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  • 1892
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Voltaire’s hatred was especially warm against the regular clergy. “Religion,” he says, “can still sharpen daggers. There is within the nation a people which has no dealings with honest folk, which does not belong to the age, which is inaccessible to the progress of reason, and over which the atrocity of fanaticism preserves its empire, like certain diseases which attack only the vilest populace.” The best monks are the worst, and those who sing “Pervigilium Veneris” in place of matins are less dangerous than such as reason, preach, and plot. And in another place he says that “a religious order should not a part of history.” But it is well to notice that Voltaire’s hatred of Catholicism and of Catholic monks is not founded on a preference for any other church. He thinks that theocracy must have been universal among early tribes, “for as soon as a nation has chosen a tutelary god, that god has priests. These priests govern the spirit of the nation; they can govern only in the name of their god, so they make him speak continually; they set forth his oracles, and all things are done by God’s express commands.” From this cause come human sacrifices and the most atrocious tyranny; and the more divine such a government calls itself, the more abominable it is.

All prophets are imposters. Mahomet may have begun as an enthusiast, enamored of his own ideas; but he was soon led away by his reveries; he deceived himself in deceiving others; and finally supported a doctrine which he believed to be good, by necessary imposture. Socrates, who pretended to have a familiar spirit, must have been a little crazy, or a little given to swindling. As for Moses, he is a myth, a form of the Indian Bacchus. The Koran (and consequently the Bible) may be judged by the ignorance of physics which it displays. “This is the touchstone of the books which, according to false religions, were written by the Deity, for God is neither absurd nor ignorant.” Several volumes are devoted by Voltaire to showing the inconsistencies, absurdities and atrocities of the Old and New Testaments, and the abominations of the Jews.

The positive religious opinions of Voltaire are less important than his negations, for the work of this great writer was mainly to destroy. He was a theist, of wavering and doubtful faith. He was well aware that any profession of atheism might be dangerous, and likely to injure him at court and with some of his friends. He thought that belief in God and in a future life were important to the safety of society, and is said to have sent the servant out of the room on one occasion when one of the company was doubting the existence of the Deity, giving as a reason that he did not want to have his throat cut. Yet it is probable that his theism went a little deeper than this. He says that matter is probably eternal and self-existing, and that God is everlasting, and self-existing likewise. Are there other Gods for other worlds? It may be so; some nations and some scholars have believed in the existence of two gods, one good and one evil. Surely, nature can more easily suffer, in the immensity of space, several independent beings, each absolute master of its own portion, than two limited gods in this world, one confined to doing good, the other to doing evil. If God and matter both exist from eternity, “here are two necessary entities; and if there be two there may be thirty. We must confess our ignorance of the nature of divinity.”

It is noticeable that, like most men on whom the idea of God does not take a very strong hold, Voltaire imagined powers in some respects superior to Deity. Thus he says above that nature can more easily suffer several independent gods than two opposed ones. Having supposed one or several gods to put the universe in order, he supposes an order anterior to the gods. This idea of a superior order, Fate, Necessity, or Nature, is a very old one. It is probably the protest of the human mind against those anthropomorphic conceptions of God, from which it is almost incapable of escaping. Voltaire and the Philosophers almost without exception believed that there was a system of natural law and justice connected with this superior order, taught to man by instinct. Sometimes in their system God was placed above this law, as its origin; sometimes, as we have seen, He was conceived as subjected to Nature. “God has given us a principle or universal reason,” says Voltaire, “as He has given feathers to birds and fur to bears; and this principle is so lasting that it exists in spite of all the passions which combat it, in spite of the tyrants who would drown it in blood, in spite of the impostors who would annihilate it in superstition. Therefore the rudest nation always judges very well in the long run concerning the laws that govern it; because it feels that these laws either agree or disagree with the principles of pity and justice which are in its heart.” Here we have something which seems like an innate idea of virtue. But we must not expect complete consistency of Voltaire. In another place he says, “Virtue and vice, moral good and evil, are in all countries that which is useful or injurious to society; and in all times and in all places he who sacrifices the most to the public is the man who will be called the most virtuous. Whence it appears that good actions are nothing else than actions from which we derive an advantage, and crimes are but actions that are against us. Virtue is the habit of doing the things which please mankind, and vice the habit of doing things which displease it. Liberty, he says elsewhere, is nothing but the power to do that which our wills necessarily require of us.”[Footnote: Voltaire, xx. 439 (_Siècle de Louis XIV._, ch. xxxvii.), xxi. 369 (_Louis XV._), xv. 34, 40, 123, 316 (_Essai sur les moeurs_), xliii. 74 (_Examen important de Lord Bolingbroke_), xxxi. 13 (_Dict. philos. Liberté_) xxxvii. 336 (Traité de métaphysique_). For general attacks on the Bible and the Jews, see (_Oeuvres_, xv. 123-127, xliii. 39-205, xxxix. 454-464. Morley’s _Diderot_, ii. 178). Notice how many of the arguments that are still repeated nowadays concerning the Mosaic account of the creation, etc. etc., come from Voltaire. Notice also that Voltaire, while too incredulous of ancient writers, was too credulous of modern travelers.]

The Church of France was both angered and alarmed by the writings of Voltaire and his friends, and did her feeble best to reply to them. But while strong in her organization and her legal powers, her internal condition was far from vigorous. Incredulity had become fashionable even before the attacks of Voltaire were dangerous. An earlier satirist has put into the mouth of a priest an account of the difficulties which beset the clergy in those days. “Men of the world,” he says, “are astonishing. They can bear neither our approval nor our censure. If we wish to correct them, they think us ridiculous. If we approve of them, they consider us below our calling. Nothing is so humiliating as to feel that you have shocked the impious. We are therefore obliged to follow an equivocal line of conduct, and to check libertines not by decision of character but by keeping them in doubt as to how we receive what they say. This requires much wit. The state of neutrality is difficult. Men of the world, who venture to say anything they please, who give free vent to their humor, who follow it up or let it go according to their success, get on much better.

“Nor is this all. That happy and tranquil condition which is so much praised we do not enjoy in society. As soon as we appear, we are obliged to discuss. We are forced, for instance, to undertake to prove the utility of prayer to a man who does not believe in God; the necessity of fasting to another who all his life has denied the immortality of the soul. The task is hard, and the laugh is not on our side.”[Footnote: Montesquieu, _Lettres persanes_, i. 210, 211, Lettre lxi.]

The prelates appointed to their high offices by Louis XV. and his courtiers were not the men to make good their cause by spiritual weapons. There was no Bossuet, no Fénelon in the Church of France of the eighteenth century. Her defense was intrusted to far weaker men. First we have the archbishops, Lefranc de Pompignan of Vienne and Elie de Beaumont of Paris. Then come the Jesuit Nonnotte and the managers of the Mémoires de Trévoux, the Benedictine Chaudon, the Abbé Trublet, the journalist Fréron, and many others, lay and clerical. The answers of the churchmen to their Philosophic opponents are generally inconclusive. Lefranc de Pompignan declared that the love of dry and speculative truth was a delusive fancy, good to adorn an oration, but never realized by the human heart. He sneered at Locke and at the idea that the latter had invented metaphysics. His objections and those of the Catholic church to that philosopher’s teachings were chiefly that the Englishman maintained that thought might be an attribute of matter; that he encouraged Pyrrhonism, or universal doubt; that his theory of identity was doubtful, and that he denied the existence of innate ideas. All these matters are well open to discussion, and the advantage might not always be found on Locke’s side. But in general the Catholic theologians and their opponents were not sufficiently agreed to be able to argue profitably. They had no premises in common. If one of two disputants assumes that all ideas are derived from sensation and reflection, and the other, that the most important of them are the result of the inspiration of God, there is no use in their discussing minor points until those great questions are settled. The attempt to reconcile views so conflicting has frequently been made, and no writings are more dreary than those which embody it. But men who are too far apart to cross swords in argument may yet hurl at each other the missiles of vituperation, and there were plenty of combatants to engage in that sort of warfare with Voltaire, Rousseau, and the Encyclopaedists.

On the two sides, treatises, comedies, tales, and epigrams were written. It was not difficult to point out that the sayings of the various opponents of the church were inconsistent with each other; that Rousseau contradicted Voltaire, that Voltaire contradicted himself. There were many weak places in the armor of those warriors. Pompignan discourses at great length, dwelling more especially on the worship which the Philosophers paid to physical science, on their love of doubt, and on their mistaken theory that a good Christian cannot be a patriot. Chaudon, perhaps the cleverest of the clerical writers, sometimes throws a well directed shaft. “That same Voltaire,” he says, “who thinks that satires against God are of no consequence, attaches great importance to satires written against himself and his friends. He is unwilling to see the pen snatched from the hands of the slanderers of the Deity; but he has often tried to excite the powers that be against the least of his critics.” This was very true of Voltaire, who was as thin-skinned as he was violent; and who is believed to have tried sometimes to silence his opponents by the arbitrary method of procuring from some man in power a royal order to have them locked up. Palissot, in a very readable comedy, makes fun of Diderot and his friends. As for invective, the supply is endless on both sides. The Archbishop of Paris condemns the “Émile” of Rousseau as containing a great many propositions that are “false, scandalous, full of hatred of the church and her ministers, erroneous, impious, blasphemous, and heretical.” The same prelate argues as follows: “Who would not believe, my very dear brethren, from what this impostor says, that the authority of the church is proved only by her own decisions, and that she proceeds thus: `I decide that I am infallible, therefore so I am.’ A calumnious imputation, my very dear brethren! The constitution of Christianity, the spirit of the Scriptures, the very errors and the weakness of the human mind tend to show that the church established by Jesus Christ is infallible. We declare that, as the Divine Legislator always taught the truth, so his church always teaches it. We therefore prove the authority of the church, not by the church’s authority, but by that of Jesus Christ, a process as accurate as the other, with which we are reproached, is absurd and senseless.”

The arguments of the clerical writers were not all on this level. Chaudon and Nonnotte prepared a series of articles, arranged in the form of a dictionary, in which the Catholic doctrine is set forth, sometimes clearly and forcibly. But it is evident that the champions of Catholicism in that age were no match in controversy for her adversaries.[Footnote: Lefranc de Pompignan, i. 27 (_Instruction pastorale sur la prétendue philosophie des incredules). Dictionnaire antiphilosophique,_ republished and enlarged by Grosse under the title _Dictionnaire d’antiphilosophisme,_ Palissot, _Les philosophes._ Beaumont’s “_mandement_” given in Rousseau, (_Oeuvres,_ vii. 22, etc. See also Barthelémy, _Erreurs et mensonges,_ 5e, l3e, 14e Série, articles on _Fréron, Nonnotte, Trublet,_ and _Patrouillet. Confessions de Fréron._ Nisard, _Les ennemis de Voltaire_). The superiority of the Philosophers over the churchmen in argument is too evident to be denied. Carné, 408.]

The strength of a church does not lie in her doctors and her orators, still less in her wits and debaters, though they all have their uses. The strength of a church lies in her saints. While these have a large part in her councils and a wide influence among her members, a church is nearly irresistible. When they are few, timid and uninfluential, knowledge and power, nay, simple piety itself, can hardly support her. In the Church of France, through the ages, there have been many saints; but in the reigns of Louis XVI. and his immediate predecessor there were but few, and none of prominence. The persecution of the Jansenists, petty as were the forms it took, had turned aside from ardent fellowship in the church many of the most earnest, religious souls in France. The atmosphere of the country was not then favorable to any kind of heroism. Such self-devoted Christians as there were went quietly on their ways; their existence to be proved only when, in the worst days of the Revolution, a few of them should find the crown of martyrdom.



The second order in the state was the Nobility. It is a mistake, however, to suppose that this word bears on the Continent exactly the same meaning as in England. Where all the children of a nobleman are nobles, a strict class is created. An English peerage, descending only to the eldest son, is more in the nature of an office. The French _noblesse_ in the latter years of the old monarchy comprised nearly all persons living otherwise than by their daily toil, together with the higher part of the legal profession. While the clergy had political rights and a corporate existence, and acted by means of an assembly, the nobility had but privileges. This, however, was true only of the older provinces, the “Lands of Elections,” whose ancient rights had been abolished. In some of the “Lands of Estates,” which still kept a remnant of self-government, the order was to some extent a political body with constitutional rights.

