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Chapter VI: NEW DEVICES. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 4.
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The Parisians soon after showed that they knew little of the resources on which the supply of the wants of the state should depend, by having recourse to a measure which, however popular, was one of great folly;—folly to be exceeded only by an act of the populace which took place nearly at the same time.
The coffers of the government had long been empty. Loans of almost every kind, and under every species of pretence, had been raised upon the suffering nation, some of which proved failures in their primary object, while others, however great the proceeds in amount, seemed to be exhausted with somewhat the same speed as water that is poured into a sieve. Never money went away so fast before; and whilst the government was dismayed at its magic property of disappearance, the people grew more and more angry at what they thought the extravagance of their rulers. Neither of them took into the account the scarcity of most of the necessaries of life, and both regarded money as having the same value as ever,—as being, in itself, the thing required to supply the necessities of the state. To both it was equally inconceivable why, if so much had defrayed such and such expenses in former years, double the sum would go no way at all at present. The ministers and the court could only tremble at the necessity of owning the truth, while the people raged, and could be appeased only by court largesses for the relief of the starving: which largesses went as little way when they had changed hands as before. Neither party suspected that money, although scarce, had be come very cheap through the still greater scarcity of other things; and in the absence of this necessary knowledge, everybody was eager about gold and silver.
The National Assembly had tried all means, first by themselves, and then with the assistance of Necker, to raise a supply, without which the affairs of the state could not, they believed, proceed; and all in vain. Then Necker had leave given him to pursue his own methods; and, popular as he was, no one had a doubt that he would succeed. But he failed, though he issued the most tempting proposals; offered the high est interest that ever was heard of, even in such an emergency; and exerted his utmost personal influence in favour of the loan. The subscription was not half filled: the reason of which was that many had no money, having spent it all in buying necessaries; and as many in France as had taken their money (much of it had gone into other countries) expected to want it themselves for the same purposes, or had not confidence enough in the stability of the government to take it for a creditor. So the king's horses went on to eat borrowed hay or to want it; and the king's servants to clamour for their wages; and the king's tradesmen to decline orders on one pretence or another; and the police threatened to leave the home minister to keep order by him self; and state couriers went unwillingly forth on their journies; and business lagged in every department of the administration.
At this moment, it entered some wise head that, if people would not lend money, they might lend or give something else; not corn or hay, or any of the necessaries of life; for every one knew there was still less of these things than of money; but gold and silver in any form. It would have been hard to say what lasting good this could do amidst the impossibility of procuring the necessaries of which gold and silver are only the re presentatives: but no matter for that. Nobody was asked to explain the affair, and apparently none troubled themselves to think about it; so delighted were all with the new notion of giving away trinkets to save the state. The idea of a patriotic contribution was charming,—a contribution in which almost everybody could join; women and children, and persons of many degrees below the class of capitalists. The court joined: the gentlemen sacrificing nearly half their watches and seals, and the ladies adopting simplicity as a fashion, and sending away the jewellery they could not wear as Arcadian shepherd esses and Sicilian nymphs. The Assembly fol lowed, every member thereof stooping down at the same moment to strip his shoes of their buckles, so that their act of patriotic devotion made really a very fine show. This gave the signal to the whole country, and all France was forthwith unbuckled in respect of the feet. She became also quakerlike as to the hands, for not a maiden but took out her lover's hair from his parting gift, and flung the ring into the lap of the nation; not a wife that did not part with the token of her wifehood in the cause. Pecks of gold rings, bushels of silver buckles, with huge store of other baubles, were at once in the possession of the state; and the people no longer doubted that all would henceforth be well.
And what was really the event?—The gold answered the same purpose as it does when a basin full of it coined stands on the banker's counter during a run. It satisfied the ignorant that all must be safe where there is so much wealth actually before one's eyes. It hushed the clamours of the people for a little while; and made the servants of the government willing to go on somewhat longer upon credit; so that more industry and briskness prevailed for a time, at the risk of ultimate disappointment, and an aggravation of popular fury,—now diverted but not dispersed. A mob went about to levy these voluntary offerings, an act ludicrously inconsistent with their next proceeding; if, indeed, any of the events of this extraordinary time could be regarded as ludicrous.
