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   Chapter 4 THE ARMED FORCES.

The Ancient Regime By Hippolyte Taine Characters: 20987

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


I. Military force declines

Military force declines.-How the army is recruited.-How

the soldier is treated.

Against universal sedition where is force?-The measures and dispositions which govern the 150,000 men who maintain order are the same as those ruling the 26 millions people subject to it. We find here the same abuses, disaffection, and other causes for the dissolution of the nation which, in their turn, will dissolve the army.

Of the 90 millions of pay5401 which the army annually costs the treasury, 46 millions are for officers and only 44 millions for soldiers, and we are already aware that a new ordinance reserves ranks of all kinds for verified nobles. In no direction is this inequality, against which public opinion rebels so vigorously, more apparent. On the one hand, authority, honors, money, leisure, good-living, social enjoyments, and plays in private, for the minority. On the other hand, for the majority, subjection, dejection, fatigue, a forced or betrayed enlistment, no hope of promotion, pay at six sous a day,5402 a narrow cot for two, bread fit for dogs, and, for several years, kicks like those bestowed on a dog.5403 On the one hand, a nobility of high estate, and, on the other, the lowest of the populace. One might say that this was specially designed for contrast and to intensify irritation. "The insignificant pay of the soldier," says an economist, "the way in which he is dressed, lodged and fed, his utter dependence, would render it cruelty to take any other than a man of the lower class."5404 Indeed, he is sought for only in the lowest layers of society. Not only are nobles and the bourgeoisie exempt from conscription, but again the employees of the administration, of the fermes and of public works, "all gamekeepers and forest-rangers, the hired domestics and valets of ecclesiastics, of communities, of religious establishments, of the gentry and of nobles,"5405 and even of the bourgeoisie living in grand style, and still better, the sons of cultivators in easy circumstances, and, in general, all possessing influence or any species of protector. There remains, accordingly, for the militia none but the poorest class, and they do not willingly enter it. On the contrary, the service is hateful to them; they conceal themselves in the forests where they have to be pursued by armed men: in a certain canton which, three years later, furnishes in one day from fifty to one hundred volunteers, the young men cut off their thumbs to escape the draft.5406 To this scum of society is added the sweepings of the depots and of the jails. Among the vagabonds that fill these, after winnowing out those able to make their families known or to obtain sponsors, "there are none left," says an intendant, "but those who are entirely unknown or dangerous, out of which those regarded as the least vicious are selected and efforts are made to place these in the army."5407-The last of its affluents is the half-forced, half-voluntary enlistment by which the ranks are for the most part filled, the human waste of large towns, like adventurers, discharged apprentices, young reprobates turned out of doors, and people without homes or steady occupation. The recruiting agent who is paid so much a head for his recruits and so much an inch on their stature above five feet, "holds his court in a tavern, treating everyone" promoting his merchandise:

"Come, boys, soup, fish, meat and salad is what you get to eat in the regiment;" nothing else, "I don't deceive you-pie and Arbois wine are the extras."5408

He pours the wine, pays the bill and, if need be, yields his mistress. "After a few days debauchery, the young libertine, with no money to pay his debts, is obliged to sell himself, while the laborer, transformed into soldier, begins to drill under the lash."-Strange recruits these, for the protection of society, all selected from the class which will attack it, down-trodden peasants, imprisoned vagabonds, social outcasts, poor fellows in debt, disheartened, excited and easily tempted, who, according to circumstances, become at one time rioters, and at another soldiers.-Which lot is preferable? The bread the soldier eats is not more abundant than that of the prisoner, while poorer in quality; for the bran is taken out of the bread which the locked-up vagabond eats, and left in the bread which is eaten by the soldier who locks him up5409. In this state of things the soldier ought not to mediate on his lot, and yet this is just what his officers incite him to do. They also have become politicians and fault-finders. Some years before the Revolution5410 "disputes occurred" in the army, "discussions and complaints, and, the new ideas fermenting in their heads, a correspondence was established between two regiments. Written information was obtained from Paris, authorized by the Minister of War, which cost, I believe, twelve louis per annum. It soon took a philosophic turn, embracing dissertations, criticisms of the ministry, and of the government, desirable changes and, therefore, the more diffused." Sergeants like Hoche, and fencing-masters like Augereau, certainly often read this news, carelessly left lying on the tables, and commented on it during the evening in their soldier quarters. Discontent is of ancient date, and already, at the end of the late reign, grievous words are heard. At a banquet given by a prince of the blood,5411 with a table set for a hundred guests under an immense tent and served by grenadiers, the odor these diffused upset the prince's delicate nose. "These worthy fellows," said he, a little too loud, "smell strong of the stocking." One of the grenadiers bluntly responded, "Because we haven't got any," which "was followed by profound silence." During the ensuring years irritation smolders and augments; the soldiers of Rochambeau have fought side by side with the free militia of America, and they keep this in mind. In 1788,5412 Marshal de Vaux, previous to the insurrection in Dauphiny, writes to minister that "it is impossible to rely on the troops," while four months after the opening of the States-General 16,000 deserters roaming around Paris leads the revolts instead of suppressing them.5413

