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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Those of the noblesse and the clergy


"The

memorials of 1789," says M. de Tocqueville [_L'ancien regime et la Revolution,_ p. 211], "will remain as it were the will and testament of the old French social system, the last expression of its desires, the authentic manifesto of its latest wishes. In its totality and on many points it likewise contained in the germ the principles of new France. I read attentively the memorials drawn up by the three orders before meeting in 1789,--I say the three orders, those of the noblesse and clergy as well as those of the third estate,--and when I come to put together all these several wishes, I perceive with a sort of terror that what is demanded is the simultaneous and systematic abolition of all the laws and all the usages having currency in the country, and I see at a glance that there is about to be enacted one of the most vast and most dangerous revolutions ever seen in the world. Those who will to-morrow be its victims have no idea of it, they believe that the total and sudden transformation of so complicated and so old a social system can take effect without any shock by the help of reason and its power, alone. Poor souls! They have forgotten even that maxim which their fathers expressed four hundred years before in the simple and forcible language of those times: 'By quest of too great franchise and liberties, getteth one into too great serfage.'"

However terrible and radical it may have been in its principles and its results, the French Revolution

did not destroy the past and its usages, it did not break with tradition so completely as was demanded, in 1789, by the memorials of the three orders, those of the noblesse and the clergy, as well as those of the third estate.

One institution, however, was nowhere attacked or discussed. It is not true," says M. Malouet, "that we were sent to constitute the kingship, but undoubtedly to regulate the exercise of powers conformably with our instructions. Was not the kingship constituted in law and in fact? Were we not charged to respect it, to maintain it on all its bases?" Less than a year after the Revolution had begun, Mirabeau wrote privately to the king: "Compare the new state of things with the old regimen, there is the source of consolations and hopes. A portion of the acts of the National Assembly, and the most considerable too, is clearly favorable to monarchical government. Is it nothing, pray, to be without Parliaments, without states-districts, without bodies of clergy, of privileged, of noblesse? The idea of forming but one single class of citizens would have delighted Richelieu. This even surface facilitates the exercise of power. Many years of absolute government could not have done so much as this single year of revolution for the kingly authority."

Genius has lights which cannot be obscured by either mental bias or irregularities of life. Rejected by the noblesse, dreaded by the third estate, even when it was under his influence, Mirabeau constantly sought alliance between the kingship and liberty. "What is most true and nobody can believe," he wrote to the Duke of Lauzun on the 24th of December, 1788, "is that, in the National Assembly, I shall be a most zealous monarchist, because I feel most deeply how much need we have to slay ministerial despotism and resuscitate the kingly authority." The States- general were scarcely assembled when the fiery orator went to call upon M. Malouet. The latter was already supposed to be hostile to the revolution. "Sir," said Mirabean, "I come to you because of your reputation; and your opinions, which are nearer my own than you suppose, determine this step on my part. You are, I know, one of liberty's discreet friends, and so am I; you are scared by the tempests gathering, and I no less; there are amongst us more than one hot head, more than one dangerous man; in the two upper orders all that have brains have not common sense, and amongst the fools I know several capable of setting fire to the magazine. The question, then, is to know whether the monarchy and the monarch will survive the storm which is a-brewing, or whether the faults committed and those which will not fail to be still committed will ingulf us all."


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