OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 10

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

Thus the odious and annihilating obstacles to popular advancement were rigidly maintained. The people, in the language of colonel Napier in his " History of the Peninsular War," were still to " wither in the cold shade of the aristocracy." No person of plebeian birth could ever rise into any church dignity, whatever his talents or his virtues. None could obtain a commission in the army who could not claim a hundred years of nobility in his family. Then agriculture was still to lie crushed under the mountain of feudal insolences and fetters. What these were has been well described by Alison, an historian certainly of not too liberal tendencies " The most important operations of agriculture were fettered or prevented by the game-laws, and the restrictions intended for their support. Game of the most destructive kind, such as wild boars and herds of deer, were permitted to go at large through spacious districts without any inclosure to protect the crops. Numerous edicts existed which prohibited hoeing and weeding, lest the young partridges should be disturbed; mowing hay, lest the eggs should be destroyed; taking away the stubble, lest the birds should be deprived of shelter; manuring with night-soil, lest their flavour should be injured. Complaints for the infraction of these edicts were all carried before the manorial courts, where every species of oppression, chicanery, and fraud was prevalent. Fines were imposed at every change of property in the direct and collateral line - at every sale to the purchasers; the people were bound to grind their corn at the landlord's mill, press their grapes at his press, bake their bread at his oven. Obligations to repair the roads, founded on custom, decrees, and servitude, were enforced with the most rigorous severity; in many places the use even of handmills was not free, and the seigneurs were invested with the power of selling to the peasants the right of bruising buckwheat, or barley, between two stones. It is in vain to attempt to describe the feudal services which pressed with so much severity in every part of France.-"

These were the abominable tyrannies which had reduced the whole of the rural population of France to a condition of the most abject misery, such as Arthur Young, who travelled on an agricultural mission in France just before the revolution, describes in such gloomy colours: - " Their houses dark, comfortless, and almost destitute of furniture; their dress ragged and miserable; their food of the coarsest and most repulsive kind; the burdens piled on them by their feudal superiors almost without limit, and certainly without mercy." This was the state of things which caused Madame Roland, on a visit to England, to gaze with such wonder on the homes and the comforts even of our labourers, and which made her, amongst other things, so ardent a revolutionist. Yet all these curses were to be preserved intact. It was clear who had concocted "the king's intentions."

These exciting atrocities having been announced as u royal benefits," the king added, u I may, without flattering myself, say that never did any king so much for any nation." He continued, "Reflect, gentlemen, that none of your projects can have any force without my special approbation; and if you abandon me in this beautiful enterprise, I will seek the good of my people alone; I will consider myself as their real representative." He then commanded them to withdraw, and to meet the next day in their separate chambers to continue their sittings. He then departed, followed by the nobles and the minority of the clergy. The courtiers were convinced that they had now given the death-blow to the assuming tiers. They ran to congratulate the count d'Artois on the success of his plans for the king's conduct, and thence they hastened to the queen. Marie Antoinette, radiant with joy, received them holding her daughter by the hand, and presenting to them the little dauphin in her arms, said, " I confide in the noblesse! " But in the midst of this triumph shouts were heard, and every one ran to ascertain the cause. Be Braze had brought word to the king that the tiers were still sitting in the hall, and requested his orders. Louis, who did not participate in the joy, for the silence of the people had fallen heavily on his heart, after walking about uneasily for some time, said, " Well, let them sit! "

But in his terror Louis had sent for Necker, entreated him to retain his portfolio, saying, "As for this declaration, I have no faith in it." Necker, who still believed that nothing could go on without him, at once consented to remain, and hastened down into the court to appease the indignant people collected there, and this was what the queen and the nobles saw when they ran to the windows - Necker, going amongst the people, who fell on their knees and kissed his hands as their saviour, whilst he continued to address them, "Yes, my children, yes, my children, I remain, compose yourselves," and then he rushed away, to burst into tears in his cabinet. And this was not all: the court had to learn that the tiers had remained immovably in their seats after the king and the nobles had retired. De Breze, as master of the ceremonies, said, "Gentlemen, you have heard the orders of the king." Bailly replied, "I am going to take the orders of the assembly;" and, turning to his colleagues, he said, " It seems to me that the assembled nation cannot receive an order."

