Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I - The French Revolution, vol. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER I - Hippolyte Taine, The French Revolution, vol. 1 
The French Revolution, 3 vols., trans. John Durand, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002). Vol. 1.
Part of: The French Revolution, 3 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
I.The beginnings of anarchy—Dearth the first cause—Bad crops—The winter of 1788 and 1789—Dearness and poor quality of bread—In the provinces—At Paris—II.Hopefulness the second cause—Separation and laxity of the Administrative forces—Investigations of local Assemblies—The people become awake to their condition—Convocation of the States-General—Hope is born—The coincidence of early Assemblies with early difficulties—III.The provinces during the first six months of 1789—Effects of the famine—IV.Intervention of ruffians and vagabonds—V.The first jacquerie in Provence—Feebleness or ineffectiveness of repressive measures.
During the night of July 14–15, 1789, the Duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt caused Louis XVI. to be aroused to inform him of the taking of the Bastille. “It is a revolt, then?” exclaimed the King. “Sire!” replied the Duke, “it is a revolution!” The event was even more serious. Not only had power slipped from the hands of the King, but it had not fallen into those of the Assembly; it lay on the ground, ready to the hands of the unchained populace, the violent and overexcited crowd, the mobs which picked it up like some weapon that had been thrown away in the street. In fact, there was no longer any government; the artificial structure of human society was giving way entirely; things were returning to a state of nature. This was not a revolution, but a dissolution.
Two causes excite and maintain the universal upheaval. The first one is a dearth, which, being constant, lasting for ten years, and aggravated by the very disturbances which it excites, bids fair to inflame the popular passions to madness, and change the whole course of the Revolution into a series of spasmodic stumbles.
When a stream is brimful, a slight rise suffices to cause an overflow. So was it with the extreme distress of the eighteenth century. A poor man who finds it difficult to live when bread is cheap, sees death staring him in the face when it is dear. In this state of suffering the animal instinct revolts, and the universal obedience which constitutes public peace depends on a degree more or less of dryness or damp, heat or cold. In 1788, a year of severe drought, the crops had been poor; in addition to this, on the eve of the harvest,1 a terrible hailstorm burst over the region around Paris, from Normandy to Champagne, devastating sixty leagues of the most fertile territory, and causing damage to the amount of one hundred millions of francs. Winter came on, the severest that had been seen since 1709: at the close of December the Seine was frozen over from Paris to Havre, while the thermometer stood at 18¾° below zero. A third of the olive-trees died in Provence, and the rest suffered to such an extent that they were considered incapable of bearing fruit for two years to come. The same disaster befell Languedoc. In Vivarais, and in the Cevennes, whole forests of chestnuts had perished, along with all the grain and grass crops on the uplands; on the plain the Rhône remained in a state of overflow for two months. After the spring of 1789 the famine spread everywhere, and it increased from month to month like a rising flood. In vain did the Government order the farmers, proprietors, and corn-dealers to keep the markets supplied; in vain did it double the bounty on importations, resort to all sorts of expedients, involve itself in debt, and expend over forty millions of francs to furnish France with wheat. In vain do individuals, princes, noblemen, bishops, chapters, and communities multiply their charities, the Archbishop of Paris incurring a debt of 400,000 livres, one rich man distributing 40,000 francs the morning after the hailstorm, and a convent of Bernardins feeding twelve hundred poor persons for six weeks.2 All was not sufficient. Neither public measures nor private charity could meet the overwhelming need. In Normandy, where the last commercial treaty had ruined the manufacture of linen and of lace trimmings, forty thousand workmen were out of work. In many parishes one-fourth of the population3 are beggars. Here, “nearly all the inhabitants, not excepting the farmers and landowners, are eating barley bread and drinking water”; there, “many poor creatures have to eat oat bread, and others soaked bran, which has caused the death of several children.”—“Above all,” writes the Rouen Parliament, “let help be sent to a perishing people. . . . Sire, most of your subjects are unable to pay the price of bread, and what bread is given to those who do buy it!”—Arthur Young,4 who was travelling through France at this time, heard of nothing but the dearness of bread and the distress of the people. At Troyes bread costs four sous a pound—that is to say, eight sous of the present day; and artisans unemployed flock to the relief works, where they can earn only twelve sous a day. In Lorraine, according to the testimony of all observers, “the people are half dead with hunger.” In Paris the number of paupers has been trebled; there are thirty thousand in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine alone. Around Paris there is a short supply of grain, or it is spoilt.5 In the beginning of July, at Montereau, the market is empty. “The bakers could not have baked” if the police officers had not fixed the price of bread at five sous per pound; the rye and barley which the intendant is able to send “are of the worst possible quality, rotten and in a condition to produce dangerous diseases; nevertheless, most of the small consumers are reduced to the hard necessity of using this spoilt grain.” At Villeneuve-le-Roi, writes the mayor, “the rye of the two lots last sent is so black and poor that it cannot be retailed without wheat.” At Sens the barley “tastes musty” to such an extent that buyers of it throw the detestable bread which it makes in the face of the subdelegate. At Chevreuse the barley has sprouted and smells bad; the “poor wretches,” says an employé, “must be hard pressed with hunger to put up with it.” At Fontainebleau “the barley, half eaten away, produces more bran than flour, and to make bread of it, one is obliged to work it over several times.” This bread, such as it is, is an object of savage greed; “it has come to this, that it is impossible to distribute it except through wickets”; those, again, who thus obtain their ration, “are often attacked on the road and robbed of it by the more vigorous of the famished people.” At Nangis “the magistrates prohibit the same person from buying more than two bushels in the same market.” In short, provisions are so scarce that there is a difficulty in feeding the soldiers; the minister dispatches two letters one after another to order the cutting down of 250,000 bushels of rye before the harvest.6 Paris thus, in a perfect state of tranquillity, appears like a famished city put on rations at the end of a long siege, and the dearth will not be greater nor the food worse in December, 1870, than in July, 1789.
