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CHAPTER III - 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.
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I.Anarchy from July 14th to October 6th, 1789—Destruction of the Government—To whom does real power belong?—II.The Provinces—Destruction of old Authorities—Incompetency of new Authorities—III.Disposition of the People—Famine—IV.Panic—General arming—V.Attacks on public individuals and public property—At Strasbourg—At Cherbourg—At Maubeuge—At Rouen—At Besançon—At Troyes—VI.Taxes are no longer paid—Devastation of the Forests—The new game laws—VII.Attacks upon private individuals and private property—Aristocrats denounced to the people as their enemies—Effect of news from Paris—Influence of the village attorneys—Isolated acts of violence—A general rising of the peasantry in the east—War against the chateaux, feudal estates, and property—Preparations for other jacqueries.
However bad a particular government may be, there is something still worse, and that is the suppression of all government. For, it is owing to government that human wills form a harmony instead of a chaos. It serves society as the brain serves a living being. Incapable, inconsiderate, extravagant, engrossing, it often abuses its position, overstraining or misleading the body for which it should care, and which it should direct. But, taking all things into account, whatever it may do, more good than harm is done, for through it the body stands erect, marches on and guides its steps. Without it there is no organized deliberate action, serviceable to the whole body. In it alone do we find the comprehensive views, knowledge of the members of which it consists and of their aims, an idea of outward relationships, full and accurate information, in short, the superior intelligence which conceives what is best for the common interests, and adapts means to ends. If it falters and is no longer obeyed, if it is forced and pushed from without by a violent pressure, it ceases to control public affairs, and the social organization retrogrades by many steps. Through the dissolution of society, and the isolation of individuals, each man returns to his original feeble state, while power is vested in passing aggregates which spring up like whirling vortices amongst the human dust.—One may divine how this power, which the most competent find it difficult to apply properly, is exercised by bands of men starting up from the ground. The question is of provisions, their possession, price, and distribution; of taxation, its proportion, apportionment, and collection; of private property, its varieties, rights, and limitations; of public authority, its province and its limits; of all those delicate cog-wheels which, working into each other, constitute the great economic, social, and political machine. Each band in its own canton lays its rude hands on the wheels within its reach, wrenching or breaking them haphazard, under the impulse of the moment, heedless and indifferent to consequences, even when the reaction of tomorrow crushes them in the ruin which they cause today. Thus do unchained negroes, each pulling and hauling his own way, undertake to manage a ship of which they have just obtained the mastery.—In such a state of things white men are hardly worth more than black ones; for, not only is the band, whose aim is violence, composed of those who are most destitute, most wildly enthusiastic, and most inclined to destructiveness and to license, but also, as this band tumultuously carries out its violent action, each individual the most brutal, the most irrational, and most corrupt, descends lower than himself, even to the darkness, the madness, and the savagery of the dregs of society. In fact, a man who in the interchange of blows, would resist the excitement of murder, and not use his strength like a savage, must be familiar with arms, accustomed to danger, cool-blooded, alive to the sentiment of honour, and, above all, sensitive to that stern military code which, to the imagination of the soldier, ever holds out to him the provost’s gibbet to which he is sure to rise, should he strike one blow too many. All these restraints, inward as well as outward, are wanting to the man who plunges into insurrection. He is a novice in the acts of violence which he carries out. He has no fear of the law, because he abolishes it. The action begun carries him further than he intended to go. His anger is exasperated by peril and resistance. He catches the fever from contact with those who are fevered, and follows robbers who have become his comrades.1 Add to this the clamours, the drunkenness, the spectacle of destruction, the nervous tremor of the body strained beyond its powers of endurance, and we can comprehend how, from the peasant, the labourer, and the bourgeois, pacified and tamed by an old civilisation, we see all of a sudden spring forth the barbarian, and, still worse, the primitive animal, the grinning, sanguinary, wanton baboon, who chuckles while he slays, and gambols over the ruin he has accomplished. Such is the actual government to which France is given up, and after eighteen months’ experience, the best qualified, most judicious, and profoundest observer of the Revolution will find nothing to compare to it but the invasion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century.2 “The Huns, the Heruli, the Vandals, and the Goths will come neither from the north nor from the Black Sea; they are in our very midst.”
When in a building the principal beam gives way, cracks follow and multiply, and the secondary joists fall in one by one for lack of the prop which supported them. In a similar manner the authority of the King being broken, all the powers which he delegated fall to the ground.3 Intendants, parliaments, military commands, grand provosts, administrative, judicial, and police functionaries in every province, and of every branch of the service, who maintain order and protect property, taught by the murder of De Launay, the imprisonment of Bezenval, the flight of Marshal de Broglie, the assassinations of Foulon and Berthier, know what it costs to perform their duties, and, lest this should be forgotten, local insurrections intervene, and keep them in mind of it.
The officer in command in Burgundy is a prisoner at Dijon, with a guard at his door; and he is not allowed to speak with any one without permission, and without the presence of witnesses.4 The Commandant of Caen is besieged in the old palace and capitulates. The Commandant of Bordeaux surrenders Château-Trompette with its guns and equipment. The Commandant at Metz, who remains firm, suffers the insults and the orders of the populace. The Commandant of Brittany wanders about his province “like a vagabond,” while at Rennes his people, furniture, and plate are kept as pledges; as soon as he sets foot in Normandy he is surrounded, and a sentinel is placed at his door. The Intendant of Besançon takes to flight; that of Rouen sees his dwelling sacked from top to bottom, and escapes amid the shouts of a mob demanding his head. At Rennes, the Dean of the Parliament is arrested, maltreated, kept in his room with a guard over him, and then, although ill, sent out of the town under an escort. At Strasbourg, “thirty-six houses of magistrates are marked for pillage.”5 At Besançon, the President of the Parliament is constrained to let out of prison the insurgents arrested in a late outbreak, and to publicly burn the whole of the papers belonging to the prosecution. In Alsace, since the beginning of the troubles, the provosts were obliged to fly; the bailiffs and manorial judges hid themselves; the forest-inspectors ran away, and the houses of the guards were demolished: one man, sixty years of age, is outrageously beaten and marched about the village, the people, meanwhile, pulling out his hair; nothing remains of his dwelling but the walls and a portion of the roof; all his furniture and effects are broken up, burnt, or stolen; he is forced to sign, along with his wife, an act by which he binds himself to refund all penalties inflicted by him, and to abandon all claims for damages for the injuries to which he has just been subjected. In Franche-Comté the authorities dare not condemn delinquents, and the police do not arrest them; the military commandant writes that “crimes of every kind are on the increase, and that he has no means of punishing them.” Insubordination is permanent in all the provinces; one of the provincial commissions states with sadness: “When all powers are in confusion and annihilated, when public force no longer exists, when all ties are sundered, when every individual considers himself relieved from all kinds of obligation, when public authority no longer dares make itself felt, and it is a crime to have been clothed with it, what can be expected of our efforts to restore order?”6 All that remains of this great demolished State is forty thousand knots of men, each separated and isolated, in towns and small market-villages where municipal bodies, elected committees, and improvised national guards strive to prevent the worst excesses.—But these local chiefs are novices; they are human, and they are timid. Chosen by acclamation they believe in popular rights; in the midst of riots they feel themselves in danger. Hence, they generally obey the crowd. “Rarely,” says one of the provincial commissions’ reports, “do the municipal authorities issue a summons; they allow the greatest excesses rather than enter upon prosecutions for which, sooner or later, they may be held responsible by their fellow-citizens. . . . Municipal bodies have no longer the power to resist anything.” Especially in the rural districts the mayor or syndic, who is a farmer, makes it his first aim to make no enemies, and would resign his place if it were to bring him any “unpleasantness” with it. His rule in the towns, and especially in large cities, is almost as lax and more precarious, because explosive material is accumulated here to a much larger extent, and the municipal officers, in their arm-chairs at the town-hall, sit over a mine which may explode at any time. Tomorrow, perhaps, some resolution passed at a tavern in the suburbs, or some incendiary newspaper just received from Paris, will furnish the spark.—No other defence against the populace is at hand than the sentimental proclamations of the National Assembly, the useless presence of troops who stand by and look on, and the uncertain help of a National Guard which will arrive too late. Occasionally these townspeople, who are now the sovereigns, utter a cry of distress from under the hands of the sovereigns of the street who grasp them by the throat. At Puy-en-Velay,7 a town of twenty thousand inhabitants, the présidial,8 the committee of twenty-four commissioners, a body of two hundred dragoons, and eight hundred men of the guard of burgesses, are “paralyzed, and completely stupefied, by the vile populace. A mild treatment only increases its insubordination and insolence.” This populace proscribes whomsoever it pleases, and six days ago a gibbet, erected by its hands, has announced to the new magistrates the fate that awaits them. “What will become of us this winter,” they exclaim, “in our impoverished country, where bread is not to be had! We shall be the prey of wild beasts!”
