This for our ideal, all-seeing Versailles Government. But for the actual irrational Versailles Government? Alas, that is a Government existing there only for its own behoof: without right, except possession; and now also without might. It foresees nothing, sees nothing; has not so much as a purpose, but has only purposes,--and the instinct whereby all that exists will struggle to keep existing. Wholly a vortex; in which vain counsels, hallucinations, falsehoods, intrigues, and imbecilities whirl; like withered rubbish in the meeting of winds! The Oeil-de-Boeuf has its irrational hopes, if also its fears. Since hitherto all States-General have done as good as nothing, why should these do more? The Commons, indeed, look dangerous; but on the whole is not revolt, unknown now for five generations, an impossibility? The Three Estates can, by management, be set against each other; the Third will, as heretofore, join with the King; will, out of mere spite and self-interest, be eager to tax and vex the other two. The other two are thus delivered bound into our hands, that we may fleece them likewise. Whereupon, money being got, and the Three Estates all in quarrel, dismiss them, and let the future go as it can! As good Archbishop Lomenie was wont to say: "There are so many accidents; and it needs but one to save us."--How many to destroy us?
Poor Necker in the midst of such an anarchy does what is possible for him. He looks into it with obstinately hopeful face; lauds the known rectitude of the kingly mind; listens indulgent-like to the known perverseness of the queenly and courtly;--emits if any proclamation or regulation, one favouring the Tiers Etat; but settling nothing; hovering afar off rather, and advising all things to settle themselves. The grand questions, for the present, have got reduced to two: the Double Representation, and the Vote by Head. Shall the Commons have a 'double representation,' that is to say, have as many members as the Noblesse and Clergy united? Shall the States- General, when once assembled, vote and deliberate, in one body, or in three separate bodies; 'vote by head, or vote by class,'--ordre as they call it? These are the moot-points now filling all France with jargon, logic and eleutheromania. To terminate which, Necker bethinks him, Might not a second Convocation of the Notables be fittest? Such second Convocation is resolved on.
On the 6th of November of this year 1788, these Notables accordingly have reassembled; after an interval of some eighteen months. They are Calonne's old Notables, the same Hundred and Forty-four,--to show one's impartiality; likewise to save time. They sit there once again, in their Seven Bureaus, in the hard winter weather: it is the hardest winter seen since 1709; thermometer below zero of Fahrenheit, Seine River frozen over. (Marmontel, Memoires (London, 1805), iv. 33. Hist. Parl, &c.) Cold, scarcity and eleutheromaniac clamour: a changed world since these Notables were 'organed out,' in May gone a year! They shall see now whether, under their Seven Princes of the Blood, in their Seven Bureaus, they can settle the moot-points.
To the surprise of Patriotism, these Notables, once so patriotic, seem to incline the wrong way; towards the anti-patriotic side. They stagger at the Double Representation, at the Vote by Head: there is not affirmative decision; there is mere debating, and that not with the best aspects. For, indeed, were not these Notables themselves mostly of the Privileged Classes? They clamoured once; now they have their misgivings; make their dolorous representations. Let them vanish, ineffectual; and return no more! They vanish after a month's session, on this 12th of December, year 1788: the last terrestrial Notables, not to reappear any other time, in the History of the World.
And so, the clamour still continuing, and the Pamphlets; and nothing but patriotic Addresses, louder and louder, pouting in on us from all corners of France,--Necker himself some fortnight after, before the year is yet done, has to present his Report, (Rapport fait au Roi dans son Conseil, le 27 Decembre 1788.) recommending at his own risk that same Double Representation; nay almost enjoining it, so loud is the jargon and eleutheromania. What dubitating, what circumambulating! These whole six noisy months (for it began with Brienne in July,) has not Report followed Report, and one Proclamation flown in the teeth of the other? (5th July; 8th August; 23rd September, &c. &c.)
However, that first moot-point, as we see, is now settled. As for the second, that of voting by Head or by Order, it unfortunately is still left hanging. It hangs there, we may say, between the Privileged Orders and the Unprivileged; as a ready-made battle-prize, and necessity of war, from the very first: which battle-prize whosoever seizes it--may thenceforth bear as battle-flag, with the best omens!
But so, at least, by Royal Edict of the 24th of January, (Reglement du Roi pour la Convocation des Etats-Generaux a Versailles. (Reprinted, wrong dated, in Histoire Parlementaire, i. 262.)) does it finally, to impatient expectant France, become not only indubitable that National Deputies are to meet, but possible (so far and hardly farther has the royal Regulation gone) to begin electing them.
The French Revolution -by- Thomas Carlyle