The nobility have been reckoned at about one hundred thousand souls, forming twenty-five or thirty thousand families, owning one fifth of the soil of France. Only a part of this land, however, was occupied by the nobles for their gardens, parks, and chases. The greater portion was let to farmers, either at a fixed rent, or on the _métayer_ system, by which the landlord was paid by a share of the crops. And beside his rent or his portion, the noble received other things from his tenants: payments and services according to ancient custom, days of labor, and occasional dues. He could tramp over the ploughed lands with his servants in search of game, although he might destroy the growing corn. The game itself, which the peasant might not kill, was still more destructive. Such rights as these, especially where they were harshly enforced, caused both loss and irritation to the poor. Although there were far too many absentees among the great families, yet the larger number of the nobles spent most of their time at home on their estates, looking after their farms and their tenants, attending to local business, and saving up money to be spent in visits to the towns, or to Paris. When they were absent, their bailiffs were harder masters than themselves. Unfortunately the eyes of the noble class were turned rather to the enjoyments of the city and the court than to the duties of country life on their estates, an inevitable consequence of their loss of local power.

If the nobles had few political rights, they had plenty of public privileges. They were exempt from the most onerous taxes, and the best places under the government were reserved for them. Therefore every man who rose to eminence or to wealth in France strove to enter their ranks, and since nobility was a purchasable commodity, through the multiplication of venal offices which conferred it, none who had much money to spend failed to secure the coveted rank. Thus the order had come to comprise almost all persons of note, and a great part of the educated class. To describe its ideas and aspirations is to describe those of most of the leaders of France. Nobility was no longer a mark of high birth, nor a brevet of distinction; it was merely a sign that a man, or some of his ancestors, had had property. Of course all persons in the order were not equal. The descendants of the old families, which had been great in the land for hundreds of years, despised the mushroom noblemen of yesterday, and talked contemptuously of “nobility of the gown.” Theirs was of the sword, and dated from the Crusades. And under Louis XVI., after the first dismissal of Necker, there was a reaction, and ground gained by the older nobility over the newer, and by both over the inferior classes. As the Revolution draws near and financial embarrassment grows more acute, the pickings of the favored class have become scarcer, while the appetite for them has increased. Preferment in church or state must no longer go to the vulgar.

There is a distinction among nobles quite apart from the length of their pedigree. We find a higher and a lower nobility, with no clear line of division between them. They are in fact the very rich, whose families have some prominence, and the moderately well off. For it may be noticed that among nobles of all times and countries, although wealth unaided may not give titles and place, it is pretty much a condition precedent for acquiring them. A man may be of excellent family, and poor; but to be a great noble, a man must be rich. In old France the road to preferment was through the court; but to shine at court a considerable income was required; and so the _noblesse de cour_ was more or less identical with the richer nobility.

In this small but influential part of the nation, both the good and the bad qualities which are favored by court life had reached a high degree of development. The old French nobility has sometimes been represented as exhibiting the best of manners and the worst of morals. I believe that both sides of the picture have been painted in too high colors. The courtier was not always polite, nor were all great nobles libertines. Faithful husbands and wives were by no means exceptional; although, as in other places, well behaved people did not make a parade of their morality. There is such a thing as a French prig; but prigs are neither common nor popular in France. Before the Revolution the art of pleasing was more studied than it is to-day,–that art by which men and women make themselves agreeable to their acquaintance.

“In old times, under Louis XV. and Louis XVI.,” says the Viscount of Ségur, “a young man entering society made what was called a _début_. He cultivated accomplishments. His father suggested and directed this work, for work it was; but the mother, the mother only, could bring her son to that last degree of politeness, of grace and amiability, which completed his education. Beside her natural tenderness, her pride was so much at stake that you may judge what care, what studied pains, she used in giving her children, on their entrance into society, all the charm that she could develop in them, or bestow upon them. Thence came that rare politeness, that exquisite taste, that moderation in speech and jest, that graceful carriage, in short that combination which characterized what was called good company, and which always distinguished French society even among foreigners. If a young man, because of his youth, had failed in attention to a lady, in consideration for a man older than himself, in deference for old age, the mother of the thoughtless young fellow was informed of it by her friends the same evening; and on the following day he was sure to receive advice and reproof.”[Footnote: The Viscount of Ségur was brother to the Count of Ségur, from the preface to whose Memoirs this extract is taken.]

The instruction thus early given was not confined to forms. Indeed, French society in that day was probably less formal in some ways than any other European society; and in Paris people were more free than in the provinces. Although making a bow was a fine art, although a lady’s curtsey was expected to be at once “natural, soft, modest, gracious, and dignified,” ceremonious greetings were considered unnecessary, and few compliments were paid. To praise a woman’s beauty to her face would have been to disparage her modesty. Good manners consisted in no small part in distinguishing perfectly what was due to every one, and in expressing that distinction with lightness and grace. Different modes of address were appropriate toward parents, relations, friends, acquaintances, strangers, your superiors in rank, your poor dependents, yet all must be treated with courtesy and consideration. Such manners are possible only where social distinctions are positively ascertained. In old France, at least, every man had his place and knew where he was.

But it was in their dealings with ladies that the Frenchmen of that day showed the perfection of their system. Vicious they might be, but discourteous they were not. No well-bred man would then appear in a lady’s room carelessly dressed, or in boots. In speech between the sexes, the third person was generally used, and a gentleman in speaking to a lady dropped his voice to a lower tone than he employed to men. Gentlemen were careful before ladies not to treat even each other with familiarity. Still less would one of them, however intimate he might be with a lady’s husband or brother, speak to her of his friend by any name less formal than his title. These habits have left their mark in France and elsewhere to this day; but the mark is fast disappearing, not altogether to the advantage of social life.[Footnote: Genlis, Dictionnaire des Étiquettes, i. 94, 218; ii. 194, 347.]

Friendship between men was sometimes carried so far as to interfere with the claims of domestic affection. At least it was faithful and sincere, and the man on whom fortune had frowned, the fallen minister, or the disgraced courtier, was followed in his adversity by the kindness of his friends. Of all the virtues this is perhaps the one which in our hurried age tends most to disappear. It is left for the occupation of idle hours, and the smallest piece of triviality which can be tortured into the name of business, is allowed to crowd away those constantly repeated attentions which might add a true grace and refinement to the lives of those who gave and of those who received them. It is often said that friendships are formed only in youth. Is not this partly because youth Revolution, men of all ages made friendships, and supported them by the consideration for others which is at the bottom of all politeness. The Frenchman is nervous and irritable. When he lets his temper get beyond his control, he is fierce and violent. He has little of the easy-going good-nature under inconveniences, which some branches of the Teutonic race believe themselves to possess. He has less kindly merriment than the Tuscan. But he has trained himself for social life; and has learned, when on his good behavior, to make others happy about him. And it is part of the well-bred Frenchman’s pride and happiness to be almost always on his good behavior.

In one respect Paris in the eighteenth century was more like a provincial town than like a great modern capital. Acquaintanceship had not swallowed up intimacy. A man or a woman did not undertake to keep on terms of civility with so many people that he could not find time to see his best friends oftener than once or twice a year. The much vaunted _salons_ of the old monarchy were charming, in great measure because they were reasonably organized. An agreeable woman would draw her friends about her; they would meet in her parlor until they knew each other, and would be together often enough to keep touch intellectually. The talker knew his audience and felt at home with it. The listener had learned to expect something worth hearing. The mistress of the house kept language and men within bounds, and had her own way of getting rid of bores. But even French wit and vivacity were not always equal to the demands upon them. “I remember,” says Montesquieu, “that I once had the curiosity to count how many times I should hear a little story, which certainly did not deserve to be told or remembered; during three weeks that it occupied the polite world, I heard it repeated two hundred and twenty-five times, which pleased me much.”[Footnote: _Oeuvres_, vii 179 _(Pensées diverses)._]

Beside the tie of friendship we may set that of the family. In old France this bond was much closer than it is in modern America. If a man rose in the world, the benefit to his relations was greater than now; and there was no theory current that a ruler, or a man in a position of trust, should exclude from the places under him those persons with whom he is best acquainted, and of whose fidelity to himself and to his employers he has most reason to be sure. On the other hand, a disgrace to one member of a family spread its blight on all the others, and the judicial condemnation of one man might exclude his near relations from the public service–a state of things which was beginning to be repugnant to the public conscience, but which had at least the merit of forming a strong band to restrain the tempted from his contemplated crime.

In fact, the old idea of the family as an organic whole, with common joys, honors, and responsibilities, common sorrows and disgraces, was giving way to the newer notion of individualism. In France, however, the process never went so far as it has done in some other countries, including our own.

Good manners were certainly the rule at the French court, but there were exceptions, and not inconspicuous ones, for Louis XV. was an unfeeling man, and Louis XVI. was an awkward one. When Mademoiselle Genêt, fifteen years old, was first engaged as reader to the former king’s daughters, she was in a state of agitation easy to imagine. The court was in mourning, and the great rooms hung with black, the state armchairs on platforms, several steps above the floor, the feathers and the shoulder-knots embroidered with tinsel made a deep impression on her. When the king first approached, she thought him very imposing. He was going a-hunting, and was followed by a numerous train. He stopped short in front of the young girl and the following dialogue took place:–

“Mademoiselle Genêt, I am told that you are very learned; that you know four or five foreign languages.”

“I know only two, sir,” trembling.

“Which are they?”

“English and Italian.”

“Do you speak them fluently?”

“Yes, sir, very fluently.”

“That’s quite enough to put a husband out of temper;” and the king went on, followed by his laughing train, and left the poor little girl standing abashed and disconsolate.[Footnote: Campan, i. pp. vi. viii.]

The memoirs of the time are full of stories proving that the rigorous enforcement of étiquette and the general training in good manners had not done away with eccentricity of behavior. The Count of Osmont, for instance, was continually fidgeting with anything that might come under his hand, and could not see a snuff-box without ladling out the snuff with three fingers, and sprinkling it over his clothes like a Swiss porter. He sometimes varied this pleasant performance by putting the box itself under his nose, to the great disgust of whomever happened to be its owner. He once spent a week at the house of Madame de Vassy, a lady who was young and good-looking enough, but stiff and ceremonious. This lady wore a skirt of crimson velvet over a big panier, and was covered with pearls and diamonds. Madame de Vassy would not reprove Monsieur d’Osmont in words for his method of treating her magnificent golden snuff-box; but used to get up from her place at the card-table as soon as he had so used it, empty all the snuff into the fireplace, and ring for more. D’Osmont, meanwhile, would go on without noticing her, laugh and swear over his cards, and get in a passion with himself if the luck ran against him. Yet when he was not playing, the man was lively, modest and amiable, and except for his fidgety habits, had the tone of the best society.[Footnote: Dufort, ii. 46.]

That which above all things distinguished the French nobility, and especially the highest ranks of it, from the rest of mankind was the amount of leisure which it enjoyed. Most people in the world have to work, most aristocracies to govern The English gentleman of the eighteenth century farmed his estates, acted as a magistrate, took part in politics. Living in the country, he was a mighty hunter. The French nobleman, unless he were an officer in the army (and even the officers had inordinately long leave of absence), had nothing to do but to kill time. Only the poorer country gentlemen ever thought of farming their own lands. For the unemployed nobles of Paris, there was but occasional sport to be had. Indeed, the Frenchman, although he likes the more violent and tumultuous kinds of hunting, is not easily interested in the quieter and more lasting varieties of sport. He will joyfully chase the wild boar, when horses, dogs, and horns, with the admiration of his friends and servants, concur to keep his blood boiling; but he will not care to plod alone through the woods for a long afternoon on the chance of bringing home a brace of woodcock; nor can he mention fishing without a sneer. Being thus deprived of the chief resource by which Anglo-Saxons combine activity and indolence, the French nobility cultivated to their highest pitch those human pleasures which are at once the most vivid and the most delicate. They devoted themselves to society and to love-making. Too quick-witted to fall into sloth, too proud to become drunkards or gluttons, they dissipated their lives in conversation and stained their souls with intrigue. Never, probably, have the arts which make social intercourse delightful been carried to so high a degree of excellence as among them. Never perhaps, in a Christian country, have offenses against the laws of marriage been so readily condoned, where outward decency was not violated, as in the upper circles of France in the century preceding the Revolution.

