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   Chapter 1 HARDSHIPS.

The Ancient Regime By Hippolyte Taine Characters: 51168

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


I. Privations.

Under Louis XIV.-Under Louis XV.-Under Louis XVI.

La Bruyère wrote, just a century before 1789,5101:

"Certain savage-looking animals, male and female, are seen in the country, black, livid and sunburned, and attached to the soil which they dig and grub with invincible stubbornness. They seem capable of speech, and, when they stand erect, they display a human face. They are, in fact, men. They retire at night into their dens where they live on black bread, water and roots. They spare other human beings the trouble of sowing, plowing and harvesting, and thus should not be in want of the bread they have planted."

They are, however, in want during the twenty-five years after this, and die in droves. I estimate that in 1715 more than one-third of the population,5102 six millions, perish with hunger and of destitution. This description is, in respect of the first quarter of the century preceding the Revolution, far from being too vivid, it is rather too weak; we shall see that it, during more than half a century, up to the death of Louis XV. is exact; so that instead of weakening any of its details, they should be strengthened.

"In 1725," says Saint-Simon, "with the profusion of Strasbourg and Chantilly, the people, in Normandy, live on the grass of the fields. The first king in Europe could not be a great king if it was not for all the beggars and the poor-houses full of dying from whom all had been taken even though it was peace-time.5103

In the most prosperous days of Fleury and in the finest region in France, the peasant hides "his wine on account of the excise and his bread on account of the taille," convinced "that he is a lost man if any doubt exists of his dying of starvation."5104 In 1739 d'Argenson writes in his journal5105:

"The famine has just caused three insurrections in the provinces, at Ruffec, at Caen, and at Chinon. Women carrying their bread with them have been assassinated on the highways. . . M. le Duc d'Orléans brought to the Council the other day a piece of bread, and placed it on the table before the king 'Sire,' said he, 'there is the bread on which your subjects now feed themselves.'" "In my own canton of Touraine men have been eating herbage more than a year." Misery finds company on all sides. "It is talked about at Versailles more than ever. The king interrogated the bishop of Chartres on the condition of his people; he replied that 'the famine and the morality were such that men ate grass like sheep and died like so many flies.'"

In 1740,5106 Massillon, bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, writes to Fleury:

"The people of the rural districts are living in frightful destitution, without beds, without furniture; the majority, for half the year, even lack barley and oat bread which is their sole food, and which they are compelled to take out of their own and their children's mouths to pay the taxes. It pains me to see this sad spectacle every year on my visits. The Negroes of our colonies are, in this respect, infinitely better off; for, while working, they are fed and clothed along with their wives and children, while our peasantry, the most laborious in the kingdom, cannot, with the hardest and most devoted labor, earn bread for themselves and their families, and at the same time pay their charges." In 17405107 at Lille, the people rebel against the export of grain. "An intendant informs me that the misery increases from hour to hour, the slightest danger to the crops resulting in this for three years past. . . .Flanders, especially, is greatly embarrassed; there is nothing to live on until the harvesting, which will not take place for two months. The provinces the best off are not able to help the others. Each bourgeois in each town is obliged to feed one or two poor persons and provide them with fourteen pounds of bread per week. In the little town of Chatellerault, (of 4,000 inhabitants), 1800 poor, this winter, are in that situation. . . . The poor outnumber those able to live without begging. . . while prosecutions for unpaid dues are carried on with unexampled rigor. The clothes of the poor, their last measure of flour and the latches on their doors are seized, etc. .. . The abbess of Jouarre told me yesterday that, in her canton, in Brie, most of the land had not been planted." It is not surprising that the famine spreads even to Paris. "Fears are entertained of next Wednesday. There is no more bread in Paris, except that of the damaged flour which is brought in and which burns (when baking). The mills are working day and night at Belleville, regrinding old damaged flour. The people are ready to rebel; bread goes up a sol a day; no merchant dares, or is disposed, to bring in his wheat. The market on Wednesday was almost in a state of revolt, there being no bread in it after seven o'clock in the morning. . . . The poor creatures at Bicêtre prison were put on short rations, three quarterons (twelve ounces), being reduced to only half a pound. A rebellion broke out and they forced the guards. Numbers escaped and they have inundated Paris. The watch, with the police of the neighborhood, were called out, and an attack was made on these poor wretches with bayonet and sword. About fifty of them were left on the ground; the revolt was not suppressed yesterday morning."

