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Title: Critical Miscellanies (Vol. 2 of 3) - Turgot
Author: Morley, John, 1838-1923
Language: English
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Essay 2: Turgot

New York: The MacMillan Company



Birth and family descent                                  41

His youth at the Sorbonne                                 47

Intellectual training                                     52

His college friends: Morellet, and Loménie de Brienne     54

Turgot refused to become an ecclesiastic                  56

His revolt against dominant sophisms of the time          60

Letter to Buffon                                          61

Precocity of his intellect                                65

Letter to Madame de Graffigny                             65

Illustrates the influence of Locke                        69

Views on marriage                                         72

On the controversy opened by Rousseau                     72

Turgot's power of grave suspense                          76


First Discourse at the Sorbonne                           78

Analysis of its contents                                  80

Criticisms upon it                                        86

It is one-sided                                           87

And not truly historic                                    88

Fails to distinguish doctrine from organisation           89

Omits the Christianity of the East                        90

And economic conditions                                   92

The contemporary position of the Church in Europe         93


Second Discourse at the Sorbonne                          96

Its pregnant thesis of social causation                   97

Compared with the thesis of Bossuet                       99

And of Montesquieu                                       100

Analysis of the Second Discourse                         102

Characteristic of Turgot's idea of Progress              106

Its limitation                                           108

Great merit of the Discourse, that it recognises
ordered succession                                       110


Turgot appointed Intendant of the Limousin               111

Functions of an Intendant                                112

Account of the Limousin                                  114

Turgot's passion for good government                     118

He attempts to deal with the _Taille_                      119

The road _Corvée_                                          121

Turgot's endeavours to enlighten opinion                 126

Military service                                         129

   "     transport                                       131

The collection of taxes                                  132

Turgot's private benevolence                             133

Introduces the potato                                    134

Founds an academy                                        135

Encourages manufacturing industry                        136

Enlightened views on Usury                               137

Has to deal with a scarcity                              138

His plans                                                139

Instructive facts connected with this famine             142

Turgot's Reflections on the Formation and
Distribution of Wealth                                   149


Turgot made Controller-General                           150

His reforms                                              151

Their reception                                          153

His unpopularity                                         156

Difficulties with the king                               157

His dismissal                                            158

His pursuits in retirement                               159

Conclusion                                               162



Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot was born in Paris on the 10th of May 1727. He
died in 1781. His life covered rather more than half a century,
extending, if we may put it a little roughly, over the middle fifty
years of the eighteenth century. This middle period marks the exact date
of the decisive and immediate preparation for the Revolution. At its
beginning neither the intellectual nor the social elements of the great
disruption had distinctly appeared, or commenced their fermentation. At
its close their work was completed, and we may count the months thence
until the overthrow of every institution in France. It was between 1727
and 1781 that the true revolution took place. The events from '89 were
only finishing strokes, the final explosion of a fabric under which
every yard had been mined, by the long endeavour for half a century of
an army of destroyers deliberate and involuntary, direct and oblique,
such as the world has never at any other time beheld.

In 1727 Voltaire was returning from his exile in England, to open the
long campaign, of which he was from that time forth to the close of his
days the brilliant and indomitable captain. He died in 1778, bright,
resolute, humane, energetic, to the last. Thus Turgot's life was almost
exactly contemporary with the pregnant era of Voltaire's activity. In
the same spring in which Turgot died, Maurepas too came to his end, and
Necker was dismissed. The last event was the signal at which the floods
of the deluge fairly began to rise, and the revolutionary tide to swell.

It will be observed, moreover, that Turgot was born half a generation
after the first race of the speculative revolutionists. Rousseau,
Diderot, Helvétius, Condillac, D'Alembert, as well as the foreign Hume,
so much the greatest of the whole band of innovators, because
penetrating so much nearer to the depths, all came into the world which
they were to confuse so unspeakably, in the half dozen years between
1711 and 1717. Turgot was of later stock and comes midway between these
fathers of the new church, between Hume, Rousseau, Diderot, and the
generation of its fiery practical apostles, Condorcet, Mirabeau,
Robespierre.[1] The only other illustrious European of this decade was
Adam Smith, who was born in 1723, and between whose labours and some of
the most remarkable of Turgot's there was so much community. We cannot
tell how far the gulf between Turgot and the earlier band was fixed by
the accident that he did not belong to their generation in point of
time. The accident is in itself only worth calling attention to, in
connection with his distance from them in other and more important
points than time.

[Footnote 1: Born in 1743, 1749, and 1759 respectively.]

The years of Turgot exactly bridge the interval between the ministry of
the infamous Dubois and the ministry of the inglorious Calonne; between
the despair and confusion of the close of the regency, and the despair
and confusion of the last ten years of the monarchy. In 1727 we stand on
the threshold of that far-resounding fiery workshop, where a hundred
hands wrought the cunning implements and Cyclopean engines that were to
serve in storming the hated citadels of superstition and injustice. In
1781 we emerge from these subterranean realms into the open air, to find
ourselves surrounded by all the sounds and portents of imminent ruin.
This, then, is the significance of the date of Turgot's birth.

       *     *     *     *     *

His stock was Norman, and those who amuse themselves by finding a vital
condition of the highest ability in antiquity of blood, may quote the
descent of Turgot in support of their delusion. His biographers speak of
one Togut, a Danish Prince, who walked the earth some thousand years
before the Christian era; and of Saint Turgot in the eleventh century,
the Prior of Durham, biographer of Bede, and first minister of Malcolm
III. of Scotland. We shall do well not to linger in this too dark and
frigid air. Let us pass over Togut and Saint Turgot; and the founder of
a hospital in the thirteenth century; and the great-great-grandfather
who sat as president of the Norman nobles in the States-General of 1614,
and the grandfather who deserted arms for the toga. History is hardly
concerned in this solemn marshalling of shades.

Even with Michel-Etienne, the father of Turgot, we have here no dealing.
Let it suffice to say that he held high municipal office in Paris, and
performed its duties with exceptional honour and spirit, giving
sumptuous fêtes, constructing useful public works, and on one occasion
jeoparding his life with a fine intrepidity that did not fail in his
son, in appeasing a bloody struggle between two bodies of Swiss and
French guards. There is in the library of the British Museum a folio of
1740, containing elaborate plates and letterpress, descriptive of the
fêtes celebrated by the city of Paris with Michel-Etienne Turgot as its
chief officer, on the occasion of the marriage of Louise-Elizabeth of
France to Don Philip of Spain (August 1739). As one contemplates these
courtly sumptuosities, La Bruyère's famous picture recurs to the mind,
of far other scenes in the same gay land. 'We see certain wild animals,
male and female, scattered over the fields, black, livid, all burnt by
the sun, bound to the earth that they dig and work with unconquerable
pertinacity; they have a sort of articulate voice, and when they rise on
their feet, they show a human face; in fact they are men.' That these
violent and humiliating contrasts are eternal and inevitable, is the
last word of the dominant philosophy of society; and one of the reasons
why Turgot's life is worth studying, is that he felt in so pre-eminent
a degree the urgency of lightening the destiny of that livid, wild,
hardly articulate, ever-toiling multitude.

The sum of the genealogical page is that Turgot inherited that position
which, falling to worthy souls, is of its nature so invaluable, a family
tradition of exalted courage and generous public spirit. There have been
noble and patriotic men who lacked this inheritance, but we may be sure
that even these would have fought the battle at greater advantage, if a
magnanimous preference for the larger interests had come to them as a
matter of instinctive prejudice, instead of being acquired as a matter
of reason. The question of titular aristocracy is not touched by this
consideration, for titular aristocracies postpone the larger interests
to the narrow interests of their order. And Turgot's family was only of
the secondary noblesse of the robe.

Turgot was the third son of his father. As the employments which persons
of respectable family could enter were definite and stereotyped, there
was little room for debate as to the calling for which a youth should
prepare himself. Arms, civil administration, and the church, furnished
the only three openings for a gentleman. The effects of this rigorous
adherence to artificial and exclusive rules of caste were manifestly
injurious to society, as such caste rules always are after a society has
passed beyond a certain stage. To identify the interests of the richest
and most powerful class with the interests of the church, of the army,
and of a given system of civil government, was indeed to give to that
class the strongest motives for leaving the existing social order
undisturbed. It unfortunately went too far in this direction, by
fostering the strongest possible motives of hostility to such
modifications in these gigantic departments as changing circumstances
might make needful, in the breasts of the only men who could produce
these modifications without a violent organic revolution. Such a system
left too little course to spontaneity, and its curse is the curse of
French genius. Some of its evil effects were obvious and on the surface.
The man who should have been a soldier found himself saying mass and
hearing confessions. Vauvenargues, who was born for diplomacy or
literature, passed the flower of his days in the organised dreariness of
garrisons and marches. In our own day communities and men who lead them
have still to learn that no waste is so profuse and immeasurable, even
from the material point of view, as that of intellectual energy,
checked, uncultivated, ignored, or left without its opportunity. In
France, until a very short time before the Revolution, we can hardly
point to a single recognised usage which did not augment this waste. The
eldest son usually preserved the rank and status of the family, whether
civil or military. Turgot's eldest brother was to devote himself to
civil administration, the next to be a soldier, and Turgot himself to be
an ecclesiastic.

The second of the brothers, who began by following arms, had as little
taste for them as the future minister had for the church. It is rather
remarkable that he seems to have had the same passion for
administration, and he persuaded the government after the loss of Canada
that Guiana, to be called Equinoctial France, would if well governed
become some sort of equivalent for the northern possession. He was made
Governor-general, but he had forgotten to take the climate into account,
and the scheme came to an abortive end, involving him in a mass of
confused quarrels which lasted some years. He had a marked love for
botany, agriculture, and the like; was one of the founders of the
Society of Agriculture in 1760; and was the author of various pieces on
points of natural history.[2]

[Footnote 2: Among others, of a little volume still to be met with in
libraries, _Sur la manière de préparer les diverses curiosités
d'histoire naturelle_ (1758).]

Turgot went as a boarder first to the college of Louis-le-Grand, then to
that of Plessis; thence to the seminary of Saint Sulpice, where he took
the degree of bachelor in theology; and from Saint Sulpice to the
Sorbonne. His childhood and youth, like that of other men who have
afterwards won love and admiration, have their stories. The affection of
one biographer records how the pocket-money with which the young Turgot
was furnished, used always instantly to disappear, no one knew how nor
on what. It was discovered that he gave it to poor schoolfellows to
enable them to buy books. Condorcet justly remarks on this trait, that
'goodness and even generosity are not rare sentiments in childhood; but
for these sentiments to be guided by such wisdom, this really seems the
presage of an extraordinary man, all whose sentiments should be virtues,
because they would always be controlled by reason.'[3] It is at any rate
certain that the union of profound benevolence with judgment, which this
story prefigures, was the supreme distinction of Turgot's character. It
is less pleasant to learn that Turgot throughout his childhood was
always repulsed by his mother, who deemed him sullen, because he failed
to make his bow with good grace, and was shy and taciturn. He fled from
her visitors, and would hide himself behind sofa or screen; until
dragged forth for social inspection.[4] This is only worth recording,
because the same external awkwardness and lack of grace remained with
Turgot to the end, and had something to do with the unpopularity that
caused his fall. Perhaps he was thinking of his own childhood, when he
wrote that fathers are often indifferent, or incessantly occupied with
the details of business, and that he had seen the very parents who
taught their children that there is nothing so noble as to make people
happy, yet repulse the same children when urging some one's claim to
charity or favour, and intimidate their young sensibility, instead of
encouraging and training it.[5]

[Footnote 3: _Vie de Turgot_, p. 8 (ed. 1847).]

[Footnote 4: _Mémoires de Morellet_, i. 12 (ed. 1822).]

[Footnote 5: Lettre à Madame de Graffigny. _OEuv._ ii. 793.]

Morellet, one of the best known of the little group of friends and
brother students at the Sorbonne, has recorded other authentic traits.
Turgot, he says, united the simplicity of a child to a peculiar dignity
that forced the respect of his comrades. His modesty and reserve were
those of a girl, and those equivocal references in which the
undisciplined animalism of youth often has a stealthy satisfaction,
always called the blood to his cheeks and covered him with
embarrassment. For all that, his spirit was full of a frank gaiety, and
he would indulge in long bursts of laughter at a pleasantry or frolic
that struck him. We may be glad to know this, because without express
testimony to the contrary, there would have been some reason for
suspecting that Turgot was defective in that most wholesome and human
quality of a capacity for laughter.

The sensitive purity which Morellet notices, not without slight lifting
of the eyebrow, remained with Turgot throughout his life. This was the
more remarkable from the prevailing laxity of opinion upon this
particular subject, perhaps the worst blemish upon the feeling and
intelligence of the revolutionary schools. For it was not merely
libertines, like Marmontel, making a plea for their own dissoluteness,
who habitually spoke of these things with inconsiderate levity. Grave
men of blameless life, like Condorcet, deliberately argued in favour of
leaving a loose rein to the mutual inclinations of men and women, and
laughed at the time 'wasted in quenching the darts of the flesh.'[6] It
is true that at D'Holbach's house, the headquarters of the dogmatic
atheism in which the irreligious reaction culminated, this was the only
theme on which freedom of speech was sometimes curtailed. But the fact
that such a restriction should have been noticed, suggests that it was
exceptional.[7] One good effect followed, let us admit. The virtuousness
of continence was not treated as a superstition by those who vindicated
it as Turgot did, but discussed like any other virtue; and was defended
not as an intuition of faith, but as a reasoned conclusion of the
judgment. It was permitted to occupy no solitary and mysterious throne,
apart and away from other conditions and parts of human excellence and
social wellbeing. There is intrinsically no harm in any virtue being
accepted in the firm shape of a simple prejudice. On the contrary, there
is a multitude of practical advantages in such a consolidated and
spontaneously working order. But in considering conduct and character,
and forming an opinion upon infractions of a virtue, we cannot be just
unless we have analysed its conditions, and this is what the eighteenth
century did defectively with regard to that particular virtue which so
often usurps the name of all of the virtues together. In this respect
Turgot's original purity of character withdrew him from the error of the

[Footnote 6: Letter to Turgot, _OEuv. de Condorcet_, i. 228. See also
vi. 264, and 523-526.]

[Footnote 7: Morellet, i. 133.]

With the moral quality that we have seen, Morellet adds that for the
intellectual side Turgot as a boy had a prodigious memory. He could
retain as many as a hundred and eighty lines of verse, after hearing
them twice, or sometimes even once. He knew by heart most of Voltaire's
fugitive pieces, and long passages in his poems and tragedies. His
predominant characteristics are described as penetration, and that other
valuable faculty to which penetration is an indispensable adjunct, but
which it by no means invariably implies--a spirit of broad and
systematic co-ordination. The unusual precocity of his intelligence was
perhaps imperfectly appreciated by his fellow-students, it led him so
far beyond any point within their sight. It has been justly said of him
that he passed at once from infancy to manhood, and was in the rank of
sages before he had shaken off the dust of the playground. He was of the
type of those who strangle serpents while yet in the cradle. We know the
temperament which from the earliest hour consumes with eager desire for
knowledge, and energises spontaneously with unceasing and joyful
activity in that bright and pure morning of intellectual curiosity,
which neither the dull tumultuous needs of life nor the mists of
spiritual misgiving have yet come up to make dim. Of this temperament
was Turgot in a superlative degree, and its fire never abated in him
from college days, down to the last hours while he lay racked with
irremediable anguish.

To a certain extent this was the glorious mark of all the best minds of
the epoch; from Voltaire downwards, they were inflamed by an
inextinguishable and universal curiosity. Voltaire hardly left a single
corner of the field entirely unexplored in science, poetry, history,
philosophy. Rousseau wrote a comic opera and was an ardent botanist.
Diderot wrote, and wrote well and intelligently, _de omni scibili_, and
was the author alike of the Letters on the Blind and Jacques le
Fataliste. No era was ever so little the era of the specialist.

       *     *     *     *     *

The society of the Sorbonne corresponded exactly to a college at one of
our universities, and will be distinguished by the careful reader from
the faculty of theology in the university, which was usually, but not
always, composed of _docteurs de Sorbonne_. It consisted of a large
number of learned men in the position of fellows, and a smaller number
of younger students, who lived together just as undergraduates do, in
separate apartments, but with common hall, library, and garden. One of
Turgot's masters, Sigorgne, was the first to teach in the university the
Newtonian principles of astronomy, instead of the Cartesian hypothesis
of vortices. As is well known, Cartesianism had for various reasons
taken a far deeper root in France than it ever did here, and held its
place a good generation after Newtonian ideas were accepted and taught
at Oxford and Cambridge.[8] Voltaire's translation of the _Principia_,
which he was prevented by the Cartesian chancellor, D'Aguesseau, from
publishing until 1738, overthrew the reigning system, and gave a strong
impulse to scientific inquiry.

[Footnote 8: Whewell's _Hist. Induct. Sciences_, ii. 147-159.]

Turgot mastered the new doctrine with avidity. In the acute letter of
criticism which, while still at the Sorbonne, he addressed to Buffon, he
pointedly urged it as the first objection to that writer's theory of the
formation and movements of the planets, that any attempt at fundamental
explanations of this kind was a departure from 'the simplicity and safe
reserve of the philosophy of Newton.'[9] He only, however, made a
certain advance in mathematics. He appears to have had no peculiar or
natural aptitude for this study; though he is said to have constantly
blamed himself for not having gone more deeply into it. It is hardly to
be denied that mathematical genius and philosophic genius do not always
go together. The precision, definiteness, and accurate limitations of
the method of the one, are usually unfriendly to the brooding,
tentative, uncircumscribed meditation which is the productive humour in
the other. Turgot was essentially of the philosophising temper. Though
the activity of his intelligence was incessant, his manner of work was
the reverse of quick. 'When he applied to work,' says Morellet, 'when it
was a question of writing or doing, he was slow and loitering. Slow,
because he insisted on finishing all he did perfectly, according to his
own conception of perfection, which was most difficult of attainment,
even down to the minutest detail; and because he would not receive
assistance, being never contented with what he had not done himself. He
also loitered a great deal, losing time in arranging his desk and
cutting his pens, not that he was not thinking profoundly through all
this trifling; but mere thinking did not advance his work.'[10] We may
admit, perhaps, that the work was all the better for the thinking that
preceded it, and that the time which Turgot seemed to waste in cutting
his pens and setting his table in order was more fruitfully spent than
the busiest hours of most men.

[Footnote 9: _OEuv. de Turgot_, ii. 783. (Edition of Messrs. Eugène
Daire and H. Dussard, published in the _Collection des Principaux
Economistes_, published by Guillaumin, 1844.)]