The vice of Parisian society under Louis XV. and his grandson presented a curious character. Adultery had acquired a regular standing, and connections dependent upon it were openly, if tacitly recognized. Such illicit alliances were even governed by a morality of their own, and the attempt to induce a woman to be unfaithful to her criminal lover might be treated as an insult.[Footnote: Witness Rousseau and Mme. d’Houdetot in the _Confessions_. Mlle. d’Aydie was accounted very virtuous for dissuading her lover from marrying her, even after the birth of her child, for fear of injuring his prospects. Yet the match would not seem, to modern ideas, to have been a very unequal one.] But this pedantry of vice was not always maintained. There were men and women in high life who changed their connections very frequently, yielding to the caprice of the moment, as the senses or the wit might lead them. Such people were not passionate, but simply depraved; yet the mass of the community, deterred partly by fear of ridicule, and partly by the Philosophic spirit which had decided that chastity was not a part of natural morals, did not visit them with very severe condemnation.

If eccentricity sometimes overrode étiquette and even politeness, good morals and religion not infrequently made a stand against corruption. There were loving wives and careful mothers among the highest nobility. Of the Duchess of Ayen we get a description from her children. Her mansion was in the Rue St. Honoré, and had a garden running back almost to that of the Tuileries (for the Rue de Rivoli was not then in existence). The house was known for the beauty of its apartments, and for the superb collection of pictures which it contained. After dinner, which was served at three o’clock, the duchess would retire to her bedchamber, a large room hung with crimson damask, and take her place in a great armchair by the fire. Her books, her work, her snuff-box, were within reach. She would call her five girls about her. These, on chairs and footstools, squabbling gently at times for the places next their mother, would tell of their excursions, their lessons, the little events of every day. There was nothing frivolous in their education. Their old nurse had not filled their minds with fairy tales, but with stories from the Old Testament and with anecdotes of heroic actions.

The pleasures of these girls were simple. Once or twice in a summer they went on a visit to their grandfather, the Marshal de Noailles at Saint Germain en Laye. In the autumn they spent a week with their other grandfather, Monsieur d’Aguesseau at Fresnes. An excursion into the suburbs, a ride on donkeys on the slopes of Mont Valérien, made up their innocent dissipations. Their most frivolous excitement was to see their governess fall off her donkey.

The piety of the duchess might in some respects appear extravagant. Her fourth daughter had two beggars of the parish for god-parents, as a constant reminder of humility. The same child was of a violent and willful disposition, but was converted at the age of eleven and became mild, patient, and studious. The conversion of so young a sinner, and the seriousness with which the event was treated by the family, seem rather to belong to the atmosphere of Puritanism than to that of the Catholicism of the eighteenth century. But if the religion of the Duchess of Ayen sometimes led her to fantastic extremes, these were not its principal characteristics. Her piety was applied to the conduct of her daily life and to the education of her daughters in honesty, reasonableness, and self-devotion. Their faith and hers were to be tested by the hardest trials, and to be victorious both in prison and on the scaffold. We are fortunate in possessing their biographies. In how many cases at the same time and in the same country did similar virtues go unrecorded?[Footnote: Vie de Madame de Lafayette, Mme. de Montagu.]

As for the smaller nobility, the “sparrow hawks,”[Footnote: Hobéraux.] living in the country, they dwelt among their less exalted neighbors, doing good or evil as the character of each one of them directed. Sometimes we find them on friendly terms with the villagers, acting as godfathers and godmothers to the children, summoning the peasants to take part in the chase, or to dance in the courtyard of the castle. We find them endowing hospitals, giving alms, keeping an eye on the conduct of the village priest. A continual interchange of presents goes on between the cottage and the great house. A new lord is welcomed by salvos of musketry, the ladies of his family are met by young girls bearing flowers. Such relations as these are said to have grown less common as the great Revolution drew near. It has often been remarked of the Vendée and Brittany, where a larger proportion of lords resided on their estates than was the case elsewhere, that a friendlier feeling was there cultivated between the upper and the lower classes; and that it was in those provinces that a stand was made by lords and peasants alike for the maintenance of the old order of things. In some parts of the country the peasants and their lords were continually quarreling and going to law. The royal intendant was besieged with complaints. The poor could not get their pay for their work. They received blows instead of money. Arrogance and injustice on the one side were met by impudence and fraud on the other. The old leadership had passed away. The upper class had lost its power and its responsibility; it insisted the more tenaciously on its privileges. Exemption from certain taxes was the chief of these, but there were others as irritating if less important. Quarrels arose with the priest about the lord’s right to be first given the holy water. One vicar in his wrath deluged his lordship’s new wig.

In general, we may conceive of the lesser nobles, deprived of their useful function of regulating and administering the country, leading somewhat penurious and useless lives. They hunted a good deal, they slept long. Generally they did not eat overmuch, for gluttony is not a vice of their race. They grumbled at the ascendency of the court, and at the new army-regulations. They preserved in their families the noble virtues of dignity and obedience. Children asked their parents’ blessing on their knees before they went to bed. The elder Mirabeau, the grim Friend of Men, still knelt nightly before his mother in his fiftieth year. The children honored their parents in fact as well as in form, and took no important step in life without paternal consent. The boys ran rather wild in their youth, but settled down at the approach of middle life; the oldest inheriting the few or barren paternal acres; the younger sons equally noble, and thus debarred from lucrative occupations, pushing their fortunes in the army. The girls were married young or went into a convent. Marriages were arranged entirely by the parents. “My father,” said a young nobleman, “I am told that you have agreed on a marriage for me. Would you be kind enough to tell me if the report be true, and what is the name of the lady?” “My son,” answered his parent, “be so good as to mind your own business, and not to come to me with questions.”[Footnote: Babeau, _Le Village_, 158. Ch. de Kibbe, 169. Mme. de Montagu, 57. Genlis, _Dictionnaire des Étiquettes,_ i. 71. Lavergne, _Les Économistes,_ 127.]



The nobility of France was essentially a military class. Its privileges were claimed on account of services rendered in the field. The priests pray, the nobles fight, the commons pay for all; such was the theory of the state. It is true that the nobility no longer furnished the larger part of the armies; that the old feudal levies of ban and rear-ban, in which the baron rode at the head of his vassals, were no longer called out. But still the soldier’s life was considered the proper career of the nobleman. A large proportion of the members of the order were commissioned officers, and most officers were members of the order.

The rule which required proofs of nobility as a prerequisite to obtaining a commission was not severely enforced in the reign of Louis XV., and in the earlier years of his successor. In many regiments it was usual to promote one or two deserving sergeants every year. In others the necessary certificate of birth could be signed by any nobleman and was often obtained from greed or good-nature. Moreover, an order of 1750 had provided that officers of plebeian extraction should sometimes be ennobled for distinguished services. But in 1781, a new rule was established. No one could thenceforth receive a commission as second lieutenant who could not show four generations of nobility on his father’s side, counting himself. Thus were all members of families recently ennobled excluded from the service, and no door was left open to the military ambition of people belonging to the middle class; although that class was yearly increasing in importance. Moreover, strict genealogical proofs were required, the candidate for a commission having to submit his papers to the royal herald. Exceptions were made in favor of the sons of members of the military order of Saint Louis. [Footnote: Ségur, i. 82, 158. Chérest, i. 14. Anciennes lois françaises, 22d May, 1781. The regiments to which the regulation applies are those of French infantry (not foreign regiments), cavalry, light horse, dragoons, and chasseurs à cheval. This would seem to exclude the artillery and engineers. The foreign regiments appear to have been included in a later order. Chérest, i. 24.]

But all nobles were not on the same footing in the army. Among the regimental officers two classes might be distinguished. There were, on the one hand, the ensigns, lieutenants, captains, majors, and lieutenant-colonels, who generally belonged to the poorer nobility. They served long and for small pay, with little hope of the more brilliant rewards of the profession. They did their work and stayed with their regiments, although leave of absence was not difficult to obtain in time of peace. Their lives were hard and frugal, a captain’s pay not exceeding twenty-five hundred livres, which was perhaps doubled by allowances. On the other hand were the colonels and second colonels, young men of influential families, who, at most, passed through the lower ranks to learn something of the duties of an officer. Their commissions were procured by favor. There was scarce a bishop about the court who did not have a candidate for a colonelcy, scarcely a pretty woman who did not aspire to make her friend a captain. The rich young men, thus promoted, threw their money about freely in camp and garrison. Thus if the nobility had exclusive privileges, the court had privileges that excluded those of the rest of the nobility, and in the very last days of the old monarchy, these also were enhanced. The Board of War in 1788, decided that no one should become a general officer who had not previously been a colonel; and colonels’ commissions, besides being very expensive, were given, as above stated, by favor alone. Thus on the eve of the Revolution were the bands of privilege drawn tighter in France. [Footnote: Ségur, i. 154. Chérest, ii. 90.] The colonels thus appointed were generally not wanting in courage. The French nobility of all degrees was ready enough to give its blood on the battle-field. Thus the son of the Duke of Boufflers, fourteen years old, had been made colonel of the regiment which bore the name of his family. The duke served as a lieutenant-général in the same army. Fearing that the boy might not know how to behave in battle, the father, on the first occasion, obtained permission from the Marshal, Maurice de Saxe, commander of the army, to accompany his son as a volunteer. The boy’s regiment was ordered to attack the intrenched village of Raucoux. The young colonel and his father, followed by two pages, led their men against the intrenchments. When they reached the works, the duke took his son in his arms and threw him over the parapet. He himself followed, and both came off unhurt, but the two pages were shot dead.[Footnote: Montbarey, i. 38.]

In America, as in Europe, the young favorites of fortune were ready enough to fight. Such men as Lauzun, Ségur, or the Viscount of Noailles asked nothing better than adventures, whether of war or love; but in peace they could not be looked on as satisfactory or hard-working officers. Yet they and their like continued to get advancement. Ordinances might be passed from time to time, requiring age or length of service, but ordinances in old France did not apply to the great. The poorer nobility might grumble, but the court families continued to get the good places. The lieutenant-colonels and the other working officers of the army had but little chance of rising to be general officers. Even before the order of 1788, promotion fell to the courtier colonels. The baton of the marshals of France was placed in the hands only of the very highest nobility. All over Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, armies were often commanded by men born to princely rank. That this did not necessarily mean that they were ill commanded may be shown by the names of Turenne and Condé, Maurice de Saxe and Eugène of Savoy, Prince Henry of Prussia I and Frederick the Great.

While the higher commands were thus monopolized (or nearly so) by the rich and powerful, the poorer nobility flocked into the army, to occupy the subordinate ranks of commissioned officers. Sometimes they came through the military schools. The most important of these had been founded at Paris in 1750, by the financier Paris-Duverney. Here several hundred young gentlemen, mostly born poor and preferably the sons of officers, received a military education. The boys came to the school from their homes in the country between the ages of nine and eleven, rustic little figures sometimes, in wooden shoes and woolen caps, like the peasant lads who had been their early playmates. They were taught the duties of gentlemen and officers, cleanliness, an upright carriage, the manual and tactics, and something of military science. Other schools, kept by monks, existed in the provinces where the young aspirants for commissions learned engineering and the theory of artillery. But many young a noblemen entered their career by a process more in accordance with youthful tastes. We find boys in camp in time of war, evading the orders which forbade entering the service before the age of sixteen. Children of twelve and thirteen are wounded in battle. [Footnote: Babeau, _Vie militaire_, ii. 7, 45. Montbarey, i. 18.]

