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CENTENARY OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION., Issue 7958, 13 July 1889
CENTENARY OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.
One hundred years ago,. on the 14th of July, the Great Revolution in France, which had been long fermenting in the national mind, culminated in a popular attack on the Bastille. We know of no page in the history of nations worthier of attentive study by statesmen than that of France during the preceding 200 years. The arbitrary powers claimed by the King, the absence of any controlling power by the nobles or Parliament, the reckless wars and extravagant Court, gradually leading to a national debt the interest on which no financial skill on the part of the most able Minister could meet, the oppressive taxation upon trade and industry from which the nobles and ecclesiastics were exempt, and the forced labor which reduced the rural population to a state of abject poverty, gradually prepared the way for that endeavor to shake off their oppressions which has had so momentous an influence upon the subsequent national life of Europe, Added to these constant burdens was the effect of what Knight terms “ A visitation of Providence ” —“ a tremendous hailstorm "which occurred " on the 13th July, 1788,” and "destroyed, in many districts, the crops of corn and vineyards. The rain was almost total for sixty leagues round Paris,” and the distress general. In August, 1788, an edict was issued convoking the long forgotten States General in the following May. " The royal Treasury was becoming empty, and no means of warding off the pressure of the demands of the public creditors but by a measure declamatory of insolvency. The Treasury payments shall,” said a proclamation of the 16th ' August, 1788, " be three-fifths money and two-fifths paper (bearing interest) ” —that is, promises to pay. "The alarm was universal. The Court was terrified.” There was no hope but the recall of the celebrated retired financier Necker. “ Paris was in a state of riot, which was suppressed with some bloodshed. But hope returned with the presence of Necker. He, however, found himself a finance minister without finances." Be found it impossible to improve the revenue so as to meet the national engagements, and in the following year (1789) his resignation was a proximate cause of the popular outbreak, commencing with the attack on the Bastille of Paris. "Bastille properly means any strong castle provided with towers, but as a proper name it is applied to a' famous castle which once existed in Paris, in which State prisoners and other persons arrested by leltres de cachet were confined.” The letters were secret warrants, by which, under the former kings of France and their Ministers, any person could be imprisoned or banished to a certain place without any reason being given for it. They were only written on paper, some in the name of the King, who spoke in the first person, and concluded with the formula: " Sur ce je prie Dim, qu'il vous ait dans sa sainte et divine garde' 1 A number of these letters, in blank, was given to the lieutenantgeneral of the Police of Paris to fill up as occasion required. Under authority of those letters, persons suspected of designs against the Government, or who had given offence to a courtier or a- royal mistress, might be shut up in prison even to the end of their days. " Through their mysterious agency they were banished out of society, and were as if dead.” We are quoting from' Knight. He continues: “The great Bastille of Paris was a fortress built in the fourteenth century—a massive stone structure of nine towers, surrounded by a deep ditch ; other ditches, with drawbridges and strong barriers were between the fortress and the street St. Antoine. The Bastille had become celebrated throughout Europe by the remarkable narrative of the escape of two men— De Latude and D’Alegre—in 1756. Their adventures made the construction of this horrible prison familiar to Englishmen. The labor they went through for eighteen months —in plaiting ropes out of the threads of their linen, to form a ladder for their descent of 85ft from the platform to the ditch, and in removing the iron bars from the chimney by which they were to gain the platform—this labor was almost incredible. But the perseverance of those two fellowprisoners* indicated how strong was the desire of escape from a den where men went mad, under the sense of injustice and the pressure of despair.” In England the Bastille was the great symbol of the tyranny of the French Government. Cowper described it in 1785 as "the house of bondage, worse than that of old which God avenged on Pharaoh,” and he thus looks forward, almost with a prophetic eye, to the catastrophe of the 14th July, 1789 : Ye horrid towers, the shade of broken hearts, Ye dungeons, and ye cages of despair, Thatmonarchs have supplied from age to age With music such as suits their sovereign ears— The sighs and groans of miserable men! There’s not an English heart that would not leap To hear that ye were fallen at last. Cannon on the towers of the Bastille commanded the Quartier St. Antoine, the residence of a great artizan population, " Paris had been growing during the century into a very considerable manufacturing town, and in the Faubourg St. Antoine especially the working people were collected together in large numbers, in consequence of an edict of Louis XVI., intended ‘ to relieve them from the restrictions which were injurious to their interests as well as to their freedom of trade.’ They had privileges then granted that relieved them from the tyranny of the guilds. But the agglomeration of a vast working population at a time of public excitement and of piivate distress was a serious danger, and thus in every stage of the French Revolution the Faubourg St. Antoine was a terrible power in the hands of those who worked upon the popular passions. At the request of a deputation from a popular committee at the Hdtel de Ville to the governor, He Lannay, the cannon were ’ drawn back from the embrasures on the battlements. About noon on the 14th July Thuriot de Bosi&re, an advocate, demanded to see the governor of the Bastille, to warn him of the cry that had gone forth in the more polite quarters of Paris, and to advise him, if attacked, to surrender. He bad 114 men in the fortress, with arms and ammunition, but with scanty store of provisions. Thuriot and De Lannay went upon the battlements, and thence they saw a vast multitude swarming towards the grim towers along every street and every alley of the Faubourg. Thuriot showed himself at the battlements; then descended and addressed the crowd from the window of the governor’s house, with 80me words intended to allay their fury. In return he only received curses, and an attack commenced in downright earnest. Four men, with axes, made their way from the roof of a neighboring house to the outer wall of the Bastille, jumped down into the court, and began hewing at the chains of the drawbridge. That drawbridge at length fell, and the crowd poured into the exterior court. Another drawbridge impeded their progress. They rushed at it, and were received with a fire of musketry. Dead and wounded men were carried forth, and the sight roused the gathering multitude to additional fury. Large numbers of French guards came and assisted in the attack. De Liunay fired upon the crowd from the battlements. The populace fired upon the Swiss and the Invalides who defended the fortress. After a contest of five hours there appeared no reasonable expectation of the stronghold being taken. The garrison had lost only one man, while nearly one hundred of the assailants bad been killed or wounded. Yet the Invalides (French)
desired to surrender, while the Swiss troops expressed their desire to resist. In despair of being able finally to repel a mob of thousands, De Launay attempted to apply a match to the powder magazine, but was liravented by one of his officers, and at eagth, moved by that instinctive fear of a raging multitude which even the bravest may feel, he felt inclined to capitulate but njt to surrender. He wrote a note to the besiegers to the effect that he had twenty thousand pounds of powder within the magazine, and would blow up the Bastille, and thusdestroy itsneighborbood, himself, and his besiegers, it they did not accept a capitulation which would leave him and his garrison to go free. The note was given to Elis, an officer of the French Guards; and ho gave his assurance, in which his men joined, that if the drawbridge were lowered the garrison should receive no harm. It was lowered. The furious crowd rushed in, passing the lavalides and the Swiss who were ranged in the inner court. The French guards could not wholly protect those to whom safety had been assured. It was determined to take Do Launay to the Hotel de Ville. As ho moved along, the yells of the multitude grew louder; the efforts to protect the unfortunate man were unavailing, Hullin, one of the besiegers, even fought against the mob to defend the prisoner. Hullin was struck down and De Launay murdered. Thus the hated Bastille was captured. Other murders were committed by the mob. St. Antoine was-in a state of frenzy and delight; through the night Paris was watched as if a foreign enemy were appreaching. Many of the besiegers searched the cells of the Bastille, but found only seven prisoners, who were of course liberated. For many days the fallen fortress was visited by crowds of curious and horrified citizens. They pierced its dark staircases and mysterious passages; they entered its awful cells, which reminded theca of graves ; they shuddered at the heavy chain in each dungeon, and the great stone which served as bed and as chair. Strange instruments of torture were found, among which was particularly noted an iron suit of armor, so fashioned as to grasp every part of the victim’s body and utterly forbid movement. What nameless agonies of forgotten men had that armor once enfolded. But all these devilish engines had been long unused, for the rule of Louis XVI. was mild. There was not found as much as one political prisoner in the Bastille. . . The National Assembly decreed that the Bastille should be razed to the ground for its hateful recollections.”—(Mackenzie. ) The doings of Paris were imitated in the provinces. On the 20th July Arthur Young was at Strasburg when the news of the overthrow of the Bastille reached that city. Writing on the subject, he said: "The spirit of revolt is gone forth into various parts of the kingdom. The price of bread has prepared the populace everywhere for •11 sorts of violence,” Snob was the state of France 100 years ago. . Probably the proceedings against Boulanger have been instituted lest the centenary of the French Revolution should become celebrated by an attempt on his part to re-establish a tyranny himself becoming dictator.
CENTENARY OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION., Issue 7958, 13 July 1889
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