The Eve of the French Revolution
Edward J. Lowell

Part 2 out of 7

Voltaire's hatred was especially warm against the regular clergy.
"Religion," he says, "can still sharpen daggers. There is within the
nation a people which has no dealings with honest folk, which does not
belong to the age, which is inaccessible to the progress of reason, and
over which the atrocity of fanaticism preserves its empire, like certain
diseases which attack only the vilest populace." The best monks are the
worst, and those who sing "Pervigilium Veneris" in place of matins are
less dangerous than such as reason, preach, and plot. And in another
place he says that "a religious order should not a part of history." But
it is well to notice that Voltaire's hatred of Catholicism and of
Catholic monks is not founded on a preference for any other church. He
thinks that theocracy must have been universal among early tribes, "for
as soon as a nation has chosen a tutelary god, that god has priests.
These priests govern the spirit of the nation; they can govern only in
the name of their god, so they make him speak continually; they set
forth his oracles, and all things are done by God's express commands."
From this cause come human sacrifices and the most atrocious tyranny;
and the more divine such a government calls itself, the more abominable
it is.

All prophets are imposters. Mahomet may have begun as an enthusiast,
enamored of his own ideas; but he was soon led away by his reveries; he
deceived himself in deceiving others; and finally supported a doctrine
which he believed to be good, by necessary imposture. Socrates, who
pretended to have a familiar spirit, must have been a little crazy, or a
little given to swindling. As for Moses, he is a myth, a form of the
Indian Bacchus. The Koran (and consequently the Bible) may be judged by
the ignorance of physics which it displays. "This is the touchstone of
the books which, according to false religions, were written by the
Deity, for God is neither absurd nor ignorant." Several volumes are
devoted by Voltaire to showing the inconsistencies, absurdities and
atrocities of the Old and New Testaments, and the abominations of the

The positive religious opinions of Voltaire are less important than
his negations, for the work of this great writer was mainly to
destroy. He was a theist, of wavering and doubtful faith. He was well
aware that any profession of atheism might be dangerous, and likely to
injure him at court and with some of his friends. He thought that
belief in God and in a future life were important to the safety of
society, and is said to have sent the servant out of the room on one
occasion when one of the company was doubting the existence of the
Deity, giving as a reason that he did not want to have his throat
cut. Yet it is probable that his theism went a little deeper than
this. He says that matter is probably eternal and self-existing, and
that God is everlasting, and self-existing likewise. Are there other
Gods for other worlds? It may be so; some nations and some scholars
have believed in the existence of two gods, one good and one
evil. Surely, nature can more easily suffer, in the immensity of
space, several independent beings, each absolute master of its own
portion, than two limited gods in this world, one confined to doing
good, the other to doing evil. If God and matter both exist from
eternity, "here are two necessary entities; and if there be two there
may be thirty. We must confess our ignorance of the nature of

It is noticeable that, like most men on whom the idea of God does not
take a very strong hold, Voltaire imagined powers in some respects
superior to Deity. Thus he says above that nature can more easily
suffer several independent gods than two opposed ones. Having supposed
one or several gods to put the universe in order, he supposes an order
anterior to the gods. This idea of a superior order, Fate, Necessity,
or Nature, is a very old one. It is probably the protest of the human
mind against those anthropomorphic conceptions of God, from which it
is almost incapable of escaping. Voltaire and the Philosophers almost
without exception believed that there was a system of natural law and
justice connected with this superior order, taught to man by instinct.
Sometimes in their system God was placed above this law, as its
origin; sometimes, as we have seen, He was conceived as subjected to
Nature. "God has given us a principle or universal reason," says
Voltaire, "as He has given feathers to birds and fur to bears; and
this principle is so lasting that it exists in spite of all the
passions which combat it, in spite of the tyrants who would drown it
in blood, in spite of the impostors who would annihilate it in
superstition. Therefore the rudest nation always judges very well in
the long run concerning the laws that govern it; because it feels that
these laws either agree or disagree with the principles of pity and
justice which are in its heart." Here we have something which seems
like an innate idea of virtue. But we must not expect complete
consistency of Voltaire. In another place he says, "Virtue and vice,
moral good and evil, are in all countries that which is useful or
injurious to society; and in all times and in all places he who
sacrifices the most to the public is the man who will be called the
most virtuous. Whence it appears that good actions are nothing else
than actions from which we derive an advantage, and crimes are but
actions that are against us. Virtue is the habit of doing the things
which please mankind, and vice the habit of doing things which
displease it. Liberty, he says elsewhere, is nothing but the power to
do that which our wills necessarily require of us."[Footnote: Voltaire,
xx. 439 (_Siècle de Louis XIV._, ch. xxxvii.), xxi. 369 (_Louis XV._),
xv. 34, 40, 123, 316 (_Essai sur les moeurs_), xliii. 74 (_Examen
important de Lord Bolingbroke_), xxxi. 13 (_Dict. philos. Liberté_)
xxxvii. 336 (Traité de métaphysique_). For general attacks on the
Bible and the Jews, see (_Oeuvres_, xv. 123-127, xliii. 39-205, xxxix.
454-464. Morley's _Diderot_, ii. 178). Notice how many of the
arguments that are still repeated nowadays concerning the Mosaic
account of the creation, etc. etc., come from Voltaire. Notice also
that Voltaire, while too incredulous of ancient writers, was too
credulous of modern travelers.]

The Church of France was both angered and alarmed by the writings of
Voltaire and his friends, and did her feeble best to reply to them. But
while strong in her organization and her legal powers, her internal
condition was far from vigorous. Incredulity had become fashionable even
before the attacks of Voltaire were dangerous. An earlier satirist has
put into the mouth of a priest an account of the difficulties which
beset the clergy in those days. "Men of the world," he says, "are
astonishing. They can bear neither our approval nor our censure. If we
wish to correct them, they think us ridiculous. If we approve of them,
they consider us below our calling. Nothing is so humiliating as to feel
that you have shocked the impious. We are therefore obliged to follow an
equivocal line of conduct, and to check libertines not by decision of
character but by keeping them in doubt as to how we receive what they
say. This requires much wit. The state of neutrality is difficult. Men
of the world, who venture to say anything they please, who give free
vent to their humor, who follow it up or let it go according to their
success, get on much better.

"Nor is this all. That happy and tranquil condition which is so much
praised we do not enjoy in society. As soon as we appear, we are obliged
to discuss. We are forced, for instance, to undertake to prove the
utility of prayer to a man who does not believe in God; the necessity of
fasting to another who all his life has denied the immortality of the
soul. The task is hard, and the laugh is not on our side."[Footnote:
Montesquieu, _Lettres persanes_, i. 210, 211, Lettre lxi.]

The prelates appointed to their high offices by Louis XV. and his
courtiers were not the men to make good their cause by spiritual
weapons. There was no Bossuet, no Fénelon in the Church of France of the
eighteenth century. Her defense was intrusted to far weaker men. First
we have the archbishops, Lefranc de Pompignan of Vienne and Elie de
Beaumont of Paris. Then come the Jesuit Nonnotte and the managers of the
Mémoires de Trévoux, the Benedictine Chaudon, the Abbé Trublet, the
journalist Fréron, and many others, lay and clerical. The answers of the
churchmen to their Philosophic opponents are generally inconclusive.
Lefranc de Pompignan declared that the love of dry and speculative truth
was a delusive fancy, good to adorn an oration, but never realized by
the human heart. He sneered at Locke and at the idea that the latter had
invented metaphysics. His objections and those of the Catholic church to
that philosopher's teachings were chiefly that the Englishman maintained
that thought might be an attribute of matter; that he encouraged
Pyrrhonism, or universal doubt; that his theory of identity was
doubtful, and that he denied the existence of innate ideas. All these
matters are well open to discussion, and the advantage might not always
be found on Locke's side. But in general the Catholic theologians and
their opponents were not sufficiently agreed to be able to argue
profitably. They had no premises in common. If one of two disputants
assumes that all ideas are derived from sensation and reflection, and
the other, that the most important of them are the result of the
inspiration of God, there is no use in their discussing minor points
until those great questions are settled. The attempt to reconcile views
so conflicting has frequently been made, and no writings are more dreary
than those which embody it. But men who are too far apart to cross
swords in argument may yet hurl at each other the missiles of
vituperation, and there were plenty of combatants to engage in that sort
of warfare with Voltaire, Rousseau, and the Encyclopaedists.

On the two sides, treatises, comedies, tales, and epigrams were written.
It was not difficult to point out that the sayings of the various
opponents of the church were inconsistent with each other; that Rousseau
contradicted Voltaire, that Voltaire contradicted himself. There were
many weak places in the armor of those warriors. Pompignan discourses at
great length, dwelling more especially on the worship which the
Philosophers paid to physical science, on their love of doubt, and on
their mistaken theory that a good Christian cannot be a patriot.
Chaudon, perhaps the cleverest of the clerical writers, sometimes throws
a well directed shaft. "That same Voltaire," he says, "who thinks that
satires against God are of no consequence, attaches great importance to
satires written against himself and his friends. He is unwilling to see
the pen snatched from the hands of the slanderers of the Deity; but he
has often tried to excite the powers that be against the least of his
critics." This was very true of Voltaire, who was as thin-skinned as he
was violent; and who is believed to have tried sometimes to silence his
opponents by the arbitrary method of procuring from some man in power a
royal order to have them locked up. Palissot, in a very readable comedy,
makes fun of Diderot and his friends. As for invective, the supply is
endless on both sides. The Archbishop of Paris condemns the "Émile" of
Rousseau as containing a great many propositions that are "false,
scandalous, full of hatred of the church and her ministers, erroneous,
impious, blasphemous, and heretical." The same prelate argues as
follows: "Who would not believe, my very dear brethren, from what this
impostor says, that the authority of the church is proved only by her
own decisions, and that she proceeds thus: `I decide that I am
infallible, therefore so I am.' A calumnious imputation, my very dear
brethren! The constitution of Christianity, the spirit of the
Scriptures, the very errors and the weakness of the human mind tend to
show that the church established by Jesus Christ is infallible. We
declare that, as the Divine Legislator always taught the truth, so his
church always teaches it. We therefore prove the authority of the
church, not by the church's authority, but by that of Jesus Christ, a
process as accurate as the other, with which we are reproached, is
absurd and senseless."

The arguments of the clerical writers were not all on this level.
Chaudon and Nonnotte prepared a series of articles, arranged in the
form of a dictionary, in which the Catholic doctrine is set forth,
sometimes clearly and forcibly. But it is evident that the champions
of Catholicism in that age were no match in controversy for her
adversaries.[Footnote: Lefranc de Pompignan, i. 27 (_Instruction
pastorale sur la prétendue philosophie des incredules). Dictionnaire
antiphilosophique,_ republished and enlarged by Grosse under the title
_Dictionnaire d'antiphilosophisme,_ Palissot, _Les philosophes._
Beaumont's "_mandement_" given in Rousseau, (_Oeuvres,_ vii. 22,
etc. See also Barthelémy, _Erreurs et mensonges,_ 5e, l3e, 14e Série,
articles on _Fréron, Nonnotte, Trublet,_ and _Patrouillet.
Confessions de Fréron._ Nisard, _Les ennemis de Voltaire_). The
superiority of the Philosophers over the churchmen in argument is too
evident to be denied. Carné, 408.]

The strength of a church does not lie in her doctors and her orators,
still less in her wits and debaters, though they all have their uses.
The strength of a church lies in her saints. While these have a large
part in her councils and a wide influence among her members, a church
is nearly irresistible. When they are few, timid and uninfluential,
knowledge and power, nay, simple piety itself, can hardly support her.
In the Church of France, through the ages, there have been many
saints; but in the reigns of Louis XVI. and his immediate predecessor
there were but few, and none of prominence. The persecution of the
Jansenists, petty as were the forms it took, had turned aside from
ardent fellowship in the church many of the most earnest, religious
souls in France. The atmosphere of the country was not then favorable
to any kind of heroism. Such self-devoted Christians as there were
went quietly on their ways; their existence to be proved only when, in
the worst days of the Revolution, a few of them should find the crown
of martyrdom.



The second order in the state was the Nobility. It is a mistake,
however, to suppose that this word bears on the Continent exactly the
same meaning as in England. Where all the children of a nobleman are
nobles, a strict class is created. An English peerage, descending only
to the eldest son, is more in the nature of an office. The French
_noblesse_ in the latter years of the old monarchy comprised nearly
all persons living otherwise than by their daily toil, together with the
higher part of the legal profession. While the clergy had political
rights and a corporate existence, and acted by means of an assembly, the
nobility had but privileges. This, however, was true only of the older
provinces, the "Lands of Elections," whose ancient rights had been
abolished. In some of the "Lands of Estates," which still kept a remnant
of self-government, the order was to some extent a political body with
constitutional rights.

