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- The Eve of the French Revolution - 4/64 -


hated at times, and bearing, very properly, a large share of the odium of misgovernment. The idea of its legitimacy is impressed on the language of diplomacy, and we still speak of the Court of St. James, the Court of Vienna, as powers to be dealt with. Under a monarchy, people do not always distinguish in their own minds between the good of the state and the personal enjoyment of the monarch, nor is the doctrine that the king exists for his people by any means fully recognized. When the Count of Artois told the Parliament of Paris in 1787 that they knew that the expenses of the king could not be regulated by his receipts, but that his receipts must be governed by his expenses, he spoke a half-truth; yet it had probably not occurred to him that there was any difference between the necessity of keeping up an efficient army, and the desirability of having hounds, coaches, and palaces. He had not reflected that it might be essential to the honor of France to feed the old soldiers in the Hotel des Invalides, and quite superfluous to pay large sums to generals who had never taken the field and to colonels who seldom visited their regiments. The courtiers fully believed that to interfere with their salaries was to disturb the most sacred rights of property. In 1787, when the strictest economy was necessary, the king united his "Great Stables" and "Small Stables," throwing the Duke of Coigny, who had charge of the latter, out of place. Although great pains were taken to spare the duke's feelings and his pocket, he was very angry at the change, and there was a violent scene between him and the king. "We were really provoked, the Duke of Coigny and I," said Louis good-naturedly afterwards, "but I think if he had thrashed me, I should have forgiven him." The duke, however, was not so placable as the king. Holding another appointment, he resigned it in a huff. The queen was displeased at this mark of temper, and remarked to a courtier that the Duke of Coigny did not appreciate the consideration that had been shown him.

"Madam," was the reply, "he is losing too much to be content with compliments. It is too bad to live in a country where you are not sure of possessing today what you had yesterday. Such things used to take place only in Turkey."[Footnote: Besenval, ii. 255.]

It is not easy, in looking at the French government in the eighteenth century, to decide where the working administration ended, and where the useless court that answered no real purpose began. The ministers of state were reckoned a part of the court. So were many of the upper civil-servants, the king's military staff, and in a sense, the guards and household troops. So were the "great services," partaking of the nature of public offices, ceremonial honors, and domestic labors. Of this kind were the Household, the Chamber, the Antechamber and Closet, the Great and the Little Stables, with their Grand Squire, First Squire and pages, who had to prove nobility to the satisfaction of the royal herald. There was the department of hunting and that of buildings, a separate one for royal journeys, one for the guard, another for police, yet another for ceremonies. There were five hundred officers "of the mouth," table-bearers distinct from chair-bearers. There were tradesmen, from apothecaries and armorers at one end of the list to saddle-makers, tailors and violinists at the other.

When a baby is at last born to Marie Antoinette (only a girl, to every one's disappointment), a rumor gets about that the child will be tended with great simplicity. The queen's mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, in distant Vienna, takes alarm. She does not approve of "the present fashion according to Rousseau" by which young princes are brought up like peasants. Her ambassador in Paris hastens to reassure her. The infant will not lack reasonable ceremony. The service of her royal person alone will employ nearly eighty attendants.[Footnote: Mercy-Argenteau, iii. 283, 292.] The military and civil households of the king and of the royal family are said to have consisted of about fifteen thousand souls, and to have cost forty-five million francs per annum. The holders of many of the places served but three months apiece out of every year, so that four officers and four salaries were required, instead of one.

With such a system as this we cannot wonder that the men who administered the French government were generally incapable and self-seeking. Most of them were politicians rather than administrators, and cared more for their places than for their country. Of the few conscientious and patriotic men who obtained power, the greater number lost it very speedily. Turgot and Malesherbes did not long remain in the Council. Necker, more cautious and conservative, could keep his place no better. The jealousy of Louis was excited, and he feared the domination of a man of whom the general opinion of posterity has been that he was wanting in decision. Calonne was sent away as soon as he tried to turn from extravagance to economy. Vergennes alone, of the good servants, retained his office; perhaps because he had little to do with financial matters; perhaps, also, because he knew how to keep himself decidedly subordinate to whatever power was in the ascendant. The lasting influences were that of Maurepas, an old man who cared for nothing but himself, whose great object in government was to be without a rival, and whose art was made up of tact and gayety; and that of the rival factions of Lamballe and Polignac, guiding the queen, which were simply rapacious.

