The Reign of George III. - (Continued.)
Outbreak op the French Revolution - The Cause of this Revolution long accumulating in the History of France - Various preceding Revolutions in France, all having the same Bloody and ferocious Character, though less in degree - The Elements of this mingled Levity and Ferocity inherent in the French Nature - Age of Louis XIV. - Its Licentious Tyranny, and sanguinary Repression of Religious Progress - Extermination of Protestantism - Consequent universal ascendancy of Priestcraft and Ignorance - The Regency - Louis XV. - Louis XVI. and his Family - Ministry of De Brienne - Bed of Justice - Duke of Orleans banished - Returns - Assembly of Notables - Cour Plentere - Resignation of De Brienne, and Ministry of Necker - Proposes the Meeting of the States-General - Unpopularity of the Queen - License of the Press - Assembly of States- General - Tiers Etat double in number to the other Orders - Refuses to act till the other Orders sit with it - The Aristocracy and Clergy compelled to join the Tiers Etat - The National Assembly - Its Proceedings- Burning of Reveillon's Manufactory - Duke of Orleans, Lafayette, Mirabeau, Necker &c. - Conduct of the National Assembly and of Parisian Mob - Necker resigns - Conflict betwixt the People and Soldiery - Seduction of Gardes-Francoises - National Cockade - The Bastille taken - King goes to the Assembly-Necker recalled - More Bloodshed - Destruction of Privileges - Rights of Man - Proceedings at Versailles - Arrival of the Mob - Attempt to assassinate the Queen - The Royal Family compelled to go to Paris - The Jacobin Club - Proceedings at the Chatelet - Famine, Riots, Law against Tumults - New Division of the Kingdom - Abolition of Parliament - Lettres de Cachet - Armorial Bearings, Titles, Liveries, &c., abolished - Suppression of Monasteries and Seizure of the Property of the Clergy - Other Reforms - Commotions in the Provinces - Execution of Favras - Issue of Assignats - Views of the French Revolution in England - Burke denounces it - Admiration of it by Fox, Priestley, Price, fee. - Proceedings in the English Parliament - Differences with Spain regarding Nootka Sound - Slavery Question - Hastings' Trial - Irish Affairs - War in Belgium with the Austrians, in Turkey with Russia - General Swearing in Paris to maintain the New Constitution - Danton, Desmoulins. and other Paris Democrats - Proceedings of the National Assembly - Abbé Maury defends Church Property - Anacharsis Clootz - The Fete of the Federation in the Champs de Mars - Marat - The Moderates attempt to put Limits to the Revolution - The Royal Family seek for Flight - Interview of the Queen with Mirabeau at St. Cloud - Charges against the Duke of Orleans and Mirabeau - Revolt of the Troops at Nancy against the Assembly-Suppressed by Bouillé - Necker resigns - Atrocious Writings of the Jacobins, Marat. Danton, Carra, Desmoulins, Ac. - Federation of the Friends of Truth - Growing Ascendancy of Marat and Robespierre - Suppression of the Insurrection in Belgium - War in India with Tippoo Sahib - Proceedings in the British Parliament.Pages: <1> 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
At the period at which we are now arrived, France was in a state of the wildest and most awful convulsion. A revolution had broken out, more terrible and furious than had ever yet appeared in the history of nations. The French people, so long trodden down by their princes, their aristocracy, and their clergy, and reduced to a condition of wretchedness and of ignorant brutality, almost unparalleled, seizing the opportunity of the distresses of the impoverished government, and encouraged by a new race of philosophers, who preached up the equality of the human race, had broken through their ancient subserviency, and were pulling down all the old constituted powers, all ranks and distinctions, with a rapidity and a ferocity which electrified the whole world. They had destroyed the great state prison, the Bastille; they had brought the king and queen in triumph from Versailles to Paris, where they kept them in the palace of the Tuileries as mere state prisoners, and, by the agency of the National Assembly, were proceeding to still more startling deeds. Already they had decreed that orders and titles of nobility should cease; already they had compelled the nobles and the dignified clergy to take their places in the assembly with the commons; already they had confiscated the property of the clergy, and the plate of the churches - had abolished the old divisions of the kingdom into provinces, and divided France into eighty departments. They had taken from the king the title of the “ King of France," and given him that of the “ King of the French," preparatory to leaving him neither a crown nor a head to wear it. To enable the reader to comprehend, in some degree, the causes of this fierce and frightful phenomenon, we must take a brief retrospective glance at the past history and constitution of France, and at the character of the people.
