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France: The Second Empire page 4


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The King of Prussia, accompanied by his son, came to visit the fallen and captive emperor. The two monarchs met last in Paris, three years before. The king came then as the emperor's guest during the Paris Exhibition, when Napoleon, at the pinnacle of human greatness, received all the crowned and otherwise illustrious persons of Europe. The altered circumstances of the present meeting were referred to in sympathizing terms by the conqueror, and good-naturedly attributed to imprudent advice. A castle in Germany was assigned as a place of residence for the emperor, who now finally disappears from history.

And now the way to Paris was cleared of every obstacle, and the Germans without loss of time began their march on the capital. So soon as the disaster of Sedan was known there, the Parisians deposed their emperor and erected a republic. The new government determined upon a strenuous defence. The Germans completely surrounded the city, and effectively cut off communication with the world outside. They did not inflict the horrors of bombardment, and were contented to wait till famine compelled surrender. During four months the Parisians endured the miseries of partial starvation - consuming animals whose flesh they loathed; maintaining postal communication with the world by the aid of balloons. At length endurance reached its limit; Paris was given over to the enemies of France; the humbled Parisians looked on while the countless hosts of Germany, entering by the Arc de Triomphe, marched in triumph down the magnificent avenue which leads to the Tuileries, and possessed themselves of the city. Their occupation was soon terminated by a treaty; but so miserable had the condition of Paris become, that she had reason to lament the departure even of her great enemy. For the communists, exasperated by privation, and emboldened by the humiliation of the authorities, undertook to found a government of their own. They seized Paris, manned its defences, and announced defiance of the republican government. For many weeks a French army besieged and shelled the capital. At last an entrance was forced. The wretched insurgents fighting with savage disregard of life, were in large measure slaughtered or made prisoners, but not till some of the finest buildings of Paris had perished by their incendiary hands.

During the German siege the king had occupied the palace of Versailles. The divisions of Germany were now healed; the last obstacle to the long-desired unity of the race was now overcome. For ages it had been the wicked policy of France to maintain, the divisions which kept her neighbours weak. So complete was her discomfiture that the union of all the German states was now consummated in a French palace by the coronation of King "William as the first emperor of united Germany.

The terms exacted by the conquerors expressed with terrible although not unreasonable severity the woe which waits upon the vanquished. Germany took back Alsace and Lorraine, once her own, and still, after two centuries of separation, retaining their use of her language. She demanded an indemnity of two hundred million sterling, in reimbursement of the charges to which France had unjustifiably put her. A German army would remain on French territory, upheld at French expense, till this huge claim was fully met. The entire cost of the war to France, apart from destruction of property and injury to commerce, was three hundred and seventy million. It seemed to many observers that France was hopelessly ruined, and it is probable the victors themselves intended that the enormous burden which they imposed should break the power of France to become again dangerous to her neighbours. But once more the ability of France to recover from pecuniary disaster was an astonishment to the world. M. Thiers was now president of the republic. He was able to discharge in full the claims of Germany, and terminate the occupation within the period fixed for that purpose by the treaty.

The sight of an empty throne naturally quickened the mischievous activities of those who claimed a right to occupy it. The adherents of each of the pretenders deemed that the hour of success was near, and busied themselves with vain intrigues. For a time it might be feared that a reaction in favour of some one of the rejected houses had set in. But the reaction was only apparent. M. Thiers, who resigned the presidency in May 1873, was succeeded by Marshal Macmahon, who claimed to be "an honest man and a soldier," and who proved no more successful in political than he had been in military life. Guided by the legitimist and priestly factions, he seemed ready to defy the wishes of the people, betray the republic, and force a new revolution. The French people, confident in the strength of the republican cause, exercised a calm forbearance which even their friends scarcely ventured to expect. The elections gave forth a voice so decisive that the marshal submitted to the popular will and ultimately resigned, yielding his authority to M. Grevy (M. Grevy resigned in 1887, and was succeeded by M. Sadi-Carnot).

