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power. Here we find, indeed, rapid progress, material improvement, active life, but with the same terrible sacrifice of freedom, the constant interference of individual will with the natural laws of growth and development. Peter the Great imagined that intellectual culture might also be created at will, and strove to import into Russia the literature of Western Europe. He repressed all signs of old nationality, even putting his son Alexis to death for preferring his native institutions. Yet he had no respect for the dignity of his own court, and his manners lacked the decencies of common life. The brutal licentiousness of the succeeding reigns, especially of Catharine II., almost surpasses that of Versailles.
The island realm of England, where the people, through years of struggle, had gained the shelter of a constitution and the protection of law, offers the only exception to this picture. Our German does justice to the theme so familiar to our ears. Without exaggerating the perfections of the English state, he sees that it contains within itself the principle of freedom and the power of reform, — the only sure basis of permanence.
It was in the matter of finance that the governments of Europe first began to feel the shoe pinch. Their constant interference with the material conditions of the people was fatal to that freedom of self-development which can alone create national prosperity. The unequal distribution of taxes, the existence of oppressive monopolies, the restrictions upon labor, were seen to be destructive to the welfare of the nation; while certain individuals, high in office, drew their revenue from these very sources, and would not give them up. The immense possessions of the clergy and nobility were untaxed, while the poor man found a tax on every article he used. The very institutions of crafts and guilds, originally formed by the people for their own protection against lawless tyrants, became oppressive instruments of despotism. After the genuine forces of labor had broken the power of the guild, and reduced it to a lifeless ghost, it was upheld by absolutism, because it afforded a considerable source of income to the government. “In order to be received as an
apprentice, a sum of five thousand livres was often necessary, which was paid out as taxes alone; and the right to sell bouquets cost in Paris two hundred livres." We find this decaying institution running into the most absurd anomalies:
“The singular and often wholly arbitrary limits of the crafts, and the petty rules for industrial management, paralyzed activity and produced continual struggle and collision. The baker could sell sea fish, cooked meat, pepper, and roots; and the cutler could not sell a knifehandle, the locksmith must not make a nail. The saddler might work on shoes; but the cobbler must not make them two-thirds new. To give an example of the quarrels of the guilds, three hundred judgments were necessary to decide the point between old and new clothes, - where the one ended and the other began; for these tailors and oldclothes dealers were continually at war.”
The amount of pauperism in France was frightful. In the year 1767, fifty thousand beggars were imprisoned in France ; and, in the year 1777, the number was estimated at one million two hundred thousand in France alone, although the heaviest punishments were laid on beggary and poverty in general. All persons without work, if between the ages of sixteen and seventy, were condemned to three years of the galleys, and old people and children to three years of the hospital, or, rather, “hunger tower.” Hunger was the hell of France at that epoch.
The commercial policy of absolutism was never directed towards developing and securing the resources of the country, but towards keeping the treasury full of ready money for the purposes of the government, to minister to the pleasures of the court, and to keep a large standing army in readiness for service. The device for this purpose was to forbid the exportation of gold and the use of foreign fabrics. The object of the latter restriction was not to protect home industry, but to keep gold in the country. Heavy taxes were laid on both imports and exports. The large array of custom-house guards, spies, and officials demanded by this system, suited well the temper of absolutism, which loved to spy into and regulate the miputest affairs of its subjects. Frederic II. carried this espionage so far, that, having prohibited the use of coffee without permission, he said, “Snufflers must go about day and night in the streets; and, where they smell the coffee burning, they must demand the burning certificate.” The next step was to command the use of taxed articles, in order that the revenue might not fall short. “Every one over nine years of age must use four pecks of salt; that is, must buy it from the royal stores." — “The best proof of the indefensibility of the prohibitive tax is, that in Prussia, so long as the export of wool was forbidden, the woollen manufactures brought in a sum of eight million thalers; but, after the removal of the prohibition, forty million; and the produce of sheep breeding rose to sixteen million. And as in this branch of industry, so in all others. Protective taxes may further public wealth, prohibitive taxes may sometimes bring in money; but they make the people poor, make them lazy, immoral, and slavish.”
