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PROCESSION OF THE STATES-GENERAL.
head erect, and his looks were full of audacity. Everybody seemed to forebode in him the loud appalling voice of France.
The Third Estate was in general applauded; next, among the nobility, the Duke of Orleans alone; and lastly the King, whom they thanked for having convoked the States. Such was the justice of the people.
On the passage of the Queen, there were a few murmurs; a few women shouted: "Vive le duc d'Orleans!" thinking to pique her the more by naming her enemy. This made a great impression upon her; she was nearly fainting, and they had to support her; but she recovered very soon, carrying erect her haughty and still handsome countenance. She attempted from that moment to meet the public hatred with a stedfast, disdainful stare. A sad effort, which did not heighten her beauty. In her solemn portrait which was left us in 1788, by her painter, Madame Lebrun, who loved her, and must have adored her with her very affection, we perceive nevertheless something already repulsive, disdainful, and hardened. †
Thus this grand festival of peace and union, showed symptoms of war. It pointed out a day for France to unite and embrace in one common thought, and at the same time went the very way to divide it. On merely beholding that diversity of costumes imposed on the deputies, one found the harsh but true expression of Sieyes at once realised: "Three orders? no: three nations !
The court had hunted into old books, to find out the odious details of a gothie ceremonial, those oppositions of classes, those signs of social distinctions and hatred which it should rather have buried in oblivion. Blazonry, figures, and symbols, after Voltaire, after Figaro! It was late. To tell the truth, it was not so much the mania for old costumes that had guided the court, as the secret pleasure of mortifying and lowering those petty people who, at the elections, had been
*Campan, ii., p. 37.
Compare the three portraits at Versailles. In the first (in white satin) she is a coquette, still pleasing; she feels she is loved. In the second (in red velvet and furs) surrounded by her children; her daughter is leaning gently upon her; but all in vain; the want of feeling is incurable; her look is fixed, dull, and singularly harsh (1787). In the third (in blue velvet, 1788) alone, with a book in her hand, quite a queen, but melancholy and unfeeling.
OPENING, 5TH MAY, 1789.
acting the part of kings, and to remind them of their low origin. Weakness was playing at the dangerous game of humiliating the strong for the last time.
As early as the 3rd of May, on the eve of the Mass of the Holy Ghost, the deputies being presented at Versailles, the king, at that moment of cordiality and easy emotion, chilled the deputies, who had almost all arrived favourably disposed towards him. Instead of receiving them mingled together by provinces, he made them enter by orders: the clergy, the nobility first-then, after a pause, the Third Estate.
They would willingly have imputed such petty insolence to the officers and valets; but Louis XVI. showed but too plainly that he himself was tenacious of the old ceremonial. At the sitting on the 5th, the king having covered himself, and the nobility after him, the Third Estate wished to do the same; but the king, to prevent it from thus assuming an equality with the nobility, preferred to uncover himself.
Who would believe that this mad court remembered and regretted the absurd custom of making the Third Estate harangue on their knees. They were unwilling to dispense from this ceremony expressly, and preferred deciding that the president of the Third should make no speech whatever. That is to say, that, at the end of two hundred years of separation and silence, the king dismissed his people and forbade them to speak.
On the 5th of May, the Assembly opened, not in the king's palace, but in the Paris avenue, in the Salle des Menus. That hall, which unfortunately no longer exists, was immense; it was able to contain, besides the twelve hundred deputies, four thousand auditors.
An ocular witness, Madame de Staël, Necker's daughter, who had gone thither to behold her father applauded, tells us accordingly that he was so, and that on Mirabeau taking his place, a few murmurs were heard. Murmurs against the immoral man? That brilliant society, dying of its vices, and present at its last festival, had no right to be severe.*
*"When the king went and placed himself upon the throne, in the middle of that assembly, I experienced, for the first time, a feeling of dread. First, I noticed that the queen was much moved; she arrived later than the hour appointed, and the colour of her complexion was altered."-Staël, Considérations, i., ch. xvi.
OPENING, 5TH MAY, 1789.
The Assembly had to suffer three speeches,-the king's, that of the keeper of the seals, and Necker's, all on the same text, and all unworthy of the occasion. The king at length found himself in presence of the nation, and he had no paternal speech to utter, not one word from his heart for their hearts. The exordium was an awkward, timid, sullen grumbling about the spirit of innovation. He expressed his sensibility for the two superior orders, "who showed themselves disposed to renounce their pecuniary privileges." A pre-occupation of money prevailed throughout the three discourses; little or nothing on the question of right, that which filled and exalted every soul, the right of equality. The king and his two ministers, in awkward phrase, in which bombastic style contends alternately with baseness, seem convinced that the matter in question is merely one of taxation, of money, subsistence,--a question of feeding. They believe that if the privileged classes grant, as alms, to the Third Estate an equality of taxation, everything will be amicably settled at once. Hence, three eulogiums, in the three speeches, on the sacrifice of the superior orders, who are so kind as to forego their exemption. These eulogiums go on even crescendo up to Necker, who sees no heroism in history comparable to it.