“The nearer the 14th of July approached,” says an eye-witness,7 “the more did the dearth increase. Every baker’s shop was surrounded by a crowd, to which bread was distributed with the most grudging economy. . . .This bread was generally blackish, earthy, and bitter, producing inflammation of the throat and pain in the bowels. I have seen flour of detestable quality at the military school and at other depôts. I have seen portions of it yellow in colour, with an offensive smell; some forming blocks so hard that they had to be broken into fragments by repeated blows of a hatchet. For my own part, wearied with the difficulty of procuring this poor bread, and disgusted with that offered to me at the tables d’hôte, I avoided this kind of food altogether. In the evening I went to the Café du Caveau, where, fortunately, they were kind enough to reserve for me two of those rolls which are called flutes, and this is the only bread I have eaten for a week at a time.” But this resource is only for the rich. As for the people, to get bread fit for dogs, they must stand in a line for hours. And here they fight for it; “they snatch food from one another.” There is no more work to be had; “the work-rooms are deserted”; often, after waiting a whole day, the workman returns home empty-handed, and when he does bring back a four-pound loaf it costs him 3 francs 12 sous; that is, 12 sous for the bread, and 3 francs for the lost day. In this long line of unemployed, excited men, swaying to and fro before the shop-door, dark thoughts are fermenting: “if the bakers find no flour to-night to bake with, we shall have nothing to eat tomorrow.” An appalling idea—in presence of which the whole power of the Government is not too strong; for to keep order in the midst of famine nothing avails but the sight of an armed force, palpable and threatening. Under Louis XIV. and Louis XV. there had been even greater hunger and misery; but the outbreaks, which were roughly and promptly put down, were only partial and passing disorders. Some rioters were at once hung, and others were sent to the galleys: the peasant or the workman, convinced of his impotence, at once returned to his stall or his plough. When a wall is too high one does not even think of scaling it.—But now the wall is cracking—all its custodians, the clergy, the nobles, the Third-Estate, men of letters, the politicians, and even the Government itself, making the breach wider. The wretched, for the first time, discover an issue: they dash through it, at first in driblets, then in a mass, and rebellion becomes as universal as resignation was formerly.
It is because through this opening hope steals like a beam of light, and gradually finds its way down to the depths below. For the last fifty years it has been rising, and its rays, which first illuminated the upper class in their splendid apartments in the first story, and next the middle class in their entresol and on the ground floor, have now for two years penetrated to the cellars where the people toil, and even to the deep sinks and obscure corners where rogues and vagabonds and malefactors, a foul and swarming herd, crowd and hide themselves from the persecution of the law. To the first two provincial assemblies instituted by Necker in 1778 and 1779, Loménie de Brienne has in 1778 just added nineteen others; under each of these are assemblies of the arrondissement; under each assembly of the arrondissement are parish assemblies.8 Thus the whole machinery of administration has been changed. It is the new assemblies which assess the taxes and superintend their collection; which determine upon and direct all public works; and which form the court of final appeal in regard to matters in dispute. The intendant, the subdelegate, the élu,9 thus lose three-quarters of their authority. Conflicts arise, consequently, between rival powers whose frontiers are not clearly defined; command shifts about, and obedience is diminished. The subject no longer feels on his shoulders the commanding weight of the one hand which, without possibility of interference or resistance, held him in, urged him forward, and made him move on. Meanwhile, in each assembly of the parish arrondissement, and even of the province, plebeians, “husbandmen,”10 and oftentimes common farmers, sit by the side of lords and prelates. They listen to and remember the vast figure of the taxes which are paid exclusively, or almost exclusively, by them—the taille and its accessories, the poll-tax and road dues, and assuredly on their return home they talk all this over with their neighbour. These figures are all printed; the village attorney discusses the matter with his clients, the artisans and rustics, on Sunday as they leave the mass, or in the evening in the large public room of the tavern. These little gatherings, moreover, are sanctioned, encouraged by the powers above. In the earliest days of 1788 the provincial assemblies order a board of inquiry to be held by the syndics and inhabitants of each parish. Knowledge is wanted in detail of their grievances—what part of the revenue is chargeable to each impost, what the cultivator pays and how much he suffers, how many privileged persons there are in the parish; the amount of their fortune, whether they are residents, what their exemptions amount to; and, in the replies, the attorney who holds the pen, names and points out with his finger each privileged individual, criticizes his way of living, and estimates his fortune, calculates the injury done to the village by his immunities, inveighs against the taxes and the tax-collectors. On leaving these assemblies the villager broods over what he has just heard. He sees his grievances no longer singly as before, but in mass, and coupled with the enormity of evils under which his fellows suffer. Besides this, they begin to disentangle the causes of their misery: the King is good—why then do his collectors take so much of our money? This or that canon or nobleman is not unkind—why then do they make us pay in their place?—Suppose a beast of burden to which a sudden gleam of reason should reveal the equine species contrasted with the human species; and imagine, if you can, what his first ideas would be in relation to the postillions and drivers who bridle and whip him, and again in relation to the good-natured travellers and sensitive ladies who pity him, but who to the weight of the vehicle add their own and that of their luggage.