[Footnote 10: _Mémoires_, i. 16.]

We know the books which Turgot and his friends devoured with ardour.
Locke, Bayle, Voltaire, Buffon, relieved Clarke, Leibnitz, Spinosa,
Cudworth; and constant discussions among themselves both cleared up and
enlarged what they read.[11] One of the disputants, certainly not the
least amiable, has painted his own part in these discussions: 'I was
violent in discussion,' says the good Morellet, as he was pleasantly
called, 'but without my antagonist being able to reproach me with a
single insult; and sometimes I used to spit blood, after a debate in
which I had not allowed a single personality to escape me.'[12]

[Footnote 11: _Ib._ i. 20.]

[Footnote 12: _Ib._ i. 19.]

Another member of the circle was Loménie de Brienne, who, in long years
after, was chief minister of France for a narrow space through the
momentous winter of 1787 and the spring of the next year, filling the
gap between Calonne and Necker in a desperate and fatal manner.
Loménie's ambition dated from his youth; and it was always personal and
mean. While Turgot, his friend, was earnestly meditating on the
destinies of the race and the conditions of their development, Loménie
was dreaming only of the restoration of his ancestral château of
Brienne. Though quite without means, he planned this in his visions on a
scale of extreme costliness and magnificence. The dreams fell true.
Money came to the family, and the château was built exactly as he had
projected it, at a cost of two million francs.[13] His career was
splendid. He was clever, industrious, and persevering after his fashion,
astute, lively, pretentious, a person ever by well-planned hints leading
you to suppose his unrevealed profundity to be bottomless; in a word, in
all respects an impostor.[14] He espoused that richly dowered bride the
Church, rose to be Archbishop of Toulouse, and would have risen to be
Archbishop of Paris, but for the King's over-scrupulous conviction that
'an Archbishop of Paris must at least believe in God.' He became an
immense favourite with Marie Antoinette and the court, was made Minister
'like Richelieu and Mazarin,' and after having postured and played
tricks in face of the bursting deluge, and given the government the
final impulse into the abyss of bankruptcy, was dismissed with the rich
archbishopric of Sens and a cardinal's hat for himself, and good
sinecures for his kinsfolk. His last official act was to send for the
20,000 livres for his month's salary, not fully due. His brother, the
Count of Brienne, remained in office as Minister of War. He was a person
of no talent, his friends allowed, but 'assisted by a good chief clerk,
he would have made a good minister; he meant well.' This was hardly a
sufficient reason for letting him take 100,000 francs out of an
impoverished treasury for the furniture of his residence. The hour,
however, was just striking, and the knife was sharpened.

[Footnote 13: Morellet's _Mémoires_, i. 17-21; 262-270; and ii. 15.]

[Footnote 14: Marmontel's _Mémoires_, bk. xiii.; Morellet, however, with
persevering friendliness, denies the truth of Marmontel's picture (ii.

All his paltry honour and glory Loménie de Brienne enjoyed for a season,
until the Jacobins laid violent hands upon him. He poisoned himself in
his own palace, just as a worse thing was about to befall him. Alas,
poetic justice is the exception in history, and only once in many
generations does the drama of the state criminal rise to an artistic
fifth act. This was in 1794. In 1750 a farewell dinner had been given in
the rooms of the Abbé de Brienne at the Sorbonne, and the friends made
an appointment for a game of tennis behind the church of the Sorbonne in
the year 1800.[15] The year came, but no Loménie, nor Turgot, and the
Sorbonne itself had vanished.

[Footnote 15: Morellet, i. 21.]

When the time arrived for his final acceptance of an ecclesiastical
destination, Turgot felt that honourable repugnance, which might have
been anticipated alike from his morality and his intelligence, to enter
into an engagement which would irrevocably bind him for the rest of his
life, either always to hold exactly the same opinions, or else to
continue to preach them publicly after he had ceased to hold them
privately. No certainty of worldly comfort and advantage could in his
eyes counterbalance the possible danger and shame of a position, which
might place him between the two alternatives of stifling his
intelligence and outraging his conscience--the one by blind,
unscrutinising, and immovable acceptance of all the dogmas and
sentiments of the Church; the other by the inculcation as truths of what
he believed to be false, and the proscription as falsehoods of what he
believed to be true. The horror and disgrace of such a situation were
too striking for one who used his mind and acted on principle, to run
any risk of that situation becoming his own. An ambitious timeserver
like Loménie, or a contented adherent of use and wont like Morellet,
might well regard such considerations as the products of a weak and
eccentric scrupulosity. Turgot was of other calibre, holding it to be
only a degree less unprincipled than the avowed selfishness of the
adventurer, to contract so serious an engagement on the strength of
common hearsay and current usage, without deliberate personal reflection
and inquiry.

At the close of his course at the Sorbonne, he wrote a letter to his
father giving the reasons for this resolution to abandon all idea of an
ecclesiastical career and the advancement which it offered him, and
seeking his consent for the change from Church to law. His father
approved of the resolution, and gave the required consent. As Turgot had
studied law as well as theology, no time was lost, and he formally
entered the profession of the law as Deputy-Counsellor of the
Procureur-Général at the beginning of 1752.

His college friends had remonstrated warmly at this surrender of a
brilliant prospect. A little deputation of young abbés, fresh from their
vows, waited on him at his rooms; in that humour of blithe and sagacious
good-will which comes so naturally to men who believe they have just
found out Fortune's trick and yoked her fast for ever to the car, they
declared that he was about to do something opposed to his own interest
and inconsistent with his usual good sense. He was a younger son of a
Norman house, and therefore poor; the law without a competency involved
no consideration, and he could hope for no advancement in it: whereas in
the Church his family, being possessed of influence and credit, would
have no difficulty in procuring for him excellent abbeys and in good
time a rich bishopric; here he could realise all his fine dreams of
administration, and without ceasing to be a churchman could play the
statesman to his heart's content. In one profession he would waste his
genius in arguing trifling private affairs, while in the other he would
be of the highest usefulness to his country, and would acquire the
greatest reputation. Turgot, however, insisted on placing genius and
reputation below the necessity of being honest. The object of an oath
might be of the least important kind, but he could neither allow himself
to play with it, nor believe that a man could abase his profession in
public opinion, without at the same time abasing himself. '_You shall do
as you will_,' he said; '_for my own part, it is impossible for me to
wear a mask all my life_.'[16]

[Footnote 16: Dupont de Nemours. Condorcet's _Vie de Turgot_, pp. 8-10.]

His clear intelligence revolted from the dominant sophisms of that time,
by which philosophers as well as ecclesiastics brought falsehood and
hypocrisy within the four corners of a decent doctrine of truth and
morality. The churchman manfully argued that he could be most useful to
the world if he were well off and highly placed. The philosopher
contended that as the world would punish him if he avowed what he had
written or what he believed, he was fully warranted in lying to the
world as to his writing and belief; for is not the right to have the
truth told to you, a thing forfeitable by tyranny and oppression?[17]
Truth is not mocked, and these sophisms bore their fruit in due season.
Perhaps if there had been found on either side in France a hundred
righteous men like Turgot, who would not fight in masks, the end might
have been other than it was. The lesson remains for those who dream that
by reducing pretence to a nicely graduated system, and by leaving an
exactly measured margin between what they really believe and what they
feign to believe, they are serving the great cause of order. French
history informs us what becomes of social order so served. After all, no
man can be sure that it is required of him to save society; every man
can be sure that he is called upon to keep himself clean from mendacity
and equivoke. Such was Turgot's view.

[Footnote 17: 'La nécessité de mentir pour désavouer un ouvrage est une
extrémité qui répugne également à la conscience et à la noblesse du
caractère; mais le crime est pour les hommes injustes qui rendent ce
désaveu nécessaire à la sûreté de celui qu'ils y forcent. Si vous avez
érigé en crime ce qui n'en est pas un, si vous avez porté atteinte, par
des lois absurdes ou par des lois arbitraires, au droit naturel qu'ont
tous les hommes, non seulement d'avoir une opinion, mais de la rendre
publique, alors vous méritez de perdre celui qu'a chaque homme
d'entendre la vérité de la bouche d'un autre, droit qui fonde seule
l'obligation rigoureuse de ne pas mentir.'--Condorcet, _Vie de Voltaire_
(_OEuv._ iv. 33, 34).]

We have said that Turgot disdained to fight under a mask. There was one
exception, and only one. In 1754 there appeared two letters, nominally
from an ecclesiastic to a magistrate, and entitled _Le Conciliateur_.
Here it is enough to say that they were intended to enforce the
propriety and duty of religious toleration. In a letter to a friend we
find Turgot saying, 'Although the _Conciliator_ is of my principles, and
those of our friend, I am astonished at your conjectures; _it is neither
his style nor mine_.'[18] Yet Turgot had written it. This is his one
public literary equivocation. Let us, at all events, allow that it was
resorted to, not to break the law with safety, nor to cloak a malicious
attack on a person, but to give additional weight by means of a harmless
prosopopoeia, to an argument for the noblest of principles.[19]

[Footnote 18: _OEuv._ ii. 685. Morellet says that it was written by
Loménie de Brienne, 19.]

[Footnote 19: See the note of Dupont de Nemours, _ad loc._]

       *     *     *     *     *

Before Turgot entered the great world, he had already achieved an amount
of success in philosophic speculation, which placed him in the front
rank of social thinkers. To that passion for study and the acquisition
of knowledge which is not uncommon in youth, as it is one of the most
attractive of youth's qualities, there was added in him what is
unhappily not common in men and women of any age--an active impulse to
use his own intelligence upon the information which he gained from books
and professors. He was no conceited or froward caviller at authority,
nor born rebel against established teachers and governors. His
understanding seriously craved a full and independent satisfaction, and
could draw this only from laborious meditation, which should either
disclose the inadequacy of the grounds for an opinion, or else establish
it, with what would be to him a new and higher because an independently
acquired, conclusiveness.

His letter to Buffon, to which we have already referred, is an
illustration of this wise, and never captious nor ungracious, caution in
receiving ideas. Neither Buffon's reputation, nor the glow of his style,
nor the dazzling ingenuity and grandeur of his conceptions--all of them
so well calculated, at one-and-twenty, to throw even a vigilant
intelligence off its guard--could divert Turgot from the prime
scientific duty of confronting a theory with facts. Buffon was for
explaining the formation of the earth and the other planets, and their
lateral movement, by the hypothesis that a comet had fallen obliquely on
to the sun, driven off certain portions of its constituent matter in a
state of fusion, and that these masses, made spherical by the mutual
attraction of their parts, were carried to different distances in
proportion to their mass and the force originally impressed on them.
Buffon may have been actuated, both here and in his other famous
hypothesis of reproduction, by a desire, less to propound a true and
durable explanation, than to arrest by a bold and comprehensive
generalisation that attention, which is only imperfectly touched by mere
collections of particular facts. The enormous impulse which even the
most unscientific of the speculations of Descartes had given to European
thought, was a standing temptation to philosophers, not to discard nor
relax patient observation, but to bind together the results which they
arrived at by this process, by means of some hardy hypothesis. It might
be true or not, but it was at any rate sure to strike the imagination,
which ever craves wholes; and to stimulate discussion and further
discovery, by sending assailants and defenders alike in search of new
facts, to confirm or overthrow the position.[20]

[Footnote 20: See Condorcet's éloge on Buffon (_OEuv._ iii. 335); and
a passage from Bourdon, quoted in Whewell's _Hist. Induct. Sci._ iii.

Turgot was less sensible of these possible advantages, than he was alive
to the certain dangers of such a method. He perceived that to hold a
theory otherwise than as an inference from facts, is to have a strong
motive for looking at the facts in a predetermined light, or for
ignoring them; an involuntary predisposition most fatal to the discovery
of truth, which is nothing more than the conformity of our conception of
facts to their adequately observed order. Why, he asks, do you replunge
us into the night of hypotheses, justifying the Cartesians and their
three elements and their vortices? And whence comes your comet? Was it
within the sphere of the sun's attraction? If not, how could it fall
from the sphere of the other bodies, and fall on the sun, which was not
acting on it? If it was, it must have fallen perpendicularly, not
obliquely; and, therefore, if it imparted a lateral movement, this
direction must have been impressed on it. And, if so, why should not God
have impressed this movement upon the planets directly, as easily as
upon the comet to communicate it to them? Finally, how could the planets
have left the body of the sun without falling back into it again? What
curve did they describe in leaving it, so as never to return? Can you
suppose that gravitation could cause the same body to describe a spiral
and an ellipse? In the same exact spirit, Turgot brings known facts to
bear on Buffon's theory of the arrangement of the terrestrial and marine
divisions of the earth's surface. The whole criticism he sent to Buffon
anonymously, to assure him that the writer had no other motive than the
interest he took in the discovery of truth and the perfection of a great

[Footnote 21: October, 1748. _OEuv._ ii. 782-784.]

Turgot's is probably the only case where the biographer has, in emerging
from the days of school and college, at once to proceed to expound and
criticise the intellectual productions of his hero, and straightway to
present fruit and flower of a time that usually does no more than
prepare the unseen roots. There is, perhaps, a wider and more
stimulating attraction of a dramatic kind in the study of characters
which present a history of active and continuous growth; which, while
absolutely free from flimsy caprice and disordered eccentricity, are
ever surprising our attention by an unsuspected word of calm judgment or
fertile energy, a fresh interest or an added sympathy, by the
disappearance of some crudity or the assimilation of some new and richer
quality. Of such gradual rise into full maturity we have here nothing to
record. As a student Turgot had already formed the list of a number of
works which he designed to execute; poems, tragedies, philosophic
romances, vast treatises on physics, history, geography, politics,
morals, metaphysics, and language.[22] Of some he had drawn out the
plan, and even these plans and fragments possess a novelty and depth of
view that belong even to the integrity of few works.

[Footnote 22: Condorcet's _Vie de Turgot_, 14.]

Before passing on to the more scientific speculations of this remarkable
intelligence, it is worth while to notice his letter to Madame de
Graffigny, both for the intrinsic merit and scope of the ideas it
contains and for the proof it furnishes of the interest, at once early
and profound, which he took in moral questions lying at the very bottom,
as well of sound character, as of a healthy society. Turgot's early
passion for literature had made him seize an occasion of being
introduced to even so moderately renowned a professor of it as Madame de
Graffigny. He happened to be intimate with her niece, who afterwards
became the lively and witty wife of Helvétius, somewhat to the surprise
of Turgot's friends. For although he persuaded Mademoiselle de
Ligniville to present him to her aunt, and though he assiduously
attended Madame de Graffigny's literary gatherings, Turgot would
constantly quit the circle of men of letters for the sake of a game of
battledore with the comely and attractive niece. Hence the astonishment
of men that from such familiarity there grew no stronger passion, and
that whatever the causes of such reserve, the only issue was a tender
and lasting friendship.[23]

[Footnote 23: Morellet, i. 140.]

Madame de Graffigny had begged Turgot's opinion upon the manuscript of a
work composed, as so many others were, after the pattern of
Montesquieu's _Lettres Persanes_,--now nearly thirty years old,--and
bearing the accurately imitative title of _Lettres Peruviennes_. A
Peruvian comes to Europe, and sends to a friend or mistress in Peru a
series of remarks on civilisation. Goldsmith's delightful _Citizen of
the World_ is the best known type in our own literature of this
primitive form of social criticism. The effect upon common opinion of
criticism cast in such a mould, presenting familiar habits,
institutions, and observances, in a striking and unusual light, was to
give a kind of Socratic stimulus to people's ideas about education,
civilisation, conduct, and the other topics springing from a comparison
between the manners of one community and another. That one of the two,
whether Peru, or China, or Persia, was a community drawn mainly from the
imagination, did not render the contrast any the less effective in
stirring men's minds.

By the middle of the century the air was full of ideas upon these social
subjects. The temptation was irresistible to turn from the confusion of
squalor, oppression, license, distorted organisation, penetrative
disorder, to ideal states comprising a little range of simple
circumstances, and a small number of types of virtuous and
unsophisticated character. Much came of the relief thus sought and
found. It was the beginning of the subversive process, for it taught men
to look away from ideas of practical amelioration. The genius of
Rousseau gave these dreams the shape which, in many respects, so
unfortunately for France, finally attracted the bulk of the national
sentiment and sympathy. But the vivid, humane, and inspiring pages of
_Emile_ were not published until ten years after Turgot's letter to
Madame de Graffigny:[24] a circumstance which may teach us that in moral
as in physical discoveries, though one man may take the final step and
reap the fame, the conditions have been prepared beforehand. It is
almost discouraging to think that we may reproduce such passages as the
following, without being open to the charge of slaying the slain, though
one hundred and twenty years have elapsed since it was written.

[Footnote 24: Written in 1751. _OEuv._ ii. 785-794.]

'Let Zilia show that our too arbitrary institutions have too often made
us forget nature; that we have been the dupes of our own handiwork, and
that the savage who does not know how to consult nature knows how to
follow her. Let her criticise our pedantry, for it is this that
constitutes our education of the present day. Look at the Rudiments;
they begin by insisting on stuffing into the heads of children a crowd
of the most abstract ideas. Those whom nature in her variety summons to
her by all her objects, we fasten up in a single spot, we occupy them on
words which cannot convey any sense to them, because the sense of words
can only come with ideas, and ideas only come by degrees, starting from
sensible objects.[25] But, besides, we insist on their acquiring them
without the help that we have had, we whom age and experience have
formed. We keep their imagination prisoner, we deprive them of the
sight of objects by which nature gives to the savage his first notions
of all things, of all the sciences even. We have not the coup-d'oeil
of nature.

[Footnote 25: 'On sera surpris que je compte l'étude des langues au
nombre des inutilités de l'éducation,' etc.--_Emile_, bk. ii.]

'It is the same with morality; general ideas again spoil all. People
take great trouble to tell a child that he must be just, temperate, and
virtuous; and has it the least idea of virtue? Do not say to your son,
_Be virtuous_, but make him find pleasure in being so; develop within
his heart the germ of sentiments that nature has placed there.[26] There
is often much more need for bulwarks against education, than against
nature. Give him opportunities of being truthful, liberal,
compassionate; rely on the human heart; leave these precious seeds to
bloom in the air which surrounds them; do not stifle them under a
quantity of frames and network. I am not one of those who want to reject
general and abstract ideas; they are necessary; but I by no means think
them in their place in our method of instruction. I would have them come
to children as they come to men, by degrees.

[Footnote 26: See Locke, _Of Education_, §§ 81, 184, etc.]

