Not for a century and half had Rascality ventured to step forth in this fashion; not for so long, showed its huge rude lineaments in the light of day. A Wonder and new Thing: as yet gamboling merely, in awkward Brobdingnag sport, not without quaintness; hardly in anger: yet in its huge half-vacant laugh lurks a shade of grimness,—which could unfold itself!
However, the thinkers invited by Lomenie are now far on with their pamphlets: States-General, on one plan or another, will infallibly meet; if not in January, as was once hoped, yet at latest in May. Old Duke de Richelieu, moribund in these autumn days, opens his eyes once more, murmuring, “What would Louis Fourteenth” (whom he remembers) “have said!”—then closes them again, forever, before the evil time.
The Notables Again.
The universal prayer, therefore, is to be fulfilled! Always in days of national perplexity, when wrong abounded and help was not, this remedy of States-General was called for; by a Malesherbes, nay by a Fenelon; (Montgaillard, i. 461.) even Parlements calling for it were ’escorted with blessings.’ And now behold it is vouchsafed us; States-General shall verily be!
To say, let States-General be, was easy; to say in what manner they shall be, is not so easy. Since the year of 1614, there have no States-General met in France, all trace of them has vanished from the living habits of men. Their structure, powers, methods of procedure, which were never in any measure fixed, have now become wholly a vague possibility. Clay which the potter may shape, this way or that:—say rather, the twenty-five millions of potters; for so many have now, more or less, a vote in it! How to shape the States-General? There is a problem. Each Body-corporate, each privileged, each organised Class has secret hopes of its own in that matter; and also secret misgivings of its own,—for, behold, this monstrous twenty-million Class, hitherto the dumb sheep which these others had to agree about the manner of shearing, is now also arising with hopes! It has ceased or is ceasing to be dumb; it speaks through Pamphlets, or at least brays and growls behind them, in unison,—increasing wonderfully their volume of sound.
As for the Parlement of Paris, it has at once declared for the ’old form of 1614.’ Which form had this advantage, that the Tiers Etat, Third Estate, or Commons, figured there as a show mainly: whereby the Noblesse and Clergy had but to avoid quarrel between themselves, and decide unobstructed what they thought best. Such was the clearly declared opinion of the Paris Parlement. But, being met by a storm of mere hooting and howling from all men, such opinion was blown straightway to the winds; and the popularity of the Parlement along with it,—never to