Ten years later the evil is greater.5108

"In the country around me, ten leagues from Paris, I find increased privation and constant complaints. What must it be in our wretched provinces in the interior of the kingdom?. . . My curate tells me that eight families, supporting themselves on their labor when I left, are now begging their bread. There is no work to be had. The wealthy are economizing like the poor. And with all this the taille is exacted with military severity. The collectors, with their officers, accompanied by locksmiths, force open the doors and carry off and sell furniture for one-quarter of its value, the expenses exceeding the amount of the tax. . . "-"I am at this moment on my estates in Touraine. I encounter nothing but frightful privations; the melancholy sentiment of suffering no longer prevails with the poor inhabitants, but rather one of utter despair; they desire death only, and avoid increase. . . . It is estimated that one-quarter of the working-days of the year go to the corvées, the laborers feeding themselves, and with what?. . . I see poor people dying of destitution. They are paid fifteen sous a day, equal to a crown, for their load. Whole villages are either ruined or broken up, and none of the households recover. . . . Judging by what my neighbors tell me the inhabitants have diminished one-third. . . . The daily laborers are all leaving and taking refuge in the small towns. In many villages everybody leaves. I have several parishes in which the taille for three years is due, the proceedings for its collection always going on. . . . The receivers of the taille and of the taxes add one-half each year in expenses above the tax. . . . An assessor, on coming to the village where I have my country-house, states that the taille this year will be much increased; he noticed that the peasants here were fatter than elsewhere; that they had chicken feathers before their doors, and that the living here must be good, everybody doing well, etc.-This is the cause of the peasant's discouragement, and likewise the cause of misfortune throughout the kingdom."-"In the country where I am staying I hear that marriage is declining and that the population is decreasing on all sides. In my parish, with a few fire-sides, there are more than thirty single persons, male and female, old enough to marry and none of them considering it. On being urged to marry they all reply alike that it is not worth while to bring unfortunate beings like themselves into the world. I have myself tried to induce some of the women to marry by offering them assistance, but they all reason in this way as if they had consulted together."5109-"One of my curates sends me word that, although he is the oldest in the province of Touraine, and has seen many things, including excessively high prices for wheat, he remembers no misery so great as that of this year, even in 1709. . . . Some of the seigniors of Touraine inform me that, being desirous of setting the inhabitants to work by the day, they found very few of them, and these so weak that they were unable to use their hands."

Those who are able to leave, go.

"A person from Languedoc tells me of vast numbers of peasants deserting that province and taking refuge in Piedmont, Savoy, and Spain, tormented and frightened by the measures resorted to in collecting tithes. . . . The extortioners sell everything and imprison everybody as if prisoners of war, and even with more avidity and malice, in order to gain something themselves."-"I met an intendant of one of the finest provinces in the kingdom, who told me that no more farmers could be found there; that parents preferred to send their children to the towns; that living in the surrounding country was daily becoming more horrible to the inhabitants. . . . A man, well-informed in financial matters, told me that over two hundred families in Normandy had left this year, fearing the collections in their villages."-At Paris, "the streets swarm with beggars. One cannot stop before a door without a dozen mendicants besetting him with their importunities. They are said to be people from the country who, unable to endure the persecutions they have to undergo, take refuge in the cities. . . preferring begging to labor."-And yet the people of the cities are not much better off. "An officer of a company in garrison at Mezieres tells me that the poverty of that place is so great that, after the officers had dined in the inns, the people rush in and pillage the remnants."-"There are more than 12,000 begging workmen in Rouen, quite as many in Tours, etc. More than 20,000 of these workmen are estimated as having left the kingdom in three months for Spain, Germany, etc. At Lyons 20,000 workers in silk are watched and kept in sight for fear of their going abroad." At Rouen,5110 and in Normandy, "those in easy circumstances find it difficult to get bread, the bulk of the people being entirely without it, and, to ward off starvation, providing themselves with food otherwise repulsive to human beings."-"Even at Paris," writes d'Argenson,5111 "I learn that on the day M. le Dauphin and Mme. la Dauphine went to Notre Dame, on passing the bridge of the Tournelle, more than 2,000 women assembled in that quarter crying out, 'Give us bread, or we shall die of hunger.'. . . A vicar of the parish of Saint-Marguerite affirms that over eight hundred persons died in the Faubourg St. Antoine between January 20th and February 20th; that the poor expire with cold and hunger in their garrets, and that the priests, arriving too late, see them expire without any possible relief."

Were I to enumerate the riots, the sedition of the famished, and the pillaging of storehouses, I should never end; these are the convulsive twitching of exhaustion; the people have fasted as long as possible, and instinct, at last, rebels. In 1747,5112 "extensive bread-riots occur in Toulouse, and in Guyenne they take place on every market-day." In 1750, from 6 to 7,000 men gather in Bearn behind a river to resist the clerks; two companies of the Artois regiment fire on the rebels and kill a dozen of them. In 1752, a sedition at Rouen and in its neighborhood lasts three days; in Dauphiny and in Auvergne riotous villagers force open the grain warehouses and take away wheat at their own price; the same year, at Arles, 2,000 armed peasants demand bread at the town-hall and are dispersed by the soldiers. In one province alone, that of Normandy, I find insurrections in 1725, in 1737, in 1739, in 1752, in 1764, 1765, 1766, 1767 and 1768,5113 and always on account of bread.

"Entire hamlets," writes the Parliament, "being without the necessities of life, hunger compels them to resort to the food of brutes. . . . Two days more and Rouen will be without provisions, without grain, without bread."

Accordingly, the last riot is terrible; on this occasion, the populace, again masters of the town for three days, pillage the public granaries and the stores of all the communities.-Up to the last and even later, in 1770 at Rheims, in 1775 at Dijon, at Versailles, at St. Germain, at Pontoise and at Paris, in 1772 at Poitiers, in 1785 at Aix in Provence, in 1788 and 1789 in Paris and throughout France, similar eruptions are visible.5114-Undoubtedly the government under Louis XVI is milder; the intendants are more humane, the administration is less rigid, the taille becomes less unequal, and the corvée is less onerous through its transformation, in short, misery has diminished, and yet this is greater than human nature can bear.