The nobility have been reckoned at about one hundred thousand souls,
forming twenty-five or thirty thousand families, owning one fifth of the
soil of France. Only a part of this land, however, was occupied by the
nobles for their gardens, parks, and chases. The greater portion was let
to farmers, either at a fixed rent, or on the _métayer_ system, by
which the landlord was paid by a share of the crops. And beside his rent
or his portion, the noble received other things from his tenants:
payments and services according to ancient custom, days of labor, and
occasional dues. He could tramp over the ploughed lands with his
servants in search of game, although he might destroy the growing corn.
The game itself, which the peasant might not kill, was still more
destructive. Such rights as these, especially where they were harshly
enforced, caused both loss and irritation to the poor. Although there
were far too many absentees among the great families, yet the larger
number of the nobles spent most of their time at home on their estates,
looking after their farms and their tenants, attending to local
business, and saving up money to be spent in visits to the towns, or to
Paris. When they were absent, their bailiffs were harder masters than
themselves. Unfortunately the eyes of the noble class were turned rather
to the enjoyments of the city and the court than to the duties of
country life on their estates, an inevitable consequence of their loss
of local power.

If the nobles had few political rights, they had plenty of public
privileges. They were exempt from the most onerous taxes, and the best
places under the government were reserved for them. Therefore every man
who rose to eminence or to wealth in France strove to enter their ranks,
and since nobility was a purchasable commodity, through the
multiplication of venal offices which conferred it, none who had much
money to spend failed to secure the coveted rank. Thus the order had
come to comprise almost all persons of note, and a great part of the
educated class. To describe its ideas and aspirations is to describe
those of most of the leaders of France. Nobility was no longer a mark of
high birth, nor a brevet of distinction; it was merely a sign that a
man, or some of his ancestors, had had property. Of course all persons
in the order were not equal. The descendants of the old families, which
had been great in the land for hundreds of years, despised the mushroom
noblemen of yesterday, and talked contemptuously of "nobility of the
gown." Theirs was of the sword, and dated from the Crusades. And under
Louis XVI., after the first dismissal of Necker, there was a reaction,
and ground gained by the older nobility over the newer, and by both over
the inferior classes. As the Revolution draws near and financial
embarrassment grows more acute, the pickings of the favored class have
become scarcer, while the appetite for them has increased. Preferment in
church or state must no longer go to the vulgar.

There is a distinction among nobles quite apart from the length of their
pedigree. We find a higher and a lower nobility, with no clear line of
division between them. They are in fact the very rich, whose families
have some prominence, and the moderately well off. For it may be noticed
that among nobles of all times and countries, although wealth unaided
may not give titles and place, it is pretty much a condition precedent
for acquiring them. A man may be of excellent family, and poor; but to
be a great noble, a man must be rich. In old France the road to
preferment was through the court; but to shine at court a considerable
income was required; and so the _noblesse de cour_ was more or less
identical with the richer nobility.

In this small but influential part of the nation, both the good and the
bad qualities which are favored by court life had reached a high degree
of development. The old French nobility has sometimes been represented
as exhibiting the best of manners and the worst of morals. I believe
that both sides of the picture have been painted in too high colors. The
courtier was not always polite, nor were all great nobles libertines.
Faithful husbands and wives were by no means exceptional; although, as
in other places, well behaved people did not make a parade of their
morality. There is such a thing as a French prig; but prigs are neither
common nor popular in France. Before the Revolution the art of pleasing
was more studied than it is to-day,--that art by which men and women
make themselves agreeable to their acquaintance.

"In old times, under Louis XV. and Louis XVI.," says the Viscount of
Ségur, "a young man entering society made what was called a
_début_. He cultivated accomplishments. His father suggested and
directed this work, for work it was; but the mother, the mother only,
could bring her son to that last degree of politeness, of grace and
amiability, which completed his education. Beside her natural
tenderness, her pride was so much at stake that you may judge what care,
what studied pains, she used in giving her children, on their entrance
into society, all the charm that she could develop in them, or bestow
upon them. Thence came that rare politeness, that exquisite taste, that
moderation in speech and jest, that graceful carriage, in short that
combination which characterized what was called good company, and which
always distinguished French society even among foreigners. If a young
man, because of his youth, had failed in attention to a lady, in
consideration for a man older than himself, in deference for old age,
the mother of the thoughtless young fellow was informed of it by her
friends the same evening; and on the following day he was sure to
receive advice and reproof."[Footnote: The Viscount of Ségur was
brother to the Count of Ségur, from the preface to whose Memoirs this
extract is taken.]

The instruction thus early given was not confined to forms. Indeed,
French society in that day was probably less formal in some ways than
any other European society; and in Paris people were more free than in
the provinces. Although making a bow was a fine art, although a lady's
curtsey was expected to be at once "natural, soft, modest, gracious, and
dignified," ceremonious greetings were considered unnecessary, and few
compliments were paid. To praise a woman's beauty to her face would have
been to disparage her modesty. Good manners consisted in no small part
in distinguishing perfectly what was due to every one, and in expressing
that distinction with lightness and grace. Different modes of address
were appropriate toward parents, relations, friends, acquaintances,
strangers, your superiors in rank, your poor dependents, yet all must be
treated with courtesy and consideration. Such manners are possible only
where social distinctions are positively ascertained. In old France, at
least, every man had his place and knew where he was.

But it was in their dealings with ladies that the Frenchmen of that day
showed the perfection of their system. Vicious they might be, but
discourteous they were not. No well-bred man would then appear in a
lady's room carelessly dressed, or in boots. In speech between the
sexes, the third person was generally used, and a gentleman in speaking
to a lady dropped his voice to a lower tone than he employed to men.
Gentlemen were careful before ladies not to treat even each other with
familiarity. Still less would one of them, however intimate he might be
with a lady's husband or brother, speak to her of his friend by any name
less formal than his title. These habits have left their mark in France
and elsewhere to this day; but the mark is fast disappearing, not
altogether to the advantage of social life.[Footnote: Genlis,
Dictionnaire des Étiquettes, i. 94, 218; ii. 194, 347.]

Friendship between men was sometimes carried so far as to interfere with
the claims of domestic affection. At least it was faithful and sincere,
and the man on whom fortune had frowned, the fallen minister, or the
disgraced courtier, was followed in his adversity by the kindness of his
friends. Of all the virtues this is perhaps the one which in our hurried
age tends most to disappear. It is left for the occupation of idle
hours, and the smallest piece of triviality which can be tortured into
the name of business, is allowed to crowd away those constantly repeated
attentions which might add a true grace and refinement to the lives of
those who gave and of those who received them. It is often said that
friendships are formed only in youth. Is not this partly because youth
Revolution, men of all ages made friendships, and supported them by the
consideration for others which is at the bottom of all politeness. The
Frenchman is nervous and irritable. When he lets his temper get beyond
his control, he is fierce and violent. He has little of the easy-going
good-nature under inconveniences, which some branches of the Teutonic
race believe themselves to possess. He has less kindly merriment than
the Tuscan. But he has trained himself for social life; and has learned,
when on his good behavior, to make others happy about him. And it is
part of the well-bred Frenchman's pride and happiness to be almost
always on his good behavior.

In one respect Paris in the eighteenth century was more like a
provincial town than like a great modern capital. Acquaintanceship had
not swallowed up intimacy. A man or a woman did not undertake to keep on
terms of civility with so many people that he could not find time to see
his best friends oftener than once or twice a year. The much vaunted
_salons_ of the old monarchy were charming, in great measure
because they were reasonably organized. An agreeable woman would draw
her friends about her; they would meet in her parlor until they knew
each other, and would be together often enough to keep touch
intellectually. The talker knew his audience and felt at home with it.
The listener had learned to expect something worth hearing. The mistress
of the house kept language and men within bounds, and had her own way of
getting rid of bores. But even French wit and vivacity were not always
equal to the demands upon them. "I remember," says Montesquieu, "that I
once had the curiosity to count how many times I should hear a little
story, which certainly did not deserve to be told or remembered; during
three weeks that it occupied the polite world, I heard it repeated two
hundred and twenty-five times, which pleased me much."[Footnote:
_Oeuvres_, vii 179 _(Pensées diverses)._]

Beside the tie of friendship we may set that of the family. In old
France this bond was much closer than it is in modern America. If a man
rose in the world, the benefit to his relations was greater than now;
and there was no theory current that a ruler, or a man in a position of
trust, should exclude from the places under him those persons with whom
he is best acquainted, and of whose fidelity to himself and to his
employers he has most reason to be sure. On the other hand, a disgrace
to one member of a family spread its blight on all the others, and the
judicial condemnation of one man might exclude his near relations from
the public service--a state of things which was beginning to be
repugnant to the public conscience, but which had at least the merit of
forming a strong band to restrain the tempted from his contemplated

In fact, the old idea of the family as an organic whole, with common
joys, honors, and responsibilities, common sorrows and disgraces, was
giving way to the newer notion of individualism. In France, however, the
process never went so far as it has done in some other countries,
including our own.

Good manners were certainly the rule at the French court, but there
were exceptions, and not inconspicuous ones, for Louis XV. was an
unfeeling man, and Louis XVI. was an awkward one. When Mademoiselle
Genêt, fifteen years old, was first engaged as reader to the former
king's daughters, she was in a state of agitation easy to imagine. The
court was in mourning, and the great rooms hung with black, the state
armchairs on platforms, several steps above the floor, the feathers
and the shoulder-knots embroidered with tinsel made a deep impression
on her. When the king first approached, she thought him very
imposing. He was going a-hunting, and was followed by a numerous
train. He stopped short in front of the young girl and the following
dialogue took place:--

"Mademoiselle Genêt, I am told that you are very learned; that you know
four or five foreign languages."

"I know only two, sir," trembling.

"Which are they?"

"English and Italian."

"Do you speak them fluently?"

"Yes, sir, very fluently."

"That's quite enough to put a husband out of temper;" and the king went
on, followed by his laughing train, and left the poor little girl
standing abashed and disconsolate.[Footnote: Campan, i. pp. vi. viii.]

The memoirs of the time are full of stories proving that the rigorous
enforcement of étiquette and the general training in good manners had
not done away with eccentricity of behavior. The Count of Osmont, for
instance, was continually fidgeting with anything that might come under
his hand, and could not see a snuff-box without ladling out the snuff
with three fingers, and sprinkling it over his clothes like a Swiss
porter. He sometimes varied this pleasant performance by putting the box
itself under his nose, to the great disgust of whomever happened to be
its owner. He once spent a week at the house of Madame de Vassy, a lady
who was young and good-looking enough, but stiff and ceremonious. This
lady wore a skirt of crimson velvet over a big panier, and was covered
with pearls and diamonds. Madame de Vassy would not reprove Monsieur
d'Osmont in words for his method of treating her magnificent golden
snuff-box; but used to get up from her place at the card-table as soon
as he had so used it, empty all the snuff into the fireplace, and ring
for more. D'Osmont, meanwhile, would go on without noticing her, laugh
and swear over his cards, and get in a passion with himself if the luck
ran against him. Yet when he was not playing, the man was lively, modest
and amiable, and except for his fidgety habits, had the tone of the best
society.[Footnote: Dufort, ii. 46.]

That which above all things distinguished the French nobility, and
especially the highest ranks of it, from the rest of mankind was the
amount of leisure which it enjoyed. Most people in the world have to
work, most aristocracies to govern The English gentleman of the
eighteenth century farmed his estates, acted as a magistrate, took
part in politics. Living in the country, he was a mighty hunter. The
French nobleman, unless he were an officer in the army (and even the
officers had inordinately long leave of absence), had nothing to do
but to kill time. Only the poorer country gentlemen ever thought of
farming their own lands. For the unemployed nobles of Paris, there was
but occasional sport to be had. Indeed, the Frenchman, although he
likes the more violent and tumultuous kinds of hunting, is not easily
interested in the quieter and more lasting varieties of sport. He will
joyfully chase the wild boar, when horses, dogs, and horns, with the
admiration of his friends and servants, concur to keep his blood
boiling; but he will not care to plod alone through the woods for a
long afternoon on the chance of bringing home a brace of woodcock; nor
can he mention fishing without a sneer. Being thus deprived of the
chief resource by which Anglo-Saxons combine activity and indolence,
the French nobility cultivated to their highest pitch those human
pleasures which are at once the most vivid and the most delicate. They
devoted themselves to society and to love-making. Too quick-witted to
fall into sloth, too proud to become drunkards or gluttons, they
dissipated their lives in conversation and stained their souls with
intrigue. Never, probably, have the arts which make social intercourse
delightful been carried to so high a degree of excellence as among
them. Never perhaps, in a Christian country, have offenses against the
laws of marriage been so readily condoned, where outward decency was
not violated, as in the upper circles of France in the century
preceding the Revolution.

