"Very rarely is one found who is not indebted to his master at least
one hundred livres a year."

Frequently the latter proposes to abandon the entire crop to them
on condition that they demand nothing of him during the year; "these
miserable creatures" have refused; left to themselves, they would not
be sure of keeping themselves alive. - In Limousin and in Angoumois
their poverty is so great[36] "that, deducting the taxes to which they
are subject, they have no more than from twenty-five to thirty livres
each person per annum to spend; and not in money, it must be stated,
but counting whatever they consume in kind out of the crops they
produce. Frequently they have less, and when they cannot possibly make
a living the master is obliged to support them. . . . The métayer is
always reduced to just what is absolutely necessary to keep him from
starving." As to the small proprietor, the villager who plows his land
himself, his condition is but little better. "Agriculture,[37] as our
peasants practice it, is a veritable drudgery; they die by thousands
in childhood, and in maturity they seek places everywhere but where
they should be."

In 1783, throughout the plain of the Toulousain they eat only
maize, a mixture of flour, common seeds and very little wheat; those
on the mountains feed, a part of the year, on chestnuts; the potato is
hardly known, and, according to Arthur Young, ninety-nine out of a
hundred peasants would refuse to eat it. According to the reports of
intendants, the basis of food, in Normandy, is oats; in the election-
district of Troyes, buck-wheat; in the Marche and in Limousin,
buckwheat with chestnuts and radishes; in Auvergne, buckwheat,
chestnuts, milk-curds and a little salted goat's meat; in Beauce, a
mixture of barley and rye; in Berry, a mixture of barley and oats.
There is no wheat bread; the peasant consumes inferior flour only
because he is unable to pay two sous a pound for his bread. There is
no butcher's meat; at best he kills one pig a year. His dwelling is
built of clay (pise), roofed with thatch, without windows, and the
floor is the beaten ground. Even when the soil furnishes good building
materials, stone, slate and tile, the windows have no sashes. In a
parish in Normandy,[38] in 1789, "most of the dwellings consist of
four posts." They are often mere stables or barns "to which a chimney
has been added made of four poles and some mud." Their clothes are
rags, and often in winter these are muslin rags. In Quercy and
elsewhere, they have no stockings, or wooden shoes. "It is not in the
power of an English imagination," says Arthur Young, "to imagine the
animals that waited on us here at the Chapeau Rouge, - creatures
that were called by courtesy Souillac women, but in reality walking
dung-hills. But a neatly dressed, clean waiting-girl at an inn, will
be looked for in vain in France." On reading descriptions made on the
spot we see in France a similar aspect of country and of peasantry as
in Ireland, at least in its broad outlines.


Aspects of the country and of the peasantry.

In the most fertile regions, for instance, in Limagne, both
cottages and faces denote "misery and privation."[39] "The peasants
are generally feeble, emaciated and of slight stature." Nearly all
derive wheat and wine from their homesteads, but they are forced to
sell this to pay their rents and taxes; they eat black bread, made of
rye and barley, and their sole beverage is water poured on the lees
and the husks. "An Englishman[40] who has not traveled can not imagine
the figure made by infinitely the greater part of the countrywomen in
France." Arthur Young, who stops to talk with one of these in
Champagne, says that "this woman, at no great distance, might have
been taken for sixty or seventy, her figure was so bent and her face
so hardened and furrowed by labor, - but she said she was only
twenty-eight." This woman, her husband and her household, afford a
sufficiently accurate example of the condition of the small
proprietary husbandmen. Their property consists simply of a patch of
ground, with a cow and a poor little horse; their seven children
consume the whole of the cow's milk. They owe to one seignior a
franchard (forty-two pounds) of flour, and three chickens; to another
three franchards of oats, one chicken and one sou, to which must be
added the taille and other taxes. "God keep us!" she said, "for the
tailles and the dues crush us." - What must it be in districts where
the soil is poor! -

