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  • 1892
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The letters which the travelers receive, containing the gossip of their harems, form but the smaller portion of the book, and are evidently intended to give it variety and lightness. In the letters which they write to their Persian correspondents we have the satirical picture of French society. How far had the ruling, infallible church sunk in the minds of Frenchmen, when a well-placed and rather selfish man could write what follows.

“The Pope is the chief of the Christians. He is an old idol, to which people burn incense from the force of habit. In old times he was formidable even to princes; for he deposed them as easily as our magnificent Sultans depose the kings of Irimette and of Georgia. But he is no longer feared. He calls himself the successor of one of the earliest Christians, known as Saint Peter; and it is certainly a rich inheritance, for he has enormous treasures and a rich country under his dominion.”

The bishops are legists, subordinate to the Pope. They have two functions. When assembled they make articles of faith as he does. When separate, they dispense people from obeying the law. For the Christian religion is full of difficult observances; and it is thought to be harder to do your duty than to have bishops to give you dispensation. The doctors, bishops, and monks are constantly raising questions on religious subjects, and dispute for a long time, until at last an assembly is held to decide among them. In no kingdom have there been as many civil wars as in that of Christ.[Footnote: Montesq., i. 124. Letter xxix.]

Farther on we have a picture of the way in which religion is regarded in French society. It is less a subject of sanctification than of dispute. Courtiers, soldiers, even women, rise up against ecclesiastics and ask them to prove what the others have resolved not to believe. This is not because people have determined their minds by reason, nor that they have taken the trouble to examine the truth or falsehood of this religion which they reject. They are rebels who have felt the yoke and who have shaken it off before they have known it. They are, therefore, no firmer in their unbelief than in their faith. They live in an ebbing and flowing tide, which unceasingly carries them from one to the other. [Footnote: Montesq., i. 251. Letter lxxv.] Making a large allowance for satire, we have yet an interesting and doleful picture of a small but important part of the French nation. And it is noticeable that the Persian Letters precede by thirteen years Voltaire’s “Philosophical,” or “English Letters.”[Footnote: 1721-1734.]

Montesquieu argues that it is well to have several sects in a country, as they keep a watch on each other, and every man is anxious not to disgrace his party. But it is for toleration and not for equality that the author pleads. A state church seemed almost necessary to thought in the early part of the eighteenth century. Yet Montesquieu has no great liking for any form of dogmatic religion; in this he belongs distinctly with the Philosophers; morality is, in his eyes, the great, perhaps the only thing to be desired; obedience to law, love to men, filial piety, those, he says, are the first acts of all religions; ceremonies are good only on the supposition that God has commanded them; but about the commands of God it is easy to be mistaken, for there are two thousand religions, each of which puts in its claim. Thus was the great argument of the Catholics, that the multiplicity of Protestant sects–provided their falsity, turned against its inventors.[Footnote: Ibid., i. 164. Letter xlvi. Compare with Montesquieu’s opinion, expressed in the _Spirit of the Laws_, that the sovereign should neither allow the establishment of a new form of religion, nor persecute one already established.]

The licentiousness of the “Persian Letters” has been mentioned. It is one of the most noticeable features of the writings of the Philosophers of the eighteenth century that the whole subject of sexual morality is viewed by them from a standpoint different from that taken by ourselves. The thinking Frenchmen of that age believed that there was a system of natural morals, imposed on man by his own nature and the nature of things. They believed that there was also an artificial system resting only on positive law, or on the ordinances of the church. It was the tendency of the ecclesiastical mind to ignore that distinction. That tendency had been pushed too far and had produced a reaction.

The distinction is one which is not quite disregarded even by men of those races which have most respect for law. Nobody feels that the injunction to keep off the grass in a public park, or the rule to pass to the right in driving, is of quite the same sort of obligation as the precept to keep your hands from picking and stealing. A far greater amount of odium is incurred by the known breach of a rule of natural morals, than by that of a rule depending solely on the ordinance of the legislative power. Smuggling may be mentioned as a crime coming near the dividing line in the popular feeling of most countries. Few men would feel as much disgraced at being caught by a custom-house officer, with a box of cigars hidden under the trowsers at the bottom of their trunk, as at being seized in the act of stealing the same box from the counter of a tobacconist. In countries where the laws are arbitrary and the law-making power distrusted, this distinction is more strongly marked than where the government has the full confidence and approbation of the community. The more progressive Frenchmen of a hundred and fifty years ago believed the laws of their country to be bad in many respects. They therefore thought that there was a great difference between what jurists call _prohibited wrong_ and _wrong in itself_.

Now, admitting this distinction to exist in men’s minds, there is one large class of crimes and vices which is put in one category by most Anglo-Saxons and which was put in the other by the French Philosophers. These are the breaches of the sexual laws. It is one of the greatest services of the church to Christendom that she has always laid particular emphasis on the duty of chastity. It is one of her greatest errors, that she has exalted the practice of celibacy over that of conjugal fidelity. The Philosophers, as was their custom, looked abroad on the practice of various nations. They found that some of the ancients granted divorce freely at the request of either party. They learned that Orientals generally allowed polygamy. They saw in their own country a low state of sexual morals among the highest classes, partly due perhaps to the example of a depraved court. Observation and desire concurred with hatred of the clergy to warp their judgments. They forgot, at least in part, that chastity is the foundation of the family and the civilized state; that divorce and polygamy, although of momentous importance, are but secondary questions; that on sexual self-restraint civilization rests, as much as on respect for life and property. On the false theory that unchastity is but an artificial crime, the delusive invention of an ascetic church, will, I think, be found to depend much that has been worst in the practice of Frenchmen, much that is most disgusting in their literature.[Footnote: The commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is equally applicable to polygamists and monogamists. It was originally promulgated to the former, and to a nation in which a man could put away his wife.]

This theory is seldom held unreservedly. In the “Persian Letters” it goes no farther than an elaborate apology for divorce, a scathing denunciation of celibacy, and a general licentiousness of tone. The later writings of Montesquieu are free from indecency. But it is noticeable of him, perhaps the most high-minded of the Philosophers, and of the rest of them, that while they constantly insist on the importance of virtue, they hardly rank chastity among the virtues.[Footnote: See the story of a Guebir who marries his sister, Montesq., i. 226, Letter lxvii. The point appears to be that the laws forbidding marriage in cases of consanguinity are arbitrary.]

The monarchy fares little better than the church in the “Persian Letters.” “The King of France,” says Rica, “is the most powerful prince in Europe. He has no gold-mines like his neighbor the King of Spain; but he has more wealth than the latter, for he draws it from the vanity of his subjects, more inexhaustible than mines. He has been known to undertake and carry on great wars, with no other resource than titles of honor to sell; and by a prodigy of human pride, his troops were paid, his forts furnished, his fleets equipped.”

“Moreover, this king is a great magician; he rules the very minds of his subjects; he makes them think as he pleases. If he has only one million dollars in his treasury and needs two, he has but to assure them that one dollar is worth two, and they believe him. If he has a difficult war to carry on, and has no money, he has but to put it into their heads that a piece of paper is bullion, and immediately they are convinced. He even goes so far as to make them believe that he cures them of all manner of diseases by touching them. Such is the strength and power that he has over their minds.”[Footnote: Ibid., i. 110, Letter xxiv. Referring to the sale of offices and titles, to the habit of debasing the coinage, and to that of touching for scrofula.]

“What I tell you of this prince need not astonish you, There is another magician stronger than he; who is no less master of the king’s spirit, than the king himself is of that of others. This magician is called the Pope. Sometimes he makes the king believe that three are only one; that the bread people eat is not bread, that the wine that they drink is not wine, and many things of the same kind.”

Rica has seen the young king, Louis XV. His countenance is majestic and charming; a good education, added to a good natural disposition, gives promise of a great sovereign. But Rica is informed that you cannot tell about these western kings until you know of their mistress and their confessor. “Under a young prince these exercise rival powers; under an old one, they are united. The strength of a young king makes the dervish weak; but the mistress turns both strength and weakness to account.” [Footnote: Montesq., i. 339, Letter cvii.]

The Christian princes long ago freed all the slaves in their states; saying that Christianity made all men equal. This religious action was very useful to them, for it abridged the power of their chief lords. Since then, they have conquered new countries where slavery was profitable. They have forgotten their religion and allowed slaves to be bought and sold.[Footnote: Ibid., i. 252, Letter lxxv.]

The French are more governed by the laws of honor than the Persians, because they are more free. But the sanctuary of honor, reputation, and virtue seems to be built in republics, where a man may feel that he has indeed a country. In Greece and Rome a crown of leaves, a statue, the praise of the state, were recompense enough for a battle won or a city taken. Switzerland and Holland, with the poorest soil in Europe, are the most populous countries for their area. Liberty–and opulence, which always follows it–draws strangers to the country. Political equality among citizens generally produces equality of fortune, and scatters abundance and life.

But under an arbitrary government, the prince, his courtiers, and a few individuals, possess all the wealth, while the rest of the country suffers from extreme poverty.[Footnote: Montesq., i. 291, Letter lxxxix. See also pp. 381, 386, Letters cxxii., cxxiv.]

The satirical character of the “Persian Letters” is sufficiently evident from the extracts given above. But Montesquieu is far more widely and justly known as a wise and learned writer on government than as a satirist. The book we have been considering was by far the lightest, as it was the earliest, of his considerable writings. The good sense, caution, and conservatism of his nature appear in the “Persian Letters” less conspicuously than in his later works; yet, even there, are in marked contrast to the haste and shallowness of many of the Philosophers. “It is true’,” he says, “that laws must sometimes be altered, but the case is rare; and when it happens, they should be touched with a trembling hand; and so many solemnities should be observed, and so many precautions used, that the people may naturally conclude that the laws are very sacred, since so many formalities are necessary to abrogate them.”[Footnote: Ibid., i. 401, Letter cxxix.]

Here is an opinion, overstated perhaps, but not without its frequent illustrations since he wrote it. “It seems … that the largest heads grow narrow when they are assembled, and that where there are, most wise men, there is least wisdom. Large bodies are always deeply attached to details, to vain customs; and essential matters are always postponed. I have heard that a king of Aragon, having assembled the Estates of Aragon and Catalonia, the first meetings were taken up in deciding in what language the deliberations should be held. The dispute was lively, and the Estates would have broken up a thousand times, had not an expedient been hit upon, which was that the questions should be put in Catalonian and the answers given in Aragonese.”[Footnote: Montesq., i. 344, Letter cix. See several of the principal deliberative bodies of the world so bound by their own rules that they can scarcely move; and compare with them in point of efficiency the small legislatures and boards which manage many important and complicated interests promptly, sitting with closed doors.]

“I have never heard people talk about public law,” he says in another letter, “that they did not inquire carefully what was the origin of society; which strikes me as absurd. If men did not form a society, if they separated and fled from each other, we should have to ask the reason of it, and to seek out why they kept apart. But they are created all bound to each other, the son is born near his father and stays there; this is society, and the cause of society.”[Footnote: Ibid., i. 301, Letter xciv.]

A satirical book, like the “Persian Letters,” could not have been openly published in France under Louis XV. The first edition was in fact printed at Amsterdam, although Cologne appeared on the title-page as the place of publication. The book was anonymous, but Montesquieu was well known to be the author, and speedily acquired a great reputation. After several years, for things did not move fast in Old France, he was proposed for election to the Academy. To be one of the forty members of that body is the legitimate ambition of the literary Frenchman. The Cardinal de Fleury, who was prime minister, is said to have announced that the king would never consent to the election of the author of the “Persian Letters.” He added that he had not read the book, but that people in whom he had confidence assured him that it was dangerous. According to Voltaire, Montesquieu thereupon had a garbled edition of the Letters hastily printed, himself took a copy to the Cardinal, induced His Eminence to read a part of it, and, with the help of friends, prevailed on him to alter his decision. Such a trick is more worthy of Voltaire, who continually denied his own works, than of Montesquieu, who, I believe, never did so. D’Alembert tells the story in a way entirely creditable to the latter. He says that Montesquieu saw the minister, told him that for private reasons he did not give his name to the “Persian Letters,” but that he was far from disowning a book of which he did not think he had cause to be ashamed. He then insisted that the Letters should be judged after reading them, and not on hearsay. Thereupon the Cardinal read the book, was pleased with it and with its author, and withdrew his opposition to the latter’s election to the Academy.[Footnote: _Nouvelle Biographie Universelle. Voltaire (Siècle de Louis XIV. liste des écrivains)_. D’Alembert, vi. 252. The date of Montesquieu’s election was Jan. 24, 1728. See a discussion of the whole story in Vian, 100. Montesquieu is there said to have threatened to leave France, and to have declined a pension at this time. Montesquieu tells the story of the pension, but without fixing a date: “Je dis que n’ayant pas fait de bassesse, je n’avais pas besoin d’etre consolé par des graces,” vii. 157. Voltaire was always jealous of Montesquieu’s reputation; and also, at this time, out of temper with the Academy, to which he was elected only in 1746.]

