“the votive festival of Mont-Dore: savages descending from the mountain in torrents, the curate with stole and surplice, the justice in his wig, the police corps with sabers drawn, all guarding the open square before letting the bagpipers play; the dance interrupted in a quarter of an hour by a fight; the hooting and cries of children, of the feeble and other spectators, urging them on as the rabble urge on so many fighting dogs; frightful looking men, or rather wild beasts covered with coats of coarse wool, wearing wide leather belts pierced with copper nails, gigantic in stature, which is increased by high wooden shoes, and making themselves still taller by standing on tiptoe to see the battle, stamping with their feet as it progresses and rubbing each other’s flanks with their elbows, their faces haggard and covered with long matted hair, the upper portion pallid, and the lower distended, indicative of cruel delight and a sort of ferocious impatience. And these folks pay the taille! And now they want to take away their salt! And they know nothing of those they despoil, of those whom they think they govern, believing that, by a few strokes of a cowardly and careless pen, they may starve them with impunity up to the final catastrophe! Poor Jean-Jacques, I said to myself, had any one dispatched you, with your system, to copy music amongst these folks, he would have had some sharp replies to make to your discourses!”
Prophetic warning and admirable foresight in one whom an excess of evil does not blind to the evil of the remedy! Enlightened by his feudal and rural instincts, the old man at once judges both the government and the philosophers, the Ancient Regime and the Revolution.
IV. THE PEASANT BECOMES LANDOWNER.
How the peasant becomes a proprietor. — He is no better off. — Increase of taxes. — He is the “mule” of the Ancient Regime.
Misery begets bitterness in a man; but ownership coupled with misery renders him still more bitter. He may have submitted to indigence but not to spoliation — which is the situation of the peasant in 1789, for, during the eighteenth century, he had become the possessor of land. But how could he maintain himself in such destitution? The fact is almost incredible, but it is nevertheless true. We can only explain it by the character of the French peasant, by his sobriety, his tenacity, his rigor with himself, his dissimulation, his hereditary passion for property and especially for that of the soil. He had lived on privations, and economized sou after sou. Every year a few pieces of silver are added to his little store of crowns buried in the most secret recess of his cellar; Rousseau’s peasant, concealing his wine and bread in a pit, assuredly had a yet more secret hiding-place; a little money in a woollen stocking or in a jug escapes, more readily than elsewhere, the search of the clerks. Dressed in rags, going