( 1828 - 1893 )

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LA BRUYERE wrote, just a century before 1789, "Certain savage-looking beings, male and female, are seen in the country, black, livid, and sunburnt, and belonging to the soil, which they dig and grub with invincible stubbornness. They seem capable of articulation, and, when they stand erect, they display human lineaments. They are, in fact, men. They retire at night into their dens, where they live on black bread, water, and roots. They spare other human beings the trouble of sowing, plowing, and harvesting, and thus should not be in want of the bread they have planted."

They continue in want of it during twenty-five years after this and die in herds. I estimate that in 1715 mor,e than one third of the population, six millions, perish with hunger and of destitution. The picture, accordingly, for the first quarter of the century preceding the Revolution, far from being overdrawn, is the reverse; we shall see that, during more than half a century, up to the death of Louis XV., it is exact; perhaps instead of weakening any of its points, they should be strengthened.

"In 1725," says St. Simon, "with the profuseness of Strasbourg and Chantilly, the people, in Normandy, live on the grass of the fields. The first king in Europe is great simply by being a king of beggars of all conditions, and by turning his kingdom into a vast hospital of dying people of whom their all is taken without a murmur."

In the most prosperous days of Fleury and in the finest region in France, the peasant hides" his wine on account of the excise and his bread on account of the taille," convinced "that he is a lost man if any doubt exists of his dying of starvation." In 1739 d'Argenson writes in his journal: "The famine has just occasioned three insurrections in the provinces, at Ruffec, at Caen, and at Chinon. Women carrying their bread with them have been assassinated on the highways. . ..

M. le Duc d'Orleans brought to the Council the other day a piece of bread, and placed it on the table before the king; 'Sire,' said he, 'there is the bread on which your subjects now feed themselves.' " " In my own canton of Touraine men have been eating herbage more than a year." Misery finds company on all sides. "It is talked about at Versailles more than ever.
The king interrogated the bishop of Chartres on the condition of his people; he replied that the famine and the mortality were such that men ate grass like sheep and died like so many flies.' "

In 1740 Massillon, bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, writes to Fleury: "The people of the rural districts are living in frightful destitution, without beds, without furniture; the majority, for half the year, even lack barley and oat bread, their sole food, and which they are compelled to take out of their own and their children's mouths to pay the taxes. It pains me to see this sad spectacle every year on my visits. The negroes of our colonies are, in this respect, infinitely better off, for, while working, they are fed and clothed along with their wives and children, while our peasantry, the most laborious in the kingdom, cannot, with the hardest and most devoted labor, earn bread for themselves and their families, and at the same time pay the subsidies."

In 1740, at Lille, the people rebel against the export of grain. " An intendant informs me that the misery increases from hour to hour, the slightest danger to the crops resulting in this for three years past. . . .
Flanders, especially, is greatly embarrassed; there is nothing to live on until the harvesting, which will not take place for two months. The provinces the best off are not able to help the others. Each bourgeois in each town is obliged to feed one or two poor per sons and provide them with fourteen pounds of bread per week.
In the little town of Chatellerault (of four thousand inhabitants), eighteen hundred poor, this winter, are on that footing.. .. The poor outnumber those able to live without begging . . . while prosecutions for unpaid dues are carried on with unexampled rigor. The clothes of the poor are seized and their last measure of flour, the latches on their doors, etc. . . .

The abbess of Jouarre told me yesterday that, in her canton, in Brie, most of the ground had not been planted." It is not surprising that the famine spreads even to Paris. "
Fears are entertained of next Wednesday. There is no more bread in Paris except that of the damaged flour which is brought in, and which burns (when baking). The mills are working day and night at Belleville, regrinding old damaged flour. The people are ready to rebel; bread goes up a sol a day; no merchant dares,. or is disposed, to bring in his wheat. The market on Wednesday was almost in a state of revolt, there being no bread in it after seven o'clock in the morning. . ..

The poor creatures at Bicetre were put on short allowance, three quarterons (twelve ounces) being reduced to only half a pound. A rebellion broke out and they forced the guards. Numbers escaped and they have inundated Paris. The watch, with the police of the neighborhood, were called out and an attack was made on these poor wretches with bayonet and sword. About fifty of them were left on the ground; the revolt was not suppressed yesterday morning. "

Ten years later the evil is greater. " In the country around me, ten leagues from Paris, I find increased privation and con. stant complaints. What must it be in our wretched provinces in'the interior of the kingdom? . .. My curate tells me that eight families, supporting themselves on their labor when I left, are now begging their bread. There is no work to, be had. The wealthy are economizing like the poor. And with all this the taille is exacted with military severity. The collectors, with their officers, accompanied by locksmiths, force open the doors and carry off and sell furniture for one quarter of its value, the expenses exceeding the amount of the tax. . . ."
" I am at this moment on my estates in Touraine. I encounter nothing but frightful privations; the melancholy sentiment of suffering no longer prevails with the poor inhabitants, but rather one of utter despair; they desire death only and avoid increase. . ..