"From Ormes, (near Chatellerault), as far as Poitiers," writes a
lady,[41] "there is a good deal of ground which brings in nothing, and
from Poitiers to my residence (in Limousin) 25,000 arpents of ground
consist wholly of heath and sea-grass. The peasantry live on rye, of
which they do not remove the bran, and which is as black and heavy as
lead. - In Poitou, and here, they plow up only the skin of the
ground with a miserable little plow without wheels. . . . From
Poitiers to Montmorillon it is nine leagues, equal to sixteen of
Paris, and I assure you that I have seen but four men on the road,
and, between Montmorillon and my own house, which is four leagues, but
three; and then only at a distance, not having met one on the road.
You need not be surprised at this in such a country. . . Marriage
takes place as early as with the grand seigniors," doubtless for fear
of the militia. "But the population of the country is no greater
because almost every infant dies. Mothers having scarcely any milk,
their infants eat the bread of which I spoke, the stomach of a girl of
four years being as big as that of a pregnant woman. . . . The rye
crop this year was ruined by the frost on Easter day; flour is scarce;
of the twelve métairies owned by my mother, four of them may, perhaps,
have some on hand. There has been no rain since Easter; no hay, no
pasture, no vegetables, no fruit. You see the lot of the poor peasant.
There is no manure, and there are no cattle. . . . My mother, whose
granaries used to be always full, has not a grain of wheat in them,
because, for two years past, she has fed all her métayers and the

"The peasant is assisted," says a seignior of the same
province,[42] "protected, and rarely maltreated, but he is looked upon
with disdain. If kindly and pliable he is made subservient, but if
ill-disposed he becomes soured and irritable. . . . He is kept in
misery, in an abject state, by men who are not at all inhuman but
whose prejudices, especially among the nobles, lead them to regard him
as of a different species of being. . . . The proprietor gets all he
can out of him; in any event, looking upon him and his oxen as
domestic animals, he puts them into harness and employs them in all
weathers for every kind of journey, and for every species of carting
and transport. On the other hand, this métayer thinks of living with
as little labor as possible, converting as much ground as he can into
pasturage, for the reason that the product arising from the increase
of stock costs him no labor. The little plowing he does is for the
purpose of raising low-priced provisions suitable for his own
nourishment, such as buckwheat, radishes, etc. His enjoyment consists
only of his own idleness and sluggishness, hoping for a good chestnut
year and doing nothing voluntarily but procreate;" unable to hire
farming hands he begets children. -

The rest, ordinary laborers, have a few savings, "living on the
herbage, and on a few goats which devour everything." Often again,
these, by order of Parliament, are killed by the game-keepers. A
woman, with two children in swaddling clothes, having no milk, "and
without an inch of ground," whose two goats, her sole resource, had
thus been slain, and another, with one goat slain in the same way, and
who begs along with her boy, present themselves at the gate of the
chateau; one receives twelve livres, while the other is admitted as a
domestic, and henceforth, '' this village is all bows and smiling
faces.'' - In short, they are not accustomed to kindness; the lot of
all these poor people is to endure. "As with rain and hail, they
regard as inevitable the necessity of being oppressed by the
strongest, the richest, the most skillful, the most in repute," and
this stamps on them, "if one may be allowed to say so, an air of
painful suffering."

In Auvergne, a feudal country, covered with extensive ecclesiastic
and seigniorial domains, the misery is the same. At Clermont-
Ferrand,[43] "there are many streets that can for blackness, dirt and
scents only be represented by narrow channels cut in a dunghill." In
the inns of the largest bourgs, "closeness, misery, dirtiness and
darkness." That of Pradelles is "one of the worst in France." That of
Aubenas, says Young, "would be a purgatory for one of my pigs." The
senses, in short, are paralyzed. The primitive man is content so long
as he can sleep and get something to eat. He gets something to eat,
but what kind of food? To put up with the indigestible mess a peasant
here requires a still tougher stomach than in Limousin; in certain
villages where, ten years later, every year twenty or twenty-five hogs
are to be slaughtered, they now slaughter but three[44]. - On
contemplating this temperament, rude and intact since Vercingetorix,
and, moreover, rendered more savage by suffering, one cannot avoid
being somewhat alarmed. The Marquis de Mirabeau describes