So, in the mind of the peasant, athwart his perplexed broodings, a new idea, slowly, little by little, is unfolded—that of an oppressed multitude of which he makes one, a vast herd scattered far beyond the visible horizon, everywhere ill used, starved, and fleeced. To wards the end of 1788 we begin to detect in the correspondence of the intendants and military commandants the dull universal muttering of coming wrath. Men’s characters seem to change; they become suspicious and restive.—And just at this moment, the Government, dropping the reins, calls upon them to direct themselves.11 In the month of November, 1787, the King declared that he would convoke the States-General. On the 5th of July, 1788, he calls for memorials on this subject from every competent person and body. On the 8th of August he fixes the date of the session. On the 5th of October he convokes the notables, in order to consider the subject with them. On the 27th of December he grants a double representation to the Third-Estate, because “its cause is allied with generous sentiments, and it will always obtain the support of public opinion.” The same day he introduces into the electoral assemblies of the clergy a majority of curés, “because good and useful pastors are daily and closely associated with the indigence and relief of the people,” from which it follows “that they are much more familiar with their sufferings” and necessities. On the 24th January, 1789, he prescribes the procedure and method of the meetings. After the 7th of February writs of summons are sent out one after the other. Eight days after, each parish assembly begins to draw up its memorial of grievances, and becomes excited over the detailed enumeration of all the miseries which it sets down in writing.—All these appeals and all these acts are so many strokes which reverberate in the popular imagination. “It is the desire of His Majesty,” says the order issued, “that every one, from the extremities of his kingdom, and from the most obscure of its hamlets, should be certain of his wishes and protests reaching him.” Thus, it is all quite true: there can be no mistake about it, the thing is sure. The people are invited to speak out, they are summoned, they are consulted. There is a disposition to relieve them; henceforth their misery shall be less; better times are coming. This is all they know about it. A few months after, in July,12 the only answer a peasant girl can make to Arthur Young is, “something was to be done by some great folks for such poor ones, but she did not know who nor how”; the thing is too complicated, beyond the reach of a stupefied and mechanical brain. One idea alone emerges—the hope of immediate relief, the persuasion that right is on their side, the resolution to aid it with every possible means; and, consequently, an anxious waiting, a ready impulse, a tension of the will which simply stays for the opportunity to relax and launch forth like a resistless arrow towards the unknown end which will reveal itself all of a sudden. It is hunger that so suddenly marks out for them this aim: the market must be supplied with grain; the farmers and owners must bring it; wholesale buyers, whether the Government or individuals, must not transport it elsewhere; it must be sold at a low price; the price must be cut down and fixed, so that the baker can sell bread at two sous the pound; grain, flour, wine, salt, and provisions must pay no more duties; seignorial dues and claims, ecclesiastical tithes, and royal or municipal taxes must no longer exist. On the strength of this idea disturbances broke out on all sides in March, April, and May; contemporaries “do not know what to think of such a scourge;13 they cannot comprehend how such a vast number of criminals, without visible leaders, agree amongst themselves everywhere to commit the same excesses just at the time when the States-General are going to begin their sittings.” The reason is that, under the ancient régime, the conflagration was smouldering in a closed chamber; the great door is suddenly opened, the air enters, and immediately the flame breaks out.
At first there are only intermittent, isolated fires, which are extinguished or go out of themselves; but, a moment after, in the same place, or very near it, the sparks again appear, and their number, like their recurrence, shows the vastness, depth, and heat of the combustible matter which is about to explode. In the four months which precede the taking of the Bastille, over three hundred out breaks may be counted in France. They take place from month to month, and from week to week, in Poitou, Brittany, Touraine, Orléanais, Normandy, Ile-de-France, Picardy, Champagne, Alsace, Burgundy, Nivernais, Auvergne, Languedoc, and Provence. On the 28th of May the parliament of Rouen announces robberies of grain, “violent and bloody tumults, in which men on both sides have fallen,” throughout the province, at Caen, Saint-Lô, Mortain, Granville, Evreux, Bernay, Pont-Andemer, Elboeuf, Louviers, and in other sections besides. On the 20th of April, Baron de Bezenval, military commander in the central provinces, writes: “I once more lay before M. Necker a picture of the frightful condition of Touraine and of Orléanais. Every letter I receive from these two provinces is the narrative of three or four riots, which are put down with difficulty by the troops and constabulary”14 —and throughout the whole extent of the kingdom a similar state of things is seen.