As the only form of active life in which most nobles could take part was found in the army, there was always too large a number of officers, and too great a proportion of the military expenses was devoted to them. In 1787 hardly more than one in three of those holding commissions was in active service. The number of soldiers under Louis XVI. was less than a hundred and fifty thousand actually with the colors. There were thirty-six thousand officers, on paper; thirteen thousand actively employed. The soldiers cost the state 44,100,000 livres a year, the officers 46,400,000 livres.[Footnote: Babeau, Vie militaire, i. 15; ii. 90, 145. Necker, De l’Administration, ii. 415, 418.]

The relation between the officers and the soldiers of the old French army was more intimate and kindly than that existing in any other European army of the time. For both, their regiment was a home, and the military service a lifelong profession. They had entered it young, and they hoped to die in it. Their relation to each other had become a part of the structure of their minds; a condition of coherent thought. A soldier might rise from the ranks and become a lieutenant, or even a captain, but such promotion was infrequent; few common soldiers had the education or the means to aspire to it. On the other hand, the command of a company was sometimes almost hereditary. The captain might be lord of the village in which his soldiers were born. In that case he would care for them in sickness, and perhaps even grant a furlough when the private was much needed by his family at home. His own chance of promotion was small. He expected to do the work of his life in that company, among those soldiers, with perhaps his younger brother, or, in time, his son, as his lieutenant. It would seem that in the years immediately preceding the French Revolution these kindly relations were in some measure dying out. The captain was no longer so closely connected with his company as he had been. Officialism was taking the place of those personal connections which had characterized the feudal system. The gulf between soldiers and officers, if not harder to cross for the ambitious, separated the commonplace members of each group more widely from those of the other.[Footnote: Babeau, Vie militaire, i. 43, 189. Montbarey, ii. 272. Moore’s View, i. 365.]

The private soldiers of King Louis XVI., who stood in long white lines on parade at Newport, while their many colored flags floated above and the officers brandished their spontoons in front, or who rushed in night attack on the advanced redoubt at Yorktown, were not, like modern European soldiers, brought together by conscription. They were, nominally at least, volunteers. Unruly lads, mechanics out of work, runaway apprentices, were readily drawn into the service by skillful recruiting officers. Thirty years before, it had been the custom of these landsharks to cheat or bully young men into the service. The raw youth, arriving in Paris from the country, had been offered by a chance acquaintance a place as servant in a gentleman’s family, and after signing an engagement had found himself bound for eight years to serve His Majesty, in one of his regiments of foot. The young barber-surgeon had waked from a carouse with the king’s silver in his pocket. Such things were still common in Germany. In France some effort had been made to regulate the activity of the recruiting officers. Complaints of force or fraud in enlistment received attention from the authorities. The soldiers of Louis XVI., therefore, were engaged with comparative fairness. The infantry came mostly from the towns, the cavalry and artillery from the country. The soldiers were derived from the lowest part of the population. Whether they improved or deteriorated in the service depended on their officers. In any case they became entirely absorbed in it. The soldier did not keep even the name by which he had been known in common life. He assumed, or was given, a _nom de guerre_ such as La Tulippe, La Tendresse, Pollux, Pot-de-Vin, Vide-bouteille, or Va-de-bon-coeur. His term of service was seven or eight years, but he was by no means sure of getting a fair discharge at the end of it; and was in any case likely to reenlist. Thus the recruit had, in fact entered upon the profession of his life.[Footnote: Babeau, _Vie militaire_, i. 55, 136, 182. Mercier, x. 273. Ségur, i.222; _Encyc. méth. Art milit._ ii. 177 (_Desertion_)]

The uniforms of the day were ill adapted to campaigning. The French soldier of the line wore white clothes with colored trimmings, varying according to his regiment. On his head was perched the triangular cocked hat of the period, standing well out over his ears, but hardly shading his eyes. Beneath it his hair was powdered, or rather, pasted; for the powder was sifted on to the wet hair, and caked in the process. The condition of the mass after a rainy night at the camp-fire may be imagined. In some regiments the wearing of a moustache was required, and those soldiers whom nature had not supplied with such an ornament were obliged to put on a false one, fastened with pitch, which was liable to cause abcesses on the lip. Sometimes a fine, uniform color was produced in the moustaches of a whole regiment by means of boot-blacking. Broad white belts were crossed upon the breast. The linen gaiters, white on parade, black for the march, came well above the knee, and a superfluous number of garters impeded the step. It was a tedious matter to put these things on; and if a pebble got in through a button-hole, the soldier was tempted to leave it in his shoe, until it had made his foot sore. Uniforms were seldom renewed. The coat was expected to last three years, the hat two, the breeches one.[Footnote: Babeau, _Vie militaire_, i. 93. _Encyc. méth. Art milit._ i. 589 (_Chaussure_) ii. 179. Susane, ix. (_Plates_). See also a very interesting little book by a great man, Maurice de Saxe, _Les Rêveries_.]

All parts of the soldier’s uniform were tight and close fitting. I think that this was learned from the Prussians. The ideal of the army as a machine seems to have originated, or at least to have been first worked out in Germany. Such an ideal was a natural consequence of the military system of the age. Of the soldiers of Frederick the Great only one-half were his born subjects. Other German princes enlisted as many foreigners as they could. In the French army were many regiments of foreign mercenaries. Nowhere was the pay high, or the soldier well treated. Desertion was very common. Under these circumstances mechanical precision became an invaluable quality. The soldier must be held in very strict bands, for if left free he might turn against the power that employed him.

The connection between a rigid system in which nothing is left to the soldier’s intelligence or initiative, and a tight uniform, which confines his movements, is both deep and evident. If a man is never to have his own way, his master will inevitably find means to make him needlessly uncomfortable. As the modern owner of a horse sometimes diminishes the working power of the animal by check-reins and martingales, so the despot of the eighteenth century buckled and buttoned his military cattle into shape, and made them take unnatural paces. But even under these disadvantages the French soldiers surpassed all others in grace and ease of bearing. Officers were sometimes accused of sacrificing the efficiency of their commands to appearances. The evolutions of the troops involved steps more appropriate to the dancing-master than to the drill sergeant. [Footnote: Montbarey, ii. 272.] Such criticisms as these have often been made on the French soldier by his own countrymen and by foreigners. But those who think he can be trifled with on this account, are apt to find themselves terribly mistaken.

The food of the soldiers was coarse and barely sufficient. The pay was so absorbed by the requirements of the uniform, many of the smaller parts of which were at the expense of the men, and by the diet, that little was left for the almost necessary comforts of drink and tobacco. The barracks, handsome outside, were close and crowded within. During this reign orders were given that only two men should sleep in a bed. In some garrisons soldiers were still billeted on the inhabitants. In sickness they were better cared for than civilians, the military hospitals being decidedly better than those open to the general public. [Footnote: Lafayette told the Assembly of Notables in 1787 that the food of the soldiers was insufficient for their maintenance. _Mémoires_, i. 215. Ségur, i. 161.]

If we compare the material condition of the French soldier in the latter years of the old monarchy with that of other European soldiers of his day, we shall find him about as well treated as they were. If we compare those times with these, we shall find that he is now better clothed, but not better fed than he was then.[Footnote: Babeau, _Vie militaire_, i. 374]

“The soldiers are very clean,” writes an English traveler in France in the year 1789; “so far from being meagre and ill-looking fellows, as John Bull would persuade us, they are well-formed, tall, handsome men, and have a cheerfulness and civility in their countenances and manner which is peculiarly pleasing. They also looked very healthy, great care is taken of them.”[Footnote: Rigby, 13.]

The period of twenty-five years that preceded the Revolution was a time of attempted reform in the French army. The defeats of the Seven Years’ War had served as a lesson. The Duke of Choiseul, the able minister of Louis XV., abolished many abuses. The manoeuvres of the troops became more regular, the discipline stricter and more exact for a time. The Duke of Aiguillon ousted Choiseul, by making himself the courtier of the strumpet Du Barry, and things appear to have slipped back. Then the old king died, and Aiguillon followed his accomplice into exile. Louis XVI. found his finances in disorder, his army and navy demoralized. The death of the minister of war in 1775 gave him the opportunity to make one of his well-meant and feeble attempts at reform. He called to the ministry an old soldier, the Count of Saint-Germain, who had for some time been living in retirement. The count had seen much foreign service, was in full sympathy neither with the French army nor with the French court, and was moreover a man who had little knack at getting on with anybody. He had written a paper on military reforms, and thus attracted notice. In vain, when in office, he attacked some crying abuses, especially the privileges granted to favored regiments and favored persons. While he disgusted the court in this way, he raised a storm of indignation in the army by his love of foreign innovations, and especially of one practice considered deeply degrading. This was the punishment of minor offenses by flogging with the flat of the sword; using a weapon especially made for that purpose. The arguments in favor of this punishment are obvious. It is expeditious; it is disagreeable to the sufferer, but does not rob the state of his services, nor subject him to the bad influences and foul air of the guard-house. The objections are equally apparent. Flogging, which seems the most natural and simple of punishments to many men in an advanced state of civilization, is hated by others, hardly more civilized, with a deadly hatred. In the former case it inflicts but a moderate injury upon the skin; in the latter, it strikes deep into the mind and soul. It would be hard to say beforehand in which way a nation will take it. The English soldier of Waterloo, like the German of Rossbach, received the lash almost as a joke. The Frenchman, their unsuccessful opponent on those fields, could hardly endure it. Grenadiers wept at inflicting the sword stroke, and their colonel mingled his tears with theirs. “Strike with the point,” cried a soldier, “it hurts less!”

To some of the foreigners in the French service this sensitiveness seemed absurd. The Count of Saint-Germain consulted, on the subject, a major of the regiment of Nassau, who had risen from the ranks. “Sir,” said the veteran, “I have received a great many blows; I have given a great many, and all to my advantage.”[Footnote: Ségur, i. 80. Mercier, vii. 212. Besenval, ii. 19. Allonville. _Mem. sec._ 84. Montbarey, i. 311. Flogging in some form and German ways in general seem to have been introduced into the French army as early as Choiseul’s time, and more or less practiced through the reign of Louis XVI.; but the great discontent appears to date from the more rigorous application of such methods by Saint-Germain. Montbarey. Dumouriez, i. 370 (liv. ii. ch. iii).]

The spirit of reform was in the air, and ardent young officers would let nothing pass untried. The Count of Ségur tells a story of such an one; and although no name be given, he seems to point to the brother-in-law of Lafayette, the brave Viscount of Noailles.

“One morning,” says Ségur, “I saw a young man of one of the first families of the court enter my bedroom. I had been his friend from childhood. He had long hated study, and thought only of pleasure, play, and women. But recently he had been seized with military ardor, and dreamed but of arms, horses, school of theory, exercises, and German discipline.

“As he came into my room, he looked profoundly serious; he begged me to send away my valet. When we were alone: `What is the meaning, my dear Viscount,’ said I, `of so early a visit and so grave a beginning? Is it some new affair of honor or of love?’

“`By no means,’ said he, `but it is on account of a very important matter, and of an experiment that I have absolutely resolved to make. It will undoubtedly seem very strange to you; but it is necessary in order to enlighten me on the great subject we are all discussing; we can judge well only of what we have ourselves undergone. When I tell you my plan you will feel at once that I could intrust it only to my best friend, and that none but he can help me to execute it. In a word, here is the case: I want to know positively what effect strokes with the flat of the sword may have on a strong, courageous, well-balanced man, and how far his obstinacy could bear this punishment without weakening. So I beg you to lay on until I say “Enough.”‘

“Bursting out laughing at this speech, I did all I could to turn him aside from his strange plan, and to convince him of the folly of his proposal; but it was useless. He insisted, begged and conjured me to do him this pleasure, with as many entreaties as if it had been a question of getting me to render him some great service.

“At last I consented and resolved to punish his fancy by giving him his money’s worth. So I set to work; but, to my great astonishment, the sufferer, coldly meditating on the effect of each blow, and collecting all his courage to support it, spoke not a word and constrained himself to appear unmoved; so that it was only after letting me repeat the experiment a score of times that he said: `Friend, it is enough. I am contented; and I now understand that this must be an efficacious method of conquering many faults.’