A little before this time Montesquieu resigned his place as one of the presidents of the Parliament of Bordeaux, selling the life estate in it, but reserving the reversion for his son. Having thus obtained leisure, he set out on a long course of travel, lasting three years. “In France,” said he later, “I make friends with everybody; in England with nobody; in Italy I make compliments to every one; in Germany I drink with every one.” “When I go into a country, I do not look to see if there are good laws, but whether they execute those they have; for there are good laws everywhere.”[Footnote: Vian, 90. Montesq. vii. 186, 189.]

Montesquieu arrived in England in the autumn of 1729, sailing from Holland in the yacht of Lord Chesterfield, whose acquaintance he had made on the Continent. He spent seventeen months in the country, and, in spite of his epigram about making friends with nobody, saw some of the most eminent men, including Swift and Pope, was received by the Royal Society, and presented at Court. At a time when England and the English language were little known in France, he studied them in a way which deeply influenced all his views of government. “In London,” he says, “liberty and equality. The liberty of London is the liberty of the best people,[Footnote: _Honnestes gens,_ which cannot be exactly translated. Montesq., vii. 185. Vian, 112.] in which it differs from the liberty of Venice, “which is the liberty of debauchery.” The equality of London is also the equality of the best people, in which it differs from the liberty of Holland, which is the liberty of the populace.”

“England is at present the most free country in the world; I do not except any republic. I call it free because the prince can do no conceivable harm to anybody; because his power is controlled and limited by a law. But if the lower chamber should become them mistress, its power would be unlimited and dangerous, because it would have executive power also; whereas now unlimited power is in the parliament and the king, and the executive power in the king, whose power is limited. A good Englishman must, therefore, seek to defend liberty equally against the attacks of the crown and those of the chamber.”[Footnote: Montesq., vii. 195 (_Notes sur l’Angleterre_).]

Montesquieu brought back from England an admiration of what he had seen there as genuine, and far more discriminating than that of Voltaire. While the studies of Montesquieu were principally directed to the political institutions of the country, those of Voltaire embraced the philosophy and social life of England. Through these two great men, more perhaps than through any others, English ideas were spread in France in the middle of the eighteenth century.[Footnote: Voltaire returned from England a few months before Montesquieu went there in 1729.]

Montesquieu now went on with his studies with an enlarged mind. He would appear, before he started on his travels, to have already formed the project of writing a great work on the Spirit of the Laws. But in 1784 he published a smaller book, the “Greatness and Decadence of the Romans.” It is said that this essay was composed of a part of the material collected for the Spirit of the Laws, and was published separately in order not to give the Romans too large a place in the more important work. This has been doubted, but there is nothing either in the subject or in the treatment to make it improbable. Nor is it important, so long as between the two books there is unity of purpose and agreement of method.

The “Greatness and Decadence of the Romans” is a study of philosophic history. In form it is not unlike Machiavelli’s Discourses on the first ten books of Livy. That remarkable work would have been most profitable reading for Frenchmen of the eighteenth century, as it must be in all times for students of the science of politics. Of republics Machiavelli had more experience than Montesquieu. Both considered the republican form of government the most desirable; both thought it impossible without the preservation of substantial equality of property among the citizens. Montesquieu, who knew more of monarchy than Machiavelli, had also more faith in it. Both hated the Rule of the Roman Church. [Footnote: Machiavelli, ii. 210. Montesq., ii. 136, 140. Mach., ii. 130.] The Frenchman excels the Italian in practical wisdom; he is also more brilliant. By his brilliancy he may sometimes have been led away, but I think not often. While we feel in reading Voltaire that the sparkling point is often the cause of the saying, with Montesquieu we are generally struck with the weight of thought in what we read.

“The tyranny of a prince,” says Montesquieu, “does not bring him nearer to ruin, than indifference to the public good brings a republic. The advantage of a free state is that the revenues are better administered–but how if they are worse? The advantage of a free state is that there are no favorites; but when that is not the case, and when instead of enriching the prince’s friends and relations, all the friends and relations of all those who share in the government have to be enriched, all is lost; the laws are evaded more dangerously than they are violated by a prince, who, being always the greatest citizen of a state, has the most interest in its preservation.”[Footnote: Montesq., ii. 139.]

Kings, as Montesquieu points out, are less envied than aristocracies; for the king is too far above most of his subjects to excite comparisons, while the nobility is not so placed. Republics, where birth confers no privileges, are, he thinks, happier in this respect than other countries; for the people can envy but little an authority which it grants and withdraws at its pleasure. Montesquieu forgets that every chance to rise which excites in the strong and virtuous a noble emulation, will cause in the weak and sour the corresponding base passion of envy. Complete despotism he believes to be impossible. There is in every nation a general spirit on which all power is founded. Against this, the ruler is powerless. It is wise not to disturb established forms and institutions, for the very causes which have made them last hitherto may maintain them in the future, and these causes are often complicated and unknown. When the system is changed, theoretic difficulties may be overcome, but drawbacks remain which only use can show. It is folly in conquerors to wish to make the conquered adopt new laws and customs, and it is useless; for under any form of government, subjects can obey. Men are never more offended than when their ceremonies and customs are interfered with. Oppression is sometimes a proof of the esteem in which they are held; interference with their customs is always a mark of contempt.[Footnote: Montesq., ii. 181, 315, 316, 266,174, 209.]

Such are some of the general opinions of Montesquieu, found in the “Greatness and Decadence of the Romans.” In the same book occurs the expression of an idea (afterwards repeated and worked out), which was to be perhaps the most fruitful of his teachings. “The laws of Rome,” he says, “had wisely divided the public power among a great number of offices, which sustained, arrested, and moderated each other; and as each had but a limited power, every citizen was capable of attaining to any one of them; and the people, seeing several persons pass before it one after the other, became accustomed to none of them.”[Footnote: Ibid., ii. 200.]

This idea that the division of power was highly desirable, that a system of checks and balances in government would tend to secure freedom, never took firm root in France. Indeed, Montesquieu, as he himself had partly foreseen, was more praised than read in his own country.[Footnote: Ibid., vii. 157 (Pensées diverses. Portrait de M par lui-même).] But in the distant colonies of America the “Greatness and Decadence of the Romans” and the “Spirit of the Laws” found eager students. The thoughts of Montesquieu were embodied in the constitutions of new states, whose social and economic condition was not far removed from that which he considered the most desirable. In these states the doctrine of the division of powers was consciously and carefully adopted, with the most beneficent results. This division was not a new idea to the American colonists: it was already in a measure a part of their institutions. But there can be little doubt that the idea was enforced in their minds by being clearly stated by one of the writers on political subjects whom they most admired.[Footnote: We have seen that Montesquieu had arrived at this idea from the study of the English Constitution as it existed in his day. In respect to the division of powers, the government of the United States conforms far more nearly to his idea than does the present government of England, in which the system of balanced powers has been superseded by that of government by the Lower Chamber, of which he pointed out the danger. The full results of this change will be known only to future generations.]

Fourteen years had passed from the time of the publication of the “Greatness and Decadence of the Romans,” when in 1748 appeared the great work of Montesquieu, the “Spirit of the Laws.” The book is announced by its author as something entirely original, “a child without a mother.” [Footnote: _Prolem sine matre creatam_, on the title-page.] Nor is the claim altogether unfounded, although any reader familiar with the “Politics” of Aristotle can hardly fail to observe the resemblance between that great book and the other. Nor is it a detraction from the genius of Montesquieu to say that the comparison will not be altogether in his favor.

Montesquieu’s scheme is announced in the title originally given to his book. “Of the Spirit of the Laws, or of the relation which the laws should have to the constitution of every government, manners, climate, religion, commerce, etc. To which the author has added new researches into the Roman laws concerning inheritance, into French laws, and into feudal laws.” Thus we see that the principal subject of the book is the relation of laws to the circumstances of the country in which they exist. In this also is its chief value and its claim to originality. The Philosophers of the eighteenth century, following the example of the churches, believed that there was an absolute standard of justice to which all laws could easily be referred, independently of the country in which the laws existed. If the laws of Naples differed from those of Prussia, the laws which governed the phlegmatic Dutchman from those which contained the excitable inhabitant of Marseilles, one or the other set of laws, or both of them, must be wrong. The Civil Law of the Latin races, the Common Law of England, each claimed to be the expression of perfect abstract reason. The church with its canon, the same for all races and climates, confirmed the theory. To all these came Montesquieu with a teaching that would reconcile their claims.

“Law in general is human reason, in so far as it governs all the nations of the earth; and the political and civil laws of each nation should be but the particular cases to which that human reason is applied.”

“They should be so adapted to the people for whom they are made, that it is a very great chance if those of one nation will apply to another.”

“They must be in relation to the nature and the principle of the government which is established, or about to be established; whether they form it, as do political laws; or maintain it, as do civil laws.”

“They must be in relation to the _physical_ nature of the country; to the frozen, burning, or temperate climate; to the quality of the soil, the situation and size of the country; to the style of life of the people, as farmers, hunters, or shepherds; they should be in relation to the amount of liberty which the constitution may allow; to the religion of the inhabitants, their inclinations, their wealth, their numbers, their customs, their morals, and their manners. Finally, they have relations to each other; they have them to their own origin, to the object of the legislator, to the order of things on which they are established. They should be considered from all these points of view.”

“This is what I undertake to do in this work. I will examine all these relations. They form together what is called `the Spirit of the Laws.'” [Footnote: Montesq., iii. 99 (liv. i. c. 3).]

It will be noticed that Montesquieu by no means denies that there are general principles of justice. On the contrary, he positively asserts it.[Footnote: Ibid., iii. 91 (liv. i. c. 1).] But the great value of his teaching consists in the other lesson. “It is better to say that the government most in conformity with nature is that whose particular disposition is most in relation to the disposition of the people for which it is established.” This principle may certainly be deduced from Aristotle; but it was none the less necessary to teach it in the eighteenth century; it is none the less necessary to teach it to-day. [Footnote: Ibid., iii. 99; Aristotle, _Politics_, liv. vii. c. ii.]

The conception was a great one, so simple that it seems impossible that it could ever have been missed; but it was combated with violence on its announcement, and many brilliant and learned men have failed to grasp it.[Footnote: Montesq., iv. 145 _n_] Such are the persons in our own time who praise despotism in France, or who would set up parliamentary government in India. Montesquieu probably carried his theories too far. To the north he assigned energy and valor, as if the most widely conquering nations that Europe had then known had been the Norwegian and the Finn, instead of the Macedonian, the Italian, and the Spaniard. Sterility of soil he considered favorable to republics, fertility to monarchies. It was natural that a man in revolt against the long spiritual tyranny that had oppressed thought in Europe should have attributed excessive importance to material causes. Not the less did the idea contain its share of truth. Nor was his statement of this, which we may call his favorite theory, always excessive. “Several things,” he says, “govern man; climate, religion, laws, the maxims of government, the examples of things past, morals, manners; whence comes a general spirit which is their result. Sometimes one of these forces dominates and sometimes another.”[Footnote: Montesq., iv. 307 (liv. xix. c. 4).]

It may be noted of Montesquieu, and as often of Voltaire, that each of them is constantly led astray by imperfect knowledge of foreign, and especially of barbarous and savage nations. Since the voyages and conquests of the Renaissance, accounts of strange countries had abounded in Europe, written in many cases by men anything but accurate, if not, in the words of Macaulay, “liars by a double right, as travellers and as Jesuits.”[Footnote: _Essay on Machiavelli_.] The writers of a hundred and fifty years ago could use no better material than was to be had. They wished to draw instruction from distant objects, and their spy-glasses distorted shapes and modified colors. Imperfect knowledge of foreign countries sometimes led Montesquieu into curious mistakes; yet these affected his illustrations oftener than his theories.