'Another article of our education, which strikes me as bad and
ridiculous, is our severity towards these poor children. They do
something silly; we take them up as if it were extremely important.
There is a multitude of these follies, of which they will cure
themselves by age alone. But people do not count on that; they insist
that the son should be well bred, and they overwhelm him with little
rules of civility, often frivolous, which can only harass him, as he
does not know the reason for them. I think it would be enough to hinder
him from being troublesome to the persons that he sees.[27] The rest
will come, little by little. Inspire him with the desire of pleasing; he
will soon know more of the art than all the masters could teach him.
People wish again that a child should be grave; they think it wise for
it not to run, and fear every moment that it will fall. What happens?
You weary and enfeeble it. We have especially forgotten that it is a
part of education to form the body.'[28]

[Footnote 27: 'La seule leçon de morale qui convienne à l'enfance, et la
plus importante à tout âge, est de ne jamais faire de mal à personne,'
etc. _Emile_, bk. ii. 'Never trouble yourself about these faults in
them, which you know age will cure. And therefore want of well-fashioned
civility in the carriage ... should be the parents' least care while
they are young. If his tender mind be filled with a veneration for his
parents and teachers, which consists in love and esteem and a fear to
offend them; and with respect and good-will to all people; that respect
will of itself teach these ways of expressing it, which he observes most
acceptable,' etc.--Locke, _Of Education_, §§ 63, 67, etc.]

[Footnote 28: 'Vous donnez la science, à la bonne heure; moi je m'occupe
de l'instrument propre à l'acquérir,' etc.--_Emile._]

The reader who remembers Locke's Thoughts concerning Education
(published in 1690), and the particularly homely prescriptions upon the
subjects of the infant body with which that treatise opens, will
recognise the source of Turgot's inspiration. The same may be said of
the other wise passages in this letter, upon the right attitude of a
father towards his child. It was not merely the metaphysics of the sage
and positive Locke which laid the revolutionary train in France. This
influence extended over the whole field, and even Rousseau confesses the
obligations of the imaginary governor of Emile to the real Locke.

We are again plainly in the Lockian atmosphere, when Turgot speaks of
men being the dupes of 'general ideas, which are true because drawn from
nature, but which people embrace with a narrow stiffness that makes them
false, because they no longer combine them with circumstances, taking
for absolute what is only the expression of a relation.' The merit of
this and the other educational parts of the piece, is not their
originality, but that kind of complete and finished assimilation which
is all but tantamount to independent thought, and which in certain
conditions may be much more practically useful.

Not less important to the happiness of men than the manner of their
education, is their own cultivation of a wise spirit of tolerance in
conduct. 'I should like to see explained,' Turgot says, 'the causes of
alienation and disgust between people who love one another. I believe
that after living awhile with men, we perceive that bickerings,
ill-humours, teasings on trifles, perhaps cause more troubles and
divisions among them than serious things. How many bitternesses have
their origin in a word, in forgetfulness of some slight observances. If
people would only weigh in an exact balance so many little wrongs, if
they would only put themselves in the place of those who have to
complain of them, if they would only reflect how many times they have
themselves given way to humours, how many things they have forgotten! A
single word spoken in disparagement of our intelligence is enough to
make us irreconcilable, and yet how often have we been deceived in the
very same matter. How many persons of understanding have we taken for
fools? Why should not others have the same privilege as ourselves?...
Ah, what address is needed to live together, to be compliant without
cringing, to expose a fault without harshness, to correct without
imperious air, to remonstrate without ill-temper!' All this is wise and
good, but, alas, as Turgot had occasion by and by to say, little comes
of giving rules instead of breeding habits.

It is curious that Turgot as early in his career as this should have
protested against one of the most dangerous doctrines of the
_philosophe_ school. 'I have long thought,' he says, 'that our nation
needs to have marriage and true marriage preached to it. We contract
marriages ignobly, from views of ambition or interest; and as many of
them are unhappy in consequence, we may see growing up from day to day a
fashion of thinking that is extremely mischievous to the community, to
manners, to the stability of families, and to domestic happiness and
virtue.'[29] Looseness of opinion as to the family and the conditions of
its wellbeing and stability, was a flaw that ran through the whole
period of revolutionary thought. It was not surprising that the family
should come in for its share of destructive criticism, along with the
other elements of the established system, but it is a proof of the
solidity of Turgot's understanding that he should from the first have
detected the mischievousness of this side of the great social attack.
Nor did subsequent discussion with the champions of domestic license
have any effect upon his opinion.

[Footnote 29: ii. 790.]

He makes the protest which the moralist makes, and has to make in every
age, against the practice of determining the expediency of a marriage by
considerations of money or rank. There is a great abuse, he says, in the
manner in which marriages are made without the two persons most
concerned having any knowledge of one another, and solely under the
authority of the parents, who are guided either by fortune, or else by
station, that will one day translate itself into fortune. 'I know,' he
says, 'that even marriages of inclination do not always succeed. So from
the fact that sometimes people make mistakes in their choice, it is
concluded that we ought never to choose.' Condorcet, we may remember,
many years after, insisted on the banishment by public opinion of
avaricious and mercenary considerations from marriage, as one of the
most important means of diminishing the great inequalities in the
accumulation of wealth.[30]

[Footnote 30: _OEuv. de Condorcet_, vi. 245.]

In the same letter he took sides by anticipation in another cardinal
controversy of the epoch, by declaring a preference for the savage over
the civilised state to be a 'ridiculous declamation.' This strange and
fatal debate had been opened by Rousseau's memorable first Discourse,
which was given to the world in 1750. Preference for the savage state
was the peculiar form assumed by emotional protests against the existing
system of the distribution of wealth. Turgot from first to last resisted
the whole spirit of such protests. In this letter, where he makes his
first approach to the subject, he insists on inequality of conditions,
as alike necessary and useful. It is necessary 'because men are not born
equal; because their strength, their intelligence, their passions, would
be perpetually overthrowing that momentous equilibrium among them, which
the laws might have established.'

'What would society be without this inequality of conditions? Each
individual would be reduced to mere necessaries, or rather there would
be very many to whom mere necessaries would be by no means assured. Men
cannot labour without implements and without the means of subsistence,
until the gathering in of the produce. Those who have not had
intelligence enough, or any opportunity to acquire these things, have no
right to take them away from one who has earned and deserved them by his
labour. If the idle and ignorant were to despoil the industrious and the
skilful, all works would be discouraged, and misery would become
universal. It is alike more just and more useful that all those who have
fallen behind either in wit or in good fortune, should lend their right
arms to those who know how best to employ them, who can pay them a wage
in advance, and guarantee them a share in the future profits.... There
is no injustice in this, that a man who has discovered a productive kind
of work, and who has supplied his assistants with sustenance and the
necessary implements, who for this has only made free contracts with
them, should keep back the larger part, and that as payment for his
advances he should have less toil and more leisure. It is this leisure
which gives him a better chance of revolving schemes, and still further
increasing his lights; and what he can economise from his share of the
produce, which is with entire equity a larger share, augments his
capital, and adds to his power of entering into new undertakings....

'What would become of society, if things were not so, and if each person
tilled his own little plot? He would also have to build his own house,
and make his own clothes. What would the people live upon, who dwell in
lands that produce no wheat? Who would transport the productions of one
country to another country? The humblest peasant enjoys a multitude of
commodities often got together from remote climes.... This distribution
of professions necessarily leads to inequality of conditions.'

So early was the rational answer ready for those socialistic sophisms
which for so many years misled the most generous part of French
intelligence. We may regret perhaps that in demolishing the vision of
perfect social equality, Turgot did not show a more lively sense of the
need for lessening and softening unavoidable inequalities of condition.
However capable these inequalities may be of scientific defence, they
are none the less on that account in need of incessant and strenuous
practical modification; and it is one of the most serious misfortunes of
society, and is unhappily long likely to remain so, that since the
absorbing question of the reformation of the economic conditions of the
social union has come more and more prominently to the front, gradually
but irresistibly thrusting behind both its religious and its political
conditions, zeal for the amelioration of the common lot has in so few
auspicious instances been according to knowledge; while the professors
of science have been more careful to compose narrow apologies for
individual selfishness, than to extend as widely as possible the limits
set by demonstrable principle to the improvement of the common life.

We may notice too in this Letter, what so many of Turgot's allies and
friends were disposed to complain of, but what will commend him to a
less newly emancipated and therefore a less fanatical generation. There
is a conspicuous absence of that peculiar boundlessness of hope, that
zealous impatience for the instant realisation and fruition of all the
inspirations of philosophic intelligence, which carried others
immediately around him so excessively far in the creed of
Perfectibility. 'Liberty! I answer with a sigh, maybe that men are not
worthy of thee! Equality! They would yearn after thee, but cannot
attain!' Compared with the confident exultation and illimitable sense of
the worth of man which distinguished that time, there is something like
depression here, as in many other places in Turgot's writings. It is
usually less articulate, and is rather conveyed by a running undertone,
which so often reveals more of a writer's true mood and temper than is
seen in his words, giving to them, by some unconscious and inscrutable
process, living effects upon the reader's sense like those of eye and
voice and accompanying gesture.

Dejection, however, is perhaps not the most proper word for the humour
of reserved and grave suspense, natural in those rare spirits who have
recognised how narrow is the way of truth and how few there be that
enter therein, and what prolonged concurrence of favouring hazards with
gigantic endeavour is needed for each smallest step in the halting
advancement of the race. With Turgot this was not the result of mere
sentimental brooding. It had a deliberate and reasoned foundation in
historical study. He was patient and not hastily sanguine as to the
speedy coming of the millennial future, exactly because history had
taught him to measure the laggard paces of the past. The secret of the
intense hopefulness of that time lay in the mournfully erroneous
conviction that the one condition of progress is plenteous increase of
light. Turgot saw very early that this is not so. '_It is not error_,'
he wrote, in a saying that every champion of a new idea should have
ever in letters of flame before his eyes, '_which opposes the progress
of truth: it is indolence, obstinacy, the spirit of routine, everything
that favours inaction_.'[31]

[Footnote 31: _OEuv._ ii. 672.]

The others left these potent elements of obstruction out of calculation
and account. With Turgot they were the main facts to be considered, and
the main forces to be counteracted. It is the mark of the highest kind
of union between sagacious, firm, and clear-sighted intelligence, and a
warm and steadfast glow of social feeling, when a man has learnt how
little the effort of the individual can do either to hasten or direct
the current of human destiny, and yet finds in effort his purest
pleasure and his most constant duty. If we owe honour to that social
endeavour which is stimulated and sustained by an enthusiastic
confidence in speedy and full fruition, we surely owe it still more to
those, who knowing how remote and precarious and long beyond their own
days is the hour of fruit, yet need no other spur nor sustenance than
bare hope, and in this strive and endeavour and still endeavour. Here
lies the true strength, and it was the possession of this strength and
the constant call and strain upon it, which gave Turgot in mien and
speech a gravity that revolted the frivolous or indifferent, and seemed
cold and timorous to the enthusiastic and urgent. Turgot had discovered
that there was a law in the history of men, and he knew how this law
limited and conditioned progress.


In 1750 Turgot, then only in his twenty-fourth year, was appointed to
the honorary office of Prior of the Sorbonne, an elective distinction
conferred annually, as it appears, on some meritorious or highly
connected student. It was held in the following year by Loménie de
Brienne. In this capacity Turgot read two Latin dissertations, one at
the opening of the session, and the other at its close. The first of
these was upon 'The Advantages that the Establishment of Christianity
has conferred upon the Human Race.'

       *     *     *     *     *

Its value, as might well have been expected from the circumstances of
its production, is not very high. It is pitched in a tone of exaltation
that is eminently unfavourable to the permanently profitable treatment
of such a subject. There are in it too many of those eloquent and
familiar commonplaces of orthodox history, by which the doubter tries to
warm himself into belief, and the believer dreams that he is
corroborating faith by reason. The assembly for whom his discourse was
prepared, could hardly have endured the apparition in the midst of them
of what both rigorous justice and accurate history required to have
taken into account on the other side. It was not to be expected that a
young student within the precincts of the Sorbonne should have any eyes
for the evil with which the forms of the Christian religion, like other
growths of the human mind, from the lowest forms of savage animism
upwards, have ever alloyed its good. The absence of all reference to one
half of what the annals of the various Christian churches have to teach
us, robs the first of Turgot's discourses of that serious and durable
quality which belongs to all his other writings.

It is fair to point out that the same vicious exclusiveness was
practised by the enemies of the Church, and that if history was to one
of the two contending factions an exaggerated enumeration of the
blessings of Christianity, it was to their passionate rivals only a
monotonous catalogue of curses. Of this temper we have a curious
illustration in the circumstance that Dupont, Turgot's intimate friend
of later years, who collected and published his works, actually took the
trouble to suppress the opening of this very Discourse, in which Turgot
had replied to the reproach often made against Christianity, of being
useful only for a future life.[32]

[Footnote 32: _OEuv._ ii. 586, _n._]

In the first Discourse, Turgot considers the influence of Christianity
first upon human nature, and secondly on political societies. One
feature at least deserves remark, and this is that in spite both of a
settled partiality, and a certain amount of the common form of theology,
yet at bottom and putting some phrases apart, religion is handled, and
its workings traced, much as they would have been if treated as
admittedly secular forces. And this was somewhat. Let us proceed to
analyse what Turgot says.

1. Before the preaching and acceptance of the new faith, all nations
alike were plunged into the most extravagant superstitions. The most
frightful dissoluteness of manners was encouraged by the example of the
gods themselves. Every passion and nearly every vice was the object of a
monstrous deification. A handful of philosophers existed, who had learnt
no better lesson from their reason, than to despise the multitude of
their fellows. In the midst of the universal contagion, the Jews alone
remained pure. Even the Jews were affected with a narrow and sterile
pride, which proved how little they appreciated the priceless treasure
that was entrusted to their keeping. What were the effects of the
appearance of Christ, and the revelation of the gospel? It inspired men
with a tender zeal for the truth, and by establishing the necessity of a
body of teachers for the instruction of nations, made studiousness and
intellectual application indispensable in a great number of persons.

Consider, again, the obscurity, incertitude, and incongruousness, that
marked the ideas of the wisest of the ancients upon the nature of man
and of God, and the origin of creation; the Ideas of Plato, for
instance, the Numbers of Pythagoras, the theurgic extravagances of
Plotinus and Porphyry and Iamblichus; and then measure the contributions
made by the scholastic theologians, whose dry method has undergone so
much severe condemnation, to the instruments by which knowledge is
enlarged and made accurate. It was the Church, moreover, which
civilised the Northern barbarians, and so preserved the West from the
same barbarism and desolation with which the triumphs of Mahometanism
replaced the knowledge and arts and prosperity of the East. It is to the
services of the Church that we owe the perpetuation of a knowledge of
the ancient tongues, and if this knowledge, and the possession of the
masterpieces of thought and feeling and form, the flower of the ancient
European mind, remained so long unproductive, still religious
organisation deserves our gratitude equally for keeping these great
treasures for happier times. They survived, as trees stripped by winter
of their leaves survive through frost and storm, to give new blossoms in
a new spring.

This much on the intellectual side; but how can we describe the moral
transformation which the new faith brought to pass? Men who had hitherto
only regarded gods as beings to be entreated to avert ill or bestow
blessing, now learnt the nobler emotion of devout love for a divinity of
supreme power and beneficence. The new faith, besides kindling love for
God, inflamed the kindred sentiment of love for men, all of whom it
declared to be the children of God, one vast family with a common
father. Julian himself bore witness to the fidelity with which the
Christians, whose faith he hated or despised, tended the sick and fed
the poor, not only of their own association, but those also who were
without the fold. The horrible practice of exposing new-born infants,
which outraged nature, and yet did not touch the heart nor the
understanding of a Numa, an Aristotle, a Confucius, was first proscribed
by the holy religion of Christ. If shame and misery still sometimes, in
the hearts of poor outcast mothers, overpower the horror which
Christianity first inspired, it is still the same religion which has
opened sheltering places for the unhappy victims of such a practice, and
provided means for rearing foundlings into useful citizens.

Christian teaching, by reviving the principles of sensibility within the
breast, may be said 'to have in some sort unveiled human nature to
herself.' If the cruelty of old manners has abated, do we not owe the
improvement to such courageous priests as Ambrose, who refused admission
into the church to Theodosius, because in punishing a guilty city he had
hearkened to the voice rather of wrath than of justice; or as that Pope
who insisted that Lewis the Seventh should expiate by a rigorous penance
the sack and burning of Vitry.[33] It is not to a Titus, a Trajanus, an
Antoninus, that we owe the abolition of the bloody gladiatorial games;
it is to Jesus Christ. Virtuous unbelievers have not seldom been the
apostles of benevolence and humanity, but we rarely see them in the
asylums of misery. Reason speaks, but it is religion that makes men act.
How much dearer to us than the splendid monuments of antique taste,
power, and greatness, are those Gothic edifices reared for the poor and
the orphan, those far nobler monuments of the piety of Christian
princes and the power of Christian faith. The rudeness of their
architecture may wound the delicacy of our taste, but they will be ever
beloved by feeling hearts. 'Let others admire in the retreat prepared
for those who have sacrificed in battle their lives or their health for
the State, all the gathered riches of the arts, displaying in the eyes
of all the nations the magnificence of Lewis the Fourteenth, and
carrying our renown to the level of that of Greece and Rome. What I will
admire is such a use of those arts; the sublime glory of serving the
weal of men raises them higher than they had ever been at Rome or at

[Footnote 33: See Martin's _Hist. de la France_, iii. 422. Or Morison's
_Life of Saint Bernard_, bk. iii. ch. vi.]

2. Let us turn from the action of the Christian faith in modifying the
passions of the individual, to its influence upon societies of men. How
has Christianity ameliorated the great art of government, with reference
to the two characteristic aims of that art, the happiness of
communities, and their stability? 'Nature has given all men the right of
being happy,' but the old lawgivers abandoned nature's wise economy, by
which she uses the desires and interests of individuals to fulfil her
general plans and ensure the common weal. Men like Lycurgus destroyed
all idea of property, violated the laws of modesty, and annihilated the
tenderest ties of blood. A false and mischievous spirit of system
seduced them away from the true method, the feeling after
experience.[34] A general injustice reigned in the laws of all nations;
among all of them what was called the public good was confined to a
small number of men. Love of country was less the love of
fellow-citizens than a common hatred towards strangers. Hence the
barbarities practised by the ancients upon their slaves, hence that
custom of slavery once spread over the whole earth, those horrible
cruelties in the wars of the Greeks and the Romans, that barbarous
inequality between the two sexes which still reigns in the East; hence
the tyranny of the great towards the common people in hereditary
aristocracies, the profound degradation of subject peoples. In short,
everywhere the stronger have made the laws and have crushed the weak;
and if they have sometimes consulted the interests of a given society,
they have always forgotten those of the human race. To recall right and
justice, a principle was necessary that could raise men above themselves
and all around them, that could lead them to survey all nations and all
conditions with an equitable gaze, and in some sort with the eyes of God
himself. This is what religion has done. What other principle could have
fought and vanquished both interests and prejudice united?

