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 11

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

It was under such circumstances of conflicting spirit that the assembly began to construct a constitution: an enormous task, and to be executed amidst the most distracting and explosive materials within and without. France, unlike England, could not be said ever to have had a constitution. It had had its king, and its parliament, its states-general, but all of an arbitrary caste; without any fixed times for assembling, and without any laws to secure the responsibility of the agents of power, any guarantees for the liberty of the subject, of the press, or any liberty of the general body. It was necessary to clear the ground of the poisonous rubbish of despotism before beginning to erect an orderly fabric of constitutional government. There were multitudinous theories afloat in men's minds, but no precedents, at least, of French growth. The deputies, indeed, had, from every quarter, brought with them written instructions for the demands which they were to make on behalf of the nation. They had unanimously prescribed monarchical government; hereditary succession from male to male; the exclusive attribution of the executive power to the king; the responsibility of all agents; the concurrence of the nation and king in making of laws; the voting of the taxes, and individual liberty. But they were divided on the subject of one or two chambers of legislature; on the length of their sessions, and the periods of their meeting; on the political existence of the clergy, and of the parliaments on the extent of the liberty of the press. In reducing these great questions into constitutional form, the national diversity of mind was sure to produce vivid conflicts, and wide divergences of opinion. But beyond this, the state of the population out of doors added infinitely to the dangers and the difficulties of the process.

The people were starving in the provinces, and ready, in their excitement, for mischief everywhere. The assembly was anxious to do something to relieve the distress; but in so doing they must encroach on the duties of the executive. They were yet without a constitution, and therefore could only act on their own authority. They had been invited by the clergy to join them in seeking a way to furnish the means of existence to the people, the clergy now sitting with them; they proposed to carry out this desirable object in some manner. They appointed a committee, which put itself into communication with the ministers, asking information as to the best machinery for the purpose; and the ministry informed them of what they themselves had attempted to do. The assembly then proposed to order provisions to be conveyed to the quarters most destitute, and to vote a loan for the necessary funds, to be assisted by charitable contributions. Lally-Tollendal moved that they should issue a decree for this purpose, but Mounier replied that such decree would require the sanction of the king; and, in the present absence of a constitution, there would be difficulties in procuring this sanction. The assembly was paralysed by the necessity to legislate without any basis on which to legislate. Meantime, Paris, only twelve miles distant, was in constant attention to all that passed in the assembly and at court. Messengers were continually passing to and fro, and every movement of the assembly produced a correspondent sensation.

The electors assembled in sixty districts, having discharged their functions, ought to have retired into the mass of citizens, but they were too fond of the new exercise of power, and they continued to retain their elective character, and to meet on the plea that it was necessary, under such extraordinary circumstances, to instruct and support their deputies. The ministers naturally represented that their political life was at an end for the present, and refused them admittance to their place of meeting. Like the national assembly, they sought another, and found one in the miserable but large room of an eating-house in the Rue Dauphine. This was their Jeu de Paume; but they determined to remove thence, and take possession of the Hotel de Ville, which they did, and there acted as the organ of Paris, and corresponded with the deputies at Versailles. These electors were, for the most part, rich citizens, not without some admixture of aristocracy. Two amongst them were revolutionists of the most ardent description, with a certain tendency to mysticism, Fauchet and Bonneville. In an earlier age they would have been burnt as heretics; in the nineteenth century they were enthusiasts in resistance of the court, and Bonneville was the first to raise the cry, " To arms!" Fauchet, Bonneville, Bertolio, Carra, a fiery journalist, made the most daring motions, such as ought to have emanated only from the national assembly: - For a city guard; for the immediate organisation of regular communes, elective and annual; for an address to the king, praying for the removal of the troops; for the freedom of the assembly; and for the revocation of the coup-d'etat of June 23rd.

Whilst the assembly of electors were thus usurping the functions of a real parliament of Paris, the Palais Royal was exercising an influence on the population not less active. As no journals yet gave an account of the proceedings of the national assembly, the people ran daily to the Palais Royal to learn the events of the day, and to discuss them. The gardens of the Palais Royal were continually thronged. Not less than ten thousand persons of one kind or another were frequently collected there. This magnificent garden, surrounded by the most splendid shops, and adjoining the palace of the duke of Orleans, was the rendezvous of foreigners, of debauchees, of gamblers and loungers, but, above all, the most fiery agitators. In the coffee-houses, and in the open air, the most stimulating harangues were continually being delivered. There might be seen an orator mounted on a table, and surrounded by a wild crowd, whom he was addressing in the most seditious language, and with the most perfect impunity, for there the mob was the sovereign power. The duke of Orleans was supposed to favour all this. His wealth was said to flow freely amongst the incendiary orators and other agents. He had the ambition to place himself at the head of affairs through the favour of the people. If he did not find all the money used for the purposes of agitation, much was found, and, no doubt, he contributed a liberal share. The duke had been accused of being the head of a party, and the newspapers of the day made free use of his name. According to them, France would follow the example of England. The Stuarts had been expelled in favour of the prince of Orange; and the duke was become the ideal prince of Orange to the French populace. The thing was so often repeated that the duke at last imagined that he might place himself at the head of a party, and become the leader of a faction, without the qualifications for such an office.