They called at Charles's house among others, whence, as it happened, no such offerings had yet gone forth. Charles had resisted Pauline's wish to lend the queen her thimble, and Julien's offer to pay his first tax with the silver-tipped riding-whip grandpapa had given him. Neither would he allow Marguerite's few ornaments, all keepsakes, to be thrown away in any such manner. He would give the coat off his back to the state, he said, when it could do any service: but the proposed gifts could only help to make jewellery a drug, without supplying one more person with bread, or lessening by so much as one scruple the burdens of the state. He was disposed to be vexed when he came home one day, and found a short allowance of spoons at the dinner-table, the clock on the mantel-piece gone, and his wife as destitute of external ornament as any Areadian shepherdess at Versailles. He laughed, however, at his wife's apologies for having made a voluntary offering against her own will as well as his, and hoped that she would be as little the worse as the state would be the better for the sacrifice. Goldsmiths and jewellers of enterprise and capital would profit by the fancy, he observed, if nobody else did; and the many losers might find some comfort in sympathy with the very few winners.
The people, meanwhile, were bitterly com plaining of famine, and the more gold was carried to the treasury, the more bread was bought up before the eyes of those who were deprived of it from its increased price. It mattered not that some was given away in charity by the king, and more, to suit his own purposes, by the duke of Orleans; the people were rendered unable to purchase it, and furnished with the plea of want, wherewith to make the streets of Paris echo. It would have been better to have let the exchange of wedding rings for bread be made without the interposition of the king or his ministers, even without taking into consideration the events which followed. A report was soon industriously spread that the bread furnished by court charity was of a bad quality. It was believed, like every thing that was then said against the court; and the consequence was that an anomalous and me laneholy sight was seen by as many as walked in the city. Clamorous, starving crowds be sieged the bakers' shops, and carried off all the bread from their ovens, all the flour from their bins; while the discontented among the mob politicians of the Orleans faction were on the way to snatch the food from the mouths of the hungry and throw it into the river, and to cut the sacks, and mix the flour with the puddles of the streets. Want and waste, faction and delusion were here seen in their direct extremes.
At this time, Charles and Marguerite did not allow their children to go out under any guardianship but that of their father, as it was impossible to foresee what might happen in the streets before they could get home again. They were as safe as any count be at such a time; — safer than the few who ventured abroad in carriages at the risk of insult wherever they turned; safer than the sordidly fed and clad, who were seized upon by the agents of faction to augment their mobs, and be made the instruments of violence under the penalty of suffering it themselves. The parents and children were also safer together than separate; as a domestic party, abroad to take the air, presented as unsuspicious a group, and one as likely to pass unnoticed, as could well be imagined. Yet they had their occasional alarms; and when there was no cause to fear for themselves, were too often grieved and shocked at what they beheld inflicted on others.
“O papa!” cried Julien, one day, as they were walking; “what are they doing at Maigrot's shop? I do believe the crowd is coming there next.”
Maigrot was a baker, well known to Charles's family, and much beloved by the children, on account of the little hot cakes which seemed to be always ready to pop out of the oven and into their mouths, when they went with the servant to deliver orders or pay bills.