The women, as is natural, are generally at the head of these outbreaks. It is they who, at Montlhéry, rip open the sacks of grain with their scissors. On learning each week, on market-day, that the price of a loaf of bread advances three, four, or seven sous, they break out into shrieks of rage: at this rate for bread, with the small salaries of the men, and when work fails,15 how can a family be fed? Crowds gather around the sacks of flour and the doors of the bakers; amidst outcries and reproaches some one in the crowd makes a push; the proprietor or dealer is hustled and knocked down, the shop is invaded, the commodity is in the hands of the buyers and of the famished, each one grabbing for himself, pay or no pay, and running away with the booty.—Sometimes a party is made up beforehand.16 At Bray-sur-Seine, on the 1st of May, the villagers for four leagues around, armed with stones, knives, and cudgels, to the number of four thousand, compel the husbandmen and farmers who have brought grain with them to sell it at 3 livres, instead of 4 livres 10 sous the bushel; and threaten to do the same thing on the following market-day. The farmers will not come again, the storehouse will be empty, and soldiers must be at hand, or the inhabitants of Bray will be pillaged. At Bagnols, in Languedoc, on the 1st and 2nd of April, the peasants, armed with cudgels and assembled by tap of drum, “traverse the town, threatening to burn and destroy everything if flour and money are not given to them”: they go to private houses for grain, divide it amongst themselves at a reduced price, “promising to pay when the next crop comes round,” and force the consuls to put bread at two sous the pound, and to increase the day’s wages four sous.—Indeed this is now the regular thing; it is not the people who obey the authorities, but the authorities who obey the people. Consuls, sheriffs, mayors, municipal officers, town-clerks, become confused and hesitating in the face of this huge clamour; they feel that they are likely to be trodden under foot or thrown out of the windows. Others, with more firmness, are aware that a riotous crowd is mad, and scruple to spill blood; at least, they yield for the time, hoping that at the next market-day there will be more soldiers and better precautions taken. At Amiens, “after a very violent outbreak,”17 they decide to take the wheat belonging to the Jacobins, and, protected by the troops, to sell it to the people at a third below its value. At Nantes, where the town-hall is attacked, they are forced to lower the price of bread one sou per pound. At Angoulême, to avoid a recourse to arms, they request the Comte d’Artois to renounce his dues on flour for two months, reduce the price of bread, and compensate the bakers. At Cette they are so maltreated they let everything take its course; the people sack their dwellings and get the upper hand; they announce by sound of trumpet that all their demands are granted. On other occasions, the mob dispenses with their services and acts for itself. If there happens to be no grain on the market-place, the people go after it wherever they can find it—to proprietors and farmers who are unable to bring it for fear of pillage; to convents, which by royal edict are obliged always to have one year’s crop in store; to granaries where the Government keeps its supplies; and to convoys which are dispatched by the intendants to the relief of famished towns. Each for himself—so much the worse for his neighbour. The inhabitants of Fougères beat and drive out those who come from Ernée to buy in their market; like violence is shown at Vitré to the inhabitants of Maine.18 At Sainte-Léonard the people stop the grain started for Limoges; at Bost that intended for Aurillac; at Saint-Didier that ordered for Moulins; and at Tournus that dispatched to Macon. In vain are escorts added to the convoys; troops of men and women, armed with hatchets and guns, put themselves in ambush in the woods along the road, and seize the horses by their bridles; the sabre has to be used to secure any advance. In vain are arguments and kind words offered, “and in vain even is wheat offered for money; they refuse, shouting out that the convoy shall not go on.” They have taken a stubborn stand, their resolution being that of a bull planted in the middle of the road and lowering his horns. Since the wheat is in the district, it is theirs; whoever carries it off or withholds it is a robber. This fixed idea cannot be driven out of their minds. At Chantenay, near Mans,19 they prevent a miller from carrying that which he had just bought to his mill; at Montdragon, in Languedoc, they stone a dealer in the act of sending his last waggon-load elsewhere; at Thiers, workmen go in force to gather wheat in the fields; a proprietor with whom some is found is nearly killed; they drink wine in the cellars, and leave the taps running. At Nevers, the bakers not having put bread on their counters for four days, the populace force the granaries of private persons, of dealers and religious communities. “The frightened corn-dealers part with their grain at any price; most of it is stolen in the face of the guards,” and, in the tumult of these domiciliary visits, a number of houses are sacked.—In these days woe to all who are concerned in the acquisition, commerce, and manipulation of grain! Popular imagination requires living beings to whom it may impute its misfortunes, and on whom it may gratify its resentments. To it, all such persons are monopolists, and, at any rate, public enemies. Near Angers the Benedictine establishment is invaded, and its fields and woods are devastated.20 At Amiens “the people are arranging to pillage and perhaps burn the houses of two merchants, who have built labour-saving mills”; restrained by the soldiers, they confine themselves to breaking windows; but other “groups come to destroy or plunder the houses of two or three persons whom they suspect of being monopolists.” At Nantes, a sieur Geslin, being deputed by the people to inspect a house, and finding no wheat, a shout is set up that he is a receiver, an accomplice! The crowd rush at him, and he is wounded and almost cut in pieces.—It is very evident that there is no more security in France; property, even life, is in danger. The first of all property, that of provisions, is violated in hundreds of places, and everywhere is menaced and precarious. The intendants and subdelegates everywhere call for aid, declare the constabulary incompetent, and demand regular troops. And mark how public authority, everywhere inadequate, disorganized, and tottering, finds stirred up against it not only the blind madness of hunger, but, in addition, the evil instincts which profit by every disorder and the inveterate lusts which every political commotion frees from restraint.