“I thought all was over; and up to that point the scene had seemed to me simply comic; but just as I was about to ring for my valet to dress me, the Viscount, suddenly stopping me, said: `One moment, please; all is not finished; it is well that you should make this experiment, too.’

“I assured him that I had no desire to do so, and that it would by no means change my opinion, which was entirely adverse to an innovation so opposed to the French character.

“`Very well,’ answered he, `but I ask it not for your sake but for mine. I know you; although you are a perfect friend, you are very lively, a little fond of poking fun, and you would perhaps make a very amusing story of what has just happened between us, at my expense, among your ladies.’

“`But is not my word enough for you?’ I rejoined.

“`Yes,’ said he, `in any more serious matter; but anyway, if I am only afraid of an indiscretion, that fear is too much. And so, in the name of friendship, I beg you, set me completely at ease on that point by taking back what you have been kind enough to lend me so gracefully. Moreover, I repeat it, believe me, you will profit by it and be glad to have judged for yourself this new method that is so much discussed.’

“Overcome by his prayers, I let him take the fatal weapon; but after he had given me the first stroke, far from imitating his obstinate endurance, I quickly called out that it was enough, and that I considered myself sufficiently enlightened on this grave question. Thus ended this mad scene; we embraced at parting; and in spite of my desire to tell the story, I kept his secret as long as he pleased.”[Footnote: Ségur, i. 84.]

The discipline of the French army, like that of other bodies, military and civil, depended much less on regulations than on the individual character of the men in command for the time being. France was engaged in but one war during the reign of Louis XVI., and in that war the land forces were occupied only in America. “The French discipline is such,” writes Lafayette to Washington from Newport, “that chickens and pigs walk between the lines without being disturbed, and that there is in the camp a cornfield of which not one leaf has been touched.” And Rochambeau tells with honest pride of apples hanging on the trees which shaded the soldier’s tents. “The discipline of the French army,” he says, “has always followed it in all its campaigns. It was due to the zeal of the generals, of the superior and regimental officers, and especially to the good spirit of the soldier, which never failed.” But Rochambeau was a working general, and Lafayette had done his best in France that, as far as was possible, the French commander in America should have working officers under him. Neither in war nor in peace have the French always been famous for their discipline; and the discontent which had been caused by the changes above mentioned had not tended to strengthen it in the closing years of the monarchy. “Whatever idea I may have formed of the want of discipline and of the anarchy which reigned among the troops,” says Besenval, “it was far below what I found when I saw them close,” and circumstances confirm the testimony of this not over-trustworthy witness.[Footnote: Washington, vii. 518. Rochambeau, i. 255, 314. Fersen, i. 39. 67. Besenval, ii. 36.]

It was in the latter part of the previous reign that the adventure of the Count of Bréhan had taken place; but the story is too characteristic to be omitted, and the spirit which it showed continued to exist down to the very end of the old monarchy.

The Count of Bréhan, after serving with distinction in the Seven Years’ War, had retired from the army, and devoted his time to society and the fine arts. He was called to Versailles one day by the Duke of Aiguillon, prime minister to Louis XV., his friend and cousin. “I have named you to the king,” said the duke, “as the only man who would be able to bring the Dauphiny regiment into a state of discipline. The line officers, by their insubordinate behavior, have driven away several colonels in succession. If I were offering you a favor, you might refuse; but this is an act of duty, and I have assured the king that you would undertake it.”

“You do me justice,” answered Bréhan. “I will take the command of the regiment, but I must make three conditions. I must have unlimited power to reward and punish; I must be pardoned if I overstep the regulations; and if I succeed in bringing the regiment into good condition, I am not to be obliged to keep it for more than a year.”

His conditions granted, Bréhan set out for Marseilles, where the regiment was quartered. On his arrival in that city, he put up at a small and inconspicuous inn, and, dressed as a civilian, made his way on foot to a coffee-house, which was said to be a favorite lounging-place of the officers of the Dauphiny regiment. Taking a seat, he listened to the conversation going on about him, and soon made out that the insubordinate subalterns were talking about their new colonel, and of the fine tricks they would play him on his arrival. Picking out two young officers who were making themselves particularly conspicuous, he interrupted their conversation.

“You do not know,” he says, “the man whom you want to drive away. I advise you to mind what you do, or you may get into a scrape.”

“Who is this jackanapes that dares to give us advice?”

“A man who will not stand any rudeness, and who demands satisfaction!” cries Bréhan, unbuttoning his civilian’s coat and showing his military order of Saint Louis.

So he goes out with the young fellows, and all the way to the place where they are to fight, he chaffs and badgers them. This puts them more and more out of temper, so that when they reach the ground they are very much excited, while he is perfectly cool. He wounds them one after the other; then, turning to the witnesses: “Gentlemen,” says he, “I believe I have done enough, for a man who has been traveling night and day all the way from Paris. If anybody wants any more, he can easily find me. I am not one of the people who get out of the way.”

Thereupon he leaves them, goes back to his inn, puts on his uniform, calls on the general commanding the garrison, and sends orders to the officers of the Dauphiny regiment to come and see him. These presently arrive, and are thoroughly astonished when they recognize the man whom they met in the coffee-house, and who has just wounded two of their comrades. But Bréhan pretends not to know any of them, speaks to all kindly, tells them of the severe orders that he bears in case of insubordination, and expresses the hope and conviction that there will be no trouble. He then asks if all the officers of the regiment are present. They answer that two gentlemen are ill. “I will go to see them,” says the new colonel, “and make sure that they are well taken care of.” He does in fact visit his late adversaries, and finds them in great trepidation. They try to make excuses, but Bréhan stops them. “I do not want to know about anything that happened before I took command,” he says, “and I am quite sure that henceforth I shall have only a good report to make to the king of all the officers of my regiment, with whom I hope to live on the best of terms.”

By this firm and conciliatory conduct, the Count of Bréhan inspired the Dauphiny regiment with respect and affection. He restored its discipline and left it when his service was over, much regretted by all its officers.[Footnote: Allonville, i. 162.]

The lieutenants of the French army were united in an association called the Calotte. The legitimate object of this society was to lick young officers into shape, by obliging them to conform to the rules of politeness and proper behavior, as understood by their class. For this purpose the senior lieutenant of each regiment was the chief of the regimental club, and there was a general chief for the whole army. Offenses against good manners, faults of meanness, or oddity of behavior, were discouraged by admonitions, given privately by the chief, or publicly in the convivial meetings of the club. Moral pressure might be carried so far in an aggravated case, as to cause the culprit to resign his commission. The society in fact represented an organized professional spirit; and although not recognized by the regulations, was favored by the superior officers.[Footnote: Calotte=scull cap, here fool’s-cap. Concerning this society, see a series of _feuilletons_ in the _Moniteur Universel,_ Nov. 25th to 30th, 1864 by Gen. Ambert; also _Encyclopédie méthodique, Art militaire. Militaire,_ iv. 101-103 (article _Calotte_); Ségur, i. 132.]

When discipline was relaxed, the Calotte assumed too great powers. Not content with moral means, it undertook to enforce its decrees by physical ones; and it extended its jurisdiction far above the rank of lieutenant.

At the outbreak of the war between France and England in 1778, two camps were formed in Normandy and Brittany for the purpose of training the army, and perhaps with some intention of making a descent on the English coast. The young French officers swarmed to these camps and divided their time between drill and pleasure. On one occasion, seats had been reserved on a hill for some Breton ladies, who were to see the manoeuvres. Two colonels, escorting two ladies of the court who had recently arrived from Paris, undertook to appropriate the chairs for their companions. A squabble such as is common on such occasions was the result.

The Count of Ségur, above mentioned, was acting as aide-de-camp to the commanding general. A few days after the quarrel about the chairs, just as he was going to begin a game of prisoners’ base, two officers who were his friends informed him privately that the Calotte had ordered the two colonels who had given offense on that occasion to be publicly tossed in blankets and that the sentence was about to be carried out. Ségur, to gain time, ordered the drummers to beat an alarm. The game was broken up, every officer ran to his colors, and the aide-de-camp hastened to explain the matter to the astonished general. The proposed punishment was deferred and finally prevented; but the escape from a scandalous breach of discipline had been a narrow one.

As the Revolution drew nearer, its spirit became evident in the army. The Count of Guibert, the most talented and influential member of the Board of War in 1788, was the object of satire and epigram. The younger officers conspired to spoil the success of his manoeuvres. The experiments that had been tried, the frequent changes in the regulations, had unsettled their ideas. In their reaction against the disagreeable rigor of German discipline, they protested that English officers alone, and not the machine-like soldiers of a despot, were the models for freemen. The common soldiers caught the spirit of insubordination from those who commanded them. Especially, the large regiment of French Guards, a highly privileged body, permanently quartered in Paris, was infected with the spirit of revolt. Its men were conspicuous in the early troubles of the Revolution, acting on the side of the mob.[Footnote: Chérest, i. 552. Miot de Mélito, i. 3.]

The militia of old France does not call for a long notice. It consisted of from sixty to eighty thousand men, whose chief duty was in garrison in time of war, and who during peace were not kept constantly together, but assembled from time to time for drill. As the term of service was six years, the number of men drawn did not exceed fifteen thousand annually. This was surely no great drain on a population of twenty-six millions. Militia duty was greatly hated, however. This appears to have been because men did not volunteer for it, but were drafted; and because many persons were exempted from the draft. This immunity covered not only the sons of aged parents who were dependent on them for support, but privileged persons of all sorts, from apothecaries to advocates, gentlemen and their servants and game-keepers. The burden was thus thrown entirely on the poorer peasantry.[Footnote: Broc, i. 117; Babeau, _Le Village_, 259.]

The navy in the time of Louis XVI. reached a high state of efficiency. The war of 1778 to 1783 was in great measure a naval war, and although the French and their allies were worsted in some of the principal actions, the general result may be held to have been favorable to them. The navy at the outbreak of hostilities consisted of about seventy ships of the line, and as many frigates and large corvettes, with a hundred smaller vessels. These ships were built on admirable models, for the French marine architects were well-trained and skillful; but the materials and the construction were not equal in excellence to the design. The invention of coppering the ships’ bottoms, and thus adding to their speed, although generally practiced in England, had been applied in France only to the smaller part of the navy. The French, however, had an advantage over the English in the fact that ships of the same nominal class were in reality larger and broader of beam among the former than among the latter, so that the French were sometimes able to fight their lower batteries in rough water, when the English had to keep their lower ports closed.

The naval officers of France were almost all noblemen, and received a careful professional training. Yet the practice of transferring officers of high rank from the army to the navy had not been completely abandoned. Thus d’Estaing, who commanded with little distinction on the North American coast in 1778, was no sailor, but a lieutenant-général, artificially turned into a vice-admiral. Such cases, however, were not common, and in general the French commanders erred rather by adhering too closely to naval rule, than by want of professional training. In the navy, as elsewhere, no great original talent was developed during this reign, which was a time of expectation rather than of action.

The men, like the officers, were good and well-trained, except when the lack of sailors obliged the government to employ soldiers on shipboard. It is noticeable that the seamen bore the rope’s end with equanimity, although the landsmen were so much offended at flogging with the flat of the sword. Nor do I find any complaint of want of discipline at sea.

The administration of naval affairs was less satisfactory than the ships or the crews. The magazines were not well provided; and the stores were probably bad, for the fleets were subject to epidemics.[Footnote: Chabaud-Arnault, 189, 196, 214. Charnoek, iii. 222, 282 Ségur, i. 138. Chevalier.]

In general the navy appears to have suffered less than the army from the fermentation of the public mind. Marine affairs must always remain the concern of a special class of men, cut off by absorbing occupations from the interests and sympathies of the rest of mankind.



