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dry summer followed a winter of unparalleled severity.
The new year of 1789 opened with the Seine frozen over
from Paris to Havre. No such weather had been ex-



perienced since 1709. As the spring advanced the misery
increased. The industrial crisis became acute in the
towns, thousands of workmen were thrown out of em-
ployment owing to the introduction of recently invented
machinery from England, which was beginning to super-
sede hand-labor in some trades. The riots and local dis-
turbances which had for many years past been taking
place sporadically in various districts, now became daily
more frequent, so much so that from March onwards the
whole peasantry of France may be said to have been in
a state of open insurrection, three hundred separate ris-
ings in the provinces being counted for the four months
preceding the taking of the Bastille.

In 1787, the Minister Lomenie de Brienne had created
nineteen new provincial assemblies. Below the arron-
dissement, or district assembly, which had been instituted
some years before, now came the assembly of the parish.
In each of these primary assemblies of the parish, the
arrondissement, and even of the province, the " people,
farmers, etc., sat side by side with the local dignitaries,"
a fact which, as may be imagined, considerably tended to
obliterate the ancient feudal awe. In November, 1787,
the King announced his intention of convoking the States-
General. On the 5th of July, 1788, the various local
bodies were called upon to draw up cahiers, or state-
ments of their grievances, for presentment before the
King and States-General, in which a double representa-
tion of the " third estate " was conceded. These cahiers
form a mass of the most interesting material illustrative
of the condition of France just before the Revolution,
and have not even yet been fully investigated. " The
King," said the proclamation, " desires that from the ex-
tremities of his kingdom, and the least known of its habi-
tations, each may feel assurance in bringing before him
his views and grievances," and this and other similar ex-
pressions were interpreted by the peasantry in the natural
sense that the King was really desirous of rescuing them


from starvation. It accordingly emboldened them to take
the matter into their own hands. In January the cahiers
were drawn up, which meant that the people had now
for the first time formulated their ills. Discussion in the
assemblies had excited them. The States - General was
going to look to their wrongs, it was true, but the States-
General did not meet till May, and meanwhile they were
starving. One thing was clear, they must have bread.
Accordingly, in defiance of local authorities and guar-
dians of the peace, bands ranging up to three or four hun-
dred and more formed themselves all over France, seized
and plundered granaries, religious houses, stores of all
kinds, entered public buildings in the name of the people,
destroying all legal documents (justly regarded as the
instruments of their servitude) which they could lay their
hands on, proclaimed the local dues and taxes abolished,
summarily put to death all those who interfered with
them in the name of law and order, and, emboldened by
success, finally took to the burning of the chateaux and
the indiscriminate destruction and appropriation of the
houses and property of the wealthy. That the numbers
of these bands were augmented not only by the work-
men out of employment in Paris, Rouen, etc., but also
by professional thieves, was only to be expected. The
local authorities were hopelessly inadequate to cope with
the insurgents, and central authority in Paris seemed

Ordinarily readers of the history of the Revolution are
apt to forget, in following the course of events in the
metropolis, that they were only an enlarged picture of
what was going on in hundreds of towns and villages
throughout the provinces. Both before and after the
famous 14th of July, in most of the provinces of France
all constituted authority was at an end. No one durst
disobey the mandates of the popular insurgents. It would
be impossible, and tedious if it were possible, to enumerate
all the circumstances of even the principal revolts. The


manner was pretty much the same in all, and the follow-
ing account of an insurrection at Strasburg may serve
to illustrate it: Five or six hundred peasants, artisans,
unemployed, tramps, and others, seize the occasion of
a public holiday to attack the Hotel de Ville, the as-
sembled magistrates escaping precipitately by back doors.
The windows disappear under a volley of stones, the
doors are broken in with crowbars, and the crowd enters
like a torrent. " Immediately," the account states, " there
was a rain of shutters, window-sashes, chairs, tables,
sofas, books, papers, etc." The public archives are thrown
to the winds, the neighboring streets being covered with
them. Deeds, charters, etc., perish in the flames. In the
cellars, tuns containing valuable wines are forced, the
marauders, after drinking their fill, allowing them to run
until there is a pond formed five feet deep, in which sev-
eral people are drowned. Others loaded with booty, run
off with it under the eyes of the soldiers, who rather en-
courage the proceedings than otherwise. For three whole
days the city is given over to the mob. All the houses be-
longing to persons of local distinction are sacked from
cellar to attic. The revolt spreads instantly throughout
the neighboring country.^