[Footnote 34: _Les hommes en tout ne s'éclairent que par le tâtonnement
de l'expérience._ P. 593.]

Nothing but the Christian religion could have worked that general
revolution in men's minds, which brought the rights of humanity out into
full day, and reconciled an affectionate preference for the community of
which one makes a part, with a general love for mankind. Even the
horrors of war were softened, and humanity began to be spared such
frightful sequels of triumph, as towns burnt to ashes, populations put
to the sword, the wounded massacred in cold blood, or reserved to give a
ghastly decoration to triumph. Slavery, where it was not abolished, was
constantly and effectively mitigated by Christian sentiment, and the
fact that the Church did not peremptorily insist on its universal
abolition was due to a wise reluctance to expose the constitution of
society to so sudden and violent a shock. Christianity without formal
precepts, merely by inspiring a love of justice and mercy in men's
hearts, prevented the laws from becoming an instrument of oppression,
and held a balance between the strong and the feeble.

If the history of the ancient republics shows that they hardly knew the
difference between liberty and anarchy, and if even the profound
Aristotle seemed unable to reconcile monarchy with a mild government, is
not the reason to be found in the fact that before the Christian era,
the various governments of the world only presented either an ambition
without bound or limit, or else a blind passion for independence? a
perpetual balance between oppression on the one side, and revolt on the
other? In vain did lawgivers attempt to arrest this incessant struggle
of conflicting passions by laws which were too weak for the purpose,
because they were in too imperfect an accord with opinions and manners.
Religion, by placing man under the eyes of an all-seeing God, imposed on
human passions the only rein capable of effectually bridling them. It
gave men internal laws, that were stronger than all the external bonds
of the civil laws. By means of this internal change, it has everywhere
had the effect of weakening despotism, so that the limits of
Christianity seem to mark also the limits of mild government and public
felicity. Kings saw the supreme tribunal of a God who should judge them
and the cause of their people. Thus the distance between them and their
subjects became as nothing in the infinite distance between kings and
subjects alike, and the divinity that was equally elevated above either.
They were both in some sort equalised by a common abasement. 'Ye
nations, be subject to authority,' cried the voice of religion to the
one; and to the other it cried, 'Ye kings, who judge the earth, learn
that God has only entrusted you with the image of power for the
happiness of your peoples.'

An eloquent description of the efficacy of Christianity in raising human
nature, and impressing on kings the obligation of pursuing above all
things the wellbeing of their subjects, closes with a courtly official
salutation of the virtues of that Very Christian King, Lewis the

       *     *     *     *     *

'It is ill reasoning against religion,' an illustrious contemporary of
Turgot's had said, in a deprecatory sentence that serves to mark the
spirit of the time; 'to compile a long list of the evils which it has
inflicted, without doing the same for the blessings which it has
bestowed.'[35] Conversely we may well think it unphilosophical and
unconvincing to enumerate all the blessings without any of the evils; to
tell us how the Christian doctrine enlarged the human spirit, without
observing what narrowing limitations it imposed; to dwell on all the
mitigating influences with which the Christian churches have been
associated, while forgetting all the ferocities which they have
inspired. The history of European belief offers a double record since
the decay of polytheism, and if for a certain number of centuries this
record shows the civilisation of men's instincts by Christianity, it
reveals to us in the centuries subsequent, the reverse process of the
civilisation of Christianity by men's instincts. Turgot's piece treats
half the subject as if it were the whole. He extends down to the middle
of the eighteenth century a number of propositions and implied
inferences, which are only true up to the beginning of the fourteenth.

[Footnote 35: _Esprit des Lois_, bk. xxiv. ch. ii.]

Even within this limitation there are many questions that no student of
Turgot's capacity would now overlook, yet of which he and the most
reasonable spirits of his age took no cognisance. The men of neither
side in the eighteenth century knew what the history of opinion meant.
All alike concerned themselves with its truth or falsehood, with what
they counted to be its abstract fitness or unfitness. A perfect method
places a man where he can command one point of view as well as the
other, and can discern not only how far an idea is true and convenient,
but also how, whether true and convenient or otherwise, it came into its
place in men's minds. We ought to be able to separate in thought the
question of the grounds and evidence for a given dogma being true, from
the distinct and purely historic question of the social and intellectual
conditions which made men accept it for true.

Where, however, there was any question of the two religions whose
document and standards are professedly drawn from the Bible, there the
Frenchmen of that time assumed not a historic attitude, but one
exclusively dogmatic. Everybody was so anxious to prove, that he had
neither freedom nor humour to observe. The controversy as to the exact
measure of the supernatural force in Judaism and its Christian
development was so overwhelmingly absorbing, as to leave without light
or explanation the wide and independent region of their place as simply
natural forces. It may be said, and perhaps it is true, that people
never allow the latter side of the inquiry to become prominent in their
minds until they have settled the former, and settled it in one way:
they must be indifferent to the details of the natural operations of a
religion, until they are convinced that there are none of any other
kind. Be this as it may, we have to record the facts. And it is
difficult to imagine a Frenchman of the era of the Encyclopædia asking
himself the sort of questions which now present themselves to the
student in such abundance. For instance, has one effect of Christianity
been to exalt a regard for the Sympathetic over the Æsthetic side of
action and character? And if so, to what elements in the forms of
Christian teaching and practice is this due? And is such a transfer of
the highest place from the beauty to the lovableness of conduct to be
accounted a gain, when contrasted with the relative position of the two
sides among the Greeks and Romans?

Again, we have to draw a distinction between the Christian idea and the
outward Christian organisation, and between the consequences to human
nature and society which flowed from the first, and the advantages which
may be traced to the second. There was on the one hand a doctrine,
stirring dormant spiritual instincts, and satisfying active spiritual
needs; on the other an external institution, preserving, interpreting,
developing, and applying the doctrine. Each of the two has its own
origin, its own history, its own destiny in the memories of the race. We
may attempt to estimate the functions of the one, without pronouncing on
the exact value of the other. If the idea was the direct gift of heaven,
the policy was due to the sagacity and mother-wit of the great
ecclesiastical statesmen. If the doctrine was a supernatural boon, at
least the forms in which it came gradually to overspread Europe were to
be explained on rational and natural grounds. And if historical
investigation of these forms and their influences should prove that they
are the recognisable roots of most of the benign growths which are
vaguely styled results of Christianity, then such a conclusion would
seriously attenuate the merits of the supernatural Christian doctrine in
favour of the human Christian policy.

If there had been in the Christian idea the mysterious self-sowing
quality so constantly claimed for it, how came it that in the Eastern
part of the Empire it was as powerless for spiritual or moral
regeneration as it was for political health and vitality, while in the
Western part it became the organ of the most important of all the past
transformations of the civilised world? Is not the difference to be
explained by the difference in the surrounding medium, and what is the
effect of such an explanation upon the supernatural claims of the
Christian idea? Does such an explanation reduce that idea to the rank of
one of the historic forces, which arise and operate and expand
themselves in accordance with strictly natural conditions? The
Christianity of the East was probably as degraded a form of belief, as
lowering for human character, and as mischievous to social wellbeing, as
has ever been held by civilised peoples. Yet the East, strangely enough,
was the great home and nursery of all that is most distinctive in the
constituent ideas of the Christian faith. Why, in meditating on
Christianity, are we to shut our eyes to the depravation that overtook
it when placed amid unfavourable social conditions, and to confine our
gaze to the brighter qualities which it developed in the healthier
atmosphere of the West?

Further, Turgot might have asked with much profit to the cause of
historic truth, and perhaps in more emancipated years he did ask,
whether economic circumstances have not had more to do with the
dissolution of slavery than Christian doctrines:--whether the rise of
rent from free tenants over the profits to be drawn from slave-labour by
the landowner, has not been a more powerful stimulant to emancipation,
than the moral maxim that we ought to love one another, or the Christian
proposition that we are all equals before the divine throne and co-heirs
of salvation:--whether a steady and permanent fall in the price of
slave-raised productions had not as much to do with the decay of slavery
in Europe, as the love of God or the doctrine of human brotherhood.[36]
That the influence of Christianity, so far as it went, and, so far as it
was a real power, tended both to abolish slavery, and, where it was too
feeble to press in this direction, at any rate tended to mitigate the
harshness of its usages, is hardly to be denied by any fair-minded
person. The true issue is what this influence amounted to. The orthodox
historian treats it as single and omnipotent. His heterodox brother--in
the eighteenth century they both usually belonged to one family--leaves
it out.

[Footnote 36: See on this subject Finlay's _Mediæval Greece and
Trebizond_, p. 197; and also, on the other hand, p. 56.]

The crowded annals of human misology, as well as the more terrible
chronicle of the consequences when misology has impatiently betaken
itself to the cruel arm of flesh, show the decisive importance of the
precise way in which a great subject of debate is put. Now the whole
question of religion was in those days put with radical incompleteness,
and Turgot's dissertation was only in a harmony that might have been
expected with the prevailing error. The champions of authority, like the
leaders of the revolt, insisted on inquiring absolutely, not relatively;
on judging religion with reference to human nature in the abstract,
instead of with reference to the changing varieties of social
institution and circumstance. We ought to place ourselves where we can
see both lines of inquiry to be possible. We ought to place ourselves
where we can ask what the tendencies of Christian influence have been,
without mixing up with that question the further and distinct inquiry
what these tendencies are now, or are likely to be. The nineteenth
century has hitherto leaned to the historical and relative aspect of the
great controversy. The eighteenth was characteristically dogmatic, and
the destroyers of the faith were not any less dogmatic in their own way,
than those who professed to be its apologists.

       *     *     *     *     *

Probably it was not long after the composition of this apologetic
thesis, before Turgot became alive to the precise position of a creed
which had come to demand apologetic theses. This was, indeed, one of the
marked and critical moments in the great transformation of religious
feeling and ecclesiastical order in Europe, of which our own age, four
generations later, is watching a very decisive, if not a final stage.
Turgot's demonstration of the beneficence of Christianity was delivered
in July 1750--almost the exact middle of the eighteenth century. The
death of the Emperor Charles the Sixth, ten years before, had given the
signal for the break-up of the European system. The iron army of Prussia
made its first stride out of the narrow northern borders, into the broad
arena of the West, and every new illustration of the fortitude and depth
and far-reaching power of Prussia has been a new blow to the old
Catholic organisation. The first act of this prodigious drama closed
while Turgot was a pupil at the Sorbonne. The court of France had
blundered into alliances against the retrograde and Catholic house of
Austria, while England, with equal blindness, had stumbled into
friendship with it. Before the opening of the second act or true
climax--that is, before the Seven Years' War began--interests and forces
became more naturally adjusted. France, Spain, and Austria, Bourbons and
Hapsburgs, the great pillars of the Church, were ranged against England
and Prussia, the half-conscious representatives of those industrial and
individualist principles which replaced, whether for a time or
permanently, the decaying system of aristocratic caste in temporal
things, and an ungrowing Catholicism in things spiritual. In 1750
ecclesiastical far-sightedness, court intrigue, and family ambitions,
were actively preparing the way for the Austrian alliance in the
mephitic air of Versailles. The issue at stake was the maintenance of
the supremacy of the Church, and the ancient Christian organisation of
France and of Europe.

We now know how this long battle has gone. The Jesuit Churchmen lost
their lead, and were thrown back out of the civil and political sphere.
We know, too, what effect these blows to the Catholic organisation have
had upon the activity of the Catholic idea. With the decline and
extermination of the predominance of Churchmen in civil affairs, there
began a tendency, which has since become deeper and stronger, in the
Church to withdraw herself and her sons from a sphere where she could no
longer be sovereign and queen. Religion, since the Revolution, isolates
the most devout Catholics from political action and political interests.
This great change, however, this return of the leaders of the Christian
society upon the original conceptions of the Christian faith, did not
come to pass in Turgot's time. He watched the struggle of the Church for
the maintenance of its temporal privilege and honour, and for the
continued protection by secular power of its spiritual supremacy. The
outcome of the struggle was later.

We may say, in fine, that if this first public composition of Turgot's
is extremely imperfect, it was better to exaggerate the services of
Christianity, alike as an internal faith and as a peculiar form of
social organisation, than to describe Gregory the Great and Innocent,
Hildebrand and Bernard, as artful and vulgar tyrants, and Aquinas and
Roger Bacon as the products of a purely barbarous, stationary, and dark
age. There is at first sight something surprising in the respect which
Turgot's ablest contemporaries paid to the contributions made to
progress by Greece and Rome, compared with their angry disparagement of
the dark ages. The reason of this contrast we soon discover to be that
the passions of present contests gave their own colour to men's
interpretation of the circumstances of the remote middle time, between
the Roman Empire and the commencement of the revolutionary period.
Turgot escaped these passions more completely than any man of his time
who was noble enough to be endowed with the capacity for passion. He
never forgot that it is as wise and just to confess the obligations of
mankind to the Catholic monotheism of the West, as it is shallow and
unjust in professors of Christianity to despise or hate the lower
theological systems which guide the humbler families of mankind.

Let us observe that only three years after this academic discourse in
praise of the religion of the time, Turgot was declaring that 'the
greatest of the services of Christianity to the world was that it had
both enlightened and propagated _natural religion_.'[37]

[Footnote 37: _Lettres sur la Tolérance_, II. vol. ii. 687.]


Turgot's inquiry into the extent and quality of the debt of European
civilisation to Christianity was marked by a certain breadth and
largeness, in spite of the bonds of circumstance and subject--for who,
after all, can consider Christianity to any purpose, apart from other
conditions of general progress, or without free comparison with other
dogmatic systems? It is not surprising, then, to find the same valuable
gifts of vision coming into play with a thousand times greater liberty
and power, when the theme was widened so as to comprehend the successive
steps of the advancement of the human mind in all its aspects. The
Second and more famous of the two Discourses at the Sorbonne was read in
December 1750, and professes to treat the Successive Advances of the
Human Mind.[38] The opening lines are among the most pregnant, as they
were among the most original, in the history of literature, and reveal
in an outline, standing clear against the light, a thought which
revolutionised old methods of viewing and describing the course of human
affairs, and contained the germs of a new and most fruitful philosophy
of society.

[Footnote 38: Sur les progrés successifs de l'esprit humain. _OEuv._
ii. 597-611.]

'The phenomena of nature, subjected as they are to constant laws, are
enclosed in a circle of revolutions that remain the same for ever. All
comes to life again, all perishes again; and in these successive
generations, by which vegetables and animals reproduce themselves, time
does no more than bring back at each moment the image of what it has
just dismissed.

'The succession of men, on the contrary, offers from age to age a
spectacle of continual variations. Reason, freedom, the passions, are
incessantly producing new events. _All epochs are fastened together by a
sequence of causes and effects, linking the condition of the world to
all the conditions that have gone before it._ The gradually multiplied
signs of speech and writing, giving men an instrument for making sure of
the continued possession of their ideas, as well as of imparting them to
others, have formed out of the knowledge of each individual a common
treasure, which generation transmits to generation, as an inheritance
constantly augmented by the discoveries of each age; and the human race,
observed from its first beginning, seems in the eyes of the philosopher
to be one vast whole, which, like each individual in it, has its infancy
and its growth.'

This was not a mere casual reflection in Turgot's mind, taking a
solitary and separate position among those various and unordered ideas,
which spring up and go on existing without visible fruit in every active
intelligence. It was one of the systematic conceptions which shape and
rule many groups of facts, fixing a new and high place of their own for
them among the great divisions of knowledge. In a word, it belonged to
the rare order of truly creative ideas, and was the root or germ of a
whole body of vigorous and connected thought. This quality marks the
distinction, in respect of the treatment of history, between Turgot, and
both Bossuet and the great writers of history in France and England in
the eighteenth century. Many of the sayings to which we are referred for
the origin of the modern idea of history, such as Pascal's for instance,
are the fortuitous glimpses of men of genius into a vast sea, whose
extent they have not been led to suspect, and which only make a passing
and momentary mark. Bossuet's talk of universal history, which has been
so constantly praised, was fundamentally, and in substance, no more than
a bit of theological commonplace splendidly decorated. He did indeed
speak of 'the concatenation of human affairs,' but only in the same
sentence with 'the sequence of the counsels of God.' The gorgeous
rhetorician of the Church was not likely to rise philosophically into
the larger air of universal history, properly so called. His famous
Discourse is a vindication of divine foresight, by means of an intensely
narrow survey of such sets of facts as might be thought not inconsistent
with the deity's fixed purpose to make one final and decisive revelation
to men. No one who looks upon the vast assemblage of stupendous human
circumstances, from the first origin of man upon the earth, as merely
the ordained antecedent of what, seen from the long procession of all
the ages, figures in so diminutive a consummation as the Catholic
Church, is likely to obtain a very effective hold of that broad sequence
and many-linked chain of events, to which Bossuet gave a right name, but
whose real meaning he never was even near seizing. His merit is that he
did in a small and rhetorical way what Montesquieu and Voltaire
afterwards did in a truly comprehensive and philosophical way; he
pressed forward general ideas in connection with the recorded movements
of the chief races of mankind. For a teacher of history to leave the
bare chronicler's road so far as to declare, for example, the general
principle, inadequate and over-stated as it is, that 'religion and civil
government are the two points on which human things revolve,'--even this
was a clear step in advance. The dismissal of the long series of
emperors from Augustus to Alexander Severus in two or three pages was to
show a ripe sense of large historic proportion. Again, Bossuet's
expressions of 'the concatenation of the universe,' of the
interdependence of the parts of so vast a whole, of there coming no
great change without having its causes in foregoing centuries, and of
the true object of history being to observe, in connection with each
epoch, those secret dispositions of events which prepared the way for
great changes, as well as the momentous conjunctures which more
immediately brought them to pass[39]--all these phrases seem to point to
a true and philosophic survey. But they end in themselves, and lead
nowhither. The chain is an arbitrary and one-sided collection of facts.
The writer does not cautiously follow and feel after the successive
links, but forges and chooses and arrays them after a pattern of his
own, which was fixed independently of them. A scientific term or two is
not enough to disguise the purely theological essence of the treatise.

[Footnote 39: _Discours sur l'Histoire Universelle_, part iii. ch. ii.]