Instead of his usual smiling face, Maigrot was now seen in a state of desperate anxiety, as well as could be judged from the glimpse of him at his door, trying first to slip out, and then to force his way between the two men who were evidently placed at the entrance as guards till the mob should come up. Foiled in his attempt, Maigrot disappeared, and Charles thought that it might depend on whether there was a way of exit at the back of the house, whether his head would presently be carried on a pike, between two loaves of his own bread, or whether he would be kneading and baking in peace ten years hence. There seemed to be just time to run and give a word of advice to whomsoever might be waiting in the shop, and Charles ran forward to do so. He was prevented entering; but seeing Maigrot's wife sinking and trembling behind the counter, and looking absolutely incapable of any resolution whatever, he called out to her to assist in emptying the flour bins and distributing the bread, and to fear nothing, and all would be well. The woman tossed off a glass of water which stood beside her, and rallied for the effort. In such effort lay the only resource of sufferers under violence in those days; for the magistracy were unable to afford assistance; or, if able, were not to be depended on. The shop was presently emptied and gutted, and its stock car tied away, without, however, being in this instance preceded by the horrible display of a human head. Maigrot had escaped and actually joined in with the mob in time to see his own flour cast into the Seine. Nobody thought more of the baker, and he took advantage of this disregard to learn a great deal of his own doings which he did not know before. He now overheard that his flour was mixed with hurtful ingredients by order of his customer, the king; that an inferior kind was sold at high prices as the best; and that there were stores of meal concealed somewhere about his premises, to victual the soldiers who were to be brought to rule the city, and give the king his own way. All this was news to Maigrot, who was compelled to listen to these false Loods in silence: more fortunate than many who had lost their lives as well as their good name under similar charges. A defender sprang up, however, when he least expected it.
Charles and his little son could not help following to look on, when the mob proceeded with the flour down to the river. They stood on the outskirts of the crowd, watching sack after sack as, with hoarse shouts, it was heaved into the water so as to make the heaviest splash possible. A new amusement presently occurred to some of the leaders; that of testing the political opinions of the passers by the judgment they should pronounce on the quality of the flour. Those who declared it good must, of course, be parasites of the court; those who made mouths at it were the friends of the people; and the moment this point was settled, every gazer from a distance was hauled to the water's edge to undergo the test; every approaching carriage was waylaid and stopped, and its inmates brought on the shoulders of the mob. Of course, all gave judgment on the same side;—a thing likely to happen without much dishonesty, when the raw flour was crammed into the mouth by foul and sometimes bloody hands. It would have been difficult to pronounce it very good under such circumstances of administration.
Among the most piteous looking of those under test was the marquis de Thou, who was taken from a non-descript sort of carriage, on his way, as he vowed, to the duke of Orleans, but certainly attended by more than one servant of the royal household. While prosecuting his explanations with gesture and grimace, uplifted as he was above the crowd, he looked so like a monkey riding a bear that a universal shout of mockery arose. He was lowered for a moment, out of sight; and the laugh rose louder than ever when be reappeared, held at arms' length by a hundred hands, powdered all over like a miller. His position made the judgment he had to give all the more difficult, for it enabled him to perceive the royal servants watching him on one side, the duke of Orleans and some of his fiercest followers on another, and the pitiless mob around.
“Ah! it is very, very good food for the poor, without doubt,” he declared, while in full view of the court party, and with his mouth stuffed with a compound which had just been taken from a puddle underfoot. “Very fine nourishment for a good king to buy dear, and give away to a hungry people.—Ah! no more,— no more, I pray you! I shall presently dine, and it is enough. I cannot praise it more than I have done.—Ah! but” (seeing the duke frowning) “I do not say but it may be a little sour,— and somewhat bitter,—yes, O yes, and gritty,— and, O do not murder me, and I will also say hurtful.—And poisonous? Yes, no doubt it is poisonous,—clearly poisonous.—But, how bountiful of the king to think of how the poor should be fed!”
The marquis might think himself fortunate in getting off with a ducking in the yeasty flood, into which he was let down astride on a flour sack. While sneaking away through the crowd, after shaking his dripping queue, and drawing a long breath, he encountered Charles, whom he immediately recognised, and with inconsiderate selfishness, exposed to the notice of the crowd by his appeal.
“Ah, my friend, here is a condition I am in! For our old friendship's sake,—for the sake of our vicinity in Guienne, aid me!”
“Do not answer him. Take no notice,” whispered Maigrot from behind; “'tis as much as your life is worth.”
But Charles could not be inhuman. He gave the old man his arm to conduct him to the carriage which he intended to order to his own house. Before he had well turned his back, however, a piercing shriek from Julien made him look round. The mob were about to carry the boy towards the sacks.
