The French Exiles, 1789-1815

The French Exiles, 1789-1815

The French Exiles, 1789-1815

The French Exiles, 1789-1815

Excerpt

In the Musée Carnavalet in Paris there is a model of the Bastille carved from one of its massy stones. A sinister aura seems to emanate from the miniature medieval fortress as it must have done when the actual edifice lowered over the city of Paris as a formidable sign of feudal oppression. Yet, by 1789, as the Parisians must have known well, it no longer served its original purpose and plans for its demolition had been made by the Government. The fortuitous destruction on July 14th was not of an instrument but of a symbol of tyranny.

The storming of the Bastille in Paris, which had been preceded by local jacqueries, encouraged the mob all over France to renew its savagery on the objects or individuals which it found accessible, and the peasantry succeeded in surpassing in brutality the more sophisticated Parisians. Churches were desecrated with obscene songs and wilder dances, châteaux were burnt and the inhabitants assassinated, often with a variety of tortures. Those gentry who had treated their tenants best fared the worst.

These instances were not isolated nor were they excesses committed as reprisals. Louis XVI remained securely enthroned at Versailles and the orators of the National Assembly were still pouring out in eloquent periods the most unexceptionable principles.

There was nothing in the convocation of the States General which presaged a sequel of violence and anarchy. It was inspired by a legitimate desire for reform of outworn institutions, a desire which Louis XVI shared and which he was clumsily doing his best to implement. The noble concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity were the product of eighteenth-century French philosophical thought, as much respected by many among the privileged Estates, the nobility and clergy, as by the Third Estate, the commons. But the impatience of the crowd, for whom . . .

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