These people, in truth, are hungry, and, since the Revolution, their misery has increased. Around Puy-en-Velay the country is laid waste, and the soil broken up by a terrible tempest, a fierce hailstorm, and a deluge of rain. In the south, the crop proved to be moderate and even insufficient. “To trace a picture of the condition of Languedoc,” writes the intendant,9 “would be to give an account of calamities of every description. The panic which prevails in all communities, and which is stronger than all laws, stops traffic, and would cause famine even in the midst of plenty. Commodities are enormously high, and there is a lack of cash. Communities are ruined by the enormous outlays to which they are exposed—the payment of the deputies to the seneschal’s court, the establishment of the burgess guards, guardhouses for this militia, the purchase of arms, uniforms, and outlays in forming communes and permanent councils; printing of all kinds, for the publication of the most unessential deliberations; the loss of time due to disturbances occasioned by these circumstances; the utter stagnation of manufactures and of trade”—all these causes combined “have reduced Languedoc to the last extremity.”—In the centre, and in the north, where the crops are good, provisions are not less scarce, because wheat is not allowed a circulation, and is kept concealed. “For five months,” writes the municipal assembly of Louviers,10 “not a farmer has made his appearance in the markets of this town. Such a circumstance was never known before, although, from time to time, high prices have prevailed to a considerable extent. On the contrary, the markets were always well supplied in proportion to the high price of grain.” In vain the municipality orders the surrounding forty-seven parishes to provide them with wheat; they pay no attention to the mandate; each for himself and each for his own house; the intendant is no longer present to compel local interests to give way to public interests. “In the wheat districts around us,” says a letter from one of the Burgundy towns, “we cannot rely on being able to make free purchases. Special regulations, supported by the burgess militia, prevent grain from being sent out, and put a stop to its circulation. The adjacent markets are of no use to us. Not a sack of grain has been brought into our market for about eight months.”—At Troyes, bread costs four sous per pound; at Bar-sur-Aube, and in the vicinity, four and a half sous per pound. The artisan who is out of work now earns twelve sous a day at the relief works, and, on going into the country, he sees that the grain crop is good. What conclusion can he come to but that the dearth is due to the monopolists, and that, if he should die of hunger, it would be because those scoundrels have starved him?—By virtue of this reasoning whoever has to do with these provisions, whether proprietor, farmer, merchant, or administrator, all are considered traitors. It is plain that there is a plot against the people: the government, the Queen, the clergy, the nobles are all parties to it; and likewise the magistrates and the wealthy amongst the bourgeoisie and the rich. A rumour is current in the Ile-de-France that sacks of flour are thrown into the Seine, and that the cavalry horses are purposely made to eat grain in the stalk. In Brittany, it is maintained that grain is exported and stored up abroad. In Touraine, it is certain that this or that wholesale dealer allows it to sprout in his granaries rather than sell it. At Troyes, a story prevails that another has poisoned his flour with alum and arsenic, commissioned to do so by the bakers.—Conceive the effect of suspicions like these upon a suffering multitude! A wave of hatred ascends from the empty stomach to the morbid brain. The people are everywhere in quest of their imaginary enemies, plunging forward with closed eyes no matter on whom or on what, not merely with all the weight of their mass, but with all the energy of their fury.
From the earliest of these weeks they were already alarmed. Accustomed to being led, the human herd is scared at being left to itself; it misses its leaders whom it has trodden under foot; in throwing off their trammels it has deprived itself of their protection. It feels lonely, in an unknown country, exposed to dangers of which it is ignorant, and against which it is unable to guard itself. Now that the shepherds are slain or disarmed, suppose the wolves should unexpectedly appear!—And there are wolves—I mean vagabonds and criminals—who have but just issued out of the darkness. They have robbed and burned, and are to be found at every insurrection. Now that the police force no longer puts them down, they show themselves instead of keeping themselves concealed. They have only to lie in wait and come forth in a band, and both life and property will be at their mercy.—Deep anxiety, a vague feeling of dread, spreads through both town and country: towards the end of July the panic, like a blinding, suffocating whirl of dust, suddenly sweeps over hundreds of leagues of territory. The brigands are coming! they are firing the crops! they are only six leagues off, and then only two—it is proved by the fugitives who are escaping in confusion.
On the 28th of July, at Angoulême,11 the tocsin is heard about three o’clock in the afternoon; the drums beat to arms, and cannon are mounted on the ramparts; the town has to be put in a state of defence against 15,000 bandits who are approaching; and from the walls a cloud of dust on the road is discovered with terror. It proves to be the post-waggon on its way to Bordeaux. After this the number of brigands is reduced to 1,500, but there is no doubt that they are ravaging the country. At nine o’clock in the evening 20,000 men are under arms, and thus they pass the night, always listening without hearing anything. Towards three o’clock in the morning there is a fresh alarm with the tocsin, and the people form themselves in battle array; it is certain that the brigands have burned Ruffec, Verneuil, La Rochefoucauld, and other places. The next day countrymen flock in to give their aid against bandits who are still absent. “At nine o’clock,” says a witness, “we had 40,000 men in the town, to whom we had to be grateful.” As the bandits do not show themselves, it must be because they are concealed; a hundred horsemen, a large number of men on foot, start out to search the forest of Braçonne, and to their great surprise they find nothing. But the terror is not allayed; “during the following days a guard is kept mounted, and companies are enrolled among the burgesses,” while Bordeaux, duly informed, dispatches a courier to offer the support of 20,000 men and even 30,000. “What is surprising,” adds the narrator, “is that at ten leagues off in the neighbourhood, in each parish, a similar disturbance took place, and at about the same hour.”—That a girl returning to the village at night should meet two men who do not belong to the neighbourhood is sufficient to give rise to these panics. The case is the same in Auvergne. Whole parishes, on the strength of this, betake themselves at night to the woods, abandoning their houses, and carrying away their furniture; “the fugitives trod down and destroyed their own crops; pregnant women were injured in the forests, and others lost their wits.” Fear lends them wings. Two years after this, Madame Campan was shown a rocky peak on which a woman had taken refuge, and from which she was obliged to be let down with ropes.—The people at last return to their homes, and their lives seem to resume the even tenor of their way. But such large masses are not unsettled with impunity; a tumult like this is, in itself, a fruitful source of alarm: as the country did rise, it must have been on account of threatened danger; and if the peril was not due to brigands, it must have come from some other quarter. Arthur Young, at Dijon and in Alsace,12 hears at the public dinner-tables that the Queen had formed a plot to undermine the National Assembly and to massacre all Paris. Later on he is arrested in a village near Clermont, and examined because he is evidently conspiring with the Queen and the Comte d’Entraigues to blow up the town and send the survivors to the galleys.
No argument, no experience has any effect against the multiplying phantoms of an overexcited imagination. Henceforth every commune, and every man, provide themselves with arms and keep them ready for use. The peasant searches his hoard, and “finds from ten to twelve francs for the purchase of a gun.” “A national militia is found in the poorest village.” Burgess guards and companies of volunteers patrol all the towns. Military commanders deliver arms, ammunition, and equipments, on the requisition of municipal bodies, while, in case of refusal, the arsenals are pillaged, and, voluntarily or by force, four hundred thousand guns thus pass into the hands of the people in six months.13 Not content with this they must have cannon. Brest having demanded two, every town in Brittany does the same thing; their amour-propre is excited, and also the need of feeling themselves strong. They lack nothing now to render themselves masters. All authority, all force, every means of constraint and of intimidation is in their hands, and in theirs alone; and these sovereign hands have nothing to guide them in this actual interregnum of all legal powers, but the wild or murderous suggestions of hunger or distrust.
