FRANCE BEFORE THE REVOLUTION
 WE have now come to the period which saw the greatest event in French history, the French Revolution.
It is also one of the greatest events in the history of Europe, for the whole Continent from north
to south, east to west, was drawn into the wild hurly-burly of fierce warfare and uproar which
followed upon the rising of the French people against their rulers.
What is a revolution? It is an upsetting of the old order of things; it is a time when the man turns
against his master, and snatches authority from the master's hand. Then the latter has either to
beat down his former servant, or to fly to save his life.
The masters in France before the Revolution were, first of all, the King; after him, the nobles and
clergy. From the King at the head to the poorest noble, they used their power badly. The rulers
treated the ruled, the vast mass of the nation, as people created for their convenience, to supply
them with money and to serve them. The King demanded great sums
 to provide armies for his wars, to surround himself with a brilliant and luxurious Court, to defray
the expenses of government. The money was raised by laying heavy taxes on the people, and on the
people alone; the upper classes paid nothing. The peasant, the farmer, the townsman, from their
scanty purses were drawn the large sums required. Here was a very great injustice which was plain to
all men. But the royal taxes were not all; after the King, the nobles.
In the hundred years before the Revolution, the French nobility had deserted their country homes for
the Court, and their days were spent at Paris, Versailles, or Fontainebleau. Their castles stood
empty, their faces were no more seen among their tenants, but their calls for money were unceasing.
They wished to shine at Court, and this demanded a heavy outlay, and the last farthing was wrung
from the peasant's little hoard. The power of feudal days still existed in the hands of a French
noble, though the conditions of feudal life had long since gone.
The noble used these powers to lay very heavy conditions on his tenants. The small farmer had to pay
rent for his land in three ways: in coin, in kind, and in labour. Very often the money-rent was an
ample sum to cover the value of the holding, but he was far from being quits with his master. He had
next to pay the rent in kind: so much corn, so much butter, so many cheeses, so
 many fowls, to be sent to the big house. Then came the rent in labour: he had to mend the roads of
his master, help to till the fields, and to find horse and cart whenever there were loads to carry.
He had to pay dues to his lord at times of marriage or of death; he was bound to grind his corn at
his lord's mill, to press his grapes, his olives, and his walnuts at his lord's press, to bake his
bread at his lord's oven—and for all these he must pay.
Nor was he yet at the end of his burdens; there were still the terrible corvées. We have
spoken of the corvee of forced labour to make and repair roads, but the lord of an
estate himself had the right to make a corvee by decree, and the wretched tenants knew
not from day to day when a fresh burden might be laid upon them. Sometimes the decree was of a most
unreasonable nature, such as that which forced peasants to beat the water in a moat all night lest
the frogs by their croaking should disturb the sleep of the lord in his chateau.
But no matter how unjust or how foolish the demands made upon the peasant, he had to submit. If he
refused to pay, or perform a task, heavy fines were laid on him, and the officers of the law were
soon at the door of his house to seize all that he owned, to hale him off to prison, to flogging,
and, very often, to torture.
SPLENDOUR AND GAIETY AMONG THE RICH AND GREAT.
GREAT STAIRCASE AT VERSAILLES BEFORE THE REVOLUTION.
The result of this grinding oppression was to take all heart out of the people. Of what use was it
 work and be thrifty when your hard-earned gain would be torn from you to be wasted in Paris? It was
of no use, and in many places the peasants sank into despair, and allowed their corn-fields and
pastures to become overgrown with rushes and brambles, to return to bog or marsh or forest, as it
once had been.
Thoughtful men in France saw these evils, and warned those in power that such cruel treatment would
end in dreadful troubles. One great writer, speaking from the depths of his heart in fierce pity,
thus describes the French peasants:
"There be certain savage and shy wild animals, male and female, which are scattered up and down our
countryside. They are sunburned to a sort of dull black, and walk bent towards the earth they dig;
on straightening themselves they show, it is true, a human face, and, in fact, they are men and
women. They withdraw from the fields at nightfall to their dens, where they sup on black bread,
roots and water. They spare their fellow-men the labours of seed-time and harvest, and do not
deserve to lack the bread they sow."
This, then, was the state of France before the Revolution—splendour and gaiety among the rich
and great; black, grinding misery among the toiling masses.