History of the Working Classes in France: Renaissance and Modern Period

A. M. Wergeland
1904 Journal of Political Economy  
M. LEVASSEUR'S second volume' is, if possible, even more enjoyable and suggestive than the first. Several leading economists called his work, when it appeared in its first edition, a model of acculracy. The present edition deserves this praise even more absolutely. The material on which M. Levasseur bases his presentation of the vicissitudes of industry and the laboring classes is in every respect excellent and amply jtustifies his views. If the reviewer, while examii]ing the wealth of
more » ... wealth of illustration contained in the first volume, felt conmpelled to keep in abeyance any dissenting opinion of his, he feels still more so as he penetrates into the contents of the second volhme. with its vast storelhouse of information and the careful investigation on which it rests. The following pages will be, as before, an attempt to give the general reader and the student an idesq of the interesting contents of the volume. M. Levasseur in hiis work goes as much as possible into detail, and repeats himself frequently in an endeavor to be perfectly clear and simple. Our review is but a rapid summary of the most prominent features of thils importanit production, and has sufficiently served its purpose if it induces students to examine the volume for themselves. Wlihen the French crossed the Alps in I494, M. Levasseur tells US, they found in Italy manners more elegant than theirs, a refinement of civilization unknown to the North. Italy was to them like the discovery of a new world. It was then the richest country in Europe. Lombardy resembledl a garden; in the cities large numbers of the inhabitants were busy with industry and trade. Silk goods, gold and silver brocade. glass, fayence, perfumery, and other luxuries were fabricated tlhere. The satins and velvets of Venice and Genoa, the fayence of Bologna and of Urbino, the jewelry of Florence, Rome, and Venice, the glassblowers of Murano, were all renowned. Italy had become the international market of two worlds, and the general prosperity and the rivalry between 1 E. LEVASSEUR, Histoire des classes ouvricres et de l'industrie en France avant 1789. Tome second. Deuxieme edition. Paris: Rousseau, 90oI. 8vo, pp. 988. 225 226 JOURNAL OF POLITICAL ECONOMY the courts had created habits of elegance and a search for the beautiful. The French were dazzled at the sight, and became the imitators of the people whom they had set out to conquer. Charles VIII. brought back with him wagonloads of tapestry, books, pictures, and statuary which he had taken, besides artisans and artists wh3hom he had indtuced to come to France and work for him, and some of whom actually remained in France. The expeditions of TLouis XII. and of Francis I. multiplied these relations to Italy. The nobility came to desire a life different from that which they had hitherto enjoyed. Instead of living as before penned up in their castles and donjons, they now wished for gardens with statuary, fountains, and merry gatherinlgs. The royal court drew the lords by its brilliancy, and set the example in display and festivities. Luxury made rapid progress. Between the prison-like Plessis-les-Tours of Lotuis XI., with its mnoats and pitfalls, and the sumptuous Field of Gold and the court at Blois, there was a revolution in the habits and ideas of the people. In order to keep this splendor going and satisfy the new cravings, the Valois did not spare money. The expenses of the king were 45,000 livres tournois in 1480; in I556 they were II4,000. And a Venetian ambassador observed that now every workman, every mariner, wanted to have meat on his table like the rich. "Every laborer wants to make his son a gentleman," said Bernard Palissy. Laws were enacted against luxury in dress, but the commoner who earned plenty of money did not hesitate to spend it. Laws could not prevent him. The court set the example in patronizing the arts and the artistic industries. New kinds of wood came into use for furniture and utensils -oak, walnut, and ebony. Silverware was rare except among the richest; the ordinary burgher used copper or tin. The wonderful discovery of Bernard Palissy raised French fayence to the rank of art. Jewelers, enamelers, and glassblowers produced work of hioh excellence. Printing-presses, binderies, tapestry, all the noble crafts flourished, largely through the interest taken in them by royalty and those who wished to imitate the munificence of the court. The price of books had decreased astonishingly since the fifteenth centurv; a Tacitus cost 6 sotis, a Virgil 3. A bookseller did not hesitate to venture 6o,ooo francs on an edition of Galienus, nor i86,ooo on a Bible glossary in seven volumes. The royal government encouraged commerce, too; fairs were established and protected. Something was done 227 for saniitation. In the cities every houseowner was enjoined to sweep before his own door; it was left to the magistrates to supervise the general cleanliness, and a tax for the purpose was levied on every property holder; but the age, if fond of display, was not very neat, and the general condition remained much the same as before. Still population had increased, and many cities were rebuilt and enlarged. Paris had changed since the time when its houses lay in ruins. In 1448 the kings had complained of the loneliness of the capital; in I558 they were frightened at its growth and forbade the building of new houses in the suburbs. The population was almost 400,000. Intercourse between Italy, Germany, Flan-(lers, and France was reviving; Lyons was the great meeting-place for Italian and French trade, and had a fair share of Flemish and Spanish trade besides. The commerce on the Seine was especially active beyond Rouen and on the Garonne from Bordeaux; on the Mediterranean Marseilles and other cities traded with the Levant, Egypt, and the coast of Barbary. The alliance between Francis I. and the sultan opened the east to French trade; French merchants had shops in Alexandria, Cairo, Beirut, and Tripolis; ancd the political and economic influence of France was at its height in all the possessions of the Sublime Porte. The commerce in the interior prospered too. The sixteenth century was the most brilliant epoch of the fairs at Lyons, and Paris was the storehouse of F'rance. The money clhangers, who had had less luck since letters of exchange (in imitation of Italian methods) and the suppression of seignorial coinage, in 1555 saw their profession raised to the dignity of a royal office. There were twenty-four exchanges established in Paris, twelve in Rouen, Toulouse, and Lyons, six for places of minor importance, and two for the smallest towns. In reality the king intended thus to establish a financial resource for his own benefit. Banks, too, came into use in France in imitation of Italy; the bankers being at first submitted to the following severe rules: each must be a born or naturalized Frenchman, obtain royal sanction, and deposit 15,000 livres with the treasury. In I543 Francis I. was persuaded to establish a bank at Lyons, where commerce made it imperative. At this time, too, commercial triblunals were formed which passed upon mercantile causes. A judge and four consuls chosen by merchants, and merchants themselves, were to judge without fees and on the spot differences arising from commercial agreements, and their judgment was final in mat-
doi:10.1086/251034 fatcat:433qgw6vv5ddtf5oa7cqtsprdm