The constitution under which France is at present governed is sufficiently democratic to have satisfied even the patriots of 1789. There are two legislative bodies - the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, Every citizen who is twenty-one years of age is entitled to vote in the election. Any citizen of twenty-five may be a deputy any citizen of forty may be a senator. The legislators receive payment for their services. The head of the government is the president, elected for seven years by the Senate and Chamber of Deputies met in national assembly. The president appoints his ministers, who are responsible to the chambers for their policy.

France is Catholic to the extent of ninety-eight per cent, of her population, but all religions are equal in law. A system of concurrent endowment prevails, the beneficiaries under which are Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. The Catholics receive about two million sterling; the Protestants sixty thousand pounds; and the Jewish rabbis five thousand pounds.

The education of the country is necessarily in large measure controlled by the Roman Catholic clergy. The amount annually expended on public instruction is about two million sterling, about the same amount as the church receives. Thirty per cent, of the French people above six years of age are still wholly without education - unable either to read or write. It is evident, however, that progress is being made; for while thirty-four per cent, of persons above twenty years of age are unable to read, only twenty-four per cent, of those between six years and twenty are in that condition. That progress is extremely irregular; for while in the north-eastern departments the wholly uneducated are only seven or eight per cent, of the population above six years of age, in the south-west they range as high as sixty per cent.

The first care of Trance after the fall of the empire was to create a new military system in room of that which had disappointed her so fatally. Copying now the system of her triumphant enemy, it was declared that every Frenchman owes to his country personal military service. Every citizen not physically disqualified must serve five years in the active army, and must then stand enrolled for fifteen years in the various reserve forces. Service by substitute is strictly forbidden; but the severity of this law is tempered by merciful exemptions in cases where family circumstances render the presence of the conscript specially needful at home. Practically these exemptions relieve from service about one-fourth of those who are liable. France maintains an army which, on its peace footing, numbers seven hundred and nineteen thousand men. Altogether she has two and a half million trained men ready to assume arms. She expends upon these enormous forces twenty million sterling.

The war navy of France consists of four hundred vessels, manned by conscription, and costing about seven million annually. Like other European, powers, France has cumbered herself with the large number of sixty huge ironclad steamers, in which the maximum of cost is so happily combined with the minimum of usefulness.

It has been the unvarying experience of the French, in all their recent political changes, that each of their new governments has been more costly than that which preceded it. The government of the first Napoleon was inexpensive because it was in large part supported by plunder. The expenditure under the restoration averaged forty million sterling. Louis Philippe raised the average to fifty-one million. The republic brought it up to sixty-three million. The second empire, with its practice of "fighting for an idea," cost France eighty-three million, and bequeathed entanglements which resulted in an annual expenditure of one hundred and seven million - the most enormous waste of the fruits of industry to which human mismanagement has yet attained.

The national debt of France has swelled out to the extraordinary aggregate of nine hundred and forty million sterling, and the annual interest is thirty million. This huge debt is the favourite investment of the careful French peasantry, and it is important to remark how large and how rapidly growing is the number of persons who by this means have become interested in the stability of French institutions. In the last year of the empire the creditors of the state numbered one million two hundred and fifty thousand; five years later they numbered four million three hundred and eighty thousand. Every second householder in France is in the position of having lent money to the government. The era of revolution may be presumed to have closed when a conservative influence so unprecedentedly powerful has been called into existence.

French law divides all landed possessions equally among the children of the owner. This arrangement has resulted in an extraordinary diffusion of ownership. Nearly two-thirds of French householders are land-owners (Only one British householder in every four is ail owner of land). Their holdings are of necessity very small. While fifty thousand persons own properties which average six hundred acres, and half a million whose average is sixty acres, there are five million whose possessions are under six acres. The subdivision of land is not without its inconveniences, but it is immeasurably more conducive to the general welfare than the absorption of the entire surface of the country by a very few individuals, as in Great Britain.

The French people increase more slowly than any other of the western nations of Europe. For several years after the fall of Napoleon stopped the waste of life in battle, the average excess of births over deaths was two hundred and eighty thousand; then it dwindled to about fifty thousand. In 1870 and 1871 the deaths exceeded the births by upwards of half a million. For some years there has been again a slight excess of births. But between the census of 1866 and that of 1881 there is a decline from thirty-eight million to thirty-seven million, part of which, however, is attributable to the cession of Alsace and Lorraine.

