Obrázky stránek

And broke well thy four hundred pound

Which I lent to thee,
And make thyself no more so bare,

By the counsel of me.
Thus then holp him good Robin,

The knight all of his care.
God, that sitteth in heaven high,

Grant us well to fare.


JEFFREY. A TRAOT of about 150 miles square, at the mouth and on the southern bank of the Loire, comprehends the scene of those deplorable hostilities. The most inland part of the district, and that in which the insurrection first broke out, is called Le Bocage, and seems to have been almost as singular in its physical conformation as in the state and condition of its population. A series of detached eminences, of no great elevation, rose over the whole face of the country, with little rills trickling in the hollows and occasional cliffs by their sides The whole space was divided into small enclosures, each surrounded with tall wild hedges, and rows of pollard trees ; so that, though there were few large woods, the whole region had a sylvan and impenetrable appearance. The ground was mostly in pasturage; and the landscape had, for the most part, an aspect of wild verdure, except that in the autumn some patches of yellow corn appeared here and there athwart the green inclosures. Only two great roads traversed this sequestered region, running nearly parallel, at a distance of more than seventy miles from each other. In the intermediate space, there was nothing but a labyrinth of wild and devious paths, crossing each other at the extremity of almost every field—often serving, at the same time, as channels for the winter torrents, and winding so capriciously among the innumerable hillocks, and beneath the meeting hedgerows, that the natives themselves were

always in danger of losing their way when they went a league or two from their own babitations. The country, though rather thickly peopled, contained, as may be supposed, few large towns; and the inhabitants, devoted almost entirely to rural occupations, enjoyed a great deal of leisure. The noblesse or gentry of the country was very generally resident on their estates; where they lived in a style of simplicity and homeliness which had long disappeared from every other part of the kingdom. No grand parks, fine gardens, or ornamental villas ; but spacious clumsy châteaus, surrounded with farm offices and cottages for the laborers. Their manners and way of life, too, partook of the same primitive rusticity. There was great cordiality, and even much familiarity, in the intercourse of the seigneurs with their dependants. They were followed by large trains of them in their hunting expeditions, which occupied a great part of their time. Every man had his fowling-piece, and was a marksman of fame or pretensions. They were posted in various quarters, to intercept or drive back the game, and were thus trained, by anticipation, to that sort of discipline and concert in which their whole art of war was afterwards found to consist. Nor was their intimacy confined to their sports. The peasants resorted familiarly to their landlords for advice, both legal and medical ; and they repaid the visits in their daily rambles, and entered with interest into all the details of their agricultural operations. They came to the weddings of their children, drank with their guests, and made little presents to the young people. On Sunday and holidays, all the retainers of the family assembled at the château, and danced in the barn or the courtyard, according to the season. The ladies of the house joined in the festivity, and that without any airs of condescension or of mockery : for, in their own life, there was little splendor or luxurious refinement. They travelled on horseback, or in heavy carriages drawn by oxen; and had little other amusement than in the care of their dependants, and the familiar intercourse of neighbors among whom there was no rivalry or principle of ostentation.

From all this, there resulted, as Madame de L. assures us, a certain innocence and kindliness of character, joined with great hardihood and gayety—which reminds us of Henry IV. and his Bear. nois--and carries with it, perhaps on account of that association, an idea of something more chivalrous and romantic-more honest and unsophisticated, than anything we now expect to meet with in this modern world of artifice and derision. There was great purity of morals accordingly, Madame de L. informs us, and general cheerfulness and content throughout the whole district;crimes were never heard of, and lawsuits almost unknown. Though not very well educated, the population was exceedingly devout;though theirs was a kind of superstitious and traditional devotion, it must be owned, rather than an enlightened or rational fauh. They had the greatest veneration for crucifixes and images of their saints, and had no idea of any duty more imperious than that of attending on all the offices of religion. They were singularly attached also to their curés; who were almost all born and bred in the country, spoke their patois, and shared in all their pastimes and occupations. Where a hunting-match was to take place, the clergyman announced it from the pulpit after prayers—and then took his fowling-piece, and accompanied his congregation to the thicket. It was on behalf of these curés, in fact, that the first disturbances were excited.

