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The Man of Forty Crowns having improved his understanding, and having accumulated a moderate fortune, married a very pretty girl, who had an hundred crowns a year of her own. As soon as his son was born, he felt himself a man of some consequence in the state. He was famous for making the best baskets in the world, and his wife was an excellent seamstress. She was born in the neighborhood of a rich abbey of a hundred thousand livres a year. Her husband asked me one day, why those gentlemen, who were so few in number, had swallowed so many of the forty crown lots? "Are they more useful to their country than I am?" "No, dear neighbor." "Do they, like me, contribute at least to the population of it?" "No." "Do they cultivate the land? Do they defend the state when it is attacked?" "No, they pray to God for us." "Well, then, I will pray to God for us." "Well, then, I will pray to God for them, in return."
QUESTION.—How many of these useful gentry, men and women, may the convents in this kingdom contain?
ANSWER.—By the lists of the superintendents, taken toward the end of the last century, there were about ninety thousand.
QUESTION.—According to our ancient account, they ought not, at forty crowns a head, to possess above ten millions eight hundred thousand livres. Pray, how much have they actually?
ANSWER.—They have to the amount of fifty millions, including the masses, and alms to the mendicant monks, who really lay a considerable tax on the people. A begging friar of a convent in Paris, publicly bragged that his wallet was worth fourscore thousand livres a year.
QUESTION.—Let us now consider how much the repartition of fifty millions among ninety thousand shaven crowns gives to each? Let us see, is it not five hundred and fifty-five livres?
ANSWER.—Yes, and a considerable sum it is in a numerous society, where the expenses even diminish by the quantity of consumers; for ten persons may live together much cheaper than if each had his separate lodging and table.
QUESTION.—So that the ex-Jesuits, to whom there is now assigned a pension of four hundred livres, are then really losers by the bargain.
ANSWER.—I do not think so; for they are almost all of them retired among their friends, who assist them. Several of them say masses for money, which they did not do before; others get to be preceptors; some are maintained by female bigots; each has made a shift for himself: and, perhaps, at this time, there are few of them, who have tasted of the world, and of liberty, that would resume their former chains. The monkish life, whatever they may say, is not at all to be envied. It is a maxim well known, that the monks are a kind of people who assemble without knowing, live without loving, and die without regretting each other.
QUESTION.—You think, then, that it would be doing them a great service, to strip them of all their monks' habits?
ANSWER.—They would undoubtedly gain much by it, and the state still more. It would restore to the country a number of subjects, men and women, who have rashly sacrificed their liberty, at an age to which the laws do not allow a capacity of disposing of tenpence a year income. It would be taking these corpses out of their tombs, and afford a true resurrection. Their houses might become hospitals, or be turned into places for manufactures. Population would be increased. All the arts would be better cultivated. One might at least diminish the number of these voluntary victims by fixing the number of novices. The country would have subjects more useful, and less unhappy. Such is the opinion of all the magistrates, such the unanimous wish of the public, since its understanding is enlightened. The example of England, and other states, is an evident proof of the necessity of this reformation. What would England do at this time, if, instead of forty thousand seamen, it had forty thousand monks? The more they are multiplied, the greater need there is of a number of industrious subjects. There are undoubtedly buried in the cloisters many talents, which are lost to the state. To make a kingdom nourish, there should be the fewest priests and the most artisans possible. So far ought the ignorance and barbarism of our forefathers to be from being any rule for us, that they ought rather to be an admonition to us, to do what they would do, if they were in our place, with our improvements in knowledge.
QUESTION.—It is not then out of hatred to monks that you wish to abolish them, but out of love to your country? I think as you do. I would not have my son a monk. And if I thought I was to rear children for nothing better than a cloister, I would not wish to become a father.
ANSWER.—Where in fact, is that good father of a family that would not groan to see his son and daughter lost to society? This is seeking the safety of the soul. It may be so, but a soldier that seeks the safety of his body, when his duty is to fight, is punished. We are all soldiers of the state; we are in the pay of society; we become deserters when we quit it.