We have seen how numerous the smugglers, dealers in contraband salt, poachers, vagabonds, beggars, and escaped convicts21 have become, and how a year of famine increases the number. All are so many recruits for the mobs, and whether in a disturbance or by means of a disturbance each one of them fills his pouch. Around Caux,22 even up to the environs of Rouen, at Roncherolles, Quévrevilly, Préaux, Saint-Jacques, and in all the surrounding neighbourhood bands of armed ruffians force their way into the houses, particularly the parsonages, and lay their hands on whatever they please. To the south of Chartres “three or four hundred woodcutters, from the forests of Bellème, chop away everything that opposes them, and force grain to be given up to them at their own price.” In the vicinity of Étampes, fifteen bandits enter the farmhouses at night and put the farmer to ransom, threatening him with a conflagration. In Cambrésis they pillage the abbeys of Vauchelles, of Verger, and of Guillemans, the chateau of the Marquis de Besselard, the estate of M. Doisy, two farms, the waggons of wheat passing along the road to Saint-Quentin, and, besides this, seven farms in Picardy. “The seat of this revolt is in some villages bordering on Picardy and Cambrésis, familiar with smuggling operations and to the license of that pursuit.” The peasants allow themselves to be enticed away by the bandits. Man slips rapidly down the incline of dishonesty; one who is half-honest, and takes part in a riot inadvertently or in spite of himself, repeats the act, allured on by impunity or by gain. In fact, “it is not dire necessity which impels them”; they make a speculation of cupidity, a new sort of illicit trade. An old carabinier, sabre in hand, a forest-keeper, and “about eight persons sufficiently lax, put themselves at the head of four or five hundred men, go off each day to three or four villages, and force everybody who has any wheat to give it to them at 24 livres,” and even at 18 livres, the sack. Those among the band who say that they have no money carry away their portion without payment. Others, after having paid what they please, resell at a profit, which amounts to even 45 livres the sack; a good business, and one in which greed takes poverty for its accomplice. At the next harvest the temptation will be similar: “they have threatened to come and do our harvesting for us, and also to take our cattle and sell the meat in the villages at the rate of two sous the pound.”—In every important insurrection there are similar evil-doers and vagabonds, enemies to the law, savage, prowling desperadoes, who, like wolves, roam about wherever they scent a prey. It is they who serve as the directors and executioners of public or private malice. Near Usès twenty-five masked men, with guns and clubs, enter the house of a notary, fire a pistol at him, beat him, wreck the premises, and burn his registers along with the title-deeds and papers which he has in keeping for the Count de Rouvres: seven of them are arrested, but the people are on their side, and fall on the constabulary and free them.23 —They are known by their acts, by their love of destruction for the sake of destruction, by their foreign accent, by their savage faces and their rags. Some of them come from Paris to Rouen, and, for four days, the town is at their mercy;24 the stores are forced open, train waggons are discharged, wheat is wasted, and convents and seminaries are put to ransom; they invade the dwelling of the attorney-general, who has begun proceedings against them, and want to tear him to pieces; they break his mirrors and his furniture, leave the premises laden with booty, and go into the town and its outskirts to pillage the manufactories and break up or burn all the machinery.—Henceforth these constitute the new leaders: for in every mob it is the boldest and least scrupulous who march ahead and set the example in destruction. The example is contagious: the beginning was the craving for bread, the end is murder and incendiarism; the savagery which is unchained adding its unlimited violence to the limited revolt of necessity.
Bad as it is, this savagery might, perhaps, have been overcome, in spite of the dearth and of the brigands; but what renders it irresistible is the belief of its being authorised, and that by those whose duty it is to repress it. Here and there words and actions of a brutal frankness break forth, and reveal beyond the sombre present a more threatening future.—After the 9th of January, 1789, among the populace which attacks the Hôtel-de-Ville and besieges the bakers’ shops of Nantes, “shouts of Vive la Liberté!25 mingled with those of Vive le Roi! are heard.” A few months later, around Ploërmel, the peasants refuse to pay tithes, alleging that the memorial of their seneschal’s court demands their abolition. In Alsace, after March, there is the same refusal “in many places”; many of the communities even maintain that they will pay no more taxes until their deputies to the States-General shall have fixed the precise amount of the public contributions. In Isère it is decided, by proceedings, printed and published, that “personal dues” shall no longer be paid, while the landowners who are affected by this dare not prosecute in the tribunals. At Lyons, the people have come to the conclusion “that all levies of taxes are to cease,” and, on the 29th of June, on hearing of the meeting of the three orders, “astonished by the illuminations and signs of public rejoicing,” they believe that the good time has come; “they think of forcing the delivery of meat to them at four sous the pound, and wine at the same rate. The publicans insinuate to them the prospective abolition of octrois, and that, meanwhile, the King, in favour of the reassembling of the three orders, has granted three days’ freedom from all duties at Paris, and that Lyons ought to enjoy the same privilege.” Upon this the crowd, rushing off to the barriers, to the gates of Sainte-Claire and Perrache, and to the Guillotière bridge, burn or demolish the bureaux, destroy the registers, sack the lodgings of the clerks, carry off the money and pillage the wine on hand in the depôt. In the mean time a rumour has circulated all round through the country that there is free entrance into the town for all provisions, and during the following days the peasantry stream in with enormous files of waggons loaded with wine and drawn by several oxen, so that, in spite of the reestablished guard, it is necessary to let them enter all day without paying the dues; it is only on the 7th of July that these can again be collected.—The same thing occurs in the southern provinces, where the principal imposts are levied on provisions. There also the collections are suspended in the name of public authority. At Agde,26 “the people, considering the so-called will of the King as to equality of classes, are foolish enough to think that they are everything and can do everything”; thus do they interpret in their own way and in their own terms the double representation which is accorded to the Third-Estate. They threaten the town, consequently, with general pillage if the prices of all provisions are not reduced, and if the duties of the province on wine, fish, and meat are not suppressed; again, “they wish to nominate consuls who have sprung up out of their body,” and the bishop, the lord of the manor, the mayor and the notables, against whom they forcibly stir up the peasantry in the country, are obliged to proclaim by sound of trumpet that their demands shall be granted. Three days afterwards they exact a diminution of one-half of the tax on grinding, and go in quest of the bishop who owns the mills. The prelate, who is ill, sinks down in the street, and seats himself on a stone; they compel him forthwith to sign an act of renunciation, and hence “his mill, valued at 15,000 livres, is reduced to 7,500 livres.”—At Limoux, under the pretext of searching for grain, they enter the houses of the comptroller and tax contractors, carry off their registers, and throw them into the water along with the furniture of their clerks.—In Provence it is worse; for most unjustly, and through inconceivable imprudence, the taxes of the towns are all levied on flour; it is therefore to this impost that the dearness of bread is directly attributed; hence the fiscal agent becomes a manifest enemy, and revolts on account of hunger are transformed into insurrections against the State.