A few weeks before the opening of the States-General
a great riot occurred in Paris, in the Faubourg St. An-
toine, the workmen's quarter, attended by much bloodshed
and loss of life. Paris, we are told, had for months past
begun to fill v/ith desperate, hungry, and ragged stran-
gers, drawn thither by poverty from the uttermost ends of

In some districts the leaders pretend to be acting under
the orders of the King. The result is everywhere at least
one thing — the enforcement of a maximum in the price
of bread, and the abolition of taxes. Atrocities, of course,
occur here and there. A lawyer is half-roasted to make
him surrender a charter supposed to be in his possession ;

* Taine, Origines, tome i, pp. 81-82.


a lord is tortured to death ; an ecclesiastic torn in pieces.
Thus have threatened ruin and starvation, to which the
financial extravagances of the Court have been the occa-
sion of giving articulate expression, and the remedy for
which is offered, to those who can read, in the Social Con-
tract of Rousseau, become the immediate cause of the
French Revolution. The same imminent bankruptcy of
the kingdom, occasioned by the extravagance of the
Court, which led to the convocation of the States-General,
led also indirectly to the founding of that main-spring of
the Revolution, the Jacobins' Club. The dispute between
the Court and the local legal Councils, called ** Parlia-
ments/' led to the crippling of their powers by the King,
and this again, to remonstrant deputations from the ag-
grieved provincial towns. One set of these remonstrants,
hailing from Rennes, in Brittany, formed themselves into
a club called the Breton Club, for the ventilation of their
grievances, using the old Convent of St. Jacques in the
Rue St. Honore for their meetings. The original scope
of the society soon became enlarged, and the name
changed from that of Breton Club to Jacobins' Club, after
their meeting-place. Such was the origin of the vast
club-organization, which exercised such a stupendous in-
fluence not only in Paris, but in France, during the fol-
lowing years.



On the 5th of May, 1789, the royal town of Versailles
was gay — gay with decorations, with music, vocal and
instrumental, with epaulettes, " etiquettes,'* fair women,
and fair costumes. It was the opening of the States-
General, called together for the first time since 16 14, as
a last resource to rescue the realm from dissolution and
impending bankruptcy — and also the definitive opening
of the French Revolution.

At midday might have been seen the feudal procession
entering the Church of St. Louis. After the King and
Royal Family, the clergy occupied the first place, " the
superior clergy," attired in purple robe and lawn sleeves ;
the less " superior," in cassock, cloak, and square bonnet.
Next came the nobles, habited in black, with silver-faced
vest, lace cravat, and plumed hat ; while bringing up the
rear followed the humble tiers-etat — the representatives
of the middle-class, the merchants, the farmers, and the
small landowners — dressed also in black, but adorned
with merely a short cloak and plain hat. With this mem-
orable procession, the constitution of the Middle Ages,
moribund for over two centuries, spasmodically gasped
its last breath.

The business of the States-General did not pass off as
gaily as the opening ceremony. Conflict between the or-
ders followed immediately, on points of procedure, with
the result that the third estate constituted itself the
National Assembly of France, refusing to admit the other
orders to its deliberations except on a basis of equality.
The King manifested his displeasure by closing the door


of the hall of the States against them. The Assembly
answered by the celebrated oath it took outside in the
Tennis Court of Versailles, 20th June, by which it pledged
itself not to separate until it had given France a Con-
stitution. The Assembly triumphed over the Court two
days after its oath, inasmuch as it regained possession of
its hall, openly defied the King in person, abolished the
independence of the clergy and noblesse, formally con-
firmed its decrees of the previous day which the King
had quashed, and proceeded with its deliberations. Thus
the curtain rose on the first act of the revolutionary

