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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 24


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The king, appeased by the repeal of the obnoxious decrees, the next day presented himself at the assembly, and was received with unanimous applauses. There were cries of, "Vive le Roi!" and even " Vive sa Majeste!" The king addressed them bare-headed and standing, and this soothed the pride of the assembly. He dwelt upon the state of the finances, of the army, and the foreign relations of France. He said, that in order that their labours might produce good, it was necessary that there should exist between the king and the legislative body a constant harmony and unalterable confidence; that enemies would seek to disturb their repose, but that the love of their country should ally them, and render them inseparable; that property and opinion in every man ought to be respected, so that no one should have an excuse for living away from the country; that he himself would use every exertion to produce these effects. Though the king, and the queen, too, had just really been writing to Leopold of Austria to assure him that, unless something was done by foreign powers to put a stop to the revolution, there would soon be not a crowned head in Europe, much less in France, yet the speech of Louis was delivered with so much seeming sincerity, that there were loud applauses, and M- Partout, the president, a moderate constitutionalist, replied that the royal speech was like a new oath to the constitution; that the revolution, so far from weakening his power, had rendered him the greatest monarch in the world. Louis retired amid acclamations, and the court and royalists entertained new hopes from the circumstance. But these impressions were destined to be speedily erased. The assembly was anxious to dispel the semblance of a momentary weakness which had thus possessed it. It already blushed at its moderation for a day, and was anxious to cast fresh jealousies betwixt the throne and the nation. There were three subjects on which it was necessary that the assembly should enter - the clergy, the emigration, and the impending war, and on each of these the court was secretly at variance with it. The very same day on which the king visited the assembly, the first topic was introduced by Couthon, who demanded rigorous measures against the un-sworn, or, as they were styled, unconstitutional priests. The constituent assembly never committed a greater legislative blunder than when it imposed the civil oath on the clergy; that act at once divided the clergy into two factions - those who were willing to take it, and those who would not, and were, therefore, ordered to be expelled from their cures. Dividing the clergy, it divided the people, who, according to their opinions, supported one ecclesiastical section or the other. The assembly, when it confiscated the church property, and made the clergy the pensioners of the state, should, as became a people professing itself free, have left freedom of conscience, and allowed the people to choose their own pastors. If they went further than this, and desired to break the power and tyranny of Rome, they should have left religion to maintain itself; but, paying such as consented to take this shibboleth of an oath, and rejecting the rest, it created an ecclesiastical civil war in the country, and a war which threatened, not only the peace, but the stability of the civil government. In the words of the historian of the Gironde, " The revolution, until then exclusively political, became schism in the eyes of a portion of the clergy and the faithful. Amongst the bishops and the priests, some took the civil oath, which was the guarantee of their existence; others refused, or, having taken it, retracted. This gave rise to trouble in many minds - agitation in consciences, division in the temples. The great majority of parishes had two ministers, the one a constitutional priest, salaried and protected by government; the other refractory, refusing the oath, deprived of his income, driven from the church, and raising opposition altars in private chapels or in open fields. These two ministers of the same worship excommunicated each other, the one in the name of the constitution, and the other in the name of the pope and the church. The population was also divided, according to the greater or less revolutionary spirit prevailing in the province. In cities and the more enlightened districts the constitutional worship was exercised almost without dispute; in the open country, and the less civilised departments, the priest who had not taken the oath became a consecrated tribune, who, at the foot of the altar, or on the elevation of the pulpit, agitated the people and inspired it, by instilling horror against a constitutional and schismatic priesthood, with hatred of the government which protected it."

But it went further than this. In La Vendde, Deux- Sevres, and other remote and agricultural districts, the priests, strong in the devotion of their confiding people, resisted the law, and remained in possession of the churches in defiance of the assembly. The king, a sincere catholic, secretly sympathised with the non-juring clergy. The Girondists wished to compel him to declare himself, as this would be another step towards a republic, and therefore pressed the question. The circumstances of the country were serious enough to warrant the discussion. In Brittany the people adhered to their non-juring priests, and fled from contact with the sworn ones. On Sundays, bodies of many thousands, where they had been expelled from the churches, followed their pastors to remote localities for public worship. In other places they did stout battle for them in the churches themselves; in Caen blood had flowed before the very altars on such occasions.