“Do not be alarmed, my dear,” said he. “Taste the flour, and say whether you think it good; and I will come to you in a moment to do the same.”
Julien shrieked no more, but he looked ruefully in his father's face, when Charles returned. As soon as he had gulped down his share and could speak, he said he had never tasted raw flour before, but it was not so good as the hot cakes that were made of it sometimes.—The boy escaped with being only laughed at.—His father's turn came next.
Charles stipulated, when laid hold of, to be allowed to feed himself, and refused laughingly to taste what came out of the puddle till his neighbours should have separated the mud from the flour. With a very oracular look, he then proceeded from sack to sack, tasting and pronouncing, apparently unmoved by the speculations he heard going on all round him as to whether he was a royalist from about the court, or a spy from Versailles, or only an ignorant stranger from the provinces. When he had apparently made up his mind, he began a sort of conversation with those nearest to him, which he exalted by degrees into a speech.
“When I,” he observed, “I, the very first, opened a prisoner's cell in the Bastille—”
He was interrupted by loud cheers from all who heard; and this drew the attention of more.
“— I found,” continued Charles, “a mess of wholesome food in that horrible place. Every other kind of poison was there,—the poison of damps and a close atmosphere; the poison of inactivity which brings on disease and death; the poison of cruelty by which all the kindly feelings are turned into bitterness in the soul of the oppressed; and the poison of hopelessness, by which the currents of life are chilled, and the heart of the captive is sunk within him till he dies. All these poisons we found in every cell; but to all their inmates was denied that quicker poison which would have been welcome to end their woes. Some, we know, have lived thirtyfive years under this slow death, while a very small mixture of drugs with their bread would have released them in fewer hours. That this quicker method was ever used, we have no proof; that it was not used in the case of those whom we released, we know, not by their state of health alone; for that, alas! was not to be boasted of;—but by the experience of some of us. When we were heated with toil and choked with dust, we drank the draughts which the prisoners left untasted in their cells. When a way was made among the ruins, women came to see what a work their husbands had achieved; and when their children craved food, rather than return home before all was finished, they gave their little ones the bread which the captives had loathed. Many thus ate and drank; and I appeal to you whether any evil came of that day; whether the sleep of the next night was not sound as became the rest which succeeds to an heroic effort. No one was poisoned with the food then provided by the government; and yet that horrible dungeon was the place, if there be any, for poison to do its work. And if not attempted there, will it be here? Here, where there are a million of eyes on the watch to detect treasons against the people? Here, where there are hundreds of thousands of defenders of the public safety? No, fellow citizens: this is not the kind of treason which is meditated against us. There are none that dare practise so directly on your lives. But there is a treason no less fatal, though more disguised, which is even at this moment in operation against you. You ask me two questions; — whether this food is of a bad quality; — and whether you are not half starved; and both these evils you ascribe to your rulers. —To the first I answer, that this food is, to the best of my judgment, good; and, whether good or bad, that the government has nothing to do with it, since it forms no part of the stores that the king has bought up for distribution. It is flour of the same harvest, the same field, the same mill, the same bin, that I and mine have been supplied from; and it has nourished me well for the work I have had to do; for letting in the light of day upon the foulest dungeon that ever deformed the earth,—for watching over those who have been released from it,—for attending to the proceedings of the Assembly, —for meditating by might and consulting by day how the rights of the people may best be attained and secured. Keep the same food to strengthen you for the same purposes. Do not forget your other complaint;—that you are starving: and remember that however much this may be owing to the misrule and courtly extravagance you denounce, the grievance will not be removed by your feeding the fishes with that which your children are craving. I spoke of another kind of treason than that which you suspect, and I see about me too many tokens of its existence;—the treason which would not poison but starve you.
“Of the motives of this treason I have nothing to say, for I am wholly ignorant of them. I only insist that there can be no truly patriotic aim under the project of depriving you of the food which is at best but scantily supplied. Do you find in the most plentiful seasons that we have corn enough to make sport with in the river? Are your houses even then so filled with grain that, after feeding your children and domestic animals, you have enough left for the cels of the Seine? Is it to give you this oversupply that the peasantry of the provinces live under roofs of rushes, and couch upon beds of straw? Tell me,—is there ill the happiest of times such a superfluity that no Frenchman has a want or wish for more?”