It would take too much space to recount all the violent acts which were committed—convoys arrested, grain pillaged, millers and corn-merchants hung, decapitated, slaughtered, farmers called upon under threats of death to give up even the seed reserved for sowing, proprietors ransomed and houses sacked.14 These outrages, unpunished, tolerated, and even excused or badly suppressed, are constantly repeated, and are, at first, directed against public men and public property. As is commonly the case, the rabble head the march and stamp the character of the whole insurrection.
On the 19th of July, at Strasbourg, on the news of Necker’s return to office, it interprets after its own fashion the public joy which it witnesses. Five or six hundred beggars,15 their numbers soon increased by the petty tradesmen, rush to the town-hall, the magistrates only having time to fly through a back door. The soldiers, on their part, with arms in their hands, allow all these things to go on, while several of them spur the assailants on. The windows are dashed to pieces under a hailstorm of stones, the doors are forced with iron crow-bars, and the populace enter amid a burst of acclamations from the spectators. Immediately, through every opening in the building, which has a façade frontage of eighty feet, “there is a shower of shutters, sashes, chairs, tables, sofas, books and papers, and then another of tiles, boards, balconies and fragments of wood-work.” The public archives are thrown to the wind, and the surrounding streets are strewed with them; the letters of enfranchisement, the charters of privileges, all the authentic acts which, since Louis XIV., have guaranteed the liberties of the town, perish in the flames. Some of the rabble in the cellars stave in casks of precious wine; fifteen thousand measures of it are lost, making a pool five feet deep in which several are drowned. Others, loaded with booty, go away under the eyes of the soldiers without being arrested. The havoc continues for three days; a number of houses belonging to some of the magistrates “are sacked from garret to cellar.” When the honest burgesses at last obtain arms and restore order, they are content with the hanging of one of the robbers; although, in order to please the people, the magistrates are changed and the price of bread and meat is reduced. It is not surprising that after such tactics, and with such rewards, the riot should spread through the neighbourhood far and near: in fact, starting from Strasbourg it overruns Alsace, while in the country as in the city, there are always drunkards and rascals found to head it.
No matter where—be it in the east, in the west, or in the north—the instigators are always of this stamp. At Cherbourg, on the 21st of July,16 the two leaders of the riot are “highway robbers,” who place themselves at the head of women of the suburbs, foreign sailors, the populace of the harbour, and it includes soldiers in workmen’s smocks. They force the delivery of the keys of the grain warehouses, and wreck the dwellings of the three richest merchants, also that of M. de Garantot, the subdelegate: “All records and papers are burnt; at M. de Garantot’s alone the loss is estimated at more than 100,000 crowns at least.”—The same instinct of destruction prevails everywhere—a sort of envious fury against all who possess, command, or enjoy anything. At Maubeuge, on the 27th of July, at the very moment of the assembly of the representatives of the commune,17 the rabble interferes directly in its usual fashion. A band of nail- and gun-makers takes possession of the town-hall, and obliges the mayor to reduce the price of bread. Almost immediately after this another band follows uttering cries of death, and smashes the windows, while the garrison, which has been ordered out, quietly contemplates the damage done. Death to the mayor, to all rulers, and to all employés! The rioters force open the prisons, set the prisoners free, and attack the tax-offices. The octroi offices are demolished from top to bottom: they pull down the harbour offices and throw the scales and weights into the river. All the custom and excise stores are carried off, and the officials are compelled to give acquittances. The houses of the registrar and of the sheriff, that of the revenue comptroller, two hundred yards outside the town, are sacked; the doors and the windows are smashed, the furniture and linen is torn to shreds, and the plate and jewellery is thrown into the wells. The same havoc is committed in the mayor’s town-house, also in his country-house a league off. “Not a window, not a door, not one article or eatable” is preserved; their work, moreover, is conscientiously done, without stopping a moment, “from ten in the evening up to ten in the morning on the following day.” In addition to this the mayor, who has served for thirty-four years, resigns his office at the solicitation of the well-disposed but terrified people, and leaves the country.—At Rouen, after the 24th of July,18 a written placard shows, by its orthography and its style, what sort of intellects composed it and what kind of actions are to follow it: “Nation, you have here four heads to strike off—those of Pontcarry (the first president), Maussion (the intendant), Godard de Belboeuf (the attorney-general), and Durand (the attorney of the King in the town). Without this we are lost, and if you do not do it, people will take you for a heartless nation.” Nothing could be more explicit. The municipal body, however, to whom the Parliament denounces this list of proscriptions, replies, with its forced optimism, that “no citizen should consider himself or be considered as proscribed; he may and must believe himself to be safe in his own dwelling, satisfied that there is not a person in the city who would not fly to his rescue.” This is equal to telling the populace that it is free to do as it pleases. On the strength of this the leaders of the riot work on in security for ten days. One of them is a man named Jourdain, a lawyer of Lisieux, and, like most of his brethren, a demagogue in principles; the other is a strolling actor from Paris named Bordier, famous in the part of harlequin,19 a bully in a house of ill-fame, “a night-rover and drunkard, and who, fearing neither God nor devil,” has taken up patriotism, and comes down into the provinces to play tragedy, and that, tragedy in real life. The fifth act begins on the night of the 3rd of August, with Bordier and Jourdain as the principal actors, and behind them the rabble along with several companies of fresh volunteers. A shout is heard, “Death to the monopolists! death to Maussion! we must have his head!” They pillage his hotel: many of them become intoxicated and fall asleep in his cellar. The revenue offices, the toll-gates of the town, the excise office, all buildings in which the royal revenue is collected, are wrecked. Immense bonfires are lighted in the streets and on the old market square; furniture, clothes, papers, kitchen utensils, are all thrown in pell-mell, while carriages are dragged out and tumbled into the Seine. It is only when the town-hall is attacked that the national guard, beginning to be alarmed, makes up its mind to seize Bordier and some others. The following morning, however, at the shout of Carabo, and led by Jourdain, the prison is forced, Bordier set free, and the intendant’s residence, with its offices, is sacked a second time. When, finally, the two rascals are taken and led to the scaffold, the populace is so strongly in their favour as to require the pointing of loaded cannon on them to keep them down.—At Besançon,20 on the 13th of August, the leaders consist of the servant of an exhibitor of wild animals, two gaol-birds of whom one has already been branded in consequence of a riot, and a number of “inhabitants of ill-repute,” who, towards evening, spread through the town along with the soldiers. The gunners insult the officers they meet, seize them by the throat, and want to throw them into the Doubs. Others go to the house of the commandant, M. de Langeron, and demand money of him; on his refusing to give it they tear off their cockades and exclaim, “We too belong to the Third-Estate!” in other words, that they are the masters: subsequently they demand the head of the intendant, M. de Caumartin, forcibly enter his dwelling and break up his furniture. On the following day the rabble and the soldiers enter the coffee-houses, the convents, and the inns, and demand to be served with wine and eatables as much as they want, and then, heated by drink, they burn the excise offices, force open several prisons, and set free all the smugglers and deserters. To put an end to this saturnalia a grand banquet in the open air is suggested, in which the National Guard is to fraternize with the whole garrison; but the banquet turns into a drinking-bout, entire companies remaining under the tables dead drunk; other companies carry away with them four hogsheads of wine, and the rest, finding themselves left in the lurch, are scattered abroad outside the walls in order to rob the cellars of the neighbouring villages. The next day, encouraged by the example set them, a portion of the garrison, accompanied by a number of workmen, repeat the expedition in the country. Finally, after four days of this orgy, to prevent Besançon and its outskirts from being indefinitely treated as a conquered country, the burgess guard, in alliance with the soldiers who have remained loyal, rebel against the rebellion, go in quest of the marauders, and hang two of them that same evening.—Such is insurrection!21 an irruption of brute force which, turned loose on the habitations of men, can do nothing but gorge itself, waste, break, destroy, and do damage to itself; and if we follow the details of local history, we see how, in these days, similar outbreaks of violence might be expected at any time.