The assembly had sent out a commission, consisting of Gallois and Gensonne, the latter a zealous Girondist, and on the 9th of October these gentlemen presented their report. It drew a startling picture of the state of things in La Vendee and Deux-Sevres, to which they had been sent. They declared that the epoch of taking the ecclesiastical oath was the first epoch of the disturbances in La Vendee; till then the people there had enjoyed the greatest tranquillity. Remote from the common centre of all action and resistance; disposed by their natural character to the love of peace, to the sentiment of order, to respect for the laws, they reaped the benefits of the revolution, without experiencing its storms. In the difficulty of communications, the simplicity of a purely agricultural life, the lessons of childhood, and the religious emblems destined incessantly to engage the attention, had opened the soul to a multitude of superstitious impressions, which, in the present state of things, no kind of instruction can either destroy or moderate.

Nothing, the report said, had been neglected by the unsworn priests to influence the people through these means. Many of these priests were sincere in the doctrines they taught; many were zealous merely through faction. The bishop of Lucon had addressed a circular letter to the clergy of his diocese, enjoining them by all means to avoid all intercourse with the sworn priests; to refuse to say mass in the churches which such had usurped, although the decree of the assembly permitted this; to regard all churches in which these intruders had entered as polluted; to refuse to be married by them, as all the children of such marriages would be, in the eyes of God and of the church, illegitimate. Where the civil power refused a separate place of burial, or where the relatives objected to any cemetery but that at the old church, those attending funerals were enjoined to set down their dead at the church door and leave it, so as not to sanction the officiation of the intruding priest; to keep a separate register of baptisms, marriages, and deaths; and for the ejected pastor still to consider himself as the only true pastor.

These injunctions had been zealously enforced by missionaries, who had been established, about sixty years before, at the village of St. Laurent, district of Montaign, who had traversed La Vendee, Chatillon, and Deux-Sevres, distributing medals, rosaries, and indulgences, and setting up calvaries of all forms by the roads. These missionaries had extended their labours all over the late provinces of Poitou, Anjou, Bretagne, and Aunis. They had been actively assisted by the grey nuns, called filles de sagesse (daughters of wisdom), also established in St. Laurent; that these missionaries, male and female, had written instructions with them, which had been found on' their persons, commanding them to warn the country people against holding any communications whatever with the priests, whom they called intruders; to receive no sacrament at their hands; to consider that, if their children should be called illegitimate, they were not so before God; and that it was better that a marriage should be valid in the sight of God than of men.

They quoted an arret of the department of Maine and Loire, showing that the-same state of things existed there. There, for the most part, the old non-juring priests remained; the newly-elected declined to encounter the enmity of the people. The grand-vicars and cures had bound themselves to maintain the secret coalition. Where removals had been effected, it had broken up families; wives left their husbands, parents their children, in these divisions. Municipalities dissolved themselves, that they might not be called on to enforce the removal of non-juring priests. The citizens had extensively renounced the service of the national guard from the same motives, and those acting could not be depended on for supporting this edict of the assembly. In many departments, judges and members of electoral bodies were odious to the people, as instruments for supporting this law. In other districts, where f removals had been effected, you saw ten or twelve persons attending mass by the sworn priest, and whole villages going off from one to ten leagues to attend mass by a non-juring priest.