Examine administrative correspondence for the last thirty years preceding the Revolution. Countless statements reveal excessive suffering, even when not terminating in fury. Life to a man of the lower class, to an artisan, or workman, subsisting on the labor of his own hands, is evidently precarious; he obtains simply enough to keep him from starvation and he does not always get that5115. Here, in four districts, "the inhabitants live only on buckwheat," and for five years, the apple crop having failed, they drink only water. There, in a country of vine-yards,5116 "the wine-growers each year are reduced, for the most part, to begging their bread during the dull season." Elsewhere, several of the day-laborers and mechanics, obliged to sell their effects and household goods, die of the cold; insufficient and unhealthy food generates sickness, while, in two districts, 35,000 persons are stated to be living on alms5117. In a remote canton the peasants cut the grain still green and dry it in the oven, because they are too hungry to wait. The intendant of Poitiers writes that "as soon as the workhouses open, a prodigious number of the poor rush to them, in spite of the reduction of wages and of the restrictions imposed on them in behalf of the most needy." The intendant of Bourges notices that a great many tenant farmers have sold off their furniture, and that "entire families pass two days without eating," and that in many parishes the famished stay in bed most of the day because they suffer less. The intendant of Orleans reports that "in Sologne, poor widows have burned up their wooden bedsteads and others have consumed their fruit trees," to preserve themselves from the cold, and he adds, "nothing is exaggerated in this statement; the cries of want cannot be expressed; the misery of the rural districts must be seen with one's own eyes to obtain an idea of it." From Rioni, from La Rochelle, from Limoges, from Lyons, from Montauban, from Caen, from Alen?on, from Flanders, from Moulins come similar statements by other intendants. One might call it the interruptions and repetitions of a funeral knell; even in years not disastrous it is heard on all sides. In Burgundy, near Chatillon-sur-Seine,

"taxes, seigniorial dues, the tithes, and the expenses of cultivation, split up the productions of the soil into thirds, leaving nothing for the unfortunate cultivators, who would have abandoned their fields, had not two Swiss manufacturers of calicoes settled there and distributed about the country 40,000 francs a year in cash."5118

In Auvergne, the country is depopulated daily; many of the villages have lost, since the beginning of the century, more than one-third of their inhabitants5119.

"Had not steps been promptly taken to lighten the burden of a down-trodden people," says the provincial assembly in 1787, "Auvergne would have forever lost its population and its cultivation."

In Comminges, at the outbreak of the Revolution, certain communities threaten to abandon their possessions, should they obtain no relief5120.

"It is a well-known fact," says the assembly of Haute-Guyenne, in 1784," that the lot of the most severely taxed communities is so rigorous as to have led their proprietors frequently to abandon their property5121. Who is not aware of the inhabitants of Saint-Servin having abandoned their property ten times, and of their threats to resort again to this painful proceeding in their recourse to the administration? Only a few years ago an abandonment of the community of Boisse took place through the combined action of the inhabitants, the seignior and the décimateur of that community;" and the desertion would be still greater if the law did not forbid persons liable to the taille abandoning over-taxed property, except by renouncing whatever they possessed in the community. In the Soissonais, according to the report of the provincial assembly,5122 "misery is excessive." In Gascony the spectacle is "heartrending." In the environs of Toul, the cultivator, after paying his taxes, tithes and other dues, remains empty-handed.

"Agriculture is an occupation of steady anxiety and privation, in which thousands of men are obliged to painfully vegetate."5123 In a village in Normandy, "nearly all the inhabitants, not excepting the farmers and proprietors, eat barley bread and drink water, living like the most wretched of men, so as to provide for the payment of the taxes with which they are overburdened." In the same province, at Forges, "many poor creatures eat oat bread, and others bread of soaked bran, this nourishment causing many deaths among infants."5124 People evidently live from day to day; whenever the crop proves poor they lack bread. Let a frost come, a hailstorm, an inundation, and an entire province is incapable of supporting itself until the coming year; in many places even an ordinary winter suffices to bring on distress. On all sides hands are seen outstretched to the king, who is the universal almoner. The people may be said to resemble a man attempting to wade through a pool with the water up to his chin, and who, losing his footing at the slightest depression, sinks down and drowns. Existent charity and the fresh spirit of humanity vainly strive to rescue them; the water has risen too high. It must subside to a lower level, and the pool be drawn off through some adequate outlet. Thus far the poor man catches breath only at intervals, running the risk of drowning at every moment.

II. The Peasants.

The condition of the peasant during the last thirty years of

the Ancient Regime.-His precarious subsistence.-State of

agriculture.-Uncultivated farms.-Poor cultivation.-

Inadequate wages.-Lack of comforts.

Between 1750 and 1760,5125 the idlers who eat suppers begin to regard with compassion and alarm the laborers who go without dinners. Why are the latter so impoverished; and by what misfortune, on a soil as rich as that of France, do those lack bread who grow the grain? In the first place many farms remain uncultivated, and, what is worse, many are deserted. According to the best observers "one-quarter of the soil is absolutely lying waste. . . . Hundreds and hundreds of arpents of heath and moor form extensive deserts."5126 Let a person traverse Anjou, Maine, Brittany, Poitou, Limousin, la Marche, Berry, Nivernais, Bourbonnais and Auvergne, and he finds one-half of these provinces in heaths, forming immense plains, all of which might be cultivated." In Touraine, in Poitou and in Berry they form solitary expanses of 30,000 arpents. In one canton alone, near Preuilly, 40,000 arpents of good soil consist of heath. The agricultural society of Rennes declares that two-thirds of Brittany is lying waste. This is not sterility but decadence. The régime invented by Louis XIV has produced its effect; the soil for a century past has been reverting to a wild state.

"We see only abandoned and ruinous chateaux; the principal towns of the fiefs, in which the nobility formerly lived at their ease, are all now occupied by poor tenant herdsmen whose scanty labor hardly suffices for their subsistence, and a remnant of tax ready to disappear through the ruin of the proprietors and the desertion of the settlers."