Meanwhile the new popular ferment occasioned by the
events at Versailles had taken complete possession of
the capital, and was rapidly spreading into the provinces.
Some weeks later, early in July, Necker, the Minister of
Finance, beloved by the middle-class, was dismissed from
office. Necker, it should be observed, was one of the
less bad of the scoundrels, called finance ministers, who
have been malversating the national funds in succession
for years past. By comparison he appeared almost vir-
tuous, and the populace, whose charity and admiration
are always boundless toward official personages, when
not quite so bad as one would expect, had converted him
into an object of adoration. A procession for the purpose
of protesting against the minister's dismissal was dis-
persed by force of arms and two persons killed. The city
was soon in an uproar. The Palais-Royal, the great place
of public assembly and political discussion, was packed
with over ten thousand persons. On the table, which
served for a tribune, stood a young man, of fine features
and gentle mien, who was haranguing the crowd. It was
Camille Desmoulins, the popular journalist. " Citizens,"
said he, " there is not a moment to lose ! The removal
of Necker is the tocsin for a St. Bartholomew of patriots !
This evening, all the Swiss and German battalions are
coming from the Champ de Mars to slaughter us ! There


remains but one resource ; let us rush to arms ! " So say-
ing, he placed in his hat a sprig of a tree — green being
the emblem of hope. The example was followed till the
chestnut trees of Paris were denuded. At the same time
the tricolor flag was first adopted as the banner of the
popular party.

The crowd proceeded through the streets, bearing in
triumph the busts of Necker and Philippe Egalite, the
King's cousin, but not his friend, its numerical strength
increasing with every yard traversed, till its course was
arrested on the Pont-Royal by a detachment of the Royal
German Cavalry. The latter were driven back by showers
of stones, and the concourse swept onwards as far as the
Place Louis XV. Here a formidable street fight took
place, the people being opposed by a squadron of dragoons.
The regulars of the King, after encountering a vigorous
resistance, at length routed the insurgent Parisians, but
the victory was more fatal to the cause they represented
than any defeat could have been. The dispersed multi-
tude carried the indignant cry, " To arms ! " from end to
end of Paris. The regiment of French guards quartered
in Paris mutinied, and put to flight the mercenary foreign
troops intended to overawe them.

The whole night long the tocsin rang out from the
Hotel de Ville, where a committee of prominent citizens
was sitting to organize a search for arms. The morning
of the I2th of July saw Paris in full revolt ; the tocsins of
all the churches were pealing ; drums were beating along
all the main streets; excited crowds collecting in every
opening space ; an influx of the " disinherited " class
trooped in at all the gates of Paris ; gunsmiths' shops were
ransacked; on all sides a mad search for weapons was
the order of the day. The Committee at the Hotel de
Ville, in response to the importunate demands for arms,
could only reply that they had none. The civic authori-
ties, next appealed to, temporized and evasively promised
assistance. Houses were sacked; carriages seized. In


the confusion there were naturally not wanting ruffians
who sought to make use of the state of things prevailing
for purposes of mere plunder. Such excesses were per-
emptorily put down with the cry, *' Death to the thieves ! "
The equipages and other property of the " aristocrats "
when seized by the people were always either destroyed
or carried to a central station at the Place de Greve. In
the afternoon " the provost of the merchants " (a digni-
tary of the effete medieval hierarchy corresponding to the
modern maire) announced the speedy arrival of the mus-
kets and ammunition so eagerly clamored for on all sides.
A citizen militia was formed under the name of the Par-
isian Guard, numbering 48,000 men; cockades of red,
.blue, and green were everywhere distributed ; but the
hours passed on and no muskets arrived. A panic seized
the city that the mercenary troops were about to march
on Paris during the ensuing night. At last chests pur-
porting to contain ammunition did appear, were eagerly
torn open, and found to contain — old linen and broken
pieces of wood.