Montesquieu and Voltaire were both far enough removed from Bossuet's
point of view, and the _Spirit of Laws_ of the one, and the _Essay on
the Manners and Character of Nations_ of the other, mark a very
different way of considering history from the lofty and confident method
of the orthodox rhetorician. The _Spirit of Laws_ was published in 1748,
that is to say a couple of years before Turgot's Discourse at the
Sorbonne. Voltaire's _Essay on Manners_ did not come out until 1757, or
seven years later than the Discourse; but Voltaire himself has told us
that its composition dates from 1740, when he prepared this new
presentation of European history for the service of Madame du
Châtelet.[40] We may hence fairly consider the cardinal work of
Montesquieu, and the cardinal historical work of Voltaire, as virtually
belonging to the same time. And they possess a leading character in
common, which separates them both from Turgot, and places them
relatively to his idea in a secondary rank. In a word, Montesquieu and
Voltaire, if we have to search their most distinctive quality,
introduced into history systematically, and with full and decisive
effect, a broad generality of treatment. They grouped the facts of
history; and they did not group them locally or in accordance with mere
geographical or chronological division, but collected the facts in
social classes and orders from many countries and times. Their work was
a work of classification. It showed the possibility of arranging the
manifold and complex facts of society, and of the movements of
communities, under heads and with reference to definite general

[Footnote 40: Preface to _Essai sur les Moeurs_, _OEuv._ xx.]

There is no need here to enter into any criticism of Montesquieu's great
work, how far the merits of its execution equalled the merit of its
design, how far his vicious confusion of the senses of the word 'law'
impaired the worth of his book, as a contribution to inductive or
comparative history. We have only to seek the difference between the
philosophic conception of Montesquieu and the philosophic conception of
Turgot. The latter may be considered a more liberal completion of the
former. Turgot not only sees the operation of law in the movements and
institutions of society, but he interprets this law in a positive and
scientific sense, as an ascertainable succession of social states, each
of them being the cause and effect of other social states. Turgot gives
its deserved prominence to the fertile idea of there being an ordered
movement of growth or advance among societies; in other words, of the
civilisation of any given portion of mankind having fixed conditions
analogous to those of a physical organism. Finally, he does not limit
his thought by fixing it upon the laws and constitutions only of
countries, but refers historical philosophy to its veritable and widest
object and concern, the steps and conditions of the progression of the
human mind.

How, he inquires, can we seize the thread of the progress of the human
mind? How trace the road, now overgrown and half-hidden, along which the
race has travelled? Two ideas suggest themselves, which lay foundations
for this inquiry. For one thing, the resources of nature and the
fruitful germ of all sorts of knowledge are to be found wherever men are
to be found. 'The sublimest attainments are not, and cannot be, other
than the first ideas of sense developed or combined, just as the edifice
whose height most amazes the eye, of necessity reposes on the very earth
that we tread; and the same senses, the same organs, the spectacle of
the same universe, have everywhere given men the same ideas, as the same
needs and the same dispositions have everywhere taught them the same
arts.' Or it might be put in other words. There is identity in human
nature, and repetition in surrounding circumstance means the
reproduction of social consequences. For another thing, 'the actual
state of the universe, by presenting at the same moment on the earth all
the shades of barbarism and civilisation, discloses to us as in a single
glance the monuments, the footprints of all the steps of the human mind,
the measure of the whole track along which it has passed, the history of
all the ages.'

The progress of the human mind means to Turgot the progress of
knowledge. Its history is the history of the growth and spread of
science and the arts. Its advance is increased enlightenment of the
understanding. From Adam and Eve down to Lewis the Fourteenth, the
record of progress is the chronicle of the ever-increasing additions to
the sum of what men know, and the accuracy and fulness with which they
know. The chief instrument in this enlightenment is the rising up from
time to time of some lofty and superior intelligence; for though human
character contains everywhere the same principle, yet certain minds are
endowed with a peculiar abundance of talent that is refused to others.
'Circumstances develop these superior talents, or leave them buried in
obscurity; and from the infinite variety of these circumstances springs
the inequality among nations.' The agricultural stage goes immediately
before a decisively polished state, because it is then first that there
is that surplus of means of subsistence, which allows men of higher
capacity the leisure for using it in the acquisition of knowledge,
properly so called.

One of the greatest steps was the precious invention of writing, and one
of the most rapid was the constitution of mathematical knowledge. The
sciences that came next matured more slowly, because in mathematics the
explorer has only to compare ideas among one another, while in the
others he has to test the conformity of ideas to objective facts.
Mathematical truths, becoming more numerous every day, and increasingly
fruitful in proportion, lead to the development of hypotheses at once
more extensive and more exact, and point to new experiments, which in
their turn furnish new problems to solve. 'So necessity perfects the
instrument; so mathematics finds support in physics, to which it lends
its lamp; so all knowledge is bound together; so, notwithstanding the
diversity of their advance, all the sciences lend one another mutual
aid; and so, by force of feeling a way, of multiplying systems, of
exhausting errors, so to speak, the world at length arrives at the
knowledge of a vast number of truths.' It might seem as if a prodigious
confusion, as of tongues, would arise from so enormous an advance along
so many lines. 'The different sciences, originally confined within a few
simple notions common to all, can now, after their advance into more
extensive and difficult ideas, only be surveyed apart. But an advance,
greater still, brings them together again, because that mutual
dependence of all truths is discovered, which, while it links them one
to another, throws light on one by another.'

Alas, the history of opinion is, in one of its most extensive branches,
the history of error. The senses are the single source of our ideas, and
furnish its models to the imagination. Hence that nearly incorrigible
disposition to judge what we are ignorant of by what we know; hence
those deceptive analogies to which the primitive rudeness of men
surrenders itself. '_As they watched nature, as their eyes wandered to
the surface of a profound ocean, instead of the far-off bed hidden under
the waters, they saw nothing but their own likeness._ Every object in
nature had its god, and this god formed after the pattern of men, had
men's attributes and men's vices.'[41] Here, in anthropomorphism, or the
transfer of human quality to things not human, and the invention of
spiritual existences to be the recipients of this quality, Turgot justly
touched the root of most of the wrong thinking that has been as a
manacle to science.

[Footnote 41: P. 601.]

His admiration for those epochs in which new truths were most
successfully discovered, and old fallacies most signally routed, did not
prevent Turgot from appreciating the ages of criticism and their
services to knowledge. He does full justice to Alexandria, not only for
its astronomy and geometry, but for that peculiar studiousness 'which
exercises itself less on things than on books; whose strength lies less
in producing and discovering, than in collecting and comparing and
estimating what has been produced and discovered; which does not press
forward, but gazes backward along the road that has already been
traversed. The studies that require most genius, are not always those
which imply most progress in the mass of men. There are minds to which
nature has given a memory capable of comparing truths, of suggesting an
arrangement that places these truths in the fullest light; but to which,
at the same time, she has refused that ardour of genius which insists on
inventing and opening out for itself new lines of discovery. Made to
unite former discoveries under a single point of view, to surround them
with light, and to exhibit them in entire perfection, if they are not
luminaries that burn and sparkle of themselves, at least they are like
diamonds that reflect with dazzling brilliance a borrowed light.'

Thus Turgot's conception of progress regards it mainly, if not entirely,
as a gradual dawn and diffusion of light, the spreading abroad of the
rays of knowledge. He does not assert, as some moderns have crudely
asserted, that morality is of the nature of a fixed quantity; still he
hints something of the kind. 'Morality,' he says, speaking of Greece in
the time of its early physical speculation, 'though still imperfect,
still kept fewer relics of the infancy of reason. Those everspringing
necessities which so incessantly recall man to society, and force him to
bend to its laws, that instinct, that sentiment of what is good and
right, which Providence has engraved in all hearts, and which precedes
reason, all lead the thinkers of every time back to the same fundamental
principles of the science of morals.'

We meet with this limitation of the idea of progress in every member of
the school to which, more than to any other, Turgot belonged. Even in
the vindication of the claims of Christianity to the gratitude of
mankind, he had forborne from laying stress on any original
contribution, supposed to be made by that religion to the precious stock
of ethical ideas. He dwells upon the 'tender zeal for the progress of
truth that the Christian religion inspired,' and recounts the various
circumstances in which it spread and promoted the social and political
conditions most favourable to intellectual or scientific activity.
Whatever may be the truth or the value of Christianity as a dogmatic
system, there can be little doubt that its weight as a historic force is
to be looked for, not so much in the encouragement it gave to science
and learning, in respect of which Western Europe probably owes more to
Mahometanism, as in the high and generous types of character which it
inspired. A man of rare moral depth, warmth, or delicacy, may be a more
important element in the advance of civilisation, than the newest and
truest deduction from what Turgot calls 'the fundamental principles of
the science of morals.' The leading of souls to do what is right and
humane, is always more urgent than mere instruction of the intelligence
as to what exactly is the right and the humane. The saint after all has
a place in positive history; but the men of the eighteenth century
passionately threw him out from their calendar, as the mere wooden idol
of superstition. They eagerly recognised the genius of scientific
discovery; but they had no eyes for the genius of moral holiness.
Turgot, far as he was from many of the narrownesses of his time, yet did
not entirely transcend this, the worst of them all. And because he could
not perceive there to be any new growths in moral science, he left out
from a front place among the forces that have given strength and
ripeness to the human mind, the superior capacity of some men for
kindling, by word and example, the glowing love and devout practice of
morality in the breasts of many generations of their fellows.

The mechanical arts, Turgot says, were preserved in the dark ages by the
necessities of existence, and because 'it is impossible but that out of
the crowd of artisans practising them, there should arise from time to
time one of those men of genius who are found mingled with other men, as
gold is found mingled with the earth of a mine.' Surely in the same way
holy men arose, with keener feeling for the spiritual necessities of the
time, and finer knowledge to train and fit the capacities of human
nature to meet these needs, and make their satisfaction the basis for
yet loftier standards and holier aspirations and nobler and more careful
practice. The work of all such men deserved a place in an outline of the
progressive forces of the human mind, as much as the work of those who
invented bills of exchange, the art of musical notation, windmills,
clocks, gunpowder, and all the other material instruments for
multiplying the powers of man and the conveniences of life.

Even if we give Turgot the benefit of the doubt whether he intended to
describe more than the progress of the human intelligence, or the
knowing part of the mind, the omission of the whole moral side is still
a defect. For as he interprets knowledge to be the conformity of our
ideas to facts, has there not been a clearly recognisable progress in
the improved conformity of our ideas to the most momentous facts of all,
the various circumstances of human action, its motives and
consequences? No factor among the constituents of a progressive
civilisation deserves more carefully to be taken into account, than the
degree in which the current opinion and usage of a society recognise the
comprehensiveness of moral obligation. More than upon anything else,
does progress depend on the kinds of conduct which a community
classifies as moral or immoral, and upon the wider or narrower
inclusiveness within rigid ethical boundaries of what ought or ought not
to be left open and indifferent. The conditions which create and modify
these ethical regulations,--their law in a word,--form a department of
the history of the human mind, which can be almost less readily
dispensed with than any other. What sort of a history of Europe would
that be, which should omit, for example, to consider the influence of
the moral rigour of Calvinism upon the growth of the nations affected by

Moreover, Turgot expressly admits the ever-present wants of society to
be the stimulating agents, as well as the guides, of scientific energy.
He expressly admits, too, that they are constantly plucking men by the
skirt, and forcing them back to social rules of conduct. It is certain,
therefore, that as the necessities of society increase in number and
complexity, morality will be developed to correspond with them, and the
way in which new applications of ethical sentiments to the demands of
the common weal are made, is as interesting and as deserving of a place
in any scientific inquiry into social progress, as the new applications
of physical truths to satisfy material needs and to further material
convenience. Turgot justly points to the perfecting of language as one
of the most important of the many processes that go to the general
advancement of the race.[42] Not less, but more, important is the
analogous work of perfecting our ideas of virtue and duty. Surely this
chamber, too, in the great laboratory deserves that the historian should
unseal its door and explore its recesses.

[Footnote 42: P. 603.]

The characteristic merits of the second of the two discourses at the
Sorbonne may be briefly described in this way. It recognises the idea of
ordered succession in connection with the facts of society. It considers
this succession as one, not of superficial events, but of working
forces. Thus Bolingbroke, writing fifteen years before, had said that
'as to events that stand recorded in history, we see them all, we see
them as they followed one another, or as they produced one another,
causes or effects, immediate or remote.'[43] But it is very evident from
his illustrations that by all this he understood no more than the
immediate connection between one transaction and another. He thought,
for example, of the Revolution of 1688 being a consequence of the bad
government of James the Second; of this bad government springing from
the king's attachment to popery; this in turn being caused by the exile
of the royal family; this exile having its source in Cromwell's
usurpation; and so forth, one may suppose, down to the Noachian flood,
or the era when the earth was formless and void. It is mere futility to
talk of cause and effect in connection with a string of arbitrarily
chosen incidents of this sort. Cause and effect, in Turgot's sense of
history, describe a relation between certain sets or groups of
circumstances, that are of a peculiarly decisive kind, because the
surface of events conforms itself to their inner working. His account of
these deciding circumstances was not what we should be likely to accept
now, because he limited them too closely to purely intellectual
acquisitions, as we have just seen, and because he failed to see the
necessity of tracing the root of the whole growth to certain principles
in the mental constitution of mankind. But, at all events, his
conception of history rose above merely individual concerns, embraced
the successive movements of societies and their relations to one
another, and sought the spring of revolutions in the affairs of a
community in long trains of preparing conditions, internal and external.
Above all, history was a whole. The fortunes and achievements of each
nation were scrutinised for their effect on the growth of all mankind.

[Footnote 43: _Study of History_, Letter ii.]


In the year 1761, Turgot, then in his thirty-fourth year, was appointed
to the office of Intendant in the Generality of Limoges. There were
three different divisions of France in the eighteenth century: first and
oldest, the diocese or ecclesiastical circumscription; second, the
province or military government; and third, the Generality, or a
district defined for fiscal and administrative purposes. The Intendant
in the government of the last century was very much what the Prefect is
in the government of our own time. Perhaps, however, we understand
Turgot's position in Limousin best, by comparing it to that of the Chief
Commissioner of some great district in our Indian Empire. For example,
the first task which Turgot had to perform was to execute a new
land-assessment for purposes of imperial revenue. He had to construct
roads, to build barracks, to administer justice, to deal with a famine,
just as the English civilian has to do in Orissa or Behar. Much of his
time was taken up in elaborate memorials to the central government, and
the desk of the controller-general at Versailles was loaded with minutes
and reports exactly like the voluminous papers which fill the mahogany
boxes of the Members of Council and the Home Secretary at Calcutta. The
fundamental conditions of the two systems of government were much alike;
absolute political authority, and an elaborately centralised civil
administration for keeping order and raising a revenue. The direct
authority of an Intendant was not considerable. His chief functions were
the settlement of detail in executing the general orders that he
received from the minister; a provisional decision on certain kinds of
minor affairs; and a power of judging some civil suits, subject to
appeal to the Council. But though the Intendant was so strictly a
subordinate, yet he was the man of the government, and thoroughly in its
confidence. The government only saw with his eyes, and only acted on the
faith of his reports, memorials, and requisitions; and this in a country
where the government united in itself all forms of power, and was
obliged to be incessantly active and to make itself felt at every point.

Of all the thirty-two great districts in which the authority of the
Intendant stood between the common people and the authority of the
minister at Versailles, the Generality of Limoges was the poorest, the
rudest, the most backward, and the most miserable. To the eye of the
traveller with a mind for the picturesque, there were parts of this
central region of France whose smiling undulations, delicious
water-scenes, deep glens extending into amphitheatres, and slopes hung
with woods of chestnut, all seemed to make a lovelier picture than the
cheerful beauty of prosperous Normandy, or the olive-groves and
orange-gardens of Provence. Arthur Young thought the Limousin the most
beautiful part of France. Unhappily for the cultivator, these gracious
conformations belonged to a harsh and churlish soil. For him the roll of
the chalk and the massing of the granite would have been well exchanged
for the fat loams of level Picardy. The soil of the Limousin was
declared by its inhabitants to be the most ungrateful in the whole
kingdom, returning no more than four net for one of seed sown, while
there was land in the vale of the Garonne that returned thirty-fold. The
two conditions for raising tolerable crops were abundance of labour and
abundance of manure. But misery drove the men away, and the stock were
sold to pay the taxes. So the land lacked both the arms of the tiller,
and the dressing whose generous chemistry would have transmuted the dull
earth into fruitfulness and plenty. The extent of the district was
estimated at a million and a half of hectares, equivalent to nearly four
millions of English acres: yet the population of this vast tract was
only five hundred thousand souls. Even to-day it is not more than eight
hundred thousand.

The common food of the people was the chestnut, and to the great
majority of them even the coarsest rye-bread was a luxury that they had
never tasted. Maise and buckwheat were their chief cereals, and these,
together with a coarse radish, took up hundreds of acres that might
under a happier system have produced fine wheat and nourished
fruit-trees. There had once been a certain export of cattle, but that
had now come to an end, partly because the general decline of the
district had impaired the quality of the beasts, and partly because the
Parisian butchers, who were by much the greatest customers, had found
the markets of Normandy more convenient. The more the trade went down,
the heavier was the burden of the cattle-tax on the stock that remained.
The stock-dealer was thus ruined from both sides at once. In the same
way, the Limousin horses, whose breed had been famous all over France,
had ceased to be an object of commerce, and the progressive increase of
taxation had gradually extinguished the trade. Angoumois, which formed
part of the Generality of Limoges, had previously boasted of producing
the best and finest paper in the world, and it had found a market not
only throughout France, but all over Europe. There had been a time when
this manufacture supported sixty mills; at the death of Lewis XIV. their
number had fallen from sixty to sixteen. An excise duty at the mill, a
duty on exportation at the provincial frontier, a duty on the
importation of rags over the provincial frontier,--all these vexations
had succeeded in reducing the trade with Holland, one of France's best
customers, to one-fourth of its previous dimensions. Nor were paper and
cattle the only branches of trade that had been blighted by fiscal
perversity. The same burden arrested the transport of saffron across the
borders of the province, on its way to Hungary and Prussia and the other
cold lands where saffron was a favourite condiment. Salt which came up
the Charente from the marshes by the coast, was stripped of all its
profit, first by the duty paid on crossing from the Limousin to Périgord
and Auvergne, and next by the right possessed by certain of the great
lords on the banks of the Charente to help themselves at one point and
another to portions of the cargo. Iron was subject to a harassing excise
in all those parts of the country that were beyond the jurisdiction of
the parlement of Bordeaux. The effect of such positive hindrances as
these to the transit of goods was further aided, to the destruction of
trade, by the absence of roads. There were four roads in the province,
but all of them so bad that the traveller knew not whether to curse more
lustily the rocks or the swamps that interrupted his journey
alternately. There were two rivers, the Vienne and the Vézère, and these
might seem to an enthusiast for the famous argument from Design, as if
Nature had intended them for the transport of timber from the immense
forests that crowned the Limousin hills. Unluckily, their beds were so
thickly bestrewn with rock that neither of them was navigable for any
considerable part of its long course through the ill-starred province.