In the election district of Confolens a piece of property rented for 2,956 livres in 1665, brings in only 900 livres in 1747. On the confines of la Marche and of Berry a domain which, in 1660, honorably supported two seigniorial families is now simply a small unproductive tenant-farm; "the traces of the furrows once made by the plow-iron being still visible on the surrounding heaths." Sologne, once flourishing,5127 becomes a marsh and a forest; a hundred years earlier it produced three times the quantity of grain; two-thirds of its mills are gone; not a vestige of its vineyards remains; "grapes have given way to the heath." Thus abandoned by the spade and the plow, a vast portion of the soil ceases to feed man, while the rest, poorly cultivated, scarcely provides the simplest necessities5128.

In the first place, on the failure of a crop, this portion remains untilled; its occupant is too poor to purchase seed; the intendant is often obliged to distribute seed, without which the disaster of the current year would be followed by sterility the following year5129. Every calamity, accordingly, in these days affects the future as well as the present; during the two years of 1784 and 1785, around Toulouse, the drought having caused the loss of all draft animals, many of the cultivators are obliged to let their fields lie fallow. In the second place, cultivation, when it does take place, is carried on according to medieval modes. Arthur Young, in 1789, considers that French agriculture has not progressed beyond that of the tenth century5130. Except in Flanders and on the plains of Alsace, the fields lie fallow one year out of three, and oftentimes one year out of two. The implements are poor; there are no plows made of iron; in many places the plow of Virgil's time is still in use. Cart-axles and wheel-tires are made of wood, while a harrow often consists of the trestle of a cart. There are few animals and but little manure; the capital bestowed on cultivation is three times less than that of the present day. The yield is slight: "our ordinary farms," says a good observer, "taking one with another return about six times the seed sown."5131 In 1778, on the rich soil around Toulouse, wheat returns about five for one, while at the present day it yields eight to one and more. Arthur Young estimates that, in his day, the English acre produces twenty-eight bushels of grain, and the French acre eighteen bushels, and that the value of the total product of the same area for a given length of time is thirty-six pounds sterling in England and only twenty-five in France. As the parish roads are frightful, and transportation often impracticable, it is clear that, in remote cantons, where poor soil yields scarcely three times the seed sown, food is not always obtainable. How do they manage to live until the next crop? This is the question always under consideration previous to, and during, the Revolution. I find, in manuscript correspondence, the syndics and mayors of villages estimating the quantities for local subsistence at so many bushels in the granaries, so many sheaves in the barns, so many mouths to be filled, so many days to wait until the August wheat comes in, and concluding on short supplies for two, three and four months. Such a state of inter-communication and of agriculture condemns a country to periodical famines, and I venture to state that, alongside of the small-pox which out of eight deaths causes one, another endemic disease exists, as prevalent and as destructive, and this disease is starvation.

We can easily imagine that it is the common people, and especially the peasants who suffers. An increase of the price of bread prevents him from getting any, and even without that increase, he obtains it with difficulty. Wheat bread cost, as today, three sous per pound,5132 but as the average day's work brought only nineteen sous instead of forty, the day-laborer, working the same time, could buy only the half of a loaf instead of a full loaf5133. Taking everything into account, and wages being estimated according to the price of grain, we find that the husbandman's manual labor then procured him 959 litres of wheat, while nowadays it gives him 1,851 litres; his well-being, accordingly, has advanced ninety-three per cent., which suffices to show to what extent his predecessors suffered privations. And these privations are peculiar to France. Through analogous observations and estimates Arthur Young shows that in France those who lived on field labor, and they constituted the great majority, are seventy-six per cent. less comfortable than the same laborers in England, while they are seventy-six per cent. less well fed and well clothed, besides being worse treated in sickness and in health. The result is that in seven-eighths of the kingdom, there are no farmers, but simply métayers (a kind of poor tenants)5134. The peasant is too poor to undertake cultivation on his own account, possessing no agricultural capital5135. "The proprietor, desirous of improving his land, finds no one to cultivate it but miserable creatures possessing only a pair of hands; he is obliged to advance everything for its cultivation at his own expense, animals, implements and seed, and even to advance the wherewithal to this tenant to feed him until the first crop comes in."-"At Vatan, for example, in Berry, the tenants, almost every y

ear, borrow bread of the proprietor in order to await the harvesting."-"Very rarely is one found who is not indebted to his master at least one hundred livres a year."

Frequently the latter proposes to abandon the entire crop to them on condition that they demand nothing of him during the year; "these miserable creatures" have refused; left to themselves, they would not be sure of keeping themselves alive.-In Limousin and in Angoumois their poverty is so great5136 "that, deducting the taxes to which they are subject, they have no more than from twenty-five to thirty livres each person per annum to spend; and not in money, it must be stated, but counting whatever they consume in kind out of the crops they produce. Frequently they have less, and when they cannot possibly make a living the master is obliged to support them. . . . The métayer is always reduced to just what is absolutely necessary to keep him from starving." As to the small proprietor, the villager who plows his land himself, his condition is but little better. "Agriculture,5137 as our peasants practice it, is a veritable drudgery; they die by thousands in childhood, and in maturity they seek places everywhere but where they should be."

