صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

some of the latest publications of the revolutionary period of which its ill-fated inhabitants have reached the thirty-first year, without being quite sure that it is the last. The first in date, M. Mounier's book, published in 1792, On the Causes which opposed the Establishment of Public Liberty in France,' is justly deemed the best production of that distinguished patriot, and perhaps the best that has yet appeared on the subject; and the list is closed by the last week's brochure of M, de Pradt, who appears before the public in his usual character of political skirmisher.

French writers are accused of going farther back than is strictly necessary for the occasion, and giving to their readers the history of the first Oak,--apropos, of a treatise on shipbuilding. An inquiry into the nature of the aristocracies of Greece and Rome, might perhaps be deemed out of place in a political pamphlet on the circonstances actuelles de France : yet the question of an aristocracy or no aristocracy-what an aristocracy is, was, and ought to be mis so closely connected with the basiness of the day in France, that we find no fault with the historical learning of our author.

An aristocracy of birth, of wealth, of talents, and personal respectability and influence, exists under every form of government. · It is very little to the purpose, therefore, to inquire whether an aristocracy suits certain abstract principles of liberty, since it is impossible to prevent its existence: And the only question is, whether it had not better be regulated than proscribed—whether it should not rather be rendered useful, than left to hover in secret enmity beyond the pale of the social institutions. Montesquieu observes, that a sovereign aristocracy is distinguished by peculiar moderation; a result less of the paternal spirit which is so often pretended, as of the fear of exposing a corporate power to the usurpation of ambitious individuals, on the one hand, or the resentment of oppressed numbers, on the other.

The feudal aristocracy of the middle ages, at all events, was the very reverse of a paternal one. Its relation to the people was that of conquerors to the conquered, without · any judge but God' between them. The former encamped on the land of the latter; lived upon them at discretion for nearly seven centuries; yielding a sort of loose and reluctant obedience to the old General under whom they held their fee, or share of the.conquered lands. The fate, however, of this species of aristocracy was not the same in different parts of Europe. In England, the descendants of the conquered were admitted to a sort of alliance with the descendants of the conquerors, for the purpose of re

his species. In Eve of alliance

sisting the encroachments of kingly power; and a salutary combination of interests took place, the effect of which has been observable from the days of King John to our own.

In France, the descendants of the conquered remained a long while passive spectators of the quarrels of the conquerors among themselves; or in other words, of the King with his feudal nobles. Louis le Gros granted, of his own accord, to the former, certain liberties by special charters, in order to strengthen himself. The alliance, there, was between the King and people, against the nobles. Submissive as the latter professed to be to the will of the monarch, they were in general the very reverse. A vague notion of equality prevailed among them ;-a noble was like another noble, in his own estimation; and the King was but one of them. Henry IV., in the warmth of his heart, chose to call himself le premier Gentilhomme de son Royaume ; and that other chivalrous king, Francis I., used the same expression. Their noblesse were naturally disposed to take them at their word. We must hear M. de Pradt on the subject (p. 145.) - Depuis ce seigneur Dupujet, qui de sa tour de Monthéri soutenoit la guerre contre Louis le Gros, jusqu'au Duc Epernon, les rois n'ont pas cessé d'être combattus ou contrariés par ce qui les environnoit de plus près. La retraite d'un seigneur dans ses terres équivaloit à une déclaration de guerre. Jusqu'à la Fronde, les princes et les grands avoient leurs places fortes et leurs regimens ; les gouvernemens des provinces, les grandes charges étoient autant de propriétés d'où ils bravoient le mécontentement du prince. Il fallut Louis XIV. pour faire cesser ce desordre, &c. La puissance resultant autrefois de la feodalité a été remplacée dans les temps modernes par les grandes richesses des courtisans et l'établissement royal fait à chaque prince. En France on ne conçoit pas plus un prince sans une cour, que le Roi lui-même sans cet entourage de la souveraineté ; il n'y a de difference que dans la quotité. Ces attribus de la souveraineté sont propres aux princes, comme au Roi lui-même, les dénominations de leurs officiers sont les mêmes que celles du souverain. Au lieu d'un Roi il y en a plusieurs ; de grandes dotations, des places éminentes de puissans moyens d'influence forment l'apanage des hommes qui approchent du monarque et des princes, &c. Le regne de l'infortuné Louis XVI. fut un tissu de machinations de ce genre qui ont beaucoup contribué aux malheurs dont il fut la victime, &c. Tous les autres états de l'Europe sont exempts de ce fleau : il n'est connu qu'en France. En Autriche, en Prusse, en Angleterre, en Russie les princes n'ont aucune parti. cipation au gouvernement : ils sont sujets comme les autres : on ne voit pas autour d'eux des gardes particulieres, attribut exclusif de la souveraineté ; on n'apperçoit pas davantage le cortége d'officiers sous les mêmes denominations que ceux de la couronne, &c. Ces idées de pompe sont propres au midi de l'Europe ; les cours y sont un

gala de tous les jours qui peut n'être pas fort amusant pour le prince, mais qui ait l'élément necessaire d'un peuple d'oisifs et de parasites.'

As late as the 17th century, all who could afford to follow exclusively the profession of arms at their own expense, were deemed Gentilshommes. They formed the greatest part of the army, and might be entitled to the immunities they enjoyed, as a compensation for their services; but, since the system of standing armies was introduced, all military service has been requited with suitable pay: And yet in France, till the time of the Revolution, the nobles enjoyed the monopoly of the arıny and navy; (even in 1789, a lieutenant in a marching regiment had to prove his nobility for four generations); and all places of any importance were understood to belong to them. The familles de robe (very inferior to the noblesse d'épée) divided with the higher class of plebeians the judicial functions, which became almost hereditary among them.

