Page by Page Books
Read Books Online, for Free
0105_001E The Ancien Regime Charles Kingsley

Lecture I -- Caste

Page 2 of 11

Table Of Contents: The Ancien Regime

Previous Page

Next Page

Previous Chapter

Next Chapter

More Books

More by this Author

It will be seen, from what I have said, that I consider the Ancien Regime to begin in the seventeenth century. I should date its commencement--as far as that of anything so vague, unsystematic, indeed anarchic, can be defined--from the end of the Thirty Years' War, and the peace of Westphalia in 1648.

Tired of reading? Add this page to your Bookmarks or Favorites and finish it later.

For by that time the mighty spiritual struggles and fierce religious animosities of the preceding century had worn themselves out. And, as always happens, to a period of earnest excitement had succeeded one of weariness, disgust, half-unbelief in the many questions for which so much blood had been shed. No man had come out of the battle with altogether clean hands; some not without changing sides more than once. The war had ended as one, not of nations, not even of zealots, but of mercenaries. The body of Europe had been pulled in pieces between them all; and the poor soul thereof--as was to be expected--had fled out through the gaping wounds. Life, mere existence, was the most pressing need. If men could--in the old prophet's words--find the life of their hand, they were content. High and low only asked to be let live. The poor asked it-- slaughtered on a hundred battle-fields, burnt out of house and home: vast tracts of the centre of Europe were lying desert; the population was diminished for several generations. The trading classes, ruined by the long war, only asked to be let live, and make a little money. The nobility, too, only asked to be let live. They had lost, in the long struggle, not only often lands and power, but their ablest and bravest men; and a weaker and meaner generation was left behind, to do the governing of the world. Let them live, and keep what they had. If signs of vigour still appeared in France, in the wars of Louis XIV. they were feverish, factitious, temporary-- soon, as the event proved, to droop into the general exhaustion. If wars were still to be waged they were to be wars of succession, wars of diplomacy; not wars of principle, waged for the mightiest invisible interests of man. The exhaustion was general; and to it we must attribute alike the changes and the conservatism of the Ancien Regime. To it is owing that growth of a centralising despotism, and of arbitrary regal power, which M. de Tocqueville has set forth in a book which I shall have occasion often to quote. To it is owing, too, that longing, which seems to us childish, after ancient forms, etiquettes, dignities, court costumes, formalities diplomatic, legal, ecclesiastical. Men clung to them as to keepsakes of the past--revered relics of more intelligible and better-ordered times. If the spirit had been beaten out of them in a century of battle, that was all the more reason for keeping up the letter. They had had a meaning once, a life once; perhaps there was a little life left in them still; perhaps the dry bones would clothe themselves with flesh once more, and stand upon their feet. At least it was useful that the common people should so believe. There was good hope that the simple masses, seeing the old dignities and formalities still parading the streets, should suppose that they still contained men, and were not mere wooden figures, dressed artistically in official costume. And, on the whole, that hope was not deceived. More than a century of bitter experience was needed ere the masses discovered that their ancient rulers were like the suits of armour in the Tower of London--empty iron astride of wooden steeds, and armed with lances which every ploughboy could wrest out of their hands, and use in his own behalf.

Page 2 of 11 Previous Page   Next Page
Who's On Your Reading List?
Read Classic Books Online for Free at
Page by Page Books.TM
The Ancien Regime
Charles Kingsley

Home | More Books | About Us | Copyright 2004