While the greater and more conspicuous part of the French nobility lived by the sword, a highly respectable portion of the order wore the judicial gown. Prominent in French affairs in the eighteenth century we find the Parliaments, a branch of the old feudal courts of the kings of France, retaining the function of high courts of justice, and playing, moreover, a certain political part. In the Parliament of Paris, on solemn occasions, sat those few members of the highest nobility who held the title of Peers of France. With these came the legal hierarchy of First President, presidents _à mortier_ and counselors, numbering about two hundred. The members were distributed, for the purposes of ordinary business, among several courts, the Great Chamber, five courts of Inquest, two courts of Petitions, etc.[Footnote: Grand’ Chambre, Cour des Enquêtes, Cour des Requêtes.] The Parliament of Paris possessed original and appellate jurisdiction over a large part of central France,–too large a part for the convenience of suitors,–but there were twelve provincial parliaments set over other portions of the kingdom. The members of these courts, and of several other tribunals of inferior jurisdiction, formed the magistracy, a body of great dignity and importance.

We have seen that the church possessed certain political rights; that it held assemblies and controlled taxes. The political powers of the parliaments were more limited, amounting to little more than the right of solemn remonstrance. Under a strong monarch, like Louis XIV., this power remained dormant; under weak kings, like his successors, it became important.

The method of passing a law in the French monarchy was this. The king, in one of his councils, issued an edict, and sent it to the Parliament of Paris, or to such other Parliaments as it might concern, for registration. If the Parliament accepted the edict, the latter was entered in its books, and immediately promulgated as law. If the Parliament did not approve, and was willing to enter on a contest with the king and his advisers, it refused to register. In that case the king might recede, or he might force the registration. This was done by means of what was called a _bed of justice_. His Majesty, sitting on a throne (whence the name of the ceremony), and surrounded by his officers of state, personally commanded the Parliament to register, and the Parliament was legally bound to comply. As a matter of fact, it did sometimes continue to remonstrate; it sometimes adjourned, or ceased to administer justice, by way of protest; but such a course was looked on as illegal, and severe measures on the part of the king and his counselors–the court, as the phrase went,–were to be expected. These measures might take the form of imprisonment of recalcitrant judges, or of exile of the Parliament in a body. Sometimes new courts of justice, more closely dependent on the king’s pleasure, were temporarily established. Such were the Royal Chamber and the famous Maupeou Parliament under Louis XV., the Plenary Court of Louis XVI. Had these monarchs been strong men, the new courts would undoubtedly have superseded the old Parliaments altogether; as it was, they led only to confusion and uncertainty.[Footnote: Du Boys, Hist. du droit criminel de la France, ii. 225, 239.]

Throughout the reign of Louis XV. the Parliament of Paris was fighting against the church, while the court repeatedly changed sides, but oftener inclined to that of clergy. The controversy was theological in its origin, the magistrates being Jansenist in their proclivities, while the Church of France was largely controlled by the Molinist, or Jesuit party. The contest was long and doubtful, neither side obtaining a full victory. It was the fashion in the Philosophic party to represent the whole matter as a miserable squabble. Yet, apart from the importance of the original controversy, which touched the mighty but insoluble questions of predestination and free-will, the quarrel had a true interest for patriotic Frenchmen. The Roman Church was contending for the absolute and unlimited control of religious matters; the Parliament for the supremacy of law in the state.

In the reign of Louis XVI. the Parliament was principally engaged in struggles of another character. The magistrates were members of a highly privileged class. Their battle was arrayed for vested rights against reforms. From the time of Turgot to that of Lomenie de Brienne and the Notables, the Parliament of Paris, sometimes in sympathy with the nation, sometimes against it, was vigorously resisting innovations. Yet so great was the irritation then felt against the royal court that the Parliament generally gained a temporary popularity by its course of opposition.

The courts of justice, and especially the Parliaments, were controlled by men who had inherited or bought their places.[Footnote: Under Louis XIV, the price of a place of _président à mortier_ was fixed at 350,000 livres, that of a _maître des requêtes_ at 150,000 livres, that of a counselor at 90,000 to 100,000 livres. The place of First President was not venal, but held by appointment. Martin, xiii. 53 and n. The general subject of the venality of offices is considered in the chapter on Taxation.] This, while offering no guarantee of capacity, assured the independence of the judges. As the places were looked on as property, they were commonly transmitted from father to son, and became the basis of that nobility of the gown which played a large part in French affairs. The owner of a judicial place was obliged to pass an examination in law, before he could assume its duties and emoluments. This examination differed in severity at different times and in the different Parliaments. In the latter part of the eighteenth century it would appear to have been very easy at Paris, but harder in some of the provinces. The Parliaments, in any case, retained control over admission to their own bodies. Although they could not nominate, they could refuse certificates of capacity and morality. They insisted that none but counselors should be admitted to the higher places, and that candidates should be men of means, “so that, in a condition where honor should be the only guide, they might be able to live independently of the profits accessory to their labors, which should never have any influence.” This caution was especially necessary as the judges were paid in great measure by the fees, or costs, which under the quaint name of spices were borne by the parties. Originally these fees had in fact consisted of sugar plums, not more than could be eaten in a day, but subsequently they had been commuted and increased until they amounted to considerable sums.[Footnote: Bastard d’Estang, i. 122, 245; Du Boys, 535.]

By requiring pecuniary independence and social position, together with a certain amount of learning and of personal character, the tone of the upper courts was kept good, the magistrates being generally among the most learned, solid, and respectable men in France. They seem also to have been hard-working and honest, although prejudiced in favor of their own privileged class. As the Revolution drew near, they fell into the common weakness of their age and country, the worship of public opinion, and the love of popularity. We find the Parliament of Paris undergoing, and even courting, the applause of the mob in its own halls of justice. Like the great Assembly which was soon to have in its hands the destinies of France, the most dignified court of justice in the land failed to perceive that the deliberative body that allows itself to be influenced or even interrupted by spectators, will soon, and deservedly, lose respect and power.[Footnote: De Tocqueville praises the independence of the old magistrates, who could neither be degraded nor promoted by the government, Oeuvres, iv. 171 (Ancien Régime, ch. xi.). Montesquieu, iii. 217 (Esp. des lois, liv. v. ch. xix.). Mirabeau, L’Ami des hommes, 212, 219. Bastard d’Estang, ii. 611, 621. Grimm, xi. 314.]

When we pass from the consideration of the political functions of the Parliaments, and of their composition, to that of the ordinary administration of justice, we are struck by the diversity of the law in civil matters, and by its severity in criminal affairs. The kingdom of France, as it existed in the eighteenth century, was made up of many provinces and cities, various in their history. Each one had its local customs and privileges. The complication of rules of procedure and rights of property was almost infinite. The body of the law was derived from sources of two distinct kinds, from feudal custom and from Roman jurisprudence. The customs which arose, or were first noted, in the Middle Ages, originating as, they did in the manners of barbarian tribes, or in the exigencies of a rude state of society, were products of a less civilized condition of the human mind than the laws of Rome. From a very early period, therefore, the most intelligent and educated lawyers all over Europe were struggling, more or less consciously, to bring customary feudal law into conformity with Roman ideas. These legists recognized that in many matters the custom had definitely fixed the law; but whenever a doubtful question arose, they looked for guidance to the more perfect system. “The Roman law,” they said, “is observed everywhere, not by reason of its authority, but by the authority of reason.” This idea was peculiarly congenial to the tone of thought current in the eighteenth century.

Even in England the common and customary law was enlarged at that time and adapted to new conditions in accordance with Latin principles, by the genius of Lord Mansfield and other eminent lawyers. In France the process began earlier and lasted longer. Domat, d’Aguesseau, and Pothier were but the successors of a long line of jurists. By the time of Louis XVI., some uniformity of principle had been introduced; but everywhere feudal irregularity still worried the minds of Philosophers and vexed the temper of litigants. The courts were numerous and the jurisdiction often conflicting. The customs were numberless, hardly the same for any two lordships. To the subjects of Louis XVI., believing as they did that there was a uniform, natural law of justice easily discoverable by man, this state of things seemed anomalous and absurd. “Shall the same case always be judged differently in the provinces and in the capital? Must the same man be right in Brittany and wrong in Languedoc?” cries Voltaire. And the inconvenience arising from this excessive variety of legal rights, together with the vexatious nature of some of them, did more perhaps than any other single cause to engender in the men of that time their too great love of uniformity.[Footnote: “Servatur ubique jus romanum, non ratione imperii, sed rationis imperio.” Laferrière, i. 82, 532. See Ibid., i. 553 n., for a list of eighteen courts of extraordinary jurisdiction, and of five courts of ordinary jurisdiction, viz.; 1, Parlemens, 2, Présidiaux, 3, Baillis et sénéchaux royaux, 4, Prévôts royaux, 5, Juges seigneuriaux. Voltaire, xxi. 419 (_Louis XV._), Sorel, i. 148.]

It has been said that the judges of the higher courts were generally honest. In the lower courts, and especially in those tribunals which still depended on the lords, oppression and injustice appear to have been not uncommon. The bailiffs who presided in them were often partial where the interests of the lords whose salaries they received were concerned. And even when we come to the practice before the Parliaments, the American reader will sometimes be struck with astonishment at the extent to which members of those high tribunals were allowed by custom to be influenced by the private and personal solicitation of parties. The whole spirit of the continental system of civil and criminal law is here at variance with that of the Anglo-Saxon system. English and American judges are like umpires in a conflict; French judges like interested persons conducting an investigation. The latter method is perhaps the better for unraveling intricate cases, but the former would seem to expose the bench to less temptation. A judge who is long closeted with each of the contestants alternately must find it harder to keep his fingers from bribes and his mind from prejudice than a judge who is prevented by strict professional étiquette from seeing either party except in the full glare of the court-room, and from listening to any argument of counsel, save where both sides are represented. Accusations of bribery, even of judges, were common in old France. The lower officers of the court took fees openly. Thick books, under the name of mémoires, were published, with the avowed intention of influencing the public and the courts in pending cases.[Footnote: For a statement that influential persons went unpunished in criminal matters and got the better of their adversaries in civil matters by means of _lettres de cachet_, and for instances, see Bos. 148; a long list of iniquitous judgments, Ibid., 190, etc.]

One judicial abuse especially contrary to fair dealing had become very common. Powerful and influential persons could have their cases removed from the tribunals in which they were begun, and tried in other courts where from personal influence they might expect a more favorable result. It was not only the royal council that could draw litigation to itself. The practice was widespread. By a writ called _committimus_, the tribunal by which an action was to be tried could be changed.

This appears to have been a frequent cause of failure of justice.

As for the criminal proceedings of the age, there was hardly a limit to their cruelty. Under Louis XV. the prisons were filthy dens, crowded and unventilated, true fever-holes. A private cell ten feet square, for a man awaiting trial, cost sixty francs a month. Large dogs were trained to watch the prisoners and to prevent their escape. Twice a year, in May and September, the more desperate convicts left Paris for the galleys. They made the journey chained together in long carts, so that eight mounted policemen could watch a hundred and twenty of them. The galleys at Toulon appear to have been less bad than the prisons in Paris. They were kept clean and well-aired, and the prisoners were fairly well fed and clothed; but some of them had been imprisoned for forty, fifty, or even sixty years. They were allowed to for themselves and to earn a little money. They were divided into three classes, deserters, smugglers, and thieves, distinguished by the color of their caps. [Footnote: Mercier, iii. 265, x. 151. Howard, Lazarettos, 54.]

Torture was regarded as a regular means for the discovery of crime. It was administered in various ways, the forms differing from province to province. They included the application of fire to various parts of the body, the distension of the stomach and lungs by water poured into mouth, thumbscrews, the rack, the boot. These were but methods of investigation, used on men and women whose crime was not proved. They might be repeated after conviction for the discovery of accomplices. The greater part of the examination of accused persons was carried on in private, and during it they were not allowed counsel for their defense. They were confronted but once with the witnesses against them, and that only after those witnesses had given their evidence and were liable to the penalties of perjury if they retracted it. Many offenses were punishable with death. Thieving servants might be executed, but under Louis XVI. public feeling rightly judged the punishment too severe for the offense, so that masters would not prosecute nor judges condemn for it.[Footnote: Counsel were not allowed in France for that important part of the proceedings which was carried on in secret. Voltaire, xlviii. 132. In England, at that time, counsel were not allowed of right to prisoners in cases of felony; but judges were in the habit of straining the law to admit them. Strictly they could only instruct the prisoner in matters of law. Blackstone iv. fol. 355 (ch. 27). The English seem for a long time to have entertained a wholesome distrust of confessions. Blackstone, _ubi supra_. How far is the Continental love of confessions derived from the church; and how far is the love of the church for confessions a result of the ever present busybody in human nature?]

