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A Residence in France During the Years 1792, 1793,

Who will not pillage nor intimidate the tradesmen


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Were I a mere spectator, without fear for myself or compassion for others, the situation of this country would be sufficiently amusing. The effects produced (many perhaps unavoidably) by a state of revolution--the strange remedies devised to obviate them--the alternate neglect and severity with which the laws are executed--the mixture of want and profusion that distinguish the lower classes of people--and the distress and humiliation of the higher; all offer scenes so new and unaccountable, as not to be imagined by a person who has lived only under a regular government, where the limits of authority are defined, the necessaries of life plentiful, and the people rational and subordinate. The consequences of a general spirit of monopoly, which I formerly described, have lately been so oppressive, that the Convention thought it necessary to interfere, and in so extraordinary a way, that I doubt if (as usual) "the distemper of their remedies" will not make us regret the original disease. Almost every article, by having passed through a variety of hands, had become enormously dear; which, operating with a real scarcity of many things, occasioned by the war, had excited universal murmurings and inquietude. The Convention, who know the real source of the evil (the discredit of assignats) to be unattainable, and who are more solicitous to divert the clamours of the people, than to supply their wants,

have adopted a measure which, according to the present appearances, will ruin one half of the nation, and starve the other. A maximum, or highest price, beyond which nothing is to be sold, is now promulgated under very severe penalties for all who shall infringe it. Such a regulation as this, must, in its nature, be highly complex, and, by way of simplifying it, the price of every kind of merchandise is fixed at a third above what it bore in 1791: but as no distinction is made between the produce of the country, and articles imported--between the small retailer, who has purchased perhaps at double the rate he is allowed to sell at, and the wholesale speculator, this very simplification renders the whole absurd and inexecutable.--The result was such as might have been expected; previous to the day on which the decree was to take place, shopkeepers secreted as many of their goods as they could; and, when the day arrived, the people laid siege to them in crowds, some buying at the maximum, others less ceremonious, and in a few hours little remained in the shop beyond the fixtures. The farmers have since brought neither butter nor eggs to market, the butchers refuse to kill as usual, and, in short, nothing is to be purchased openly. The country people, instead of selling provisions publicly, take them to private houses; and, in addition to the former exorbitant prices, we are taxed for the risk that is incurred by evading the law. A dozen of eggs, or a leg of mutton, are now conveyed from house to house with as much mystery, as a case of fire-arms, or a treasonable correspondence; the whole republic is in a sort of training like the Spartan youth; and we are obliged to have recourse to dexterity and intrigue to procure us a dinner.

Our legislators, aware of what they term the "aristocratie marchande,"-- that is to say, that tradesmen would naturally shut up their shops when nothing was to be gained--provided, by a clause in the above law, that no one should do this in less time than a year; but as the injunction only obliged them to keep the shops open, and not to have goods to sell, every demand is at first always answered in the negative, till a sort of intelligence becomes established betwixt the buyer and seller, when the former, if he may be trusted, is informed in a low key, that certain articles may be had, but not au maximum.--Thus even the rich cannot obtain the necessaries of life without difficulty and submitting to imposition--and the decent poor, who will not pillage nor intimidate the tradesmen, are more embarrassed than ever.


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