"the votive festival of Mont-Dore: savages descending from the
mountain in torrents,[45] the curate with stole and surplice, the
justice in his wig, the police corps with sabers drawn, all guarding
the open square before letting the bagpipers play; the dance
interrupted in a quarter of an hour by a fight; the hooting and cries
of children, of the feeble and other spectators, urging them on as the
rabble urge on so many fighting dogs; frightful looking men, or rather
wild beasts covered with coats of coarse wool, wearing wide leather
belts pierced with copper nails, gigantic in stature, which is
increased by high wooden shoes, and making themselves still taller by
standing on tiptoe to see the battle, stamping with their feet as it
progresses and rubbing each other's flanks with their elbows, their
faces haggard and covered with long matted hair, the upper portion
pallid, and the lower distended, indicative of cruel delight and a
sort of ferocious impatience. And these folks pay the taille! And now
they want to take away their salt! And they know nothing of those they
despoil, of those whom they think they govern, believing that, by a
few strokes of a cowardly and careless pen, they may starve them with
impunity up to the final catastrophe! Poor Jean-Jacques, I said to
myself, had any one dispatched you, with your system, to copy music
amongst these folks, he would have had some sharp replies to make to
your discourses!"

Prophetic warning and admirable foresight in one whom an excess of
evil does not blind to the evil of the remedy! Enlightened by his
feudal and rural instincts, the old man at once judges both the
government and the philosophers, the Ancient Regime and the


How the peasant becomes a proprietor. - He is no better off. -
Increase of taxes. - He is the "mule" of the Ancient Regime.

Misery begets bitterness in a man; but ownership coupled with
misery renders him still more bitter. He may have submitted to
indigence but not to spoliation - which is the situation of the
peasant in 1789, for, during the eighteenth century, he had become the
possessor of land. But how could he maintain himself in such
destitution? The fact is almost incredible, but it is nevertheless
true. We can only explain it by the character of the French peasant,
by his sobriety, his tenacity, his rigor with himself, his
dissimulation, his hereditary passion for property and especially for
that of the soil. He had lived on privations, and economized sou after
sou. Every year a few pieces of silver are added to his little store
of crowns buried in the most secret recess of his cellar; Rousseau's
peasant, concealing his wine and bread in a pit, assuredly had a yet
more secret hiding-place; a little money in a woollen stocking or in a
jug escapes, more readily than elsewhere, the search of the clerks.
Dressed in rags, going barefoot, eating nothing but coarse black
bread, but cherishing the little treasure in his breast on which he
builds so many hopes, he watches for the opportunity which never fails
to come. "In spite of privileges," writes a gentleman in 1755,[46]
"the nobles are daily being ruined and reduced, the Third-Estate
making all the fortunes." A number of domains, through forced or
voluntary sales, thus pass into the hands of financiers, of men of the
quill, of merchants, and of the well-to-do bourgeois. Before
undergoing this total dispossession, however, the seignior, involved
in debt, is evidently resigned to partial alienation of his property.
The peasant who has bribed the steward is at hand with his hoard. "It
is poor property, my lord, and it costs you more than you get from
it." This may refer to an isolated patch, one end of a field or
meadow, sometimes a farm whose farmer pays nothing, and generally
worked by a métayer whose wants and indolence make him an annual
expense to his master. The latter may say to himself that the
alienated parcel is not lost, since, some day or other, through his
right of repurchase, he may take it back, while, in the meantime, he
enjoys a cens, drawbacks, and the lord's dues. Moreover, there is on
his domain and around him, extensive open spaces which the decline of
cultivation and depopulation have left a desert. To restore the value
of this he must surrender its proprietorship. There is no other way by
which to attach man permanently to the soil. And the government helps
him along in this matter. Obtaining no revenue from the abandoned
soil, it assents to a provisional withdrawal of its too weighty hand.
By the edict of 1766, a piece of cleared waste land remains free of
the taille for fifteen years, and, thereupon, in twenty-eight
provinces 400,000 arpents are cleared in three years[47].

