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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

A remnant of antique feudalism


and rejoicing over the excellence

of their carefully framed Constitution, the principles which had elected the one and had created the other were working elsewhere to unexpected and mighty issues. French gentlemen of rank and fortune, fired by a philosophic admiration for liberty, had fought and fought well for the American colonists. When the revolt had become a revolution, and the revolution a triumph, the French gentlemen went back to France with their hearts full of love and their lips loud in praise for the young republic and its simple, splendid citizens. The doctrines of liberty and equality, which had been so dear to the Philosophers and the Encyclopaedists, were now being practically applied across the Atlantic, and the growth of their success was watched by the eager eyes of the wisest and the unwisest thinkers in France. Within five years from the time when the American army was disbanded French political philosophy found itself making astonishing strides towards the realization of its cherished ideals. It had long felt the need of some change in the system of government that had prevailed in France, but its desires had seemed dim as dreams until the success of a handful of rebellious colonists in a distant country had made the spirit of democracy an immediate force in the life and the thought of the world. Undoubtedly the condition of France was bad. {291} The feudal system, or what was left of the feudal system, worn out, degraded, and corrupt, was rapidly reducing France to financial, physical,
and political ruin. It is no part of the business of this history to dwell upon the conditions prevailing in France towards the close of the eighteenth century, conditions which prevailed in varying degree over the most part of Europe. Great French financiers like Turgot, great French thinkers like Voltaire and Rousseau and the company of the "Encyclopaedia," had been keenly conscious of the corroding evils in the whole system of French political and social life, and had labored directly and indirectly to diminish them. Keen-eyed observers from abroad, men of the world like Chesterfield, philosophers like Arthur Young, had at different epochs observed the symptoms of social disease and prognosticated the nature of its progress. The France of that day has been likened to a pyramid with the sovereign for its apex, with the nobility, a remnant of antique feudalism, for its next tier, with the wealthy and influential Church for the next, and below these the vast unrecognized bulk of the pyramid, the unprivileged masses who were the people of France. In the hands of the few who had the happiness to be "born," or who otherwise belonged to the privileged orders, lay all the power, all the authority which for the most part they misused or abused. It has been said with truth that the man who did not belong to the privileged orders had scarcely any more influence upon the laws which bound him and which ground him than if he lived in Mars or Saturn instead of in Picardy or Franche Comte. Such a system of government, which could only have been found tolerable if it had been swayed by a brotherhood of saints and sages, was, as a matter of fact, worked in the worst manner possible and for the worst purposes. The conditions under which the vast mass of the French people lived, struggled, suffered, and died were so cruel that it is hard indeed to believe them compatible with the high degree of civilization which, in other respects, France had reached. A merciless and most comprehensive process of taxation squeezed life and hope out of the French nation {292} for the benefit of a nobility whose corruption was only rivalled by its worthlessness and an ecclesiasticism that had forgotten the Sermon on the Mount and the way to Calvary.

But if the condition


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