Having stated his general doctrine, Montesquieu proceeds to apply it. As laws should be adapted to the nature of the government of each country, it is essential to study that nature, and to consider what is the _principle_, or motive force of each form of government. “There is this difference,” he says, “between the nature of the government and its principle: that its nature is what makes it such as it is, and its principle what makes it act. One is its especial structure, and the other the human passions which cause it to operate.”[Footnote: Montesq., iii, 120 (liv. iii. c. 1).]

Four kinds of government are recognized by Montesquieu: democratic, aristocratic, monarchical, and despotic. The principle of democracy he holds to be _virtue_, without which popular government cannot continue to exist.[Footnote: Montesq., iii. 122 (liv. iii. c. 3).] An aristocratic state needs less virtue, because the people is kept in check by the nobles. But the nobility can with difficulty repress the members of their own order, and do justice for their crimes. In default of great virtue, however, an aristocratic state can exist if the ruling class will practice _moderation_.[Footnote: Ibid., iii. 126 (liv. c. 4).] In monarchies great things can be done with little virtue, for in them there is another moving principle, which is honor.[Footnote: Ibid., iii. 128 (liv. iii. c. 5, 6, and 7).] This sort of government is founded on the prejudice of each person and each sort of men; it rests on ranks, preferences, and distinctions, so that emulation often supplies the place of virtue. In a monarchy there will be many tolerable citizens, but seldom a very good man, who loves the state better than himself. The motive principle of a despotism is _fear_[Footnote: Ibid., iii. 135 (liv. iii. c. 9).]; for in despotic states virtue is unnecessary, and honor would be dangerous. These qualities of virtue, honor, and fear, may not exist in every republic, monarchy, and despotism; but they should do so, if the government is to be perfect of its kind.[Footnote: Ibid., iii. 140 (liv. iii. c. 11).]

It is worth while to remember, when considering the “Spirit of the Laws,” that Montesquieu oftenest had in his mind, when speaking of democratic republics, those of Greece; when speaking of aristocratic republics, early Rome and Venice; of monarchies, France and England; of despotisms, the East.[Footnote: But he sometimes refers to England as a country where a republic is hidden under the forms of a monarchy. Montesq, iii. 216 (liv. V. c. 19).]

Under each form of government, education and the laws should work together to strengthen the motive principle belonging to that form. Especially is this necessary in republics, for honor, which sustains monarchies, is favored by the passions; but virtue, on which democracies depend, implies renunciation of self. Virtue, in a republic, is love of the republic itself, which leads to good morals; the public good is set above private gratification. Thus we see that monks love their order the more, the more austere is its rule. The love of the state, in a democracy, becomes the love of equality, and thus limits ambition to the desire to render great services to the republic. The love of equality and frugality are principally excited by equality and frugality themselves, when both are established by law. The laws of a democratic state should encourage equality in every way; as by forbidding last wills, and preventing the acquisition of large landed estates. In a democracy all men contract an enormous debt to the state at their birth, and, do what they may, they can never repay it. There should be no great wealth in the hands of private persons, because such wealth confers power and furnishes delights which are contrary to equality. Domestic frugality should make public expenditure possible. Even talents should be but moderate. But if a democratic republic be founded on commerce, individuals may safely possess great riches; for the spirit of commerce brings with it that of frugality, economy, moderation, labor, wisdom, tranquillity, and order.

It is very important in a democracy to keep old laws and customs; for things tend to degenerate, and a corrupted nation seldom does anything great. To maintain an aristocratic republic, moderation is necessary. The nobles should be simple in their lives and hardly distinguishable from plebeians. Distinctions offensive to pride, such as laws forbidding intermarriage, are to be avoided. Privileges should belong to the senate as a body and simple respect only be paid to the individual senators.[Footnote: Montesq., iii. 151 (liv. iv. c. 5). Ibid., iii. 165-183 (liv. v. c. 2-8).]

As honor is the motive principle of monarchy, the laws should support it, and be adapted to sustain that _nobility_ which is the parent and the child of honor. Nobility must be hereditary; it must have prerogatives and rights; it forms the link between the prince and the nation. Monarchical government has the great advantage over the republican form, that, as affairs are in a single hand, there is the greater promptitude of execution. But there should still be something to moderate the will of the prince. This is best found, not in the nobility itself, but in such bodies as courts of law with constitutional rights, like the French Parliaments.[Footnote: In a despotic government the motive principle is fear. The governor of the town must be absolutely responsible Montesq., iii, 191 (liv, v. c. 10).]

Montesquieu has been much blamed, both in his own age and since, for his partiality to the monarchy as he found it existing in France. While recognizing that a republic was a more just and equal form of government, he thought that monarchy was that best suited to his time and country. Many people who have watched the history of France since his day will be found to agree with him. While defending some practices which are now considered among the flagrant abuses of old France, he recommended some reforms which would have been very salutary. It is often wiser to find excuses for retaining an old custom than reasons for introducing a new one; and Montesquieu was a conservative, made so by his nature, his social position, his wealth, his education as a lawyer, his age and his experience. When he wrote the “Persian Letters” he might possibly have been willing to overthrow the principal institutions of his country for the sake of remedying abuses; but when he had spent twenty years over the “Spirit of the Laws,” when he had realized the complication of life, and the interdependence of things, he was more ready to reform than to destroy.

In a despotic government the motive principle is fear. The governor of the town must be absolutely responsible to the governor of the province, or the latter cannot be entirely responsible to the sovereign. Thus absolutism extends throughout the state. As there is no law but the will of the prince, and as that law cannot be known in detail to every one, there must be a great number of petty tyrants dependent on those immediately above them.[Footnote: Montesq., ii. 209 (liv. v. c. 16).]

After a not very successful attempt to define liberty, which he decides to be the power to do that which we ought to desire and not to do that which we ought not to desire,[Footnote: Ibid., iv. 2-4 (liv. xi. c. 2, 3).] Montesquieu tells us that political liberty is found only in limited governments, for all men who have power will tend to abuse it, and will go on until they meet with obstacles; as virtue itself needs to be restrained. Various nations, he then says, have various objects: conquest was that of Rome, war of Sparta, commerce of Marseilles; there is a country the direct object of whose constitution is political liberty. That country is England.[Footnote: Montesquieu, here and elsewhere, avoids mentioning England or France by name; a curious affectation. The references, however, are unmistakable.]

There are in every state three kinds of power, the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. Political liberty in a citizen is the tranquillity of mind which comes from the opinion he has of his own security; and to give him this liberty the government must be such that no citizen can be afraid of another. Now this security can exist only where the legislative, executive, and judicial powers are in different hands. In most of the monarchies of Europe the government is limited, because the prince, who has the first two powers, leaves the third to others; he makes laws and executes them, but he appoints other men to act as judges in his place. In the republics of Italy all three powers are united. The same body of magistrates makes the laws, executes them, and judges every citizen according to its pleasure; such a body is as despotic as an eastern prince.[Footnote: This judgment is somewhat softened as to Venice. The most conspicuous example in modern times of the tyranny of a single popular body is that of France under the Convention.] The judicial power, says Montesquieu (with the English jury in his mind), should not be given to a permanent senate, but exercised by persons drawn from the body of the people, forming a tribunal which lasts only as long as necessity may require it. In serious cases the criminal should combine with the law to choose his judges, or at least should have a right of challenge. The legislative and executive powers can with less danger be given to permanent bodies, because they are not exercised against individuals. He then commends representative government and the freedom left to members of Parliament in the English system. He believes the people more capable of choosing representatives wisely than of deciding questions, an opinion on which modern experience may have thrown some doubt. He approves of the existence of a second chamber, composed of persons distinguished by birth, wealth, or honors; for if such were mixed with the people and given only one vote apiece like the others, the common liberty would be their slavery, and they would have no interest in defending it, because it would oftenest be turned against themselves.[Footnote: Montesq., iv. 7 (liv. xi. c. 6).]

The government of France, says Montesquieu, has not, like that of England, liberty for its direct object; it tends only to the glory of the citizen, the state, and the prince. But from this glory comes a spirit of liberty, which in France can do great things, and can contribute as much to happiness as liberty itself. The three powers are not there distributed as in England; but they have a distribution of their own, according to which they approach more or less to political liberty; and if they did not approach it, the monarchy would degenerate into despotism.[Footnote: Montesq., iv. 24. (liv. xi. c. 7).] This sounds somewhat like an empty phrase; yet there undoubtedly were in Montesquieu’s time some checks on the absolutism of a French monarch. “If subjects owe obedience to kings, kings on their part owe obedience to the laws,” said the Parliament of Paris in 1753. And outside of its own boundaries France had long been considered a limited monarchy. [Footnote: Rocquain, 170. Machiavelli, ii. 140, 215, 322 (Discourses on the first ten books of Livy).] Apart from the limitations imposed by the privileges of the church and of the Parliaments, there appear to have been some acknowledged fundamental laws (the succession of the crown in the male line was one of them) which it would have been beyond the power of the sovereign for the time being to destroy. And public opinion, as Montesquieu has already told us, has power even in the most despotic countries. In a European nation, not broken in spirit by long-continued tyranny, and possessing the printing-press, this power must always be very great.

As for Montesquieu’s admiration of the English form of government, it doubtless concurred with other causes to encourage on the Continent the study of English political methods. Those methods have since been adopted by many continental states, with hardly as many modifications to adapt them to local circumstances as might have been desirable. But it is the modern English constitution, in which power lies almost entirely in the House of Commons, and is exercised by its officers, that has been thus copied. In America the principle of the division of powers has been carried farther than it ever was in England; and is, of all parts of their form of government, that from which many intelligent Americans would be most loath to part.

We have seen enough of Montesquieu’s attacks on the church. The most violent of them were made in his youth, and in a book avowedly satirical. In mature life, writing in a more philosophical spirit, his language is temperate and wise. “It is bad reasoning against religion,” he says, “to bring together in a great work a long enumeration of the evils which she has produced, unless you also recount the good she has done. If I should tell all the harm which civil laws, monarchy, or republican government have done in the world, I should say frightful things.”[Footnote: Montesq., v.117 (liv. xxiv. c. 2).] This idea was far beyond the reach of Voltaire.

Montesquieu goes on to argue about different forms of religion. Mahometanism he holds especially suited to despotism, Christianity to limited governments. Catholicism is adapted to monarchies, Protestantism, and especially Calvinism, to republics. Where fatalism is a religious dogma, the penalties imposed by law must be more severe, and the watch kept on the community more vigilant, so that men may be driven by these motives who otherwise would abandon self-restraint; but if the dogma of liberty be established, the case is otherwise. Climate is not without influence on religion. The ablutions required of a Mahometan are useful in his warm country. The Protestant of Northern Europe has to work harder for a living than the Catholic of the South, and therefore desires fewer religious holidays. If a state can prevent the establishment of a new form of religion within its borders, it will find it well to do so; but if several religions are established, they should not be allowed to interfere with each other. Penal laws in religious matters should be avoided; for each religion has its own spiritual penalties, and to put a man between the fear of temporal punishment, on the one hand, and the fear of spiritual punishment on the other, degrades his soul. The possessions of the clergy should be limited by laws of mortmain.[Footnote: Ibid., v.124-136 (liv. xxiv. c. 5-14).]

The spirit of moderation should be the spirit of the legislator. This Montesquieu declared to be the great theme of his book. Political good, like moral good, is always found between extremes.[Footnote: Montesq., v. 379 (liv. xxix. c. 1).]

It was this moderation which made the “Spirit of the Laws” distasteful to the more ardent Philosophers. Sharing in many of the feelings of his contemporaries, and especially in their distrust of the church, Montesquieu was yet unwilling to go to the same extremes as they. His chapter on Uniformity and the criticisms made on it by Condorcet, form an admirable instance of this.

“There are certain ideas of uniformity,” says Montesquieu, “which sometimes take possession of great minds (for they touched Charlemagne), but which invariably strike small ones. These find in them a kind of perfection which they recognize, because it is impossible not to see it; the same weights in matters of police, the same measures in commerce, the same laws in the state, the same religion in all its parts. But is this always desirable without exceptions? Is the evil of changing always less than the evil of suffering? And would not the greatness of genius rather consist in knowing in what case uniformity is necessary, and in what case difference? In China, the Chinese are governed by the Chinese ceremonies, and the Tartars by Tartar ceremonies; yet this is the nation in all the world which is most devoted to tranquillity. So long as the citizens obey the law, what matters it that they shall all obey the same?”