At Troyes,22 on the 18th of July, a market-day, the peasants refuse to pay the entrance duties; the octroi having been suppressed at Paris, it ought also to be suppressed at Troyes. The populace, excited by this first disorderly act, gather into a mob for the purpose of dividing the grain and arms amongst themselves, and the next day the town-hall is invested by seven or eight thousand men, armed with clubs and stones. The day after, a band, recruited in the surrounding villages, armed with flails, shovels, and pitch-forks, enters under the leadership of a joiner who marches at the head of it with a drawn sabre; fortunately, “all the honest folks among the burgesses” immediately form themselves into a national guard, and this first attempt at a jacquerie is put down. But the agitation continues, and false rumours constantly keep it up. On the 29th of July, on the report being circulated that five hundred “brigands” had left Paris and were coming to ravage the country, the tocsin sounds in the villages, and the peasants go forth armed.—Henceforth, a vague idea of some impending danger fills all minds; the necessity of defence and of guarding against enemies is maintained. The new demagogues avail themselves of this to keep their hold on the people, and when the time comes, to use it against their chiefs. It is of no use to assure the people that the latter are patriots; that only recently they welcomed Necker with enthusiastic shouts; that the priests, the monks, and canons were the first to adopt the national cockade; that the nobles of the city and its environs are the most liberal in France; that, on the 20th of July, the burgess guard saved the town; that all the wealthy give to the national workshops; that Mayor Huez, “a venerable and honest magistrate,” is a benefactor to the poor and to the public. All the old leaders are objects of distrust.—On the 8th of August, a mob demands the dismissal of the dragoons, arms for all volunteers, bread at two sous the pound, and the freedom of all prisoners. On the 19th of August the National Guard rejects its old officers as aristocrats, and elects new ones. On the 27th of August, the crowd invade the town-hall and distribute the arms amongst themselves. On the 5th of September, two hundred men, led by Truelle, president of the new committee, force the salt depôt and have salt delivered to them at six sous per pound.—Meanwhile, in the lowest quarters of the city, a story is concocted to the effect that if wheat is scarce it is because Huez, the mayor, and M. de St. Georges, the old commandant, are monopolists, and now they say of Huez what they said five weeks before of Foulon, that “he wants to make the people eat hay.” The many-headed brute growls fiercely and is about to spring. As usual, instead of restraining him, they try to manage him. “You must put your authority aside for a moment,” writes the deputy of Troyes to the sheriffs, “and act towards the people as to a friend; be as gentle with them as you would be with your equals, and rest assured that they are capable of responding to it.” Thus does Huez act, and he even does more, paying no attention to their menaces, refusing to provide for his own safety and almost offering himself as a sacrifice. “I have wronged no one,” he exclaimed; “why should any one bear me ill-will?” His sole precaution is to provide something for the unfortunate poor when he is gone: he bequeaths in his will 18,000 livres to the poor, and, on the eve of his death, sends 100 crowns to the bureau of charity. But what avail self-abnegation and beneficence against blind, insane rage! On the 9th of September, three loads of flour proving to be unsound, the people collect and shout out, “Down with the flour-dealers! Down with machinery! Down with the mayor! Death to the mayor, and let Truelle be put in his place!”—Huez, on leaving his court-room, is knocked down, murdered by kicks and blows, throttled, dragged to the reception hall, struck on his head with a sabot, and pitched down the grand staircase. The municipal officers strive in vain to protect him; a rope is put around his neck and they begin to drag him along. A priest, who begs to be allowed at least to save his soul, is repulsed and beaten. A woman jumps on the prostrate old man, stamps on his face and repeatedly thrusts her scissors in his eyes. He is dragged along with the rope around his neck up to the Pont de la Selle, and thrown into the neighbouring ford, and then drawn out, again dragged through the streets and in the gutters, with a bunch of hay crammed in his mouth.23
In the meantime, his house as well as that of the lieutenant of police, that of the notary Guyot, and that of M. de Saint-Georges, are sacked; the pillaging and destruction lasts four hours; at the notary’s house, six hundred bottles of wine are consumed or carried off; objects of value are divided, and the rest, even down to the iron balcony, is demolished or broken; the rioters cry out, on leaving, that they have still to burn twenty-seven houses, and to take twenty-seven heads. “No one at Troyes went to bed that fatal night.”—During the succeeding days, for nearly two weeks, society seems to be dissolved. Placards posted about the streets proscribe municipal officers, canons, divines, privileged persons, prominent merchants, and even ladies of charity; the latter are so frightened that they throw up their office, while a number of persons move off into the country; others barricade themselves in their dwellings and only open their doors with sabre in hand. Not until the 26th does the orderly class rally sufficiently to resume the ascendancy and arrest the miscreants.—Such is public life in France after the 14th of July: the magistrates in each town feel that they are at the mercy of a band of savages and sometimes of cannibals. Those of Troyes had just tortured Huez after the fashion of Hurons, while those of Caen did worse; Major de Belzance, not less innocent, and under sworn protection,24 was cut to pieces like Laperouse in the Fiji Islands, and a woman ate his heart.
We can divine, under such circumstances, whether taxes come in, and whether municipalities that sway about in every popular breeze have the power of keeping up odious revenue rights.—Towards the end of September,25 I find a list of thirty-six committees or municipal bodies which, within a radius of fifty leagues around Paris, refuse to ensure the collection of taxes. One of them tolerates the sale of contraband salt, in order not to excite a riot. Another takes the precaution to disarm the employés in the excise department. In a third the municipal officers were the first to provide themselves with contraband salt and contraband tobacco.
At Peronne and at Ham, the order having come to restore the toll-houses, the people destroy the soldiers’ quarters, conduct all the employés to their homes, and order them to leave within twenty-four hours, under penalty of death. After twenty months’ resistance Paris will end the matter by forcing the National Assembly to give in and by obtaining the final suppression of its octroi.26 —Of all the creditors whose hand each one felt on his shoulders, that of the exchequer was the heaviest, and now it is the weakest; hence this is the first whose grasp is to be shaken off; there is none which is more heartily detested or which receives harsher treatment. Especially against collectors of the salt-tax, custom-house officers, and excisemen the fury is universal. These, everywhere,27 are in danger of their lives and are obliged to fly. At Falaise, in Normandy, the people threaten to “cut to pieces the director of the excise.” At Baignes, in Saintonge, his house is devastated and his papers and effects are burned; they put a knife to the throat of his son, a child six years of age, saying, “Thou must perish that there may be no more of thy race.” For four hours the clerks are on the point of being torn to pieces; through the entreaties of the lord of the manor, who sees scythes and sabres aimed at his own head, they are released only on the condition that they “abjure their employment.”—Again, for two months following the taking of the Bastille, insurrections break out by hundreds, like a volley of musketry, against indirect taxation. From the 23rd of July the Intendant of Champagne reports that “the uprising is general in almost all the towns under his generalship.” On the following day the Intendant of Alençon writes that, in his province, “the royal dues will no longer be paid anywhere.” On the 7th of August, M. Necker states to the National Assembly that in the two intendants’ districts of Caen and Alençon it has been necessary to reduce the price of salt one-half; that “in an infinity of places” the collection of the excise is stopped or suspended; that the smuggling of salt and tobacco is done by “convoys and by open force” in Picardy, in Lorraine, and in the Trois-Evêchés; that the indirect tax does not come in, that the receivers-general and the receivers of the taille are “at bay” and can no longer keep their engagements. The public income diminishes from month to month; in the social body, the heart, already so feeble, faints; deprived of the blood which no longer reaches it, it ceases to propel to the muscles the vivifying current which restores their waste and adds to their energy.