The foreign trade of France continues to advance with a quiet steadfastness which seems almost to disregard political disorders. The imports for home consumption increased from ninety-seven million sterling in 1861 to one hundred and sixty-eight million in 1886. During the same period the exports increased from seventy-seven, million sterling to one hundred and sixty-nine million.

The foreign commerce of France evinced a remarkable indifference to the disturbing influences of the war. The French people continued their usual relations with foreign countries while their capital was besieged and their provinces overrun by armed men. Their imports in 1870 were one-eighth less than in 1869; but in 1871 the increase compensated for this diminution. Thus also the exports diminished by six per cent. in 1870 and 1871; but the increase of the following year greatly more than made up for this trifling decline.

France sends to Great Britain nearly one-third of her total export. She supplies us largely with agricultural products - with butter, eggs, potatoes, seeds, hides, oil-cake. We are indebted to her for much beet-root sugar, for brandy, and for light wines. Her silks compete successfully with our own; her gloves are preferred to those we make ourselves; even in woollen and some grades of cotton manufactures we recognize the better taste of the French producer.

The French requite very imperfectly our liberal purchases of their products. Scarcely more than one-tenth of the goods they import are purchased in Great Britain. "We send them some coals and iron products, a few cotton and linen goods, and almost exactly the same value of woollen articles which we receive from them. Some silk goods also we succeed in disposing of to them; but the amount they buy from us is only one-third the amount they sell to us, and for some years it has been decreasing.

Notwithstanding the growth of her foreign trade, the mercantile navy of France has not increased since 1866, and is less than one million tons - about one-seventh that of Great Britain. France is imperfectly supplied with railways. She has only twenty thousand miles, and even of these one-half could not be constructed without a guarantee from the state. The people have not yet learned to travel so freely as the English do; for while in England the annual receipts of the railways are equal to about forty shillings for each of the population, in France they are less than half that amount. The French are still contented with a smaller amount of postal and telegraphic communication than their neighbours across the Channel. The average correspondence of every Englishman gives forty letters per annum; but the Frenchman's average is only eighteen. That, however, indicates rapid extension. The average was only ten a few years ago. Thus, too, the English use the telegraph at the rate of one message annually to each person, while the French average is only one message to five persons.

One-half of the French people are directly engaged in agriculture j three-fourths live in the country or in small towns, subject to rural influences. The changes of recent years have given to the provinces their just political authority, and the French peasant is now, therefore, a figure of prime importance in politics. He is extremely ignorant of all that is to be learned from books and newspapers, which indeed he shuns rather than courts, believing that education would unfit his children for the life of monotonous toil which is their destiny.

Although thus uneducated, he is acute, observant, is possessed of much tact, and is not without a certain native dignity of character and manner. He is superstitious, but also sceptical, and goes no further towards reception of the religion which the priest offers than to believe that it may do him some good, and can do him no harm. His wife maintains the family relations with the church, and is ordinarily under the dominion of the priest. He is frugal, industrious, patient, simple, and inexpensive in all his tastes and habits. In politics he is inclining more towards a conservative republicanism; although not wholly delivered from a lingering suspicion that the republic will one day seize and divide his possessions. He hates monarchy because of the traditions of old oppression, and his own bitter experiences of the miseries of war. He cares for no dynasty; in truth, he does not care greatly what form of government he lives under, so long as he is suffered to live quietly and accumulate his small earnings. The ballot protects him in his exercise of the franchise, and he votes independently. Very possibly he will vote under some ludicrous misconception, but neither the priest nor the local magnate will be suffered to guide his action. No man in Europe is more regardless of military glory, or less likely to go voluntarily into war. The French towns are fiery in their temper, and prone to a solution of difficulties by a recourse to violence. Rural France is peaceable, apathetic, penurious. Even now the French peasant is a valuable power on the side of peaceful government, and his value will grow with the progress of his education.

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