restricted access CHAPTER ELEVEN: Uncivil Dissertations
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c h a p t e r e l e v e n Uncivil Dissertations “I speak,” began Lungiet,1 “on behalf of that unfortunate portion of humankind which lives in abstinence and nudity, and against the rich and great who dine well and dress magnificently. My clients’ existence, their daily life, their happiness—I am the only person who cares about them; I alone am predestined to defend them. Now for the second time in my life I have hesitated, and felt I might lose heart. Had people been attacking only my life and liberty, I would not have hesitated a moment; but my envious enemies have attacked my reputation and my honor. And so I paused to think. Why all this? said I to myself—They accuse me as the apostle of slavery, simply because I declaim against liberty? I am seen as the panegyrist of priests, simply because I senselessly sing their praises? I am to be called an enemy of bread, which I devour, simply because I call Ceres’s gifts indigestible and monotonous? These and other equally iniquitous injustices tempted me to abandon my clients’ causes. Yet when I look about me, I see no one else inclined to defend the cause of the indigent oppressed by Liberty; therefore will I devote myself to it like a modern Curtius, and close forever this chasm of iniquities.2 I now speak on behalf of the villagers who call for serfdom, and against the rich who have forced them into acquiring liberty.” Voragine had happened to notice that Séché was making such efforts and grimaces to interrupt Lungiet’s fine exordium that he had dislodged his gag; so she tightened its ribbons, taking advantage of a moment when the speaker was spitting and blowing his nose. After a quick glance to check Brissot’s embouchure she gave a signal, and the orator then picked up the thread of his discourse: 78 chapter eleven “The liberty afflicting Europe today is not such a longstanding evil as some might think. It was not until the middle of the twelfth century that the three Garlande brothers and the monk Suger, ministers to Louis the Fat, begin introducing liberty into the kingdom.3 Before this fateful moment, men vegetated peaceably in sweet serfdom; but ever since, the unlucky Gauls have been constantly afflicted by all kinds of misery and sorrow. Just as when an espalier, previously forced by kindly pegs and salutary wires to produce appetizing sweet fruits for its master or the gods’ altar, sprouts sterile branches and fails to produce edible fruit if it is released from its bonds, similarly populations dragged away from their chains are no longer useful to anybody. The people are a spoiled child who needs the whip and the rod. The short-sighted benevolence of those families for whom God has created the human race would have degraded our species entirely if there had not yet remained a few trees sparkling with salutary constraint. And yes! our mother Holy Church has maintained them in proper dependency, filled with tender love for her children. The monks of Saint-Claude still keep serfs; Poland and Russia are teeming with serfs; and God has preserved serfs in almost every country of ancient Asia.4 So it is that this foresighted Being nourished in Babylonian captivity on the banks of the Euphrates those Jews who were destined to rebuild the temple, and that M. de Saint-Germain keeps some light-horse, a number of armed guards and a few rabbits, for fear that their race should not become extinct.5 Someday no doubt they will multiply, and the population of rabbitwarrens will rival the barracks of the red musketeers.* Someday, no doubt, serfdom will ascend once more—tardily, slowly—her peaceable throne, and plunge human beings back into the pleasures of tranquil insouciance. “How sweet was serfdom, how beautiful in her cradle! Clovis—that gentle philosopher, a Christian so filled with love for his fellow-man, given by two saints the grace on high, the heavenly child who received for his baptism a vial of Provence oil, and for warfare a standard of Lyons silk—that great man, as I was saying, crossed the Rhine at the head of an elegant, light-hearted court.7 Soon he had routed the Gauls and Romans, and forced them to share the happy yoke he imposed on his own family. Liberty, pushed back beyond the Loire, took...


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