The Ancient Regime eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 548 pages of information about The Ancient Regime.
seem in conformity with their secret wishes; at least they adopt them in theory and in words.  The imposing terms of liberty, justice, public good, man’s dignity, are so admirable, and besides so vague!  What heart can refuse to cherish them, and what intelligence can foretell their innumerable applications?  And all the more because, up to the last, the theory does not descend from the heights, being confined to abstractions, resembling an academic oration, constantly dealing with Natural Man (homme en soi) of the social contract, with an imaginary and perfect society.  Is there a courtier at Versailles who would refuse to proclaim equality in the lands of the Franks! — Between the two stories of the human intellect, the upper where abstract reasoning is spun and the lower where an active faith reposes, communication is neither complete nor immediate.  A number of principles never leave the upper stories; they remain there as curiosities, so many fragile, clever mechanisms, freely to be seen but rarely employed.  If the proprietor sometimes transfers them to the lower story he makes but a partial use of them; established customs, anterior and more powerful interests and instincts restrict their employment.  In this respect he is not acting in bad faith, but as a man; each of us professing truths which he does not put in practice.  One evening Target, a dull lawyer, having taken a pinch from the snuff-box of the Maréchale de Beauvau, the latter, whose drawing room is a small democratic club, is amazed at such monstrous familiarity.  Later, Mirabeau, on returning home just after having voted for the abolition of the titles of nobility, takes his servant by the ear, laughingly proclaiming in his thunderous voice, “Look here, you rascal, I trust that to you I shall always be Monsieur le Comte !” — This shows to what extent new theories are admitted into an aristocratic brain.  They occupy the whole of the upper story, and there, with a pleasing murmur, they weave the web of interminable conversation; their buzzing lasts throughout the century; never have the drawing-rooms seen such an outpouring of fine sentences and of fine words.  Something of all this drops from the upper to the lower story, if only as dust, I mean to say, hope, faith in the future, belief in Reason, a love of truth, the generous and youthful good intentions, the enthusiasm that quickly passes but which may, for a while, become self-abnegation and devotion.

IV.  UNBELIEF.

The diffusion among the upper class. — Progress of incredulity in religion. — Its causes.- It breaks out under the Regency. — Increasing irritation against the clergy. — Materialism in the drawing-room. — Estimate of the sciences. — Final opinion on religion. — Skepticism of the higher clergy.

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The Ancient Regime from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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