Madame de Staël on conditions in 1795 (1795)


Madame de Staël, the daughter of Jacques Necker and a prominent salonnière, offers an account of the conditions in Paris in 1795:

“The majority of the Convention wanted to punish some of the vilest of the deputies who had tyrannised over it, but it drew up the list of the guilty with a trembling hand, afraid it might itself be accused of those laws which had served as pretext or justification to so many crimes.

The royalist party was sending agents abroad and found supporters at home through the resentment aroused by the long continuance of the Convention’s power. Nevertheless, the fear of losing the many benefits of the revolution kept the people and the armed forces loyal to the existing authority.

The army was still fighting just as vigorously against the foreigners, and its exploits had already won France an important peace settlement, a Treaty with Prussia made at Basel. And the people, it must be said, were enduring unheard of hardships with astonishing courage. Food shortages and the depreciation of paper money were, between them, reducing the lowest class of society to abject poverty.

If the kings of France had made their subjects suffer half these miseries, revolt would have sprung up on all sides. But the nation believed it was doing this for the fatherland, and nothing can equal the courage inspired by such a belief.”