M. Dumouriez had to accompany the commissioners for a month to support their authority, for he was now a general, and could bring up military, if needed, for they could expect no assistance from the national guards or the gendarmerie. From La Vendee they proceeded to Chatillon. There they were universally petitioned to allow the old priests to remain, or, where they had been ejected, that they might have them back again. " We desire no other favour," they said, " than to have priests in whom we have confidence." They found, in all these departments, that the people had divided themselves into two parties on the subject: those who adhere to the unsworn priests styling themselves aristocrats, those who adhere to the sworn, patriots. Finally, they observed that, " examining the efficacy of this measure, we saw that, if faithful catholics have no confidence in the priests who have taken the oath, it is not the way to inspire them with more to remove from them in this manner the priests of their choice." Thus the opinion of the commission was adverse to the decree imposing the civil oath on the clergy.

The report being read, a powerful discussion took place upon it. It was opened by Fauchet, the new constitutional bishop of Calvados. The abbé Fauchet, as we have seen, was one of the heroes of the Bastille; he continued an ardent revolutionist, and was rewarded with one of the constitutional bishoprics by the first assembly. He now demanded a vigorous repression of the unsworn priests. "We are accused," he said, "of a desire to persecute. It is calumny. No persecution. Fanaticism is greedy of it; real religion repulses it; philosophy holds it in horror. Let us beware of imprisoning the non-jurors; of exiling, or even of displacing them. Let them think, say, write all they please against us; we will oppose our thoughts to their thoughts, our truths to their errors, our charity to their hatred. Time will do the rest. But, in awaiting its infallible triumph, we must find an efficacious and prompt mode of hindering them from prevailing over weak minds, and propagating ideas of a counter revolution. A counter revolution! This is not a religion, gentlemen! Fanaticism is not compatible with liberty. Look else at these ministers; they have swum in the blood of patriots. This is their own expression. Compared with these priests, atheists are angels. However, I repeat, let us tolerate, but do not let us pay them. Let us not pay them to rend our country to pieces. It is to this measure only that we should confine ourselves. What service do they render? They invoke ruin on our laws, and they say they follow their consciences! Must we pay consciences that urge their possessors to the ruin of their country? What a saving of thirty millions of francs which the nation pays annually to her most implacable enemies! Why have we this phalanx of priests who have abjured their ministry? - these legions of canons and monks; these cohorts of abbes, friars, and beneficed clergy of all sorts, who are not remarkable except for their pretensions, inutility, intrigues, and licentious lives, or, as now, by their vindictive interference, their schemes, their unwearied hatred of the revolution? Why should we pay these men to preach emigration? to send coin from the realm? To foment conspiracies against us both from within and from without? Go, say they to the nobility, combine your attacks with the foreigners; let blood flow in streams, provided we recover our privileges. This is their church! Who shall say that we ought to endow it?"

Tourne, the constitutional bishop of Bourges, replied to Fauchet with more tolerance. He contended that the priests were not guilty, they were only led astray by their peculiar ideas of the church and of government; that to punish them by a proscription of hunger, was not to enlighten them or their hearers, but only to envenom public feeling, and degrade the founders of liberty to persecutors; that it was much better not to see the errors of the non-juring priests. He declared that they had nothing to do but to found practical liberty on the base of tolerance; and he referred to Virginia and Germany, where opposite creeds alternately worshipped in the same churches. " That," he said, " is what we should tend to; these are the principles which ought to implant themselves widely amongst a people."

Ducos, a young and ardent Girondist, proposed the printing of Tourne's speech, and his motion was highly applauded; but, at the next sitting, Fauchet replied to it, and warned the assembly that the priests were intolerable tyrants, and would create civil troubles in return for mistaken tenderness. He begged them to remember what had lately occurred at Caen, where a crowd of fanatic women, excited by the priests, had fallen on a constitutional cure, dreadfully maltreated him, and endeavoured to hang him before his own altar. Gensonne proposed that all civil power should be taken from the priesthood; that marriages should be made valid by the magistrates; that all corporations of secular priests, like those of St. Laurent, and all associations of sisters, like the filles de sagesse, should be broken up; and that schools, alms-houses, hospitals, registers, &c., should be confided to laymen, and that the clergy, elected by their own parishes, should be left to preach in peace.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 24

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