The inhabitants were as cheerless as the land on which they lived. They
had none of the fiery energy, the eloquence, the mobility of the people
of the south. Still less were they endowed with the apt intelligence,
the ease, the social amiability, the openness, of their neighbours on
the north. 'The dwellers in Upper Limousin,' said one who knew them,
'are coarse and heavy, jealous, distrustful, avaricious.' The dwellers
in Lower Limousin had a less repulsive address, but they were at least
as narrowly self-interested at heart, and they added a capacity for
tenacious and vindictive hatred. The Limousins had the superstitious
doctrines of other semi-barbarous populations, and they had their vices.
They passed abruptly and without remorse from a penitential procession
to the tavern and the brothel. Their Christianity was as superficial as
that of the peasant of the Eifel in our own day, or of the Finnish
converts of whom we are told that they are even now not beyond
sacrificing a foal in honour of the Virgin Mary. Saint Martial and Saint
Leonard were the patron saints of the country, and were the objects of
an adoration in comparison with which the other saints, and even God
himself, were thrust into a secondary place.

In short, the people of the Generality of Limoges represented the most
unattractive type of peasantry. They were deeply superstitious, violent
in their prejudices, obstinate withstanders of all novelty, rude, dull,
stupid, perverse, and hardly redeeming a narrow and blinding
covetousness by a stubborn and mechanical industry. Their country has
been fixed upon as the cradle of Celtic nationality in France, and there
are some who believe that here the old Gaulish blood kept itself purer
from external admixture than was the case anywhere else in the land. In
our own day, when an orator has occasion to pay a compliment to the
townsmen of Limoges, he says that the genius of the people of the
district has ever been faithful to its source; it has ever held the
balance true between the Frank tradition of the north, and the Roman
tradition of the south. This makes an excellent period for a
rhetorician, but the fact which it conveys made Limousin all the severer
a task for an administrator. Almost immediately after his appointment,
Turgot had the chance of being removed to Rouen, and after that to
Lyons. Either of these promotions would have had the advantages of a
considerable increase of income, less laborious duties, and a much more
agreeable residence. Turgot, with a high sense of duty that probably
seemed quixotic enough to the Controller-General, declined the
preferment, on the very ground of the difficulty and importance of the
task that he had already undertaken. '_Poor peasants, poor kingdom!_'
had been Quesnay's constant exclamation, and it had sunk deep into the
spirit of his disciple. He could have little thought of high salary or
personal ease, when he discerned an opportunity of improving the hard
lot of the peasant, and softening the misfortunes of the realm.

Turgot was one of the men to whom good government is a religion. It
might be said to be the religion of all the best men of that century,
and it was natural that it should be so. The decay of a theology that
places our deepest solicitudes in a sphere beyond this, is naturally
accompanied by a transfer of these high solicitudes to a nearer scene.
But though the desire for good government, and a right sense of its
cardinal importance, were common ideas of the time in all the best heads
from Voltaire downwards, yet Turgot had a patience which in them was
universally wanting. There are two sorts of mistaken people in the
world: those who always think that something could and ought to have
been done to prevent disaster, and those who always think that nothing
could have been done. Turgot was very far removed indeed from the latter
class, but, on the other side, he was too sagacious not to know that
there are some evils of which we do well to bear a part, as the best
means of mitigating the other part. Though he respected the writings of
Rousseau and confessed his obligations to them, Turgot abhorred
declamation. He had no hope of clearing society of the intellectual and
moral débris of ages at a stroke. Nor had he abstract standards of human
bliss. The keyword to his political theory was not Pity nor Benevolence,
but Justice. 'We are sure to go wrong,' he said once, when pressed to
confer some advantage on the poor at the cost of the rich, 'the moment
we forget that _justice alone can keep the balance true among all rights
and all interests_.' Let us proceed to watch this principle actively
applied in a field where it was grievously needed.

As everybody knows, the great fiscal grievance of old France was the
_taille_, a tax raised on property and income, but only on the property
and income of the unprivileged classes. In the Limousin Turgot's
predecessor tried to substitute for the arbitrary _taille_, a tax
systematically assessed in proportion to the amount of the person's
property. Such a design involved a complete re-measurement and
re-valuation of all the land of the Generality, and this was a task of
immense magnitude and difficulty. It was very imperfectly performed, and
Turgot found the province groaning under a mass of fiscal anomalies and
disorders. Assessment, collection, exemption, were all alike conducted
without definite principles or uniform system. Besides these abuses, the
total sum demanded from the Generality by the royal government was
greatly in excess of the local resources. The district was heavily
overcharged, relatively to other districts around it. No deduction had
been made from the sum exacted by the treasury, though the falling off
in prosperity was great and notorious. Turgot computed that 'the king's
share' was as large as that of the proprietors; in other words, taxation
absorbed one half of the net products of the land. The government
listened to these representations, and conceded to the Generality about
half of the remissions that Turgot had solicited. A greater operation
was the re-adjustment of the burden, thus lightened, within the
province. The people were so irritated by the disorders which had been
introduced by the imperfect operation of the proportional _taille_, that
with the characteristic impatience of a rude and unintelligent
population, they were heedlessly crying out for a return to the more
familiar, and therefore more comfortable, disorders of the arbitrary
_taille_. Turgot, as was natural, resisted this slovenly reaction, and
applied himself with zealous industry to the immense and complex work of
effecting a complete revision and settlement of the regulations for
assessment, and, what was a more gigantic enterprise, of carrying out a
new survey and new valuation of lands and property, to serve as a true
base for the application of an equitable assessment. At the end of
thirteen years of indomitable toil the work was still unfinished,
chiefly owing to want of money for its execution. The court wasted more
in a fortnight in the easy follies of Versailles, than would have given
to the Limousin the instrument of a finished scheme of fiscal order.
Turgot's labour was not wholly thrown away. The worst abuses were
corrected, and the most crying iniquities swept away, save that iniquity
of the exemption of the privileged orders, which Turgot could not yet
venture to touch.

Let us proceed to another of the master abuses of the old system. The
introduction of the _Corvée_, in the sense in which we have to speak of
it, dates no further back than the beginning of the eighteenth century.
It was an encroachment and an innovation on the part of the bureaucracy,
and the odd circumstance has been remarked that the first mention of the
road _corvées_ in any royal Act is the famous edict of 1776, which
suppressed them. Until the Regency this famous word had described only
the services owed by dependents to their lords. It meant so many days'
labour on the lord's lands, and so many offices of domestic duty. When,
in the early part of the century, the advantages of a good system of
high-roads began to be perceived by the government, the convenient idea
came into the heads of the more ingenious among the Intendants of
imposing, for the construction of the roads, a royal or public _corvée_
analogous to that of private feudalism. Few more mischievous imposts
could have been devised.

That undying class who are contented with the shallow presumptions of _à
priori_ reasoning in economic matters, did, it is true, find specious
pleas even for the road _corvée_. There has never been an abuse in the
history of the world, for which something good could not be said. If men
earned money by labour and the use of their time, why not require from
them time and labour instead of money? By the latter device, are we not
assured against malversation of the funds? Those who substitute words
for things, and verbal plausibilities for the observation of experience,
could prolong these arguments indefinitely. The evils of the road
_corvée_, meanwhile remained patent and indisputable. In England at the
same period, it is true, the country people were obliged to give six
days in the year to the repair of the highways, under the management of
the justices of the peace. And in England the business was performed
without oppression. But then this only illustrates the unwisdom of
arguing about economic arrangements in the abstract. All depends on the
conditions by which the given arrangement is surrounded, and a practice
that in England was merely clumsy, was in France not only clumsy but a
gross cruelty. There the burden united almost all the follies and
iniquities with which a public service could be loaded. The French
peasant had to give, not six, but twelve or fifteen days of labour every
year for the construction and repair of the roads of his neighbourhood.
If he had a horse and cart, they too were pressed into the service. He
could not choose the time, and he was constantly carried away at the
moment when his own poor harvest needed his right arm and his
supervision. He received no pay, and his days on the roads were days of
hunger to himself and his family. He had the bitterness of knowing that
the advantage of the high-road was slight, indirect, and sometimes null
to himself, while it was direct and great to the town merchants and the
country gentlemen, who contributed not an hour nor a sou to the work. It
was exactly the most indigent upon whose backs this slavish load was
placed. There were a hundred abuses of spite or partiality, of
favouritism or vengeance, in the allotment of the work. The wretch was
sent to the part of the road most distant from his own house; or he was
forced to work for a longer time than fell fairly to his share; or he
saw a neighbour allowed to escape on payment of a sum of money. And at
the end of all the roads were vile. The labourers, having little heart
in work for which they had no wage, and weakened by want of food, did
badly what they had to do. There was no scientific superintendence, no
skilled direction, no system in the construction, no watchfulness as to
the maintenance. The rains of winter and the storms of summer did damage
that one man could have repaired by careful industry from day to day,
and that for lack of this one man went on increasing, until the road
fell into holes, the ditches got filled up, and deep pools of water
stood permanently in the middle of the highway. The rich disdained to
put a hand to the work; the poor, aware that they would be forced to the
hated task in the following autumn or spring, naturally attended to
their own fields, and left the roads to fall to ruin.

It need not be said that this barbarous slovenliness and disorder meant
an incredible waste of resources. It was calculated that a contractor
would have provided and maintained fine roads for little more than
one-third of the cost at which the _corvée_ furnished roads that were
execrable. Condorcet was right in comparing the government in this
matter to a senseless fellow, who indulges in all the more lavish riot,
because by paying for nothing, and getting everything at a higher price
on credit, he is never frightened into sense by being confronted with a
budget of his prodigalities.

It takes fewer words to describe Turgot's way of dealing with this
oriental mixture of extravagance, injustice, and squalor. The Intendant
of Caen had already proposed to the inhabitants of that district the
alternative plan of commuting the _corvée_ into a money payment. Turgot
adopted and perfected this great transformation. He substituted for
personal service on the roads a yearly rate, proportional in amount to
the _taille_. He instituted a systematic survey and direction of the
roads, existing or required in the Generality, and he committed the
execution of the approved plans to contractors on exact and
business-like principles. The result of this change was not merely an
immense relief to the unfortunate men who had been every year harassed
to death and half-ruined by the old method of forced labour, but so
remarkable an improvement both in the goodness and extension of the
roads, that when Arthur Young went over them five and twenty years
afterwards, he pronounced them by far the noblest public ways to be
found anywhere in France.

Two very instructive facts may be mentioned in connection with the
suppression of the _corvées_ in the Limousin. The first is that the
central government assented to the changes proposed by the young
Intendant, as promptly as if it had been a committee of the Convention,
instead of being the nominee of an absolute king. The other is that the
people in the country, when Turgot had his plans laid before them in
their parish meetings held after mass on Sundays, listened with the
keenest distrust and suspicion to what they insisted on regarding as a
sinister design for exacting more money from them. Well might Condorcet
say that very often it needs little courage to do men harm, for they
constantly suffer harm tranquilly enough; but when you take it into your
head to do them some service, then they revolt and accuse you of being
an innovator. It is fair, however, to remember how many good grounds the
French countryman had for distrusting the professions of any agent of
the government. For even in the case of this very reform, though Turgot
was able to make an addition to the _taille_ in commutation of the work
on the roads, he was not able to force a contribution, either to the
_taille_ or any other impost, from the privileged classes, the very
persons who were best able to pay. This is only an illustration of what
is now a well-known fact, that revolution was made necessary less by
despotism than by privilege on the one side, and by intense political
distrust on the other side.

Turgot was thoroughly awake to the necessity of penetrating public
opinion. The first principle of the school of Economists was an
'enlightened people.' Nothing was to be done by them; everything was to
be done for them. But they were to be trained to understand the grounds
of the measures which a central authority conceived, shaped, and carried
into practice. Rousseau was the only writer of the revolutionary school
who had the modern democratic faith in the virtue and wisdom of the
common people. Voltaire habitually spoke of their bigotry and prejudice
with the natural bitterness of a cultivated man towards the incurable
vices of ignorance. The Economists admitted Voltaire's view as true of
an existing state of things, but they looked to education, meaning by
that something more than primary instruction, to lead gradually to the
development of sound political intelligence. Hence when Turgot come into
full power as the minister of Lewis XVI., twelve years after he first
went to his obscure duties in the Limousin, he introduced the method of
prefacing his edicts by an elaborate statement of the reasons on which
their policy rested. And on the same principle he now adopted the only
means at his disposal for instructing and directing opinion. The
book-press was at that moment doing tremendous work among the classes
with education and leisure. But the newspaper press hardly existed, and
even if it had existed, however many official journals Turgot might have
had under his inspiration, the people whose minds he wished to affect
were unable to read. There was only one way of reaching them, and that
was through the priests. Religious life among the Limousins was, as we
have seen, not very pure, but it is a significant law of human nature
that the less pure a religion is, the more important in it is the place
of the priest and his office. Turgot pressed the curés into friendly
service. It is a remarkable fact, not without a parallel in other parts
of modern history, that of the two great conservative corporations of
society, the lawyers did all they could to thwart his projects, and the
priests did all they could to advance them. In truth the priests are
usually more or less sympathetic towards any form of centralised
authority; it is only when the people take their own government into
their own hands that the clergy are sure to turn cold or antipathetic
towards improvement. There is one other reservation, as Turgot found out
in 1775, when he had been transferred to a greater post, and the clergy
had joined his bitterest enemies. Then he touched the corporate spirit,
and perceived that for authority to lay a hand on ecclesiastical
privilege is to metamorphose goodwill into the most rancorous malignity.
Meanwhile, the letters in which Turgot explained his views and wishes to
the curés, by them to be imparted to their parishes, are masterpieces of
the care, the patience, the interest, of a good ruler. Those impetuous
and peremptory spirits who see in Frederick or Napoleon the only born
rulers of men, might find in these letters, and in the acts to which
they refer, the memorials of a far more admirable and beneficent type.

       *     *     *     *     *

The _corvée_, vexatious as it was, yet excited less violent heats and
inflicted less misery than the abuses of military service. There had
been a militia in the country as far back as the time of the
Merovingians, but the militia-service with which Turgot had to deal only
dated from 1726. Each parish was bound to supply its quota of men to
this service, and the obligation was perhaps the most odious grievance,
though not the most really mischievous, of all that then afflicted the
realm. The hatred which it raised was due to no failure of the military
spirit in the people. From Frederick the Great downwards, everybody was
well aware that the disasters to France which had begun with the
shameful defeat of Rossbach and ended with the loss of Canada in the
west and the Indies in the east (1757-1763), were due to no want of
valour in the common soldier. It was the generals, as Napoleon said
fifty years afterwards, who were incapable and inept. And it was the
ineptitude of the administrative chiefs that made the militia at once
ineffective and abhorred. First, they allowed a great number of
classified exemptions from the ballot. The noble, the tonsured clerk,
the counsellor, the domestic of noble, tonsured clerk, and counsellor,
the eldest son of the lawyer and the farmer, the tax collector, the
schoolmaster, were all exempt. Hence the curse of service was embittered
by a sense of injustice. This was one of the many springs in the old
régime that fed the swelling and vehement stream of passion for social
equality, until at length when the day came, it made such short and
furious work with the structure of envious partition between citizen and

Again, by a curious perversity of official pedantry, the government
insisted on each man who drew the black ticket in the abhorred lottery,
performing his service in person. It forbade substitution. Under a
modern system of universal military service, this is perfectly
intelligible and just. But, as we have seen, military service was only
made obligatory on those who were already ground down by hardships. As a
consequence of this prohibition, those who were liable to be drawn lived
in despair, and as no worse thing than the black ticket could possibly
befall them, they had every inducement to run away from their own homes
and villages. At the approach of the commissary of the government, they
fled into the woods and marshes, as if they had been pursued by the
plague. This was a signal for a civil war on a small scale. Those who
were left behind, and whose chance of being drawn was thus increased,
hastened to pursue the fugitives with such weapons as came to their
hands. In the Limousin the country was constantly the scene of murderous
disorders of this kind. What was worse, was not only that the land was
infested by vagabonds and bad characters, but that villages became half
depopulated, and the soil lost its cultivators. Finally, as is uniformly
the case in the history of bad government, an unjust method produced a
worthless machine. The _milice_ supplied as bad troops as the _corvée_
supplied bad roads. The force was recruited from the lowest class of the
population, and as soon as its members had learned a little drill, they
were discharged and their places taken by raw batches provided at random
by blind lot.

Turgot proposed that a character both of permanence and locality should
be given to the provincial force; that each parish or union of parishes
should be required to raise a number of men; that these men should be
left at home and in their own districts, and only called out for
exercise for a certain time each year; and that they should be retained
as a reserve force by a small payment. In this way, he argued that the
government would secure a competent force, and by stimulating local
pride and point of honour would make service popular instead of hateful.
As the government was too weak and distracted to take up so important a
scheme as this, Turgot was obliged to content himself with evading the
existing regulations; and it is a curious illustration of the pliancy of
Versailles, that he should have been allowed to do so openly and without
official remonstrance. He permitted the victim of the ballot to provide
a voluntary substitute, and he permitted the parish to tempt
substitutes by payment of a sum of money on enrolment. This may seem a
very obvious course to follow; but no one who has tried to realise the
strength and obstinacy of routine, will measure the service of a
reformer by the originality of his ideas. In affairs of government, the
priceless qualities are not merely originality of resource, but a sense
for things that are going wrong, and a sufficiently vigorous will to set
them right.

One general expression serves to describe this most important group of
Turgot's undertakings. The reader has probably already observed that
what Turgot was doing, was to take that step which is one of the most
decisive in the advance of a society to a highly organised industrial
stage. He displaced imposts in kind, that rudest and most wasteful form
of contribution to the public service, and established in their stead a
system of money payments, and of having the work of the government done
on commercial principles. Thus, as if it were not enough to tear the
peasant away from the soil to serve in the militia, as if it were not
enough to drag away the farmer and his cattle to the public highways,
the reigning system struck a third blow at agriculture by requiring the
people of the localities that happened to be traversed by a regiment on
the march, to supply their waggons and horses and oxen for the purposes
of military transport. In this case, it is true, a certain compensation
in money was allowed, but how inadequate was this insignificant
allowance, we may easily understand. The payment was only for one day,
but the day's march was often of many miles, and the oxen, which in the
Limousin mostly did the work of horses, were constantly seen to drop
down dead in the roads. There was not only the one day's work. Often
two, three, or five days were needed to reach the place of appointment,
and for these days not even the paltry twenty sous were granted. Nor
could any payment of this kind recompense the peasant for the absence of
his beasts of burden on the great days when he wanted to plough his
fields, to carry the grain to the barns, or to take his produce to
market. The obvious remedy here, as in the _corvées_ was to have the
transport effected by a contractor, and to pay him out of a rate levied
on the persons liable. This was what Turgot ordered to be done.