II. The social organization is dissolved

The social organization is dissolved.-No central rallying

point.-Inertia of the provinces.-Ascendancy of Paris.

Once this barrier has disappeared, no other embankment remains and the inundation spreads all over France like over an immense plain. With other nations in like circumstances, some obstacles have been encountered; elevations have existed, centers of refuge, old constructions in which, in the universal fright, a portion of the population could find shelter. Here, the first crisis sweeps away all that remains, each individual of the twenty-six scattered millions standing alone by himself. The administrations of Richelieu and Louis XIV. had been a long time at work insensibly destroying the natural groupings which, when suddenly dissolved, unite and form over again of their own accord. Except in Vendée, I find no place, nor any class, in which a good many men, having confidence in a few men, are able, in the hour of danger, to rally around these and form a compact body. Neither provincial nor municipal patriotism any longer exists. The inferior clergy are hostile to the prelates, the gentry of the province to the nobility of the court, the vassal to the seignior, the peasant to the townsman, the urban population to the municipal oligarchy, corporation to corporation, parish to parish, neighbor to neighbor. All are separated by their privileges and their jealousies, by the consciousness of having been imposed on, or frustrated, for the advantage of another. The journeyman tailor is embittered against his foreman for preventing him from doing a day's work in private houses, hairdressers against their employers for the like reason, the pastry-cook against the baker who prevents him from baking the pies of housekeepers, the village spinner against the town spinners who wish to break him up, the rural wine-growers against the bourgeois who, in the circle of seven leagues, strives to have their vines pulled up,5414 the village against the neighboring village whose reduction of taxation has ruined it, the overtaxed peasant against the under taxed peasant, one-half of a parish against its collectors, who, to its detriment, have favored the other half.

"The nation," says Turgot, mournfully,5415 "is a society composed of different orders badly united and of a people whose members have few mutual liens, nobody, consequently, caring for any interest but his own. Nowhere is there any sign of an interest in common. Towns and villages maintain no more relation with each other than the districts to which they are attached; they are even unable to agree together with a view to carry out public improvements of great importance to them."

The central power for a hundred and fifty years rules through its division of power. Men have been kept separate, prevented from acting in concert, the work being so successful that they no longer understand each other, each class ignoring the other class, each forming of the other a chimerical picture, each bestowing on the other the hues of its own imagination, one composing an idyll, the other framing a melodrama, one imagining peasants as sentimental swains, the other convinced that the nobles are horrible tyrants.-Through this mutual misconception and this secular isolation, the French lose the habit, the art and the faculty for acting in an entire body. They are no longer capable of spontaneous agreement and collective action. No one, in the moment of danger, dares rely on his neighbors or on his equals. No one knows where to turn to obtain a guide. "A man willing to be responsible for the smallest district cannot be found; and, more than this, one man able to answer for another man5416." Utter and irremediable disorder is at hand. The Utopia of the theorists has been accomplished, the savage condition has recommenced. Individuals now stand in by themselves; everyone reverting back to his original feebleness, while his possessions and his life are at the mercy of the first band that comes along. He has nothing within him to control him but the sheep-like habit of being led, of awaiting an impulsion, of turning towards the accustomed center, towards Paris, from which his orders have always arrived. Arthur

Young5417 is struck with this mechanical movement. Political ignorance and docility are everywhere complete. He, a foreigner, conveys the news of Alsace into Burgundy: the insurrection there had been terrible, the populace having sacked the city-hall at Strasbourg, of which not a word was known at Dijon; "yet it is nine days since it happened; had it been nineteen I question if they would more than have received the intelligence." There are no newspapers in the cafés; no local centers of information, of resolution, of action. The province submits to events at the capital; "people dare not move; they dare not even form an opinion before Paris speaks."-This is what Monarchical centralization leads to. It has deprived the groups of their cohesion and the individual of his motivational drive. Only human dust remains, and this, whirling about and gathered together in massive force, is blindly driven along by the wind.5418

III.--Direction of the current

Direction of the current.-The people led by lawyers.-

Theories and piques the sole surviving forces.-Suicide of

the Ancient regime.