In time, the exigencies of the treasury suggested the expedient of selling a variety of trifling offices conferring nobility on the purchasers. The practice began under Charles IX.Louis XIV. granted five hundred lettres de noblesse in a single year (1696)—the price was in general about two thousand crowns ;-and Louis XV. continued the practice. The ready money these sales produced was convenient for the moment: but the loss of revenue resulting from the exemption of taxes enjoyed by the new nobles, soon turned the scale the other way; and rigorous inquiries were instituted from time to time against those deemed faux nobles. A person of this exalted class turning farmer (on other people's lands), or merchant, or seeking profit by any trade, lost his cast--became a plebeian or roturier, * but might buy in again by what was called lettres de rehabilitation. A compendious mode of making room for new purchasers of nobility was adopted in the last year of Louis XIV.'s reign,--all ennoblements by offices merely titular, obtained since the year 1689, being annulled by a royal edict of 1715,-regardless, it seems, of bona fide purchasers! The number of noble families in France, just before the Revolution, although much less than in the preceding century, was still seventeen or eighteen thousand, including about 90,000 individuals. Among these, the ancient families did not reach two hundred, but the number of pretenders to nobility was im. mense; and as titles were very easily obtained, they were also very easily assumed ; and France was overrun by needy adven

* Roturier is derived from a word of low latinity, ruptuarius--one who breaks the earth, a labourer.

turers, calling themselves Comtes or Marquis, whose multitude and mode of life could not fail to bring nobility into contemptu The well known joke of the celebrated Arlequin Carlin owes its currency to the sarcastic justness of the reflection it conveys: • Quel dommage que Pere Adam n'ait pas songé à acheter une 6 charge de secretaire-du-Roi-nous serions tous nobles !!

It was in this way that nobility was first discredited. The throne had not suffered less in public opinion the last half of Louis XV.'s reign having been profligate beyond all former examples : But the people were not yet ripe for a revolution, which the virtues of his unfortunate successor, and the many valuable improvements in the Government made during his reign, could not arrest in its progress twenty years after. It seemed as if all the powers of the State conspired their own ruin ; for the magistrates, in a fit of ill humour with the Court, appealed to the people, by declaring themselves incompetent to sanction taxes. The words Etats Generaux were uttered for the first time within the walls of the Parlement of Paris, and gave undoubtedly the signal of the Revolution.

The King's Judges, under the name of Parlement de Paris, were the assessors of the peers of France, forming the King's Council; and they assumed by degrees the name of Cour des Pairs, even when the peers were not present. The King's edicts were recorded in Parlement : this had led to an usurpation of power on their part, or at least to an inconsistency, that of not recording when they thought proper, and defeating, in fact, the legislative power of the King ; although they admitted, in principle, that he was absolute,--sans dependance et sans partage. Any officer of the King, acting under a royal edict not recorded, and therefore not known by the Court, was exposed to rigorous, and even capital punishment. The predecessors of Louis XVI. came more than once to their Parlement de Paris with a military retinue (Louis XIV. affected even to appear, on one of these occasions, booted and spurred, with a whip in his hand), to have their edicts recorded in their presence; and the refractory magistrates were sometimes imprisoned, exiled, or suspended. Their obstinacy prevailed generally whenever their own privileges were in question; and they rarely yielded, except when the interest of the people was concerned : Rebellious, during the minorities of Louis XIII. and Louis XIV., they raised armies against the latter when a child, but were perfectly obedient to these monarchs in the zenith of their power. In short, the resistance of the Parlemens, unconnected, irregular, and partial as it was, had all the inconveniences of a democratic

orous XVI. canetinue (Lobooted and in their prened, ex

democratic check, without any of its advantages. Such; however, is the aversion to arbitrary power, that even this phantom of a representation was revered ; and when Louis XV. dissolved, public opinion soon compelled him to recal them. Factious however as they were, it is but justice to say, that no set of men ever exhibited higher models of private and public virtuesif that name can be applied to mere fidelity to a party. The purity of their administration of justice was quite unimpeached, although arbitrary in a great degree. Judges in their own cause, they found means of punishing those who ventured to question the legality of their pretensions

From this outline of the legislative and judicial departments; we may judge what the government was in other respects. The finances had always been a profound mystery; even to those who were officially bound to understand them; and Europe saw, with astonishment, two Ministers, successively at the head of that department, unable to determine between them whether the deficiency in the public revenue was ten or eighty millions a year. Every province of France had its distinct privileges, and was administered by different and inconsistent laws. The fiscal despotism of the Intendans clashed with the paternal despotism of the Parlemens; and the people were at the mercy of both. Lines of customhouses divided the interior of the kingdom, and made the circulation of the crops or manufactures from one province to another as difficult as if they had been foreign countries; while enormous differences of duties tempted unfortunate smugglers to violate absurd laws, for which they often forfeited their lives.

The noblesse and clergy enjoyed certain exemptions from taxes, and many personal privileges, every one of which constituted not merely an indignity, but a positive oppression, tơ the people at large. Individual liberty was everywhere at the mercy of authority ; but the tremendous power was used mildly against the upper ranks of society; and the whole weight of abuses fell upon the lower class : For instance, the poor of the capital were constantly watched by the agents of the police; and when their extreme poverty became too apparent, although they might not be absolute beggars on the streets, they were carried off in the dead of night, whole families at a time, from their wretched abodes in the Faubourg St Marceau, or St Antoine, and taken to certain receptacles of vice and wretchedness, known by the name of depôts de mendicité, where prostitutes and pickpockets, the sick and the insane, infancy and old age, were huddled together without distinction, and often swept off by malignant diseases. The whole labour of repair

VOL. XXXIV. NO. 67,

« السابقةمتابعة »