In 1783, throughout the plain of the Toulousain they eat only maize, a mixture of flour, common seeds and very little wheat; those on the mountains feed, a part of the year, on chestnuts; the potato is hardly known, and, according to Arthur Young, ninety-nine out of a hundred peasants would refuse to eat it. According to the reports of intendants, the basis of food, in Normandy, is oats; in the election-district of Troyes, buck-wheat; in the Marche and in Limousin, buckwheat with chestnuts and radishes; in Auvergne, buckwheat, chestnuts, milk-curds and a little salted goat's meat; in Beauce, a mixture of barley and rye; in Berry, a mixture of barley and oats. There is no wheat bread; the peasant consumes inferior flour only because he is unable to pay two sous a pound for his bread. There is no butcher's meat; at best he kills one pig a year. His dwelling is built of clay (pise), roofed with thatch, without windows, and the floor is the beaten ground. Even when the soil furnishes good building materials, stone, slate and tile, the windows have no sashes. In a parish in Normandy,5138 in 1789, "most of the dwellings consist of four posts." They are often mere stables or barns "to which a chimney has been added made of four poles and some mud." Their clothes are rags, and often in winter these are muslin rags. In Quercy and elsewhere, they have no stockings, or wooden shoes. "It is not in the power of an English imagination," says Arthur Young, "to imagine the animals that waited on us here at the Chapeau Rouge,-creatures that were called by courtesy Souillac women, but in reality walking dung-hills. But a neatly dressed, clean waiting-girl at an inn, will be looked for in vain in France." On reading descriptions made on the spot we see in France a similar aspect of country and of peasantry as in Ireland, at least in its broad outlines.

III. The Countryside.

Aspects of the country and of the peasantry.

In the most fertile regions, for instance, in Limagne, both cottages and faces denote "misery and privation."5139 "The peasants are generally feeble, emaciated and of slight stature." Nearly all derive wheat and wine from their homesteads, but they are forced to sell this to pay their rents and taxes; they eat black bread, made of rye and barley, and their sole beverage is water poured on the lees and the husks. "An Englishman5140 who has not traveled can not imagine the figure made by infinitely the greater part of the countrywomen in France." Arthur Young, who stops to talk with one of these in Champagne, says that "this woman, at no great distance, might have been taken for sixty or seventy, her figure was so bent and her face so hardened and furrowed by labor,-but she said she was only twenty-eight." This woman, her husband and her household, afford a sufficiently accurate example of the condition of the small proprietary husbandmen. Their property consists simply of a patch of ground, with a cow and a poor little horse; their seven children consume the whole of the cow's milk. They owe to one seignior a franchard (forty-two pounds) of flour, and three chickens; to another three franchards of oats, one chicken and one sou, to which must be added the taille and other taxes. "God keep us!" she said, "for the tailles and the dues crush us."-What must it be in districts where the soil is poor!-

"From Ormes, (near Chatellerault), as far as Poitiers," writes a lady,5141 "there is a good deal of ground which brings in nothing, and from Poitiers to my residence (in Limousin) 25,000 arpents of ground consist wholly of heath and sea-grass. The peasantry live on rye, of which they do not remove the bran, and which is as black and heavy as lead.-In Poitou, and here, they plow up only the skin of the ground with a miserable little plow without wheels. . . . From Poitiers to Montmorillon it is nine leagues, equal to sixteen of Paris, and I assure you that I have seen but four men on the road, and, between Montmorillon and my own house, which is four leagues, but three; and then only at a distance, not having met one on the road. You need not be surprised at this in such a country. . . Marriage takes place as early as with the grand seigniors," doubtless for fear of the militia. "But the population of the country is no greater because almost every infant dies. Mothers having scarcely any milk, their infants eat the bread of which I spoke, the stomach of a girl of four years being as big as that of a pregnant woman. . . . The rye crop this year was ruined by the frost on Easter day; flour is scarce; of the twelve métairies owned by my mother, four of them may, perhaps, have some on hand. There has been no rain since Easter; no hay, no pasture, no vegetables, no fruit. You see the lot of the poor peasant. There is no manure, and there are no cattle. . . . My mother, whose granaries used to be always full, has not a grain of wheat in them, because, for two years past, she has fed all her métayers and the poor."

"The peasant is assisted," says a seignior of the same province,5142 "protected, and rarely maltreated, but he is looked upon with disdain. If kindly and pliable he is made subservient, but if ill-disposed he becomes soured and irritable. . . . He is kept in misery, in an abject state, by men who are not at all inhuman but whose prejudices, especially among the nobles, lead them to regard him as of a different species of being. . . . The proprietor gets all he can out of him; in any event, looking upon him and his oxen as domestic animals, he puts them into harness and employs them in all weathers for every kind of journey, and for every species of carting and transport. On the other hand, this métayer thinks of living with as little labor as possible, converting as much ground as he can into pasturage, for the reason that the product arising from the increase of stock costs him no labor. The little plowing he does is for the purpose of raising low-priced provisions suitable for his own nourishment, such as buckwheat, radishes, etc. His enjoyment consists only of his own idleness and sluggishness, hoping for a good chestnut year and doing nothing voluntarily but procreate;" unable to hire farming hands he begets children.-

The rest, ordinary laborers, have a few savings, "living on the herbage, and on a few goats which devour everything." Often again, these, by order of Parliament, are killed by the game-keepers. A woman, with two children in swaddling clothes, having no milk, "and without an inch of ground," whose two goats, her sole resource, had thus been slain, and another, with one goat slain in the same way, and who begs along with her boy, present themselves at the gate of the chateau; one receives twelve livres, while the other is admitted as a domestic, and henceforth, '' this village is all bows and smiling faces.''-In short, they are not accustomed to kindness; the lot of all these poor people is to endure. "As with rain and hail, they regard as inevitable the necessity of being oppressed by the strongest, the richest, the most skillful, the most in repute," and this stamps on them, "if one may be allowed to say so, an air of painful suffering."