We are all well aware from which side the gale comes, and, to assure ourselves, we have merely to see how the reports of the Third-Estate are made up. The peasant is led by the man of the law, the petty attorney of the rural districts, the envious advocate and theorist. This one insists, in the report, on a statement being made in writing and at length of his local and personal grievances, his protest against taxes and deductions, his request to have his dog free of the clog, and his desire to own a gun to use against the wolves5419. Another one, who suggests and directs, envelopes all this in the language of the Rights of Man and that of the circular of Sieyès.

"For two months," writes a commandant in the South,5420 "inferior judges and lawyers, with which both town and country swarm, with a view to their election to the States-General, have been racing after the members of the Third-Estate, under the pretext of standing by them and of giving them information. . . They have striven to make them believe that, in the States-General, they alone would be masters and regulate all the affairs of the kingdom; that the Third-Estate, in selecting its deputies among men of the robe, would secure the might and the right to take the lead, to abolish nobility and to cancel all its rights and privileges; that nobility would no longer be hereditary; that all citizens, in deserving it, would be entitled to claim it; that, if the people elected them, they would have accorded to the Third-Estate whatever it desired, because the curates, belonging to the Third-Estate, having agreed to separate from the higher clergy and unite with them, the nobles and the clergy, united together, would have but one vote against two of the Third-Estate. . . . If the third-Estate had chosen sensible townspeople or merchants they would have combined without difficulty with the other two orders. But the assemblies of the bailiwicks and other districts were stuffed with men of the robe who had absorbed all opinions and striven to take precedence of the others, each, in his own behalf, intriguing and conspiring to be appointed a deputy."

"In Touraine," writes the intendant,5421 "most of the votes have been bespoken or begged for. Trusty agents, at the moment of voting, placed filled-in ballots in the hands of the voters, and put in their way, on reaching the taverns, every document and suggestion calculated to excite their imaginations and determine their choice for the gentry of the bar."

"In the sénéchausée of Lectoure, a number of parishes have not been designated or notified to send their reports or deputies to the district assembly. In those which were notified the lawyers, attorneys and notaries of the small neighboring towns have made up the list of grievances themselves without summoning the community. . . Exact copies of this single rough draft were made and sold at a high price to the councils of each country parish".-

This is an alarming symptom, one marking out in advance the road the Revolution is to take: The man of the people is indoctrinated by the advocate, the pikeman allowing himself to be led by the spokesman.5422

The effect of their combination is apparent the first year. In Franche-Comté5423 after consultation with a person named Rouget, the peasants of the Marquis de Chaila "determine to make no further payments to him, and to divide amongst themselves the product of the wood-cuttings." In his paper "the lawyer states that all the communities of the province have decided to do the same thing. . . His consultation is diffused to such an extent around the country that many of the communities are satisfied that they owe nothing more to the king nor to the seigniors. M. de Marnésia, deputy to the (National) Assembly, has arrived (here) to pass a few days at home on account of his health. He has been treated in the rudest and most scandalous manner; it was even proposed to conduct him back to Paris under guard. After his departure his chateau was attacked, the doors burst open and the walls of his garden pulled down. (And yet) no gentleman has done more for the people on his domain the M. le Marquis de Marnésia. . . Excesses of every kind are on the increase; I have constant complaints of the abuse which the national militia make of their arms, and which I cannot remedy." According to an utterance in the National Assembly the police imagines that it is to be disbanded and has therefore no desire to make enemies for itself. "The baillages are as timid as the police-forces; I send them business constantly, but no culprit is punished."-"No nation enjoys liberty so indefinite and so disastrous to honest people; it is absolutely against the rights of man to see oneself constantly liable to have his throat cut by the scoundrels who daily confound liberty with license."-In other words, the passions utilize the theory to justify themselves, and the theory appeal to passion to be carried out. For example, near Liancourt, the Duc de Larochefoucauld possessed an uncultivated area of ground; "at the commencement of the revolution,5424 the poor of the town declare that, as they form a part of the nation, untilled lands being national property, this belongs to them," and "with no other formality" they take possession of it, divide it up, plant hedges and clear it off. "This, says Arthur Young, shows the general disposition. . . . Pushed a little farther the consequences would not be slight for properties in this kingdom." Already, in the preceding year, near Rouen, the marauders, who cut down and sell the forests, declare, that "the people have the right to take whatever they require for their necessities." They have had the doctrine preached to them that they are sovereign, and they act as sovereigns. The condition of their intellects being given, nothing is more natural than their conduct. Several millions of savages are thus let loose by a few thousand windbags, the politics of the café finding an interpreter and ministrants in the mob of the streets. On the one hand brute force is at the service of the radical dogma. On the other hand radical dogma is at the service of brute force. And here, in disintegrated France, these are the only two valid powers remaining erect on the debris of the others.