“All controlling power is slackened,” says Necker, “everything is a prey to the passions of individuals.” Where is the power to constrain them and to secure to the State its dues? The clergy, the nobles, wealthy townsmen, and certain brave artisans and farmers, undoubtedly pay, and even sometimes give spontaneously. But in society those who possess intelligence, who are in easy circumstances and conscientious, form a small select class—the great mass is egotistic, ignorant, and needy, and lets its money go only under constraint; there is but one way to collect the taxes, and that is to extort them. From time immemorial, direct taxes in France have been collected only by bailiffs and seizures; which is not surprising, as they take away a full half of the net income. Now that the peasants of each village are armed and form a band, let the collector come and make seizures if he dare!—“Immediately after the decree on the equality of the taxes,” writes the provincial commission of Alsace,28 “the people generally refused to make any payments, until those who were exempt and privileged should have been inscribed on the local lists.” In many places the peasants threaten to obtain the reimbursement of their instalments, while in others they insist that the decree should be retrospective and that the new rate-payers should pay for the past year. “No collector dare send an official to distrain; none that are sent dare fulfil their mission.”—“It is not the good bourgeois” of whom there is any fear, “but the rabble who make the latter and every one else afraid of them”; resistance and disorder everywhere come from “people that have nothing to lose.”—Not only do they shake off taxation, but they usurp property, and declare that, being the Nation, whatever belongs to the Nation belongs to them. The forests of Alsace are laid waste, the seignorial as well as communal, and wantonly destroyed with the wastefulness of children or of maniacs. “In many places, to avoid the trouble of removing the woods, they are burnt, and the people content themselves with carrying off the ashes.”—After the decrees of August 4th, and in spite of the law which licenses the proprietor only to hunt on his own grounds, the impulse to break the law becomes irresistible. Every man who can procure a gun begins operations;29 the crops which are still standing are trodden under foot, the lordly residences are invaded, and the palings are scaled; the King himself at Versailles is wakened by shots fired in his park. Stags, fawns, deer, wild boars, hares, and rabbits, are slain by thousands, cooked with stolen wood, and eaten up on the spot. There is a constant discharge of musketry throughout France for more than two months, and, as on an American prairie, every living animal belongs to him who kills it. At Choiseul, in Champagne, not only are all the hares and partridges of the barony exterminated, but the ponds are exhausted of fish; the court of the chateau even is entered, to fire on the pigeon-house and destroy the pigeons, and then the pigeons and fish, of which they have too many, are offered to the proprietor for sale.—It is “the patriots” of the village with “smugglers and bad characters” belonging to the neighbourhood who make this expedition; they are seen in the front ranks of every act of violence, and it is not difficult to foresee that, under their leadership, attacks on public persons and public property will be followed by attacks on private persons and private property.
Indeed, a proscribed class already exists, and a name has been found for it: it is the “aristocrats.” This deadly term, applied at first to the nobles and prelates in the States-General who declined to take part in the reunion of the three orders, is extended so as to embrace all whose titles, offices, alliances, and manner of living distinguish them from the multitude. That which entitled them to respect is that which marks them out as objects of ill-will; while the people, who, though suffering from their privileges, did not regard them personally with hatred, are taught to consider them as their enemies. Each, on his own estate, is held accountable for the evil designs attributed to his brethren at Versailles, and, on the false report of a plot at the centre, the peasants range themselves on the side of the conspirators.30 Thus does the peasant jacquerie commence, and the wild enthusiasts who have fanned the flame in Paris are likewise fanning the flame in the provinces. “You wish to know the authors of the agitations,” writes a sensible man to the committee of investigation; “you will find them amongst the deputies of the Third-Estate,” and especially among the attorneys and advocates. “These dispatch incendiary letters to their constituents, which letters are received by municipal bodies alike composed of attorneys and of advocates. . . . they are read aloud in the public squares, while copies of them are distributed among all the villages. In these villages, if any one knows how to read besides the priest and the lord of the manor, it is the legal practitioner,” the born enemy of the lord of the manor, whose place he covets, vain of his oratorical powers, embittered by his poverty, and never failing to blacken everything.31 It is highly probable that he is the one who composes and circulates the placards calling on the people, in the King’s name, to resort to violence.—At Secondigny, in Poitou, on the 23rd of July,32 the labourers in the forest receive a letter “which summons them to attack all the country gentlemen round about, and to massacre without mercy all those who refuse to renounce their privileges . . . promising them that not only will their crimes go unpunished, but that they will even be rewarded.” M. Despretz-Montpezat, correspondent of the deputies of the nobles, is seized, and dragged with his son to the dwelling of the procurator-fiscal, to force him to give his signature; the inhabitants are forbidden to render him assistance “on pain of death and fire.” “Sign,” they exclaim, “or we will tear out your heart, and set fire to this house!” At this moment the neighbouring notary, who is doubtless an accomplice, appears with a stamped paper, and says to him, “Monsieur, I have just come from Niort, where the Third-Estate has done the same thing to all the gentlemen of the town; one, who refused, was cut to pieces before our eyes.”—“We are compelled to sign renunciations of our privileges, and give our assent to one and the same taxation, as if the nobles had not already done so.” The band gives notice that it will proceed in the same fashion with all the chateaux in the vicinity, and terror precedes or follows them. “Nobody dares write,” M. Despretz sends word; “I attempt it at the risk of my life.”—Nobles and prelates become objects of suspicion everywhere; village committees open their letters, and they have to suffer their houses to be searched.33 They are forced to adopt the new cockade: to be a gentleman, and not wear it, is to deserve hanging. At Mamers, in Maine, M. de Beauvoir refuses to wear it, and is at the point of being put into the pillory and at once knocked on the head. Near La Flèche, M. de Brissac is arrested, and a message is sent to Paris to know if he shall be taken there, “or be beheaded in the meantime.” Two deputies of the nobles, MM. de Montesson and de Vassé, who had come to ask the consent of their constituents to their joining the Third-Estate, are recognised near Mans; their honourable scruples and their pledges to the constituents are considered of no importance, nor even the step that they are now taking to fulfil them; it suffices that they voted against the Third-Estate at Versailles; the populace pursues them and breaks up their carriages, and pillages their trunks.—Woe to the nobles, especially if they have taken any part in local rule, and if they are opposed to popular panics! M. Cureau, deputy-mayor of Mans,34 had issued orders during the famine, and, having retired to his chateau of Nouay, had told the peasants that the announcement of the coming of brigands was a false alarm; he thought that it was not necessary to sound the tocsin, and all that was necessary was that they should remain quiet. Accordingly he is set down as being in league with the brigands, and besides this he is a monopolist, and a buyer of standing crops. The peasants lead him off, along with his son-in-law, M. de Montesson, to the neighbouring village, where there are judges. On the way “they dragged their victims on the ground, pummelled them, trampled on them, spit in their faces, and besmeared them with filth.” M. de Montesson is shot, while M. Cureau is killed by degrees; a carpenter cuts off the two heads with a double-edged axe, and children bear them along to the sound of drums and violins. Meanwhile, the judges of the place, brought by force, draw up an official report stating the finding of thirty louis and several bills of the Banque d’Escompte in the pockets of M. de Cureau, on the discovery of which a shout of triumph is set up: this evidence proves that they were going to buy up the standing wheat!—Such is the course of popular justice. Now that the Third-Estate has become the nation, every mob thinks that it has the right to pronounce sentences, which it carries out, on lives and on possessions.
These explosions are isolated in the western, central, and southern provinces: the conflagration, however, is universal in the east, on a strip of ground from thirty to fifty leagues broad, extending from the extreme north down to Provence. Alsace, Franche-Comté, Burgundy, Mâconnais, Beaujolais, Auvergne, Viennois, Dauphiny—the whole of this territory resembles a continuous mine which explodes at the same time. The first column of flame which shoots up is on the frontiers of Alsace and Franche-Comté, in the vicinity of Belfort and Vésoul—a feudal district, in which the peasant, overburdened with taxes, bears the heavier yoke with greater impatience. An instinctive argument is going on in his mind without his knowing it. “The good Assembly and the good King want us to be happy—suppose we help them! They say that the King has already relieved us of the taxes—suppose we relieve ourselves of paying rents! Down with the nobles! They are no better than the tax-collectors!”—On the 16th of July, the chateau of Sancy, belonging to the Princesse de Beaufremont, is sacked, and on the 18th those of Lure, Bithaine, and Molans.35 On the 29th, an accident which occurs with some fireworks at a popular festival at the house of M. de Memmay, leads the lower class to believe that the invitation extended to them was a trap, and that there was a desire to get rid of them by treachery.36 Seized with rage they set fire to the chateau, and during the following week37 destroy three abbeys, ruin eleven chateaux, and pillage others; “all records are destroyed, the registers and court-rolls are carried off, and the deposits violated.”—Starting from this spot, “the hurricane of insurrection” stretches over the whole of Alsace from Huningue to Landau.38 The insurgents display placards, signed Louis, stating that for a certain lapse of time they shall be permitted to exercise justice themselves, and, in Sundgau, a well-dressed weaver, decorated with a blue belt, passes for a prince, the King’s second son. They begin by falling on the Jews, their hereditary leeches; they sack their dwellings, divide their money among themselves, and hunt them down like so many fallow-deer. At Bâle alone, it is said that twelve hundred of these unfortunate fugitives arrived with their families.—The distance between the Jew creditor and the Christian proprietor is not great, and this is soon cleared. Remiremont is only saved by a detachment of dragoons. Eight hundred men attack the chateau of Uberbrünn. The abbey of Neubourg is taken by storm. At Guebwiller, on the 31st of July, five hundred peasants, subjects of the abbey of Murbach, make a descent on the abbot’s palace and on the house of the canons. Cupboards, chests, beds, windows, mirrors, frames, even the tiles of the roof and the hinges of the casements are hacked to pieces: “They kindle fires on the beautiful inlaid floors of the apartments, and there burn up the library and the title-deeds.” The abbot’s superb carriage is so broken up that not a wheel remains entire. “Wine streams through the cellars. One cask of sixteen hundred measures is half lost; the plate and the linen are carried off.”—Society is evidently being overthrown, while with the power, property is changing hands.