The vice of Parisian society under Louis XV. and his grandson presented
a curious character. Adultery had acquired a regular standing, and
connections dependent upon it were openly, if tacitly recognized. Such
illicit alliances were even governed by a morality of their own, and the
attempt to induce a woman to be unfaithful to her criminal lover might
be treated as an insult.[Footnote: Witness Rousseau and Mme. d'Houdetot
in the _Confessions_. Mlle. d'Aydie was accounted very virtuous for
dissuading her lover from marrying her, even after the birth of her
child, for fear of injuring his prospects. Yet the match would not seem,
to modern ideas, to have been a very unequal one.] But this pedantry of
vice was not always maintained. There were men and women in high life
who changed their connections very frequently, yielding to the caprice
of the moment, as the senses or the wit might lead them. Such people
were not passionate, but simply depraved; yet the mass of the community,
deterred partly by fear of ridicule, and partly by the Philosophic
spirit which had decided that chastity was not a part of natural morals,
did not visit them with very severe condemnation.

If eccentricity sometimes overrode étiquette and even politeness, good
morals and religion not infrequently made a stand against corruption.
There were loving wives and careful mothers among the highest nobility.
Of the Duchess of Ayen we get a description from her children. Her
mansion was in the Rue St. Honoré, and had a garden running back almost
to that of the Tuileries (for the Rue de Rivoli was not then in
existence). The house was known for the beauty of its apartments, and
for the superb collection of pictures which it contained. After dinner,
which was served at three o'clock, the duchess would retire to her
bedchamber, a large room hung with crimson damask, and take her place in
a great armchair by the fire. Her books, her work, her snuff-box, were
within reach. She would call her five girls about her. These, on chairs
and footstools, squabbling gently at times for the places next their
mother, would tell of their excursions, their lessons, the little events
of every day. There was nothing frivolous in their education. Their old
nurse had not filled their minds with fairy tales, but with stories from
the Old Testament and with anecdotes of heroic actions.

The pleasures of these girls were simple. Once or twice in a summer they
went on a visit to their grandfather, the Marshal de Noailles at Saint
Germain en Laye. In the autumn they spent a week with their other
grandfather, Monsieur d'Aguesseau at Fresnes. An excursion into the
suburbs, a ride on donkeys on the slopes of Mont Valérien, made up their
innocent dissipations. Their most frivolous excitement was to see their
governess fall off her donkey.

The piety of the duchess might in some respects appear extravagant. Her
fourth daughter had two beggars of the parish for god-parents, as a
constant reminder of humility. The same child was of a violent and
willful disposition, but was converted at the age of eleven and became
mild, patient, and studious. The conversion of so young a sinner, and
the seriousness with which the event was treated by the family, seem
rather to belong to the atmosphere of Puritanism than to that of the
Catholicism of the eighteenth century. But if the religion of the
Duchess of Ayen sometimes led her to fantastic extremes, these were not
its principal characteristics. Her piety was applied to the conduct of
her daily life and to the education of her daughters in honesty,
reasonableness, and self-devotion. Their faith and hers were to be
tested by the hardest trials, and to be victorious both in prison and on
the scaffold. We are fortunate in possessing their biographies. In how
many cases at the same time and in the same country did similar virtues
go unrecorded?[Footnote: Vie de Madame de Lafayette, Mme. de Montagu.]

As for the smaller nobility, the "sparrow hawks,"[Footnote: Hobéraux.]
living in the country, they dwelt among their less exalted neighbors,
doing good or evil as the character of each one of them directed.
Sometimes we find them on friendly terms with the villagers, acting as
godfathers and godmothers to the children, summoning the peasants to
take part in the chase, or to dance in the courtyard of the castle. We
find them endowing hospitals, giving alms, keeping an eye on the conduct
of the village priest. A continual interchange of presents goes on
between the cottage and the great house. A new lord is welcomed by
salvos of musketry, the ladies of his family are met by young girls
bearing flowers. Such relations as these are said to have grown less
common as the great Revolution drew near. It has often been remarked of
the Vendée and Brittany, where a larger proportion of lords resided on
their estates than was the case elsewhere, that a friendlier feeling was
there cultivated between the upper and the lower classes; and that it
was in those provinces that a stand was made by lords and peasants alike
for the maintenance of the old order of things. In some parts of the
country the peasants and their lords were continually quarreling and
going to law. The royal intendant was besieged with complaints. The poor
could not get their pay for their work. They received blows instead of
money. Arrogance and injustice on the one side were met by impudence and
fraud on the other. The old leadership had passed away. The upper class
had lost its power and its responsibility; it insisted the more
tenaciously on its privileges. Exemption from certain taxes was the
chief of these, but there were others as irritating if less important.
Quarrels arose with the priest about the lord's right to be first given
the holy water. One vicar in his wrath deluged his lordship's new wig.

In general, we may conceive of the lesser nobles, deprived of their
useful function of regulating and administering the country, leading
somewhat penurious and useless lives. They hunted a good deal, they
slept long. Generally they did not eat overmuch, for gluttony is not a
vice of their race. They grumbled at the ascendency of the court, and at
the new army-regulations. They preserved in their families the noble
virtues of dignity and obedience. Children asked their parents' blessing
on their knees before they went to bed. The elder Mirabeau, the grim
Friend of Men, still knelt nightly before his mother in his fiftieth
year. The children honored their parents in fact as well as in form, and
took no important step in life without paternal consent. The boys ran
rather wild in their youth, but settled down at the approach of middle
life; the oldest inheriting the few or barren paternal acres; the
younger sons equally noble, and thus debarred from lucrative
occupations, pushing their fortunes in the army. The girls were married
young or went into a convent. Marriages were arranged entirely by the
parents. "My father," said a young nobleman, "I am told that you have
agreed on a marriage for me. Would you be kind enough to tell me if the
report be true, and what is the name of the lady?" "My son," answered
his parent, "be so good as to mind your own business, and not to come to
me with questions."[Footnote: Babeau, _Le Village_, 158. Ch. de
Kibbe, 169. Mme. de Montagu, 57. Genlis, _Dictionnaire des
Étiquettes,_ i. 71. Lavergne, _Les Économistes,_ 127.]



The nobility of France was essentially a military class. Its privileges
were claimed on account of services rendered in the field. The priests
pray, the nobles fight, the commons pay for all; such was the theory of
the state. It is true that the nobility no longer furnished the larger
part of the armies; that the old feudal levies of ban and rear-ban, in
which the baron rode at the head of his vassals, were no longer called
out. But still the soldier's life was considered the proper career of
the nobleman. A large proportion of the members of the order were
commissioned officers, and most officers were members of the order.

The rule which required proofs of nobility as a prerequisite to
obtaining a commission was not severely enforced in the reign of Louis
XV., and in the earlier years of his successor. In many regiments it was
usual to promote one or two deserving sergeants every year. In others
the necessary certificate of birth could be signed by any nobleman and
was often obtained from greed or good-nature. Moreover, an order of 1750
had provided that officers of plebeian extraction should sometimes be
ennobled for distinguished services. But in 1781, a new rule was
established. No one could thenceforth receive a commission as second
lieutenant who could not show four generations of nobility on his
father's side, counting himself. Thus were all members of families
recently ennobled excluded from the service, and no door was left open
to the military ambition of people belonging to the middle class;
although that class was yearly increasing in importance. Moreover,
strict genealogical proofs were required, the candidate for a commission
having to submit his papers to the royal herald. Exceptions were made in
favor of the sons of members of the military order of Saint Louis.
[Footnote: Ségur, i. 82, 158. Chérest, i. 14. Anciennes lois françaises,
22d May, 1781. The regiments to which the regulation applies are those
of French infantry (not foreign regiments), cavalry, light horse,
dragoons, and chasseurs à cheval. This would seem to exclude the
artillery and engineers. The foreign regiments appear to have been
included in a later order. Chérest, i. 24.]

But all nobles were not on the same footing in the army. Among the
regimental officers two classes might be distinguished. There were, on
the one hand, the ensigns, lieutenants, captains, majors, and
lieutenant-colonels, who generally belonged to the poorer nobility. They
served long and for small pay, with little hope of the more brilliant
rewards of the profession. They did their work and stayed with their
regiments, although leave of absence was not difficult to obtain in time
of peace. Their lives were hard and frugal, a captain's pay not
exceeding twenty-five hundred livres, which was perhaps doubled by
allowances. On the other hand were the colonels and second colonels,
young men of influential families, who, at most, passed through the
lower ranks to learn something of the duties of an officer. Their
commissions were procured by favor. There was scarce a bishop about the
court who did not have a candidate for a colonelcy, scarcely a pretty
woman who did not aspire to make her friend a captain. The rich young
men, thus promoted, threw their money about freely in camp and garrison.
Thus if the nobility had exclusive privileges, the court had privileges
that excluded those of the rest of the nobility, and in the very last
days of the old monarchy, these also were enhanced. The Board of War in
1788, decided that no one should become a general officer who had not
previously been a colonel; and colonels' commissions, besides being very
expensive, were given, as above stated, by favor alone. Thus on the eve
of the Revolution were the bands of privilege drawn tighter in France.
[Footnote: Ségur, i. 154. Chérest, ii. 90.] The colonels thus appointed
were generally not wanting in courage. The French nobility of all
degrees was ready enough to give its blood on the battle-field. Thus the
son of the Duke of Boufflers, fourteen years old, had been made colonel
of the regiment which bore the name of his family. The duke served as a
lieutenant-général in the same army. Fearing that the boy might not know
how to behave in battle, the father, on the first occasion, obtained
permission from the Marshal, Maurice de Saxe, commander of the army, to
accompany his son as a volunteer. The boy's regiment was ordered to
attack the intrenched village of Raucoux. The young colonel and his
father, followed by two pages, led their men against the intrenchments.
When they reached the works, the duke took his son in his arms and threw
him over the parapet. He himself followed, and both came off unhurt, but
the two pages were shot dead.[Footnote: Montbarey, i. 38.]

In America, as in Europe, the young favorites of fortune were ready
enough to fight. Such men as Lauzun, Ségur, or the Viscount of Noailles
asked nothing better than adventures, whether of war or love; but in
peace they could not be looked on as satisfactory or hard-working
officers. Yet they and their like continued to get advancement.
Ordinances might be passed from time to time, requiring age or length of
service, but ordinances in old France did not apply to the great. The
poorer nobility might grumble, but the court families continued to get
the good places. The lieutenant-colonels and the other working officers
of the army had but little chance of rising to be general officers. Even
before the order of 1788, promotion fell to the courtier colonels. The
baton of the marshals of France was placed in the hands only of the very
highest nobility. All over Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, armies were often commanded by men born to princely rank.
That this did not necessarily mean that they were ill commanded may be
shown by the names of Turenne and Condé, Maurice de Saxe and Eugène of
Savoy, Prince Henry of Prussia I and Frederick the Great.

While the higher commands were thus monopolized (or nearly so) by the
rich and powerful, the poorer nobility flocked into the army, to occupy
the subordinate ranks of commissioned officers. Sometimes they came
through the military schools. The most important of these had been
founded at Paris in 1750, by the financier Paris-Duverney. Here several
hundred young gentlemen, mostly born poor and preferably the sons of
officers, received a military education. The boys came to the school
from their homes in the country between the ages of nine and eleven,
rustic little figures sometimes, in wooden shoes and woolen caps, like
the peasant lads who had been their early playmates. They were taught
the duties of gentlemen and officers, cleanliness, an upright carriage,
the manual and tactics, and something of military science. Other
schools, kept by monks, existed in the provinces where the young
aspirants for commissions learned engineering and the theory of
artillery. But many young a noblemen entered their career by a process
more in accordance with youthful tastes. We find boys in camp in time of
war, evading the orders which forbade entering the service before the
age of sixteen. Children of twelve and thirteen are wounded in battle.
[Footnote: Babeau, _Vie militaire_, ii. 7, 45. Montbarey, i. 18.]

