« ПретходнаНастави »
trated. The people had been pillaged without mercy, and their hard earned wealth was lavished on the privileged orders who were exempt from taxation; their sufferings had been derided, their rights disregarded; and all association with them, except such as takes place between the wolf and the lamb, was deemed pollution : to oppress, abuse or ridicule them was a pleasant affair; but to unite with them except for the gratification of vicious purposes was regarded as degrading to a noblesse who were generally from the reign of Louis XIV to the revolution, as a body, totally destitute of religion and virtue. In this country we can form no conception of the depth to which these privileged orders were sunk in vice; even the highest dignitaries of the altar were a bye-word and reproach to their flocks, to whom they unblushingly exhibited themselves as living examples of the grossest profligacy.
It was impossible, in the nature of things, that this state of affairs could last after the people became enlightened. In the dark ages of bigotry and ignorance, before the dissemination of intellectual light, despotism may revel in security: but as soon as a man learns what are his rights he discovers his duties also—as soon as he feels oppression be pants for redress. It was so with the French. The middle rank of society had arisen from the lower, and shared in their disabilities: to them the gates of honour were closed, and though they gradually had become intelligent and wealthy, their political condition remained the same. Even up to the period of the revolution, none but those who could obtain certificates of nobility, could procure commissions in the army. The schoolmaster, as Mr. Brougham has it, at length went abroad among this people, and though he lectured from pestilent authorities, yet he clearly pointed out their debased condition and their rights. His other prelections, dignified with the name of philosophy, taught them to disregard all things previously held sacred and venerable, and prepared them, not simply for revolution, but anarchy, They now anxiously looked out for an opportunity to carry these philosophical precepts into practice, at any rate, and so far they were right, to secure to themselves the enjoyment of their property without its being subjected to an unequal burthen of taxes; to have their personal liberty guaranteed to them by law; and to be placed rather more on an equality, in the ranks of honour, with the higher orders. These things could only be obtained by a revolution; and though, with all the friends of humanity, we deplore and condemn the extent to which, when once commenced, it was carried, and its horrible excesses, yet we cannot but rejoice at the ultimate result, as
one which has tended to confer, and still is conferring, though in a lesser degree than that ofourown glorious revolution, the most signal benefits, not only on the French people, but on most of the natives of Europe, and on many of those in America. In France it has removed many grievances too heavy to be borne; it has rendered familiar the true principles of government which had been so recently and successfully inculcated here; and diffused throughout the world the genuine spirit of rational liberty. It has thus taught mankind their rights—it has secured them from future destruction, and made despotism, whether exercised by one or many, by kings or jacobins, tremble for the stability of its power, and the day of retribution.
The verification of these remarks will be found in the facts which have been poured forth to the world in the histories and memoirs of the times. The work at the head of this article, which was published last year in France, has added little to the stock from which we long since formed our opinions—but, though it sets forth some, it by no means enumerates all the exciting causes. We shall make a few extracts to show the moral and intellectual condition of the higher orders before the revolution, which is one of the causes most strongly insisted on by our author.
“ The more nearly we approached the revolution, the more prevalent became the dissoluteness and disorder of society. Habits of debauchery, and looseness of manners were carried to a point, of which nothing at this day can give an idea. One of the most revolting pretences of the detractors of the present period, is, without contradiction, their drawing a parallel, entirely to our disadvantage, between the men of our day and their predecessors. Madame de Genlis, for example, whom we must always place at the head of these detractors, abuses the French of the nineteenth century: has she forgotten what we were before 1789 ? She has filled her works with exaggerated eulogies on the virtues of our grandfathers and grandmothers: to hear her, you would say that then all the men were simple, reserved; strangers to all criminal excess, and ashamed of all vice; that the women, all formed on the pattern of the great Roman matrons in the virtuous ages of the republic, were good mothers, chaste wives, in short, abounding in all the qualities calculated to render them objects of veneration to all ages!
“ Well! all this is but a dream: never, on the contrary, were libertinism, the unbridled love of pleasure, ardour for play, and all sorts of excesses pushed farther. From the period of the regency and the reign of Louis XV. from the highest rank at court to the lowest classes of the people, France presented a picture of the most disgusting subjects. The sexes appeared to contend with each other in the attainment of the most scandalous self-forgetfulness in the denial of all virtue-by a VOL. VI.--N0. 11.
strange subversion of ideas good had, as it were, become to them evil, and vice was almost honesty; for they no longer concealed their depravity and blushed only at virtue.
Atheism was universally diffused in what was called good company; to believe in God was a subject for ridicule which they took care to avoid : I cite in corroboration all the writings, memoirs and individual correspondence of the time. Books of a revolting indelicacy were purchased at high prices and read with avidity; they published at that period an edition of the tales of La Fontaine, with a multitude of licentious prints, which, enhancing its price, (8 louis, about 200 francs) procured it the title of the Financier's edition: this work was obtained by all the rich, or what is the same thing, by the first nobility of the kingdom.”—Vol. i. pp. 97, 99.
Our author then gives a list of many licentious works which were fashionable, whose names shall not defile our pages.