The best talent of France, which still remained connected with the government, was turned to the solution of this terrible question of poverty. Sully found it in the encourage. ment of agriculture and cattle-breeding, and the discouragement of manufactures. Colbert would stimulate industry by premiums, and population by rewards offered to marriage and large families. How vainly, when absolutism was driving a hundred million of francs out of France with the Huguenots! The coin was debased, the standard lowered, to make the payment of debts easy. A court of inquiry, to reduce the claims against government to their just amount, was instituted; but this court was as corrupt as all others, and only a few small flies were caught in its meshes.
During the regency came John Law, with his famous scheme for making money out of nothing. The most intense excitement prevailed. Valuable landed property was exchanged for bills founded on imaginary gold mines in Louisiana. The bubble burst, and the wildest uproar broke loose among the enraged people. John Law was obliged to fly in haste. But he had done his country unexpected service. The court and the nobility had partaken of the common pas
·sion: their old prestige of sanctity was broken down, their glory effaced. Count Horn, a relation of the regent, was put to death, because, in company with two other cavaliers, he had robbed and murdered an aged broker.
But the court had not yet learned its lesson. Versailles was never more gay; and in its brilliant courts men might easily forget that poverty, misery, and crime had any existence, save in the dreams of crazy fanatics.
But a power more subtile than states or armies had arisen in France, — the power of thought; and, while the halls of Versailles were mad with revelry, the saloons of Paris were filled with earnest discussion on all the great principles of human right, on all the great topics of human destiny. The “ Literary Opposition " had commenced its work. We need not dwell long upon this familiar theme. The great work of Locke, then so important and exciting, has now become a wearisome lesson for schoolboys. It is difficult for us to conceive of the effect of such books on the public mind. Breaking away from the false spiritualism of the Middle Ages, Matter asserted its claims with loud, impressive voice. In our days the re-action has come, and the words which inspired nations with enthusiasm seem to us cold, hard, and lifeless.
Dr. Springer gives an able review of the rise and progress of Illuminism in England, its influence on the French mind, and its expression in art and literature. His comparison of Rousseau and Voltaire is fair and sagacious. He finds in Voltaire a man exactly adapted to meet the spirit and wants of bis age, whose faults as well as virtues rendered him popular with the people of his own time; while Rousseau, the idealist, with grand prophetic glance, looked to the future, and was impatient to realize his dreams of absolute perfection.
The same work which Locke and Shaftesbury performed for England, Rousseau and Voltaire in France, went on in Germany under the guidance of Lessing, Winckelmann, and others; but here it took an æsthetic direction. Germany was not yet ripe for revolution; and free thought in art and literature was safe, because it was not applied to politics and life.
But one hope was left for absolutism, - voluntary reformation within its own bounds. This was attempted in various countries and in different ways, - sometimes with temporary good effect. The clergy were the first subjects of reform, not alone owing to the freer views of theology introduced, but also to the jealousy of the king's favorites, who regarded the influence of the priests as adverse to their own. The abolition of the Order of Jesuits, which was first undertaken in France and on the Spanish peninsula, was the most important step. in this movement. The possessions of the Order were immense, especially in South America, where, it is said, every Jesuit enjoyed an income of twenty-five hundred thalers. The jealousy of princes and courts was aroused against a society possessing such power, and acknowledging an “allegiance superior to its loyalty to the king." The Order was abolished by law in France in 1764; and they were driven out of Portugal in 1759, and out of Spain in 1767. Maria Theresa remained their only protector. But, where all reforms were to be carried out by arbitrary power, they only convinced the people of the corruption of the state, without inspiring confidence in the means employed to cleanse it. Absolutism did not contain within itself the capacity of reform. Revolution was indispensable.
At this period, our own struggle against the mother-country began, and its effect on the mind of Europe was overpowering. A great nation was acting out those ideas which there had only been talked of in saloons. Jefferson's grand ideas of the natural equality and inalienable rights of all men – which would, no doubt, have seemed mere “glittering generalities" to the Court of Versailles and the people of France, had they dropped from his lips in the saloon of Madame Dudeffant or L'Espinasse — had quite a different meaning when uttered by men who were ready to defend them with their blood, and who spoke them under the threat of a halter. Public opinion asserted its power in France; and the most absolute monarch in Europe was obliged to join hands with the chief of the English rebels.
Ideas had come to court, - what could they do but destroy