Origins of the French Revolution

By William Doyle | Go to book overview

7
Public Opinion

The one class whose rise no historian disputes in the eighteenth century is that of the educated general reader. The evidence for its rise does not lie in the statistics of literacy, although here, too, there was a rise. On the eve of the Revolution perhaps 63 per cent of the French population could neither read nor write, whereas a century beforehand the proportion had been 79 per cent. 1 This improvement certainly owed a good deal to better educational provisions, but most of the technically literate could not really be called educated. When they chose to read at all their preferred fare was one of almanacs, chapbooks, and cheaply produced collections of traditional stories and tales of wonder. 2 Popular literature provided an escape from the harsh realities of the everyday world rather than a key to exploring its complexities. It confirmed familiar horizons rather than opening up new ones.

The rise of the educated general reader is, however, abundantly clear from other evidence. There was, for instance, a marked expansion in the book trade. The sources, however fragmentary and incomplete, all point to a steady expansion of book production from the beginning of the century down to the early 1770s. And from then on they show a veritable explosion which reached its climax, not to be surpassed again for twentyfive years, in 1788. 3 Another indication is the growth in the number, size, and frequency of newspapers and journals. At the beginning of the century the French periodical press consisted of three semi-official journals, closely supervised by the government, and a number of French-language periodicals published beyond the reach of Louis XIVs' censorship in the Dutch Republic. By 1745, the number of periodicals published in French had risen to fifteen, and by 1785 it had reached eighty-two. 4 In 1777, a daily newspaper made its appearance in Paris; in 1748 the first weekly provincial paper began to be produced in Lyons; and by the 1780s most major (and some minor) provincial towns had their own papers, too. 5 The very survival and prosperity of all these publications, despite often spectacular vicissitudes, shows that there was a growing market for what

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Origins of the French Revolution
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Prefatory Note vii
  • Contents *
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Writings on Revolutionary Origins Since 1939 3
  • 1 - The Classic Interpretation 5
  • 2 - Revisionism 10
  • 3 - Post-Revisionism 35
  • Part II - The Breakdown of the Old Regime 43
  • 4 - The Financial Crisis 45
  • 5 - The System of Government 54
  • 6 - Opposition 65
  • 7 - Public Opinion 76
  • 8 - Reform and its Failure, 1787-1788 91
  • Part III - The Struggle for Power 109
  • 9 - The Nobility 111
  • 10 - The Bourgeoisie 121
  • 11 - The Election Campaign, September 1788 to May 1789 131
  • 12 - The Economic Crisis 148
  • 13 - The Estates-General, May and June 1789 157
  • 14 - The People of Paris 166
  • 15 - The Peasantry 178
  • 16 - Conclusion: The New Regime and its Principles 189
  • Notes 197
  • Further Reading 226
  • Index of Authors Cited 229
  • General Index 233
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