As the only form of active life in which most nobles could take part
was found in the army, there was always too large a number of
officers, and too great a proportion of the military expenses was
devoted to them. In 1787 hardly more than one in three of those
holding commissions was in active service. The number of soldiers
under Louis XVI. was less than a hundred and fifty thousand actually
with the colors. There were thirty-six thousand officers, on paper;
thirteen thousand actively employed. The soldiers cost the state
44,100,000 livres a year, the officers 46,400,000 livres.[Footnote:
Babeau, Vie militaire, i. 15; ii. 90, 145. Necker, De l'Administration,
ii. 415, 418.]

The relation between the officers and the soldiers of the old French
army was more intimate and kindly than that existing in any other
European army of the time. For both, their regiment was a home, and the
military service a lifelong profession. They had entered it young, and
they hoped to die in it. Their relation to each other had become a part
of the structure of their minds; a condition of coherent thought. A
soldier might rise from the ranks and become a lieutenant, or even a
captain, but such promotion was infrequent; few common soldiers had the
education or the means to aspire to it. On the other hand, the command
of a company was sometimes almost hereditary. The captain might be lord
of the village in which his soldiers were born. In that case he would
care for them in sickness, and perhaps even grant a furlough when the
private was much needed by his family at home. His own chance of
promotion was small. He expected to do the work of his life in that
company, among those soldiers, with perhaps his younger brother, or, in
time, his son, as his lieutenant. It would seem that in the years
immediately preceding the French Revolution these kindly relations were
in some measure dying out. The captain was no longer so closely
connected with his company as he had been. Officialism was taking the
place of those personal connections which had characterized the feudal
system. The gulf between soldiers and officers, if not harder to cross
for the ambitious, separated the commonplace members of each group more
widely from those of the other.[Footnote: Babeau, Vie militaire, i. 43,
189. Montbarey, ii. 272. Moore's View, i. 365.]

The private soldiers of King Louis XVI., who stood in long white lines
on parade at Newport, while their many colored flags floated above and
the officers brandished their spontoons in front, or who rushed in
night attack on the advanced redoubt at Yorktown, were not, like
modern European soldiers, brought together by conscription. They were,
nominally at least, volunteers. Unruly lads, mechanics out of work,
runaway apprentices, were readily drawn into the service by skillful
recruiting officers. Thirty years before, it had been the custom of
these landsharks to cheat or bully young men into the service. The raw
youth, arriving in Paris from the country, had been offered by a
chance acquaintance a place as servant in a gentleman's family, and
after signing an engagement had found himself bound for eight years to
serve His Majesty, in one of his regiments of foot. The young
barber-surgeon had waked from a carouse with the king's silver in his
pocket. Such things were still common in Germany. In France some
effort had been made to regulate the activity of the recruiting
officers. Complaints of force or fraud in enlistment received
attention from the authorities. The soldiers of Louis XVI., therefore,
were engaged with comparative fairness. The infantry came mostly from
the towns, the cavalry and artillery from the country. The soldiers
were derived from the lowest part of the population. Whether they
improved or deteriorated in the service depended on their officers. In
any case they became entirely absorbed in it. The soldier did not keep
even the name by which he had been known in common life. He assumed,
or was given, a _nom de guerre_ such as La Tulippe, La Tendresse,
Pollux, Pot-de-Vin, Vide-bouteille, or Va-de-bon-coeur. His term of
service was seven or eight years, but he was by no means sure of
getting a fair discharge at the end of it; and was in any case likely
to reenlist. Thus the recruit had, in fact entered upon the profession
of his life.[Footnote: Babeau, _Vie militaire_, i. 55, 136,
182. Mercier, x. 273. Ségur, i.222; _Encyc. méth. Art milit._ ii. 177

The uniforms of the day were ill adapted to campaigning. The French
soldier of the line wore white clothes with colored trimmings, varying
according to his regiment. On his head was perched the triangular cocked
hat of the period, standing well out over his ears, but hardly shading
his eyes. Beneath it his hair was powdered, or rather, pasted; for the
powder was sifted on to the wet hair, and caked in the process. The
condition of the mass after a rainy night at the camp-fire may be
imagined. In some regiments the wearing of a moustache was required, and
those soldiers whom nature had not supplied with such an ornament were
obliged to put on a false one, fastened with pitch, which was liable to
cause abcesses on the lip. Sometimes a fine, uniform color was produced
in the moustaches of a whole regiment by means of boot-blacking. Broad
white belts were crossed upon the breast. The linen gaiters, white on
parade, black for the march, came well above the knee, and a superfluous
number of garters impeded the step. It was a tedious matter to put these
things on; and if a pebble got in through a button-hole, the soldier was
tempted to leave it in his shoe, until it had made his foot sore.
Uniforms were seldom renewed. The coat was expected to last three years,
the hat two, the breeches one.[Footnote: Babeau, _Vie militaire_,
i. 93. _Encyc. méth. Art milit._ i. 589 (_Chaussure_) ii. 179.
Susane, ix. (_Plates_). See also a very interesting little book by
a great man, Maurice de Saxe, _Les Rêveries_.]

All parts of the soldier's uniform were tight and close fitting. I think
that this was learned from the Prussians. The ideal of the army as a
machine seems to have originated, or at least to have been first worked
out in Germany. Such an ideal was a natural consequence of the military
system of the age. Of the soldiers of Frederick the Great only one-half
were his born subjects. Other German princes enlisted as many foreigners
as they could. In the French army were many regiments of foreign
mercenaries. Nowhere was the pay high, or the soldier well treated.
Desertion was very common. Under these circumstances mechanical
precision became an invaluable quality. The soldier must be held in very
strict bands, for if left free he might turn against the power that
employed him.

The connection between a rigid system in which nothing is left to the
soldier's intelligence or initiative, and a tight uniform, which
confines his movements, is both deep and evident. If a man is never to
have his own way, his master will inevitably find means to make him
needlessly uncomfortable. As the modern owner of a horse sometimes
diminishes the working power of the animal by check-reins and
martingales, so the despot of the eighteenth century buckled and
buttoned his military cattle into shape, and made them take unnatural
paces. But even under these disadvantages the French soldiers
surpassed all others in grace and ease of bearing. Officers were
sometimes accused of sacrificing the efficiency of their commands to
appearances. The evolutions of the troops involved steps more
appropriate to the dancing-master than to the drill sergeant.
[Footnote: Montbarey, ii. 272.] Such criticisms as these have often
been made on the French soldier by his own countrymen and by
foreigners. But those who think he can be trifled with on this
account, are apt to find themselves terribly mistaken.

The food of the soldiers was coarse and barely sufficient. The pay was
so absorbed by the requirements of the uniform, many of the smaller
parts of which were at the expense of the men, and by the diet, that
little was left for the almost necessary comforts of drink and tobacco.
The barracks, handsome outside, were close and crowded within. During
this reign orders were given that only two men should sleep in a bed. In
some garrisons soldiers were still billeted on the inhabitants. In
sickness they were better cared for than civilians, the military
hospitals being decidedly better than those open to the general public.
[Footnote: Lafayette told the Assembly of Notables in 1787 that the food
of the soldiers was insufficient for their maintenance. _Mémoires_,
i. 215. Ségur, i. 161.]

If we compare the material condition of the French soldier in the latter
years of the old monarchy with that of other European soldiers of his
day, we shall find him about as well treated as they were. If we compare
those times with these, we shall find that he is now better clothed, but
not better fed than he was then.[Footnote: Babeau, _Vie
militaire_, i. 374]

"The soldiers are very clean," writes an English traveler in France in
the year 1789; "so far from being meagre and ill-looking fellows, as
John Bull would persuade us, they are well-formed, tall, handsome men,
and have a cheerfulness and civility in their countenances and manner
which is peculiarly pleasing. They also looked very healthy, great care
is taken of them."[Footnote: Rigby, 13.]

The period of twenty-five years that preceded the Revolution was a time
of attempted reform in the French army. The defeats of the Seven Years'
War had served as a lesson. The Duke of Choiseul, the able minister
of Louis XV., abolished many abuses. The manoeuvres of the troops
became more regular, the discipline stricter and more exact for a time.
The Duke of Aiguillon ousted Choiseul, by making himself the courtier of
the strumpet Du Barry, and things appear to have slipped back. Then the
old king died, and Aiguillon followed his accomplice into exile. Louis
XVI. found his finances in disorder, his army and navy demoralized. The
death of the minister of war in 1775 gave him the opportunity to make
one of his well-meant and feeble attempts at reform. He called to the
ministry an old soldier, the Count of Saint-Germain, who had for some
time been living in retirement. The count had seen much foreign service,
was in full sympathy neither with the French army nor with the French
court, and was moreover a man who had little knack at getting on with
anybody. He had written a paper on military reforms, and thus attracted
notice. In vain, when in office, he attacked some crying abuses,
especially the privileges granted to favored regiments and favored
persons. While he disgusted the court in this way, he raised a storm of
indignation in the army by his love of foreign innovations, and
especially of one practice considered deeply degrading. This was the
punishment of minor offenses by flogging with the flat of the sword;
using a weapon especially made for that purpose. The arguments in favor
of this punishment are obvious. It is expeditious; it is disagreeable to
the sufferer, but does not rob the state of his services, nor subject
him to the bad influences and foul air of the guard-house. The
objections are equally apparent. Flogging, which seems the most natural
and simple of punishments to many men in an advanced state of
civilization, is hated by others, hardly more civilized, with a deadly
hatred. In the former case it inflicts but a moderate injury upon the
skin; in the latter, it strikes deep into the mind and soul. It would be
hard to say beforehand in which way a nation will take it. The English
soldier of Waterloo, like the German of Rossbach, received the lash
almost as a joke. The Frenchman, their unsuccessful opponent on those
fields, could hardly endure it. Grenadiers wept at inflicting the sword
stroke, and their colonel mingled his tears with theirs. "Strike with
the point," cried a soldier, "it hurts less!"

To some of the foreigners in the French service this sensitiveness
seemed absurd. The Count of Saint-Germain consulted, on the subject, a
major of the regiment of Nassau, who had risen from the ranks. "Sir,"
said the veteran, "I have received a great many blows; I have given a
great many, and all to my advantage."[Footnote: Ségur, i. 80. Mercier,
vii. 212. Besenval, ii. 19. Allonville. _Mem. sec._ 84. Montbarey,
i. 311. Flogging in some form and German ways in general seem to have
been introduced into the French army as early as Choiseul's time, and
more or less practiced through the reign of Louis XVI.; but the great
discontent appears to date from the more rigorous application of such
methods by Saint-Germain. Montbarey. Dumouriez, i. 370 (liv. ii. ch.

The spirit of reform was in the air, and ardent young officers would let
nothing pass untried. The Count of Ségur tells a story of such an one;
and although no name be given, he seems to point to the brother-in-law
of Lafayette, the brave Viscount of Noailles.

"One morning," says Ségur, "I saw a young man of one of the first
families of the court enter my bedroom. I had been his friend from
childhood. He had long hated study, and thought only of pleasure, play,
and women. But recently he had been seized with military ardor, and
dreamed but of arms, horses, school of theory, exercises, and German

"As he came into my room, he looked profoundly serious; he begged me to
send away my valet. When we were alone: `What is the meaning, my dear
Viscount,' said I, `of so early a visit and so grave a beginning? Is it
some new affair of honor or of love?'

"`By no means,' said he, `but it is on account of a very important
matter, and of an experiment that I have absolutely resolved to make. It
will undoubtedly seem very strange to you; but it is necessary in order
to enlighten me on the great subject we are all discussing; we can judge
well only of what we have ourselves undergone. When I tell you my plan
you will feel at once that I could intrust it only to my best friend,
and that none but he can help me to execute it. In a word, here is the
case: I want to know positively what effect strokes with the flat of the
sword may have on a strong, courageous, well-balanced man, and how far
his obstinacy could bear this punishment without weakening. So I beg you
to lay on until I say "Enough."'

"Bursting out laughing at this speech, I did all I could to turn him
aside from his strange plan, and to convince him of the folly of his
proposal; but it was useless. He insisted, begged and conjured me to do
him this pleasure, with as many entreaties as if it had been a question
of getting me to render him some great service.

"At last I consented and resolved to punish his fancy by giving him his
money's worth. So I set to work; but, to my great astonishment, the
sufferer, coldly meditating on the effect of each blow, and collecting
all his courage to support it, spoke not a word and constrained himself
to appear unmoved; so that it was only after letting me repeat the
experiment a score of times that he said: `Friend, it is enough. I am
contented; and I now understand that this must be an efficacious method
of conquering many faults.'