In Auvergne, a feudal country, covered with extensive ecclesiastic and seigniorial domains, the misery is the same. At Clermont-Ferrand,5143 "there are many streets that can for blackness, dirt and scents only be represented by narrow channels cut in a dunghill." In the inns of the largest bourgs, "closeness, misery, dirtiness and darkness." That of Pradelles is "one of the worst in France." That of Aubenas, says Young, "would be a purgatory for one of my pigs." The senses, in short, are paralyzed. The primitive man is content so long as he can sleep and get something to eat. He gets something to eat, but what kind of food? To put up with the indigestible mess a peasant here requires a still tougher stomach than in Limousin; in certain villages where, ten years later, every year twenty or twenty-five hogs are to be slaughtered, they now slaughter but three5144.-On contemplating this temperament, rude and intact since Vercingetorix, and, moreover, rendered more savage by suffering, one cannot avoid being somewhat alarmed. The Marquis de Mirabeau describes

"the votive festival of Mont-Dore: savages descending from the mountain in torrents,5145 the curate with stole and surplice, the justice in his wig, the police corps with sabers drawn, all guarding the open square before letting the bagpipers play; the dance interrupted in a quarter of an hour by a fight; the hooting and cries of children, of the feeble and other spectators, urging them on as the rabble urge on so many fighting dogs; frightful looking men, or rather wild beasts covered with coats of coarse wool, wearing wide leather belts pierced with copper nails, gigantic in stature, which is increased by high wooden shoes, and making themselves still taller by standing on tiptoe to see the battle, stamping with their feet as it progresses and rubbing each other's flanks with their elbows, their faces haggard and covered with long matted hair, the upper portion pallid, and the lower distended, indicative of cruel delight and a sort of ferocious impatience. And these folks pay the taille! And now they want to take away their salt! And they know nothing of those they despoil, of those whom they think they govern, believing that, by a few strokes of a cowardly and careless pen, they may starve them with impunity up to the final catastrophe! Poor Jean-Jacques, I said to myself, had any one dispatched you, with your system, to copy music amongst these folks, he would have had some sharp replies to make to your discourses!"

Prophetic warning and admirable foresight in one whom an excess of evil does not blind to the evil of the remedy! Enlightened by his feudal and rural instincts, the old man at once judges both the government and the philosophers, the Ancient Regime and the Revolution.

IV. The Peasant Becomes Landowner.

How the peasant becomes a proprietor.-He is no better off.

-Increase of taxes.-He is the "mule" of the Ancient Regime.

Misery begets bitterness in a man; but ownership coupled with misery renders him still more bitter. He may have submitted to indigence but not to spoliation-which is the situation of the peasant in 1789, for, during the eighteenth century, he had become the possessor of land. But how could he maintain himself in such destitution? The fact is almost incredible, but it is nevertheless true. We can only explain it by the character of the French peasant, by his sobriety, his tenacity, his rigor with himself, his dissimulation, his hereditary passion for property and especially for that of the soil. He had lived on privations, and economized sou after sou. Every year a few pieces of silver are added to his little store of crowns buried in the most secret recess of his cellar; Rousseau's peasant, concealing his wine and bread in a pit, assuredly had a yet more secret hiding-place; a little money in a woollen stocking or in a jug escapes, more readily than elsewhere, the search of the clerks. Dressed in rags, going barefoot, eating nothing but coarse black bread, but cherishing the little treasure in his breast on which he builds so many hopes, he watches for the opportunity which never fails to come. "In spite of privileges," writes a gentleman in 1755,5146 "the nobles are daily being ruined and reduced, the Third-Estate making all the fortunes." A number of domains, through forced or voluntary sales, thus pass into the hands of financiers, of men of the quill, of merchants, and of the well-to-do bourgeois. Before undergoing this total dispossession, however, the seignior, involved in debt, is evidently resigned to partial alienation of his property. The peasant who has bribed the steward is at hand with his hoard. "It is poor property, my lord, and it costs you more than you get from it." This may refer to an isolated patch, one end of a field or meadow, sometimes a farm whose farmer pays nothing, and generally worked by a métayer whose wants and indolence make him an annual expense to his master. The latter may say to himself that the alienated parcel is not lost, since, some day or other, through his right of repurchase, he may take it back, while, in the meantime, he enjoys a cens, drawbacks, and the lord's dues. Moreover, there is on his domain and around him, extensive open spaces which the decline of cultivation and depopulation have left a desert. To restore the value of this he must surrender its proprietorship. There is no other way by which to attach man permanently to the soil. And the government helps him along in this matter. Obtaining no revenue from the abandoned soil, it assents to a provisional withdrawal of its too weighty hand. By the edict of 1766, a piece of cleared waste land remains free of the taille for fifteen years, and, thereupon, in twenty-eight provinces 400,000 arpents are cleared in three years5147.