Other criminals did not escape so easily. A most barbarous method of execution was in use. The wheel was set up in the principal cities of France. The voice of the crier was heard in the streets as he peddled copies of the sentence. The common people crowded about the scaffold, and the rich did not always scorn to hire windows overlooking the scene. The condemned man was first stretched upon a cross and struck by the executioner eleven times with an iron bar, every stroke breaking a bone. The poor wretch was then laid on his back on a cart wheel, his broken bones protruding through his flesh, his head hanging, his brow dripping bloody sweat, and left to die. A priest muttered religious consolation by his side. By such sights as these was the populace of the French cities trained to enjoy the far less inhuman spectacle of the guillotine.[Footnote: Mercier, iii. 267. Howard says that the gaoler at Avignon told him that he had seen prisoners under torture sweat blood. Lazarettos, 53.]

It was not until the middle of the century that men’s minds were fairly turned toward the reform of the criminal law. Yet eminent writers had long pointed out the inutility of torture. “Torture-chambers are a dangerous invention, and seem to make trial of patience rather than of truth,” says Montaigne; but he thinks them the least evil that human weakness has invented under the circumstances. Montesquieu advanced a step farther. He pointed out that torture was not necessary. “We see today a very well governed nation [the English] reject it without inconvenience.” … “So many clever people and so many men of genius have written against this practice,” he continues, “that I dare not speak after them. I was about to say that it might be admissible under despotic governments, where all that inspires fear forms a greater part of the administration; I was about to say that slaves among the Greeks and Romans,–but I hear the voice of nature crying out against me.” Voltaire attacked the practice in his usual vivacious manner; but, with characteristic prudence suggested that torture might still be applied in cases of regicide.[Footnote: Montaigne, ii. 36 (liv. ii. ch. v). So I interpret the last words of the chapter. Montesquieu, iii. 260 (_Esprit des Lois,_ liv. vi. ch. 17). Voltaire, xxxii. 52 (_Dict. philos. Question_), xxxii. 391 (_Ibid., Torture_).]

Such scattered expressions as these might long have remained unfruitful. But in 1764 appeared the admirable book of the Milanese Marquis Beccaria, and about thirteen years later the Englishman John Howard published his first book on the State of the Prisons. Beccaria shared the ideas of the Philosophers on most subjects. Where he differed from them, it was as Rousseau differed, in the direction of socialism. But in usefulness to mankind few of them can compare with him. From him does the modern world derive some of its most important ideas concerning the treatment of crime. Extreme, like most of the Philosophers of his age; unable, like them, to recognize the proper limitations of his theories, he has yet transformed the thought of civilized men on one of the most momentous subjects with which they have to deal. So great is the change wrought in a hundred years by his little book, that it is hard to remember as we read it that it could ever have been thought to contain novelties. “The end of punishment… is no other than to prevent the criminal from doing farther injury to society, and to prevent others from committing the like offense.” “All trials should be public.” “The more immediately after the commission of a crime the punishment is inflicted, the more just and useful it will be.” “Crimes are more effectually prevented by the _certainty_ than by the severity of punishment.” These are the commonplaces of modern criminal legislation. The difficulty lies in applying them. In the eighteenth century their enunciation was necessary. “The torture of a criminal during his trial is a cruelty consecrated by custom in almost every nation,” says Beccaria. Indeed it seems to have been legal in his day all over the Continent, although restricted in Prussia and obsolete in practice in Holland. Beccaria opposed torture entirely, on broad grounds. As to torture before condemnation he holds it a grievous wrong to the innocent, “for in the eye of the law, every man is innocent whose crime has not been proved. Besides, it is confounding all relations to expect that a man should be both the accuser and the accused, and that pain should be the test of truth; as if truth resided in the muscles and sinews of a wretch in torture. By this method, the robust will escape and the weak will be condemned.” The penalties proposed by Beccaria are generally mild,–he would have abolished that of death altogether,–his reliance being on certainty and not on severity of punishment. [Footnote: Beccaria, _passim_. Lea, _Superstition and Force_, 515.]

It was not to be expected that Beccaria’s book should work an immediate change in the manners of Christendom. The criminal law remained unaltered at first, in theory and practice. But the consciences of the more advanced thinkers were affected. In 1766, at Abbeville, a young man named La Barre was convicted of standing and wearing his hat while a religious procession was passing, singing blasphemous songs, speaking blasphemous words, and making blasphemous gestures. There was much popular excitement at the time on account of the mutilation of a crucifix standing on a bridge in the town, but La Barre was not shown to have been concerned in this outrage. The judges at Abbeville appear to have laid themselves open to the accusation of personal hostility to him. The young man, having been tortured, was condemned to make public confession with a rope round his neck, before the church of Saint Vulfran, where the injured crucifix: had been placed, to have his tongue cut out, to be beheaded, and to have his body burned. This outrageous sentence was confirmed by the Parliament of Paris. The superstitious king, Louis XV., would not grant a pardon. The capital sentence was executed, but the cutting out of the tongue was omitted, the executioner only pretending to do that part of his work. La Barre’s head fell, amid the applause of a cruel crowd which admired the skillful stroke of the headsman. A thrill of indignation, not unmixed with fear, ran through the liberal party in France. The anger and grief of Voltaire were loudly expressed. It was at least an improvement on the state of public feeling in former generations that such severity should not have met with universal acquiescence.[Footnote: The best account of the affair of La Barre which I have met is in Desnoiresterres, _Voltaire et Rousseau_, 465.]

The practice of torture was not without defenders. One of them asked what could be done to find stolen money if the thief refused to say where he had hidden it. But this was not his only argument. “The accused himself,” he said, “has a guarantee in torture, which makes him a judge in his own case, so that he becomes able to avoid the capital punishment attached to the crime of which he is accused.” And this writer confidently asserts that for a single example which might be cited in two or three centuries of an innocent man yielding to the violence of torture, a million cases of rightful punishment could be mentioned. [Footnote: Muyard de Vougland, quoted in Du Boys, ii. 205 ]

Yet the march of progress was fairly rapid in the latter part of the eighteenth century. In the jurisprudence of that age a distinction was made between preparatory torture, which was administered to suspected persons to make them confess, and previous torture, which was inflicted on the condemned, previous to execution, to obtain the accusation of accomplices. The former of these, by far the greater disgrace to civilization, was abolished in France on the 24th of August, 1780; the latter not until, 1788, and then only provisionally. Thus was one of the greatest of modern reforms accomplished before the Revolution. About the same time many ordinances were passed for the amelioration of French prisons. They were about as bad as those of other countries, and that was very bad indeed.[Footnote: _Question préparatoire; question préalable, sometimes called q. définitive_. Desmaze, _Supplices_, 177. Desjardins, p. xx. Howard, _passim_. The English have long boasted that torture is not allowed by their law; and although the _peine forte et dure_ was undoubted torture, the boast is in general not unfounded. Torture was abolished in several parts of Germany in the eighteenth century, but lingered in other parts until the nineteenth. It was not done away in Baden until 1831. Lea, _Superstition and Force_, 517.]

The courts of law did not act against persons alone. The Parliament of Paris was in the habit of passing condemnation on books supposed to contain dangerous matter. The suspected volume was brought to the bar of the court by the advocate general, the objectionable passages were read, and the book declared to be “heretical, schismatical, erroneous, blasphemous, violent, impious,” and condemned to be burned by the public executioner. Then a fagot was lighted at the foot of the great steps which may still be seen in front of the court-house in Paris. The street boys and vagabonds ran to see the show. The clerk of the court, if we may believe a contemporary, threw a dusty old Bible into the fire, and locked the condemned book, doubly valuable for its condemnation, safely away in his book-case.[Footnote: Mercier, iv. 241.]

As for the author, the Parliament would sometimes proceed directly against him, but oftener he was dealt with by an order under the royal hand and seal, known as a _lettre de cachet_[Footnote: The _lettre de cachet_ was written on paper, signed by the king, and countersigned by a minister. It was so sealed that it could not be opened without breaking the seal. It was reputed a private order. Larousse.] Arbitrary imprisonment, without trial, is a thing so outrageous to Anglo-Saxon feelings that we are apt to forget that it has until recent years formed a part of the regular practice of most civilized nations. It is considered necessary to what is called the _police_ of the country, a word for which we have in English no exact equivalent. Police, in this sense, not only punishes crime, but averts danger. Acts which may injure the public are prevented by guessing at evil intentions; and criminal enterprises are not allowed to come to action.

This sort of protection is a part of the function of every government; but on the Continent, in old times, and still in some countries, long and painful imprisonment of men who had never been convicted of any crime was considered one of the proper methods of police. It was justified in some measure in French eyes by the fact that secrecy saved the feelings of innocent families, which thus did not suffer in the public estimation for the misdeeds of one unruly member. In France, where the family is much more of a unit than in English-speaking countries, the disgrace of one person belonging to it affects the others far more seriously. The _lettre de cachet_ of old France, confining its victim in a state prison, was too elaborate a method to be used with the turbulent lower classes–for them there were less dignified forms of proceeding; but it was freely employed against persons of any consequence. Spendthrifts and licentious youths were shut up at the request of their relations. Authors of dangerous books were readily clapped into the Bastille, Vincennes or Fors l’Evêque. Voltaire, Diderot, Mirabeau, and many others underwent that sort of confinement; and the first of them is said to have procured by his influence the incarceration of one of his own literary enemies. Fallen statesmen were fortunate when they did not pass from the cabinet to the prison, but were allowed the alternative of exile, or of seclusion in their own country houses. But this was not the worst. The _lettre de cachet_ was too often the instrument of private hate. Signed carelessly, or even in blank, by the king, it could be procured by the favorite or the favorite’s favorite, for his own purposes. And if the victim had no protector to plead his cause, he might be forgotten in captivity and waste a lifetime.

For such abuses as this, there is no remedy but publicity. If, on the one hand, too much has been made of the romantic story of the Bastille, which was certainly not a standing menace to most peaceable Frenchmen, too great stress, on the other hand, may be laid on the undoubted fact that under Louis XVI. the grim old fortress contained but few prisoners, and that some of them were persons who might have been cast into prison under any system of government. In the reign of that king’s immediate predecessor great injustice had been committed. Nor had arbitrary proceedings been entirely renounced by the government of Louis XVI. itself. In the very last year before that in which the Estates General met at Versailles, the royal ministers imprisoned in the Bastille twelve Breton gentlemen, whose crime was that they importunately presented a petition from the nobles of their province. The apartments which they were to occupy were filled with other prisoners, so room was made by removing these unhappy occupants to the madhouse at Charenton, whence they were released only in the following year by order of a committee of the National Assembly.[Footnote: Barère, i. 281. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about the Bastille was that no one really knew what went on inside. Mercier thinks that the common people were not afraid of it, iii. 287, 289.]



It was as a privileged order that the Nobility of France principally excited the ill-will of the common people. The more thoughtful Frenchmen of the eighteenth century, all of them at least who have come to be known by the name of Philosophers, set before themselves two great ideals. These were equality and liberty. The aspiration after these was accompanied in their minds by contempt for the past and its lessons, misunderstanding of the benefits which former ages had bequeathed to them, and hatred of the wrongs and abuses which had come down from earlier times. Among them the word gothic was a violent term of reproach, aimed indiscriminately at buildings, laws, and customs. History, with the exception of that of Sparta, was thought to consist far more of warnings than of models. Just before the Revolution, a number of persons who had met in a lady’s parlor were discussing the education of the Dauphin. “I think,” said Lafayette,” that he would do well to begin his History of France with the year 1787.”