"I thought all was over; and up to that point the scene had seemed to me
simply comic; but just as I was about to ring for my valet to dress me,
the Viscount, suddenly stopping me, said: `One moment, please; all is
not finished; it is well that you should make this experiment, too.'

"I assured him that I had no desire to do so, and that it would by no
means change my opinion, which was entirely adverse to an innovation so
opposed to the French character.

"`Very well,' answered he, `but I ask it not for your sake but for mine.
I know you; although you are a perfect friend, you are very lively, a
little fond of poking fun, and you would perhaps make a very amusing
story of what has just happened between us, at my expense, among your

"`But is not my word enough for you?' I rejoined.

"`Yes,' said he, `in any more serious matter; but anyway, if I am only
afraid of an indiscretion, that fear is too much. And so, in the name of
friendship, I beg you, set me completely at ease on that point by taking
back what you have been kind enough to lend me so gracefully. Moreover,
I repeat it, believe me, you will profit by it and be glad to have
judged for yourself this new method that is so much discussed.'

"Overcome by his prayers, I let him take the fatal weapon; but after he
had given me the first stroke, far from imitating his obstinate
endurance, I quickly called out that it was enough, and that I
considered myself sufficiently enlightened on this grave question. Thus
ended this mad scene; we embraced at parting; and in spite of my desire
to tell the story, I kept his secret as long as he pleased."[Footnote:
Ségur, i. 84.]

The discipline of the French army, like that of other bodies, military
and civil, depended much less on regulations than on the individual
character of the men in command for the time being. France was engaged
in but one war during the reign of Louis XVI., and in that war the
land forces were occupied only in America. "The French discipline is
such," writes Lafayette to Washington from Newport, "that chickens and
pigs walk between the lines without being disturbed, and that there is
in the camp a cornfield of which not one leaf has been touched." And
Rochambeau tells with honest pride of apples hanging on the trees
which shaded the soldier's tents. "The discipline of the French army,"
he says, "has always followed it in all its campaigns. It was due to
the zeal of the generals, of the superior and regimental officers, and
especially to the good spirit of the soldier, which never failed." But
Rochambeau was a working general, and Lafayette had done his best in
France that, as far as was possible, the French commander in America
should have working officers under him. Neither in war nor in peace
have the French always been famous for their discipline; and the
discontent which had been caused by the changes above mentioned had
not tended to strengthen it in the closing years of the monarchy.
"Whatever idea I may have formed of the want of discipline and of the
anarchy which reigned among the troops," says Besenval, "it was far
below what I found when I saw them close," and circumstances confirm
the testimony of this not over-trustworthy witness.[Footnote:
Washington, vii. 518. Rochambeau, i. 255, 314. Fersen,
i. 39. 67. Besenval, ii. 36.]

It was in the latter part of the previous reign that the adventure of
the Count of Bréhan had taken place; but the story is too characteristic
to be omitted, and the spirit which it showed continued to exist down to
the very end of the old monarchy.

The Count of Bréhan, after serving with distinction in the Seven Years'
War, had retired from the army, and devoted his time to society and the
fine arts. He was called to Versailles one day by the Duke of Aiguillon,
prime minister to Louis XV., his friend and cousin. "I have named you to
the king," said the duke, "as the only man who would be able to bring
the Dauphiny regiment into a state of discipline. The line officers, by
their insubordinate behavior, have driven away several colonels in
succession. If I were offering you a favor, you might refuse; but this
is an act of duty, and I have assured the king that you would undertake

"You do me justice," answered Bréhan. "I will take the command of the
regiment, but I must make three conditions. I must have unlimited power
to reward and punish; I must be pardoned if I overstep the regulations;
and if I succeed in bringing the regiment into good condition, I am not
to be obliged to keep it for more than a year."

His conditions granted, Bréhan set out for Marseilles, where the
regiment was quartered. On his arrival in that city, he put up at a
small and inconspicuous inn, and, dressed as a civilian, made his way on
foot to a coffee-house, which was said to be a favorite lounging-place
of the officers of the Dauphiny regiment. Taking a seat, he listened to
the conversation going on about him, and soon made out that the
insubordinate subalterns were talking about their new colonel, and of
the fine tricks they would play him on his arrival. Picking out two
young officers who were making themselves particularly conspicuous, he
interrupted their conversation.

"You do not know," he says, "the man whom you want to drive away. I
advise you to mind what you do, or you may get into a scrape."

"Who is this jackanapes that dares to give us advice?"

"A man who will not stand any rudeness, and who demands satisfaction!"
cries Bréhan, unbuttoning his civilian's coat and showing his military
order of Saint Louis.

So he goes out with the young fellows, and all the way to the place
where they are to fight, he chaffs and badgers them. This puts them more
and more out of temper, so that when they reach the ground they are very
much excited, while he is perfectly cool. He wounds them one after the
other; then, turning to the witnesses: "Gentlemen," says he, "I believe
I have done enough, for a man who has been traveling night and day all
the way from Paris. If anybody wants any more, he can easily find me. I
am not one of the people who get out of the way."

Thereupon he leaves them, goes back to his inn, puts on his uniform,
calls on the general commanding the garrison, and sends orders to the
officers of the Dauphiny regiment to come and see him. These presently
arrive, and are thoroughly astonished when they recognize the man whom
they met in the coffee-house, and who has just wounded two of their
comrades. But Bréhan pretends not to know any of them, speaks to all
kindly, tells them of the severe orders that he bears in case of
insubordination, and expresses the hope and conviction that there will
be no trouble. He then asks if all the officers of the regiment are
present. They answer that two gentlemen are ill. "I will go to see
them," says the new colonel, "and make sure that they are well taken
care of." He does in fact visit his late adversaries, and finds them in
great trepidation. They try to make excuses, but Bréhan stops them. "I
do not want to know about anything that happened before I took command,"
he says, "and I am quite sure that henceforth I shall have only a good
report to make to the king of all the officers of my regiment, with whom
I hope to live on the best of terms."

By this firm and conciliatory conduct, the Count of Bréhan inspired the
Dauphiny regiment with respect and affection. He restored its discipline
and left it when his service was over, much regretted by all its
officers.[Footnote: Allonville, i. 162.]

The lieutenants of the French army were united in an association called
the Calotte. The legitimate object of this society was to lick young
officers into shape, by obliging them to conform to the rules of
politeness and proper behavior, as understood by their class. For this
purpose the senior lieutenant of each regiment was the chief of the
regimental club, and there was a general chief for the whole army.
Offenses against good manners, faults of meanness, or oddity of
behavior, were discouraged by admonitions, given privately by the chief,
or publicly in the convivial meetings of the club. Moral pressure might
be carried so far in an aggravated case, as to cause the culprit to
resign his commission. The society in fact represented an organized
professional spirit; and although not recognized by the regulations, was
favored by the superior officers.[Footnote: Calotte=scull cap, here
fool's-cap. Concerning this society, see a series of _feuilletons_
in the _Moniteur Universel,_ Nov. 25th to 30th, 1864 by Gen.
Ambert; also _Encyclopédie méthodique, Art militaire. Militaire,_
iv. 101-103 (article _Calotte_); Ségur, i. 132.]

When discipline was relaxed, the Calotte assumed too great powers. Not
content with moral means, it undertook to enforce its decrees by
physical ones; and it extended its jurisdiction far above the rank of

At the outbreak of the war between France and England in 1778, two camps
were formed in Normandy and Brittany for the purpose of training the
army, and perhaps with some intention of making a descent on the English
coast. The young French officers swarmed to these camps and divided
their time between drill and pleasure. On one occasion, seats had been
reserved on a hill for some Breton ladies, who were to see the
manoeuvres. Two colonels, escorting two ladies of the court who had
recently arrived from Paris, undertook to appropriate the chairs for
their companions. A squabble such as is common on such occasions was the

The Count of Ségur, above mentioned, was acting as aide-de-camp to the
commanding general. A few days after the quarrel about the chairs, just
as he was going to begin a game of prisoners' base, two officers who
were his friends informed him privately that the Calotte had ordered the
two colonels who had given offense on that occasion to be publicly
tossed in blankets and that the sentence was about to be carried out.
Ségur, to gain time, ordered the drummers to beat an alarm. The game was
broken up, every officer ran to his colors, and the aide-de-camp
hastened to explain the matter to the astonished general. The proposed
punishment was deferred and finally prevented; but the escape from a
scandalous breach of discipline had been a narrow one.

As the Revolution drew nearer, its spirit became evident in the army.
The Count of Guibert, the most talented and influential member of the
Board of War in 1788, was the object of satire and epigram. The younger
officers conspired to spoil the success of his manoeuvres. The
experiments that had been tried, the frequent changes in the
regulations, had unsettled their ideas. In their reaction against the
disagreeable rigor of German discipline, they protested that English
officers alone, and not the machine-like soldiers of a despot, were the
models for freemen. The common soldiers caught the spirit of
insubordination from those who commanded them. Especially, the large
regiment of French Guards, a highly privileged body, permanently
quartered in Paris, was infected with the spirit of revolt. Its men were
conspicuous in the early troubles of the Revolution, acting on the side
of the mob.[Footnote: Chérest, i. 552. Miot de Mélito, i. 3.]

The militia of old France does not call for a long notice. It consisted
of from sixty to eighty thousand men, whose chief duty was in garrison
in time of war, and who during peace were not kept constantly together,
but assembled from time to time for drill. As the term of service was
six years, the number of men drawn did not exceed fifteen thousand
annually. This was surely no great drain on a population of twenty-six
millions. Militia duty was greatly hated, however. This appears to have
been because men did not volunteer for it, but were drafted; and because
many persons were exempted from the draft. This immunity covered not
only the sons of aged parents who were dependent on them for support,
but privileged persons of all sorts, from apothecaries to advocates,
gentlemen and their servants and game-keepers. The burden was thus
thrown entirely on the poorer peasantry.[Footnote: Broc, i. 117;
Babeau, _Le Village_, 259.]

The navy in the time of Louis XVI. reached a high state of efficiency.
The war of 1778 to 1783 was in great measure a naval war, and although
the French and their allies were worsted in some of the principal
actions, the general result may be held to have been favorable to them.
The navy at the outbreak of hostilities consisted of about seventy ships
of the line, and as many frigates and large corvettes, with a hundred
smaller vessels. These ships were built on admirable models, for the
French marine architects were well-trained and skillful; but the
materials and the construction were not equal in excellence to the
design. The invention of coppering the ships' bottoms, and thus adding
to their speed, although generally practiced in England, had been
applied in France only to the smaller part of the navy. The French,
however, had an advantage over the English in the fact that ships of the
same nominal class were in reality larger and broader of beam among the
former than among the latter, so that the French were sometimes able to
fight their lower batteries in rough water, when the English had to keep
their lower ports closed.

The naval officers of France were almost all noblemen, and received a
careful professional training. Yet the practice of transferring officers
of high rank from the army to the navy had not been completely
abandoned. Thus d'Estaing, who commanded with little distinction on the
North American coast in 1778, was no sailor, but a lieutenant-général,
artificially turned into a vice-admiral. Such cases, however, were not
common, and in general the French commanders erred rather by adhering
too closely to naval rule, than by want of professional training. In the
navy, as elsewhere, no great original talent was developed during this
reign, which was a time of expectation rather than of action.

The men, like the officers, were good and well-trained, except when the
lack of sailors obliged the government to employ soldiers on shipboard.
It is noticeable that the seamen bore the rope's end with equanimity,
although the landsmen were so much offended at flogging with the flat of
the sword. Nor do I find any complaint of want of discipline at sea.

The administration of naval affairs was less satisfactory than the ships
or the crews. The magazines were not well provided; and the stores were
probably bad, for the fleets were subject to epidemics.[Footnote:
Chabaud-Arnault, 189, 196, 214. Charnoek, iii. 222, 282 Ségur, i. 138.

In general the navy appears to have suffered less than the army from the
fermentation of the public mind. Marine affairs must always remain the
concern of a special class of men, cut off by absorbing occupations from
the interests and sympathies of the rest of mankind.