Here, again, political novelties are the spark that ignites the mass of gunpowder; everywhere, the uprising of the people takes place on the very day on which the electoral assembly meets; from forty to fifty riots occur in the provinces in less than a fortnight. Popular imagination, like that of a child, goes straight to its mark; the reforms having been announced, people think them accomplished, and, to make sure of them, steps are at once taken to carry them out; now that we are to have relief, let us relieve ourselves. “This is not an isolated riot as usual,” writes the commander of the troops;27 “here the faction is united and governed by uniform principles; the same errors are diffused through all minds. . . .The principles impressed on the people are that the King desires equality; no more bishops or lords, no more distinctions of rank, no tithes, and no seignorial privileges. Thus, these misguided people fancy that they are exercising their rights, and obeying the will of the King.” The effect of sonorous phrases is apparent; the people have been told that the States-General were to bring about the “regeneration of the kingdom”; the inference is “that the date of their assembly was to be one of an entire and absolute change of conditions and fortunes.” Hence, “the insurrection against the nobles and the clergy is as active as it is widespread.” “In many places it was distinctly announced that there was a sort of war declared against landowners and property,” and “in the towns as well as in the rural districts the people persist in declaring that they will pay nothing, neither taxes, duties, nor debts.”—Naturally, the first assault is against the piquet, or meal-tax. At Aix, Marseilles, Toulon, and in more than forty towns and market-villages, this is summarily abolished; at Aupt and at Luc nothing remains of the weighing-house but the four walls; at Marseilles the house of the slaughter-house contractor, at Brignolles that of the director of the leather excise, are sacked: the determination is “to purge the land of excise-men.”—This is only a beginning; bread and other provisions must become cheap, and that without delay. At Arles, the corporation of sailors, presided over by M. de Barras, consul, had just elected its representatives: by way of conclusion to the meeting, they pass a resolution insisting that M. de Barras should reduce the price of all comestibles, and, on his refusal, they “open the window, exclaiming, ‘We hold him, and we have only to throw him into the street for the rest to pick him up.’ ” Compliance is inevitable. The resolution is proclaimed by the town-criers, and at each article which is reduced in price the crowd shout, “Vive le Roi, vive M. Barras!”—One must yield to brute force. But the inconvenience is great; for, through the suppression of the meal-tax, the towns have no longer a revenue; and, on the other hand, as they are obliged to indemnify the butchers and bakers, Toulon, for instance, incurs a debt of 2,500 livres a day.
In this state of disorder, woe to those who are under suspicion of having contributed, directly or indirectly, to the evils which the people endure! At Toulon a demand is made for the head of the mayor, who signs the tax-list, and of the keeper of the records; they are trodden under foot, and their houses are ransacked. At Manosque, the Bishop of Sisteron, who is visiting the seminary, is accused of favouring a monopolist; on his way to his carriage, on foot, he is hooted and menaced: he is first pelted with mud, and then with stones. The consuls in attendance, and the subdelegate who come to his assistance, are mauled and repulsed. Meanwhile, some of the most furious begin, before his eyes, “to dig a ditch to bury him in.” Protected by five or six brave fellows, he succeeds in reaching his carriage, amidst a volley of stones, wounded on the head and on many parts of his body, and is finally saved only because the horses, which are likewise stoned, run away. Foreigners, Italians, bandits, are mingled with the peasants and artisans, and expressions are heard and acts are seen which indicate a jacquerie.28 “The most excited said to the bishop, ‘We are poor and you are rich, and we mean to have all your property.’ ”29 Elsewhere, “the seditious mob exacts contributions from all people in good circumstances. At Brignolles, thirteen houses are pillaged from top to bottom, and thirty others half-pillaged.—At Aupt, M. de Montferrat, in defending himself, is killed and “hacked to pieces.”—At La Seyne, the populace, led by a peasant, assemble by beat of drum; some women fetch a bier, and set it down before the house of a leading bourgeois, telling him to prepare for death, and that “they will have the honour of burying him.” He escapes; his house is pillaged, as well as the bureau of the meal-tax; and, the following day, the chief of the band “obliges the principal inhabitants to give him a sum of money to indemnify, as he states it, the peasants who have abandoned their work,” and devoted the day to serving the public.—At Peinier, the Président de Peinier, an octogenarian, is “besieged in his chateau by a band of a hundred and fifty artisans and peasants,” who bring with them a consul and a notary. Aided by these two functionaries, they force the president “to pass an act by which he renounces his seignorial rights of every description.”—At Sollier they destroy the mills belonging to M. de Forbin-Janson, sack the house of his business agent, pillage the chateau, demolish the roof, chapel, altar, railings, and escutcheons, enter the cellars, stave in the casks, and carry away everything that can be carried, “the transportation taking two days”; all of which is a damage of a hundred thousand crowns for the marquis.—At Riez they surround the episcopal palace with fagots, threatening to burn it, “and compromise with the bishop on a promise of fifty thousand livres,” and want him to burn his archives.—In short, the sedition is social, for it singles out for attack all who profit by, or stand at the head of, the established order of things.