The decree of the Convention, displacing all priests who did not take the oaths imposed by that assembly, occasioned the removal of several of those beloved and conscientious pastors; and various tumults were excited by attempts to establish their successors by authority. Some lives were lost in these tumults ; but their most important effect was in diffusing an opinion of the severity of the new government, and familiarizing the people with the idea of resisting it by force. The order of the Convention for a forced levy of 300,000 men, and the preparations to carry it into effect, gave rise to the first serious insurrection—and while the dread of punishment for the acts of violence already committed deterred the insurgents from submitting, the standard was no sooner raised between the republican government on the one hand and the discontented peasantry on the other, than the mass of that united and alarmed population declared itself for their associates ; and a great tract of country was thus arrayed in open rebellion, without concert, leader, or preparation. We have the testimony of Madame de L., therefore, in addition to all other good testimony, that this great civil war originated almost accidentally, and certainly not from any plot or conspiracy of the leading royalists in the country. The resident gentry, no doubt, for the most part, favored that cause; and the peasantry felt almost universally with their masters;—but neither had the last idea in the beginning, of opposing the political pretensions of the new government, nor, even to the last, much serious hope of effecting any revolution in the general state of the country. The first movements, indeed, partook far more of bigotry than of royalism, and were merely the rash and undirected expressions of plebeian resentment for the loss of their accustomed pastors. The more extensive commotions, which followed on the compulsory levy, were equally without object or plan, and were confined at first to the peasantry. The gentry did not join until they had no alternative, but that of taking up arms either against their own dependants, or along with them; and they went into the field, generally, with little other view than that of acquitting their own faith and honor, and scarcely any expectation beyond that of obtaining better terms for the rebels they were joining, or of being able to make a stand till some new revolution should take place at Paris, and bring in rulers less harsh and sanguinary.

It was at the ballot for the levy of St. Florent that the rebellion may be said to have begun. The young men first murmured, and then threatened the commissioners, who somewhat rashly directed a field-piece to be pointed against them, and afterwards to be fired over their heads. Nobody was hurt by the discharge; and the crowd immediately rushed forward and seized upon the gun. Some of the commissioners were knocked down—their papers were seized and burnt—and the rioters went about singing and rejoicing for the rest of the evening. An account, probably somewhat exaggerated, of this tumult was brought next day to a venerable peasant of the name of Cathelineau, a sort of itinerant dealer in wool, who was immediately struck with the decisive consequences of this open attack on the constituted authorities. The tidings were brought to him as he was kneading the weekly allowance of bread for his family. He instantly wiped his arms, put on his coat, and repaired to the village market place, where he barangued the inbabitants, and prevailed on twenty or thirty of the boldest youths to take their arms in their hands and follow him. He was

universally respected for his piety, good sense, and mildness of character; and, proceeding with his troop of recruits to a neighboring village, repeated his eloquent exhortations, and instantly found himself at the head of more than a hundred enthusiasts. Without stopping a moment, he led this new army to the attack of a military post guarded by fourscore soldiers and a piece of cannon. The post was surprised—the soldiers dispersed or made prisoners—and the gun brought off in triumph. From this he advanced, the same afternoon, to another post of two hundred soldiers and three pieces of cannon; and succeeds, by the same surprise and intrepidity. The morning after, while preparing for other enterprises, he is joined by another band of insurgents, who had associated to protect one of their friends, for whose arrest a military order had been issued. The united force, now amounting to a thousand men, then directed its attack on Chollet, a considerable town, occupied by at least 500 of the republican army; and again bears down all resistance by the suddenness and impetuosity of its onset. The rioters find here a considerable supply of arms, money, and ammunition ;—and thus a country is lost and won, in which, but two days before, nobody thought or spoke of insurrection.

If there was something astonishing in the sudden breaking out of this rebellion, its first apparent suppression was not less extraordinary. These events took place just before Lent; and, upon the approach of that holy season, the religious rebels all dispersed to their homes, and betook themselves to their prayers and their rustic occupations, just as if they had never quitted them. A column of the republican army, which advanced from Angers to bear down the insurrection, found no insurrection to quell. They marched from one end of the country to the other, and met everywhere with the most satisfactory appearances of submission and tranquillity. These appearances, however, it will readily be understood, were altogether deceitful; and as soon as Easter Sunday was over the peasants began again to assemble in arms—and now, for the first time, to apply to the gentry to head them.

All this time Madame Lescure and her family remained quietly at Clisson, and in that profound retreat were ignorant of the singular events to which we have alluded, for long after they oc

« PředchozíPokračovat »