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by Hippolyte A. Taine




BOOK FIRST. Spontaneous Anarchy.

CHAPTER I. The Beginnings of Anarchy

CHAPTER II. Paris up to the 14th of July

CHAPTER III. Anarchy from July 14th to October 6th, 1789


BOOK SECOND. The constituent Assembly, and the Result of its Labors

CHAPTER I. The Constituent Assembly

CHAPTER II. The Damage

CHAPTER III. The Constructions--The Constitution of 1791.

BOOK THIRD. The Application of the Constitution

CHAPTER I. The Federations

CHAPTER II. Sovereignty of Unrestrained Passions

CHAPTER III. Development of the ruling Passion


This second part of "Les Origines de la France Contemporaine" will
consist of two volumes.--Popular insurrections and the laws of the
Constituent Assembly end in destroying all government in France; this
forms the subject of the present volume.--A party arises around
an extreme doctrine, grabs control of the government, and rules in
conformity with its doctrine. This will form the subject of the second

A third volume would be required to criticize and evaluate the source
material. I lack the necessary space: I merely state the rule that I
have observed. The trustworthiest testimony will always be that of an
eyewitness, especially

* When this witness is an honorable, attentive, and intelligent man,

* When he is writing on the spot, at the moment, and under the dictate
of the facts themselves,

* When it is obvious that his sole object is to preserve or furnish

* When his work instead of a piece of polemics planned for the needs
of a cause, or a passage of eloquence arranged for popular effect is a
legal deposition, a secret report, a confidential dispatch, a private
letter, or a personal memento.

The nearer a document approaches this type, the more it merits
confidence, and supplies superior material.--I have found many of
this kind in the national archives, principally in the manuscript
correspondence of ministers, intendants, sub-delegates, magistrates, and
other functionaries; of military commanders, officers in the army,
and gendarmerie; of royal commissioners, and of the Assembly; of
administrators of departments, districts, and municipalities, besides
persons in private life who address the King, the National Assembly, or
the ministry. Among these are men of every rank, profession, education,
and party. They are distributed by hundreds and thousands over the
whole surface of the territory. They write apart, without being able to
consult each other, and without even knowing each other. No one is so
well placed for collecting and transmitting accurate information. None
of them seek literary effect, or even imagine that what they write will
ever be published. They draw up their statements at once, under the
direct impression of local events. Testimony of this character, of the
highest order, and at first hand, provides the means by which all other
testimony ought to be verified.--The footnotes at the bottom of the
pages indicate the condition, office, name, and address of those
decisive witnesses. For greater certainty I have transcribed as often as
possible their own words. In this way the reader, confronting the texts,
can interpret them for himself, and form his own opinions; he will have
the same documents as myself for arriving at his conclusions, and, if he
is pleased to do so, he may conclude otherwise. As for allusions, if he
finds any, he himself will have introduced them, and if he applies them
he is alone responsible for them. To my mind, the past has features of
its own, and the portrait here presented resembles only the France of
the past. I have drawn it without concerning myself with the discussions
of the day; I have written as if my subject were the revolutions of
Florence or Athens. This is history, and nothing more, and, if I may
fully express myself, I esteem my vocation of historian too highly to
make a cloak of it for the concealment of another. (December 1877).




I.--Dearth the first cause.

Bad crops. The winter of 1788 and 1789.--High price and poor
quality of bread.--In the provinces.--At Paris.

During the night of July 14-15, 1789, the Duc de la
Rochefoucauld-Liancourt caused Louis XVI to be aroused to inform him of
the taking of the Bastille. "It is a revolt, then?" exclaimed the King.
"Sire!" replied the Duke; "it is a revolution!" The event was even more
serious. Not only had power slipped from the hands of the King, but also
it had not fallen into those of the Assembly. It now lay on the
ground, ready to the hands of the unchained populace, the violent and
over-excited crowd, the mobs, which picked it up like some weapon that
had been thrown away in the street. In fact, there was no longer any
government; the artificial structure of human society was giving way
entirely; things were returning to a state of nature. This was not a
revolution, but a dissolution.

Two causes excite and maintain the universal upheaval. The first one is
food shortages and dearth, which being constant, lasting for ten years,
and aggravated by the very disturbances which it excites, bids fair to
inflame the popular passions to madness, and change the whole course of
the Revolution into a series of spasmodic stumbles.