This chapter (the whole of it is given above, and it may pass in the “Spirit of the Laws” for one of middling length), is, according to Condorcet, “one of those which have acquired for Montesquieu the indulgence of all prejudiced people, of all who hate intellectual light; of all protectors of abuses, etc.” And after going on with his invective for some time, Condorcet states the substance of his argument as follows: “As truth, reason, justice, the rights of men, the interest of property, of liberty, of security, are the same everywhere, we do not see why all the provinces of one state, or even why all states should not have the same criminal laws, the same civil laws, the same laws of commerce, etc. A good law must be good for all men, as a true proposition is true for all. The laws which appear as if they should be different for different countries, either pronounce on objects which should not be regulated by laws, like most commercial regulations, or are founded on prejudices and habits which should be uprooted; and one of the best means of destroying them is to cease to sustain them by laws.”[Footnote: Montesq., v. 412 (liv. xxix. c. 18). Condorcet, i. 377. Yet Condorcet speaks elsewhere of Montesquieu as having made a revolution in men’s minds on the subject of law. D’Alembert, i. 64 (Condorcet’s _Éloge de d’Alembert_). Rousseau also teaches that all laws and institutions are not adapted to all nations, but it is because he considers most nations childish or effete.]

In these two passages we have the issue between Montesquieu and the Philosophic party fairly joined. He alone of the great Frenchmen of his century recognized the enormous complication of human life and human affairs. Not denying that there are fundamental principles of justice, he saw that those principles are hard to formulate truly, harder to apply wisely. For their application he offered many valuable suggestions. These were lost in the rush and hurry of approaching revolution. The superb simplicity of mind which could ignore the diversities of human nature was perhaps necessary for the uprooting of old abuses. But the delicate task of constructing a permanent government cannot succeed unless the differences as well as the resemblances among men be taken into account.



The members of the Third Estate differed among themselves far more than did those of the Clergy or the Nobility. This order comprised the rich banker and the beggar at his gate, the learned encyclopaedist and the water-carrier that could not spell his name. Every layman, not of noble blood, belonged to the Third Estate. And although this was the unprivileged order, there were privileged bodies and privileged persons within it. Corporations, guilds, cities, and whole provinces possessed rights distinct from those of the rest of the country.

In the reign of Louis XVI. the city of Paris held a position, in the world even more prominent than that which it holds to-day. For France was then incontestably the first European power, and Paris was then, as it is now, not only the capital and the metropolis, but the heart and centre of life in France. The population was variously estimated at from six to nine hundred thousand. The city was growing in size, and new houses were continually erected. There was so much building at times during this reign, that masons worked at night, receiving double wages. Architects and master masons were becoming rich, and rents were high when compared to those of other places. Strangers and provincials flocked to Paris for the winter and returned to the country during the fine season. Sentimentalists read the works of Rousseau and praised a country life, but then as now few people that could afford to stay in the city, and had once been caught by its fascination, cared to live permanently out of town.[Footnote: Mercier, iv. 205, vii. 190. Babeau, Paris en 1789, 27.]

The public buildings and gardens were worthy of the first city in Europe. With some of them travelers of to-day are familiar. The larger number of the remarkable churches now standing were in existence before the Revolution. Of the palaces then in the city, the three most famous have met with varied fates. The Luxembourg, which was the residence of the king’s eldest brother, is the least changed. To the building itself but small additions have been made. Its garden was and is a quiet, orderly place where respectable family groups sit about in the shade. The Louvre has been much enlarged. Under Louis XVI. it consisted of the buildings surrounding the eastern court, of a wing extending toward the river (the gallery of Apollo), and of a long gallery, since rebuilt, running near the river bank and connecting this older palace with the Tuileries. About one-half of the space now enclosed between the two sides of the enormous edifice, and known as the Place du Carrousel, was then covered with houses and streets. The land immediately to the east of the Tuileries palace was not built upon, but part of it was enclosed by a tall iron railing. Such a railing, either the original one or its successor, was to be seen in the same place until recent times and may be standing to-day. The Place du Carrousel, as it then existed outside of this railing, was a square of moderate size surrounded by houses.

The Palace of the Tuileries itself has had an eventful history since Louis XVI. came to the throne, and has only in recent years been utterly swept from the ground. But the gardens which bear its name are little changed. The long raised terraces ran along their sides then as now; although there was no Rue de Rivoli, and the only access to the gardens on the north side was by two or three streets or lanes from the Rue Saint-Honore. Within the garden the arrangement of broad, sunny walks and of shady horse-chestnuts was much the same as now. Well-dressed persons walked about or sat under the trees, and the unwashed crowd was admitted only on two or three holidays every year. In consequence of this exclusion the wives of respectable citizens used to come unattended to take the air in the gardens. They were brought in sedan-chairs, from which they alighted at the gate. What is now the Place de la Concorde was then the Place Louis Quinze, with an equestrian statue of that “well-beloved” monarch where the obelisk stands. Not far from the pedestal of that statue overturned,–not far from the entrance of the street called Royal,–near the place where many people had been crushed to death in the crowd assembled to see the fireworks in honor of the marriage of the Dauphin and the Princess Marie Antoinette of Austria,–was to stand the scaffold on which that Dauphin and that princess, after reaching the height of earthly splendor, were to pay for their own sins and weaknesses and for those of their country.

To the west of the square came the Champs Elysées, still somewhat rough in condition, but with people sitting on chairs even then to watch the carriages rolling by, as they still do on any fine afternoon. The Boulevards stretched their shady length all round the city, and were a fashionable drive and walk, near which the smaller theatres rose and throve, evading the monopoly of the opéra and the Français. But the boulevards were almost the only broad streets. Those interminable, straight avenues which even the brilliancy and movement of Paris can hardly make anything but tiresome, had not yet been cut. The streets were narrow and shady; most of them not very long, nor mathematically straight, but keeping a general direction and widening here and there into a little square before a church door, or curving to follow an irregularity of the ground. Such streets were not in accordance with the taste of the age and caused progressive people to complain of Paris. Rousseau, who had seen Turin, was disappointed in the French capital. On arriving he saw at first only small, dirty, and stinking streets, ugly black houses, poverty, beggars, and working people; and the impression thus made was never entirely effaced from his mind, in spite of the magnificence which he recognized at a later time. Young thought that Paris was not to be compared with London; and Thomas Jefferson wrote that the latter, though handsomer than Paris, was not so handsome as Philadelphia. But the Parisian liked his uneven streets well enough. There were fine things to be seen in them. Although the city was crowded, there were gardens in many places, belonging to convents and even to private persons. And once in your walk you might come out upon a bridge, where, if there were not houses built upon it, you might catch a breath of the fresh breeze, and watch the sun disappearing behind the distant village of Chaillot; for nowhere does he set more gloriously than along the Seine.[Footnote: _Paris à travers les ages._ Babeau, _Paris en 1789_. Cognel, 27, 74. Rousseau, xvii. 274 (_Confessions_, Part i. liv. iv.). Young, i. 60; Randall’s _Jefferson_, i. 447.]

The houses were tall and dark, and the streets narrow and muddy. There was little water to use, and none to waste, for the larger part of the city depended upon wells or upon the supply brought in buckets from the Seine. The scarcity was hardly to be regretted, for there were few drains to carry dirty water away, and the gutter was full enough already. It ran down the middle of the street, which sloped gently toward it, and there were no sidewalks. When it rained, this street-gutter would rise and overflow, and enterprising men would come out with little wooden bridges on wheels and slip them in between the carriages, and give the quick-footed walker an opportunity to cross the torrent, if he did not slip in from the wet plank; while a pretty woman would sometimes trust herself to the arms of a burly porter.[Footnote: See the print in Fournel, 539, after Granier. Conductors were coming into use before the Revolution. _Encyc. meth. Jurisp._, x. 716.] The houses had gutters along the eaves, but no conductors coming down the walls, so that the water from the roofs was collected and came down once in every few yards in a torrent, bursting umbrellas, and deluging cloaks and hats. The manure spread before sick men’s doors to deaden the sound of wheels was washed down the street to add to the destructive qualities which already characterized the mud of Paris. An exceptionally heavy fall of snow would entirely get the better of the authorities, filling the streets from side to side with pools of slush, in which fallen horses had been known to drown. When the sun shone again all was lively as before; the innumerable vehicles crowded the streets from wall to wall, with their great hubs standing well out beyond the wheels, and threatened to eviscerate the pedestrian, as he flattened himself against the house. The carriages of the nobility dashed through the press, the drivers calling out to make room; they were now seldom preceded by runners in splendid livery, as had been the fashion under the former reign, but sometimes one or two huge dogs careered in front, and the Parisians complained that they were first knocked down by the dogs and then run over by the wheels. At times came street cleaners and swept up some of the mud, and carted it away, having first freely spattered the clothes of all who passed near them. In some streets were slaughter-houses, and terrified cattle occasionally made their way into the neighboring shops. The signs swung merrily overhead. They appealed to the most careless eye, being often gigantic boots, or swords, or gloves, marking what was for sale within; or if in words, they might be misspelt, and thus adapted to a rude understanding. Large placards on the walls advertised the theatres. Street musicians performed on their instruments. Ballad-singers howled forth the story of the last great crime. Amid all the hubbub, the nimble citizen who had practiced walking as a fine art, picked his careful way in low shoes and white silk stockings; hoping to avoid the necessity of calling for the services of the men with clothes-brush and blacking who waited at the street corners.[Footnote: Mercier, xii. 71, i. 107, 123, 215, 216. Young, i. 76. In 1761 the signs in the principal streets were reduced to a projection of three feet. Later, they were ordered to be set flat against the walls. Babeau, _Paris_, 42; but see Mercier. Names were first put on the Street corners in 1728. Babeau, _Paris_, 43. Franklin, _L’Hygiène_.]

They were a fine sight, these citizens of Paris, before the male half of the world had adopted, even in its hours of play, the black and gray livery of toil. The Parisians of the latter part of King Louis XVI.’s reign affected simplicity of attire, but not gloom. The cocked hat was believed to have permanently driven out the less graceful round hat. It was jauntily placed on the wearer’s own hair, which was powdered and tied behind with a black ribbon. For the coat, stripes were in fashion, of light blue and pink, or other brilliant colors. The waistcoat and breeches might be pale yellow, with pink bindings and blue buttons; the garters and the clocks of the white stockings, blue; the shoes black, with plain steel buckles. This would be an appropriate costume for the street; although many people wore court-mourning from economy, and forgot to take it off when the court did. A handsome snuff-box, often changed, and a ring, were part of the costume of a well-dressed man; and it was usual to wear two watches, probably from an excessive effort after symmetry; while it is intimated by the satirist that clean lace cuffs were sometimes sewn upon a dirty shirt.[Footnote: Babeau, _Paris_, 214. Fashion plates in various books. For evening dress, suits all of black were beginning to come in towards 1789. In the street gentlemen were beginning to dress like grooms, aping the English. The sword was still worn at times, even by upper servants, but the cane was fast superseding it. Women also carried canes, which helped them to walk in their high-heeled shoes. Mercier, xi. 229, i. 293.]