It is estimated that one quarter of the working days of the year go to the corvees, the laborers feeding themselves, and with what? . .. I see poor people dying of destitution. They are paid fifteen sous a day, equal to a crown, for their load. Whole villages are either ruined or broken up, and none of the households recover. . ..
Judging by what my neighbors tell me the inhabitants have diminished one third. . .. The daily laborers are all leaving and taking refuge in the small towns. In many villages everybody leaves. I have several parishes in which the taille for three years is due, the proceedings for its collection always going on. . .. The receivers of the taille and of the fisc add one half each year in expenses above the tax. . ..
An assessor, on coming to the village where I have my country house, states that the taille this year will be much increased; he noticed that the peasants here were fatter than elsewhere; that they had chicken feathers before their doors, and that the living here must be good, everybody doing well, etc. This is the cause of the peasant's discouragement, and likewise the cause of misfortune throughout the kingdom."

"In the country where I am staying I hear that marriage is declining and that the population is decreasing on all sides. In my parish, with a few firesides, there are more than thirty single persons, male and female, old enough to marry and none of them having any idea of it. On being urged to marry they all reply alike that it is not worth while to bring unfortunate beings like themselves into the world. I have myself tried to induce some of the women to marry by offering them assistance, but they all reason in this way as if they had consulted together."

"One of my curates sends me word that, although he is the oldest in the province of Touraine, and has seen many things, including excessively high prices for wheat, he remembers no misery so great as that of this year, even in 1709. . ..
Some of the seigniors of Touraine inform me that, being desirous of setting the inhabitants to work by the day, they found very few of them and these so weak that they were unable to use their arms."

Those who are able to leave, emigrate. " A person from Languedoc tells me of vast numbers of peasants deserting that province and taking refuge in Piedmont, Savoy, and Spain, tormented and frightened by the measures resorted to in collecting tithes. . ..
The extortioners sell everything and imprison everybody as if prisoners of war, and even with more avidity and malice in order to gain something themselves."

"I met an intendant of one of the finest provinces in the kingdom, who told me that no more farmers could be found there; that parents preferred to send their children to the towns; that living in the surrounding country was daily becoming more horrible to the inhabitants. . ..
A man well informed in financial matters told me that over two hundred families in Normandy had left this year, fearing the collections in their villages." At Paris, "the streets swarm with beggars. One cannot stop before a door without a dozen mendicants besetting him with their importunities. They are said to be people from the country who, unable to endure the persecutions they have to undergo, take refuge in the cities . . . preferring mendicity to labor."

And yet the people of the cities are not much better off. " An officer of a company in garrison at Mezieres tells me that the poverty of that place is so great that, after the officers had dined in the inns, the people rush in and pillage the remnants."
"There are more than twelve thousand begging workmen in Rouen, quite as many in Tours, etc. More than twenty thousand of these workmen are estimated as having left the kingdom in three months for Spain, Germany, etc. At Lyons twenty thousand workers in silk are watched and kept in sight for fear of their going abroad." At Rouen, and in Normandy, "those in easy circumstances find it difficult to get bread, the bulk of the people being entirely without it, and, to ward off starvation, providing themselves with food that shocks humanity."

"Even at Paris," writes d'Argenson," I learn that on the day M. le Dauphin and Mme. la Dauphine went to Notre Dame, on passing the bridge of the Tournelle, more than two thousand women assembled in that quarter crying out, 'Give us bread, or we shall die of hunger.' . ..
A vicar of the parish of Saint-Marguerite affirms that over eight hundred persons died in the faubourg Saint-Antoine between January 20th and February 20th; that the poor expire with cold and hunger in their garrets, and that the priests, arriving too late, see them expire without any possible relief."

Were I to enumerate the riots, the seditions of the famished, and the pillagings of storehouses, I should never end; these are the convulsive twitchings of exhaustion; the people have fasted as long as possible, and instinct, at last, rebels. In 1747 "extensive bread riots occur in Toulouse, and in Guyenne they take place on every market day."
In 1750 from six to seven thousand men gather in Bearn behind a river to resist the clerks; two companies of the Artois regiment fire on the rebels and kill a dozen of them. In 1752 a sedition at Rouen and in its neighborhood lasts three days; in Dauphiny and in Auvergne riotous villagers force open the grain warehouses and take away wheat at their own price; the same year, at Arles, two thousand armed peasants demand bread at the townhall and are dispersed by the soldiers.

In one province alone, that of Normandy, I find insurrections in 1725, in 1737, in 1739, in 1752, in 1764, 1765, 1766, 1767, and 1768, and always on account of bread.
"Entire hamlets," writes the Parliament, " being without the necessities of life, want compels them to resort to the food of brutes. . . . Two days more and Rouen will be without provisions, without grain, without bread." Accordingly, the last riot is terrible; on this occasion, the populace, again masters of the town for three days, pillage the public granaries and the stores of all the communities. Up to the last and even later, in 1770 at Rheims, in 1775 at Dijon, at Versailles, at Saint-Germain, at Pontoise, and at Paris, in 1772 at Poitiers, in 1785 at Aix in Provence, in 1788 and 1789 in Paris and throughout France, similar eruptions are visible.

