The Life and Death of Louis XVI

By Saul K. Padover | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
"Lo, the fire of revolt!"

BEGINNING with July, 1789, the populace of Paris was king, Louis XVI its amazed and reluctant subject. From this point forward history moves on two levels--what the populace did, how the monarch reacted. The biography of Louis XVI merged with the life of the people of Paris.

The city on the Seine was the largest metropolis on the Continent, with one thousand three hundred streets and boulevards, fifty-two government buildings, forty-eight parishes, thirty markets, twenty-nine hospitals, twenty-four colleges and seminaries, fifteen parks, fourteen bridges, nine prisons, and eight big palaces. It had a population of about six hundred thousand, one-fifth of whom were unemployed at this time, and a revolutionary atmosphere as manifest as the marvelous hues of its shifting cloud-speckled sky. What gave Paris (and still gives, for that matter) its air of excitement, political and other, is hard to define. Since time immemorial it has been a gay, restless city. An historian is not privileged to speculate, but he has observed that Parisians smoke incessantly and are inveterate wine and apéritif drinkers. And as an artist who has lived in the French capital for years remarked to this writer, "The Parisian is hardly ever drunk and never quite sober."

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