While the greater and more conspicuous part of the French nobility lived
by the sword, a highly respectable portion of the order wore the
judicial gown. Prominent in French affairs in the eighteenth century we
find the Parliaments, a branch of the old feudal courts of the kings of
France, retaining the function of high courts of justice, and playing,
moreover, a certain political part. In the Parliament of Paris, on
solemn occasions, sat those few members of the highest nobility who held
the title of Peers of France. With these came the legal hierarchy of
First President, presidents _à mortier_ and counselors, numbering
about two hundred. The members were distributed, for the purposes of
ordinary business, among several courts, the Great Chamber, five courts
of Inquest, two courts of Petitions, etc.[Footnote: Grand' Chambre,
Cour des Enquêtes, Cour des Requêtes.] The Parliament of Paris possessed
original and appellate jurisdiction over a large part of central
France,--too large a part for the convenience of suitors,--but there
were twelve provincial parliaments set over other portions of the
kingdom. The members of these courts, and of several other tribunals of
inferior jurisdiction, formed the magistracy, a body of great dignity
and importance.

We have seen that the church possessed certain political rights; that it
held assemblies and controlled taxes. The political powers of the
parliaments were more limited, amounting to little more than the right
of solemn remonstrance. Under a strong monarch, like Louis XIV., this
power remained dormant; under weak kings, like his successors, it became

The method of passing a law in the French monarchy was this. The king,
in one of his councils, issued an edict, and sent it to the Parliament
of Paris, or to such other Parliaments as it might concern, for
registration. If the Parliament accepted the edict, the latter was
entered in its books, and immediately promulgated as law. If the
Parliament did not approve, and was willing to enter on a contest with
the king and his advisers, it refused to register. In that case the king
might recede, or he might force the registration. This was done by means
of what was called a _bed of justice_. His Majesty, sitting on a
throne (whence the name of the ceremony), and surrounded by his officers
of state, personally commanded the Parliament to register, and the
Parliament was legally bound to comply. As a matter of fact, it did
sometimes continue to remonstrate; it sometimes adjourned, or ceased to
administer justice, by way of protest; but such a course was looked on
as illegal, and severe measures on the part of the king and his
counselors--the court, as the phrase went,--were to be expected. These
measures might take the form of imprisonment of recalcitrant judges, or
of exile of the Parliament in a body. Sometimes new courts of justice,
more closely dependent on the king's pleasure, were temporarily
established. Such were the Royal Chamber and the famous Maupeou
Parliament under Louis XV., the Plenary Court of Louis XVI. Had these
monarchs been strong men, the new courts would undoubtedly have
superseded the old Parliaments altogether; as it was, they led only to
confusion and uncertainty.[Footnote: Du Boys, Hist. du droit criminel
de la France, ii. 225, 239.]

Throughout the reign of Louis XV. the Parliament of Paris was fighting
against the church, while the court repeatedly changed sides, but
oftener inclined to that of clergy. The controversy was theological in
its origin, the magistrates being Jansenist in their proclivities, while
the Church of France was largely controlled by the Molinist, or Jesuit
party. The contest was long and doubtful, neither side obtaining a full
victory. It was the fashion in the Philosophic party to represent the
whole matter as a miserable squabble. Yet, apart from the importance of
the original controversy, which touched the mighty but insoluble
questions of predestination and free-will, the quarrel had a true
interest for patriotic Frenchmen. The Roman Church was contending for
the absolute and unlimited control of religious matters; the Parliament
for the supremacy of law in the state.

In the reign of Louis XVI. the Parliament was principally engaged in
struggles of another character. The magistrates were members of a highly
privileged class. Their battle was arrayed for vested rights against
reforms. From the time of Turgot to that of Lomenie de Brienne and the
Notables, the Parliament of Paris, sometimes in sympathy with the
nation, sometimes against it, was vigorously resisting innovations. Yet
so great was the irritation then felt against the royal court that the
Parliament generally gained a temporary popularity by its course of

The courts of justice, and especially the Parliaments, were controlled
by men who had inherited or bought their places.[Footnote: Under Louis
XIV, the price of a place of _président à mortier_ was fixed at
350,000 livres, that of a _maître des requêtes_ at 150,000 livres,
that of a counselor at 90,000 to 100,000 livres. The place of First
President was not venal, but held by appointment. Martin, xiii. 53 and
n. The general subject of the venality of offices is considered in the
chapter on Taxation.] This, while offering no guarantee of capacity,
assured the independence of the judges. As the places were looked on as
property, they were commonly transmitted from father to son, and became
the basis of that nobility of the gown which played a large part in
French affairs. The owner of a judicial place was obliged to pass an
examination in law, before he could assume its duties and emoluments.
This examination differed in severity at different times and in the
different Parliaments. In the latter part of the eighteenth century it
would appear to have been very easy at Paris, but harder in some of the
provinces. The Parliaments, in any case, retained control over admission
to their own bodies. Although they could not nominate, they could refuse
certificates of capacity and morality. They insisted that none but
counselors should be admitted to the higher places, and that candidates
should be men of means, "so that, in a condition where honor should be
the only guide, they might be able to live independently of the profits
accessory to their labors, which should never have any influence." This
caution was especially necessary as the judges were paid in great
measure by the fees, or costs, which under the quaint name of spices
were borne by the parties. Originally these fees had in fact consisted
of sugar plums, not more than could be eaten in a day, but subsequently
they had been commuted and increased until they amounted to considerable
sums.[Footnote: Bastard d'Estang, i. 122, 245; Du Boys, 535.]

By requiring pecuniary independence and social position, together with a
certain amount of learning and of personal character, the tone of the
upper courts was kept good, the magistrates being generally among the
most learned, solid, and respectable men in France. They seem also to
have been hard-working and honest, although prejudiced in favor of their
own privileged class. As the Revolution drew near, they fell into the
common weakness of their age and country, the worship of public opinion,
and the love of popularity. We find the Parliament of Paris undergoing,
and even courting, the applause of the mob in its own halls of justice.
Like the great Assembly which was soon to have in its hands the
destinies of France, the most dignified court of justice in the land
failed to perceive that the deliberative body that allows itself to be
influenced or even interrupted by spectators, will soon, and deservedly,
lose respect and power.[Footnote: De Tocqueville praises the
independence of the old magistrates, who could neither be degraded nor
promoted by the government, Oeuvres, iv. 171 (Ancien Régime, ch. xi.).
Montesquieu, iii. 217 (Esp. des lois, liv. v. ch. xix.). Mirabeau, L'Ami
des hommes, 212, 219. Bastard d'Estang, ii. 611, 621. Grimm, xi. 314.]

When we pass from the consideration of the political functions of the
Parliaments, and of their composition, to that of the ordinary
administration of justice, we are struck by the diversity of the law in
civil matters, and by its severity in criminal affairs. The kingdom of
France, as it existed in the eighteenth century, was made up of many
provinces and cities, various in their history. Each one had its local
customs and privileges. The complication of rules of procedure and
rights of property was almost infinite. The body of the law was derived
from sources of two distinct kinds, from feudal custom and from Roman
jurisprudence. The customs which arose, or were first noted, in the
Middle Ages, originating as, they did in the manners of barbarian
tribes, or in the exigencies of a rude state of society, were products
of a less civilized condition of the human mind than the laws of Rome.
From a very early period, therefore, the most intelligent and educated
lawyers all over Europe were struggling, more or less consciously, to
bring customary feudal law into conformity with Roman ideas. These
legists recognized that in many matters the custom had definitely fixed
the law; but whenever a doubtful question arose, they looked for
guidance to the more perfect system. "The Roman law," they said, "is
observed everywhere, not by reason of its authority, but by the
authority of reason." This idea was peculiarly congenial to the tone of
thought current in the eighteenth century.

Even in England the common and customary law was enlarged at that time
and adapted to new conditions in accordance with Latin principles, by
the genius of Lord Mansfield and other eminent lawyers. In France the
process began earlier and lasted longer. Domat, d'Aguesseau, and Pothier
were but the successors of a long line of jurists. By the time of Louis
XVI., some uniformity of principle had been introduced; but everywhere
feudal irregularity still worried the minds of Philosophers and vexed
the temper of litigants. The courts were numerous and the jurisdiction
often conflicting. The customs were numberless, hardly the same for any
two lordships. To the subjects of Louis XVI., believing as they did that
there was a uniform, natural law of justice easily discoverable by man,
this state of things seemed anomalous and absurd. "Shall the same case
always be judged differently in the provinces and in the capital? Must
the same man be right in Brittany and wrong in Languedoc?" cries
Voltaire. And the inconvenience arising from this excessive variety of
legal rights, together with the vexatious nature of some of them, did
more perhaps than any other single cause to engender in the men of that
time their too great love of uniformity.[Footnote: "Servatur ubique jus
romanum, non ratione imperii, sed rationis imperio." Laferrière, i. 82,
532. See Ibid., i. 553 n., for a list of eighteen courts of
extraordinary jurisdiction, and of five courts of ordinary jurisdiction,
viz.; 1, Parlemens, 2, Présidiaux, 3, Baillis et sénéchaux royaux, 4,
Prévôts royaux, 5, Juges seigneuriaux. Voltaire, xxi. 419 (_Louis
XV._), Sorel, i. 148.]

It has been said that the judges of the higher courts were generally
honest. In the lower courts, and especially in those tribunals which
still depended on the lords, oppression and injustice appear to have
been not uncommon. The bailiffs who presided in them were often partial
where the interests of the lords whose salaries they received were
concerned. And even when we come to the practice before the Parliaments,
the American reader will sometimes be struck with astonishment at the
extent to which members of those high tribunals were allowed by custom
to be influenced by the private and personal solicitation of parties.
The whole spirit of the continental system of civil and criminal law is
here at variance with that of the Anglo-Saxon system. English and
American judges are like umpires in a conflict; French judges like
interested persons conducting an investigation. The latter method is
perhaps the better for unraveling intricate cases, but the former would
seem to expose the bench to less temptation. A judge who is long
closeted with each of the contestants alternately must find it harder to
keep his fingers from bribes and his mind from prejudice than a judge
who is prevented by strict professional étiquette from seeing either
party except in the full glare of the court-room, and from listening to
any argument of counsel, save where both sides are represented.
Accusations of bribery, even of judges, were common in old France. The
lower officers of the court took fees openly. Thick books, under the
name of mémoires, were published, with the avowed intention of
influencing the public and the courts in pending cases.[Footnote: For a
statement that influential persons went unpunished in criminal matters
and got the better of their adversaries in civil matters by means of
_lettres de cachet_, and for instances, see Bos. 148; a long list
of iniquitous judgments, Ibid., 190, etc.]

One judicial abuse especially contrary to fair dealing had become very
common. Powerful and influential persons could have their cases removed
from the tribunals in which they were begun, and tried in other courts
where from personal influence they might expect a more favorable result.
It was not only the royal council that could draw litigation to itself.
The practice was widespread. By a writ called _committimus_, the
tribunal by which an action was to be tried could be changed.

This appears to have been a frequent cause of failure of justice.

As for the criminal proceedings of the age, there was hardly a limit to
their cruelty. Under Louis XV. the prisons were filthy dens, crowded and
unventilated, true fever-holes. A private cell ten feet square, for a
man awaiting trial, cost sixty francs a month. Large dogs were trained
to watch the prisoners and to prevent their escape. Twice a year, in May
and September, the more desperate convicts left Paris for the galleys.
They made the journey chained together in long carts, so that eight
mounted policemen could watch a hundred and twenty of them. The galleys
at Toulon appear to have been less bad than the prisons in Paris. They
were kept clean and well-aired, and the prisoners were fairly well fed
and clothed; but some of them had been imprisoned for forty, fifty, or
even sixty years. They were allowed to for themselves and to earn a
little money. They were divided into three classes, deserters,
smugglers, and thieves, distinguished by the color of their caps.
[Footnote: Mercier, iii. 265, x. 151. Howard, Lazarettos, 54.]

Torture was regarded as a regular means for the discovery of crime. It
was administered in various ways, the forms differing from province to
province. They included the application of fire to various parts of the
body, the distension of the stomach and lungs by water poured into
mouth, thumbscrews, the rack, the boot. These were but methods of
investigation, used on men and women whose crime was not proved. They
might be repeated after conviction for the discovery of accomplices. The
greater part of the examination of accused persons was carried on in
private, and during it they were not allowed counsel for their defense.
They were confronted but once with the witnesses against them, and that
only after those witnesses had given their evidence and were liable to
the penalties of perjury if they retracted it. Many offenses were
punishable with death. Thieving servants might be executed, but under
Louis XVI. public feeling rightly judged the punishment too severe for
the offense, so that masters would not prosecute nor judges condemn for
it.[Footnote: Counsel were not allowed in France for that important
part of the proceedings which was carried on in secret. Voltaire,
xlviii. 132. In England, at that time, counsel were not allowed of right
to prisoners in cases of felony; but judges were in the habit of
straining the law to admit them. Strictly they could only instruct the
prisoner in matters of law. Blackstone iv. fol. 355 (ch. 27). The
English seem for a long time to have entertained a wholesome distrust of
confessions. Blackstone, _ubi supra_. How far is the Continental
love of confessions derived from the church; and how far is the love of
the church for confessions a result of the ever present busybody in
human nature?]

