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alone, he says, will force the French nobility to execute what the English do for pleasure-reside upon and adorn their estates. It is estimated that one quarter of the soil is absolutely lying waste. But he also tells us that he finds many of the nobles experimenting in agriculture, encouraging manufactures and building mills. And it must be kept in mind that, according to Arthur Young, supported by French authorities, one-third of the land was, subject to a number of irritating little feudal exactions of the lords, as it still is, in the hands of the peasants as owners.
The contrast between the feverish excitement of Paris and the apathy of the country is frequently noticed by travellers. Arthur Young tells of the lack of news and newspapers in the country, and the general ignorance and apathy, while he comments on the mass of pamphlets being turned out in Paris in June 1789 (18 came out to-day, 16 yesterday, and 92 last week), and there is no restriction either in pamphlets or in the speeches of the orators of the Palais Royal by the government.
He admires the splendid roads and bridges made by the corvée, but he also notes the very small traffic on them and comments on the inequality of levying the taille for them, putting all the burden on the poor. The inns, in contrast, are remarkably bad, showing the want of traffic.
The capitaineries, the preserves of the nobles, are, he says, four hundred leagues of country. The forest round Chantilly, belonging to the Prince of Condé, is immense. The capitainerie is above a hundred miles in circumference; that is to say, all the inhabitants to that extent are pestered with game, without permission to destroy it, in order to give one man diversion. Numerous decrees had been passed prohibiting weeding and hoeing for fear the young partridges should be disturbed, steeping grains lest it should injure the game, manuring with night soil for fear of injuring the flavour, mowing hay or removing stubble so as to take away shelter for game. Thus, while the production on the land in England was being almost doubled by the enclosures of waste land and land subject to the slovenly cultivation of communal farming (see Young's Annals of Agriculture, 1783) the land of France was going back to waste, occupied by wild beasts.*
* Did we dare, writes a village in Champagne to the King, we would plant the slopes with vines : but we are so persecuted by the clerks of the excise
The fields, says Young, are scenes of pitiable management, as the houses are of misery. He considers that French agriculture has not progressed beyond that of the tenth century, and that the yield of the English acre was 28 bushels to the French 18.* Yet, says Lavergne (Economie Rurale), agriculture was the occupation of some four-fifths of the French people. As a result, where a peasant could not buy the land from a ruined noble, he farmed for the absentee on the métayer system, paying half in produce, the lord finding seed corn, stock and implements, a system of farming which required very little capital. Yet all this might have been surmounted but for the method of collection of taxes.
The absentee lord, who left to an agent or a sub-agent the collection of his heavy dues, was a chief cause of the decay of the land. “The ruin or the impoverishment of agriculture,” says Taine, (Ancien Régime) "is again one of the effects of absenteeism : there is perhaps one third of the soil of France, which, deserted, as in Ireland, was as badly tilled, as little productive as in Ireland in the hands of the rich absentees, the English bishops, deans and nobles; they descant among themselves about the rights of man; the sight of the pale face of a hungry peasant would give them pain. But they never see him.”
Still, all this, as part of the inevitable story of the rich and poor, might have passed if time had been given to apply the remedy which Louis and his ministers were seeking, and if bankruptcy would have permitted the means. But the worst evil of all lay in the mode of taxation and the collection of taxes. We have an account of the taxes and of the mode of their collection in a contemporary document recently republished, the Rémontrance of the Cour des Aides. (Paris, April-May, 1775, Reprint edited by J. H. Robinson, with English translation by Grace R. Robinson. Original Sources of European History, Philadelphia, Penn., 1899. London., P. S. King & Son.)
The Cour des Aides was a very ancient Court, which dealt
we would rather pull up those already planted : the wine that we could make would all go to them, scarcely any of it remaining for ourselves. These exactions are a great scourge and to escape them we would rather let the ground lie waste.
2 Taine gives the following instances of taxation : A large farm in Picardy worth to the owner 3,600 livres, pays 1,800 livres to the King and 1311 livres to the tithe owner. Another in the Soissonnais rented for 4,500 livres, pays 2,200 livres taxes and more than 1,000 livres to the tithes.
with taxation, trying suits involving the farmers of the revenue and their contracts with the Crown, and also cases which concerned the privileges and exemptions of the nobility and clergy from taxation. Throughout this Revolution a chief point is that the nobles and higher clergy almost entirely escaped taxation for the enormous debts and deficits and expenses of the Crown, which fell entirely on the very poorest part of the community least able to bear it. This Court had been abolished with the Parlements in 1771 by Louis XV. and his Chancellor Maupeou, but it was revived by Louis XVI. with some restrictions in November, 1774. Malesherbes, the great aged lawyer who dared to defend Louis XVI. at the mock trial before his murder, was now President of this Court. He drew up, in 1775, in simple language, this protest for the instruction of the young king. It is a very long document, but worth perusal on every page.