* * *

5401 (return)

[ Necker, "De l'Administration des Finances," II. 422, 435.]

5402 (return)

[ The wages have in 1789 been estimated to be 7 sous 4 deniers of which 2 sous and 6 deniers would have to be paid for the bread. (Mercure de France, May 7, 1791.)]

5403 (return)

[ Aubertin, 345. Letter to the Comte de St. Germain (during the Seven Years War). "The soldier's hardships make one's heart bleed; he passes his days in a state of abject misery, despised and living like a chained dog to be used for combat."]

5404 (return)

[ De Tocqueville, 190, 191.]

5405 (return)

[ Archives nationales, H, 1591.]

5406 (return)

[ De Rochambeau, "Mémoires," I. 427.-D'Argenson, December 24, 1752. "30,000 men have been punished for desertion since the peace of 1748; this extensive desertion is attributed to the new drill which fatigues and disheartens the soldier, and especially the veterans."-Voltaire, "Dict. Phil.," article "Punishments." "I was amazed one day on seeing the list of deserters, for eight years amounting to 60,000."]

5407 (return)

[ Archives nationales, H, 554. (Letter of M. de Bertrand, intendant of Rennes, August 17, 1785).]

5408 (return)

[ Mercier, XI, 121.]

5409 (return)

[ Now we know better. The most healthy bread is the one in which some bran is left, such bran is not only good for the digestion but contains vitamins and minerals as well. (SR).]

5410 (return)

[ De Vaublanc, 149.]

5411 (return)

[ De Ségur, I, 20 (1767).]

5412 (return)

[ Augeard, "Mémoires," 165.]

5413 (return)

[ Horace Walpole, September 5, 1789.]

5414 (return)

[ Laboulaye, "De l'Administration fran?aise sous Louis XVI." (Revue des Cours littéraires, IV, 743).-Albert Babeau, I, 111. (Doléances et veux des corporations de Troyes).]

5415 (return)

[ De Tocqueville, 158.]

5416 (return)

[ Ibid. 304. (The words of Burke.)]

5417 (return)

[ Travels in France, I. 240, 263.]

5418 (return)

[ What an impression this view must have made on Lenin who sought, between 1906 and 1909 in Paris, the means and ways with which to re-create the French revolution in Russia. (SR.)]

5419 (return)

[ Beugnot, I. 115, 116.]

5420 (return)

[ Archives nationales, procès-verbaux and cahiers of the States-General, vol. XIII, p. 405. (Letter of the Marquis de Fodoas, commandant of Armagnac, to M. Necker, may 29, 1789.)]

5421 (return)

[ Ibid. Vol. CL, p. 174. ( Letter from the intendant of Tours of March 25, 1789.)]

5422 (return)

[ "Lenin deviated from Marx not in preaching the necessity for violent proletarian revolution, but by advocating the creation of an elite party of professional revolutionaries to hasten this end, and by arguing for the dictatorship of this party rather than the working class as a whole." The Guinness Encyclopedia page 269. (SR.)]

5423 (return)

[ Archives nationales, H, 784. (Letters of M. de Langeron, military commandant at Besan?on, October 16 and 18, 1789). The consultation is annexed.]

5424 (return)

[ Arthur Young, I, 344.]

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