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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The noblesse there were numerous


was composed exclusively of

nobles in possession of fiefs, of ecclesiastical dignitaries, and of a small number of municipal officers. It claimed to elect the deputies to the States-general according to the ancient usages. Mirabeau's common sense, as well as his great and puissant genius, revolted against the absurd theories of the privileged: he overwhelmed them with his terrible eloquence, whilst adjuring them to renounce their abuseful and obsolete rights; he scared them by his forceful and striking hideousness. "Generous friends of peace," said he, addressing the two upper orders, "I hereby appeal to your honor! Nobles of Provence, the eyes of Europe are upon you, weigh well your answer! Ye men of God, have a care; God hears you! But, if you keep silence, or if you intrench yourselves in the vague utterances of a piqued self-love, allow me to add a word. In all ages, in all countries, aristocrats have persecuted the friends of the people, and if, by I know not what combination of chances, there have arisen one in their own midst, he it is whom they have struck above all, thirsting as they were to inspire terror by their choice of a victim. Thus perished the last of the Gracchi, by the hand of the patricians; but, wounded to the death, he flung dust towards heaven, calling to witness the gods of vengeance, and from that dust sprang Marius, Marius less great for having exterminated the Cimbri than for having struck down at Rome the aristocracy of the noblesse."

Mirabeau

was shut out from the states-provincial and soon adopted eagerly by the third estate. Elected at Marseilles as well as at Aix for the States-general, he quieted in these two cities successively riots occasioned by the dearness of bread. The people, in their enthusiasm, thronged upon him, accepting his will without a murmur when he restored to their proper figure provisions lowered in price through the terror of the authorities. The petty noblesse and the lower provincial clergy had everywhere taken the side of the third estate. Mirabeau was triumphant. "I have been, am, and shall be to the last," he exclaimed, "the man for public liberty, the man for the constitution. Woe to the privileged orders, if that means better be the man of the people than the man of the nobles, for privileges will come to an end, but the people is eternal!"

Brittany possessed neither a Mounier nor a Mirabeau; the noblesse there were numerous, bellicose, and haughty, the burgessdom rich and independent. Discord was manifested at the commencement of the states-provincial assembled at Rennes in the latter part of December, 1788. The governor wanted to suspend the sessions, the two upper orders persisted in meeting; there was fighting in the streets. The young men flocked in from the neighboring towns; the states-room was blockaded. For three days the members who had assembled there endured a siege; when they cut their way through, sword in hand, several persons were killed the enthusiasm spread to the environs. At Angers, the women published a resolution declaring that "the mothers, sisters, wives, and sweethearts of the young citizens of Angers would join them if they had to march to the aid of Brittany, and would perish rather than desert the nationality." When election time arrived, and notwithstanding the concessions which had been made to them by the government, the Breton nobles refused to proceed to the nominations of their order if the choice of deputies were not intrusted to the states-provincial; they persisted in staying away, thus weakening by thirty voices their party in the States-general.


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