Other criminals did not escape so easily. A most barbarous method of
execution was in use. The wheel was set up in the principal cities of
France. The voice of the crier was heard in the streets as he peddled
copies of the sentence. The common people crowded about the scaffold,
and the rich did not always scorn to hire windows overlooking the scene.
The condemned man was first stretched upon a cross and struck by the
executioner eleven times with an iron bar, every stroke breaking a bone.
The poor wretch was then laid on his back on a cart wheel, his broken
bones protruding through his flesh, his head hanging, his brow dripping
bloody sweat, and left to die. A priest muttered religious consolation
by his side. By such sights as these was the populace of the French
cities trained to enjoy the far less inhuman spectacle of the
guillotine.[Footnote: Mercier, iii. 267. Howard says that the gaoler at
Avignon told him that he had seen prisoners under torture sweat blood.
Lazarettos, 53.]

It was not until the middle of the century that men's minds were fairly
turned toward the reform of the criminal law. Yet eminent writers had
long pointed out the inutility of torture. "Torture-chambers are a
dangerous invention, and seem to make trial of patience rather than of
truth," says Montaigne; but he thinks them the least evil that human
weakness has invented under the circumstances. Montesquieu advanced a
step farther. He pointed out that torture was not necessary. "We see
today a very well governed nation [the English] reject it without
inconvenience." ... "So many clever people and so many men of genius have
written against this practice," he continues, "that I dare not speak
after them. I was about to say that it might be admissible under
despotic governments, where all that inspires fear forms a greater part
of the administration; I was about to say that slaves among the Greeks
and Romans,--but I hear the voice of nature crying out against me."
Voltaire attacked the practice in his usual vivacious manner; but, with
characteristic prudence suggested that torture might still be applied in
cases of regicide.[Footnote: Montaigne, ii. 36 (liv. ii. ch. v). So I
interpret the last words of the chapter. Montesquieu, iii. 260
(_Esprit des Lois,_ liv. vi. ch. 17). Voltaire, xxxii. 52
(_Dict. philos. Question_), xxxii. 391 (_Ibid., Torture_).]

Such scattered expressions as these might long have remained unfruitful.
But in 1764 appeared the admirable book of the Milanese Marquis
Beccaria, and about thirteen years later the Englishman John Howard
published his first book on the State of the Prisons. Beccaria shared
the ideas of the Philosophers on most subjects. Where he differed from
them, it was as Rousseau differed, in the direction of socialism. But in
usefulness to mankind few of them can compare with him. From him does
the modern world derive some of its most important ideas concerning the
treatment of crime. Extreme, like most of the Philosophers of his age;
unable, like them, to recognize the proper limitations of his theories,
he has yet transformed the thought of civilized men on one of the most
momentous subjects with which they have to deal. So great is the change
wrought in a hundred years by his little book, that it is hard to
remember as we read it that it could ever have been thought to contain
novelties. "The end of punishment... is no other than to prevent the
criminal from doing farther injury to society, and to prevent others
from committing the like offense." "All trials should be public." "The
more immediately after the commission of a crime the punishment is
inflicted, the more just and useful it will be." "Crimes are more
effectually prevented by the _certainty_ than by the severity of
punishment." These are the commonplaces of modern criminal legislation.
The difficulty lies in applying them. In the eighteenth century their
enunciation was necessary. "The torture of a criminal during his trial
is a cruelty consecrated by custom in almost every nation," says
Beccaria. Indeed it seems to have been legal in his day all over the
Continent, although restricted in Prussia and obsolete in practice in
Holland. Beccaria opposed torture entirely, on broad grounds. As to
torture before condemnation he holds it a grievous wrong to the
innocent, "for in the eye of the law, every man is innocent whose crime
has not been proved. Besides, it is confounding all relations to expect
that a man should be both the accuser and the accused, and that pain
should be the test of truth; as if truth resided in the muscles and
sinews of a wretch in torture. By this method, the robust will escape
and the weak will be condemned." The penalties proposed by Beccaria are
generally mild,--he would have abolished that of death altogether,--his
reliance being on certainty and not on severity of punishment.
[Footnote: Beccaria, _passim_. Lea, _Superstition and Force_,

It was not to be expected that Beccaria's book should work an immediate
change in the manners of Christendom. The criminal law remained
unaltered at first, in theory and practice. But the consciences of the
more advanced thinkers were affected. In 1766, at Abbeville, a young man
named La Barre was convicted of standing and wearing his hat while a
religious procession was passing, singing blasphemous songs, speaking
blasphemous words, and making blasphemous gestures. There was much
popular excitement at the time on account of the mutilation of a
crucifix standing on a bridge in the town, but La Barre was not shown to
have been concerned in this outrage. The judges at Abbeville appear to
have laid themselves open to the accusation of personal hostility to
him. The young man, having been tortured, was condemned to make public
confession with a rope round his neck, before the church of Saint
Vulfran, where the injured crucifix: had been placed, to have his tongue
cut out, to be beheaded, and to have his body burned. This outrageous
sentence was confirmed by the Parliament of Paris. The superstitious
king, Louis XV., would not grant a pardon. The capital sentence was
executed, but the cutting out of the tongue was omitted, the executioner
only pretending to do that part of his work. La Barre's head fell, amid
the applause of a cruel crowd which admired the skillful stroke of the
headsman. A thrill of indignation, not unmixed with fear, ran through
the liberal party in France. The anger and grief of Voltaire were loudly
expressed. It was at least an improvement on the state of public feeling
in former generations that such severity should not have met with
universal acquiescence.[Footnote: The best account of the affair of La
Barre which I have met is in Desnoiresterres, _Voltaire et
Rousseau_, 465.]

The practice of torture was not without defenders. One of them asked
what could be done to find stolen money if the thief refused to say
where he had hidden it. But this was not his only argument. "The accused
himself," he said, "has a guarantee in torture, which makes him a judge
in his own case, so that he becomes able to avoid the capital punishment
attached to the crime of which he is accused." And this writer
confidently asserts that for a single example which might be cited in
two or three centuries of an innocent man yielding to the violence of
torture, a million cases of rightful punishment could be mentioned.
[Footnote: Muyard de Vougland, quoted in Du Boys, ii. 205 ]

Yet the march of progress was fairly rapid in the latter part of the
eighteenth century. In the jurisprudence of that age a distinction was
made between preparatory torture, which was administered to suspected
persons to make them confess, and previous torture, which was
inflicted on the condemned, previous to execution, to obtain the
accusation of accomplices. The former of these, by far the greater
disgrace to civilization, was abolished in France on the 24th of
August, 1780; the latter not until, 1788, and then only provisionally.
Thus was one of the greatest of modern reforms accomplished before the
Revolution. About the same time many ordinances were passed for the
amelioration of French prisons. They were about as bad as those of
other countries, and that was very bad indeed.[Footnote: _Question
préparatoire; question préalable, sometimes called q. définitive_.
Desmaze, _Supplices_, 177. Desjardins, p. xx. Howard, _passim_. The
English have long boasted that torture is not allowed by their law;
and although the _peine forte et dure_ was undoubted torture, the
boast is in general not unfounded. Torture was abolished in several
parts of Germany in the eighteenth century, but lingered in other
parts until the nineteenth. It was not done away in Baden until
1831. Lea, _Superstition and Force_, 517.]

The courts of law did not act against persons alone. The Parliament of
Paris was in the habit of passing condemnation on books supposed to
contain dangerous matter. The suspected volume was brought to the bar
of the court by the advocate general, the objectionable passages were
read, and the book declared to be "heretical, schismatical, erroneous,
blasphemous, violent, impious," and condemned to be burned by the public
executioner. Then a fagot was lighted at the foot of the great steps
which may still be seen in front of the court-house in Paris. The street
boys and vagabonds ran to see the show. The clerk of the court, if we
may believe a contemporary, threw a dusty old Bible into the fire, and
locked the condemned book, doubly valuable for its condemnation, safely
away in his book-case.[Footnote: Mercier, iv. 241.]

As for the author, the Parliament would sometimes proceed directly
against him, but oftener he was dealt with by an order under the royal
hand and seal, known as a _lettre de cachet_[Footnote: The
_lettre de cachet_ was written on paper, signed by the king, and
countersigned by a minister. It was so sealed that it could not be
opened without breaking the seal. It was reputed a private order.
Larousse.] Arbitrary imprisonment, without trial, is a thing so
outrageous to Anglo-Saxon feelings that we are apt to forget that it has
until recent years formed a part of the regular practice of most
civilized nations. It is considered necessary to what is called the
_police_ of the country, a word for which we have in English no
exact equivalent. Police, in this sense, not only punishes crime, but
averts danger. Acts which may injure the public are prevented by
guessing at evil intentions; and criminal enterprises are not allowed to
come to action.

This sort of protection is a part of the function of every government;
but on the Continent, in old times, and still in some countries, long
and painful imprisonment of men who had never been convicted of any
crime was considered one of the proper methods of police. It was
justified in some measure in French eyes by the fact that secrecy saved
the feelings of innocent families, which thus did not suffer in the
public estimation for the misdeeds of one unruly member. In France,
where the family is much more of a unit than in English-speaking
countries, the disgrace of one person belonging to it affects the others
far more seriously. The _lettre de cachet_ of old France, confining
its victim in a state prison, was too elaborate a method to be used with
the turbulent lower classes--for them there were less dignified forms of
proceeding; but it was freely employed against persons of any
consequence. Spendthrifts and licentious youths were shut up at the
request of their relations. Authors of dangerous books were readily
clapped into the Bastille, Vincennes or Fors l'Evêque. Voltaire,
Diderot, Mirabeau, and many others underwent that sort of confinement;
and the first of them is said to have procured by his influence the
incarceration of one of his own literary enemies. Fallen statesmen were
fortunate when they did not pass from the cabinet to the prison, but
were allowed the alternative of exile, or of seclusion in their own
country houses. But this was not the worst. The _lettre de cachet_
was too often the instrument of private hate. Signed carelessly, or even
in blank, by the king, it could be procured by the favorite or the
favorite's favorite, for his own purposes. And if the victim had no
protector to plead his cause, he might be forgotten in captivity and
waste a lifetime.

For such abuses as this, there is no remedy but publicity. If, on the
one hand, too much has been made of the romantic story of the Bastille,
which was certainly not a standing menace to most peaceable Frenchmen,
too great stress, on the other hand, may be laid on the undoubted fact
that under Louis XVI. the grim old fortress contained but few prisoners,
and that some of them were persons who might have been cast into prison
under any system of government. In the reign of that king's immediate
predecessor great injustice had been committed. Nor had arbitrary
proceedings been entirely renounced by the government of Louis XVI.
itself. In the very last year before that in which the Estates General
met at Versailles, the royal ministers imprisoned in the Bastille twelve
Breton gentlemen, whose crime was that they importunately presented a
petition from the nobles of their province. The apartments which they
were to occupy were filled with other prisoners, so room was made by
removing these unhappy occupants to the madhouse at Charenton, whence
they were released only in the following year by order of a committee of
the National Assembly.[Footnote: Barère, i. 281. Perhaps the most
terrifying thing about the Bastille was that no one really knew what
went on inside. Mercier thinks that the common people were not afraid of
it, iii. 287, 289.]



It was as a privileged order that the Nobility of France principally
excited the ill-will of the common people. The more thoughtful Frenchmen
of the eighteenth century, all of them at least who have come to be
known by the name of Philosophers, set before themselves two great
ideals. These were equality and liberty. The aspiration after these was
accompanied in their minds by contempt for the past and its lessons,
misunderstanding of the benefits which former ages had bequeathed to
them, and hatred of the wrongs and abuses which had come down from
earlier times. Among them the word gothic was a violent term of
reproach, aimed indiscriminately at buildings, laws, and customs.
History, with the exception of that of Sparta, was thought to consist
far more of warnings than of models. Just before the Revolution, a
number of persons who had met in a lady's parlor were discussing the
education of the Dauphin. "I think," said Lafayette," that he would do
well to begin his History of France with the year 1787."

