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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 2

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Thiers has presented us with the following picture of the condition of France at the commencement of the great crisis: - "This condition, both political and economical, was intolerable. There was nothing but privilege - privileges invested in individuals, in classes, in towns, in provinces, and even in trades and professions. Everything contributed to check industry and the natural genius of man. All the dignities of the state, civil, ecclesiastical, and military, were exclusively reserved to certain classes, and in those classes to certain individuals. No man could take up a profession without certain titles and a compliance with certain pecuniary conditions. Even the graces and favours of the crown were converted into family property, so that the king could scarcely exercise his own judgment, or give any preference. Almost the only liberty left to the sovereign was that of making pecuniary gifts; and he had been reduced to the necessity of disputing with the duke of Coigny for the abolition of a useless place. Everything, then, was made immovable property in the hands of a few, and everywhere these few resisted the many who had been despoiled. The burdens of the state weighed on one class only. The noblesse and the clergy possessed about two-thirds of the landed property; the other third, possessed by the people, paid taxes to the king, a long list of feudal droits to the noblesse, tithes to the clergy, and had, moreover, to support the devastations committed by the noble sportsmen and by their game. The taxes upon consumption pressed upon the great multitude, and consequently upon the people. The collection of these imposts was managed in an unfair and irritating manner; the seigneurs, or lords of the soil, left long arrears with impunity; but the people, upon any delay in paying, were harshly treated, arrested, and condemned to pay in their persons, in default of money or produce. The people, therefore, nourished with their labour and defended with their blood the higher classes of society, without being able to procure a comfortable subsistence for themselves. The bourgeoisie, or towns-people, or body of citizens, industrious, educated, less miserable than the people, could, nevertheless, obtain none of the advantages to which they had a right to aspire, seeing it was their industry that enriched, and their talents that adorned the kingdom. Public justice, administered in some provinces by seigneurs, in the royd jurisdiction by magistrates, who bought their places, was slow, often partial, always ruinously expensive, and, above all, atrocious in criminal proceedings. Personal liberty was violated by lettres de cachet, the liberty of the press by royal censors."

The people, thus oppressed through long ages, ground to the dust, plunged in the grossest ignorance by neglect, or, rather, by suppression of all true Christian teaching, of all education, brutalised by contempt and harshness in those above them, were ripe for an outburst, but wholly incapacitated for any rational revolution. That revolution, when it came, must of necessity be one of blood and horror, a fierce revenge, knowing no restraints of conscience or knowledge. Whoever has read carefully this history, must have seen that, in all ages, the outbreaks of the French people were at once sanguinary, lawless, vindictive, and mingled with the most revolting features of levity and grimace. The tremendous atrocities, frivolities partaking largely of the horrible, and fury without restraint of principle, which astonished the world in the revolution of 1798, were only different from those of all former outbreaks, in that they were on a more extended scale. The character of the revolution lay in the character of the French people. Voltaire, their own countryman, described the Frenchman in a line, " half monkey and half tiger." Those elements of the grotesque and cruel are for ever mingled in French erneutes. We have only to refer to the popular insurrections of England, to the affairs of Wat Tyler, Jack Straw, Kett of Norfolk, and to the scenes of the civil wars of king and parliament, to perceive the essential difference. In the commotions of our most ignorant countrymen, in the least civilised times, there has always been mingled with a clearly- defined public object an absence of cruelty, and a knowing at what point to stop. In the French, blood once drawn, all the tiger broke loose, and the monkey element made the furious carnage more awfully revolting.

Never was there more urgent cause for revolution, and for the sweeping away of a thousand tyrannies and intolerable customs and laws, than in France at this time; but the people were certain, from all past precedents, to abuse and tyrannise; in their turn, to grow more furious as they proceeded, and to put no limits to their destructive instincts. Unfortunately, there were none of the classes above them qualified, or likely to take part with them for any just and wise end. The limits of necessary change were sure to be ignored, from the causes already stated; but, still more unfortunately, a new element was introduced into the fermenting mass of political abuses, pregnant with the most unbounded desolation.

