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ART. IV.-1. Origines de la France Contemporaine. Par H. Taine. Tome I. L'Ancien Régime. Deuxième édition. Paris, 1876.
2. On the State of Society in France before the Revolution of 1789, and on the Causes which led to that Event. By Alexis de Tocqueville, Member of the French Academy. Translated by Henry Reeve, D.C.L. Second edition, with seven additional Chapters. London, 1873.
3. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, sa Vie et ses Ouvrages. Par SaintMarc-Girardin. Avec une Introduction par M. Ernest Bersot, Membre de l'Institut. 2 vols. Paris, 1875.
T required an intellectual intrepidity, in which M. Taine is not deficient (witness his Gallic invasion and conquest of the whole domain of English literature), to project the completion of a work which Tocqueville had left unfinished,—the work of tracing the formation and development of contemporary France through the Ancien Régime,' the Revolution, and the successive ephemeral Governments which followed. In his present volume he carries that enterprise no farther than Tocqueville had already proceeded with it, and he works, as he could not otherwise than work, on the lines laid down by his precursor.*
The French Revolution, as it is truly observed by Tocqueville, will remain inscrutably dark to those who fix their eyes upon itself exclusively. The only light which can clear up that darkness must be sought in the times preceding it.' Not less truly it might be said that France, as she now is, can only be understood by tracing the distinctive characters of that revolution to their original sources in the previous state of France under the old régime.
We suppose there is no instance of an order of things, in the midst of an active-minded and progressive people, surviving for centuries its original raison d'être-its social and national utility --so extraordinary as that which was afforded, down to the 4th of
* Mr. Reeve, in bringing out, two or three years back, a second edition of his translation of Alexis de Tocqueville's admirable essay on 'L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution,' has judiciously added, for the benefit of English readers, seven more chapters, published since Tocqueville's death by his literary executor, the late Gustave de Beaumont, and forming imperfect but interesting fragments of continuation of that work. Those who may not have facility or opportunity of reading in the original French all that Tocqueville has left on the subject of the old régime, and the earlier stages of the Revolution, cannot do better than avail themselves of Mr. Reeve's translation as the best substitute for the text of the distinguished author.
August, 1789, by the old feudalism of France, with all its oppressive incidents. If we were asked, What made the French Revolution the terrible thing it was? we should answer in three words-The French Monarchy. The persistent policy of the French monarchy for centuries had been to paralyse and annul in action every independent organisation in France but its own; and when it was itself struck at last with a like paralysis, no resisting power was left against the popular masses. Had not Louis XIV. been able to say, with truth, L'État, c'est moi!' the populace of Paris might never have been able to boast, La Nation, c'est nous!'
M. Taine divides into five sections his study of the old régime in his present volume, entitled respectively-1. The Structure of Society;' 2. Manners and Characters;' 3. The [revolutionary] Spirit and Doctrine;' 4. The Propagation of the Doctrine; 5. The People.'
It may be laid down as a general rule, admitting but few exceptions, that most arrangements and most disarrangements between class and class-between man and man-are concerned, directly or indirectly, with money, or money's worth. Without disputing Mr. Carlyle's dictum that cash-payment never can be the sole nexus between man and man, we find, nevertheless, cash-payment, or some ruder equivalent in simpler times, the most universally current mode of recognition of service given and received. So long as the service is in some shape rendered, men do not grudge the payment; or, at any rate, whether or not grudgingly, they feel they must make it. The clergy and feudal nobility of France had performed for the people, during the darkest ages of European history, the services most indispensable to soul and body-to spiritual and secular protection from utter disorganisation and despair. The clergy alone opened and multiplied asylums for the conquered and oppressed over the whole territory. The clergy alone preserved in its churches and convents all that remained of the arts and acquirements of antiquity; alone held the pen in the councils of long-haired and hard-headed men of war; alone vindicated the reign of law, the sanctities of religion, property, and marriage. The nobles alone (valour then constituted nobility) rallied round them all who could bear arms and who would submit to vassalage as the price of protection :
'In a time of permanent war,' says M. Taine, 'one régime only is good-that of armed force posted in the presence of the enemy. Such is the régime of feudalism. One could live at least, or begin again to live, under its steel-gloved hand. Under the double title of Sovereign and proprietor, the seigneur reserved for himself the waste
lands, rivers, forests, rights of chase. These rights did not much wrong to any one, as the country was half desert, and the lord employed all his leisure in hunting wild beasts. He alone having anything that could be called capital, he alone could build mills, bakingovens, wine-presses, bridges; could establish ferries, make roads, embank ponds, rear or purchase bulls. Accordingly he levied dues for all these services, and monopolised their performance. By degrees the fetters of feudal obligation became relaxed, and the sentiment of feudal loyalty became rooted. The lordship, the county, the duchy became objects of local patriotism. Thus revived, after a thousand years of suspended animation, the most powerful, energetic, and vivacious of the sentiments that maintain society amongst men-a sentiment the more potent in its influence the wider its range. In order that the little feudal country may merge in the nation, it suffices that the seigneuries recognise a central power in the Sovereign, and that the King stand forth as head and chief of the nobles.'