The costume of gentlemen in this reign was as graceful in shape as any that has been worn in modern Europe. The coat and waistcoat were rather long and followed the lines of the person; the tight breeches met the long stockings just below the knee, showing the figure to advantage. The dress of ladies, on the other hand, was stiff, grotesque, and ungainly; waists were worn very long, and hoops were large and stiff. But the most noticeable thing was the huge structure which, almost throughout the reign, was built upon ladies’ heads. As it varied between one and three feet in height, and was very elaborate in design, it could not often be taken down. No little skill was required to construct it, and poor girls could sometimes earn a living by letting out their heads by the hour to undergo the practice of clumsy barbers’ apprentices. At one time red hair came into fashion and was simulated by the use of red powder. The colors for clothes varied with the invention of the milliners, and the habit of giving grotesque names to new colors had already arisen in Paris. About 1782, “fleas’ back and belly,” “goose dung,” and “Paris mud” were the last new thing. Caps “à la Boston,” and “à la Philadelphie,” had gone out. Instead of the fashion-plates with which Paris has since supplied the world, but which under Louis XVI. were only just coming into use, dolls were dressed in the latest style by the milliners and sent to London, Berlin, and Vienna.[Footnote: Franklin, _Les soins de toilette_. Mercier, viii. 295, ii. l97, l98, 213]

The dress of the common people was more brilliant and varied than it is in our time, but probably less neat. Cleanliness of person has never been a leading virtue among the French poor. Although there were elaborate bathing establishments in the river, a large proportion of the people hardly knew what it was to take a bath.[Footnote: But Young says, “In point of cleanliness I think the merit of the two nations is divided; the French are cleaner in their persons, and the English in their houses.” Young, i. 291. The whole comparison there given of French and English customs is most interesting.] The sentimental milkmaids of Greuze are no more like the tanned and wrinkled women that sold milk in the streets of Paris, than the court-shepherdesses of Watteau and Boucher were like the rude peasants that watched their sheep on the Jura mountains. But the Parisian cockney was fond of dress, and would rather starve his stomach than his back. The milliners’ shops, where the pretty seamstresses sat sewing all day in sight of the street, reminding the Parisians of seraglios, were never empty of those who had money to spend. For leaner purses, the women who sat under umbrellas in front of the Colonnade of the Louvre had bargains of cast-off clothing; and there were booths along the quays on Sunday, and a fair in the Place de la Greve on Monday.[Footnote: Mercier, viii. 269, ix. 294, v. 281, ii. 267.]

It is sometimes said of our own times that the rich have become richer and the poor poorer than in former days. I believe that this is entirely untrue, and that in the second half of the nineteenth century a smaller proportion of the inhabitants of civilized countries suffers from hunger and cold than ever before. Whatever be the figures by which fortunes are counted, there is no doubt that the visible difference between the rich and the poor was greater in the reign of Louis XVI. than in our own time.[Footnote: Mercier mentions fortunes varying from 100,000 to 900,000 livres income, and speaks of the former as common, i. 172. Meanwhile clerks got from 800 to 1500 livres and even less. Those with 1200 wore velvet coats, ii. 118.] In spite of the fashion of simplicity which was one of the affectations of those days, the courtier still on occasion glittered in brocade. His liveried servants waited about his door. His lackeys climbed behind his coach, and awoke the dimly lighted streets with the glare of their torches, as the heavy vehicle bore him homeward from the supper and the card-table. The luxuries of great houses were relatively more expensive. A dish of early peas might cost six hundred francs. Six different officials (a word less dignified would hardly suit the importance of the subject), had charge of the preparation of his lordship’s food and drink, and bullied the numerous train of serving-men, kitchen-boys, and scullions. There was the _maître d’hôtel_, or housekeeper, who attended to purchases and to storing the food; the chief cook, for soups, _hors d’oeuvre_, _entrées_, and _entremets_; the pastry-cook, with general charge of the oven; the roaster, who fattened the poultry and larded the meat before he put the turnspit dog into the wheel; an Italian confectioner for sweet dishes; and a butler to look after the wine. Bread was usually brought from the bakers, even to great houses, and was charged for by keeping tally with notches on a stick. Baking was an important trade in Paris, and in times of scarcity the bakers were given the first chance to buy wood. For delicacies, there was the great shop at the Hôtel d’Aligre in the Rue Saint Honoré, a “famous temple of gluttony,” where truffles from Perigord, potted partridges from Nérac, and carp from Strasbourg were piled beside dates, figs, and pots of orange jelly; and where the foreigner from beyond the Rhine, or the Alps, could find his own sauerkraut or macaroni.[Footnote: Mercier, x. 208, xi. 229, 346, xii. 243.]

At the tables of the rich it was usual to entertain many guests; not in the modern way, by asking people for a particular day and hour, but by general invitation. The host opened his house two or three times a week for dinner or supper, and anybody who had once been invited was always at liberty to drop in. Thus arose a class of respectably dressed people who were in the habit of dining daily at the cost of their acquaintance. After dinner it was the fashion to slip away; the hostess called out a polite phrase across the table to the retreating guest, who replied with a single word.[Footnote: Mercier, i. 176, ii. 225. _La Robe dine, La finance soupe._ Mercier says that a man who was a whole year without calling at a house where he had once been admitted had to be presented over again, and make some excuse, as that he had traveled, etc. This the hostess pretended to believe.] It was of course but a small part of the inhabitants of Paris that ate at rich men’s tables. The fare of the middle classes was far less elaborate; but it generally included meat once or twice a day. The markets were dirty, and fish was dear and bad. The duties which were levied at the entrance of the town raised the price of food, and of the wine which Frenchmen find equally essential. Provisions were usually bought in very small quantities, less than a pound of sugar at a time. Enough for one meal only was brought home, in a piece of printed paper, or an old letter. Unsuccessful books thus found their use at the grocer’s. Before dinner the supply for dinner was bought; before supper, that for supper. After the meal nothing was left. The poorer citizens carried their dinners to be baked at the cook-shops, and saved something in the price of wood. The lower classes had their meat chopped fine and packed in sausages, as is still done in Germany, an economical measure by which many shortcomings are covered up and no scrap is lost.[Footnote: Ibid., i. 219, xii. 128.]

The use of coffee had become universal. It was sold about the streets for two sous a cup, including the milk and a tiny bit of sugar. While the rich drank punch and ate ices, the poor slaked their thirst with liquorice water, drawn from a shining cylinder carried on a man’s back. The cups were fastened to this itinerant fountain by long chains, and were liable to be dashed from thirsty lips in a crowd by any one passing between the drinker and the water-seller.[Footnote: Mercier, viii. 270, _n_., iv. 154, xii. 296, v. 310. See plates in Fournel, 509, 516.]

For the very poor there was second-hand food, the rejected scraps of the rich. In Paris they were nasty enough; but at Versailles, where the king and the princes lived, even people that were well to do did not scorn to buy dishes that had been carried untouched from a royal table. Near the poultry market in Paris, a great pot was always hanging on the fire, with capons boiling in it; you bought a boiled fowl with its broth, a savory mess. In general the variety of food was increasing. Within forty years the number of sorts of fruit and vegetables in use had almost doubled.[Footnote: Ibid., v. 85, 249. Genlis, _Dictionnaire des Étiquettes_, ii. 40, _n_., citing Buffon. Scraps of food are still sold in the Central Market of Paris.]

The population was divided into many distinct classes, but there was a good deal of intercourse from class to class, nor was it extremely difficult for the able and ambitious to rise in the world. The financiers had become rich and important, but were regarded with jealousy. In an aristocratic state the nobles think it all wrong that any one else should have as much money as themselves. This is not strange; but it is more remarkable that the common people are generally of the same opinion, and that, while the profusion of the great noble is looked on as no more than the liberality which belongs to his station, the extravagance of the mere man of money is condemned and derided. This tendency was increased in France by the fact that many of the greatest fortunes were made by the farmers of the revenue, who were hated as publicans even more than they were envied as rich men. Yet one financier, Necker, although of foreign birth, was perhaps the most popular man in France during this reign, and it was not the least of Louis’s follies or misfortunes that he could not bring himself to share the admiration of his people for his Director General of the Treasury.

The mercantile class in Paris did not hold a high position. The merchant was too much of a shopkeeper, and the shopkeeper was too much of a huckster. The smallest sale involved a long course of bargaining. This was perhaps partly due to the fact, admirable in itself, that the wife was generally united with her husband in the management of the shop. The customary law of Paris was favorable to the rights of property of married women; and the latter were associated with their husbands in commerce and consulted in all affairs. This habit is still observed in France. It tends to draw husband and wife together, by uniting their occupations and their interests. Unfortunately it tends also to the neglect of children, especially in infancy, when their claims are exacting. Thus the Frenchwoman of the middle class is in some respects more of a wife and less of a mother than the corresponding Anglo-Saxon. The babies, even of people of very moderate means, were generally sent out from Paris into the country to be nursed. Later in the lives of children, girls were kept continually with their mothers, watched and guarded with a care of which we have little conception. Boys were much more separated from their parents, and left to schoolmasters. Neither boys nor girls were trusted or allowed to gain experience for themselves nearly as much as we consider desirable.[Footnote: Mercier, i. 53, v. 231, ix. 173, vi. 325.]

Marriages were generally left to the discretion of parents, except in the lowest classes; and parents were too often governed by pecuniary, rather than by personal considerations in choosing the wives and husbands of their sons and daughters. Such a system of marriage would seem unbearable, did we not know that it is borne and approved by the greater part of mankind. It is possible that the chief objection to it is to be found less in the want of attachment between married people, which might be supposed to be its natural result, than in the diminution of the sense of loyalty. In England and America it is felt to be disgraceful to break a contract which both parties have freely made, with their eyes open; and this feeling greatly reenforces the other motives to fidelity. Yet while the rich and idle class in France, if the stories of French writers may be trusted, has always been honeycombed with marital unfaithfulness, there are probably no people in the world more united than the husbands and wives of the French lower and middle classes. Working side by side all the week with tireless industry, sharing a frugal but not a sordid life, they seek their innocent pleasures together on Sundays and holidays. The whole neighborhood of Paris is enlivened with their not unseemly gayety, as freely shared as the toil by which it was earned. The rowdyism of the sports in which men are not accompanied by women, the concentrated vulgarity of the summer boarding-house, where women live apart from the men of their families, are almost equally unknown in France. In the latter part of the eighteenth century many of the comfortable burghers of Paris owned little villas in the suburbs, whither the family retired on Sundays, sometimes taking the shop-boy as an especial favor. The common people also were to be found in great numbers in the suburban villages, such as Passy, Auteuil, or in the Bois de Boulogne, dancing on the green; although in the reign of Louis XVI. they are said to have been less gay than before.[Footnote: Mercier, in. 143, iv. 162, xii. 101.]

Artists, artisans, and journeymen, in their various degrees, formed classes of great importance, for Paris was famous for many sorts of manufactures, and especially for those which required good taste. But it was noticed that on account of the abridgment of the power of the trade-guilds, and the consequent rise of competition, French goods were losing in excellence, while they gained in cheapness; so that it was said that workmanship was becoming less thorough in Paris than in London.

The police of Paris was already remarkable for its efficiency. The inhabitants of the capital of France lived secure in their houses, or rode freely into the country, while those of London were in danger of being stopped by highwaymen on suburban roads, or robbed at night by housebreakers in town. From riots, also, the Parisians had long been singularly free, and for more than a century had seen none of importance, while London was terrified, and much property destroyed in 1780 by the Gordon riots. In spite of the forebodings of some few pessimists, people did not expect any great revolution, but rather social and economic reforms. It was believed that the powers of repression were too strong for the powers of insurrection. The crash came, at last, not through the failure of the ordinary police, but from demoralization at the centre of government and in the army. While Louis still reigned in peace at Versailles, the administration of Paris went on efficiently. Correspondence was maintained with the police of other cities. Criminals and suspected persons, when arrested, could be condemned by summary process. The Lieutenant General of Police had it in his discretion to punish without publicity. The more scandalous crimes were systematically hidden from the public; a process more favorable to morality than to civil liberty. For the criminal classes in Paris arbitrary imprisonment was the common fate, and disreputable men and women Were brought in by bands.[Footnote: Mercier, vi. 206. Monier, 396.]

The liability to arbitrary arrest affected the lives of but a small proportion of the citizens after all. To most Parisians it was far more important that the streets were safe by day and night; that fire-engines were provided, and Capuchin monks trained to use them, while soldiers hastened to the fire and would press all able-bodied men into the service of passing buckets; that small civil cases were promptly and justly disposed of.[Footnote: Mercier, i. 197, 210, ix. 220, xii. 162 (_Jurisdiction consulaire_).]

The increase of humane ideas which marked the age was beginning in the course of this reign to affect the hospitals and poor-houses as well as the prisons, and to diminish their horrors. At the Hotel Dieu, the greatest hospital in Paris, six patients were sometimes wedged into one filthy bed. Yet even, there, some improvement had taken place. And while Howard considered that hospital a disgrace to Paris, he found many other charitable foundations in the city which did it honor. Here as elsewhere there was no uniformity.[Footnote: Mercier, vii. 7, iii. 225. Howard, _State of the Prisons_, 176, 177. Babeau, _La Ville_, 435. Cognel, 88. A horrible description of the Hotel Dieu, written in 1788 by Tenon, a member of Academy of Sciences, is given in A. Franklin, _L’Hygiène_, 181.]