Seeing them act in this way, one would say that the theory of the Contrat-Social had been instilled into them. They treat magistrates as domestics, promulgate laws, conduct themselves like sovereigns, exercise public power, and establish, summarily, arbitrarily, and brutally, whatever they think to be in conformity with natural right.—At Peinier they exact a second electoral assembly, and, for themselves, the right of suffrage.—At Saint-Maximin they themselves elect new consuls and officers of justice.—At Solliez they oblige the judge’s lieutenant to give in his resignation, and they break his staff of office.—At Barjols “they use consuls and judges as their town servants, announcing that they are masters and that they will themselves administer justice.”—In fact, they do administer it as they understand it—that is to say, through many exactions and robberies! One man has wheat; he must share it with him who has none. Another has money; he must give it to him who has not enough to buy bread with. On this principle, at Barjols, they tax the Ursuline nuns 1,800 livres, carry off fifty loads of wheat from the Chapter, eighteen from one poor artisan, and forty from another, and constrain canons and beneficiaries to give acquittances to their farmers. Then, from house to house, with club in hand, they oblige some to hand over money, others to abandon their claims on their debtors, “one to desist from criminal proceedings, another to nullify a decree obtained, a third to reimburse the expenses of a lawsuit gained years before, a father to give his consent to the marriage of his son.”—All their grievances are brought to mind, and we all know the tenacity of a peasant’s memory. Having become the master, he redresses wrongs, and especially those of which he thinks himself the object. There must be a general restitution; and first, of the feudal dues which have been collected. They take of M. de Montmeyan’s business agent all the money he has as compensation for that received by him during fifteen years as a notary. A former consul of Brignolles had, in 1775, inflicted penalties to the amount of 1,500 or 1,800 francs, which had been given to the poor; this sum is taken from his strong box. Moreover, if consuls and law officers are wrong-doers, the title-deeds, rent-rolls, and other documents by which they do their business are still worse. To the fire with all old writings—not only office registers, but also, at Hyères, all the papers in the town-hall and those of the principal notary.—In the matter of papers none are good but new ones—those which convey some discharge, quittance, or obligation to the advantage of the people. At Brignolles the owners of the grist-mills are constrained to execute a contract of sale by which they convey their mills to the commune in consideration of 5,000 francs per annum, payable in ten years without interest—an arrangement which ruins them. On seeing the contract signed the peasants shout and cheer, and so great is their faith in this piece of stamped paper that they at once cause a mass of thanksgiving to be celebrated in the Cordeliers. Formidable omens, these! which mark the inward purpose, the determined will, the coming deeds of this rising power. If it prevails, its first work will be to destroy all ancient documents, all title-deeds, rent-rolls, contracts, and claims to which force compels it to submit. By force likewise it will draw up others to its own advantage, and the scribes who do it will be its own deputies and administrators whom it holds in its rude grasp.
Those who are in high places are not alarmed; they even find that there is some good in the revolt, inasmuch as it compels the towns to suppress unjust taxation.30 The new Marseilles guard, formed of young men, is allowed to march to Aubagne, “to insist that M. le lieutenant criminel and M. l’avocat du Roi release the prisoners.” The disobedience of Marseilles, which refuses to receive the magistrates sent under letters patent to take testimony, is tolerated. And better still, in spite of the remonstrances of the parliament of Aix, a general amnesty is proclaimed; “no one is excepted but a few of the leaders, to whom is allowed the liberty of leaving the kingdom.” The mildness of the King and of the military authorities is admirable. It is admitted that the people are children, that they err only through ignorance, that faith must be had in their repentance, and, as soon as they return to order, they must be received with paternal effusions.—The truth is, that the child is a blind Colossus, exasperated by sufferings. Hence whatever it takes hold of is shattered—not only the local wheels of the provinces, which, if temporarily deranged, may be repaired, but even the mainspring at the centre which puts the rest in motion, and the destruction of which will throw the whole machinery into confusion.
[1. ]Marmontel, “Mémoires,” ii. 221.—Albert Babeau, “Histoire de la Révolution Française,” i. 91, 187. (Letter by Huez, Mayor of Troyes, July 30, 1788.)—“Archives Nationales,” H. 1274. (Letter by M. de Caraman, April 22, 1789.) H. 942 (Cahier des demandes des Etats du Languedoc).—Buchez et Roux, “Histoire Parlementaire,” i. 283.
[2. ]See “The Ancient Régime,” p. 34. Albert Babeau, i. 91. (The Bishop of Troyes gives 12,000 francs, and the chapter 6,000, for the relief workshops.)
[3. ]“The Ancient Régime,” 350, 387.—Floquet, “Histoire du Parlement de Normandie,” vii. 505–518. (Reports of the Parliament of Normandy, May 3, 1788. Letter from the Parliament to the King, July 15, 1789.)
[4. ]Arthur Young, “Voyages in France,” June 29th, July 2nd and 18th.—“Journal de Paris,” January 2, 1789. Letter of the curé of Sainte-Marguerite.