These eulogiums, which look rather like an invitation, announce too clearly that this admirable and extolled sacrifice is not yet made. Let it be made then, and quickly! This is the whole question for the king and the ministers, who have called the Third Estate there as a bugbear, and would willingly send it away. They have as yet but partial, dubious assurances of that great sacrifice: a few lords have offered it, but they have been laughed at by the others. Several members of the clergy, contrary to the known opinion of the Assembly of the clergy, have given the same hope, The two orders are in no great haste to explain themselves in this matter; the decisive word cannot leave their lips; it sticks in their throat. It requires two months, and the most serious and terrible cir
First, to speak only of money, what was called the impôt was but a very small portion of the total impost, of what was paid under different names to the clergy and nobility, as tithes or feudal tributes. And then again, money was not all. For the people, the question was not to pick up a few sous flung to them, but indeed to assume their rights: nothing more and nothing less.
cumstances, the victory of the Third Estate,-for the clergy, on the 26th of June, at length subdued, to renounce, and even then the nobility to promise only to do the same.
Necker spoke for three hours on finance and morality: "There is nothing," said he, "without public morality and private morality." His speech was not the less on that account an immoral enumeration of the means possessed by the king to do without the States-General, and continue despotism. The States, from that moment, were a pure gift, a granted and revocable favour.
He avowed imprudently that the king was uneasy. He expressed the desire that the two superior orders, remaining alone and free, should accomplish their sacrifices, with the exception that they might unite with the Third Estate in order subsequently to discuss questions of common interest. A dangerous insinuation ! The minister being once free to derive the taxes from those rich sources of large property, would not have insisted much on obtaining the union of the orders. The privileged classes would have preserved their false majority; and two orders leagued against one would have prevented every reform. What matter! The bankruptcy being avoided, the scarcity having ceased, and public opinion slumbering again, the question of right of security was adjourned, and inequality and despotism strengthened; Necker reigned, or rather the court, who, once safe from the danger, would have sent the sentimental banker back to Geneva.
On the 6th of May, the deputies of the Third Estate took possession of the large hall, and the impatient crowd, that had been besieging the doors, rushed in after them.
The nobility apart, and the clergy apart, take up their quarters in their chambers, and, without losing time, decide that the powers ought to be verified by each order and in its own circle. The majority was great among the nobility, and small among the clergy; a great many curates wanted to join the Third Estate. The Third, strong in its great number, and master of the large hall, declares that it is waiting for the two other orders. The emptiness of that immense hall seemed to accuse their absence: the very hall spoke.
The question of the union of the orders contained every other. That of the Third, already double in number, was
QUESTION OF THE SEPARATION OF THE ORDERS.
likely to gain the votes of some fifty nobles and a hundred curates, thereby commanding the two orders with an immense majority, and becoming their judges in everything. Privilege judged by those against whom it was established! It was easy to foresee the sentence.
So, the Third waited for the clergy and the nobility; it awaited in its strength, and patiently, like everything immortal. The privileged were agitated; they turned round, when too late, towards the source of privilege, the king, their natural centre, which they themselves had disturbed. Thus, in that time of expectation, which lasted a month or more, things became classed according to their affinity: the privileged with ne king, the Assembly with the people.
It lived with them, spoke with them, all the doors being wide open; and as yet no barriers. Paris was sitting at Versailles, pell-mell with the deputies. A continual communication existed all along the road. The assembly of the electors of Paris, and the irregular tumultuous assembly held by the crowd in the Palais-Royal, were asking every moment for news of the deputies; they questioned with avidity whoever came from Versailles. The Third, that saw the court becoming more and more irritated, and surrounding itself with soldiers, felt it had but one defence, the crowd that was listening to it, and the press, which caused it to be listened to by the whole kingdom. The very day of the opening of the States, the court endeavoured to stifle the press; a decree of the Council suppressed and condemned the journal of the States-General, published by Mirabeau; another decree forbade the publication of any periodical without permission. Thus was censorship, which for several months had remained inactive and as if suspended, re-established in face of the assembled nation,-re-established for the necessary and indispensable communications of the deputies and those who had deputed them. Mirabeau paid but little attention to this, and went on publishing under this title: Letters to my Constituents. The assembly of the electors of Paris, still working at their written resolutions (cahiers) left off (on the 7th of May), to protest unanimously against the decree of the Council.* This
* Procès-verbal des électeurs, rédigé par Bailly et Duveyrier, i., 34.