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Chapter 34

PARLIAMENTARISM


1789


One day, more than sixty-three years ago, the French people, who had been the property of one family for upwards of eight hundred years, who had been oppressed by the barons down to Louis XI, and since Louis XI by the parliaments, that is to say, to employ the frank remark of a great nobleman of the eighteenth century, "who had been half eaten up by wolves and finished by vermin;" who had been parcelled into provinces, into chÔtellanies, into bailiwicks, and into seneschalries; who had been exploited, squeezed, taxed, fleeced, peeled, shaven, shorn, clipped and abused without mercy, fined incessantly at the good pleasure of their masters; governed, led, misled, overdriven, tortured; beaten with sticks, and branded with red-hot irons for an oath; sent to the galleys for killing a rabbit upon the king's grounds; hung for a matter of five sous; contributing their millions to Versailles and their skeletons to Montfaušon; laden with prohibitions, with ordinances, with patents, with royal letters, with edicts pecuniary and rural, with laws, with codes, with customs; ground to the earth with imposts, with fines, with quit-rents, with mortmains, import and export duties, rents, tithes, tolls, statute-labour, and bankruptcies; cudgelled with a cudgel called a sceptre; gasping, sweating, groaning, always marching, crowned, but on their knees, rather a beast of burthen than a nation,--the French people suddenly stood upright, determined to be men, and resolved to demand an account of Providence, and to liquidate those eight centuries of misery. It was a noble effort!


Victor Hugo