« PreviousContinue »
THE KING AS GOD OF JUSTICE.
right, and huddling together by the side of their judge, full of love and confidence.
"Tremble, tyrants! Do you not see that we have God on our side?" This is exactly the language of a poor simple people, who believe they have the king in their favour. They imagine they already behold in him the Angel of the Revolution, and, with outstretched arms, they invoke him, full of tenderness and hope. Nothing is more affecting to read, among other facts of this kind, than the account of the Grands jours d' Auvergne, the ingenuous hope of the people, the quaking of the nobility. A peasant, whilst speaking to a lord, had not uncovered; the noble knocked his hat off: "If you do not pick it up," said the peasant, "the High Days are approaching, and the king will cut your head off." The noble was afraid, and picked it up.
Grand, sublime position of royalty! Would that she had never forsaken it; would that the judge of all had not become the judge of a few, and that this God of Justice had not, like the God of the theologians, wished also to have his elect!
Such confidence, and such love! and yet, all betrayed! That well-beloved king was hardhearted towards his people. Search everywhere, in books and pictures, contemplate him in his portraits not a motion, not one look, reveals the least emotion of the heart. The love of a whole people—that grand
* The gens du roi, or, parlementaires, who inspired the people with so much confidence (and who, it is true, have done important services) did not, however, represent Justice more seriously than the priests represented Grace. This regal justice was, after all, subject to the king's good pleasure. A great master of Machiavelism, Cardinal Dubois, explains, with much good sense and precisión, in a memorial to the regent against the States-General (vol. i. of the Moniteur), the very simple mechanism of this parliamentary game, the steps of this minuet, the figures of this dance, up to the lit de Justice which ends the whole affair, by putting Justice under the feet of the king's good pleasure. As to the States-General, which were a subject of dread to Dubois, Saint Simon, his adversary, recommends them as an expedient at once innocent, agreeable and easy, for dispensing one from paying one's debts, for rendering bankruptcy honourable, canonizing it, to use his own expression; moreover, those States are never seriously effective, says he very properly: verba, roces, nothing more. I say that there was, both in the States and in the parliaments, one thing most serious; which is, that those vain images of liberty occupied, employed, the little vigour and spirit of resistance that subsisted. The reason why France could not have a constitution, is, that she believed she had one.
FAMINE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
rarity, that true miracle-has succeeded only in making of their idol a miracle of egotism.
He took Adoration at its word, and believed himself a God. But he comprehended nothing in that word God. To be a God is to live for all; but he becomes more and more the king of the court; the few he sees, that band of gilded beggars who beset him, are his people. A strange Divinity, he contracted and stifled a world in one man, instead of extending and aggrandizing that man to the measure of a world. His whole world now is Versailles; and even there, look narrowly; if you find some petty, obscure, dismal closet, a living tomb, that is all he wants; enough for one individual.*
FAMINE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
I WILL presently investigate the idea on which France subsisted the government of grace and paternal monarchy; that inquiry will be much promoted perhaps, if I first establish, by authentic proofs, the results in which this system had at length terminated. A tree is known by its fruits.
First, nobody will deny that it secured for this people the glory of a prodigious and incredible patience. Read the foreign travellers of the last two centuries; you behold them stupified, when travelling through our plains, at their wretched appearance, at the sadness, the solitude, the miserable poverty, the dismal, naked, empty cottages, and the starving, ragged population. There they learn what man is able to endure without dying; what nobody, neither the English, the Dutch, nor the Germans, would have supported.
What astonishes them still more, is the resignation of this people, their respect for their masters, lay or ecclesiastical, and their idolatrous attachment for their kings. That they should preserve, amid such sufferings, so much patience and meekness, such goodness and docility, so little rancour for
*I allude to the little dark apartment of Madame de Maintenon, where Louis XIV. expired. For his personal belief of his own divinity, see especially his surprising Memoirs written before his face and revised by himself.
FASTING OF THE ARMIES OF LOUIS XIV.
oppression, is indeed a strange mystery. It perhaps explains itself partly by the kind of careless philosophy, the too indifferent facility with which the Frenchman welcomes bad weather; it will be fine again sooner or later; rain to-day, sunshine to-morrow. He does not grumble at a rainy day.
French sobriety also, that eminently military quality, aided their resignation. Our soldiers, in this matter, as in every other, have shown the limits of human endurance. Their fasting, in painful marches and excessive toils, would have frightened the lazy hermits of the Thebais, such as Anthony and Pachomus.
We must learn from Marshal Villars how the armies of Louis XIV. used to live: "Several times we thought that bread would absolutely fail us; then, by great efforts, we got together enough for half a day: the next day is got over by fasting. When M. d'Artagnan marched, the brigades not marching were obliged to fast. Our sustenance is a miracle, and the virtue and firmness of our soldiers are marvellous. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, say they to me as I pass through the ranks, after they have but the quarter and the half ration. I encourage them and give them promises; they merely shrug up their shoulders, and gaze at me with a look of resignation that affects me. The Marshal is right,' say they;
we must learn to suffer sometimes.'