On that remark Mirabeau rose, and assuming his most terrible aspect, and fixing his flashing eyes on De Breze, exclaimed, in a voice of thunder, u Yes, sir, we heard what has been suggested to the king; but for you, sir, you are no organ of communication with the assembly; you, who have no place, nor voice, no right, to speak here, are not authorised to remind us of it. Go, tell those who sent you that we are here by the will of the people, and that nothing but the bayonet will force us hence." Breze, confounded at this address, retreated backwards from the assembly, as he was accustomed to do from the presence of royalty, and carried to the court this formidable intelligence. The court was as much confounded as poor De Breze. In its foolish confidence it had sent workmen to remove the benches, but at a word of the president they desisted, and stayed to listen. A deputy proposed on the morrow to discuss the resolutions of the king; but Camus exclaimed, " The stance is only a ministerial act, the assembly maintains its decrees." Barnave, a young native of Dauphiny, said, " You have declared what you are; you depend on no one's sanction." The Breton Glezen added, " What! the sovereign speaks as a master, when he ought to consult!" Petion, Garat, Gregoiremen whose names were soon to possess a deep significance - spoke out with equal decision, and Abbé Sieyes completed the conversation with a laconic symplicity: "Messieurs, you are to-day just what you were yesterday." The assembly then, on the motion of Mirabeau, declared its members inviolable, and that whoever should lay a hand on any one of them was a traitor, infamous, and worthy of death. Nor was this resolution the result of empty boast. The gardes-du-corps were drawn up at this moment in line in front of the hall, and it was whispered that sixty of the deputies were that night to be arrested.

"Thus," says Thiers, "was effected the first revolution. The tiers etat had recovered the legislature, and its adversaries had lost it by attempting to keep it entirely to themselves. In a few days, this legislative revolution was completely consummated." But it was not consummated without a violent fermentation of the populace. The privileged orders, as is the nature of such bodies, had not known when it was absolutely necessary to yield. They believed the world made expressly for themselves, and they were not able yet to conceive that the rest of the world could or would reclaim its rights by force. By their insensate counsel to the king, they had fearfully aggravated the public temper, and injured irrevocably not only themselves, but the crown. On the night of this unfortunate coup-d'etat of the 23rd of June, Mirabeau said to his friend Dumont, "This is the way kings are led to the scaffold." The only person, besides the members of the assembly, who was popular was Necker, who was supposed to have made a far greater opposition to the will of the court than he had. The archbishop of Paris was attacked, and his carriage windows dashed in. The same fury pursued every bishop, priest, or noble who had applauded the king on this occasion; the count d'Artois was especially denounced as the head of the evil counsellors of the king, and the queen was execrated in terms too foul to repeat. The clubs in Paris, and especially the Breton Club, which Lafayette had so essentially helped to establish, were in the utmost activity as agencies of revolution, nor were the means they proposed at all marked by moral scruples. The duke of Orleans was in full communication with them, and from him, it was declared, flowed much of the money by which these societies propagated their own spirit and views. Orleans was, with all his professions of liberty, a thorough debauchee, and, as he soon showed, a mean and selfish man, who would have been glad to step over the bodies of his royal relations to the throne. The most strange thing is that Lafayette, with his professed attachment to the monarchy, and to the royal family, and great advocate of sound principles, as he was, as well as of reform, was fully cognizant of the dark doctrines and unprincipled proceedings of these clubs. But Lafayette. was a vain man, fond of riding on the crest of the ocean of public opinion, of being treated as the hero of popular freedom. This vanity led him into gross inconsistencies.

Sieyes had more principle and more strength than either of them. He was so much disgusted by what he saw and heard in some visits to the clubs, that he exclaimed, "I will go no more amongst these men; theirs are cavern politics; they propose crimes as expedients!"

As for Lafayette, he did not want for solemn warnings from one of his old American coadjutors, Governeur Morris. This gentleman, having no national interest in this conflict, could now perceive all the mischievous tendencies of democracy, when unrestrained by perfect enlightenment and moral worth. He says, "I told him that I was opposed to democracy from regard to liberty; that they were going headlong to destruction; that their views of their nation were totally inconsistent with the materials of which it was composed; and that the worst thing that could happen to them would be to grant their wishes." Lafayette professed to believe this; declared the people mad, but still asserted that he would die with them. Morris told him that he had better try to bring them to their senses, and live with them. But all such advice was lost on Lafayette, who could not live out of the air of popularity; and who, with all his professions, as in America, took care to keep out of the way on occasions of most peril. At this moment Paris was in one general ferment of revolutionary mania; and the Palais Royal, where Orleans lived, and where the mob orators harangued, was the centre of it.