A great Company, the General Farm, had the monopoly for a lump sum of collecting the greater part of the taxes. The regulations under which they acted were unknown and varying, used with severity against objectors or against the helpless and poor.
The farmed taxes, they say, were not so onerous by reason of the actual sums paid by the people into the Treasury, as on account of the cost of collection and profits made by the farmers. Terrible penalties, even death, were enacted for smuggling, as affecting the revenue. The manufacture of many articles, such as tobacco and salt, was forbidden in the interests of the farmer's monopoly. As an example of the procedure and of the insults put upon the people by the farmers' underlings, tobacco being at an enormous price, accompanied, of course, by much smuggling, houses can be indiscriminately searched by the clerks of the farmer. If the person accused denies, he must prove the contrary, which he cannot always do, to say nothing of technicalities of the law. A steady war goes on between smugglers and spies, the farmers having spies in every house and place of business and learning the family secrets from the taxes documents, the clerks being paid in part by the fines recovered, a premium on perjury.
The suits brought by the farmers were not heard by the Cour des Aides, but before a single intendant. “Mais telle est, Sire, (section 30) la nature du pouvoir arbitraire que la justice et l'humanité elle-même perdent tous leurs droits quand un seul homme est sourd à leur voix.” They remind him that the glory of past generations has to be paid for by the present, and that he is surrounded by those who believe is royal grandeur to consist only in luxury, while the miserable creature weighed down by the taxes is far away.
The inequality of taxes collected in the various departments led to customs levies, fraud and every variety of interference in life. Excessive taxes, they admit, were necessary, but they should be definite and not depend on the greed or caprice of the farmer, whose interests are opposed to simplicity. They can only suggest economy in expenditure.
They urge reform in the imprisonment of citizens, and an enquiry into the lettres de cachet and their abuse, instancing a case where a merchant, after an imprisonment of a year and a half, including a month in a dark underground dungeon with a chain on him, was found to be the wrong man. The farmers managed to remove the case from the Cour des Aides where he had sued for damages to the Royal Council, in spite of the protest in 1770 of the Cour des Aides. They plead for publicity, and urge that the prisoner should know the cause of arrest and be defended.
They call for tribunals governed by fixed laws, the royal authority to be subject to three kinds of power, " celui des loix, celui des recours à l'autorité supérieure, celui d'opinion publique.” The government which it is desired to establish in France they say is oriental despotism; the power of arms has been entirely concentrated in the sovereign. They complain of the gradual destruction of the Provincial Assemblies; of the authority of the community taken away by the intendant, the restrictions placed upon the Parlements, of the abuse of thecorvée, of the unfairness of the imposition of the taille at the will of the intendant, of taxes assessed secretly, and of elected tax assessors replaced by government officials who had purchased their offices, and of inquisitorial methods of collection. It is the people at large who bear the burden of the taxes, which are so complicated that each province, each association, each profession, is subjected to some particular revenue law, and has its own grievances to put before Your Majesty. And pointing out the series of ministers, clerks, and minor officials by whom the taxes were imposed, they say, each of these throws responsibility on the one above up to the King. If objection is made, it is said that one must not doubt an order made by the King.
li. The Elements of Revolution. Such a condition of affairs would at any time have been difficult to assuage without revolution, especially as the suffering was made worse by a desperately severe winter, the Seine frozen from Paris to Havre, frightful hailstorms which destroyed crops and fruit, and several very bad harvests. Morris, Young and others notice the dreadful lack of bread, and prophesy a terrible Revolution.
When the men responsible for reform were faced with an idea based on fantastic theory, accompanied by national bankruptcy, it can be seen that a peaceful solution was impossible. Morris likens the conditions to that of America, “ the reverence for ancient establishments gone, existing forms shaken to the foundation, and a new order of things about to take place.” The Revolution, he says, “which is carrying on in this country is a strange one. A few people who have set it going look with astonishment at their own work. The ministers contribute to the destruction of all ministerial authority without knowing what they are doing or what to do. It will depend much on the chapter of accidents, who will govern the States General or whether they will be at all governable. Gods ! what a theatre there is for a first-rate character."
But it is a peculiarity of revolutionary movements that they seldom give rise to approximately great men, that is to say, men with constructive ideas. The tradition of obedience to the law is very strong. So long as it lasts, the best, sanest and most thoughtful men obey the law and are disarmed, while the fierce and violent defy the law and weaken it. In our own Revolution of the seventeenth century Cromwell stood out, not by reason of his own stature, which, unless as a soldier, was nothing, but because of the littleness of the men associated with him ; no great man at all appeared in the Revolution of 1688 or in the American Revolution. Mirabeau alone is a great man, head and shoulders above all the men of the French Revolution, and he is unable to obtain his ends because of the weak indecision of those with whom he tries to act.
Both Morris and Young appear thoroughly to have