This tendency to depreciate the past was due in a measure to the
preference, natural to lively minds, for deductive over inductive
methods of thought. It is so much easier and pleasanter to assume a few
plausible general principles and meditate upon them, than to amass and
compare endless series of dry facts, that not by long chastening will
the greater part of the world be brought to the more arduous method. Nor
should enthusiasm for one of the great processes of thought cause
contempt of the other. Even the great inductive French philosopher of
the eighteenth century, Montesquieu, failed in a measure to grasp the
continuity of history; and drew the facts for his study rather from
China and from England than from France, rather from the Roman republic
than the existing monarchy. Fear of the censor and of the civil and
ecclesiastical tribunals, which would not bear the open discussion of
questions of present interest, doubtless added to this tendency.

The idea of equality at first seems simple, but equality may be of many
kinds. Absolute equality in all respects between two human beings, no
one has ever seen, and no one perhaps has ever thought of desiring. All
the relations of life are founded on inequality. By their differences
husband and wife, friend and friend, are made necessary and endeared to
each other; the parent protects and serves the child, the child obeys
and helps the parent; the citizen calls on the magistrate to guard his
rights, the magistrate enforces the laws which have their sanction in
the consent of the body of citizens. Equality as a political ideal is
therefore a limited equality. It may extend to condition, it may be
confined to civil rights, or to opportunities.

The Philosophers of the eighteenth century, followed by a school in our
day, universally assumed that an approximate equality of condition was
desirable. Rousseau agreed with Montesquieu, in believing that a small
republic, none of whose citizens were either very rich or very poor, was
likely to be in a desirable condition. Virtue, they thought, would be
its especial characteristic. In some of the Swiss cantons, and later in
the struggling American colonies of Great Britain, Frenchmen discovered
communities approaching their ideal in respect to the equal distribution
of wealth; and their discovery in the latter case was not without great
results. This kind of equality has since passed away from large portions
of America, as it must always disappear where civilization increases.
Good people mourn its departure; some few, perhaps, would patiently
endure its return. They are about as numerous as those who abandon city
life to dwell permanently in the country, also the home of comparative
equality of condition. The theoretic admiration for this sort of
equality was shared by a large and enlightened part of the French
nobility. Thus the order was weakened by the fact that many of its own
members did not believe in its claims.

Another kind of equality is that of civil rights. Before the Revolution,
France was ruled by law, but all Frenchmen were not ruled by the same
law. There were privileged persons and privileged localities. Of these
anomalies, sometimes working hardship, the minds of intelligent men at
that time were especially impatient. They believed, as has been said, in
natural laws, implanted in every breast, finding their expression in
every conscience; and many of them entertained a crude notion that such
laws could easily be applied to the enormously complicated facts of
actual life. Assuming such laws to exist, as absolute as mathematical
axioms and far easier of application, all variation was error, all
anomaly absurd, all claims of a privileged class unfair and unfounded.

Equality of civil rights is also desired from the fear of oppression; a
very important motive in the eighteenth century, when the great still
had the power to be very oppressive at times. We have seen the treatment
which Voltaire received at the hands of a member of one of the great
families. Outrages still more flagrant appear to have been not uncommon
in the reign of Louis XV., and although there had probably never been a
time in France so free from them as that of his successor, their memory
was still fresh. It is in their decrepitude that political abuses are
most ferociously attacked. When young and lusty they are formidable.

Again, there is equality of opportunity. This is desired as a means of
subverting equality of condition to our own advantage, as a chance to be
more than equal to our fellow-men. This kind is longed for by the able
and ambitious. Where it is denied, the strongest good men will be less
useful to the state, unless they happen to be favorably placed at birth;
the strongest bad men perhaps more dangerous, because more discontented.
It is this sort of equality, more than any other, which the French
Philosophers and their followers actually secured for Frenchmen, and in
a less degree for other Europeans of to-day. By their efforts, the
chance of the poor but talented child to rise to power and wealth has
been somewhat increased. This chance, when they began their labors, was
not so hopeless as it is often represented. It is not now so great as it
is sometimes assumed to be. Still, there has been one decided advance.
We have seen that under the old monarchy many important places were
reserved for members of the noble class, and practically for a few
families among them. Since that monarchy passed away, the opportunity to
serve the state, with the great prizes which public life offers to the
strong and the aspiring, has been thrown open, theoretically at least,
to all Frenchmen.

If the idea of equality be comparatively simple, that of liberty is very
much the reverse. The word, in its general sense, signifies little more
than the absence of external control. In politics it is used, in the
first place, for the absence of foreign conquest, and in this sense a
country may be called free although it is governed by a despot. The next
signification of liberty is political right, and this is the sense in
which it has been most used until recent years. When a tyrant overthrew
the liberties of a Greek city, he substituted his own personal rule for
the rights of an oligarchy. The mass of the inhabitants may have been
neither better nor worse off than before. When Hampden resisted the
encroachments of King Charles I, he was fighting the battle of the upper
and middle classes against despotism, and we hold him one of the
principal champions of liberty. Indeed, liberty in this sense is so far
from being identical with equality, that many of those who have been
foremost in its defense have been members of aristocracies and holders
of slaves. To accuse them of inconsistency is to be misled by the
ambiguous meaning of a word. They fought for rights which they believed
to be their own; they denied that the rights of all men were identical.
During the eighteenth century in France, certain bodies, such as the
clergy and the Parliament of Paris, were struggling for political
liberties in this older sense, and before the outbreak of the French
Revolution many of the most enlightened of the nobility hoped to acquire
such liberties. Much blood and confusion might have been spared, and
many useful reforms accomplished, had Frenchmen clutched less wildly at
the phantom of equality, and sought the safer goal of political liberty.

Another sort of liberty, although it has undoubtedly been desired by
individuals in all ages, is almost entirely modern as an ideal for
civilized communities. This is the absence of interference, not only of
a foreign power or of a lawless oppressor, but of the very law itself.
The desire for such freedom as this, would in almost all ages of the
world have been held inconsistent with proper respect for order and
security. It would have been considered no more than the wicked longing
of an unchastened spirit, the temptation of the Evil One himself. In the
eighteenth century, however, we see the rise of new opinions. It may be
that order had become so firmly established in the European world that a
reaction could safely set in. At any rate we find a new way of looking
at things. "Independence," a word which had been often used by the
clerical party, and always as a term of reproach, is treated by the
Philosophers with favor. Toleration of all kinds of opinions, and of
most kinds of spoken words, is making way.[Footnote: In spite of the
impatience shown by Voltaire of any criticism of himself, he and his
followers did more than any other men that ever lived to make criticism
free to all writers.] A new school of thinkers is adapting the new form
of thought to economical matters. _Laissez faire; laissez passer_.
Restrict the functions of government. Order will arise from the average
of contending interests; right direction is produced by the sum of
conflicting forces. The doctrine has exerted enormous influence since
the French Revolution in resisting the claims of socialism,--that new
form of tyranny in which all are to be the despot and each the slave.
But few of the Philosophers accepted it entirely. Most of them desired
the constant interference of the government for one purpose or another,
and many believed in the power, almost the omnipotence, of a mythical
personage, borrowed in part from Plutarch and commonly called the

The history and action of this personage may be roughly stated as
follows. Every nation now civilized was in early days in a barbarous
condition. Once upon a time, a great man came from somewhere, and
brought a complete set of laws, morals, and manners with him. To these
laws and customs he generally ascribed a divine origin. The nation to
which they were proclaimed adopted them, and the people's subsequent
happiness and prosperity were in proportion to their excellence. The
reasons which are supposed to have induced the barbarous tribe to change
all its habits at the bidding of one man are seldom given, or if given,
are ludicrously inadequate. The theory of the legislator is now out of
date. It is generally held that the institutions of every race have
grown up with it, that they are appropriate to its nature and history,
gradually modified sometimes by act of the national will, and more or
less changed under foreign influences, but that their general character
cannot suddenly be subverted. Its institutions thus as truly belong to a
civilized race, as the skin without fur or the erect position belong to
mankind. There is some evidence in support of either theory, and the
truth will probably be found to lie between them, although nearer to the
latter. Yet the effect of a higher civilization implanted on a lower one
seems at times singularly rapid. The story of the legislator is a part
of most early histories and mythologies. The classical model has
generally been held to be either Minos or Lycurgus. There were few
clever men in France between the years 1740 and 1790 who did not dream
of trying on the sandals of those worthies.

While the ideas attached to equality and to liberty were vague and
indefinite, it was generally assumed that they would coincide. Liberty
and equality, however, have tendencies naturally opposed to each other.
Remove the exterior forces which control the wills of men, overturn
foreign domination, give every citizen political rights, reduce the
interference of laws to a minimum, and the natural differences and
inequalities of physical, mental, and moral strength, or power of will,
inherent in mankind, will have the fuller opportunity to act. The strong
improve their natural advantage, they acquire dominion over their weaker
neighbors, they monopolize opportunities for themselves, their friends
and their children. Only by keeping all men in strict subjection to
something outside of themselves can all be kept in comparative equality.
This fact was instinctively apprehended by one school of French
thinkers. We shall see that the followers of Rousseau, while posing as
champions of Liberty, were in fact the founders of a system which is the
very antithesis of individual freedom.[Footnote: It is perhaps needless
to remark that I have touched here only on the political meanings of the
word Liberty. In the eighteenth century the word was much used in its
philosophical sense, and the eternal problem of necessity and free-will
was warmly discussed.]



One man stands out among the French nobility of the gown in the
eighteenth century, influencing human thought beyond the walls of the
court-room; one Philosopher who looks on existing society as something
to be saved and directed. The work of Voltaire and his followers was
principally negative. Their favorite task was demolition. The ugly and
uninhabitable edifices of Rousseau's genius required for their erection
a field from which all possible traces of civilized building had been
removed. But Montesquieu, while he satirized the vices of the society
which he saw about him, yet appreciated at their full value the benefits
of civilization. He recognized that change is always accompanied by
evil, even if its preponderating result be good, and that it should be
attempted only with care and caution. His ideas influenced the leading
men of the second half of the century somewhat in proportion to their
judgment and in inverse proportion to their enthusiasm.

Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron of Montesquieu, born in 1689, was by
inheritance one of the presidents of the Parliament of Bordeaux.
[Footnote: In his youth he was known as Charles Louis de la Brède, the
name being taken from a fief of his mother. The name of Montesquieu he
inherited from an uncle, together with his place of _président à
mortier_. Vian, _Histoire de Montesquieu_, 16, 30.] He was recognized
in early life as a rising man, a respectable magistrate, sensible and
brilliant rather than learned; a man of the world, rich and thrifty,
not very happily married, and fond of the society of ladies. In
appearance he was ugly, with a large head, weak eyes, a big nose, a
retreating forehead and chin. In temperament he was calm and cheerful.
"I have had very few sorrows," he says, "and still less
ennui."--"Study has been to me a sovereign remedy against the troubles
of life, and I have never had a grief that an hour's reading would not
dissipate." He was shy, he tells us, but less among bright people than
among stupid ones. Good-natured he appears to have been, and somewhat
selfish; easily amused, less by what people said than by their way of
saying it. He was a good landlord and a kind master. It is told of him
that one day, while scolding one of his servants, he turned round with
a laugh to a friend standing by. "They are like clocks," said he, "and
need winding up now and then".[Footnote: See the medallion given in
Vian, and said by the _Biographie universelle_ to be the only
authentic portrait. Also Montesq. vii. 150, (_Pensées diverses.
Portrait de M. par lui-même_, apparently written when he was about
forty). Also Vian, 141.]

Montesquieu set himself a high standard of duty. In a paper intended
only for his son, he writes: "If I knew something which was useful to
myself and injurious to my family, I should reject it from my mind. If I
knew of anything which was useful to my family and which was not so to
my country, I should try to forget it. If I knew something useful to my
country, which was injurious to Europe and the human race, I should
consider it a crime."[Footnote: Montesq., vii. 157.]

Montesquieu's first book appeared in 1721, a book very different from
those which followed it. It is witty and licentious after a rather
stately fashion, full of keen observation and cutting satire. In
contrast to the books of other famous writers of the century, the
"Persian Letters" are eminently the work of a gentleman;--of a French
gentleman, when the Duke of Orléans was Regent.

The "Lettres Persanes" are, as their name suggests, the supposed
correspondence of two rich Persians, Usbek and Rica, traveling in France
and exchanging letters with their friends and their eunuchs in Persia.


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