Undoubtedly the government under Louis XVI. is milder; the intendants are more humane, the administration is less rigid, the taille becomes less unequal, and the corvee is less onerous through its transformation; in short, misery has diminished, and yet this is greater than human nature can bear.
Examine administrative correspondence for the last thirty years preceding the Revolution. Countless statements reveal excessive suffering, even when not terminating in fury. Life to a man of the lower class, to an artisan, or workman, subsisting on the labor of his own hands, is evidently precarious; he obtains simply enough to keep him from starvation and he does not always get that. Here, in four districts, "the inhabitants live only on buckwheat," and for five years, the apple crop having failed, they drink only water. There, in a country of vineyards, "the vinedressers each year are reduced, for the most part, to begging their bread during the dull season." Elsewhere, several of the day laborers and mechanics, obliged to sell their effects and household goods, die of the cold; insufficient and unhealthy food generates sickness, while, in two districts, thirty. five thousand persons are stated to be living on alms. In a remote canton the peasants cut the grain still green, and dry it in the oven, because they are too hungry to wait. The intendant of Poitiers writes that" as soon as the workhouses open, a prodigious number of the poor rush to them, in spite of the reduction of wages and of the restrictions imposed on them in behalf of the most needy."

The intendant of Bourges notices that a great many metayers have sold off their furniture and that" entire families pass two days without eating," and that in many parishes the 'famished stay in bed most of the day because they suffer less. The intend ant of Orleans reports that" in Sologne, poor widows have burned up their wooden bedsteads and others have consumed their fruit trees," to preserve themselves from the cold, and he adds, " nothing is exaggerated in this statement; the cries of want cannot be expressed; the misery of the rural districts must be seen with one's own eyes to obtain an idea of it." From Rioni, from La Rochelle, from Limoges, from Lyons, from Montauban, from Caen, from Alengon, from Flanders, from Moulins, come similar statements by other intendants.

One might call it the interruptions and repetitions of a funeral knell; even in years not disastrous it is heard on all sides. In Burgundy, near Chatillon-sur-Seine, "taxes, seigniorial dues, the tithes, and the expenses of cultivation, divide up the productions of the soil into thirds, leaving nothing for the unfortunate cultivators, who would have abandoned their fields, had not two Swiss manufacturers of calicoes settled there and distributed about the country forty thousand francs a year in cash."

In Auvergne, the country is depopulated daily; many of the villages have lost, since the beginning of the century, more than one third of their inhabitants. "Had not steps been promptly taken to lighten the burden of a downtrodden people," says the provincial assembly in 1787, " Auvergne would have forever lost its population and its cultivation." In Comminges, at the outbreak of the Revolution, certain communities threaten to abandon their possessions, should they obtain no relief.
"It is a well-known fact," says the assembly of Haute-Guyenne, in 1784, " that the lot of the most severely taxed communities is so rigorous as to have led their proprietors frequently to abandon their property. Who is not aware of the inhabitants of Saint-Servin having abandoned their possessions ten times and of their threats to resort again to this painful proceeding in their recourse to the administration?
Only a few years ago an abandonment of the community of Boisse took place through the combined action of the inhabitants, the seignior, and the decimateur of that community;" and the desertion would be still greater if the law did not forbid persons liable to the taille abandoning overtaxed property, except by renouncing whatever they possessed in the community. In the Soissonais, according to the report of the provincial assembly, "misery is excessive." In Gascony the spectacle is "heartrending." In the environs of Toule, the cultivator, after paying his taxes, tithes, and other dues, remains empty-handed.

"Agriculture is an occupation of steady anxiety and privation, in which thousands of men are obliged to painfully vegetate." In a village in Normandy, "nearly all the inhabitants, not excepting the farmers and proprietors, 'eat barley bread and drink water, living like the most wretched of men, so as to provide for the payment of the taxes with which they are overburdened." In the same province, at Forges, "many poor creatures eat oat bread, and others bread of soaked bran, this nourishment causing many deaths among infants." People evidently live from day to day; whenever the crop proves poor, they lack bread. Let a frost come, a hailstorm, an inundation, and an entire province is incapable of supporting itself until the coming year; in many places even an ordinary winter suffices to bring on distress.
On all sides hands are seen outstretched to the king, who is the universal almoner. The people may be said to resemble a man attempting to wade through a pool with the water up to his chin, and who, losing his footing at the slightest depression, sinks down and drowns. Existent charity and the fresh spirit of humanity vainly strive to rescue them; the water has risen too high. It must subside to a lower level and the pool be drawn off through some adequate outlet.
Thus far the poor man catches breath only at intervals, running the risk of drowning at every moment.

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