This is the mode by which the seigniorial domain gradually crumbles away and decreases. Towards the last, in many places, with the exception of the chateau and the small adjoining farm which brings in 2 or 3000 francs a year, nothing is left to the seignior but his feudal dues;5148 the rest of the soil belongs to the peasantry. Forbonnais already remarks, towards 1750, that many of the nobles and of the ennobled "reduced to extreme poverty but with titles to immense possessions," have sold off portions to small cultivators at low prices, and often for the amount of the taille. Towards 1760, one-quarter of the soil is said to have already passed into the hands of farmers. In 1772, in relation to the vingtième, which is levied on the net revenue of real property, the intendant of Caen, having completed the statement of his quota, estimates that out of 150,000 "there are perhaps 50,000 whose liabilities did not exceed five sous, and perhaps still as many more not exceeding twenty sous."5149 Contemporary observers authenticate this passion of the peasant for land. "The savings of the lower classes, which elsewhere are invested with individuals and in the public funds, are wholly destined in France to the purchase of land." "Accordingly the number of small rural holdings is always on the increase. Necker says that there is an immensity of them." Arthur Young, in 1789, is astonished at their great number and "inclines to think that they form a third of the kingdom." This already would be our actual estimate, and we still find, approximately, the actual figures, on estimating the number of proprietors in comparison with the number of inhabitants.

The small cultivator, however, in becoming a possessor of the soil assumed its charges. Simply as day-laborer, and with his arms alone, he was only partially affected by the taxes; "where there is nothing the king loses his dues." But now, vainly is he poor and declaring himself still poorer; the fisc has a hold on him and on every portion of his new possessions. The collectors, peasants like himself, and jealous, by virtue of being his neighbors, know how much his property, exposed to view, brings in; hence they take all they can lay their hands on. Vainly has he labored with renewed energy; his hands remain as empty, and, at the end of the year, he discovers that his field has produced him nothing. The more he acquires and produces the more burdensome do the taxes become. In 1715, the taille and the poll-tax, which he alone pays, or nearly alone, amounts to sixty-six millions of livres; the amount is ninety-three millions in 1759 and one hundred and ten millions in 1789.5150 In 1757, the charges amount to 283,156,000 livres; in 1789 to 476,294,000 livres.

Theoretically, through humanity and through good sense, there is, doubtless, a desire to relieve the peasant, and pity is felt for him. But, in practice, through necessity and routine, he is treated according to Cardinal Richelieu's precept, as a beast of burden to which oats is sparingly rationed out for fear that he may become too strong and kick, "a mule which, accustomed to his load, is spoiled more by long repose than by work."....

* * *

5101 (return)

[ Labruyère, edition of Destailleurs, II, 97. Addition to the fourth ed. (1689)]

5102 (return)

[ Oppression and misery begin about 1672.-At the end of the seventeenth century (1698), the reports made up by the intendants for the Duc de Bourgogne, state that many of the districts and provinces have lost one-sixth, one-fifth, one-quarter, the third and even the half of their population. (See details in the "correspondance des contr?leurs-généraux from 1683 to 1698," published by M. de Boislisle). According to the reports of intendants, (Vauban, "Dime Royale," ch. VII. § 2.), the population of France in 1698 amounted to 19,994,146 inhabitants. From 1698 to 1715 it decreases. According to Forbonnais, there were but 16 or 17 millions under the Regency. After this epoch the population no longer diminishes but, for forty years, it hardly increases. In 1753 (Voltaire, "Dict Phil.," article Population), there are 3,550,499 hearths, besides 700,000 souls in Paris, which makes from 16 to 17 millions of inhabitants if we count four and one-half persons to each fireside, and from 18 to 19 millions if we count five persons.]

5103 (return)

[ Floquet, "Histoire du Parlement de Normandie," VII. 402.]

5104 (return)

[ Rousseau, "Confessions," 1st part, ch. IV. (1732).]

5105 (return)

[ D'Argenson, 19th and 24th May, July 4, and Aug. 1, 1739]

5106 (return)

[ "Résumé d'histoire d'Auvergne par un Auvergnat" (M. Tallandier), p. 313.]

5107 (return)

[ D'Argenson, 1740, Aug. 7 and 21, September 19 and 24, May 28 and November 7.]

5108 (return)

[ D'Argenson, October 4, 1749; May 20, Sept. 12, Oct. 28, Dec. 28, 1750.]

5109 (return)

[ D'Argenson, June 21, 1749; May 22, 1750; March 19, 1751; February 14, April 15, 1752, etc.]

5110 (return)

[ Floquet, ibid.. VII. 410 (April, 1752, an address to the Parliament of Normandy)]

5111 (return)

[ D'Argenson, November 26, 1751: March 15, 1753.]

5112 (return)

[ D'Argenson, IV. 124; VI. 165: VII. 194, etc.]

5113 (return)

[ Floquet, ibid. VI. 400-430]

5114 (return)

[ "Correspondance," by Métra, I. 338, 341.-Hippeau, "Le Gouvernement de Normandie," IV. 62, 199, 358.]

5115 (return)

[ "Procès-verbaux de l'assemblée provinciale de Basse Normandie" (1787), p.151.]

5116 (return)

[ Archives nationales, G, 319. Condition of the directory of Issoudun, and H, 1149, 612, 1418.]

5117 (return)

[ Ibid.. The letters of M. de Crosne, intendant of Rouen (February 17, 1784); of M. de Blossac, intendant of Poitiers (May 9, 1784); of M. de Villeneuve, intendant of Bourges (March 28, 1784); of M. de Cypierre, intendant of Orleans (May 28, 1784); of M. de Maziron, intendant of Moulins (June 28, 1786); of M. Dupont, intendant of Moulins (Nov. 16, 1779), etc.]

5118 (return)

[ Archives nationales, H, 200 (A memorandum by M. Amelot, intendant at Dijon, 1786).]

5119 (return)

[ Gautier de Bianzat, "Doléances sur les surcharges que portent les gens du Tiers-Etat," etc. (1789), p. 188.-"Procès-verbaux de I'assemblée provinciale d'Auvergne" (1787), p. 175.]

