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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 6

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But at this time Sieyes, with his love of liberty, did not comprehend the danger of letting loose millions of ignorant, oppressed, and debauched proletaires. He hated tyrants, but he had yet to learn that there are other and even worse tyrants than kings and nobles - the tyrant passions of a lawless, uneducated, and unchristianised mob. On the other hand, there were not wanting those at this crisis who warned the king of the certain consequences of giving the tiers etat the preponderance in the states-general. The princes of the blood, the count of Artois, the prince of Conde, the duke of Bourbon, the duke of Enghien, and the prince of Conti - addressed a memorial to the king, and published it, declaring that, to consent to the tiers etat equalling the two other orders, would be, in fact, to sweep away monarchy, nobility, church, and everything. Every one who knew the real condition of France, and the miseries, and oppressions, and innate ferocity of the French populace, must see that inevitably; but the crown and the privileged orders had driven matters to this extremity, and there was no alternative. Give the tiers etat power to control the two other orders combined, and down must come the whole ancient regime, with all its insolence and tyrannies, and with everything which might be of better nature in it; refuse that, and the tiers etat, groaning with famine and desperation, and incited to fury by the new doctrines of equality, and revolution would force itself out by some other way. The convulsion must come; because, in the party possessing wealth and honour, there was no idea of concession; and in the popular party no longer any patience of endurance.

Necker, the hoped-for preserver in this dilemma, was as completely at a loss as every one else. He proposed to the king to assemble the notables again, in order to settle the question whether the tiers etat should equal in numbers the two other orders? and whether the three orders should deliberate in three separate chambers, or altogether in one? The expedient was preposterous; it had been seen in Calonne's time how the notables would act, for they were of the privileged orders, and would assuredly vote for their preponderance. They were called together, however, on the 6th of November, 1788, and, sitting in six different bureaus, according to the six ancient nations of which France was composed, a prince of the blood presiding in each, and with one exception, the whole of these bureaus, as might have been foreseen, voted that the tiers etat should not double their number. They were immediately dismissed, and Necker, on his own responsibility, proposed to the king, at the close of the year 1788, to give the tiers etat the desired double representation. Poor Louis, frightened and confounded, next sought the opinion of the parliament of Paris; but this body had already incurred the hatred of the populace, by giving their opinion for the old form of the states-general; and they now declined giving a further utterance on the question, declaring that this matter belonged strictly to the king. Driven to decide, and with Necker urging him, and representing the perils of refusing the popular demand, Louis issued an order that the states- general should meet at Versailles, in the month of May, 1789; that the tiers etat should have the double representation; and that it should be left to the states-general themselves whether they would sit in one hall or three. The number of the deputies altogether, it was resolved, should be one thousand, and should be formed in a ratio composed of the population and the amount of taxes paid by each baillage.

This declaration was received in Paris with enthusiasm, and, as it was supposed to be produced by the influence of Necker, he received an accession of popularity with the people, and hatred with the nobles. In the provinces, the announcement called forth a scene of universal confusion and contention. The people and the nobles were thrown into violent opposition. Wherever the nobles and clergy possessed the power, the exultation of the people was crushed; wherever the people preponderated - as in towns - they attacked and intimidated the menacing noblesse and clergy. The firmness of the people was doubled by the stringency of famine. All kinds of trade and manufactures were at a stand; bread, and every article of food, was enormous in price, and extremely scarce - money scarcer still. In Brittany, where the people had of late shown such determination against the forcing of the parliament, the nobles now protested stoutly against the numbers of the tiers etat equalling that of the other two orders; and they and the people came to blows about it in the streets of Rennes, and blood was spilled. The parliaments of Besancon, Aix, Grenoble, and nearly all the provincial parliaments which had demanded the states-general, now declared that in its present shape it would ruin the privileged orders, the king, and kingdom. The name of Necker, the assumed counsellor of the double number of the tiers etat, was execrated by the nobles and clergy, and rapturously applauded by the people.

In the country, the elections proceeded amid much tumult, and many faction fights; in Paris, they went on in the face of numbers of troops, who charged their muskets in view of the people. The famine was intense. The great hail-storm which made such havoc with the crops in July of the preceding summer, had been followed by a terrible winter, and the bakers were in constant terror from the starving multitude; and there were direful threats against the hoarders of grain. The states-general were to open on the 27th of April; but, to the great resentment of the people, they were adjourned to the 4th of May. The elections were delayed to the very eve of the assembling of the states, and were conducted in the capital under strict regulations. A special rule, introduced after the meeting of the convocation, named as electors of the first rank such as paid six livres of city rate. Lists were distributed, and certain persons in each district were named as those who should be candidates for the offices, the president, vice-president, and secretaries of the general election committee. But in only three of the districts were those returned the same as the king had named. Finally, from these were elected the advocate Torget, vice-president Camus, and as secretaries, Bailly the astronomer, and Guillotin, a physician. The elections went on in the different churches, and the electors, under a president of their own choice, triumphed over the archbishop, who endeavoured to influence the elections according to his own predilections. Tradesmen, lawyers literary men, found themselves, for the first time, thus brought together, and felt a new power in this union. The learned Bailly, who had hitherto lived so retired, came forth from his retreat at Chaillot, and proceeded on foot to the general bureau. As he paused for a moment on the terrace of the Feuillans, he was addressed by a young man. " You will be returned," he said. " I cannot tell," replied Bailly; "the honour ought neither to be solicited nor refused," and he walked on.