This is the mode by which the seigniorial domain gradually crumbles
away and decreases. Towards the last, in many places, with the
exception of the chateau and the small adjoining farm which brings in
2 or 3000 francs a year, nothing is left to the seignior but his
feudal dues;[48] the rest of the soil belongs to the peasantry.
Forbonnais already remarks, towards 1750, that many of the nobles and
of the ennobled "reduced to extreme poverty but with titles to immense
possessions," have sold off portions to small cultivators at low
prices, and often for the amount of the taille. Towards 1760, one-
quarter of the soil is said to have already passed into the hands of
farmers. In 1772, in relation to the vingtième, which is levied on the
net revenue of real property, the intendant of Caen, having completed
the statement of his quota, estimates that out of 150,000 "there are
perhaps 50,000 whose liabilities did not exceed five sous, and perhaps
still as many more not exceeding twenty sous."[49] Contemporary
observers authenticate this passion of the peasant for land. "The
savings of the lower classes, which elsewhere are invested with
individuals and in the public funds, are wholly destined in France to
the purchase of land." "Accordingly the number of small rural holdings
is always on the increase. Necker says that there is an immensity of
them." Arthur Young, in 1789, is astonished at their great number and
"inclines to think that they form a third of the kingdom." This
already would be our actual estimate, and we still find,
approximately, the actual figures, on estimating the number of
proprietors in comparison with the number of inhabitants.

The small cultivator, however, in becoming a possessor of the soil
assumed its charges. Simply as day-laborer, and with his arms alone,
he was only partially affected by the taxes; "where there is nothing
the king loses his dues." But now, vainly is he poor and declaring
himself still poorer; the fisc has a hold on him and on every portion
of his new possessions. The collectors, peasants like himself, and
jealous, by virtue of being his neighbors, know how much his property,
exposed to view, brings in; hence they take all they can lay their
hands on. Vainly has he labored with renewed energy; his hands remain
as empty, and, at the end of the year, he discovers that his field has
produced him nothing. The more he acquires and produces the more
burdensome do the taxes become. In 1715, the taille and the poll-tax,
which he alone pays, or nearly alone, amounts to sixty-six millions of
livres; the amount is ninety-three millions in 1759 and one hundred
and ten millions in 1789.[50] In 1757, the charges amount to
283,156,000 livres; in 1789 to 476,294,000 livres.

Theoretically, through humanity and through good sense, there is,
doubtless, a desire to relieve the peasant, and pity is felt for him.
But, in practice, through necessity and routine, he is treated
according to Cardinal Richelieu's precept, as a beast of burden to
which oats is sparingly rationed out for fear that he may become too
strong and kick, "a mule which, accustomed to his load, is spoiled
more by long repose than by work."....



[1] Labruyère, edition of Destailleurs, II, 97. Addition to the
fourth ed. (1689)

[2] Oppression and misery begin about 1672. - At the end of the
seventeenth century (l698), the reports made up by the intendants for
the Duc de Bourgogne, state that many of the districts and provinces
have lost one-sixth, one-fifth, one-quarter, the third and even the
half of their population. (See details in the "correspondance des
contrôleurs-généraux from 1683 to 1698," published by M. de
Boislisle). According to the reports of intendants, (Vauban, "Dime
Royale," ch. VII. § 2.), the population of France in 1698 amounted to
19,994,146 inhabitants. From 1698 to 1715 it decreases. According to
Forbonnais, there were but 16 or 17 millions under the Regency. After
this epoch the population no longer diminishes but, for forty years,
it hardly increases. In 1753 (Voltaire, "Dict Phil.," article
Population), there are 3,550,499 hearths, besides 700,000 souls in
Paris, which makes from 16 to 17 millions of inhabitants if we count
four and one-half persons to each fireside, and from 18 to 19 millions
if we count five persons.