Of one other burden of the same species he relieved the cultivator. This
unfortunate being was liable to be called upon to collect, as well as to
pay, the taxes. Once nominated, he became responsible for the amount at
which his commune was assessed. If he did not produce the sum, he lost
his liberty. If he advanced it from his own pocket, he lost at least the
interest on the money. In collecting the money from his fellow
taxpayers, he not only incurred bitter and incessant animosities, but,
what was harder to bear, he lost the priceless time of which his own
land was only too sorely in need. In the Limousin the luckless creature
had a special disadvantage, for here the collector of the _taille_ had
also to collect the twentieths, and the twentieths were a tax for which
even the privileged classes were liable. They, as might be supposed,
cavilled, disputed, and appealed. The appeal lay to a sort of county
board, which was composed of people of their own kind, and before which
they too easily made out a plausible case against a clumsy collector,
who more often than not knew neither how to read nor to write. Turgot's
reform of a system which was always harassing and often ruinous to an
innocent individual, consisted in the creation of the task of collection
into a distinct and permanent office, exercised over districts
sufficiently large to make the poundage, out of which the collectors
were paid, an inducement to persons of intelligence and spirit to
undertake the office as a profession. However moderate and easy each of
these reforms may seem by itself, yet any one may see how the sum of
them added to the prosperity of the land, increased the efficiency of
the public service, and tended to lessen the grinding sense of injustice
among the common people.

Apart from these, the greatest and most difficult of all Turgot's
administrative reforms, we may notice in passing his assiduity in
watching for the smaller opportunities of making life easier to the
people of his province. His private benevolence was incessant and
marked. One case of its exercise carries our minds at a word into the
very midst of the storm of fire which purified France of the evil and
sordid elements, that now and for his life lay like a mountain of lead
on all Turgot's aims and efforts. A certain foreign contractor at
Limoges was ruined by the famine of 1770. He had a clever son, whom
Turgot charitably sent to school, and afterwards to college in Paris.
The youth grew up to be the most eloquent and dazzling of the Girondins,
the high-souled Vergniaud. It was not, however, in good works of merely
private destination that Turgot mostly exercised himself. In 1767 the
district was infested by wolves. The Intendant imposed a small tax for
the purpose of providing rewards for the destruction of these
tormentors, and in reading the minutes on the subject we are reminded of
the fact, which was not without its significance when the peasants rose
in vengeance on their lords two and twenty years later, that the
dispersion of the hamlets and the solitude of the farms had made it
customary for the people to go about with fire-arms. Besides encouraging
the destruction of noxious beasts, Turgot did something for the
preservation of beasts not noxious. The first veterinary school in
France had been founded at Lyons in 1762. To this he sent pupils from
his province, and eventually he founded a similar school at Limoges. He
suppressed a tax on cattle, which acted prejudicially on breeding and
grazing; and he introduced clover into the grass-lands. The potato had
been unknown in Limousin. It was not common in any part of France; and
perhaps this is not astonishing when we remember that the first field
crop even in agricultural Scotland is supposed only to have been sown in
the fourth decade of that century. People would not touch it, though
the experiment of persuading them to cultivate this root had been
frequently tried. In the Limousin the people were even more obstinate in
their prejudice than elsewhere. But Turgot persevered, knowing how
useful potatoes would be in a land where scarcity of grain was so
common. The ordinary view was that they were hardly fit for pigs, and
that in human beings they would certainly breed leprosy. Some of the
English Puritans would not eat potatoes because they are not mentioned
in the Bible, and that is perhaps no better a reason than the other.
When, however, it was seen that the Intendant had the hated vegetable
served every day at his own table, the opposition grew more faint; men
were at last brought to consent to use potatoes for their cattle, and
after a time even for themselves.

It need scarcely be said that among Turgot's efforts for agricultural
improvement, was the foundation of an agricultural society. This was the
time when the passion for provincial academies of all sorts was at its
height. When we consider that Turgot's society was not practical but
deliberative, and what themes he proposed for discussion by it, we may
believe that it was one of the less useful of his works. What the
farmers needed was something much more directly instructive in the
methods of their business, than could come of discussions as to the
effects of indirect taxation on the revenues of landowners, or the right
manner of valuing the income of land in the different kinds of
cultivation. 'In that most unlucky path of French exertion,' says Arthur
Young, 'this distinguished patriot was able to do nothing. This society
does like other societies; they meet, converse, offer premiums, and
publish nonsense. This is not of much consequence, for the people
instead of reading their memoirs are not able to read at all. They can,
however, _see_, and if a farm was established in that good cultivation
which they ought to copy, something would be presented from which they
_might_ learn. I asked particularly if the members of this society had
land in their own hands, and was assured that they had; but the
conversation presently explained it. They had _métayers_ round their
country seats, and this was considered as farming their own lands, so
that they assume something of a merit from the identical circumstance,
which is the curse and ruin of the whole country.'

The record of what Turgot did for manufacturing industry and commerce is
naturally shorter than that of his efforts for the relief of the land
and its cultivators. In the eyes of the modern economist, with his
horror of government encouragement to industry, no matter in what time,
place, or circumstance, some of Turgot's actions will seem of doubtful
wisdom. At Brives, for example, with all the authority of an Intendant,
he urged the citizens to provide buildings for carrying on a certain
manufacture which he and others thought would be profitable to the town;
and, as the money for the buildings did not come in very readily, he
levied a rate both on the town and on the inhabitants of the suburbs.
His argument was that the new works would prove indirectly beneficial to
the whole neighbourhood. He was not long, however, in finding out, as
the authors of such a policy generally find out, how difficult it is to
reconcile the interests of aided manufactures with those of the
taxpayers. It is characteristic, we may remark, of the want of public
spirit in the great nobles, that one of Turgot's first difficulties in
the affair was to defeat an unjust claim made by no less a personage
than the Marshal de Noailles, to a piece of public land on which the
proposed works were to be built. A more important industry in the
history of Limoges sprang from the discovery, during Turgot's tenure of
office, of the china clay which has now made the porcelain of Limoges
only second among the French potteries to that of Sèvres itself. The
modern pottery has been developed since the close of the Revolution,
which checked the establishments and processes that had been directed,
encouraged, and supervised by Turgot.

To his superior enlightenment in another part of the commercial field we
owe one of the most excellent of Turgot's pieces, his Memorial on Loans
of Money. This plea for free trade in money has all the sense and
liberality of the brightest side of the eighteenth century illumination.
It was suggested by the following circumstance. At Angoulême four or
five rogues associated together, and drew bills on one another. On these
bills they borrowed money, the average rate of interest being from
eight to ten per cent. When the bills fell due, instead of paying them,
they laid informations against the lenders for taking more than the
legal rate of interest. The lenders were ruined, persons who had money
were afraid to make advances, bills were protested, commercial credit
was broken, and the trade of the district was paralysed. Turgot
prevailed upon the Council of State to withdraw the cases from the local
jurisdiction; the proceedings against the lenders were annulled, and the
institution of similar proceedings forbidden. This was a characteristic
course. The royal government was generally willing in the latter half of
the eighteenth century to redress a given case of abuse, but it never
felt itself strong enough, or had leisure enough, to deal with the
general source from which the particular grievance sprang. Turgot's
Memorial is as cogent an exposure of the mischief of Usury Laws to the
public prosperity, as the more renowned pages either of Bentham or J. B.
Say on the same subject, and it has the merit of containing an
explanation at once singularly patient and singularly intelligent, of
the origin of the popular feeling about usury and its adoption by the

After he had been eight years at his post, Turgot was called upon to
deal with the harassing problems of a scarcity of food. In 1770 even the
maize and black grain, and the chestnuts on which the people supported
life, failed almost completely, and the failure extended over two years.
The scarcity very speedily threatened to become a famine, and all its
conditions were exasperated by the unwisdom of the authorities, and the
selfish rapacity of the landlords. It needed all the firmness and all
the circumspection of which Turgot was capable, to overcome the
difficulties which the strong forces of ignorance, prejudice, and
greediness raised up against him.

His first battle was on an issue which is painfully familiar to our own
Indian administrators at the present time. In 1764, an edict had been
promulgated decreeing free trade in grain, not with foreign countries,
but among the different provinces of the kingdom. This edict had not
made much way in the minds either of the local officials or of the
people at large, and the presence of famine made the free and
unregulated export of food seem no better than a cruel and outrageous
paradox. The parlement of Bordeaux at once suspended the edict of 1764.
They ordered that all dealers in grain, farmers of land, owners of land,
of whatever rank, quality, or condition, should forthwith convey to the
markets of their district '_a sufficient quantity_' of grain to
provision the said markets. The same persons were forbidden to sell
either by wholesale or retail any portion of the said grain at their own
granaries. Turgot at once procured from the Council at Versailles the
proper instrument for checking this impolitic interference with the free
circulation of grain, and he contrived this instrument in such
conciliatory terms as to avoid any breach with the parlement, whose
motives, for that matter, were respectable enough. In spite, however,
of the action of the government, popular feeling ran high against free
markets. Tumultuous gatherings of famishing men and women menaced the
unfortunate grain-dealers. Waggoners engaged in carrying grain away from
a place where it was cheaper, to another place where it was dearer, were
violently arrested in their business, and terrified from proceeding.
Hunger prevented people from discerning the unanswerable force of the
argument that if the grain commanded a higher price somewhere else, that
was a sure sign of the need there being more dire. The local officials
were as hostile as their humbler neighbours. At the town of Turenne,
they forbade grain to be taken away, and forced the owners of it to sell
it on the spot at the market rate. At the town of Angoulême the
lieutenant of police took upon himself to order that all the grain
destined for the Limousin should be unloaded and stored at Angoulême.
Turgot brought a heavy hand to bear on these breakers of administrative
discipline, and readily procured such sanction as his authority needed
from the Council.

One of the most interesting of the measures to which Turgot resorted in
meeting the destitution of the country, was the establishment of the
Charitable Workshops. Some of the advocates of the famous National
Workshops of 1848 have appealed to this example of the severe patriot,
for a sanction to their own economic policy. It is not clear that the
logic of the Socialist is here more remorseless than usual. If the State
may set up workshops to aid people who are short of food because the
harvest has failed, why should it not do the same when people are short
of food because trade is bad, work scarce, and wages intolerably low? Of
course Turgot's answer would have been that remorseless logic is the
most improper instrument in the world for a business of rough
expedients, such as government is. There is a vital difference in
practice between opening a public workshop in the exceptional emergency
of a famine, and keeping public workshops open as a normal interference
with the free course of industrial activity. For the moment the
principle may appear to be the same, but in reality the application of
the principle means in the latter case the total disorganisation of
industry; in the former it means no more than a temporary breach of the
existing principles of organisation, with a view to its speedier
revival. To invoke Turgot as a dabbler in Socialism because he opened
_ateliers de charité_, is as unreasonable as it would be to make an
English minister who should suspend the Bank Charter Act in a crisis,
into the champion of an inconvertible paper currency. Turgot always
regarded the sums paid in his works, not as wages, but as alms. All that
he urged was that 'the best and most useful kind of alms consists in
providing means for earning them.' To prevent the workers from earning
aid with as little trouble to themselves as possible, he recommended
payment by the piece and not by the day. To check workers from flocking
in from their regular employments, he insisted on the wages being kept
below the ordinary rate, and he urged the propriety of driving as sharp
bargains as possible in fixing the price of the piece of work. To
prevent the dissipation of earnings at the tavern, he paid not in money,
but in leathern tokens, that were only current in exchange for
provisions. All these regulations mark a wide gulf between the Economist
of 1770 and the Socialist of 1848. Nobody was sterner than Turgot
against beggars, the inevitable scourge of every country where the evils
of vicious economic arrangements are aggravated by the mischievous views
of the Catholic clergy, first, as to the duties of promiscuous
almsgiving, and second, as to the virtue of improvident marriages. In
1614 the States General had been for hanging all mendicants, and Colbert
had sent them to the galleys. Turgot was less rigorous than that, but he
would not suffer his efforts for the economic restoration of his
province to be thwarted by the influx of these devouring parasites, and
he sent every beggar on whom hands could be laid to prison.

The story of the famine in the Limousin brings to light some instructive
facts as to the temper of the lords and rich proprietors on the eve of
the changes that were to destroy them. Turgot had been specially anxious
that as much as possible of what was necessary for the relief of
distress should be done by private persons. He knew the straits of the
government. He knew how hard it would be to extract from it the means of
repairing a deficit in his own finances. Accordingly he invited the
landowners, not merely to contribute sums of money in return for the
public works carried on in their neighbourhood, but also, by way of
providing employment to their indigent neighbours, to undertake such
works as they should find convenient on their own estates. The response
was disappointing. 'The districts,' he wrote in 1772, 'where I have
works on foot, do not give me reason to hope for much help on the side
of the generosity of the nobles and the rich landowners. The Prince de
Soubise is so far the only person who has given anything for the works
that have been executed in his duchy.' Nor was abstinence from
generosity the worst part of this failure in public spirit. The same
nobles and landowners who refused to give, did not refuse to take away.
Most of them proceeded at once to dismiss their _métayers_, the people
who farmed their lands in consideration of a fixed proportion of the
produce. Turgot, in an ordinance of admirable gravity, remonstrated
against this harsh and impolitic proceeding. He pointed out that the
unfortunate wretches, thus stripped of every resource, would have to
leave the district, abandoning their wives and children to the charity
of villages that were already overburdened with the charge of their own
people. To cast this additional load on the villages was all the more
unjust, because the owners of land had been exempted from one-half of
the taxes levied on the owners of other property, exactly because the
former were expected to provide for their own peasants. It was a claim
less of humanity than of bare justice, that the landowners should do
something for men with whom their relations had been so close as to be
almost domestic, and to whose hard toil their masters owed all that they
possessed. As a mere matter of self-interest, moreover, apart alike from
both justice and humanity, the death or flight of the labourers would
leave the proprietors helpless when the next good season came, and for
want of hands the land would be doomed to barrenness for years to come,
to the grievous detriment no less of the landowners than of the whole
people of the realm. Accordingly, Turgot ordered all those who had
dismissed their _métayers_ to take them back again, and he enacted
generally that all proprietors, of whatever quality or condition, and
whether privileged or not, should be bound to keep and support until the
next harvest all the labourers who had been on their land in the
previous October, as well women and children as men.

Turgot's policy in this matter is more instructive as to the social
state of France, than it may at first sight appear. At first sight we
are astonished to find the austere economist travelling so far from the
orthodox path of free contract as to order a landowner to furnish at his
own cost subsistence for his impoverished tenants. But the truth is that
the _métayer_ was not a free tenant in the sense which we attach to the
word. '_In Limousin_,' says Arthur Young, '_the métayers are considered
as little better than menial servants_.' And it is not going beyond the
evidence to say that they were even something lower than menial
servants; they were really a kind of serf-caste. They lived in the
lowest misery. More than half of them were computed to be deeply in debt
to the proprietors. In many cases they were even reduced every year to
borrow from their landlord, before the harvest came round, such coarse
bread of mixed rye and barley as he might choose to lend them. What
Turgot therefore had in his mind was no relation of free contract,
though it was that legally, but a relation which partly resembled that
of a feudal lord to his retainer, and partly--as Sir Henry Maine has
hinted--that of a planter to his negroes. It is less surprising, then,
that Turgot should have enforced some of the responsibilities of the
lord and the planter.

The nobles had resort to a still more indefensible measure than the
expulsion of their _métayers_. Most of the lands in the Generality of
Limoges were charged with dues in kind payable to the lords. As the
cultivators had for the most part no grain even for their own bread,
they naturally had no grain for the lord's dues. The lords then insisted
on payment in cash, and they insisted on estimating this payment at the
famine price of the grain. Most of them were really as needy as they
were idle and proud, and nothing is so inordinately grasping as the
indigence of class-pride. The effect of their proceedings now was to
increase their revenue fourfold and fivefold out of public calamity and
universal misery. And unfortunately the liability of the cultivators in
a given manor was _solidaire_; they were jointly and severally
responsible, and the effect of this was that even those who were in
circumstances to pay the quadrupled dues, were ruined and destroyed
without mercy in consequence of having also to pay the quadrupled dues
of their beggared neighbours. Turgot arrested this odious process by
means of an old and forgotten decree, which he prevailed upon the
parlement of Bordeaux to revive in good and due form, to the effect that
the arrears of dues in kind for 1769 should be paid at the market price
of grain when the dues were payable; that is, before the scarcity had
declared itself.

When we consider the grinding and extortionate spirit thus shown in face
of a common calamity, we may cease to wonder at the ferocity with which,
when the hour struck, the people tore away privilege, distinction, and
property itself from classes that had used all three only to ruin the
land and crush its inhabitants into the dust. And the moment that the
lord had thus transformed himself into a mere creditor, and a creditor
for goods delivered centuries ago, and long since consumed and
forgotten, then it was certain that, if political circumstances favoured
the growing economic sentiment, there would be heard again the old cry
of the Roman plebs for an agrarian law and _novæ tabulæ_. Nay, something
was heard that is amazingly like the cry of the modern Irish peasant. In
1776 two noteworthy incidents happened. A certain Marquis de Vibraye
threw into prison a peasant who refused to pay the _droit de cens_.
Immediately between thirty and forty peasants came to the rescue, armed
themselves, besieged the château, took it and sacked it, and drove the
Marquis de Vibraye away in terror. Still more significant is the second
incident, which happened shortly after. A relative of the Duke of
Mortemart, shooting on his property, was attacked by peasants who
insisted that he should cease his sport. They treated him with much
brutality, and even threatened to fire on him and his attendants,
'_claiming to be free masters of their lands_.' Here was the main root
of the great French Revolution. A fair consideration of the details of
such an undertaking as Turgot's administration of the Limousin helps us
to understand two things: first, that all the ideas necessary for the
pacific transformation of French society were there in the midst of it;
second, that the system of privilege had fostered such a spirit in one
class, and the reaction against the inconsiderate manifestation of that
spirit was so violent in the other class, that good political ideas were
vain and inapplicable.