Why, then, has monkishness prevailed? Because, since the days of Constantine, the government has been everywhere absurd and detestable; because the Roman empire came to have more monks than soldiers; because there were a hundred thousand of them in Egypt alone; because they were exempt from labor and taxes; because the chiefs of those barbarous nations which destroyed the empire, having turned Christians, in order to govern Christians, exercised the most horrid tyranny; because, to avoid the fury of these tyrants, people threw themselves in crowds into cloisters, and so, to escape one servitude, put themselves into another; because the popes, by instituting so many different orders of sacred drones, contrived to have so many subjects to themselves in other states; because a peasant likes better to be called reverend father, and to give his benedictions, than to follow a plough's tail; because he does not know that the plough is nobler than a monk's habit; because he had rather live at the expense of fools than by a laborious occupation; in short, because he does not know that, in making a monk of himself, he is preparing for himself unhappy days, of which the sad groundwork will be nothing but a tedium vitŠ and repentance.
QUESTION.—I am satisfied. Let us have no monks, for the sake of their own happiness, as well as ours. But I am sorry to hear it said by the landlord of our village, who is father to four boys and three girls, that he does not know how to dispose of his daughters, unless he makes nuns of them.
ANSWER.—This too often repeated plea is at once inhuman, detrimental to the country, and destructive to society. Every time that it can be said of any condition of life whatever, that if all the world were to embrace it mankind would perish, it is proved that that condition is a worthless one, and that whoever embraces it does all the mischief to mankind that in him lies.
Now, it being a clear consequence that if all the youth of both sexes were to shut themselves up in cloisters the world would perish, monkery is, if it were but in that light alone, the enemy to human nature, independently of the horrid evils it has formerly caused.
QUESTION.—Might not as much be said of soldiers?
ANSWER. Certainly not; for if every subject carried arms in his turn, as formerly was the practice in all republics, and especially in that of Rome, the soldier is but the better farmer for it. The soldier, as a good subject ought to do, marries, and fights for his wife and children. Would it were the will of heaven that every laborer was a soldier and a married man! They would make excellent subjects. But a monk, merely in his quality of a monk, is good for nothing but to devour the substance of his countryman. There is no truth more generally acknowledged.
QUESTION.—But, sir, the daughters of poor gentlemen, who cannot portion them off in marriage, what are they to do?
ANSWER.—-Do! They should do, as has a thousand times been said, like the daughters in England, in Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, Holland, half Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Tartary, Turkey, Africa, and in almost all the rest of the globe. They will prove much better wives, much better mothers, when it shall have been the custom, as in Germany, to marry women without fortune. A woman, industrious and a good economist, will do more good in a house, than a daughter of a farmer of the revenue, who spends more in superfluities than she will have brought of income to her husband.
There is a necessity for houses of retreat for old age, for infirmity, for deformity. But by the most detestable of all abuses, these foundations are for well-made persons. Let a hump-backed old woman present herself to enter into a cloister, and she will be rejected with contempt, unless she will give an immense portion to the house. But what do I say? Every nun must bring her dower with her; she is else the refuse of the convent. Never was there a more intolerable abuse.
QUESTION.—Thank you, sir. I swear to you that no daughter of mine shall be a nun. They shall learn to spin, to sew, to make lace, to embroider, to render themselves useful. I look on the vows of convents to be crimes against one's country and one's self. Now, sir, I beg you will explain to me, how comes it that a certain writer, in contradiction to human kind, pretends that monks are useful to the population of a state, because their buildings are kept in better repair than those of the nobility, and their lands better cultivated?
ANSWER.—-He has a mind to divert himself; he knows but too well, that ten families who have each five thousand livres a year in land, are a hundred, nay, a thousand times more useful than a convent that enjoys fifty thousand livres a year, and which has always a secret hoard. He cries up the fine houses built by the monks, and it is precisely those fine houses that provoke the rest of the subjects; it is the very cause of complaint to all Europe. The vow of poverty condemns those palaces, as the vow of humility protests against pride, and as the vow of extinguishing one's race is in opposition to nature.
QUESTION.—Bless me! Who can this be that advances so strange a proposition?
ANSWER. It is the friend of mankind, [Monsieur le M. de Mirabeau, in his book entitled L'Ami des Hommes. It is against this marquis that the jest on the only tax is leveled; a tax proposed by him], or rather the friend of the monks.
QUESTION.—I begin to think it advisable to be very distrustful of books.
ANSWER.—The best way is to make use, with regard to them, of the same caution, as with men. Choose the most reasonable, examine them, and never yield unless to evidence.
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