These are their very words. In Franche-Comté39 the inhabitants of eight communes come and declare to the Bernardins of Grâce-Dieu and of Lieu-Croissant “that, being of the Third-Estate, it is time now for the people to rule over abbots and monks, considering that the domination of the latter has lasted too long,” and thereupon they carry off all the titles to property and to rentals belonging to the abbey in their commune. In Upper Dauphiny, during the destruction of M. de Murat’s chateau, a man named Ferréol struck the furniture with a big stick, exclaiming, “Hey, so much for you, Murat; you have been master a good while, now it’s our turn!”40 Those who rifle houses, and steal like highway robbers, think that they are defending a cause, and reply to the challenge, “Who goes there?” “We are for the brigand Third-Estate!”—Everywhere the belief prevails that they are clothed with authority, and they conduct themselves like a conquering horde under the orders of an absent general. At Remiremont and at Luxeuil they produce an edict, stating that “all this brigandage, pillage, and destruction” is permitted. In Dauphiny, the leaders of the bands say that they possess the King’s orders. In Auvergne, “they follow imperative orders, being advised that such is his Majesty’s will.” Nowhere do we see that an insurgent village exercises personal vengeance against its lord. If the people fire on the nobles they encounter, it is not through personal hatred. They are destroying the class, and do not pursue individuals. They detest feudal privileges, holders of charters, the cursed parchments by virtue of which they are made to pay, but not the nobleman who, when he resides at home, is of humane intentions, compassionate, and even often beneficent. At Luxeuil, the abbot, who is forced with uplifted axe to sign a relinquishment of his seignorial rights over twenty-three estates, has dwelt among them for forty-six years, and has been wholly devoted to them.41 In the canton of Crémieu, “where the havoc is immense,” all the nobles, write the municipal officers, are “patriots and benevolent.” In Dauphiny, the engineers, magistrates, and prelates, whose chateaux are sacked, were the first to espouse the cause of the people and of public liberties against the ministers. In Auvergne, the peasants themselves “manifest a good deal of repugnance to act in this way against such kind masters.” But it must be done; the only concession which can be made in consideration of the kindness which had been extended to them is, not to burn the chateau of the ladies of Vanes, who had been so charitable; but they burn all their title-deeds, and torture the business agent at three different times by fire, to force him to deliver a document which he does not possess; they then only withdraw him from the fire half-broiled, because the ladies, on their knees, implore mercy for him.—They are like the soldiers on a campaign who execute orders with docility, for which necessity is the only plea, and who, without regarding themselves as brigands, commit acts of brigandage.
But here the situation is more tragical, for it is war in the midst of peace, a war of the brutal and barbarised multitude against the highly cultivated, well-disposed, and confiding, who had not anticipated anything of the kind, who had not even dreamt of defending themselves, and who had no protection. The Comte de Courtivron, with his family, was staying at the watering-place of Luxeuil with his uncle, the Abbé of Clermont-Tonnerre, an old man of seventy years. On the 19th of July, fifty peasants from Fougerolle break into and demolish everything in the houses of an usher and a collector of the excise. Thereupon the mayor of the place intimates to the nobles and magistrates who are taking the waters, that they had better leave the house in twenty-four hours, as “he had been advised of an intention to burn the houses in which they were staying,” and he did not wish to have Luxeuil exposed to this danger on account of their presence there. The following day, the guard, as obliging as the mayor, allows the band to enter the town and to force the abbey; the usual events follow—renunciations are extorted, records and cellars are ransacked, plate and other effects are stolen. M. de Courtivron escaping with his uncle during the night, the tocsin is sounded and they are pursued, and with difficulty obtain refuge in Plombières. The bourgeoisie of Plombières, however, for fear of compromising themselves, oblige them to depart. On the road two hundred insurgents threaten to kill their horses and to smash their carriage, and they only find safety at last at Porentruy, outside of France. On his return, M. de Courtivron is shot at by the band which has just pillaged the abbey of Lure, and they shout out at him as he passes, “Let’s massacre the nobles!” Meanwhile, the chateau of Vauvilliers, to which his sick wife had been carried, is devastated from top to bottom; the mob search for her everywhere, and she only escapes by hiding herself in a hay-loft. Both are anxious to fly into Burgundy, but word is sent them that at Dijon “the nobles are blockaded by the people,” and that, in the country, they threaten to set their houses on fire.—There is no asylum to be had, either in their own homes nor in the homes of others, nor in places along the roads, fugitives being stopped in all the small villages and market-towns. In Dauphiny42 “the Abbess of St. Pierre de Lyon, one of the nuns, M. de Perrotin, M. de Bellegarde, the Marquis de la Tour-du-Pin, and the Chevalier de Moidieu, are arrested at Champier by the armed population, led to the Côte Saint-André, confined in the town-hall, whence they send to Grenoble for assistance,” and, to have them released, the Grenoble Committee is obliged to send commissioners. Their only refuge is in the large cities, where some semblance of a precarious order exists, and in the ranks of the City Guards, which march from Lyons, Dijon, and Grenoble, to keep the inundation down. Throughout the country scattered chateaux are swallowed up by the popular tide, and, as the feudal rights are often in plebeian hands, it insensibly rises beyond its first overflow.—There is no limit to an insurrection against property. This one extends from abbeys and chateaux to the “houses of the bourgeoisie.”43 The grudge at first was confined to the holders of charters; now it is extended to all who possess anything. Well-to-do farmers and priests abandon their parishes and fly to the towns. Travellers are put to ransom. Thieves, robbers, and returned convicts, at the head of armed bands, seize whatever they can lay their hands on. Cupidity becomes inflamed by such examples; on domains which are deserted and in a state of confusion, where there is nothing to indicate a master’s presence, all seems to lapse to the first comer. A small farmer of the neighbourhood has carried away wine and returns the following day in search of hay. All the furniture of a chateau in Dauphiny is removed, even to the hinges of the doors, by a large reinforcement of carts.—“It is the war of the poor against the rich,” says a deputy, “and, on the 3rd of August, the Committee on Reports declares to the National Assembly “that no kind of property has been spared.” In Franche-Comté, “nearly forty chateaux and seignorial mansions have been pillaged or burnt.”44 From Langres to Gray about three out of five chateaux are sacked. In Dauphiny twenty-seven are burned or destroyed; five in the small district of Viennois, and, besides these, all the monasteries—nine at least in Auvergne, seventy-two, it is said, in Mâconnais and Beaujolais, without counting those of Alsace. On the 31st of July, Lally-Tollendal, on entering the tribune, has his hands full of letters of distress, with a list of thirty-six chateaux burnt, demolished, or pillaged, in one province, and the details of still worse violence against persons:45 “in Languedoc, M. de Barras, cut to pieces in the presence of his wife who is about to be confined, and who is dead in consequence; in Normandy, a paralytic gentleman left on a burning pile and taken off from it with his hands burnt; in Franche-Comté, Madame de Bathilly compelled, with an axe over her head, to give up her title-deeds and even her estate; Madame de Listenay forced to do the same, with a pitchfork at her neck and her two daughters in a swoon at her feet; Comte de Montjustin, with his wife, having a pistol at his throat for three hours; and both dragged from their carriage to be thrown into a pond, where they are saved by a passing regiment of soldiers; Baron de Montjustin, one of the twenty-two popular noblemen, suspended for an hour in a well, listening to a discussion whether he shall be dropt down or whether he should die in some other way; the Chevalier d’Ambly, torn from his chateau and dragged naked into the village, placed on a dung-heap after having his eyebrows and all his hair pulled out, while the crowd kept on dancing around him.”