It is curious to find that, in the midst of his beneficent
administration, Turgot was rating practical work very low in comparison
with the achievements of the student and the thinker. 'You are very
fortunate,' Condorcet said to him, 'in having a passion for the public
good, and in being able to satisfy it; it is a great consolation, and of
a very superior order to the consolation of mere study.' 'Nay,' replied
Turgot, in his next letter, 'whatever you may say, I believe that the
satisfaction derived from study is superior to any other kind of
satisfaction. I am perfectly convinced that one may be, through study, a
thousand times more useful to men than in any of our subordinate posts.
There we torment ourselves, and often without any compensating success,
to secure some small benefits, while we are the involuntary instrument
of evils that are by no means small. All our small benefits are
transitory, while the light that a man of letters is able to diffuse
must, sooner or later, destroy all the artificial evils of the human
race, and place it in a position to enjoy all the goods that nature
offers.' It is clear that we can only accept Turgot's preference, on
condition that the man of letters is engaged on work that seriously
advances social interests and adds something to human stature. Most
literature, nearly all literature, is distinctly subordinate and
secondary; it only serves to pass the time of the learned or cultured
class, without making any definite mark either on the mental habits of
men and women, or on the institutions under which they live. Compared
with such literature as this, the work of an administrator who makes
life materially easier and more hopeful to the half-million of persons
living in the Generality of Limoges or elsewhere, must be pronounced
emphatically the worthier and more justly satisfactory.[44]

[Footnote 44: See vol. i. p. 290.]

Turgot himself, however, found time, in his industry at Limoges, to make
a contribution to a kind of literature which has seriously modified the
practical arrangements and social relations of the western world. In
1766 he published his Essay on the Formation and Distribution of
Wealth--a short but most pithy treatise, in which he anticipated some of
the leading economic principles of that greater work by Adam Smith,
which was given to the world ten years later. Turgot's Essay has none of
the breadth of historic outlook, and none of the amplitude of concrete
illustrations from real affairs, which make the Wealth of Nations so
deeply fertile, so persuasive, so interesting, so thoroughly alive, so
genuinely enriching to the understanding of the judicious reader. But
the comparative dryness of Turgot's too concise form does not blind the
historian of political economy to the merit of the substance of his
propositions. It was no small proof of originality and enlightenment to
precede Adam Smith by ten years in the doctrines of free trade, of free
industry, of loans on interest, of the constitutive elements of price,
of the effects of the division of labour, of the processes of the
formation of capital. The passage on interest will bear reproducing once
more:--'We may regard the rate of interest as a kind of level, below
which all labour, all cultivation, all industry, all commerce ceases. It
is like a sea spreading out over a vast district; the tops of the
mountains rise above the waters and form fertile and cultivated islands.
If the sea by any chance finds an outlet, then in proportion as it goes
down, first the slopes, next the plains and valleys, appear and clothe
themselves with productions of every kind. It is enough that the sea
rises or falls by a foot, to inundate vast shores, or to restore them to
cultivation and plenty.' There are not many illustrations at once so apt
and so picturesque as this, but most of the hundred paragraphs that make
up the Reflections are, notwithstanding one or two of the characteristic
crotchets of Quesnai's school, both accurate and luminous.


In May 1774 Lewis XV. died. His successor was only twenty years old; he
was sluggish in mind, vacillating in temper, and inexperienced in
affairs. Maurepas was recalled, to become the new king's chief adviser;
and Maurepas, at the suggestion of one of Turgot's college friends,
summoned the Intendant from Limoges, and placed him at the head of the
department of marine. This post Turgot only held for a couple of months;
he was then preferred to the great office of Controller-General. The
condition of the national finance made its administration the most
important of all the departments of the government. Turgot's policy in
this high sphere belongs to the general history of France, and there is
no occasion for us to reproduce its details here. It was mainly an
attempt to extend over the whole realm the kind of reforms which had
been tried on a small scale in the Limousin. He suppressed the
_corvées_, and he tacked the money payment which was substituted for
that burden on to the Twentieths, an impost from which the privileged
class was not exempt. 'The weight of this charge,' he made the king say
in the edict of suppression, 'now falls and must fall only on the
poorest classes of our subjects.' This truth only added to the
exasperation of the rich, and perhaps might well have been omitted.
Along with the _corvées_ were suppressed the jurandes, or exclusive
industrial corporations or trade-guilds, whose monopolies and
restrictions were so mischievous an impediment to the wellbeing of the
country. In the preamble to this edict we seem to be breathing the air,
not of Versailles in 1775, but of the Convention in 1793:--'God, when he
made man with wants, and rendered labour an indispensable resource, made
the right of work the property of every individual in the world, and
this property is the first, the most sacred, and the most
imprescriptible of all kinds of property. We regard it as one of the
first duties of our justice, and as one of the acts most of all worthy
of our benevolence, to free our subjects from every infraction of that
inalienable right of humanity.'

Again, Turgot removed a tax from certain forms of lease, with a view to
promote the substitution of a system of farming for the system of
_métayers_. He abolished an obstructive privilege by which the Hôtel
Dieu had the exclusive right of selling meat during Lent. The whole of
the old incoherent and vexatious police of the corn-markets was swept
away. Finally, he inspired the publication of a short but most
important writing, Boncerf's _Inconvénients des Droits Féodaux_, in
which, without criticising the origin of the privileges of the nobles,
the author showed how much it would be to the advantage of the lords to
accept a commutation of their feudal dues. What was still more
exasperating both to nobles and lawyers, was the author's hardy
assertion that if the lords refused the offer of their vassals, the king
had the power to settle the question for them by his own legislative
authority. This was the most important and decisive of the
pre-revolutionary tracts.

Equally violent prejudices and more sensitive interests were touched by
two other sets of proposals. The minister began to talk of a new
territorial contribution, and a great survey and re-assessment of the
land. Then followed an edict restoring in good earnest the free
circulation of corn within the kingdom. Turgot was a partisan of free
trade in its most entire application; but for the moment he contented
himself with the free importation of grain and its free circulation at
home, without sanctioning its exportation abroad. Apart from changes
thus organically affecting the industry of the country, Turgot dealt
sternly with certain corruptions that had crept into the system of
tax-farming, as well as with the monstrous abuses of the system of

The measures we have enumerated were all excellent in themselves, and
the state of the kingdom was such as urgently to call for them. They
were steps towards the construction of a fabric of freedom and justice.
But they provoked a host of bitter and irreconcilable enemies, while
they raised up no corresponding host of energetic supporters. The reason
of the first of these circumstances is plain enough, but the second
demands a moment's consideration. That the country clergy should
denounce the Philosopher, as they called him, from the pulpit and the
steps of the altar, was natural enough. Many even of his old colleagues
of the Encyclopædia had joined Necker against the minister. The greatest
of them all, it is true, stood by Turgot with unfailing staunchness; a
shower of odes, diatribes, dialogues, allegories, dissertations, came
from the Patriarch of Ferney to confound and scatter the enemies of the
new reforms. But the people were unmoved. If Turgot published an
explanation of the high price of grain, they perversely took explanation
for gratulation, and thought the Controller preferred to have bread
dear. If he put down seditious risings with a strong hand, they insisted
that he was in nefarious league with the corn-merchants and the bakers.
How was it that the people did not recognise the hand of a benefactor?
The answer is that they suspected the source of the new reforms too
virulently to judge them calmly. For half a century, as Condorcet says
pregnantly, they had been undergoing the evils of anarchy, while they
supposed that they were feeling those of despotism. The error was grave,
but it was natural, and one effect of it was to make every measure that
proceeded from the court odious. Hence, when the parlements took up
their judicial arms in defence of abuses and against reforms, the common
people took sides with them, for no better reason than that this was to
take sides against the king's government. Malesherbes in those days, and
good writers since, held that the only safe plan was to convoke the
States-General. They would at least have shared the responsibility with
the crown. Turgot rejected this opinion. By doctrine, no less than by
temperament, he disliked the control of a government by popular bodies.
Everything for the people, nothing by the people: this was the maxim of
the Economists, and Turgot held it in all its rigour. The royal
authority was the only instrument that he could bring himself to use.
Even if he could have counted on a Frederick or a Napoleon, the
instrument would hardly have served his purposes; as things were, it was
a broken reed, not a fine sword, that he had to his hand.

The National Assembly and the Convention went to work exactly in the
same stiff and absolute spirit as Turgot. They were just as little
disposed to gradual, moderate, and compromising ways as he. But with
them the absolute authority on which they leaned was real and most
potent; with him it was a shadow. We owe it to Turgot that the
experiment was complete: he proved that the monarchy of divine right was
incapable of reform.[45] As it has been sententiously expressed, 'The
part of the sages was now played out; room was now for the men of

[Footnote 45: Foncin's _Ministère de Turgot_, p. 574.]

If the repudiation of a popular assembly was the cardinal error in
Turgot's scheme of policy, there were other errors added. The
publication of Boncerf's attack on the feudal dues, with the undisguised
sanction of the minister, has been justly condemned as a grave
imprudence, and as involving a forgetfulness of the true principles of
government and administration, that would certainly not have been
committed either by Colbert, in whom Turgot professed to seek his model,
nor by Gournai, who had been his master. It was a broad promise of
reforms which Turgot was by no means sure of being able to persuade the
king and his council to adopt. By prematurely divulging his projects, it
augmented the number of his adversaries, without being definite enough
to bring new friends.[46] Again, Turgot did nothing to redeem it by
personal conciliatoriness in carrying out the designs of a benevolent
absolutism. The Count of Provence, afterwards Lewis XVIII., wrote a
satire on the government during Turgot's ministry, and in it there is a
picture of the great reformer as he appeared to his enemies: 'There was
then in France an awkward, heavy, clumsy creature; born with more
rudeness than character, more obstinacy than firmness, more impetuosity
than tact; a charlatan in administration no less than in virtue, exactly
formed to get the one decried and to disgust the world with the other;
made harsh and distant by his self-love, and timid by his pride; as much
a stranger to men, whom he had never known, as to the public weal, which
he had never seen aright; this man was called Turgot.'

[Footnote 46: See Mauguin's _Etudes Historiques sur l'Administration de
l'Agriculture_, i. 353.]

It is a mistake to take the word of political adversaries for a man's
character, but adversaries sometimes only say out aloud what is already
suspected by friends. The coarse account given by the Count of Provence
shows us where Turgot's weakness as a ruler may have lain. He was
distant and stiff in manner, and encouraged no one to approach him. Even
his health went against him, for at a critical time in his short
ministry he was confined to bed by gout for four months, and he could
see nobody save clerks and secretaries. The very austerity, loftiness,
and purity, which make him so reverend and inspiring a figure in the
pages of the noble-hearted Condorcet, may well have been impediments in
dealing with a society that, in the fatal words of the Roman historian,
could bear neither its disorders nor their remedies.

The king had once said pathetically: 'It is only M. Turgot and I who
love the people.' But even with the king, there were points at which the
minister's philosophic severity strained their concord. Turgot was the
friend of Voltaire and Condorcet; he counted Christianity a form of
superstition; and he, who as a youth had refused to go through life
wearing the mask of the infidel abbé, had too much self-respect in his
manhood to practise the rites and uses of a system which he considered
a degradation of the understanding. One day the king said to Maurepas:
'You have given me a Controller-general who never goes to mass.' 'Sire,'
replied that ready worldling, 'the Abbé Terray always went'--and Terray
had brought the government to bankruptcy. But Turgot hurt the king's
conscience more directly than by staying away from mass and confession.
Faithful to the long tradition of his ancestors, Lewis XVI. wished the
ceremony of his coronation to take place at Rheims. Turgot urged that it
should be performed at Paris, and as cheaply as possible. And he
advanced on to still more delicate ground. In the rite of consecration,
the usage was that the king should take an oath to pursue all heretics.
Turgot demanded the suppression of this declaration of intolerance. It
was pointed out to him that it was only a formality. But Turgot was one
of those severe and scrupulous souls, to whom a wicked promise does not
cease to be degrading by becoming hypocritical. And he was perfectly
justified. It was only by the gradual extinction of the vestiges of her
ancient barbarisms, as occasion offered, that the Church could have
escaped the crash of the Revolution. Meanwhile, the king and the priests
had their own way: the king was crowned at Rheims, and the priests
exacted from him an oath to be unjust, oppressive, and cruel towards a
portion of his subjects. Turgot could only remonstrate; but the
philosophic memorial in which he protested in favour of religious
freedom and equality, gave the king a serious shock.

We have no space, nor would it be worth while, to describe the intrigues
which ended in the minister's fall. Already in the previous volume, we
have referred to the immediate and decisive share which, the queen had
in his disgrace.[47] He was dismissed in the beginning of May 1776,
having been in power little more than twenty months. 'You are too
hurried,' Malesherbes had said to him. 'You think you have the love of
the public good; not at all; you have a rage for it, for a man must be
nothing short of enraged to insist on forcing the hand of the whole
world.' Turgot replied, more pathetically perhaps than reasonably,
'What, you accuse me of haste, and you know that in my family we die of
gout at fifty!'

[Footnote 47: See vol. i. p. 31.]

There is something almost tragic in the joy with which Turgot's
dismissal was received on all sides. 'I seem,' said Marmontel, 'to be
looking at a band of brigands in the forest of Bondy, who have just
heard that the provost-marshal has been discharged.' Voltaire and
Condorcet were not more dismayed by the fall of the minister, than by
the insensate delight which greeted the catastrophe. 'This event,' wrote
Condorcet, 'has changed all nature in my eyes. I have no longer the same
pleasure in looking at those fair landscapes over which he would have
shed happiness and contentment. The sight of the gaiety of the people
wrings my heart. They dance and sport, as if they had lost nothing. Ah,
we have had a delicious dream, but it has been all too short.' Voltaire
was equally inconsolable, and still more violent in the expression of
his grief. When he had become somewhat calmer, he composed those
admirable verses,--_To a Man_:

    Philosophe indulgent, ministre citoyen,
    Qui ne cherchas le vrai que pour faire le bien,
    Qui d'un peuple léger et trop ingrat peut-être
    Préparais le bonheur et celui de son maître,
    Ce qu'on nomme disgrace a payé tes bienfaits.
    Le vrai prix de travail n'est que de vivre en paix.

Turgot at first showed some just and natural resentment at the levity
with which he had been banished from power, and he put on no airs of
theatrical philosophy. He would have been untrue to the sincerity of his
character, if he had affected indifference or satisfaction at seeing his
beneficent hopes for ever destroyed. But chagrin did not numb his
industry or his wide interests. Condorcet went to visit him some months
after his fall. He describes Turgot as reading Ariosto, as making
experiments in physics, and as having forgotten all that had passed
within the last two years, save when the sight of evils that he would
have mitigated or removed, happened to remind him of it. He occupied
himself busily with chemistry and optics, with astronomy and mechanics,
and above all with meteorology, which was a new science in those days,
and the value of which to the study of the conditions of human health,
of the productions of the earth, of navigation, excited his most ardent
anticipations. Turgot also was so moved by the necessity for a new
synthesis of life and knowledge as to frame a plan for a great work 'on
the human soul, the order of the universe, the Supreme Being, the
principles of societies, the rights of men, political constitutions,
legislation, administration, physical education, the means of perfecting
the human race relatively to the progressive advance and employment of
their forces, to the happiness of which they are susceptible, to the
extent of the knowledge to which they may attain, to the certainty,
clearness, and simplicity of the principles of conduct, to the purity of
the feelings that spring up in men's souls.' While his mind was moving
through these immense spaces of thought, he did not forget the things of
the hour. He invented a machine for serving ship's cables. He wrote a
plea for allowing Captain Cook's vessel to remain unmolested during the
American war. With Adam Smith, with Dr. Price, with Franklin, with Hume,
he kept up a grave and worthy correspondence. Of his own countrymen,
Condorcet was his most faithful friend and disciple, and it is much to
Condorcet's credit that this was so, for Turgot never gave way to the
passionate impulses of the philosophic school against what Voltaire
called the Infamous, that is to say, against the Church, her doctrines,
her morality, her history.

We have already said that the keyword to Turgot's political aims and
social theory was not Pity nor Benevolence, but Justice. It was Justice
also, not temporary Prejudice nor Passion, that guided his judgment
through the heated issues of the time. This justice and exact
reasonableness it was impossible to surprise or throw off its guard. His
sublime intellectual probity never suffered itself to be tempted. He
protested against the doctrines of Helvétius's book, _de l'Esprit_, and
of D'Holbach's _Système de la Nature_, at a moment when some of his best
friends were enthusiastic in admiration, for no better reason than that
the doctrines of the two books were hateful to the ecclesiastics and
destructive of the teaching of the Church. In the course of a
discussion, Condorcet had maintained that in general scrupulous persons
are not fit for great things: a Christian, he said, will waste in
subduing the darts of the flesh time that he might have employed upon
things that would have been useful to humanity; he will never venture to
rise against tyrants, for fear of having formed a hasty judgment, and so
forth in other cases. 'No virtue,' replies Turgot, 'in whatever sense
you take the word, can dispense with justice; and I think no better of
the people who do your _great things_ at the cost of justice, than I do
of poets who fancy that they can produce great wonders of imagination
without order and regularity. I know that excessive precision tends to
deaden the fire alike of action and of composition; but there is a
medium in everything. There has never been any question in our
controversy of a capuchin wasting his time in quenching the darts of the
flesh, though, by the way, in the whole sum of time wasted, the term
expressing the time lost in satisfying the appetites of the flesh would
probably be found to be decidedly the greater of the two.' This
parenthesis is one of a hundred illustrations of Turgot's habitual
refusal to be carried out of the narrow path of exact rationality, or to
take for granted a single word of the common form of the dialect even of
his best friends and closest associates. And the readiness with which
men fall into common form, the levity with which they settle the most
complex and difficult issues, stirred in Turgot what Michelet calls
_férocité_, and Mr. Matthew Arnold calls _soeva indignatio_. 'Turgot
was filled with an astonished, awful, oppressive sense of the _immoral
thoughtlessness_ of men; of the heedless, hazardous way in which they
deal with things of the greatest moment to them; of the immense,
incalculable misery which is due to this cause' (_M. Arnold_).

Turgot died on the 20th of March 1781, leaving to posterity the memory
of a character which was more perfect and imposing than his
performances. Condorcet saw in this harmonious union and fine balance of
qualities the secret of his unpopularity. 'Envy,' he says, 'seems more
closely to attend a character that approaches perfection, than one that,
while astonishing men by its greatness, yet by exhibiting a mixture of
defects and vices, offers a consolation that envy seeks.'

Transcribers' Notes:

Minor printer errors (omitted or incorrect punctuation) have been
amended without note. Minor inconsistencies in hyphenation have been
resolved where possible, or retained where there was no way to determine
which was correct, again without note. Other errors have been amended,
and are listed below.

OE/oe ligatures have not been retained in this version.

List of Amendments:

Page 50--superstitution amended to superstition--"... treated as
superstition by those ..."

Page 126--devolopment amended to development--"... lead gradually to the
development of sound ..."

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