5120 (return)

[ Théron de Montaugé, "L'Agriculture et les chores rurales dans le Toulousain," 112.]

5121 (return)

[ "Procès-verbaux de assemblée provinciale de la Haute-Guyenne," I. 47, 79.]

5122 (return)

[ "Procès-verbaux de l'assemblée provinciale du Soissonais" (1787), p. 457; "de l'assemblée provinciale d'Auch," p. 24.]

5123 (return)

[ "Résumé des cahiers," by Prudhomme, III. 271.]

5124 (return)

[ Hippeau, ibid. VI. 74, 243 (grievances drawn up by the Chevalier de Bertin).]

5125 (return)

[ See the article "Fermiers et Grains," in the Encyclopedia, by Quesnay, 1756.]

5126 (return)

[ Théron de Montaugé, p.25.-"Ephémérides du citoyen," III. 190 (1766); IX. 15 (an article by M. de Butré, 1767).]

5127 (return)

[ "Procés-verbaux de l'assemblée provinciale de l'Orléanais" (1787), in a memoir by M. d'Autroche.]

5128 (return)

[ One is surprised to see such a numerous people fed even though one-half, or one-quarter of the arable land is sterile wastes. (Arthur Young, II, 137.)]

5129 (return)

[ Archives nationales, H, 1149. A letter of the Comtesse de Saint-Georges (1772) on the effects of frost. "The ground this year will remain uncultivated, there being already much land in this condition, and especially in our parish." Théron de Montaugé, ibid.. 45, 80.]

5130 (return)

[ Arthur Young, II. 112, 115.-Théron de Montaugé, 52, 61.]

5131 (return)

[ The Marquis de Mirabeau, "Traité de la population," p.29.]

5132 (return)

[ Cf Galiani, "Dialogues sur le commerce des blés." (1770), p. 193. Wheat bread at this time cost four sous per pound.]

5133 (return)

[ Arthur Young, II. 200, 201, 260-265.-Théron de Montaugé, 59, 68, 75, 79, 81, 84.]

5134 (return)

[ "The poor people who cultivate the soil here are métayers, that is men who hire the land without ability to stock it; the proprietor is forced to provide cattle and seed and he and his tenants divide the produce."-ARTHUR YOUNG.(TR.)]

5135 (return)

[ "Ephémérides du citoyen," VI. 81-94 (1767), and IX. 99 (1767).]

5136 (return)

[ Turgot, "Collections des économistes," I. 544, 549.]

5137 (return)

[ Marquis de Mirabeau, "Traité de la population," 83..]

5138 (return)

[ Hippeau, VI, 91.]

5139 (return)

[ Dulaure, "Description de l'Auvergne," 1789.]

5140 (return)

[ Arthur Young, I. 235.]

5141 (return)

[ "Ephémérides du citoyen," XX. 146, a letter of the Marquis de-August 17, 1767.]

5142 (return)

[ Lucas de Montigny, "Memoires de Mirabeau," I, 394.]

5143 (return)

[ Arthur Young, I. 280, 289, 294.]

5144 (return)

[ Lafayette "Mémoires," V. 533.]

5145 (return)

[ Lucas de Montigny, ibid. (a letter of August 18, 1777).]

5146 (return)

[ De Tocqueville, 117.]

5147 (return)

[ "Procès-verbaux de l'assemblée provinciale de Basse Normandie" (1787), p.205.]

5148 (return)

[ Léonce de Lavergne, p. 26 (according to the tables of indemnity granted to the émigrés in 1825). In the estate of Blet (see note 2 at the end of the volume), twenty-two parcels are alienated in 1760.-Arthur Young, I. 308 (the domain of Tour-d'Aigues, in Provence), and II. 198, 214.-Doniol, "Histoire des classes rurales," p.450.-De Tocqueville, p.36.]

5149 (return)

[ Archives nationales, H, 1463 (a letter by M. de Fontette, November 16, 1772).-Cf. Cochut, "Revue des Deux Mondes," September, 1848. The sale of the national property seems not to have sensibly increased small properties nor sensibly diminished the number of the large ones. The Revolution developed moderate sized properties. In 1848, the large estates numbered 183,000 (23,000 families paying 300 francs taxes, and more, and possessing on the average 260 hectares of land, and 160,000 families paying from 230 to 500 francs taxes and possessing on the average 75 hectares.) These 183,000 families possessed 18,000,000 hectares.-There are besides 700,000 medium sized estates (paying from 50 to 250 francs tax), and comprising 15,000,000 hectares.-And finally 3,900,000 small properties comprising 15,000,000 hectares (900,000 paying from 25 to 50 francs tax, averaging five and one-half hectares each, and 3,000,000 paying less than 25 francs, averaging three and one ninth hectares each).-According to the partial statement of de Tocqueville the number of holders of real property had increased, on the average, to five-twelfths; the population, at the same time, having increased five-thirteenths (from 26 to 36 millions).]

5150 (return)

[ "Compte-général des revenus et dépenses fixes au 1er Mai, 1789 (Imprimerie Royale, 1789).-De Luynes, XVI. 49.-Roux and Buchez, I. 206, 374. (This relates only to the countries of election; in the provinces, with assemblies, the increase is no less great). Archives nationales, H2, 1610 (the parish of Bourget, in Anjou). Extracts from the taille rolls of three métayer-farms belonging to M. de Ruillé. The taxes in 1762 are 334 livres, 3 sous; in 1783, 372 livres, 15 sous.]

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