The French people had, through their whole history, never acquired any constitutional liberty. We have seen how, in our own country, the commons had gradually assumed a substantial place in the legislative life of the nation. Rising steadily and strongly, the commons of England have, indeed, become the chief power in the state. In the house of commons, all the great questions of reform and enfranchisement have arisen, and there chiefly been fought out. During the commonwealth, the commons completely extinguished the house of peers and the crown. After that, though the nobles managed to reintroduce royalty, the commons, uniting with the peers, drove out the monarch who would have destroyed the popular liberties, and fixed the general freedom on a new and firmer basis by the Bill of Rights. Since then, the freedom, the power, and the wealth of the mass of the nation have been constantly augmenting under the protection of these great constitutional guarantees.
But very different was the case in France. The French people are, for the most part, a Celtic race. With the exception of the people of Normandy, and a certain infusion of German blood through the Franks, they are almost wholly of the Celtic family, lively, excitable, prone to fits of terrible cruelty and massacre, but wholly, so far as their history yet demonstrates, incapable of self-government, and therefore of the maintenance of social and political independence. Though the names of states-generals and parliaments present themselves in French history, the people, up to the time of the Revolution of 1789, had little or no concern in them. It was only in the states-general that the tiers etat, or commons, appeared at all, and there in such a humble and equivocal shape as to give them no real influence. Their business was to vote money, and not to legislate. The power of the crown, indeed, far surpassed the power of the states-general in their collective capacity, and they were rarely called together except to sanction some, extraordinary measures which the difficulties of the sovereign rendered necessary for them.
The very earliest even of these states-general took place only in 1302; and then, instead of having their separate houses, like our parliament, they all sate together, thus giving the two orders of the nobility and clergy the prevalence over the commons. Still the commons did not omit to seize favourable opportunities to demand redress of grievances, and the concession of just rights; but they never displayed the solid and temperate spirit of the English commons, which would have enabled them to gain permanently their object; but they fell to butchering and massacreing the upper classes, and continually lost everything again.
Thus, when the dauphin, after the battle of Poictiers, which left king John a prisoner in the hands of the English, called the states-general together to demand moneys for the ransom of his father, and for the relief of the humbled government, the states demanded a full redress of grievances before granting the supplies. These must have been conceded, and the grievances were enormous; but the states fell to quarrelling and massacreing each other, and the dauphin was compelled to dismiss them. In dismissing them, however, he could not dismiss his necessities; and, on calling them together in the spring of 1357, the demands were renewed and complied with. But, as was the case in the great revolution which we are about to narrate, this excitable people did not know where to stop. Instead of being satisfied with its proper advantages, its leaders in the states, Stephen Marcel, the Prevöt des Marchands, and Robert le Coq, made the most unwarrantable attempts on the rights of the nobles and of the crown. These were resisted, and led to the most sanguinary massacres and conflicts. Marcel formed a league with the king of Navarre, who would fain have snatched the government from his brother-in-law, the dauphin, murdered two of the courtiers in the very presence of the dauphin, and, seizing the person of the dauphin, exhibited him as a prisoner to the exulting mob of Paris. Marcel took possession of the palace of the Louvre, but was soon after butchered himself; and these events introduced that terrible condition of anarchy called the Jacquerie, in which the people, both in town and country, rose against the upper classes, and massacred their lords and their families with unheard of atrocities, burnt their mansions, and ravaged their estates, in their turn to be attacked, hunted down, and exterminated by the aristocracy.
Similar scenes were enacted in 1380, twenty-two years later, when Charles VI. was a minor, and his uncles called together the states-general. The same demands of redress were made, and in part conceded; but the same bloody fury again possessed them, and the Maillotins, or Malleters, of Paris, who beat out people's brains with wooden clubs; and the Tuchins, or peasants, in the country, committed the most frightful massacres. Again in 1413, the states-general being called together when Charles VI. was afflicted with insanity, the people, instead of securing their privileges by firmness and wisdom, broke out under Catoche, a butcher; and, under the name of Catochiens, insisted, amidst blood and rapine, on domineering over the aristocracy and crown. The country, at the same time, was rent to pieces by the factions of the Bourguignons and Armagnacs; and, such was the general anarchy and horror, that our Henry V, justified his invasion of France by exclaiming, " God has led me hither by the hand to punish the sins of this land, and to reign in it like a king. There is now no king, no government, no law in France I"
Charles VIII., in 1483, assembled the states-general at Tours, and there introduced the innovation of resolving the three orders, not into three chambers, but into six nations, according to the original nations of Old France. In these nations, however, the three orders continued to sit together. In 1558 Henry II. introduced a fourth estate into the states- general, called L'Etat de la Justice, the members of it consisting of the chief magistracy of the country. The last time that a states-general was convened previous to that of 1789, was by Louis XIII.; but this monarch took care that the people should derive no benefit from their assembling. The moment they prepared to present demands of reform, he dismissed them, and Louis XIV. never called them together at all. He declared, " L'etat c'est moi!" " lam the state;" and he and his successors ruled as they pleased, only making a show of consulting parliaments.