On the 24th of June the tiers assembled in their hall, which they now found left free to them. The majority of the clergy, paying no attention to the command of the king to deliberate in their own chamber, again joined the tiers. The minority maintained their separate sitting; but even amongst them a fresh defection appeared; and those who demanded to go over to the tiers compelled the archbishop of Paris, a worthy man, but a great stickler for privileges, as well as the popular archbishop of Bourdeaux, to accompany them. The very same day the same transition took place in the chamber of peers. A fierce agitation arose; D'Espremenil proposed to prosecute the tiers, and that the attorney-general should be instructed to do it On the other hand, Clermont-Tonnerre moved that they should join the commons; Lally-Tollendal seconded him and Lafayette and all his party voted for the measure. The duke of Orleans voted too, though he had the day before promised Polienac that he would not. The motion was lost by a large majority against it; but, notwithstanding, forty-seven members, headed by Clermont-Tonnerre, went to the tiers, and were received with acclamation. "We yield to our consciences," said Clermont-Tonnerre, "but it is with pain that we separate from our colleagues. We have come to concur in the public regeneration; each of us will let you know the degree of activity which his mission allows him."

Every day the members and influence of the assembly increased. Its doings and sayings were spread over all France, by means of a system of corresponding committees, which Sieyes had organised. The most enthusiastic feelings everywhere prevailed. In many towns the people were armed, especially at Grenoble and Marseilles, to support, if necessary, the commons against the aristocrats. Cries of "Death to the aristocrats!" began to be heard, and no- where more than in Versailles. The very servants of the court were knocked down in the streets, with the royal livery on their backs. Addresses poured in from all quarters. Mounier presented one from Dauphiny; there was one from Paris, and its great political hot-bed, the Palais Royal, sent another, which the assembly received, to avoid giving offence to the multitude. " At that time," says Thiers, " it did not foresee the excesses of the populace; it had need, on the contrary, to presume its energy, and to hope for its support." The most violent animosity still raged in the chamber of the nobles. Amid the menacing features of the truce without, many became terrified, and counselled union with the tiers and their brethren. The king alarmed, too, wrote to them, counselling them to give way, and follow to the common hall. " The junction will be transient," said the most obstinate; "troops are approaching, let us give way and obey the king." Simultaneous with this decision, which took place amid much uproar, was that of the remaining clergy. They all went together. " We are come," said the duke of Luxembourg, " to give a mark of respect to the king, and of patriotism to the nation." "The family is now complete," observed Bailly; "we can now attend, without intermission and without distraction, to the regeneration of the kingdom and of the public weal."

Thus the union of the deputies of all ranks was consummated after this great battle; the triumph of the commons was perfected; but the most obstinate of the nobles still could not amalgamate with the tiers without a struggle with their pride. They continued to come in after the opening of the sitting, and to stand behind the president, as representing their own body. Bailly wished them to be seated; they declined; but Bailly respectfully persisted, and they took their seats. But no sooner was this done, than they demanded that a new president should be elected; it was gall to their proud hearts to sit under a plebeian president. The motion was contemptuously rejected by the tiers, who were the majority, and Bailly retained his proud pre-eminence. The nobles and the hierarchy, or that portion of them which stood out for their privileges, must have felt their utter impotence, when once merged into the assembly. A large section of them, the cures and the liberal nobles, were one with the tiers, and the tiers alone were equal to the whole body of clergy and the noblesse. Thus, therefore, supported by numbers from the privileged ranks, they could outvote the recalcitrant nobles and prelates by a large majority on all questions. From that moment the privileged classes, in truth, were at an end. Yet not patiently did the nobles submit to their fate. They insisted that, though sitting together, they should vote not by head but by order. This motion was rejected by a wild acclamation, which was echoed by a more appalling thunder from the galleries. Undaunted by that evidence of subjection, the cardinal archbishop, De Rochefoucauld, protested in the name of the order; but the liberal archbishop of Vienne reminded him that he was in a minority, even in his order, and had, therefore, no right to speak in the name of that order. Mirabeau said, sternly, that it was strange that any one should protest in the assembly against the assembly; that he must either recognise its sovereignty or retire.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
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

Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 10

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About