When a stream is brimful, a slight rise suffices to cause an overflow.
So was it with the extreme distress of the eighteenth century. A poor
man, who finds it difficult to live when bread is cheap, sees death
staring him in the face when it is dear. In this state of suffering the
animal instinct revolts, and the universal obedience which constitutes
public peace depends on a degree more or less of dryness or damp, heat
or cold. In 1788, a year of severe drought, the crops had been poor. In
addition to this, on the eve of the harvest,[1101] a terrible hail-storm
burst over the region around Paris, from Normandy to Champagne,
devastating sixty leagues of the most fertile territory, and causing
damage to the amount of one hundred millions of francs. Winter came on,
the severest that had been seen since 1709. At the close of December the
Seine was frozen over from Paris to Havre, while the thermometer stood
at 180 below zero. A third of the olive-trees died in Provence, and the
rest suffered to such an extent that they were considered incapable of
bearing fruit for two years to come. The same disaster befell Languedoc.
In Vivarais, and in the Cevennes, whole forests of chestnuts had
perished, along with all the grain and grass crops on the uplands. On
the plain the Rhone remained in a state of overflow for two months.
After the spring of 1789 the famine spread everywhere, and it increased
from month to month like a rising flood. In vain did the Government
order the farmers, proprietors, and corn-dealers to keep the markets
supplied. In vain did it double the bounty on imports, resort to all
sorts of expedients, involve itself in debt, and expend over forty
millions of francs to furnish France with wheat. In vain do individuals,
princes, noblemen, bishops, chapters, and communities multiply their
charities. The Archbishop of Paris incurring a debt of 400,000 livres,
one rich man distributing 40,000 francs the morning after the hailstorm,
and a convent of Bernardines feeding twelve hundred poor persons for six
weeks[1102]. But it had been too devastating. Neither public measures
nor private charity could meet the overwhelming need. In Normandy, where
the last commercial treaty had ruined the manufacture of linen and
of lace trimmings, forty thousand workmen were out of work. In many
parishes one-fourth of the population[1103] are beggars. Here, "nearly
all the inhabitants, not excepting the farmers and landowners, are
eating barley bread and drinking water;" there, "many poor creatures
have to eat oat bread, and others soaked bran, which has caused the
death of several children."--"Above all," writes the Rouen Parliament,
"let help be sent to a perishing people. . .. Sire, most of your
subjects are unable to pay the price of bread, and what bread is given
to those who do buy it "--Arthur Young,[1104] who was traveling through
France at this time, heard of nothing but the high cost of bread and the
distress of the people. At Troyes bread costs four sous a pound--that is
to say, eight sous of the present day; and unemployed artisans flock
to the relief works, where they can earn only twelve sous a day. In
Lorraine, according to the testimony of all observers, "the people are
half dead with hunger." In Paris the number of paupers has been trebled;
there are thirty thousand in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine alone. Around
Paris there is a short supply of grain, or it is spoilt[1105]. In the
beginning of July, at Montereau, the market is empty. "The bakers could
not have baked" if the police officers had not increased the price of
bread to five sous per pound; the rye and barley which the intendant
is able to send "are of the worst possible quality, rotten and in a
condition to produce dangerous diseases. Nevertheless, most of the small
consumers are reduced to the hard necessity of using this spoilt grain."
At Villeneuve-le-Roi, writes the mayor, "the rye of the two lots last
sent is so black and poor that it cannot be retailed without wheat." At
Sens the barley "tastes musty" to such an extent that buyers of it throw
the detestable bread, which it makes in the face of the sub-delegate. At
Chevreuse the barley has sprouted and smells bad; the "poor wretches,"
says an employee, "must be hard pressed with hunger to put up with it."
At Fontainebleau "the barley, half eaten away, produces more bran than
flour, and to make bread of it, one is obliged to work it over several
times." This bread, such as it is, is an object of savage greed; "it
has come to this, that it is impossible to distribute it except through
wickets." And those who thus obtain their ration, "are often attacked on
the road and robbed of it by the more vigorous of the famished people."
At Nangis "the magistrates prohibit the same person from buying more
than two bushels in the same market." In short, provisions are so
scarce that there is a difficulty in feeding the soldiers; the minister
dispatches two letters one after another to order the cutting down
of 250,000 bushels of rye before the harvest[1106].

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