[5. ]Roux and Buchez, iv. 79–82. (Letter from the intermediary bureau of Montereau, July 9, 1789; from the maire of Villeneuve-le-Roi, July 10th; from M. Baudry, July 10th; from M. Jamin, July 11th; from M. Prioreau, July 11th, &c.) Montjoie, “Histoire de la Révolution de France,” 2nd part, ch. xxi. p. 5.
[6. ]Roux and Buchez, ibid. “It is very unfortunate,” writes the Marquis d’Autichamp, “to be obliged to cut down the standing crops ready to be gathered in; but it is dangerous to let the troops die of hunger.”
[7. ]Montjoie, “Histoire de la Révolution de France,” ch. xxix. v. 37. De Goncourt, “La Société Française pendant la Révolution,” p. 53. Deposition of Maillard (Criminal Inquiry of the Châtelet concerning the events of October 5th and 6th).
[ 8. ]De Tocqueville, “L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution,” 272–290. De Lavergne, “Les Assemblées provinciales,” 109. Procès-verbaux des assemblées provinciales, passim.
[ 9. ]A magistrate who gives judgment in a lower court in cases relative to taxation. These terms are retained because there are no equivalents in English.
[10. ]“Laboureurs”—this term, at this epoch, is applied to those who till their own land.
[11. ]Duvergier, “Collection des lois et décrets,” i. 1 to 23, and particularly p. 15.
[12. ]Arthur Young, July 12th, 1789 (in Champagne).
[13. ]Montjoie, 1st part, 102.
[14. ]Floquet, “Histoire du Parlement de Normandie,” vii. 508.—“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453.
[15. ]Arthur Young, June 29th (at Nangis).
[16. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Letter of the Duc de Mortemart, Seigneur of Bray, May 4th; of M. de Ballainvilliers, intendant of Languedoc, April 15th.
[17. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Letter of the intendant, M. d’Agay, April 30th; of the municipal officers of Nantes, January 9th; of the intendant, M. Mealan d’Ablois, June 22nd; of M. de Ballainvilliers, April 15th.
[18. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Letter of the Count de Langeron, July 4th; of M. de Meulan d’Ablois, June 5th; “Procès-verbal de la Maréchaussée de Bost,” April 29th. Letters of M. de Chazerat, May 29th; of M. de Bezenval, June 2nd; of the intendant, M. Amelot, April 25th.
[19. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Letter of M. de Bezenval, May 27th; of M. de Ballainvilliers, April 25th; of M. de Foullonde, April 19th.
[20. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Letter of the intendant, M. d’Aine, March 12th; of M. d’Agay, April 30th; of M. Amelot, April 25th; of the municipal authorities of Nantes, January 9th, &c.
[21. ]“The Ancient Régime,” pp. 380–389.
[22. ]Floquet, vii. 508 (Report of February 27th). Hippeau, “Le Gouvernement de Normandie,” iv. 377. (Letter of M. Perrot, June 23rd.)—“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Letter of M. de Sainte-Suzanne, April 29th. Ibid. F7, 3,250. Letter of M. de Rochambeau, May 16th. Ibid. F7, 3,185. Letter of the Abbé Duplaquet, Deputy of the Third-Estate of Saint-Quentin, May 17th. Letter of three husbandmen in the environs of Saint-Quentin, May 14th.
[23. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Letter of the Count de Perigord, military commandant of Languedoc, April 22nd.
[24. ]Floquet, vii. 511 (from the 11th to the 14th July).
[25. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Letter of the municipal authorities of Nantes, January 9th; of the subdelegate of Ploërmel, July 4th; ibid. F7, 2,353. Letter of the intermediary commission of Alsace, September 8th; ibid. F7, 3,227. Letter of the intendant, Caze de la Bove, June 16th; ibid. H. 1453. Letter of Terray, intendant of Lyons, July 4th; of the prévot des échevins, July 5th and= 7th.
[26. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Letter of the mayor and councils of Agde, April 21st; of M. de Perigord, April 19th, May 5th.
[27. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Letters of M. de Caraman, March 23rd, 26th, 27th, 28th; of the seneschal Missiessy, March 24th; of the mayor of Hyères, March 25th, &c.; ibid. H. 1274; of M. de Montmayran, April 2nd; of M. de Caraman, March 18th, April 12th; of the intendant, M. de la Tour, April 2nd; of the procureur-général, M. d’Antheman, April 17th, and the report of June 15th; of the municipal authorities of Toulon, April 11th; of the subdelegate of Manosque, March 14th; of M. de Saint-Tropez, March 21st.—Procés-verbal, signed by 119 witnesses, of the insurrection at Aix, March 5th, &c.
[28. ]A rising of the peasants. The term is used to indicate a country mob in contradistinction to a city or town mob.—Tr.
[29. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1274. Letter of M. de la Tour, April 2nd (with a detailed memorial and depositions).
[30. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1274. Letter of M. de Caraman, April 22nd:—“One real benefit results from this misfortune. . . . The well-to-do class is brought to sustain that which exceeded the strength of the poor daily labourers. We see the nobles and people in good circumstances a little more attentive to the poor peasants: they are now habituated to speaking to them with more gentleness.” M. de Caraman was wounded, as well as his son, at Aix, and if the soldiery, who were stoned, at length fired on the crowd, he did not give the order.—Ibid. Letter of M. d’Anthéman, April 17th; of M. de Barentin, June 11th.