To add to the dangers arising from the proceedings of the electors and the agitation of the people, there were rapidly- growing symptoms of fraternisation taking place amongst the French guards. This regiment, numbering three thousand six hundred men, lay at Paris, four companies of them, by turns, doing duty at Versailles as the king's guard. At the pillage of Reveillon's house they had shown no hesitation in resisting the people; but since then they had greatly changed. Their old colonel, Abiron, was dead, and M. Du Chätelet, their new one, was a rigid disciplinarian. This new colonel found that the marquis de Valady, who had formerly been an officer in the regiment, but who had become a most ardent democrat, had been going amongst the men of this as well as of other regiments to indoctrinate them with the revolutionary spirit. He had not only talked with them, but left them printed addresses on their duty to their country. These had produced their effect: there had been for some time secret societies formed amongst them, and they had sworn never to act contrary to the orders of the assembly. The coup-d'etat of the 23rd of June had greatly incensed them, not only on account of the indignity offered to the national assembly - their admiration - but by the emphatic declaration of the king, that he would never consent to the alteration of the institution of the army - that is to say, that there should never be an avenue of promotion for the common soldier; that a common soldier he must live and die; he could never become an officer, whatever his merit. To appreciate this phrase, the "institution of the army," it is necessary to understand that of the military revenue of the French army at this time the officers received forty-six millions of francs, the soldiers only forty-four millions. It is necessary to know that such men as Jourdan, Joubert, Kleber, who had been common soldiers in it, had quitted it because it presented an impossible barrier to advance. Augereau was a subaltern officer of infantry; Hoche, a sergeant of these French guards; Moreau, a common soldier. Such, under the Bourbons, they might for ever have remained. Even the miserable pay of the privates, they declared, they did not wholly obtain; that the officers, under one pretext or other, kept a considerable portion of it, and spent it amongst themselves.

It was easy to persuade the soldiers of such an army to listen to the new philosophy of liberty, equality, and a brilliant chance for all men. The colonel of the guards had kept them closely confined in their barracks, to prevent their further corruption by popular agents; but on the news of the determined conduct of the national assembly, they broke out on the 25th of June, and hastened to the Palais Royal to join in the common joy of the people. They were received with acclamation; they were embraced, almost smothered, by caresses from the ardent patriots, both men and women. Ladies of family and distinctior were seen to embrace common soldiers in their intoxication of delight at the union of these pariahs, as they called them, of the ancient monarchy - these brave men, so maltreated by the noblesse - with the rest of the nation. Then the soldiers were treated, feted, presented with money, and sate to listen to the patriot orators, who, on stools and tables, were haranguing against the aristocrats. They were asked if they would ever again wet their hands with the blood of their fellow-citizens, and they cried, "No! Vive la nation!'' And all this passed under the windows of the duke of Orleans - under the eyes of that court, intriguing, greedy, and unclean. Philip Egalite must have thought that his day was rapidly approaching. He could not, indeed, conceal his joy. He thought the king lost, and that he should be soon called to take his place.

An Englishman who had visited France for very different objects - the peaceful inquiries of agriculture - the celebrated Arthur Young, just then entered Paris. The silence and desertion of the streets astonished him; not a vehicle was to be procured - scarcely a man to be seen. All Paris seemed concentred in one spot, the Palais Royal, where its life raged like a furnace. Directing his steps thither, he was confounded. Ten thousand men seemed speaking at once; ten thousand lights blazed from the windows - the people seemed gone mad with the news of some great victory. Fireworks were flashing, and guns firing in all directions. He retired in bewildering amaze.

The colonel of the guards seized eleven of the ringleaders of the men who had thus been feted at the Palais Royal, and shut them up in the Abbaye prison. It was rumoured that they were to be transferred to the Bicetre. A young man mounted a table at the Palais Royal and cried, " To the Abbaye 1 Let us release those who have refused to fire upon the people!" Soldiers offered themselves; the citizens thanked them, but went alone. The crowd increased till six thousand appeared before the gates of the prison, which they burst open, and they then brought out the captive soldiers. They were met returning by bodies of hussars and dragoons, in full trot, with their swords drawn; but the people seized their bridles, and explained; the hussars and dragoons were unwilling to attack the deliverers of their fellow-soldiers; they put up their swords, loosened their casques, and taking the wine offered them, drank to the king and the nation. In addition to the fifteen French guards, the people delivered an old soldier who had lain for years in the prison, and could no longer walk. They carried him on their shoulders, and, altogether, soldiers, citizens, prisoners, marched to the Palais Royal, where they regaled the rescued men. There citizens, rich and poor, hussars, dragoons, French guards, mingled together, and cried, " Vive la nation! "