The courtiers and the numerous people who were drawn to Versailles by business or curiosity were governed by a system of rules of gradual growth, constituting what was known as "Étiquette." The word has passed into common speech. In this country it is an unpopular word, and there is an impression in many people's minds that the thing which it represents is unnecessary. This, however, is a great delusion. Étiquette is that code of rules, not necessarily connected with morals, by which mutual intercourse is regulated. Every society, whether civilized or barbarous, has such a code of its own. Without it social life would be impossible, for no man would know what to expect of his neighbors, nor be able promptly to interpret the words and actions of his fellow-men. It is in obedience to an unwritten law of this kind that an American takes off his hat when he goes into a church, and an Asiatic, when he enters a mosque, takes off his shoes; that Englishmen shake hands, and Africans rub noses. Where étiquette is well understood and well adapted to the persons whom it governs, men are at ease, for they know what they may do without offense. Where it is too complicated it hampers them, making spontaneous action difficult, and there is no doubt that the étiquette that governed the French court was antiquated, unadvisable and cumbrous. Its rules had been devised to prevent confusion and to regulate the approach of the courtiers to the king. As all honors and emoluments came from the royal pleasure, people were sure to crowd about the monarch, and to jostle each other with unmannerly and dangerous haste, unless they were strictly held in check. Every one, therefore, must have his place definitely assigned to him. To be near the king at all times, to have the opportunity of slipping a timely word into his ear, was an invaluable privilege. To be employed in menial offices about his person was a mark of confidence. Rules could not easily be revised, for each of them concerned a vested right. Those in force in the reign of Louis XVI. had been established by his predecessors when manners were different.

At the close of the Middle Ages privacy may be said to have been a luxury almost unknown to any man. There was not room for it in the largest castle. Solitude was seldom either possible or safe. People were crowded together without means of escape from each other. The greatest received their dependents, and often ate their meals, in their bedrooms. A confidential interview would be held in the embrasure of a window. Such customs disappeared but gradually from the sixteenth century to our own. But by the latter part of the eighteenth, modern ways and ideas were coming in. Yet the étiquette of the French court was still old-fashioned. It infringed too much on the king's privacy; it interfered seriously with his freedom. It exposed him too familiarly to the eyes of a nation overprone to ridicule. A man who is to inspire awe should not dress and undress in public. A woman who is to be regarded with veneration should be allowed to take her bath and give birth to her children in private.[Footnote: See the account of the birth of Marie Antoinette's first child, when she was in danger from the mixed crowd that filled her room, stood on chairs, etc., 19th Dec. 1778. Campan, i. 201. At her later confinements only princes of the blood, the chancellor and the ministers, and a few other persons were admitted. Ibid., 203.]

Madame Campan, long a waiting-woman of Marie Antoinette, has left an account of the toilet of the queen and of the little occurrences that might interrupt it. The whole performance, she says, was a masterpiece of étiquette; everything about it was governed by rules. The Lady of Honor and the Lady of the Bedchamber, both if they were there together, assisted by the First Woman and the two other women, did the principal service; but there were distinctions among them. The Lady of the Bedchamber put on the skirt and presented the gown. The Lady of Honor poured out the water to wash the queen's hands and put on the chemise. When a Princess of the Royal Family or a Princess of the Blood was present at the toilet, the Lady of Honor gave up the latter function to her. To a Princess of the Royal Family, that is to say to the sister, sister-in-law, or aunt of the king, she handed the garment directly; but to a Princess of the Blood (the king's cousin by blood or marriage) she did not yield this service. In the latter case, the Lady of Honor handed the chemise to the First Woman, who presented it to the Princess of the Blood. Every one of these ladies observed these customs scrupulously, as appertaining to her rank.

One winter's day it happened that the Queen, entirely undressed, was about to put on her chemise. Madame Campan was holding it unfolded. The Lady of Honor came in, made haste to take off her gloves and took the chemise. While she still had it in her hands there came a knock at the door, which was immediately opened. The new-comer was the Duchess of Orleans, a Princess of the Blood. Her Highness's gloves were taken off, she advanced to take the shift, but the Lady of Honor must not give it directly to her, and therefore passed it back to Madame Campan, who gave it to the princess. Just then there came another knock at the door, and the Countess of Provence, known as Madame, and sister-in-law to the king, was ushered in. The Duchess of Orleans presented the chemise to her. Meanwhile the Queen kept her arms crossed on her breast, and looked cold. Madame saw her disagreeable position, and without waiting to take off her gloves, merely threw away her handkerchief and put the chemise on the Queen. In her haste she knocked down the Queen's hair. The latter burst out laughing, to hide her annoyance; and only murmured several times between her teeth: "This is odious! What a nuisance!"

This anecdote gives but an instance of the well-known and not unfounded aversion of Marie Antoinette to the étiquette of the French court. But the young queen made no attempt to reform that étiquette; she tried only to evade it. Much has been written about Marie Antoinette as a woman, her terrible misfortunes and the fortitude with which she bore them having evoked the sympathy of mankind. Her conduct as a queen-consort has been less considered. The woman was lively and amiable, possessing a great personal charm, which impressed those who approached her; but that mattered little to the nation, whose dealings were with the queen. What were the duties of her office and how did she fulfill them?

The first thing demanded of her was parade. She had to keep up the splendor and attractiveness of the French monarchy. This, in spite of her impatience of étiquette, was of all her public duties the one which she best performed. Her manners were dignified, gracious, and appropriately discriminating. It is said that she could bow to ten persons with one movement, giving, with her head and eyes, the recognition due to each separately.

She had also the art of talking to several people at once, so that each one felt as if her remarks had been addressed to himself, and the


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