In the medical profession, the regular physicians held themselves far above the surgeons, many of whom had been barbers’ apprentices; but it would appear that the science of surgery was better taught and was really in a more advanced state than that of medicine. More than eight hundred students attended the school of surgery. In medicine, inoculation was slowly making its way, but was resorted to only by the upper classes. Excessive bleeding and purgation were going out of fashion, but the poor still employed quacks, or swallowed the coarse drugs which the grocers sold cheaper than the regular apothecaries, or relied on the universal remedy of the lower classes in Paris, a cordial of black currants.[Footnote: It was called _Cassis_. Mercier, xii. 126, vii. 126.]

Near the Hotel Dieu was the asylum for foundlings, whither they were brought not only from Paris, but from distant towns, and whence they were sent out to be nursed in the country. They were brought to Paris done up tightly in their swaddling clothes, little crying bundles, packed three at a time into wadded boxes, carried on men’s backs. The habit of dressing children loosely, recommended by Rousseau, had not yet reached the poor; as the habit of having babies nursed by their own mothers, which he had also striven to introduce, had been speedily abandoned by the rich. The mortality among the foundlings was great, for two hundred of them were sometimes kept in one ward during their stay at the asylum.[Footnote: Mercier, iii. 239, viii. 188. Cognel found the asylum very clean. Cognel, 87.]

Although some falling off in the ardor of religious practices was noticed as the Revolution drew near, the ceremonies of the church were still visible in all their splendor. On the feast of Corpus Christi a long procession passed through the streets, where doors and windows were hung with carpets and tapestry. The worsted pictures, it is true, were adapted rather to a decorative than to a pious purpose, and over-scrupulous persons might be shocked at seeing Europa on her bull, or Psyche admiring the sleeping Cupid, on the route of a religious procession. Such anomalies, however, could well be disregarded. Around the sacred Host were gathered the dignitaries of the state and the city in their robes of office, marshaled by the priests, who for that day seemed to command the town. In some cases, it is said, the great lords contented themselves with sending their liveried servants to represent them. Soldiers formed the escort. The crowd in the street fell on its knees as the procession passed. Flowers, incense, music, the faithful with their foreheads in the dust, all contributed to the picturesqueness of the scene. A week later the ceremony was repeated with almost equal pomp. On the Sunday following, there was another procession in the northern suburbs. Naked boys, leading lambs, represented Saint John the Baptist; Magdalens eight years old, walking by their nurses’ side, wept over their sins; the pupils of the school of the Sacred Heart marched with downcast eyes. The Host was carried under a dais of which the cords were held by respected citizens, and was escorted by forty Swiss guards. A hundred and fifty censers swung incense on the air. The diplomatic corps watched the procession from the balcony of the Venetian ambassador, even the Protestants bowing or kneeling with the rest. [Footnote: Mercier, iii. 78. Cognel, 101.]

From time to time, through the year, these great ceremonies were renewed, either on a regularly returning day, or as occasion might demand. On the 3d of July the Swiss of the rue aux Ours was publicly carried in procession. There was a legend that a Swiss Protestant soldier had once struck the statue of the Holy Virgin on the corner of this street with his sword, and that blood had flowed from the wounded image. Therefore, on the anniversary of the outrage, a wicker figure was carried about the town, bobbing at all the sacred images at the street corners, with a curious mixture of piety and fun. Originally it had been dressed like a Swiss, but the people of Switzerland, who were numerous and useful in Paris, remonstrated at a custom likely to bring them into contempt; and the grotesque giant was thereupon arrayed in a wig and a long coat, with a wooden dagger painted red in his hand. The grammarian Du Marsais once got into trouble on the occasion of this procession. He was walking in the street when one woman elbowed another in trying to get near the statue. “If you want to pray,” said the woman who had been pushed, “go on your knees where you are; the Holy Virgin is everywhere.” Du Marsais was so indiscreet as to interfere. Being a grammarian, he was probably of a disputatious turn of mind. “My good woman,” said he, “you have spoken heresy. Only God is everywhere; not the Virgin.” The woman turned on him and cried out: “See this old wretch, this Huguenot, this Calvinist, who says that the Holy Virgin is not everywhere!” Thereupon Du Marsais was attacked by the mob and forced to take refuge in a house, whence he was rescued by the guard, which kept him shut up for his own safety until after nightfall.[Footnote: Mercier, iv. 97. Fournel, 176. This procession was abolished by order of the police, June 27, 1789. Fournel, 177.]

For an occasional procession, we have one in October, 1785, when three hundred and thirteen prisoners, redeemed from slavery among the Algerines, were led for three days about the streets with great pomp by brothers of the orders of the Redemption. Each captive was conducted by two angels, to whom he was bound with red and blue ribbons, and the angels carried scrolls emblazoned with the arms of the orders. There was the usual display of banners and crosses, guards and policemen; there were bands of music and palm-branches. The long march required frequent refreshment, which was offered by the faithful, and it is said that many of the captives and some of the professionally religious persons indulged too freely. A drunken angel must have been a cheerful sight indeed. The object of this procession was to raise money to redeem more prisoners from slavery, for the Barbary pirates were still suffered by the European powers to plunder the commerce of the Mediterranean and to kidnap Christian sailors.[Footnote: Bachaumont, xxx. 24. Compare Lesage, i. 347 (_Le diable boiteux_, ch. xix). For a procession of persons delivered by charity from imprisonment for not paying their wet nurses, see Mercier, xii. 85.]

Nor was it in great festivals alone that the religious spirit of the people was manifested. On Sundays all shops were shut, and the common people heard at least the morning mass, although they were getting careless about vespers. Every spring for a fortnight about Easter, there was a great revival of religious observance, and churches and confessionals were crowded. But throughout the year, one humble kind of procession might be met in the streets of Paris. A poor priest, in a worn surplice, reverently carries the Host under an old dirty canopy. A beadle plods along in front, with an acolyte to ring the bell, at the sound of which the passers-by kneel in the streets and cabs and coaches are stopped. Louis XV. once met the “Good God,” as the eucharistic wafer was piously called, and earned a short-lived popularity by going down on his silken knees in the mud. All persons may follow the viaticum into the chamber of the dying. The watch, if it meets the procession on its return, will escort it back to its church.[Footnote: _Ordonnance de la police du Châtelet concernant l’observation des dimanches et fêtes, du 18 Novembre, 1782_. Monin, 403.]

Let us follow it in the early morning, and, taking our stand under the porch where the broken statues of the saints are still crowned with the faded flowers of yesterday’s festival, or wandering thence about the streets of the city, let us watch the stream of life as it flows now stronger, now more gently hour by hour.

It is seven o’clock. The market gardeners, with their empty baskets, are jogging on their weary horses toward the suburbs. Already they have supplied the markets. They meet only the early clerks, fresh shaven and powdered, hastening to their offices. At nine, the town is decidedly awake. The young barber-surgeons (“whiting” as the Parisians call them), sprinkled from head to foot with hair powder, carry the curling-iron in one hand, the wig in the other, on their way to the houses of their customers. The waiters from the lemonade-shops are bringing coffee and cakes to the occupants of furnished lodgings. On the boulevards, young dandies, struck with Anglomania, contend awkwardly with their saddle-horses.

At ten lawyers in black and clients of all colors flock to the island in the river where are the courts of law. The Palace, as the great court-house is called, is a large and imposing pile of buildings, with fine halls and strong prisons, and the most beautiful of gothic chapels. But the passages are blocked with the stalls of hucksters who sell stationery, books, and knicknacks.[Footnote: Mercier, vi. 72, iv. 146, ix. 171. Cognel, 41.]

In the rue Neuve des Petits Champs they are drawing the royal lottery. The Lieutenant-Général of Police, accompanied by several officers, appears on a platform. Near him is the wheel of fortune. The wheel is turned, it stops, and a boy with blindfolded eyes puts his hand into an opening in the wheel, and pulls out a ticket, which he hands to the official. The latter opens it, holding it up conspicuously in front of him to avert suspicion of foul play. The ticket is then posted on a board, and the boy pulls out another. The crowd is noisy and excited at first, then sombre and discouraged as all the chances are exhausted.

Noon is the time when the Exchange is most active, and when lazy people hang about the Palais Royal, whose gardens are the centre of news and gossip. The antechambers of bankers and men in place are crowded with anxious clients. At two the streets are full of diners-out, and all the cabs are taken. They are heavy and clumsy vehicles, dirty inside and out, and the coachmen are drunken fellows. Clerks and upper servants dash about in cabriolets, and sober people are scandalized at seeing women in these frivolous vehicles unescorted. “They go alone; they go in pairs!” cries one, “without any men. You would think they wanted to change their sex.” Dandies drive the high-built English “whiski.” All are blocked among carts and drays, with sacks, and beams, and casks of wine. For people that would go out of town there are comfortable traveling chaises, or the cheap and wretched _carrabas_, in which twenty persons are jolted together, and the rate of travel is but two or three miles an hour; while on the road to Versailles, the active postillions known as _enragés_ will take you to the royal town and back, a distance of twenty miles, and give you time to call on a minister of state, all within three hours.[Footnote: Mercier, vii. 114, 228, ix. 1,266, xi. 17, xii. 253. Chérest, ii. 166.]

Between half past two and three, people of fashion are sitting down to dinner, following the mysterious law of their nature which makes them do everything an hour or two later in the day than other mortals. At quarter past five the streets are full again. People are on their way to the theatre, or going for a drive in the boulevards, and the coffee-houses are filling. As daylight fails, bands of carpenters and masons plod heavily toward the suburbs, shaking the lime from their heavy shoes. At nine in the evening people are going to supper, and the streets are more disorderly than at any time in the day. The scandalous scenes which have disappeared from modern Paris, but which are still visible in London, were in the last century allowed early in the evening; but long before midnight the police had driven all disorderly characters from the streets. At eleven the coffee-houses are closing; the town is quiet, only to be awakened from time to time by the carriages of the rich going home after late suppers, or by the tramp of the beasts of burden of the six thousand peasants who nightly bring vegetables, fruit, and flowers into the great city.[Footnote: Ibid., iv. 148.]



The provincial towns in France under Louis XVI. were only beginning to assume a modern appearance. Built originally within walls, their houses had been tall, their streets narrow, crooked, and dirty. But in the eighteenth century most of the walls had been pulled down, and public walks or drives laid out on their sites. The idea that the beauty of cities consists largely in the breadth and straightness of their streets had taken a firm hold on the public mind. This idea, if not more thoroughly carried out than it can be in an old town, has much in its favor. Before the French Revolution the broad, dusty, modern avenues, which allow free passage to men and carriages and free entrance to light and air, but where there is little shade from the sun or shelter from the wind, were beginning to supersede the cooler and less windy, but malodorous lanes where the busy life of the Middle Ages had found shelter. Large and imposing public buildings were constructed in many towns, facing on the public squares. With the artistic thoroughness which belongs to the French mind, the fronts of the surrounding private houses were made to conform in style to those of their prouder neighbors. The streets were lighted, although rather dimly; their names were written at their corners, and in some instances the houses were numbered.

But such innovations did not touch every provincial town, nor cover the whole of the places which they entered. More commonly, the old appearance of the streets was little changed. The houses jutted out into the narrow way, with all manner of inexplicable corners and angles. The shop windows were unglazed, and shaded only by a wooden pent-house, or by the upper half of a shutter. The other half might be lowered to form a shelf, from which the wares could overrun well into the roadway. Near the wooden sign which creaked overhead stood a statue of the Virgin or a saint. Glancing into the dimly-lighted shop, you might see the master working at his trade, with a journeyman and an apprentice. The busy housewife bustled to and fro; now chaffering with a customer at the shop-door, now cooking the dinner, or scolding the red-armed maid, in the kitchen.[Footnote: Babeau, _La Ville_, 363. Ibid., _Les Artisans_, 73, 82. Viollet le Duc, _Dict. d’Architecture_ (Boutique.)]

The house was only one room wide, but several stories high. Upstairs were the chambers and perhaps a sitting-room. Even among people of moderate means the modern division of rooms was coming into fashion, and beds were being banished from kitchens and parlors. There were more beds also, and fewer people in each, than in former years. On the walls of the rooms paint and paper were taking the place of tapestry, and light colors, with brightness and cleanliness, were displacing soft dark tones, dirt, and vermin.[Footnote: Babeau, _Les Bourgeois_, 9,19, 37.]