Whilst matters were thus quietly proceeding, there came a terrible interruption. A mob, in rags, rushed along the faubourg St. Antoine, demanding the head of an elector, Reveillon, a paper manufacturer, who, it was said, had declared that he would reduce the wages of his workmen one half. Reveillon had himself risen from the condition of a working man to wealth. The mob hanged him in effigy at his own door, then marched with the figure to the Place de Greve, and burnt it under the windows of the Hotel de Ville, the office of the city magistrates. Having done this under the eyes of the lieutenant of police, Flesselles, the prevot des marchands, the intendant Breathier and all the agents of the court who had surrounded the electors with soldiers, all of whom remained inactive, they then announced that, on the morrow, they would execute justice on Reveillon himself. It is amazing that, after this spectacle and announcement, the police took no measures of precaution. The colonel of the guards made a show of protection to Reveillon's property and life, but it was a ludicrous one, consisting merely of a guard of thirty men. These soon found themselves useless in the midst of a dense mob of from one to two thousand thieves, and a hundred thousand spectators. The house was forced open, everything was broken and destroyed; nothing was carried away, except what money could be found, and with which the thieves regaled themselves in the wine-shops and cabarets; and all this was done by a crowd, without arms, under the very guns of the Bastille! The mob was at length dispersed; but it returned the next day, and burned down the house; they were then fired on by the soldiers, and a considerable number of the ragged rioters killed. Money was found in many of their pockets, and it was industriously circulated amongst the aristocracy, that this money had been distributed amongst the crowd by the agents of the duke of Orleans, but more probably it was seized in the sacking of Reveillon's house. Besenval cleared the streets with his Swiss guards, and from four to five hundred killed and wounded were the first characteristic outbreak of this most bloody revolution,. Another equally characteristic fact was, that whilst all this mischief was doing, the mob continued to cry, " Down with the aristocrats!" From the first, the destruction of the privileged orders was uppermost in the mind of the populace.

The nobles and the titled clergy, justly alarmed, rushed to the court, and sought protection there as the natural quarter. Unfortunately for them, the king rather regarded the people as the enemies of the privileged orders than of the court, and he fondly hoped that the states-general would enable him to crush, in some degree, the overbearing conduct and pretensions of these classes. He did not at all perceive the truth, that crown, court, nobles, and clergy were all alike inimical, and all alike doomed.

The time was come for the assembling of the states. On the 4th of May, Versailles was crowded by immense masses of people from Paris, and from all the country round, to see the grand procession of the deputies of the three orders advancing from the church of Notre Dame to that of St. Louis. The whole of the costumes, the order of march, and the spectacle had been carefully studied by the court, and so studied as to impress deeply the distinctions of the three orders, and to humiliate the tiers etat. The evening before, the deputies had waited on the king, and even then he had greatly incensed those of the tiers etat who came most favourably disposed to him. Even whilst he hoped to obtain essential advantages from the people against the presumption of the privileged orders, Louis or his advisers could not refrain from humiliating the third estate. Instead of receiving the deputies in one body, they" had been carefully separated; the clergy were received first, the nobles next, and then, not till after a considerable pause, the tiers.

Now, on the great morning, all Paris - all the vicinity - thousands from distant towns - were all astir. The broad streets of Versailles were lined with French and Swiss guards, and made gay with garlands of flowers, and from the windows hung rich tapestries. The balconies and windows were crowded with spectators of all ages and both sexes - the handsomest ladies gorgeously attired. The deputies, instead of one thousand, amounted to one thousand two hundred. First marched the members of the tiers etat, six hundred in number, all clad in plain black mantles, white cravats, and slouched hats. Next went the nobles in black coats, but the other garments of cloth of gold, silk cloak, lace cravat, plumed hat turned up a la Henry IV.; then the clergy, in surplice, with mantle, and square cap; the bishops in their purple robes, with their rochets. Last came the court, all ablaze with jewels and splendid robes; the king looking in good spirits, the queen anxious, and foreboding, even then, the miseries that were to follow. Her eldest son, the dauphin, was lying at the point of death in the palace, and her reputation was being daily murdered by the most atrocious calumnies. Yet still Marie Antoinette, the daughter of the great Maria Theresa, the once light-hearted, always kind and amiable woman, was the perfect queen in her stately beauty. She was still worthy of the eulogium of Burke, as he saw her, years before, at Versailles, when he wrote, " Surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision! I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in, glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendour, and joy." "Marie Antoinette," says madame le Brun, who had often painted her, "was tall, exquisitely well made, sufficiently plump, without being too much so. Her arms were superb, her hands small, perfect in form, and her feet charming. Her gait was more graceful than that of any woman in France. She held her head very erect, with a majesty which enabled you to distinguish the sovereign amidst all her court, and yet that majesty did not in the least detract from the extreme kindness and benevolence of her look. And," adds madame le Brun, " I do not think that queen Marie Antoinette ever missed an occasion to say an agreeable thing to those who had the honour to approach her."

Such was the woman whom the people of France already delighted to torture. As she passed, the women cried, " Vive le due d'Orleans!" trusting to wound her by naming her enemy. They were only too successful. The queen, at that cry, nearly fainted; but she summoned all her courage, recovered her firmness, and endeavoured to look calm.

Two things were remarked - the absence of Sieyes, and the presence of Mirabeau. Sieyes had not yet arrived; Mirabeau drew all regards. His immense head of hair; his lion-like head, marked by an ugliness quite startling, almost terrifying; the eyes of the spectators seemed fascinated by his look. He marched on visibly a man; the rest, before and after, appeared mere shadows. A man, in his time and his rank, unfortunate; vicious, as most of his grade were; scandalous even beyond them; revelling and courageous in vice; violent and even furious in his passions. But a new life was opening upon him; a life of new power - one in which he declared that his soul would re-germinate with France. There was a flush of excitement on his cheek; he carried his enormous head aloft with an air of proud audacity; that voice, so soon to thunder through France, to shake the very throne, alone unperceived at this moment.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 6

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