In the midst of a disintegrated society, under the semblance only of a government, it is manifest that an invasion is under way, an invasion of barbarians which will complete by terror that which it has begun by violence, and which, like the invasions of the Normans in the tenth and eleventh centuries, ends in the conquest and dispossession of an entire class. In vain the National Guard and the other troops that remain loyal succeed in stemming the first torrent; in vain does the Assembly hollow out a bed for it and strive to bank it in by fixed boundaries. The decrees of the 4th of August and the regulations which follow are but so many spiders’ webs stretched across a torrent. The peasants, moreover, putting their own interpretation on the decrees, convert the new laws into authority for continuing in their course or beginning over again. No more rents, however legitimate, however legal! “Yesterday,”46 writes a gentleman of Auvergne, “we were notified that the fruit-tithe (percières) would no longer be paid, and that the example of other provinces was only being followed which no longer, even by royal order, pay tithes.” In Franche-Comté “numerous communities are satisfied that they no longer owe anything either to the King or to their lords. . . . The villages divide amongst themselves the fields and woods belonging to the nobles.”—It must be noted that charter-holding and feudal titles are still intact in three-fourths of France, that it is the interest of the peasant to ensure their disappearance, and that he is always armed. To secure a new outbreak of jacqueries, it is only necessary that central control, already thrown into disorder, should be withdrawn. This is the work of Versailles and of Paris; and there, at Paris as well as at Versailles, some, through lack of foresight and infatuation, and others, through blindness and indecision—the latter through weakness and the former through violence—all are labouring to accomplish it.
[1. ]Dussaulx, 374. “I remarked that if there were a few among the people at that time who dared commit crime, there were several who wished it, and that every one permitted it.”—“Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. 3. (Letter of the municipal authorities of Crémieux, Dauphiny, November 3, 1789.) “The care taken to lead them first to the cellars and to intoxicate them, can alone give a conception of the incredible excesses of rage to which they gave themselves up in the sacking and burning of the chateaux.”
[2. ]Mercure de France, January 4, 1792. (“Revue politique de l’année 1791,” by Mallet-Dupan.)
[3. ]Albert Babeau, i. 206. (Letter of the deputy Camuzet de Belombre, August 22, 1789.) “The executive power is absolutely gone today.” Gouverneur Morris, letter of July 31, 1789: “This country is now as near in a state of anarchy as it is possible for a community to be without breaking up.”
[4. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Letter of M. Amelot, July 24th; H. 784, of M. de Langeron, October 16th and 18th.—KK. 1105. Correspondence of M. de Thiard, October 7th and 30th, September 4th.—Floquet, vii. 527, 555.—Guadet, “Histoire des Girondins” (July 29, 1789).
[5. ]M. de Rochambeau, “Mémoires,” i. 353 (July 18th).—Sauzay, “Histoire de la Persécution Révolutionnaire dans le Département du Doubs,” i. 128 (July 19th.)— “Archives Nationales” F7, 3,253. (Letter of the deputies of the provincial commission of Alsace, September 8th.) D. xxix. I. note of M. de Latour-du-Pin, October 28, 1789.—Letter of M. de Langeron, September 3rd; of Breitman, garde-marteau, Val Saint-Amarin (Upper Alsace), July 26th.
[6. ]Léonce de Lavergne, 197. (Letter of the intermediate commission of Poitou, the last month in 1789.)—Cf. Brissot (Le patriote français, August, 1789). “General insubordination prevails in the provinces because the restraints of executive power are no longer felt. What were but lately the guarantees of that power? The intendants, tribunals, and the army. The intendants are gone, the tribunals are silent, and the army is against the executive power and on the side of the people. Liberty is not an aliment which all stomachs can digest without some preparation for it.”
[7. ]“Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. I. (Letter of the clergy, consuls, présidial-councillors, and principal merchants of Puy-en-Velay, September 16, 1789.)—H. ix. 53 (letter of the Intendant of Alençon, July 18th). “I must not leave you in ignorance of the multiplied outbreaks we have in all parts of my jurisdiction. The impunity with which they flatter themselves, because the judges are afraid of irritating the people by examples of severity, only emboldens them. Mischief-makers, confounded with honest folks, spread false reports about particular persons whom they accuse of concealing grain, or of not belonging to the Third-Estate, and, under this pretext, they pillage their houses, taking whatever they can find, the owners only avoiding death by flight.”
[8. ]A body of magistrates forming one of the lower tribunals.—[Tr.]
[9. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 942. (Observations of M. de Ballainvilliers, October 30, 1789.)
[10. ]“Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. I. Letter of the municipal assembly of Louviers, the end of August, 1789. Letter of the communal assembly of Saint-Bris (bailiwick of Auxerre), September 25th.—Letter of the municipal officers of Ricey-Haut, near Bar-sur-Seine, August 25th; of the Chevalier d’Allouville, September 8th.
[11. ]“Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. I. Letter of M. Briand-Delessart (Angoulême, August 1st).—Of M. Bret, Lieutenant-General of the provostship of Mardogne, September 5th.—Of the Chevalier de Castellas (Auvergne), September 15th (relating to the night between the 2nd and 3rd of August).—Madame Campan, ii. 65.
[12. ]Arthur Young, “Voyages in France,” July 24th and 31st, August 13th and 19th.
[13. ]D. Bouillé, 108.—“Archives Nationales,” KK. 1105. Correspondence of M. de Thiard, September 20, 1789 (apropos of one hundred guns given to the town of Saint-Brieuc). “They are not of the slightest use, but this passion for arms is a temporary epidemic which must be allowed to subside of itself. People are determined to believe in brigands and in enemies, whereas neither exist.” September 25th, “Vanity alone impels them, and the pride of having cannon is their sole motive.”
[14. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Letters of M. Amelot, July 17th and 24th. “Several wealthy private persons of the town (Auxonne) have been put to ransom by this band, of which the largest portion consists of ruffians.”—Letter of nine cultivators of Breteuil (Picardy), July 23rd (their granaries were pillaged up to the last grain the previous evening). “They threaten to pillage our crops and set our barns on fire as soon as they are full. M. Tassard, the notary, has been visited in his house by the populace, and his life has been threatened.” Letter of Moreau, Procureur du Roi at the Seneschal’s Court at Bar-le-Duc, September 15, 1789, D. xxix. I. “On the 27th of July the people rose and most cruelly assassinated a merchant trading in wheat. On the 27th and 28th his house and that of another were sacked,” &c.
[15. ]Chronicle of Dominick Schmutz (“Revue d’Alsace,” v. iii. 3rd series). These are his own expressions: Gesindel, Lumpen-gesindel.—De Rochambeau, “Mémoires,” i. 353. Arthur Young (an eye-witness), July 21st. Of Dammartin (eye-witness), i. 105. M. de Rochambeau shows the usual indecision and want of vigour: whilst the mob are pillaging houses and throwing things out of the windows, he passes in front of his regiments (8,000 men) drawn up for action, and says, “My friends, my good friends, you see what is going on. How horrible! Alas! these are your papers, your titles and those of your parents.” The soldiers smile at this sentimental prattle.
[16. ]Dumouriez (an eye-witness), book iii. ch. 3. The trial was begun and judgment given by twelve lawyers and an assessor, whom the people, in arms, had themselves appointed. Hippeau, iv. 382.
[17. ]“Archives Nationales,” F7, 3,248. (Letter of the mayor, M. Poussiaude de Thierri, September 11th.)
[18. ]Floquet, vii. 551.
[19. ]De Goncourt, “La Société Française pendant la Révolution,” 37.
[20. ]“Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. I. Letter of the officers of the bailiwick of Dôle, August 24th. Sauzay i. 128.
[21. ]There is a similar occurrence at Strasbourg, a few days after the sacking of the town-hall. The municipality having given each man of the garrison twenty sous, the soldiers abandon their post, set the prisoners free at the Pont-Couvert, feast publicly in the streets with the women taken out of the penitentiary, and force innkeepers and the keepers of drinking-places to give up their provisions. The shops are all closed, and, for twenty-four hours, the officers are not obeyed. (De Dammartin, i. 105.)