For a long time there had been a systematic endeavour, by the wits and philosophers of France, to root out all faith in the Christian religion. Voltaire, Diderot, D'Alembert, the whole clique of the encyclopaedists, Rousseau, Condorcet, and numbers of others, had employed every weapon of ridicule, sarcasm, and argument to unchristianise Europe. They had drawn their original views from our own infidel writers, Hobbes, Tindal, Hume, &c., and they had applied them with wonderful effect to the inhuman and putrid condition of France. The tales of Voltaire, charged with the most vile, indecent, and insolent mockeries of the sacred writings, the Confessions and Nouvelle Heloise of Rousseau, had penetrated to every corner of France, and had produced the most ruinous effects. The grave reasonings of the encyclopaedists, and the Contrat Sociale of Rousseau, though they did not reach the common people directly, were greedily imbibed by those just above them, who were soon to become their teachers, and from whose speeches and journals - the foaming yeast of political levelling - they were to be amply leavened with them at second hand. By this new philosophy, so called, every ancient principle was annihilated; every binding and social force was destroyed, and, in their stead, the Rights of Man, and the liberty, equality, and fraternity of the human race, were preached as a most delectable doctrine to a multitude totally destitute of every motive for self- restraint and every sense of duty towards others. Society, under such circumstances, must inevitably become only a scene of the wildest license; selfishness, without inward law, was set free from all outward law, and the result must be universal destruction of the old, without a single germ of reconstruction of the beneficial or the wise in the new. The doctrine of the Rights of Man, in a multitude without knowledge and without virtue, could only be the doctrine of every man seizing whatever he could. Carried out to its ultimate issue, it was an analytical principle which must throw down and divide so long as anything was tangible and divisible. True, these philosophers and soi-disant philanthropists dealt largely in certain phrases, such as brotherhood, and pure reason, and instincts of humanity; but as they, at the samt) time, asserted the mere materiality of man, and treated spiritual life and moral responsibility as fables, their fine words were words and nothing more, possessing no more force on the surface of the raging sea of excited human passion, than the foam on the crest of the ocean surge. Christianity once dethroned, the only religion and the only philosophy which ever opposed and demanded the annihilation of self was gone, and the new philosophy became only a spectre light playing over a charnel-house.

The spiritual condition of the French people fully exposed them to the poison of this new teaching. They had never been taught the real truths of the New Testament; they had never been permitted to make acquaintance with its text. They had received their religion from a race of priests, who taught them in a foreign language, and whose lives, as the interpretation of their tenets, presented only atheism. The people saw them only part and parcel of their oppressors; as living in pomp, luxury, and the grossest sensuality. Their religion was a mere tissue of forms, and rites, and spectacles, and the people had only to be told that this so-called Christianity was a hoax, and a machinery of selfish priestcraft, to abandon it, to trample upon it, and to rush to the plunder of its shrines. The French revolution, from mere political and physical causes, was certain to be fearful; but, with this addition of a philosophical atheism, it could be nothing but Pandemonium broken loose!

Had there ascended the throne a monarch of vigorous character, who could have attached to his person the army, by consulting their interests and their ambition, the outbreak of the people would have been speedily crushed; for, after all that has been said of the bravery of the French mob, it is an undoubted fact, as will be seen, that it was brave only in the absence of any real danger. On every occasion when a vigorous resistance was made, not only the mob but the National Assembly trembled and recoiled; the most violent of the orators and journalists fled and hid themselves. But the whole government was demoralised and enfeebled; and whilst the mob grew daring from the consciousness of this fact, the monarch had neither vigour to quell the storm, nor political sagacity to guide the state through it. Sweeping changes were inevitable, and Louis had neither the head nor the hand to conduct them.