He mentions the songs which were sung at every table, and the pictures which were exhibited; as if the main object of society was the excitement of the baser appetites of our nature. He states the subjects of certain infamous discussions, which he avers, occupied seriously the circles of Paris, and which it is impossible for us to repeat; and he adds, “they gravely argued these important questions as in our days we discuss the American revolution, and the great interests which occupy the attention of the whole world." He proceeds
“By a deplorable fatality these two orders (the nobility and clergy) seemed to rival each other in depravity. The most infamous proceedings took place in the families of high nobility: ainsi un comte de Morangies, après avoir seduit par un amour incestueux sa sæur naturelle, lassé bientôt d'une union que sa monstruosite même ne suffisait plus a rendre piquante, ne craignit pas de venir proclamer sa propre turpitude à la face de la justice et du public; il osait demander la nulleté d'une donation consentie par lui en faveur de cette infortunée. They made a parade of their most shameful vices : parricide and fratricide were familiar to men of the highest rank: we saw the counsellor de Byrdas fall under the strokes of his brothers, who were in sacred orders--the lewdness, I do not fear to assert it, of the prelates and other members of the clergy was pushed to so bare-faced an excess, that it cannot be denied, except by those who are determined to close their eyes on the truth, and decry the present generation for the benefit of the preceding
“ Among the number of the most corrupt of the bishops, Mons. de Villedeuil held the first rank; elevated to the see of Digne he had so scandalized the diocese, that a grave and respectable country magistrate published against him a memorial in the form of a letter, in which he exposed the abandoned conduct of this high dignitary of the Church, hoping, by the publicity of the scandal, to effect his dismissal. This letter reaching Paris created a great sensation." -Vol. i. p. 206.
He then proceeds to relate an anecdote of this bishop, which, he says, the celebrated Miss Raymond told him, and which, if true, establishes the utter profligacy both of the bishop and one of his subordinate clergy: but it is of a character that renders its insertion here utterly inadmissible.
His picture of the Archbishop of Cambray, is painted with the same colours, and grouped with the Bishops of Orleans, of Strasbourg, &c.
J'avais eté invité à une soireé chez le prince Ferdinand de Rohan, archevêque de Cambrai et frere du cardinal grand aumônier de France. L'amphytrion, sans avoir beaucoup d'esprit, en avait pourtant un peu plus que son frére. C'etait un magnifique seigneur, aimant les arts, quoique peu connaisseur et protegeant les artistes par vanité; au demeurant, joyeux convive, et tout devoué aux dames ; marquise ou grisette, tout lui etait bon. On assurait même que comme son confrére M. de Jarente, evêque d'Orleans, il avait un goût decidé pour
Depuis long-temps, les princes de Rohan avaient mis de côte toute vergogne, et se livraient sans contrainte aux amusements les plus désordonnes et les plus mondains ; aussi recueillaient-ils ce qu'ils avaient semé ; l'estime publique les avait abandonnés, et, pour qualifier dignement un debauché perdu de vices, on l'appelait un Rohan; le nom etait passé en proverbe, et en verité il n'y avait pas de quoi s'en etonner pour quiconque connaissait la conduite du vieux Soubise, du prince de Guémené, de l'archevêque de Cambrai, et de l'evêque de Strasbourg."-Vol. i. p. 181.
The pernicious influence of such characters upon society can easily be conceived.
The noblesse of the court, however, ought not, it may be said, to be taken as a specimen of the nobility and gentry in the provinces. Simplicity and virtue, it may be supposed, on being banished from the city, would find a refuge in the country. This may be true, as a general rule, but France at the period of which we are treating formed an exception to it. Our author represents these provincial gentry as being equally corrupt, and far more ignorant and insufferable, than those of Paris and Versailles.
“ The provinces were filled with nobility and persons who had been ennobled—they were foolish, obstinate, rude, insolent and insupportable personages; destitute of all instruction ; without reading or any knowledge of the world ; esteeming themselves the flower of christianity, and perfectly certain that they were a very superior race to the plebeians. At Paris it was impossible to form a just opinion of their absurd pretensions and their stupid pride. Some had learned at college a certain number of Latin words, which were of little profit to them; others attached to the army almost from the cradle, were in the habit of treat
ing every body as they did the wretched soldiers they tormented; and when they came back to their decayed habitations, which they pompously called castles, they became the tyrants of their vassals, to whom they were all objects of execration. A residence in the country, became a real slavery to such persons as were not the lords of the manor. In the small towns it was still worse, for there the noblesse formed themselves into a corps, and if they pulled each other to pieces, they sustained each other against the rest of the population. I knew a certain Marquis de Chatenay, who wished that every body in the town where he commonly lived should salute him with respect whenever he passed along ; a physician refused to do so; the Marquis brought a suit against him at law, and gained it. The doctor, in despair, avoided meeting this insolent patrician ; but on one occasion, when, either through spite or forgetfulness, he addressed him with his hat on his head, M. de Chatenay raised his cane and struck him to the ground. There were some exeeptions to this rule, but they were rare. ” Vol. i. p. 351.
But nothing evinces their folly more strongly than their treatment of the tiers-etat after the assembling of the States-General; when it was so clearly their interest to conciliate, rather than exasperate those, into whose hands all the powers of the kingdom were rapidly centering. The court and noblesse looked on the assembled tiers-etat with the same proud eye that had scowled at them in the provinces. They did not see in them the representatives of the French people, but merely so many shopkeepers, lawyers, doctors and low fellows congregated together. They had always despised them in the country, why should they respect them in Versailles ? Accordingly, they vilified and ridiculed them--they designated them as la canaille, and mortified them in every way.
The lower orders of the clergy, as they had sprung from the people, were a considerable part of the tiers-etat, and they received the same contemptuous treatment. The members were called by the most ridiculous names, and exposed to every petty vexation which could wound their self-love. A mean and wretched costume was prescribed for them, whilst the other two orders wore gorgeous robes of state. They had to get into the hall as they could by a side door, where they were often exposed to the rain, whilst the others marched in at the principal entrance with the pomp of civil and military honors. Yet, in this despised and ridiculed body, were to be found men of virtue and intelligence, of first rate talents, of pure patriotism, and great force of charactermen, as far superior to those in the other orders, as wisdom and power are to folly and imbecility.
Is it wonderful that as soon as they felt their own consequence, they should revenge themselves on their oppressors ? And who were these lordly oppressors ? Were they wiser, more