[3] Floquet, "Histoire du Parlement de Normandie," VII. 402.

[4] Rousseau, "Confessions," 1st part, ch. IV. (1732).

[5]D'Argenson, 19th and 24th May, July 4, and Aug. 1, 1739

[6] "Résumé d'histoire d'Auvergne par un Auvergnat" (M.
Tallandier), p. 313.

[7] D'Argenson, 1740, Aug. 7 and 21, September 19 and 24, May 28
and November 7.

[8] D'Argenson, October 4, 1749; May 20, Sept. 12, Oct. 28, Dec.
28, 1750.

[9] D'Argenson, June 21, 1749; May 22, 1750; March 19, 1751;
February 14, April 15, 1752, etc.

[10] Floquet, ibid.. VII. 410 (April, 1752, an address to the
Parliament of Normandy)

[11] D'Argenson, November 26, 1751: March 15, 1753.

[12] D'Argenson, IV. 124; VI. 165: VII. 194, etc.

[13] Floquet, ibid. VI. 400-430

[14] "Correspondance," by Métra, I. 338, 341. - Hippeau, "Le
Gouvernement de Normandie," IV. 62, 199, 358.

[15] "Procès-verbaux de l'assemblée provinciale de Basse Normandie"
(1787), p.151.

[16] Archives nationales, G, 319. Condition of the directory of
Issoudun, and H, 1149, 612, 1418.

[17] Ibid.. The letters of M. de Crosne, intendant of Rouen
(February 17, 1784); of M. de Blossac, intendant of Poitiers (May 9,
1784); of M. de Villeneuve, intendant of Bourges (March 28, 1784); of
M. de Cypierre, intendant of Orleans (May 28, 1784); of M. de Maziron,
intendant of Moulins (June 28, 1786); of M. Dupont, intendant of
Moulins (Nov. 16, 1779), etc.

[18] Archives nationales, H, 200 (A memorandum by M. Amelot,
intendant at Dijon, 1786).

[19] Gautier de Bianzat, "Doléances sur les surcharges que portent
les gens du Tiers-Etat," etc. (1789), p. 188. - "Procès-verbaux de
I'assemblée provinciale d'Auvergne" (1787), p. 175.

[20] Théron de Montaugé, "L'Agriculture et les chores rurales dans
le Toulousain," 112.

[21] "Procès-verbaux de assemblée provinciale de la Haute-Guyenne,"
I. 47, 79.

[22] "Procès-verbaux de l'assemblée provinciale du Soissonais"
(1787), p. 457; "de l'assemblée provinciale d'Auch," p. 24.

[23] "Résumé des cahiers," by Prudhomme, III. 271.

[24] Hippeau, ibid. VI. 74, 243 (grievances drawn up by the
Chevalier de Bertin).

[25] See the article "Fermiers et Grains," in the Encyclopedia, by
Quesnay, 1756.

[26] Théron de Montaugé, p.25. - "Ephémérides du citoyen," III. 190
(1766); IX. 15 (an article by M. de Butré, 1767).

[27] "Procés-verbaux de l'assemblée provinciale de l'Orléanais"
(1787), in a memoir by M. d'Autroche.

[28] One is surprised to see such a numerous people fed even though
one-half, or one-quarter of the arable land is sterile wastes. (Arthur
Young, II, 137.)

[29] Archives nationales, H, 1149. A letter of the Comtesse de
Saint-Georges (1772) on the effects of frost. "The ground this year
will remain uncultivated, there being already much land in this
condition, and especially in our parish." Théron de Montaugé, ibid..
45, 80.

[30] Arthur Young, II. 112, 115. - Théron de Montaugé, 52, 61.

[31] The Marquis de Mirabeau, "Traité de la population," p.29.

[32] Cf Galiani, "Dialogues sur le commerce des blés." (1770), p.
193. Wheat bread at this time cost four sous per pound.

