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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Turgot was proud and sometimes rude


The

king appeared at the bed of justice; the princes, the dukes, and the peers were present; the magistrates were introduced. "The king my grandfather," said Louis XVI., "compelled by your resistance to his repeated orders, did what the maintenance of his authority and the obligation of rendering justice to his people required of his wisdom. Today I recall you to functions which you never ought to have given up. Appreciate all the value of my bounties, and do not forget them." At the same time the keeper of the seals read out an edict which subjected the restored Parliament to the same jurisdiction which had controlled the Maupeou Parliament. The latter had been sent to Versailles to form a grand council there.

Stern words are but a sorry cloak for feeble actions: the restored magistrates grumbled at the narrow limits imposed upon their authority; the Duke of Orleans, the Duke of Chartres, the Prince of Conti supported their complaints; it was in vain that the king for some time met them with refusals; threats soon gave place to concessions; and the parliaments everywhere reconstituted, enfeebled in the eyes of public opinion, but more than ever obstinate and Fronde-like, found themselves free to harass, without doing any good, the march of an administration becoming every day more difficult. "Your Parliament may make barricades," Lord Chesterfield had remarked contemptuously to Montesquieu, "it will never raise barriers."

justify;">M. Turgot, meanwhile, was continuing his labors, preparing a project for equitable redistribution of the talliage and his grand system of a graduated scale (_hierarchie_) of municipal assemblies, commencing with the parish, to culminate in a general meeting of delegates from each province; he threatened, in the course of his reforms, the privileges of the noblesse and of the clergy, and gave his mind anxiously to the instruction of the people, whose condition and welfare he wanted to simultaneously elevate and augment; already there was a buzz of murmurs against him, confined as yet to the courtiers, when the dearness of bread and the distress which ensued till the spring of 1775 furnished his adversaries with a convenient pretext. Up to that time the attacks had been cautious and purely theoretical. M. Necker, an able banker from Geneva, for a long while settled in Paris, hand and glove with the philosophers, and keeping up, moreover, a great establishment, had brought to the comptroller-general a work which he had just finished on the trade in grain; on many points he did not share M. Turgot's opinions. "Be kind enough to ascertain for yourself," said the banker to the minister, "whether the book can be published without inconvenience to the government." M. Turgot was proud and sometimes rude. "Publish, sir, publish," said he, without offering his hand to take the manuscript; "the public shall decide." M. Necker, out of pique, published his book; it had an immense sale; other pamphlets, more violent and less solid, had already appeared; at the same moment a riot, which seemed to have been planned and to be under certain guidance, broke out in several parts of France. Drunken men shouted about the public thoroughfares, "Bread! cheap bread!"

Burgundy had always been restless and easily excited. It was at Dijon that the insurrection began; on the 20th of April, the peasantry moved upon the town and smashed the furniture of a councillor in the Maupeou Parliament, who was accused of monopoly; they were already overflowing the streets; exasperated by the cruel answer of the governor, M. de la Tour du Pin: "You want something to eat? Go and graze; the grass is just coming up." The burgesses trembled in their houses; the bishop threw himself in the madmen's way and succeeded in calming them with his exhortations. The disturbance had spread to Pontoise; there the riot broke out on the 1st of May, the market was pillaged; and the 2d, at Versailles, a mob collected under the balcony of the castle. Everywhere ruffians of sinister appearance mingled with the mob, exciting its passions and urging it to acts of violence: the same men, such as are only seen in troublous days, were at the same time scouring Brie, Soissonnais, Vexin, and Upper Normandy; already barns had been burned and wheat thrown into the river; sacks of flour were ripped to pieces before the king's eyes, at Versailles. In his excitement and dismay he promised the mob that the bread-rate should for the future be fixed at two sous; the rioters rushed to Paris.


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