This was an alarming spectacle for the aristocracy; alarming news for the court. If the soldiers revolutionised, on whom were they to depend? Early in the morning, a band of young men went to Versailles to carry the news to the assembly. That body was struck with consternation. A military insurrection was more than they were prepared for; it might make them suspected of encouraging it, if they seemed to approve. They debated the matter, declared that it belonged to the king; that they were desirous of preserving public peace and order, and advised that the deputation of the people should solicit the king's pardon. A letter was addressed to his majesty, who replied not to the assembly, but to the archbishop of Paris, that if the arrested soldiers returned to prison, he would pardon them. The people putting but little faith in that promise, marched to the Hotel de Ville, and sought the advice of the electors. The electors undertook, if necessary, to go to Versailles, and not to return without the royal pardon. On that assurance, the guards returned to prison, and were immediately set at liberty again.

But this only restored peace in appearance. The court and the nobles were greatly alarmed, and secretly preparing for war. The nobles had joined the assembly with the utmost repugnance, and many only on the assurance that the union would not continue. The members of that order continued to protest against the proceedings of the assembly, rather than join in its deliberations. The king himself had consented to the union, in the hope that the nobles would be able to put a check on the tiers. Both king and nobles saw now that all such hopes were vain. And whilst Necker was retained to satisfy the people for the present, and whilst Mounier, Lally-Tollendal, and Clermont-Tonnerre were consulting with Necker on establishing a constitution resembling that of England, the court was preparing to put down the insurrection and the assembly by force. The marshal Broglie was placed at the head of the troops which surrounded both Paris and Versailles. He judged of both soldiers and citizens by the recollections of the Seven Years' War, and assured the king that a little grape-shot would soon disperse the rioters. Fifteen regiments, chiefly foreign, had been gradually drawn round the capital. The headquarters of Broglie were at Versailles, where he had a brilliant staff, and a formidable train of artillery, some of which commanded the very hall in which the assembly sate. There was a battery at the bridge of Sevres, commanding the road to Paris, and in Paris itself there were strong batteries on Montmartre, which overlooked the city, and which, moreover, were carefully intrenched. Besides these preparations, there were French regiments quartered at St. Germain, Charenton, St. Cloud, and other places. Altogether, there were calculated to be fifty thousand troops collected. The old noblesse were impatient for the king to give the order to disperse the people both in Paris and Versailles; to surround the assembly, seize the chief members, put them in prison, and send the rest adrift; to treat the ringleaders of the electors in the same manner; to dissolve formally the states-general, and restore the old order of things. Had the reins of government been in the hands of a Bonaparte, the whole plan would have been executed, and would, for the time, without doubt, have succeeded. But Louis XVI. was not the man for a coup- d'etat of that rigorous nature. He shuddered at the idea of shedding his subjects' blood; and instead of doing that for which the troops had been assembled, he now listened to Necker, who reminded him that when the people were put down or shot down, and the states-general dispersed, the old debts and difficulties would remain, and, without a states-general or parliament, there would be no authority to impose or collect taxes. To Necker's arguments, the more timid and liberal nobles added, that the excitement would soon wear itself out; that nothing serious could be done in the presence of such forces, and that the constitution, once completed, all would right itself, and that he would have to congratulate himself on his bloodless patience in a new and happier reign: humane but fatal advice in the circumstances of the nation. The soldiers, allowed to remain inactive in the very midst of the great national hotbed of sedition, were sure to follow the example of the French guards; to become inoculated with the spirit of revolution. The debates in the national assembly were actively distributed in print, and the soldiers read them with avidity. Whilst the court had been conspiring, the people had conspired too. The electors at the Hotel de Ville listened with avidity to a suggestion of Mirabeau, thrown out in the national assembly, which passed, at the time, without much notice. This was for organising the citizens into a city-guard. The plan had originated with Dumont and his countryman, Duroverai, both Genevese. Mirabeau had adopted and promulgated it. Fallen unnoticed in the assembly, on the 10th of July, Carra revived it at the Hotel de Ville. He declared that the right of the commune to take means for the defence of the city was older than the monarchy itself. Bonneville, Fauchet, Chartres, demanded that this should be carried into effect, at an assembly of all the sixty districts; and that their decision should be announced to the national assembly, that the plan might be adopted in all the great cities of the kingdom. The Parisian people seconded, in an immense multitude, this daring proposition, and desired nothing more than a direct order to arm themselves, and to maintain their own safety.

<<< 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 11

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About