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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Necker increased with the agitation amongst the thoughtful


will doubtless procure you a visit from that immense D'Espremesnil, the sage commentator upon Mesmer, who, from the Isles of St. Marguerite even unto this place, has made everybody laugh at the ostentation with which he shook his fetters to make them clank."

The troubles amongst the populace had subsided, but agitation amongst the thoughtful went on increasing, and the embarrassments of M. Necker increased with the agitation amongst the thoughtful. Naturally a stranger to politics properly so called, constantly engaged as he was in finance or administration, the minister's constitutional ideas were borrowed from England; he himself saw how inapplicable they were to the situation of France. "I was never called upon," he says in his _Memoirs,_ "to examine closely into what I could make, at the time of my return to office, of my profound and particular esteem for the government of England, for, if at a very early period my reflections and my conversation could not but show symptoms of the opinions I held, at a very early period, also, I perceived how averse the king was from anything that might resemble the political practices and institutions of England." "M. Necker," says M. Malouet, "showed rare sagacity in espying in the greatest detail and on the furthest horizon the defects, the inconveniences of every measure, and it was this faculty of extending his observations to infinity which made him so often undecided." What with these doubts existing

in his own mind, and what with the antagonistic efforts of parties as well as individual wills, the minister conceived the hope of releasing himself from the crushing burden of his personal responsibility; he convoked for the second time the Assembly of notables.

Impotent as it was in 1787, this assembly was sure to be and was even more so in 1788. Mirabeau had said with audacious intuition: "It is no longer a question of what has been, but of what has to be." The notables clung to the past like shipwrecked mariners who find themselves invaded by raging waters. Meeting on the 6th of November at Versailles, they opposed in mass the doubling of the third (estate); the committee presided over by Monsieur, the king's brother, alone voted for the double representation, and that by a majority of only one-voice. The Assembly likewise refused to take into account the population of the circumscriptions (outlying districts) in fixing the number of its representatives; the seneschalty of Poitiers, which numbered seven hundred thousand inhabitants, was not to have more deputies than the bailiwick of Dourdan, which had but eight thousand. The liberality on which the notables plumed themselves as regarded the qualifications required in respect of the electors and the eligible was at bottom as interested as it was injudicious. The fact of domicile and payment of taxes did not secure to the electors the guaranty given by property; the vote granted to all nobles whether enfeoffed or not, and to all members of the clergy for the elections of their orders, was intended to increase the weight of those elected by the number of suffrages; the high noblesse and the bishops reckoned wrongly upon the influence they would be able to exercise over their inferiors. Already, on many points, the petty nobles and the parish priests were engaged and were to be still more deeply engaged on the popular side.

At the very moment when the public were making merry over the Assembly of notables, and were getting irritated at the delay caused by their useless discussions in the convocation of the States-general, the Parliament, in one of those sudden fits of reaction with which they were sometimes seized from their love of popularity, issued a decree explanatory of their decision on the 24th of September. "The real intentions of the court," said the decree, "have been distorted in spite of their plainness. The number of deputies of each order is not determined by any law, by any invariable usage, and it depends upon the king's wisdom to adjudge what reason, liberty, justice, and the general wish may indicate." The Parliament followed up this strange retractation with a series of wise and far-sighted requests touching the totality of the public administration. Its part was henceforth finished, wisdom in words could not efface the effect of imprudent or weak acts; when the decree was presented to the king, he gave the deputation a cold reception. "I have no answer to make to the prayers of the Parliament," he replied; "it is with the States-general that I shall examine into the interests of my people."

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