The Eve of the French Revolution

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Of the writers of monographs, and of the biographers, I will not speak here in detail, although some of their books have been of very great service to me. Such are those of M. Bailly, M. de Lavergne, M. Horn, M. Stourm, and M. Charles Gomel, on the financial history of France; M. de Poncins and M. Desjardins, on the cahiers; M. Rocquain on the revolutionary spirit before the revolution, the Comte de Lucay and M. de Lavergne, on the ministerial power and on the provincial assemblies and estates; M. Desnoiresterres, on Voltaire; M. Scherer, on Diderot; M. de Lomenie, on Beaumarchais; and many others; and if, after all, it is the old writers, the contemporaries, on whom I have most relied, without the assistance of these modern writers I certainly could not have found them all.

In treating of the Philosophers and other writers of the eighteenth century I have not endeavored to give an abridgment of their books, but to explain such of their doctrines as seemed to me most important and influential. This I have done, where it was possible, in their own language. I have quoted where I could; and in many cases where quotation marks will not be found, the only changes from the actual expression of the author, beyond those inevitable in translation, have been the transference from direct to oblique speech, or some other trifling alterations rendered necessary in my judgment by the exigencies of grammar. On the other hand, I have tried to translate ideas and phrases rather than words.

EDWARD J. LOWELL.

June 24, 1892.

CONTENTS.

INTRODUCTION

I. THE KING AND THE ADMINISTRATION

II. LOUIS XVI. AND HIS COURT

III. THE CLERGY

IV. THE CHURCH AND HER ADVERSARIES

V. THE CHURCH AND VOLTAIRE

VI. THE NOBILITY

VII. THE ARMY

VIII. THE COURTS OF LAW

IX. EQUALITY AND LIBERTY

X. MONTESQUIEU

XI. PARIS

XII. THE PROVINCIAL TOWNS

XIII. THE COUNTRY

XIV. TAXATION

XV. FINANCE

XVI. "THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA"

XVII. HELVETIUS, HOLBACH, AND CHASTELLUX

XVIII. ROUSSEAU'S POLITICAL WRITINGS

XIX. "LA NOUVELLE HELOISE" AND "EMILE"

XX. THE PAMPHLETS

XXI. THE CAHIERS

XXII. SOCIAL AND ECONOMICAL MATTERS IN THE CAHIERS

XXIII CONCLUSION

INDEX OF EDITIONS CITED

THE EVE OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

INTRODUCTION.

It is characteristic of the European family of nations, as distinguished from the other great divisions of mankind, that among them different ideals of government and of life arise from time to time, and that before the whole of a community has entirely adopted one set of principles, the more advanced thinkers are already passing on to another. Throughout the western part of continental Europe, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, absolute monarchy was superseding feudalism; and in France the victory of the newer over the older system was especially thorough. Then, suddenly, although not quite without warning, a third system was brought face to face with the two others. Democracy was born full-grown and defiant. It appealed at once to two sides of men's minds, to pure reason and to humanity. Why should a few men be allowed to rule a great multitude as deserving as themselves? Why should the mass of mankind lead lives full of labor and sorrow? These questions are difficult to answer. The Philosophers of the eighteenth century pronounced them unanswerable. They did not in all cases advise the establishment of democratic government as a cure for the wrongs which they saw in the world. But they attacked the things that were, proposing other things, more or less practicable, in their places. It seemed to these men no very difficult task to reconstitute society and civilization, if only the faulty arrangements of the past could be done away. They believed that men and things might be governed by a few simple laws, obvious and uniform. These natural laws they did not make any great effort to discover; they rather took them for granted; and while they disagreed in their statement of principles, they still believed their principles to be axiomatic. They therefore undertook to demolish simultaneously all established things which to their minds did not rest on absolute logical right. They bent themselves to their task with ardent faith and hope.

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