If the French nobility could have transformed themselves in modern times from a military into a political aristocracy largely dashed with democracy, as in England, the evolution from feudalism into modern life and laws might have been gradual, as in England, and the evils and excesses of the French Revolution obviated. Or if it had been recast on the Prussian model into a phalanx of instructed and serviceable military and civil functionaries, the monarch might have made use of them in peace or war, as in Prussia, and the monarchy might have been saved.
It is not necessary, however, to look to England, and still less to Germany, for examples of the manner in which a feudal might have been transformed into a political aristocracy in France, and combined with other classes in all the practical functions of local administration. The instruments for effecting that transformation lay ready at hand in France herself; in the old institutions of the provinces called pays d'État, in each of which the local administration had formerly been carried on under the King's Government by the gens des trois états, as they were then called, i.e. the representatives of the clergy, the nobility, and the commons. But the King's Government chose to break those instruments instead of using them. A small portion,' says. Tocqueville, of the perseverance and the exertions which the Sovereigns of France employed for the abolition or the dislocation of the provincial estates would have sufficed to adapt them to all the wants of modern civilisation, if those Sovereigns had ever had any other aim than to become and remain the masters of France.'
The old provincial liberties had substantially survived, down to the Revolution, in two important provinces only-Brittany in
the west, Languedoc in the south of France. In Brittany the nobles had the right individually of attending the States in person, which made their meetings, according to Tocqueville, a sort of Polish diets. But in Languedoc the better system prevailed of representation of the three orders. The nobles were represented by twenty-three of their order, the clergy by the twentythree bishops of the province, and the towns had as many representatives as the two first orders taken together. The peasantry do not appear to have been directly represented, unless so far as the resident nobles and clergy really represented their interests—and so far it certainly seems they did, that the States of Languedoc imposed no corvées on the peasantry; but executed public works, which no other province dreamed of undertaking, without either robbing private proprietors of their lands or wretched peasants of their labour. The States of Languedoc presented for centuries a model of vigorous and successful local administration, which the central government, under Richelieu, crushed for a moment, but which was happily restored in the minority of Louis XIV., and flourished till the Revolution. Two or three years before that event the Government of Louis XVI., so many of whose good intentions went to pave a bad place, instituted throughout France provincial assemblies of a very different type from the States of Languedoc, and which served no purpose but substituting popular anarchy for royal despotism. All local affairs were devolved on local assemblies elected by ignorant constituencies, and no provision made for any executive agency, or any central control. The States of Languedoc had presented an unique spectacle of three orders, which elsewhere fell into fatal discord, working together in perfect harmony in a single assembly. As the tiers-état had an equal voting power to that of the two other orders, its spirit became diffused through the whole body. The three magistrates, who, under the name of syndics généraux, were entrusted with the general conduct of business, were always lawyers, that is to say, roturiers. Ecclesiastics were almost always delegated to discuss with the ministry at Versailles whatever points of dispute might arise between the States and the royal authority. It may be said,' concludes Tocqueville, that, during the whole of the last century, Languedoc was administered by bourgeois, controlled [or rather influenced] by nobles, and assisted by bishops. And thus the spirit of modern times came to penetrate peacefully this old institution, and modify everything, while destroying nothing. It might have been so everywhere else throughout France.'
But the King's Government in France had aimed for centuries to convert the nobles into courtiers, thus drawing them away
from the natural sphere of their influence, where they might have been useful (and formidable), to make them mere ornamental appendages of royal state; mere servile accomplices in crushing the peasantry, whom it was their special duty to protect, under an overwhelming load of feudal and fiscal dues and imposts from which they had bargained for their own exemption. This system of self-exemption from their share of public charges, as ultimately from public duties of all descriptions, save military and Court service, began as far back as Charles VII. and the wars of the Plantagenets. It was at that era,' says Tocqueville, ' that the nation, fatigued with the long disorders which had followed upon the captivity of King John and the insanity of Charles VI., suffered the kings to impose general taxes without consulting it, and that the nobles had the baseness to let the tiers-état be taxed at discretion, on the condition only that they themselves should be left untaxed. I cannot but admire the singular sagacity of Philip de Commines in saying that "Charles VII., who carried this point of imposing the taille without the consent of the States, laid a heavy burthen on his own soul and the souls of his successors, and inflicted on the kingdom a deep wound, which will long bleed."
It was impossible for M. Taine to take any other view than Tocqueville had taken of the ultimate consequences of throwing on the peasantry the main weight of taxation, and leaving the amount of that taxation discretionary to the King's Government from year to year. But even that unlimited concession to royalty, with regard to the taille, did not place it in funds to defray the extravagant expenditure of the Court in the last ages of the monarchy, when, having converted its nobles into courtiers, it had to attach its courtiers by dividing among them the spoils of the people. Another source of supply was hit upon in France, unparalleled elsewhere in modern European history, the regular sale of judicial and municipal appointments. It is remarked by Tocqueville that these practices were resorted to by the best, as well as the worst, French monarchs. 'It was Louis XII. who completed the system of the sale of offices. It was Henri IV. who first put up to sale the hereditary succession to them. So much stronger are the vices of a system than the virtues of those who conduct it.'
The sale of judicial offices, of municipal functions and privileges to the towns, and of titles of nobility to all who had money to purchase them, became the regular and habitual financial resources of a Government, which had once for all resolved not to go for supplies to the representatives of the people. To the people it was at last compelled to go by convoking the States