[33] Arthur Young, II. 200, 201, 260-265. - Théron de Montaugé,
59, 68, 75, 79, 81, 84.

[34] "The poor people who cultivate the soil here are métayers,
that is men who hire the land without ability to stock it; the
proprietor is forced to provide cattle and seed and he and his tenants
divide the produce." - ARTHUR YOUNG.(TR.)

[35] "Ephémérides du citoyen," VI. 81-94 (1767), and IX. 99 (1767).

[36] Turgot, "Collections des économistes," I. 544, 549.

[37] Marquis de Mirabeau, "Traité de la population," 83..

[38] Hippeau, VI, 91.

[39] Dulaure, "Description de l'Auvergne," 1789.

[40] Arthur Young, I. 235.

[41] "Ephémérides du citoyen," XX. 146, a letter of the Marquis de
- August 17, 1767.

[42] Lucas de Montigny, "Memoires de Mirabeau," I, 394.

[43] Arthur Young, I. 280, 289, 294.

[44] Lafayette "Mémoires," V. 533.

[45] Lucas de Montigny, ibid. (a letter of August 18, 1777).

[46] De Tocqueville, 117.

[47] "Procès-verbaux de l'assemblée provinciale de Basse Normandie"
(1787), p.205.

[48] Léonce de Lavergne, p. 26 (according to the tables of
indemnity granted to the émigrés in 1825). In the estate of Blet (see
note 2 at the end of the volume), twenty-two parcels are alienated in
1760. - Arthur Young, I. 308 (the domain of Tour-d'Aigues, in
Provence), and II. 198, 214. - Doniol, "Histoire des classes rurales,"
p.450. - De Tocqueville, p.36.

[49] Archives nationales, H, 1463 (a letter by M. de Fontette,
November 16, 1772). - Cf. Cochut, "Revue des Deux Mondes,"
September, 1848. The sale of the national property seems not to have
sensibly increased small properties nor sensibly diminished the number
of the large ones. The Revolution developed moderate sized properties.
In 1848, the large estates numbered 183,000 (23,000 families paying
300 francs taxes, and more, and possessing on the average 260 hectares
of land, and 160,000 families paying from 230 to 500 francs taxes and
possessing on the average 75 hectares.) These 183,000 families
possessed 18,000,000 hectares. - There are besides 700,000 medium
sized estates (paying from 50 to 250 francs tax), and comprising
15,000,000 hectares. - And finally 3,900,000 small properties
comprising 15,000,000 hectares (900,000 paying from 25 to 50 francs
tax, averaging five and one-half hectares each, and 3,000,000 paying
less than 25 francs, averaging three and one ninth hectares each). -
According to the partial statement of de Tocqueville the number of
holders of real property had increased, on the average, to five-
twelfths; the population, at the same time, having increased five-
thirteenths (from 26 to 36 millions).

[50] "Compte-général des revenus et dépenses fixes au 1er Mai, 1789
(Imprimerie Royale, 1789). - De Luynes, XVI. 49. - Roux and Buchez, I.
206, 374. (This relates only to the countries of election; in the
provinces, with assemblies, the increase is no less great). Archives
nationales, H2, 1610 (the parish of Bourget, in Anjou). Extracts from
the taille rolls of three métayer- farms belonging to M. de Ruillé.
The taxes in 1762 are 334 livres, 3 sous; in 1783, 372 livres, 15



Direct taxes. - State of different domains at the end of the reign
of Louis XV. - Levies of the tithe and the owner. - What remains to
the proprietor.