The people might have dragged on a considerable time still in their misery ; but the government was in its death- throes for want of revenue. The administration groaned beneath a mountain of debts ; the mass of the people were exhausted in their resources; trade was ruined by these causes; and the nobility and clergy clung convulsively to their prescriptive exemptions from taxation. Long before the American war, the state was in reality bankrupt. The prime minister of Louis XVI., the count de Maurepas, was never of a genius to extricate the nation from such enormous difficulties; but now he was upwards of eighty years of age; and, besides that, stereotyped in aristocratic prejudices. Still, he had the sense to catch at the wise propositions of Turgot, who was made comptroller-general, and, had he been permitted to have his way, might have effected much. That he could ever have averted the revolution, is most improbable, but he might have softened its ferocity by abating some of the evils which provoked it. Turgot insisted that there must be a rigid and inflexible economy introduced into all departments of the state, in order gradually to discharge the debts. The excellent Malesherbes being also appointed minister of justice, these two able and good men recommended a series of reforms which must have struck the old and incorrigible courtiers and noblesse with consternation. They prevailed in having the parliament restored, and they recommended that the king should, by their hands, himself initiate the business of reform, thus preventing it falling into less scrupulous hands, and attaching the body of the people to him by the most encouraging expectations. They recommended the abolition of the infamous gabelle, or tax on salt, which was so severe a grievance on the people; the corvee, or compulsory labour on the roads without payment, equally infamous, and other tyrannical usages, arising out of the feudal system ; and that the nobility and clergy should be compelled to pay taxes as well as the people. These reforms would, of course, cause a strong resistance from the influential bodies whose old, unjust immunities they attacked; but it was certain that the people and the commercial community would support the king in the work, without which these and a thousand other odious privileges must be brushed away by a ruder hand. They proposed that tallages, and other like services, which had been so long abolished in England, should be converted into fixed and equable imposts ; that there should be a thorough reform of the criminal code and the whole system of judicature, and that torture, which at this late period still disgraced the French courts of law, should be abolished. They insisted on the declaration of full liberty of conscience, the gradual suppression of the convents and monasteries, and the withdrawal of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction from civil causes. They proposed that there should be a regulation of ecclesiastical revenues, so that the working clergy should no longer starve whilst the dignitaries of the church were living in sloth and luxury. In fact, they extended their schemes of reform to the whole public, social and religious. They demanded that old feudal rents and obligations should be extinguished by purchase; that all the ancient fetters of trade should be removed ; that duties and customs, which separated one province of the empire from another, should be abolished, and that measures should be introduced for encouraging internal communication by canals and roads, and the formation of local boards of administration, in which the landowners and the municipal bodies should alike operate for public improvements. Turgot presented his calculations and his enlightened economic plans, and Malesherbes drew up his two memoirs " On the calamities of France, and the means of reparing them ; n but they had not a monarch with the mind and the nerve to carry out the only reforms which could save the monarchy. Turgot, who was of the modern school of philosophy himself, and well knew the heads of the school, recommended that they should be employed by government. Had this been done, the voices that were raised so fatally against the king and crown, might have been raised for them, and the grand catastrophe averted. But Louis could not be brought to listen to any measures so politic ; indeed, he was listening, instead, to the cries of fierce indignation which the privileged classes were raising against all reform. Turgot succeeded in abolishing the corvees, the interior custom-houses between one province and another, and some other abuses, but there the great plan was stopped. Both Louis and his minister, Maurepas, shrank from the wrath of the noblesse and the clergy, and desisted from all further reform.

By a still greater fatality, Louis was persuaded to comply with the solicitations of the American colonists, to assist them in throwing off their allegiance to England. To rend these colonies from England, who had deprived France of Canada and Nova Scotia, was too flattering to French vanity and French desire of revenge. Turgot in vain protested that the first cannon that was fired would insure revolution ; Louis consented to the American alliance, and thus set the seal to his own destruction. Bitterly did he rue this afterwards, still more bitterly was it rued by his queen, when they both saw the fatal infection of republicanism brought back from America by the army. When Turgot saw that this fatal war was determined upon, he retired before the wild rage of the noblesse and clergy, and from the ruinous weakness of the king. Minister after minister rapidly succeeded each other in the vain endeavour to keep up the old partial laws and privileges, the old extravagance and incumbrances, at the command of the king, and yet avert revolution. Maurepas, Vergennes, Calonne, Brienne, Necker, went on with petty reforms, or no reforms, struggling with the colossal evils of the government, till driven to the summoning of the states-general, which was at once opening the door, and inaugurating the revolution.

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