Furious cries of denial rose from all sides, joined with curses upon the government which year by year, by its extravagance, snatched the hard-earned bread from the labourer's hands.
“This is all true,” replied Charles, “and is in course of being reformed: but when did even a tyrannical government inflict upon you such evils as you are this day inflicting upon your selves? When has it robbed the shops of one of the most useful class of men among you, and carried away boat-loads of the food for which thousands are pining, and destroyed your means of life before your eyes? A worse enemy than even a weak king and a licentious court is making sport of your miseries, and overwhelming you with such as cannot be repaired. Yes! let it not hurt your pride to hear of woes that cannot be repaired; for even the power of the sovereign people is not unlimited, great as you have proved it to be. You have abolished servile parliaments, and obtained a virtuous assembly of representatives. You have swept away the stronghold of oppression, and can tread with free steps the turf from which its very foundations have been extracted. You have rejected a constitution which was all insufficient warrant for your liberties, and are in the way to obtain universal assent to that noble Declaration of Rights which shall become the social contract of every civilized nation.—All these things, and others which would have been called impossibilities ten years ago, you have achieved. But there are impossibilities remaining which more truly deserve the name. You cannot prevent multitudes dying when famine is in the land; you cannot call up a new harvest before the seed has sprouted; you cannot insist upon supplies from other lands which are already drained. You can waste your resources, but you cannot recall them. With however much pride or levity you may at this hour fling away the staff' of your life, you cannot retard the day when you will sink for want of it,—when you will kneel in the mud by the brink of this very current, and crave the waters to give up what you have buried in them, or to drown your miseries with your life. —Will you suffer yourselves thus to be made sport of? Will you permit yourselves to be goaded into madness, in order that you may be ready for madmen's deeds? ' Will you throw away what is in your own hands, that others may reduce you to crave the small pittance which will remain in theirs? Those who have incited you to the deeds of this day take very good care that all our granaries shall not be emptied. They reserve a few, that you . at length,—when all their schemes are ripe,—be their tools through your literal dependance on them for bread.—Disappoint this plot as far as you can. It is now too late to keep plenty in your own hands; but baffle the approaches of famine to the last moment; for with hunger comes slavery; or, if you will not have slavery, death; and in either case, your country must surrender your services at the very moment when she wants them most.—Where is the patriotism of bringing things to this pass?— Where also is the justice of condemning unheard so useful a class of men as those from whom you have taken their property without accusation, and, in many cases, their lives, on nothing better than suspicion of their having communicated with the court?—We must respect rights, as well as frame a Declaration of them. We must cherish the innocent and useful of society, if we wish to restrain those who are neither the one nor the other. Let there be a contrast between the oppressors and the friends of the people. Let tyrants tremble, while industrious citizens dwell in peace.”
It was now easy to wind up the discourse to the point contemplated. Charles proposed that Maigrot should be permitted, under proper guardianship, to bake a provision of loaves out of this very flour; and if they proved good, that all that remained of his property should be restored to him. The crowd rather relished the idea of waiting the operation, in full prospect of a batch of hot rolls gratis as the result, and the proposal was received with acclamations.— Charles immediately singled out Maigrot, as he stood on the outskirts of the mob, requested him to lead the way homewards, put a loaf into each arm of his little son, swung a sack of flour on his own shoulders, and headed the most singular of all the extraordinary processions which attracted the gaze of Paris in those times.
The duke of Orleans made no opposition. He saw that the game was up for this day, and departed in an opposite direction, having no particular wish to hear the verdict which he knew would be passed upon the bread, or to witness the exultation of the baker.—Before night, Maigrot not only felt his head safe upon his shoulders, but was the most eminent baker in Paris; and, if he had but had any flour remaining, might have boasted such a business as he had tilt now never thought of aspiring to.