[22. ]Albert Babeau, i. 187, 273.—Moniteur, ii. 379. (Extract from the provost’s verdict of November 27, 1789.)
[23. ]Moniteur, ibid. Picard, the principal murderer, confessed “that he had made him suffer a great deal; that the said sieur Huez did not die until they came near the Chaudron Inn; that he nevertheless intended to make him suffer more by stabbing him in the neck at the corner of each street, (and) by contriving it so that he might do it often, as long as there was life in him; that the day on which M. Huez died yielded him ten francs, together with the neck-buckle of M. Huez, found on him when he was arrested in his flight.”
[24. ]Mercure de France, September 26, 1789. Letters of the officers of the Bourbon regiment and of members of the general committee of Caen.—Floquet, vii. 545.
[25. ]“Archives Nationales,” H. 1453. Ibid. D. xxix. I. Note of M. de la Tour-du-Pin, October 28th.
[26. ]Decree, February 1, 1789, enforced May 1 following.
[27. ]“Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. I. Letter of the Count de Montausier, August 8th, with notes by M. Paulian, director of the excise (an admirable letter, modest and liberal, and ending by demanding a pardon for people led astray). H. 1453. Letter of the attorney of the election district of Falaise, July 17th, &c. Moniteur, I. 303, 387, 505 (sessions of August 7th and 27th and of September 23rd). “The royal revenues are diminishing steadily.” Roux and Buchez, III. 219 (session of October 24, 1789). Discourse of a deputation from Anjou: “Sixty thousand men are armed; the barriers have been destroyed, the clerks’ horses have been sold by auction; the employés have been told to withdraw from the province within eight days. The inhabitants have declared that they will not pay taxes so long as the salt-tax exists.”
[28. ]“Archives Nationales,” F7, 3,253 (Letter of September 8, 1789).
[29. ]Arthur Young, September 30th. “One would think that every rusty gun in Provence is at work, killing all sorts of birds; the shot has fallen five or six times in my chaise and about my ears,” Beugnot, I. 141. “Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. I. Letter of the Chevalier d’Allonville, September 8, 1789 (environs of Bar-sur-Aube). “The peasants go in armed bands into the woods belonging to the Abbey of Trois-Fontaines, which they cut down. They saw up the oaks and transport them on waggons to Pont-Saint-Dizier, where they sell them. In other places they fish in the ponds and break the embankments.”
[30. ]“Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. I. Letter of the assessor of the police of Saint-Flour, October 3, 1789. On the 31st of July, a report is spread that the brigands are coming. On the 1st of August the peasants arm themselves. “They amuse themselves by drinking, awaiting the arrival of the brigands; the excitement increases to such an extent as to make them believe that M. le Comte d’Espinchal had arrived in disguise the evening before at Massiac, that he was the author of the troubles disturbing the province at this time, and that he was concealed in his chateau.” On the strength of this shots are fired into the windows, and there are searches, &c.
[31. ]“Archives Nationales,” K. xxix. I. Letter of Etienne Fermier, Naveinne, September 18th (it is possible that the author, for the sake of caution, took a fictitious name). The manuscript correspondence of M. Boullé, deputy of Pontivy, to his constituents, is a type of this declamatory and incendiary writing. Letter of the consuls, priests, and merchants of Puy-en-Velay, September 16th.—“The Ancient Régime,” p. 396.
[32. ]“Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. I. Letter of M. Despretz-Montpezat, a former artillery officer, July 24th (with several other signatures). On the same day the tocsin is sounded in fifty villages on the rumour spreading that 7,000 brigands, English and Breton, were invading the country.
[33. ]“Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. I. Letter of Briand-Delessart, August 1st (domiciliary visits to the Carmelites of Angoulême where it is pretended that Mme. de Polignac has just arrived.—Beugnot, I. 140.—Arthur Young, July 20th, &c.—Roux and Buchez, iv. 166, Letter of Mamers, July 24th; of Mans, July 26th.
[34. ]Montjoie, ch. lxii. p. 93 (according to acts of legal procedure). There was a soldier in the band who had served under M. de Montesson and who wanted to avenge himself for the punishments he had undergone in the regiment.
[35. ]Mercure de France, August 20th (Letter from Vésoul, August 13th).
[36. ]M. de Memmay proved his innocence later on, and was rehabilitated by a public decision after two years’ proceedings (session of June 4, 1791; Mercure of June 11th).
[37. ]Journal des Débats et Décrees, i. 258. (Letter of the municipality of Vésoul, July 22nd.—Discourse of M. de Toulougeon, July 29th.)
[38. ]De Rochambeau, “Mémoires,” i. 353. “Archives Nationales,” F7, 3,253. (Letter of M. de Rochambeau, August 4th.)—Chronicle of Schmutz (ibid.), p. 284. “Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. i. (Letter of Mme. Ferrette, of Remiremont, August 9th.)
[39. ]Sauzay, i. 180. (Letters of monks, July 22nd and 26th.)
[40. ]“Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. I. (Letter of M. de Bergeron, attorney to the présidial of Valence, August 28th, with the details of the verdict stated.) Official report of the militia of Lyons, sent to the president of the National Assembly, August 10th. (Expedition to Serrière, in Dauphiny, July 31st.)
[41. ]Letter of the Count of Courtivron, deputy substitute (an eye-witness).—“Archives Nationales,” D. xxix. I. Letter of the municipal officers of Crémieu (Dauphiny), November 3rd. Letter of the Vicomte de Carbonnière (Auvergne), August 3rd.—Arthur Young, July 30th (Dijon) says, apropos of a noble family which escaped almost naked from its burning chateau, “they were esteemed by the neighbours; their virtues ought to have commanded the love of the poor, for whose resentment there was no cause.”
[42. ]“Archives Nationales,” xxix. 1. (Letter of the commission of the States of Dauphiny, July 31st.)
[43. ]“Désastres du Mâconnais,” by Puthod de la Maison-Rouge (August, 1789). “Ravages du Mâconnai”—Arthur Young, July 27th. Roux and Buchez, iv. 211, 214. Arthur Young, July 27th.—Mercure de France, September 12, 1789. (Letter by a volunteer of Orleans.) “On the 15th of August, eighty-eight ruffians, calling themselves reapers, present themselves at Bascon, in Beauce, and, the next day, at a chateau in the neighbourhood, where they demand within an hour the head of the son of the lord of the manor, M. Tassin, who can only redeem himself by a contribution of 1,600 livres and the pillaging of his cellars.
[44. ]Letter of the Count de Courtivron.—Arthur Young, July 31st.—Roux and Buchez, ii. 543.—Mercure de France, August 15, 1789 (sitting of the 8th, discourse of a deputy).—Mermet, “Histoire de la Ville de Vienne,” 445.—“Archives Nationales,” ibid. (Letter of the Commission of the States of Dauphiny, July 31st.) “The list of burnt or devastated chateaux is immense.” The committee already cites sixteen of them. Puthod de la Maison-Rouge, ibid.: “Were all devastated places to be mentioned, it would be necessary to cite the whole province” (Letter from Mâcon). “They have not the less destroyed most of the chateaux and bourgeois dwellings, at one time burning them and at another tearing them down.”
[45. ]Lally-Tollendal, “Second Letter to my Constituents,” 104.
[46. ]Doniol, “La Revolution et la Féodalité,” p. 60 (a few days after the 4th of August).—“Archives Nationales,” H. 784. Letters of M. de Langeron, military commander at Besançon, October 16th and 18th. Ibid., D. xxix. 1. Letter of the same, September 3rd. Arthur Young (in Provence, at the house of Baron de la Tour-d’Aignes). “The baron is an enormous sufferer by the Revolution; a great extent of country which belonged in absolute right to his ancestors, has been granted for quit-rents, ceus, and other feudal payments, so that there is no comparison between the lands retained and those thus granted by his family. . . . The solid payments which the Assembly have declared to be redeemable are every hour falling to nothing, without a shadow of recompense. . . . The situation of the nobility in this country is pitiable; they are under apprehensions that nothing will be left them, but simply such houses as the mob allows to stand unburnt; that the small farmers will retain their farms without paying the landlord his half of the produce; and that, in case of such a refusal, there is actually neither law nor authority in the country to prevent it. This chateau, splendid even in ruins, with the fortune and lives of the owners, is at the mercy of an armed rabble.”