Houses were thinly built and doors and windows rattled in their frames. The rooms in the greater part of France were heated only by open fires, although stoves of brick or glazed pottery were in common use in Switzerland and Germany; and wood was scarce and dear. In countries where the winter is short and sharp, people bear it with what patience they may, instead of providing against it, as is necessary where the cold is more severe and prolonged. Thicker clothes were worn in the house than when moving about in the streets. Wadded slippers protected the feet against the chill of the brick floors, and the old sat in high-backed chairs to cut off the draft, with footstools under their feet. Chilblains were, and are still, a constant annoyance of European winter. The dressing-gown was in fashion in France as in America, where we frequently see it in portraits of the last century. Similar garments had been in use in the Middle Ages. They belong to cold houses.[Footnote: Babeau, _Les Artisans_, 123. In 1695 the water and wine froze on the king’s table at Versailles, _Les Bourgeois_, 23.]

The dress of the working-classes, which had been very brilliant at the time of the Renaissance, had become sombre in the seventeenth century, but was regaining brilliancy in the eighteenth. The townspeople dressed in less bright colors than the peasants of the country, but not cheaply in proportion to their means. Already social distinctions were disappearing from costume, and it was remarked that a master-workman, of a Sunday, in his black coat and powdered hair, might be mistaken for a magistrate; while the wife of a rich burgher was hardly distinguishable from a noblewoman.[Footnote: Babeau, _Les Artisans_, 13, 199. Handiwork was very cheap. Babeau gives the bill for a black gown costing 210 livres 15 sous, of which only 3 livres was for the making; _Les Bourgeois_, 169 n.]

Great thrift was practiced by the poorer townspeople of the middle class, but their lives were not without comfort. We read of a family in a small town of Auvergne before the middle of the century, composed of a man and his wife, with a large number of children, the wife’s mother, her two grandmothers, her three aunts, and her sister, all sitting about one table, and living on one modest income. The husband and father had a small business and owned a garden and a little farm. In the garden almost enough vegetables were raised for the use of the family. Quinces, apples, and pears were preserved in honey for the winter. The wool of their own sheep was spun by the women, and so was the flax of their field, which the neighbors helped them to strip of an evening. From the walnuts of their trees they pressed oil for the table and for the lamp. The great chestnuts were boiled for food. The bread also was made of their own grain, and the wine of their own grapes.

In the country towns, among people of small means, a healthy freedom was allowed to boys and girls. There were moonlight walks and singing parties. Love matches resulted from thus throwing the young people together, and were found not to turn out worse than other marriages. But in large towns matches were still arranged by parents, and the girls were educated rather to please the older people than the young men, for it was the elders who would find husbands for them.[Footnote: Marmontel, i. 10, 51. Babeau, _Les Bourgeois_, 315.]

Amusements were simple and rational in the cultivated middle class. People in the provinces were not above enjoying amateur music and recitation, and the fashion of singing songs at table, which was going out of vogue in Paris, still held its own in smaller places. A literary flavor, which has now disappeared, pervaded provincial society. People wrote verses and made quotations. But this did not prevent less intellectual pleasures. Players sometimes spent eighteen out of the twenty-four hours at the card-table. Balls were given either by private persons or by subscription. Dancing would begin at six and last well into the next morning; for the dwellers in small towns will give themselves up to an occupation or an amusement with a thoroughness which the more hurried life of a capital will not allow. The local nobility, and the upper ranks of the burgher class, the officers, magistrates, civil functionaries and their families, met at these balls; for social equality was gaining ground in France. The shopkeepers and attorneys contented themselves, as a rule, with quieter pleasures, excursions into the country, theatres, visits, and little supper parties. Dancing in the open air and street shows, in which once all classes had taken part, were now left to the poor.[Footnote: Babeau, _Les Bourgeois_, 209, 225, 241, 305.]

The journeyman sometimes lived with his master, sometimes had a room of his own in another part of the town. He dressed poorly and lived hard; but generally had his wine. Bread and vegetables formed the solid part of his diet, beans being a favorite article of food. Wages appear to have been about twenty-six sous a day for men, and fifteen for women on an average, the value of money being perhaps twice what it is now, but the variations were great from town to town. The hours of work were long. People were up at four in the summer mornings, in provincial towns, and did not stop working until nine at night. But the work was the varied and leisurely work of home, not the monotonous drudgery of the great factory. Moreover, holidays were more than plenty, averaging two a week throughout the year. The French workman kept them with song and dance and wine; but drunkenness and riot were uncommon.[Footnote: Babeau, _Les Artisans_, 21, 34. A. Young, i. 565.]

The workman’s chance of rising in his trade was far better than it is now. There were not twice as many journeymen as masters.[Footnote: Babeau, _Les Artisans_, 63. Perhaps more workmen under Louis XVI. Manufactures on a larger scale were coming in. At Marseilles, 65 soap factories employed 1000 men; 60 hatters, 800 men and 400 women. Julliany, i. 85. But Marseilles was a large city. In smaller places the old domestic trades still held their ground.] The capital required for setting up in business was small, although the fees were relatively large; the police had to be paid for a license; and the guilds for admission.

These guilds regulated all the trade and manufactures of the country. They held strict monopolies, and no man was allowed to exercise any handicraft as a master without being a member of one of them. The guilds were continually squabbling. Thus it was an unceasing complaint of the shoemakers against the cobblers that the latter sold new shoes as well as second-hand, a practice contrary to the high privileges of the shoemakers’ corporation. Sometimes the civil authorities were called on to interfere. We find the trimming-makers of Paris, who have the right to make silk buttons, obtaining a regulation which forbids all persons wearing buttons of the same cloth as their coats, or buttons that are cast, turned or made of horn.

Minute regulations governed manufactures exercised within the guilds. The number of threads to the inch in cloth of various names and kinds was strictly regulated. New inventions made their way with difficulty against the vested rights of these corporations. Thus Le Prevost, who invented the use of silk in making hats, was exposed to all sorts of opposition from the other hatters, who said that he infringed their privileges; but he overcame it by perseverance, and finally made a large fortune. The regulations served to keep up the standard of excellence in manufacture, which probably fell in some respects on their abolition. They were often made to benefit the masters at the expense of the workmen, who on their side formed secret combinations of their own, fighting by much the same methods as such unions employ to-day. Thus in 1783 the journeymen paper-makers instituted a system of fines on their masters, which they enforced by deserting in a body the service of those who resisted them.[Footnote: Babeau, _Les Artisans_, 51, 108, 202, 239. Levasseur, ii. 353. Turgot, iii. 328, 347. (_Éloge de M. de Gournay_), Mercier, xi. 363.]

The successful master of a trade, as he grew rich, might pass into the upper middle class, the _haute bourgeoisie_. He became a manufacturer, a merchant, perhaps even, when he retired on his fortune, a royal secretary, with a patent of hereditary nobility. His children, instead of leaving school when they had learned to read, write and cipher, and had taken their first communion, stayed on, or were promoted to a higher school, to learn Latin and Greek. His wife was called Madame, like a duchess. She had probably assisted in his rise, not only by good advice and domestic frugality, but by the arts of a saleswoman and by her talent for business. Should he die while his sons were young, she understood his affairs and could carry them on for her own benefit and for that of her children. No longer a single maidservant, red in the face and slatternly about the skirts, clatters among the pots in the little dark kitchen behind the shop, or stands with her arms akimbo giving advice to her mistress. The successful man has mounted his house on a larger scale, and if the insolent lackeys of the great do not hang about his door, there are at least one or two of those quiet and attentive old men-servants, whose respectful and self-respecting familiarity adds at once to the comfort and the dignity of life. [Footnote: Babeau, _Les Artisans_, 158, 167,181, 204, 271.]

It was not within the walls of his own house alone that the burgher might be a man of importance. The towns retained to the end of the monarchy a few of the rights for which they had struggled in earlier and rougher times. Assemblies differently composed in different places, but sometimes representing the guilds and fraternities and sometimes made up of the whole body of citizens, took a part in the government of the town. They voted on loans, on the conduct of the city’s lawsuits, and on municipal business generally. Officers were chosen in various ways, some of them by very complicated forms of election, and some by throwing of lots. These officers bore different titles in different places, as consuls, echevins, syndics, or jurats. They sometimes exercised considerable executive and judicial powers, controlling the ordinary police of the city. Their perquisites and privileges varied from town to town, with the color of their official robes, and the ceremonies of their installation. The cities valued their ancient rights, shorn as they were of much substantial importance by the centralizing servants of the crown; and repeatedly bought them back from the king, as time after time the old offices were abolished, and new-fashioned purchasable mayoralties set up in their stead.[Footnote: Babeau, _La Ville_, 39. When the towns bought in the office of mayor, they had to name an incumbent, and the town owned the office only for his lifetime and had to buy it in again on his death. _Ibid._, 81. This looks as if the royal office of mayor were not hereditary, In spite of the _Edit de la Paulette_. Where no other purchaser came forward, the towns were obliged to buy the office. _Ibid._, 79.]

The municipal authorities shared with the clergy the control of education and the care of the poor and the sick. The last were collected in large hospitals, many of which were inefficiently managed.[Footnote: There were great differences from place to place. Howard, _passim_. The hospital, poor-house, etc., at Dijon were good; the hospital at Lyons large, but close and dirty. Rigby, 102, 113. Muirhead, 156.] It must always be borne in mind, when thinking of the daily life of the past, that in old times, and even so late as the second half of the last century, a high degree of civilization and a great deal of luxury were not inconsistent with an almost entire disregard of what we are in the habit of considering essential conveniences. Comfort, indeed, has been well said to be a modern word for a modern idea. Dirt and smells were so common, even a hundred years ago, as hardly to be noticed, and diseases arising from filth and foul air were borne as unavoidable dispensations of divine wrath. Yet some advance had been made. Baths had been absolutely essential in the Middle Ages when every one wore wool; the result of the common use of linen had been at first to put them out of fashion; under Louis XVI. they were coming in again. The itch, so common in Auvergne early in the century that in the schools a separate bench was set apart for the pupils who had it, was almost unknown in 1786. Leprosy had nearly disappeared from France before the end of the seventeenth century. The plague was still an occasional visitant in the first quarter of the eighteenth, in spite of rigorous quarantine regulations. On its approach towns shut their gates and manned their walls, and the startled authorities took to cleansing and whitewashing. In 1722, the doctors of Marseilles went about dressed in Turkey morocco, with gloves and a mask of the same material; the mask had glass eyes, and a big nose full of disinfectants. How the sight of this costume affected the patients is not mentioned. When the plague was over, the Te Deum was sung, and processions took their way to the shrine of Saint Roch.[Footnote: Babeau, _Les Bourgeois_, 177. Ibid., _La Ville_, 443.]

Schools were established in every town. The schoolmasters formed a guild, the writing-masters another, and neither was allowed to infringe the prerogatives of its rival. The schoolmasters in towns were generally appointed by the clergy, but the municipal government kept a certain control. A good deal of the teaching of boys was done by Brotherhoods, while that of girls was almost entirely entrusted to Sisters. In many places primary instruction was free and obligatory, at least in name. The law making it so had been passed under Louis XIV., for the purpose of bringing the children of Protestants under Catholic teaching; but this law was not always enforced. In northern France, there were evening schools for adults, and Sunday schools where reading and writing was taught, probably to children employed in trades during the week. A certain amount of religious instruction preceded the ceremony of the “first communion.” As to secondary or advanced schools, they are said to have been more numerous and accessible in the eighteenth century than now, when they have mostly been consolidated in the larger cities. There were five hundred and sixty-two establishments reckoned as secondary in France in 1789, about one third of them being in the hands of Brotherhoods. There were also many private schools licensed by the municipal authorities. The boys when away from home lived very simply indeed. Marmontel, who was sent from his own little town to attend the school at a neighboring one, has left a description of his mode of life. “I was lodged according to the custom of the school with five other scholars, at the house of an honest artisan of the town; and my father, sad enough at going away without me, left with me my package of provisions for the week. They consisted of a big loaf of rye-bread, a small cheese, a piece of bacon and two or three pounds of beef; my mother had added a dozen apples. This, once for all, was the allowance of the best fed scholars in the school. The woman of the house cooked for us; and for her trouble, her fire, her lamp, her beds, her lodging and even the vegetables from her little garden which she put in the pot, we gave her twenty-five sous apiece a month; so that all told, except for my clothing, I might cost my father from four to five louis a year.” This was about 1733, and the style of living may have risen a little, even for schoolboys, during the following half century. The sons of professional men and people of the middle class were better off in respect to education than most young nobles; as the former were sent to good schools, while the latter were brought up at home by incompetent tutors. It would appear to have been easy enough for a boy to get an education; harder for a girl. But no one who has glanced at the literature of the time will imagine that France was then destitute of clever women.[Footnote: Babeau, _La Ville_, 482. Ibid., _Les Bourgeois_, 369. Marmontel, i. 16. Montbarey, i. 280. Ch. de Ribbe, i. 320.]

