The Ancient Regime eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 548 pages of information about The Ancient Regime.

[47].  Lord, in Old Saxon, signifies “he who provides food;” seignior, in the Latin of the middle ages, signifies “the ancient,” the head or chief of the flock.

[48].  Around 1780. (Sr.)

BOOK SECOND.  MORALS AND CHARACTERS.

CHAPTER I. MORAL PRINCIPLES UNDER THE ANCIENT REGIME.

The Court and a life of pomp and parade.

A military staff on furlough for a century and more, around a commander-in-chief who gives fashionable entertainment, is the principle and summary of the habits of society under the ancient régime.  Hence, if we seek to comprehend them we must first study them at their center and their source, that is to say, in the court itself.  Like the whole ancient régime the court is the empty form, the surviving adornment of a military institution, the causes of which have disappeared while the effects remain, custom surviving utility.  Formerly, in the early times of feudalism, in the companionship and simplicity of the camp and the castle, the nobles served the king with their own hands.  One providing for his house, another bringing a dish to his table, another disrobing him at night, and another looking after his falcons and horses.  Still later, under Richelieu and during the Fronde,[1] amid the sudden attacks and the rude exigencies of constant danger they constitute the garrison of his lodgings, forming an armed escort for him, and a retinue of ever-ready swordsmen.  Now as formerly they are equally assiduous around his person, wearing their swords, awaiting a word, and eager to his bidding, while those of highest rank seemingly perform domestic service in his household.  Pompous parade, however, has been substituted for efficient service; they are elegant adornments only and no longer useful tools; they act along with the king who is himself an actor, their persons serving as royal decoration.

I. Versailles.

The Physical aspect and the moral character of Versailles.

It must be admitted that the decoration is successful, and, that since the fêtes of the Italian Renaissance, more magnificent displays have not been seen.  Let us follow the file of carriages which, from Paris to Versailles, rolls steadily along like a river.  Certain horses called “des enragés,” fed in a particular way, go and come in three hours.[2] One feels, at the first glance, as if he were in a city of a particular stamp, suddenly erected and at one stroke, like a prize-medal for a special purpose, of which only one is made, its form being a thing apart, as well as its origin and use.  In vain is it one of the largest cities of the kingdom, with its population of 80,000 souls;[3] it is filled, peopled, and occupied by the life of a single man; it is simply a royal residence, arranged entirely to provide for the wants, the pleasures, the service, the guardianship,

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The Ancient Regime from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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