This tendency to depreciate the past was due in a measure to the preference, natural to lively minds, for deductive over inductive methods of thought. It is so much easier and pleasanter to assume a few plausible general principles and meditate upon them, than to amass and compare endless series of dry facts, that not by long chastening will the greater part of the world be brought to the more arduous method. Nor should enthusiasm for one of the great processes of thought cause contempt of the other. Even the great inductive French philosopher of the eighteenth century, Montesquieu, failed in a measure to grasp the continuity of history; and drew the facts for his study rather from China and from England than from France, rather from the Roman republic than the existing monarchy. Fear of the censor and of the civil and ecclesiastical tribunals, which would not bear the open discussion of questions of present interest, doubtless added to this tendency.

The idea of equality at first seems simple, but equality may be of many kinds. Absolute equality in all respects between two human beings, no one has ever seen, and no one perhaps has ever thought of desiring. All the relations of life are founded on inequality. By their differences husband and wife, friend and friend, are made necessary and endeared to each other; the parent protects and serves the child, the child obeys and helps the parent; the citizen calls on the magistrate to guard his rights, the magistrate enforces the laws which have their sanction in the consent of the body of citizens. Equality as a political ideal is therefore a limited equality. It may extend to condition, it may be confined to civil rights, or to opportunities.

The Philosophers of the eighteenth century, followed by a school in our day, universally assumed that an approximate equality of condition was desirable. Rousseau agreed with Montesquieu, in believing that a small republic, none of whose citizens were either very rich or very poor, was likely to be in a desirable condition. Virtue, they thought, would be its especial characteristic. In some of the Swiss cantons, and later in the struggling American colonies of Great Britain, Frenchmen discovered communities approaching their ideal in respect to the equal distribution of wealth; and their discovery in the latter case was not without great results. This kind of equality has since passed away from large portions of America, as it must always disappear where civilization increases. Good people mourn its departure; some few, perhaps, would patiently endure its return. They are about as numerous as those who abandon city life to dwell permanently in the country, also the home of comparative equality of condition. The theoretic admiration for this sort of equality was shared by a large and enlightened part of the French nobility. Thus the order was weakened by the fact that many of its own members did not believe in its claims.

Another kind of equality is that of civil rights. Before the Revolution, France was ruled by law, but all Frenchmen were not ruled by the same law. There were privileged persons and privileged localities. Of these anomalies, sometimes working hardship, the minds of intelligent men at that time were especially impatient. They believed, as has been said, in natural laws, implanted in every breast, finding their expression in every conscience; and many of them entertained a crude notion that such laws could easily be applied to the enormously complicated facts of actual life. Assuming such laws to exist, as absolute as mathematical axioms and far easier of application, all variation was error, all anomaly absurd, all claims of a privileged class unfair and unfounded.

Equality of civil rights is also desired from the fear of oppression; a very important motive in the eighteenth century, when the great still had the power to be very oppressive at times. We have seen the treatment which Voltaire received at the hands of a member of one of the great families. Outrages still more flagrant appear to have been not uncommon in the reign of Louis XV., and although there had probably never been a time in France so free from them as that of his successor, their memory was still fresh. It is in their decrepitude that political abuses are most ferociously attacked. When young and lusty they are formidable.

Again, there is equality of opportunity. This is desired as a means of subverting equality of condition to our own advantage, as a chance to be more than equal to our fellow-men. This kind is longed for by the able and ambitious. Where it is denied, the strongest good men will be less useful to the state, unless they happen to be favorably placed at birth; the strongest bad men perhaps more dangerous, because more discontented. It is this sort of equality, more than any other, which the French Philosophers and their followers actually secured for Frenchmen, and in a less degree for other Europeans of to-day. By their efforts, the chance of the poor but talented child to rise to power and wealth has been somewhat increased. This chance, when they began their labors, was not so hopeless as it is often represented. It is not now so great as it is sometimes assumed to be. Still, there has been one decided advance. We have seen that under the old monarchy many important places were reserved for members of the noble class, and practically for a few families among them. Since that monarchy passed away, the opportunity to serve the state, with the great prizes which public life offers to the strong and the aspiring, has been thrown open, theoretically at least, to all Frenchmen.

If the idea of equality be comparatively simple, that of liberty is very much the reverse. The word, in its general sense, signifies little more than the absence of external control. In politics it is used, in the first place, for the absence of foreign conquest, and in this sense a country may be called free although it is governed by a despot. The next signification of liberty is political right, and this is the sense in which it has been most used until recent years. When a tyrant overthrew the liberties of a Greek city, he substituted his own personal rule for the rights of an oligarchy. The mass of the inhabitants may have been neither better nor worse off than before. When Hampden resisted the encroachments of King Charles I, he was fighting the battle of the upper and middle classes against despotism, and we hold him one of the principal champions of liberty. Indeed, liberty in this sense is so far from being identical with equality, that many of those who have been foremost in its defense have been members of aristocracies and holders of slaves. To accuse them of inconsistency is to be misled by the ambiguous meaning of a word. They fought for rights which they believed to be their own; they denied that the rights of all men were identical. During the eighteenth century in France, certain bodies, such as the clergy and the Parliament of Paris, were struggling for political liberties in this older sense, and before the outbreak of the French Revolution many of the most enlightened of the nobility hoped to acquire such liberties. Much blood and confusion might have been spared, and many useful reforms accomplished, had Frenchmen clutched less wildly at the phantom of equality, and sought the safer goal of political liberty.

Another sort of liberty, although it has undoubtedly been desired by individuals in all ages, is almost entirely modern as an ideal for civilized communities. This is the absence of interference, not only of a foreign power or of a lawless oppressor, but of the very law itself. The desire for such freedom as this, would in almost all ages of the world have been held inconsistent with proper respect for order and security. It would have been considered no more than the wicked longing of an unchastened spirit, the temptation of the Evil One himself. In the eighteenth century, however, we see the rise of new opinions. It may be that order had become so firmly established in the European world that a reaction could safely set in. At any rate we find a new way of looking at things. “Independence,” a word which had been often used by the clerical party, and always as a term of reproach, is treated by the Philosophers with favor. Toleration of all kinds of opinions, and of most kinds of spoken words, is making way.[Footnote: In spite of the impatience shown by Voltaire of any criticism of himself, he and his followers did more than any other men that ever lived to make criticism free to all writers.] A new school of thinkers is adapting the new form of thought to economical matters. _Laissez faire; laissez passer_. Restrict the functions of government. Order will arise from the average of contending interests; right direction is produced by the sum of conflicting forces. The doctrine has exerted enormous influence since the French Revolution in resisting the claims of socialism,–that new form of tyranny in which all are to be the despot and each the slave. But few of the Philosophers accepted it entirely. Most of them desired the constant interference of the government for one purpose or another, and many believed in the power, almost the omnipotence, of a mythical personage, borrowed in part from Plutarch and commonly called the Legislator.

The history and action of this personage may be roughly stated as follows. Every nation now civilized was in early days in a barbarous condition. Once upon a time, a great man came from somewhere, and brought a complete set of laws, morals, and manners with him. To these laws and customs he generally ascribed a divine origin. The nation to which they were proclaimed adopted them, and the people’s subsequent happiness and prosperity were in proportion to their excellence. The reasons which are supposed to have induced the barbarous tribe to change all its habits at the bidding of one man are seldom given, or if given, are ludicrously inadequate. The theory of the legislator is now out of date. It is generally held that the institutions of every race have grown up with it, that they are appropriate to its nature and history, gradually modified sometimes by act of the national will, and more or less changed under foreign influences, but that their general character cannot suddenly be subverted. Its institutions thus as truly belong to a civilized race, as the skin without fur or the erect position belong to mankind. There is some evidence in support of either theory, and the truth will probably be found to lie between them, although nearer to the latter. Yet the effect of a higher civilization implanted on a lower one seems at times singularly rapid. The story of the legislator is a part of most early histories and mythologies. The classical model has generally been held to be either Minos or Lycurgus. There were few clever men in France between the years 1740 and 1790 who did not dream of trying on the sandals of those worthies.

While the ideas attached to equality and to liberty were vague and indefinite, it was generally assumed that they would coincide. Liberty and equality, however, have tendencies naturally opposed to each other. Remove the exterior forces which control the wills of men, overturn foreign domination, give every citizen political rights, reduce the interference of laws to a minimum, and the natural differences and inequalities of physical, mental, and moral strength, or power of will, inherent in mankind, will have the fuller opportunity to act. The strong improve their natural advantage, they acquire dominion over their weaker neighbors, they monopolize opportunities for themselves, their friends and their children. Only by keeping all men in strict subjection to something outside of themselves can all be kept in comparative equality. This fact was instinctively apprehended by one school of French thinkers. We shall see that the followers of Rousseau, while posing as champions of Liberty, were in fact the founders of a system which is the very antithesis of individual freedom.[Footnote: It is perhaps needless to remark that I have touched here only on the political meanings of the word Liberty. In the eighteenth century the word was much used in its philosophical sense, and the eternal problem of necessity and free-will was warmly discussed.]



One man stands out among the French nobility of the gown in the eighteenth century, influencing human thought beyond the walls of the court-room; one Philosopher who looks on existing society as something to be saved and directed. The work of Voltaire and his followers was principally negative. Their favorite task was demolition. The ugly and uninhabitable edifices of Rousseau’s genius required for their erection a field from which all possible traces of civilized building had been removed. But Montesquieu, while he satirized the vices of the society which he saw about him, yet appreciated at their full value the benefits of civilization. He recognized that change is always accompanied by evil, even if its preponderating result be good, and that it should be attempted only with care and caution. His ideas influenced the leading men of the second half of the century somewhat in proportion to their judgment and in inverse proportion to their enthusiasm.

Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron of Montesquieu, born in 1689, was by inheritance one of the presidents of the Parliament of Bordeaux. [Footnote: In his youth he was known as Charles Louis de la Brède, the name being taken from a fief of his mother. The name of Montesquieu he inherited from an uncle, together with his place of _président à mortier_. Vian, _Histoire de Montesquieu_, 16, 30.] He was recognized in early life as a rising man, a respectable magistrate, sensible and brilliant rather than learned; a man of the world, rich and thrifty, not very happily married, and fond of the society of ladies. In appearance he was ugly, with a large head, weak eyes, a big nose, a retreating forehead and chin. In temperament he was calm and cheerful. “I have had very few sorrows,” he says, “and still less ennui.”–“Study has been to me a sovereign remedy against the troubles of life, and I have never had a grief that an hour’s reading would not dissipate.” He was shy, he tells us, but less among bright people than among stupid ones. Good-natured he appears to have been, and somewhat selfish; easily amused, less by what people said than by their way of saying it. He was a good landlord and a kind master. It is told of him that one day, while scolding one of his servants, he turned round with a laugh to a friend standing by. “They are like clocks,” said he, “and need winding up now and then”.[Footnote: See the medallion given in Vian, and said by the _Biographie universelle_ to be the only authentic portrait. Also Montesq. vii. 150, (_Pensées diverses. Portrait de M. par lui-même_, apparently written when he was about forty). Also Vian, 141.]

Montesquieu set himself a high standard of duty. In a paper intended only for his son, he writes: “If I knew something which was useful to myself and injurious to my family, I should reject it from my mind. If I knew of anything which was useful to my family and which was not so to my country, I should try to forget it. If I knew something useful to my country, which was injurious to Europe and the human race, I should consider it a crime.”[Footnote: Montesq., vii. 157.]

Montesquieu’s first book appeared in 1721, a book very different from those which followed it. It is witty and licentious after a rather stately fashion, full of keen observation and cutting satire. In contrast to the books of other famous writers of the century, the “Persian Letters” are eminently the work of a gentleman;–of a French gentleman, when the Duke of Orléans was Regent.

The “Lettres Persanes” are, as their name suggests, the supposed correspondence of two rich Persians, Usbek and Rica, traveling in France and exchanging letters with their friends and their eunuchs in Persia.