In the eighteenth century great changes were taking place in the national life. Simple artisans presumed to be more comfortable in 1789 than the first people of the town had been fifty years before. The middle class lived in many respects like the nobility, with material luxuries and intellectual pleasures. Yet the artificial barriers were still maintained. The citizen, unless of noble birth, was excluded not only from the army, but from the higher positions in the administration and in the legal profession. The nobility of the gown was liable to be treated with alternate familiarity and impertinence by that of the sword or by that of the court. The last held most of the positions which strongly appealed to vanity, many of those which bore the largest profit. Jealousy is possible only where persons or classes come near each other, and before the Revolution the various classes in France were rapidly drawing together.



There is perhaps no great country inhabited by civilized man more favored by nature than France. Possessing every variety of surface from the sublime mountain to the shifting sand-dune, from the loamy plain to the precipitous rock, the land is smiled upon by a climate in which the extremes of heat and cold are of rare occurrence. The grape will ripen over the greater part of the country, the orange and the olive in its southeastern corner. The deep soil of many provinces gives ample return to the labor of the husbandman. If the inhabitants of such a country are not prosperous, surely the fault lies rather with man than with nature.

It has been the fashion to represent the French peasant before the Revolution as a miserable and starving creature. “One sees certain wild animals, male and female, scattered about the country; black, livid and all burnt by the sun; attached to the earth in which they dig with invincible obstinacy. They have something like an articulate voice, and when they rise on their feet they show a human face; and in fact they are men. They retire at night into dens, where they live on black bread, water, and roots. They spare other men the trouble of sowing, digging and harvesting to live, and thus deserve not to lack that bread which they have sown.” This description, eloquently written by La Bruyere, has been quoted by a hundred authors. Some have used it to embellish their books with a sensational paragraph; others, and they are many, to show from what wretchedness the French nation has been delivered by its Revolution.

The advances of the last hundred years are many and great, but it is not necessary therefore to believe that in three generations a great nation has emerged from savagery. Let us see what part of La Bruyere’s description may be set down to rhetoric, and to the astonishment of the scholar who looks hard at a countryman for the first time. Undoubtedly the peasant is sunburnt; unquestionably he is dirty. His speech falls roughly on a town-bred ear; his features have been made coarse by exposure. His hut is far less comfortable than a city house. His food is coarse, and not always plentiful. All these things may be true, and yet the peasant may be intelligent and civilized. He may be as happy as most of the toilers upon earth. He may have his days of comfort, his hours of enjoyment.

While the French writers of the eighteenth century find fault with many things in the condition of the peasant, their general opinion of his lot is not unfavorable. Voltaire thinks him well off on the whole. Rousseau is constantly vaunting not only the morality but the happiness of rural life. Mirabeau the elder says that gayety is disappearing, perhaps because the people are too rich, and argues that France is not decrepit but vigorous.[Footnote: La Bruyere, _Caractères_, ii. 61 (_de l’homme_). Voltaire, _passim_, xxxi. 481, _Dict. philos. (Population)_. Mirabeau, _L’ami des hommes_, 316, 325, 328.]

“The general appearance of the people is different to what I expected,” writes an English traveler, to his family, in 1789; “they are strong and well made. We saw many most agreeable scenes as we passed along in the evening before we came to Lisle: little parties sitting at their doors; some of the men smoking, some playing at cards in the open air, and others spinning cotton. Everything we see bears the mark of industry, and all the people look happy. We have indeed seen few signs of opulence in individuals, for we do not see so many gentlemen’s seats as in England, but we have seen few of the lower classes in rags, idleness, and misery. What strange prejudices we are apt to take concerning foreigners! I will own that I used to think that the French were a trifling, insignificant people, that they were meagre in their appearance, and lived in a state of wretchedness from being oppressed by their superiors. What we have already seen contradicts this;[Footnote: Observe that this was written in French Flanders. Note by Dr. Rigby.] the men are strong and athletic, and the face of the country shows that industry is not discouraged. The women, too,–I speak of the lower class, which in all countries is the largest and the most useful,–are strong and well made, and seem to do a great deal of labor, especially in the country. They carry great loads and seem to be employed to go to market with the produce of the fields and gardens on their backs. An Englishwoman would, perhaps, think this hard, but the cottagers in England are certainly not so well off; I am sure they do not look so happy. These women with large and heavy baskets on their backs have all very good caps on, their hair powdered, earrings, necklaces, and crosses. We have not yet seen one with a hat on. What strikes me most in what I have seen is the wonderful difference between this country and England. I don’t know what we may think by and by, but at present the difference seems to be in favor of the former; if they are not happy they look at least very like it.”

“We have now traveled between four and five hundred miles in France,” says the same traveler in another place, “and have hardly seen an acre uncultivated, except two forests and parks, the one belonging to the Prince of Conde, as I mentioned in a former letter, the other to the king of France at Fontainebleau, and these are covered with woods. In every place almost every inch has been ploughed or dug, and at this time appears to be pressed with the weight of the incumbent crop. On the roads, to the very edge where the travelers’ wheels pass, and on the hills to the very summit, may be seen the effects of human industry. Since we left Paris we have come through a country where the vine is cultivated. This grows on the sides and even on the tops of the highest hills. It will also flourish where the soil is too poor to bear corn, and on the sides of precipices where no animal could draw the plough.” [Footnote: Dr. Rigby, 11, 96. See also Sir George Collier, 21.]

Let us now turn to the other end of France, and hear another traveler, one generally less enthusiastic than the last. “The vintage itself,” says Arthur Young, “can hardly be such a scene of activity and animation, as this universal one of treading out the corn, with which all the towns and villages in Languedoc are now alive. The corn is all roughly stacked around a dry, firm spot, where great numbers of mules and horses are driven on a trot round a centre, a woman holding the reins, and another, or a girl or two, with whips drive; the men supply and clear the floor; other parties are dressing, by throwing the corn into the air for the wind to blow away the chaff. Every soul is employed, and with such an air of cheerfulness, that the people seem as well pleased with their labor, as the farmer himself with his great heaps of wheat. The scene is uncommonly animated and joyous. I stopped and alighted often to see their method; I was always very civilly treated, and my wishes for a good price for the farmer, and not too good a one for the poor, well received.”[Footnote: Arthur Young, i. 45 (July 24, 1787).]

These descriptions would give too favorable an idea if they were taken for the whole of France. All peasant women did not powder their hair and wear earrings. Those of France did much more field-work than those of England. Their figures became bent, their general appearance worn; an English observer, accustomed to the more ruddy faces of his countrywomen, might set them down for twice their age. They often went barefoot, and on their way to market carried their shoes on a stick until they drew near the town. They had to be thrifty, and might be seen picking weeds on the wayside into their aprons, to feed their cows. All provinces were not so rich as Flanders. There were vast stretches of waste land in France, given up to broom and heath. Wolves and bears were still a terror to remote farms. There were, moreover, times of famine, which the foolish regulations of the government aggravated, by preventing the free movement of provisions within the country. In some provinces these seasons of famine were often repeated. Then the wretched inhabitants sank into despair. Young people would refuse to marry, saying that it was not worth while to bring unfortunate children into the world. But in general the country people were laborious and happy, with enough for their daily needs, and often merry,–resembling in that respect the English before the Puritan revival rather than the Anglo-Saxons of more modern times.[Footnote: A. Young, i. 6 (May 22, 1787). Ibid., i. 45 (July 24, 1787), i. 18, (June 10, 1787), i. 28 (June 28, 1787). D’Argenson, vi. 49 (Oct. 4, 1749), vi. 322 (Dec. 28, 1850), vii. 55 (Dec. 22, 1751), viii. 8, 35, 233, ix. 160. Turgot (iv. 274) reckons that in Limonsin, 1766, the laborers’ families did not have more than 25 to 30 livres per person per annum for their support, counting all they got. This is but 1 64/100 sou a day, and bread cost 2 1/2 sous per lb. A. Young, i. 439. This does not seem possible. The people lived partly on chestnuts.]

In the country, as in the towns, prosperity and material well-being were slowly increasing. The latter years of King Louis XIV. had been years of depression and misery. External wars, and the persecution of the Protestants at home, heavy taxation and bad government, had reduced the numbers and the wealth of the French nation. But with the accession of Louis XV. in 1715, a time of recuperation had begun. During the seventy years that followed, the population increased from about sixteen to about twenty-six millions. The rent of land rose also. The natural excellence of the soil, the natural intelligence of the people, were bringing about a slow and uneven improvement.[Footnote: Clamageran, iii. 464. Bois-Guillebert, 179, and _passim_. Horn, 1. The improvement was not universal. Lorraine is said to have lost prosperity from the time of its union with France in 1737. Mathieu, 316.]

One third of the soil was covered with small farms, which at the death of every proprietor were subdivided among his children. By a curious custom (arising in I know not what form of jealousy or caprice), the subdivision was wantonly made more disastrous. It was usual to divide not only the whole estate, but every part of it among the heirs. Thus, if a peasant died possessed of six fields and left three children, it was not the custom that each child should take two fields, and that he who got the best should make up the difference in money to his brethren. Perhaps cash was too scarce for that. But every one of the six fields would be divided into three parts, one of which was given to each child, so that instead of six separate plots of ground, there were now eighteen. This process had been repeated until a farm might almost be shaded by a single cherry-tree.[Footnote: Sybel, i. 22. Chérest, ii. 532. Turgot, iv. 260. English writers, from Arthur Young to Lady Verney, wax eloquent over the evils of small holdings.]

The class of middling proprietors was very small. The incidents to the holding of land by all who were not noble drove rising families to the towns. The great change that has come over the French country during the last hundred years consists, in a measure, in the formation of a class of men owning farms of moderate size.

A large part of the soil belonged to the nobles and the clergy. The exact proportion cannot be ascertained. It has been stated as high as two thirds; but this is probably an exaggeration. These proprietors of the privileged classes seldom cultivated any very large part of their land themselves, by hired workmen, although certain privileges and exemptions were allowed to such as chose to keep their farms in their own hands. A few of them let their lands for a fixed rent in money. But the greater part of the cultivated soil which was owned by the nobility and clergy was in the hands of _metayers_, lessees who paid their rent in the shape of a proportionate part of the crops. Sometimes the landlord made himself responsible for a portion of the taxes; sometimes he furnished cattle or farming implements. His share of the gross crop was usually one half. The system, which is still common in some parts of France, is considered a good one neither for the landlord nor for the tenant, but is devised principally to meet the want of capital on the part of the latter.[Footnote: Young reckons that the price of arable land and its rent are about the same in France as in England. The net revenue is larger in France, because there are no poor-rates and the tithe is more moderate in that country. The price of arable land he calculates to be on an average 20 Pounds per acre; rent 15 shillings 7d. per acre = 3 9/10 per cent. of the salable value. From this deduct the two vingtièmes and 4 sous per livre (taxes paid by the landlord) and other expenses, and the net revenue remains between 3 and 3 1/4 per cent. The product of wheat in France is, however, much worse than in England, so that the proportion obtained by the landlord is greater and that of the tenant less. In France the landlord gets one half of the crop; in England, one fourth to one sixth, sometimes only one tenth. A. Young, i. 353.]

We may imagine the country-houses of the nobles scattered over the face of the country so that the traveler would come upon one of them once in two or three miles. Sometimes the seat of the lord was an ancient castle, with walls eight feet thick, rising above the surrounding forest from the top of a steep hill, dark and threatening, but no longer formidable. Within, the great hall was stone-paved. Its walls were hung with dusky portraits and rusty armor. From the hall would open a spacious bedroom, with tapestried walls and a monumental bedstead. Curtains and coverlets showed the delicate embroidery of some ancestress, long since laid to rest in the family chapel. The very sheets had perhaps been woven by her shuttle. This bedroom, according to