These parliaments - which appear only first to have been introduced by Louis IX., in the thirteenth century - did not include a representation of the people at all. The members were merely summoned by the crown at its own dictation and discretion, and were originally almost entirely selected from the clergy. By degrees, the clergy gave way to lawyers, and the parlement was, in fact, merely a more extensive royal council, the chief business of which was to register the royal decrees. Some of these decrees were amongst the most disgraceful facts in French history. The parliament of Paris registered the edict establishing the inquisition, and those which condemned to death, as Protestants, Anne du Bourg and admiral Coligny, which sanctioned the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and the massacre of St. Bartholemew. When a weak monarch or a woman was at the head of government, these parliaments often became very presuming and refractory, and then what were called lits de justice and seances royales were resorted to, in order to compel them to obedience. There were special visitations of the parliaments by the sovereign, attended by the princes of the blood, the peers of the realm, and the chief of the clergy, including cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, besides the great officers of the state - altogether a great and imposing train - supported by whom, the king compelled the parliament to register the decrees which he had submitted to them. Such monarchs as Louis XIV however, had no need of lits de justice - his word was enough; and, on one occasion, hearing, whilst hunting at Vincennes, that the parliament hesitated to register some edict or other, he rode off to Paris, and. entering their chamber in his boots and spurs, and with his hunting-dress on, and his hunting-knife at his side, put an end to their deliberations. Louis XV., who had not the vigour of his predecessor, was compelled twice to banish them; but Louis XVI. recalled them, and found them tolerably submissive till 1785.
Besides the states-general of Paris and the parliament of Paris, there were also provincial states-general and provincial parliaments; and there was also what was called the assembly of notables. This body was only called together on rare occasions, in crises of particular embarrassment. They were, as the name implies, "men of note" and distinction for rank, ability, and wisdom, who were called together as a temporary council, to offer their advice to the crown, but possessing no legislative or executive functions. Such an assembly appears only to have been summoned from time to time in the history of France, previously to 1789 - namely, in 1558 and 1596, in 1617 and 1626. This concise sketch of the legislative and governmental institutions of France may enable the reader to comprehend the events which were now taking place in 1789.
The reigning monarch, Louis XVI., was a very amiable and well-disposed monarch, weak and yielding in character, but who, under a constitution like that of England, might have lived and died a beloved and popular prince. He was of a domestic and unambitious character, fond of mechanic arts, and an excellent locksmith, but by no means understanding how to restore the disordered mechanism of his government and kingdom. He had married Marie Antoinette, the daughter of the great Maria Theresa of Austria, and sister to Joseph II., a princess of great beauty and accomplishments, of most engaging manners, but with a love of gaiety and pleasure which, amid a people suffering the intensest misery, led to suspicions of her virtue, which were, there is every reason to believe, most unfounded, but, at that crisis, most fatal.
Louis XVI. had inherited a kingdom crushed under the maladministrations, the corruptions, and the wild military ambition of ages. The people, possessing no real voice in the legislature, and incapable, from their ignorance and impetuosity, of prudently obtaining one when circumstances put it within their reach, were reduced to a condition of wretchedness and demoralisation inconceivable. No man had done more to produce this result than Louis XIV., Le Grande Monarque, as the French, in their foolish vanity, delighted to style him. By endeavouring to exterminate protestantism, not only in France but throughout Europe, and surrounded only by cardinals and priests, he had driven from his own territories and from the Netherlands thousands of weavers and other artificers, with their trades, to increase the wealth and glory of free England. He had involved himself in wars with England, Holland, and Germany, which for awhile were successful, and witnessed with acclamation by his people, but which, through the exertions of William of Orange, of Marlborough, and Eugene, eventually overwhelmed France with ruin, poverty, and misery incalculable. This heritage of woe descended to his successors, and was only increased by the crimes and follies of the profligate regent Orleans and the feeble sway of Louis XV. It went down with a tenfold force from the moral depravity and mental darkness which Le Grand Monarque had perpetuated by his suppression of all freedom of religious inquiry. We have had to relate the terrible dragonades by which he sought to massacre the whole race of protestants, under the name of Huguenots, and especially his frightful extermination of the Cevennois, whom, for years, he pursued with sixty thousand soldiers, under the command of Marshal Villars and others of his ablest generals. Had protestantism been permitted to take its natural course, it would undoubtedly so have enlightened, ennobled, and tempered the French people, that no such scene of diabolical fury and carnage as the Revolution of 1789 could ever have taken place. But all real and active religious inquiry and influence were crushed. There remained a nominal hierarchy, administering the outwaid rites of the Romish church, but perpetuating the moral darkness of the people as a system. The nobility and the clergy possessed all the property, and power, and privilege in the country, and the people sank lower and lower in indigence and vice, till it was clear that nothing but some terrific tempest of human passion and vengeance could clear the land of its miseries and tyrannies.
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