The Committee men and the " provost of the mer-
chants " alike narrowly escaped with their lives. But
the provost, pleading that he had been himself deceived,
tried to divert the attention of the people by sending
them on a futile expedition to Chartreux. The Com-
mittee finally hit upon the device of arming the citizens
with pikes, in default of firearms, and accordingly ordered
50,000 to be forged. As a measure of protection against
thieves and plunderers, the city was illuminated through-
out the night.



Next morning (the 14th) early, the word was passed
among the populace, " To the Invalides ! " the military
hospital. There at least arms must be forthcoming. And
sure enough the people were rewarded for their courage
in braving the troops assembled in the Champ de Mars,
and forcing their way into the great military depot.

Twenty-eight thousand muskets, besides cannon,
sabres, and spears were carried off in triumph. Mean-
while the alarm had been given that the royal regiments,
posted at St. Denis, were on the way to the capital, and,
above all, that the cannon of the Bastille itself was pointed
toward the boulevard St. Antoine.

The attention of Paris was at once directed to the for-
mer point, which really commanded the most populous
districts of the city. The whole morning there was but
one cry, "To the Bastille! " The Bastille was the great
emblem of the King's authority. In the middle ages it
had been the Royal stronghold against the turbulent
feudal barons. But though the French nobility had long
ceased to be " turbulent barons " and had become ob-
sequious courtiers, the Bastille remained, nevertheless, the
great visible embodiment of the, at present, long cen-
tralized authority of the King of France. The capture of
the Bastille would therefore be the greatest blow the
King's prestige could possibly suffer. Add to this, that
although no longer employed for its original purpose, the
Bastille had become specially obnoxious, owing to its
use as a place for arbitrary imprisonment under the in-
famous lettres de cachet. Armed crowds assembled then


at this place from all quarters, till the great fortress
seemed confronted by the whole city in arms. Negotia-
tions took place with the governor, Delaunay, but the
people persistently shouted, *' We want the Bastille ! "
The die was cast by the destruction of the great bridge,
which was battered down by blows from hatchets, it is
said, by two men only. The concourse poured in; the
second drawbridge was attacked and vigorously defended
by the small garrison.

Numbers of the assailants fell, killed and wounded.
The siege continued over four hours, when the French
Guard, who, as we have seen, had already sided with the
Revolution, arrived with cannon. The garrison, seeing
the case hopeless, themselves urged the governor to sur-
render. But old Delaunay preferred blowing the place
up and burying himself amidst the ruins. His compan-
ions alone prevented him from carrying out this design.
The soldiers thereupon surrendered on condition that
their lives should be spared. The leaders of the people
who were in the forefront, and had given their word to
this effect, did their utmost to protect the garrison from
the indignation of the crowd. But among the thousands
that thronged in there were probably few who knew
anything of what had taken place. As a consequence,
Delaunay and some of the Swiss garrison fell victims to
the popular fury.

Meanwhile the Hotel de Ville was in trepidation.
Above all, the " provost of the merchants," Flesselles,
trembled lest he should be made to suffer for his treach-
ery. These fears were not allayed when shouts of
*' Victory ! " " Liberty ! " issuing from thousands of
throats, assailed the ears of the inmates, and grew louder
minute by minute. It was the conquerors of the Bastille
carrying their heroes in triumph to the municipal head-

Presently there entered the great hall, an enthusiastic
but disorderly, ragged, and bloodstained crowd, pro-




miscuously armed with pikes, muskets, hatchets, and well-
nigh every other conceivable weapon. Above the heads
of the crowd one held the keys of the Bastille, another
the " regulations " of the prison, a third the collar of the

A general amnesty for all the defenders captured was
agreed to after much opposition. But the " provost of
the merchants " did not get off so easily. On the corpse
of Delaunay a letter had been found, in which Flesselles
had stated that he was am.using the Parisians with cock-
ades and promises, and that if the fortress could only hold
out till nightfall relief should come. A Court was to
have been improvised in the Palais Royal to judge him,
but on the way thither he was laid dead by a pistol shot
from one of the crowd.

