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The Ancient Regime eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 548 pages of information about The Ancient Regime.
letters, memoirs and detailed statistics preserved in the one hundred boxes of the ecclesiastical committee, the correspondence, in 94 bundles, of the department and municipal authorities with the ministries from 1790 to 1799, the reports of the Councilors of State on mission at the end of 1801, the reports of prefects under the Consulate, the Empire, and the Restoration down to 1823.  There is such a quantity of unknown and instructive documents besides these that the history of the Revolution seems, indeed, to be still unwritten.  In any event, it is only such documents, which can make all these people come alive.  The lesser nobles, the curates, the monks, the nuns of the provinces, the aldermen and bourgeoisie of the towns, the attorneys and syndics of the country villages, the laborers and artisans, the officers and the soldiers.  These alone enable us to contemplate and appreciate in detail the various conditions of their existence, the interior of a parsonage, of a convent, of a town-council, the wages of a workman, the produce of a farm, the taxes levied on a peasant, the duties of a tax-collector, the expenditure of a noble or prelate, the budget, retinue and ceremonial of a court.  Thanks to such resources, we are able to give precise figures, to know hour by hour the occupations of a day and, better still, read off the bill of fare of a grand dinner, and recompose all parts of a full-dress costume.  We have even, on the one hand, samples of the materials of the dresses worn by Marie Antoinette, pinned on paper and classified by dates.  And on the other hand, we can tell what clothes were worn by the peasant, describe the bread he ate, specify the flour it was made of, and state the cost of a pound of it in sous and deniers.[2] With such resources one becomes almost contemporary with the men whose history one writes and, more than once, in the Archives, I have, while tracing their old handwriting on the time-stained paper before me, been tempted to speak aloud with them.

H. A. Taine, August 1875.

Notes: 

[1].  Taine’s friend who was the director of the French National Archives. (Sr.)

[2].  One sou equals 1/20th of a franc or 5 centimes. 12 diniers equaled one sou. (Sr.)

BOOK FIRST. THE STRUCTURE OF THE ANCIENT SOCIETY.

CHAPTER I. THE ORIGIN OF PRIVILEGES.

In 1789 three classes of persons, the Clergy, the Nobles and the King, occupied the most prominent position in the State with all the advantages pertaining thereto namely, authority, property, honors, or, at the very least, privileges, immunities, favors, pensions, preferences, and the like.  If they occupied this position for so long a time, it is because for so long a time they had deserved it.  They had, in short, through an immense and secular effort, constructed by degrees the three principal foundations of modern society.

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