Patience! Virtue! Resignation! Can any one help being affected, on meeting with such traces of the goodness of our fathers?
Who will enable me to go through the history of their long sufferings, their gentleness and moderation? It was long the astonishment, sometimes the laughing-stock of Europe! Great merriment was it for the English to see those soldiers halfstarved and almost naked, yet cheerful, amiable, and good towards their officers; performing, without a murmur, immense marches, and, if they found nothing in the evening, making their supper of songs,
If patience merits heaven, this people, in the two last centuries, truly surpassed all the merits of the saints; but how shall we make the legend? Their vestiges are widely diffused. Misery is a general fact; the virtue to support it a virtue so common among us, that historians seldom deign to
DIFFICULTY OF DESCRIBING THOSE MISERIES.
notice it. Moreover, history is defective in the eighteenth century; France, after the cruel fatigues of the wars of Louis XIV., suffers too much to relate her own story. No more memoirs; nobody has the courage to write his individual life; even vanity is mute, having but shame to tell. Till the philosophical movement, this country is silent,-like the deserted palace of Louis XIV.-surviving his own family, like the chamber of the dying man who still governs, the old Cardinal Fleury.
It is difficult to describe properly the history of those times, as they are unmarked by rebellions. No people ever had fewer. This nation loved her masters; she had no rebellion,— nothing but a Revolution.
It is from their very masters, their kings, princes, ministers, prelates, magistrates, and intendants, that we may learn to what extremities the people were reduced. It is they who are about to describe the restraints in which the people were held.
The mournful procession in which they all advance one after the other in order to recount the death of France, is led by Colbert in 1681: "One can go on no longer," says he, and he dies. They do go on however, for they expel half a million of industrious men about 1685, and kill still more, in a thirty years' war. But, good God! how many more die of misery!
As early as 1698, the result is visible. The intendants themselves, who create the evil, reveal and deplore it. In the memorials which they are asked to give for the young duke of Burgundy, they declare that such a province has lost the quarter of its inhabitants, another a third, and another the half. And the population is not renewed; the peasant is so miserable that his children are all weak, sickly, and unable to live.
Let us follow attentively the series of years. That deplorable period of 1698 becomes an object of regret. says Boisguillebert, a magistrate, "there was still oil in the lamp. To-day (1707) it goes out for want of nourishment."A mournful expression; and he adds a threatening sentence; one would think it was the year '89: "The trial will now be between those who pay, and those whose only function is to receive."
The preceptor to the grandson of Louis XIV., the Archbishop
MISERY UNDER THE REGENCY.
of Cambrai, is not less revolutionnaire than this petty Norman magistrate: "The people no longer live like men; it is no longer safe to rely upon their patience. The old machine will break up at the first shock. We dare not look upon the state of exhaustion which we have now attained; all we can do is to shut our eyes, open our hands, and go on taking."
Louis XIV. dies at last, and the people thank God. Happily we have the regent, that good duke of Orleans, who, if Fenelon still lived, would take him for his counsellor; he prints Telemachus; France shall be a Salentum. No more wars. We are now the friends of England; we give up to her our commerce, our honour, nay even our State secrets. Who would believe that, in the bosom of peace, this amiable prince, in only seven years, finds means to add to the two billions and a half of debts left by Louis XIV., seven hundred and fifty millions (of francs) more?-The whole paid up in paper.
"If I were a subject," he used to say, "I would most certainly revolt!" And when he was told that a disturbance was about to take place, "The people are right," said he; "they are goodnatured fools to suffer so long!
Fleury is as economical as the regent was lavish. Does France improve? I doubt it, when I see that the bread presented to Louis XV. as the bread that the people ate, is bread made of fern.
The Bishop of Chartres told him, that, in his diocese, the men browsed with the sheep. What is perhaps still stronger, is, that M. d'Argenson (a minister) speaking of the sufferings of those times, contrasts them with the good time. Guess which. That of the regent and the duke,-the time when France, exhausted by Louis XIV., and bleeding at every pore, sought a remedy in a bankruptcy of three billions!
Everybody sees the crisis approaching. Fenelon says, so early as 1709 : The old machine will break up at the first shock." It does not break up yet. Then Madame de Chateauroux, about 1742: "I see plainly that there will be a general overthrow, if no remedy be used."-Yes, Madam, everybody sees it, the king and your successor, Madame de Pompadour, as well as the economists, the philosophers, foreigners, everybody. All admire the longanimity of this people; it is Job sitting among the nations. O meekness!