The excitement of the day's action over, precautions
to avert designs against the capital on the part of the
Court were redoubled. Everywhere barricades were
raised, paving stones torn up, pikes forged. The whole
population was all night long at work in the streets.
How well-grounded were the fears of the Parisians would
have been evident to anyone behind the scenes at Ver-
sailles, where Breteuil, the Prime Minister, had just prom-
ised the King to restore the royal authority in three days,
this very night having been fixed for the expedition, and
wine and presents distributed among the royal troops in

The Assembly, which was sitting en permanence, was
about to send one more deputation to the King (it had
already sent two) when he appeared in person in its
midst. On being informed during the night of the events
that had taken place, by the " Grand Master of the Ward-
robe," he exclaimed " It is a revolt." " No, sire," replied
the Grand Master, " it is a revolution." On the King's
subsequent protestations of affection for his subjects,
and his statement that he had just given orders for the
withdrawal of the foreign troops from Paris and Ver-


sailles, that he confided his person to the representatives
of the nation alone, etc., the Assembly gave way to trans-
ports of joy, rose en masse, and escorted him to the palace.

The news spread rapidly. A revulsion of feeling took
place all round, from terror to elation, from hatred to
gratitude. The general jubilation was increased by the
restoration of Necker, the entry of Louis XVL into Paris,
and his acceptance of the tricolor cockade. Thus ended
the preparatory period of the Revolution. It is needless
to say the moral effect of the popular victory throughout
France was immense, every town becoming henceforth a
revolutionary center in the sense of possessing a definite
revolutionary organization.

There are one or two useful hints to be learned from
this old and oft-repeated story of the fall of the Bastille.
The first is of the eminent utility of popular " force " if
only applied at the right moment. Beforehand, it would
have seemed preposterous that " an undisciplined mob "
could take a fortress and paralyze the efforts of a reac-
tion possessed of a trained army. Yet so it was.

Another point to note is the untrustworthiness of men
who belong to the class which makes the revolution, and
who even profess to represent it, when their personal in-
terest and position are bound up with the maintenance of
the existing order. Flesselles, a man of the third estate,
its leading dignitary in the city of Paris, was yet the man
who was the least anxious to see the feudal hierarchy
overthrown. And why? Because he played a part in it.
The " third estate " had been incorporated into the me-
dieval system. He was its representative as one of the
feudal orders. Its position was subordinate indeed, but,
now that it was growing in importance, its leading men
had much more to gain by clinging to the skirts of the
noblesse, and aiding them in frustrating that complete
revolution which the rank and file of the class were seek-
ing, than in assisting the accomplishment of this revolu-
tion, which could only mean the effacement of their own


personal position. History repeats itself. Trade-unions
have won for themselves recognition and patronage in the
middle-class world to-day. Their leaders, in a similar
way, do not exhibit any special desire for a change which,
though it would mean the liberation and triumph of the
class they represent, would, at the same time, render
trade-unions a thing of the past, no less than the lord
mayors and cabinet ministers who stroke the backs of the
parliamentary elect of trades unions. No, verily, this is
not a nice prospect for the trade-union leaders I



The Constitution was now in full train. The Revolu-
tion up to the latter point was officially recognized.

There was no harking back for any one. Foulon and
Berthier, two *' administrators of the first rank/' under
the old regime, had been publicly hanged, a la lanterne,
and quartered by the people. The first stratum of revo-
lutionists was to the fore. Mirabeau, Lafayette, and
Bailly are the central figures of the Constituent Assem-
bly. Duport, Barnave, and Lameth its extreme men. The
Comte de Mirabeau (1749-1791), one of the pre-revolu-
tionary writers, was the leader of the Moderate party in
the Assembly. His stupendous powers of oratory made
him a useful ally and a dangerous foe. This the Court
was not slow in discovering, and accordingly Mirabeau
was soon won over by bribes to do his best to frustrate
every popular measure in the Assembly, while all the time
professing devotion to the cause of liberty and the people.
When this failed, the popular ( ?) orator did not disdain
to resort to actual plotting.

The Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), of American
Independence notoriety, another member of the noblesse,
who had adopted previously to the Revolution the quasi-
advanced views then fashionable with his class, was the

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Online LibraryErnest Belfort BaxThe story of the French revolution → online text (page 2 of 10)