Let us closely examine the extortions he has to endure, which are
very great, much beyond any that we can imagine. Economists had long
prepared the budget of a farm and shown by statistics the excess of
charges with which the cultivator is overwhelmed. If he continues to
cultivate, they say, he must have his share in the crops, an
inviolable portion, equal to one-half of the entire production, and
from which nothing can be deducted without ruining him. This portion,
in short, accurately represents, and not a sou too much, in the first
place, the interest of the capital first expended on the farm in
cattle, furniture, and implements of husbandry; in the second place,
the maintenance of this capital, every year depreciated by wear and
tear; in the third place, the advances made during the current year
for seed, wages, and food for men and animals; and, in the last place,
the compensation due him for the risks he takes and his losses. Here
is a first lien which must be satisfied beforehand, taking precedence
of all others, superior to that of the seignior, to that of the tithe-
owner (décimateur), to even that of the king, for it is an
indebtedness due to the soil.[1] After this is paid back, then, and
only then, that which remains, the net product, can be touched. Now,
in the then state of agriculture, the tithe-owner and the king
appropriate one-half of this net product, when the estate is large,
and the whole, if the estate is a small one[2]. A certain large farm
in Picardy, worth to its owner 3,600 livres, pays 1,800 livres to the
king, and 1,311 livres to the tithe owner; another, in the
Soissonnais, rented for 4,500 livres, pays 2,200 livres taxes and more
than 1,000 livres to the tithes. An ordinary métayer-farm near Nevers
pays into the treasury 138 livres, 121 livres to the church, and 114
livres to the proprietor. On another, in Poitou, the fisc (tax
authorities) absorbs 348 livres, and the proprietor receives only 238.
In general, in the regions of large farms, the proprietor obtains ten
livres the arpent if the cultivation is very good, and three livres
when ordinary. In the regions of small farms, and of the métayer
system, he gets fifteen sous the arpent, eight sous and even six sous.
The entire net profit may be said to go to the church and into the
State treasury.

Hired labor, meantime, is no less costly. On this métayer-farm in
Poitou, which brings in eight sous the arpent, thirty-six laborers
consume each twenty-six francs per annum in rye, two francs
respectively in vegetables, oil and milk preparations, and two francs
ten sous in pork, amounting to a sum total, each year, for each
person, of sixteen pounds of meat at an expense of thirty-six francs.
In fact they drink water only, use rape-seed oil for soup and for
light, never taste butter, and dress themselves in materials made of
the wool and hair of the sheep and goats they raise. They purchase
nothing save the tools necessary to make the fabrics of which these
provide the material. On another metayer-farm, on the confines of la
Marche and Berry, forty-six laborers cost a smaller sum, each one
consuming only the value of twenty-five francs per annum. We can judge
by this of the exorbitant share appropriated to themselves by the
Church and State, since, at so small a cost of cultivation, the
proprietor finds in his pocket, at the end of the year, six or eight
sous per arpent out of which, if plebeian, he must still pay the dues
to his seignior, contribute to the common purse for the militia, buy
his taxed salt and work out his corvée and the rest. Towards the end
of the reign of Louis XV in Limousin, says Turgot,[3] the king derives
for himself alone "about as much from the soil as the proprietor." In
a certain election-district, that of Tulle, where he abstracts fifty-
six and one-half per cent. of the product, there remains to the latter
forty-three and one-half per cent. thus accounting for "a multitude of
domains being abandoned."

It must not be supposed that time renders the tax less onerous or
that, in other provinces, the cultivator is better treated. In this
respect the documents are authentic and almost up to the latest hour.
We have only to take up the official statements of the provincial
assemblies held in 1787, to learn by official figures to what extent
the fisc may abuse the men who labor, and take bread out of the mouths
of those who have earned it by the sweat of their brows.


State of certain provinces on the outbreak of the Revolution. - The
taille, and other taxes.- The proportion of these taxes in relation to
income.- The sum total immense.

Direct taxation alone is here concerned, the tailles, collateral
taxes, poll-tax, vingtièmes, and the pecuniary tax substituted for the
corvée[4] In Champagne, the tax-payer pays on 100 livres income fifty-
four livres fifteen sous, on the average, and in many parishes,[5]
seventy-one livres thirteen sous. In the Ile-de-France, "if a taxable
inhabitant of a village, the proprietor of twenty arpents of land
which he himself works, and the income of which is estimated at ten
livres per arpent it is supposed that he is likewise the owner of the

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