France And Her People
My call upon President Loubet was the most interesting incident of my visit to France. It was arranged by General Horace Porter, American ambassador to France, who conducted us to the Elysee pal-ace, which is the White House of the French republic.
President Loubet is probably the most democratic executive that France has ever had. He reminded me of our former president, Benjamin Harrison, and of another of our distinguished citizens, Andrew Carnegie—not exactly like either, but resembling both—the former in appearance, the latter in manner as well as appearance.
President Loubet is below the medium height, even of Frenchmen. His shoulders are broad and his frame indicative of great physical strength. His hair is snow white, as are also his beard and mustache. He wears his beard cut square at the chin.
His eyes are dark blue, suggesting that his hair and beard were blonde before the years bleached them. His voice is soft, and he speaks with great vivacity, emphasizing his words by expressive gestures.
He received us in his working room, a beautiful semi-oval apartment, whose large windows open into the beautiful gardens attached to the Elysee palace. The oval end of the room bore great priceless Gobelin tapestry, depicting abundance. On a pedestal under the tapestry was a, marble bust of the Minerva-like head of the Goddess of Liberty of the French republic.
The president's desk is a long, flat table, eminently business looking, covered with papers and lighted by two desk lamps and green shades. A huge electrolier dependent from the frescoed ceiling filled the room with light.
The president wore a frock coat, the tri-colored button of the Legion of Honor adorning the lapel.
President Loubet is a very cordial man, and takes pride in the fact that, like most of our American presidents, he has worked his way up from the ranks of the common people. His father was a farmer near the village of Montelimar.
Young Loubet studied law, and then public affairs. He has held nearly every office in the gift of the people. He began as mayor of Montelimar, where his aged mother still lives in the old farmhouse.
He was elected a deputy in 1876, and in 1886 was elected to the senate. He was minister of public works in 1887, and minister of the interior in 1892. In 1895 he was elected president of the senate, and in 1899 he was elected president of the republic.
He talked freely on various questions that came up for consideration, and showed himself to be thoroughly informed upon the economic as well as the political questions with which France has to deal. His personal popularity and strong good sense have been of inestimable value to his country in the trying times caused by the Dreyfus case.
President Loubet has been prominently connected with the bimetallic movement, and shows himself familiar with the principles upon which bimetallists rely in their defense of that system of finance.
The president, like all the Frenchmen whom I met, feels very friendly toward the United States, and it goes without saying that France under his administration is not likely to do anything at which our country can take just offense.
It was gratifying to me to hear him express so much good will, for it was evidence of the attachment which the French people feel toward those republican principles of government which they have established by so much struggle and sacrifice.
Municipal ownership has not made as much progress in France as in England, although most of the cities now own their water works, and some of them their lighting plants. The railroads are nearly all owned by private corporations, but they operate under charters running about 100 years, half of which time has now elapsed.
According to the charters, the government guaranteed a certain rate of interest on the investment, besides a certain contribution to the sinking fund, and at the end of the charter the roads become the property of the state.
Although it is nearly fifty years before the charters expire, the course to be adopted by the government is already being discussed, some insisting that the government should take over the roads and operate them—others favoring an arrangement that will continue private operation, although the government will be the owner of the property. The same difference of opinion to be found in our country is to be found here, and some of the high officials are strongly opposed to the government entering upon the operation of the roads.
President Loubet spoke with evident gratification of the general diffusion of wealth in France. He said that they had few men of large fortunes, but a great many men of moderate means, and he felt that the republic was to be congratulated upon the fact that the resources of the country are so largely in the hands of the people.
He explained that the government loans were taken by the people in small amounts and subscribed many times over. Very few of the bonds representing the French debt are held outside of France. The debt furnishes a sort of savings bank for the citizens, and their eagerness to invest in "rentes" (the government bonds) is proof of their patriotism as well as of their thrift.
I heard so much of the French peasant that I devoted one day to a visit into the country. Going out some fifty miles from Paris I found a village of about eighty families. Selecting a representative peasant, I questioned him about the present condition and prospects of the French farmer. I found that about three-fourths of the peas-ants of that village owned their homes, but that only about one-fourth owned the farms they tilled.
I should explain that the French peasants do not as a rule live upon the farms, as is the custom in the United States. With us, whether a farmer owns forty acres or a quarter section, he usually lives upon the land, and the houses are therefore scattered at intervals over the country.
The French peasants, on the contrary, are inclined to gather in villages, most of them owning their houses and gardens, but going out into the country to cultivate their fields. Sometimes a peasant will have a vineyard in one direction from his home, a pasture in another, and a wheat field or beet field in yet another direction.
These fields are sometimes owned, but more often are rented. The landlord aims to get about 4 per cent annually on his investment. The tenant, however, pays the taxes, which sometimes amount to 1 or 2 per cent more.
The peasants complain that the horses which they need to cultivate their crops are made more expensive by the increased consumption of horse flesh as food, the demand having raised the price of horses.
The same cause has operated, so I was informed, to reduce the price of cattle. The widespread use of automobiles has lessened the price of straw in Paris, and this has been felt by the wheat growers.
I found the peasant with whom I talked to be an ardent protectionist. He spoke as if the farmers were driven to it as a last resort. As I was leaving he assured me that he was glad to speak to a "republican" and said he would not have talked to me at all if I had not been one.
This was an evidence of his loyalty to the existing régime in France and also gave additional proof of the fact that the republican party in the United States has an advantage in appealing to newly-arrived immigrants merely by reason of its name.
Foreigners are much better acquainted with the word "republic" than with the word "democracy," and I find that republican speakers have taken advantage of this fact and represented the republican party as the only exponent of the doctrines of a republic.
The New York Independent about a year ago printed the autobiography of a foreign born citizen, who presented the same idea and told of a republican speech in which this argument was made by the orator.
The birth rate in France scarcely exceeds the death rate, and to my surprise I found that the increase in the country was even less than in Paris, in proportion to the population. One Frenchman, apparently well informed, told me that there were small villages in which it was difficult to find a. child.
In the village which I visited I was told that the families average two or three children. To show, however, that the small family was not the universal rule, attention was called to one family there in which there were eleven children.
The French peasant is a very industrious man, and cultivates his land with great care, and as soon as he saves a little money he tries to add to the area of his farm. The wife is usually an efficient helper, whether in the city or in the country. In the city she is often copartner with her husband in the store, and assists him to save.
Whether the tendency of the peasants to gather in villages, rather than to live each on his on farm, is due to their sociability or is a relic of the feudal system, I cannot say—both reasons were given.
The French peasant has reason to feel the burden of militarism, but the recollection of the last war with Germany is so fresh in his mind that he is not likely to make any vigorous protest as long as he believes a large army necessary for the protection of the republic.
The sentiment of the French people on this subject is shown by the fact that the figure representing Alsace-Lorraine in the group of statues in the beautiful Place de la Concorde is always covered with mourning wreaths.
I visited the Bank of France, where I was received by the governor, M. Georges Pallain. The bank's capital stock is about $40,000,000, and it pays a dividend of about 12 per cent, equal to about 4 per cent on the present market value of the stock. The deposits are much smaller in proportion to the capital than are the deposits of our large American banks. This is true of the Bank of England, and likewise of the banks of Mexico.
This smaller proportion between the deposits and the capital stock arrested my attention, because in the United States the proportion is sometimes so great as to leave little margin for shrinkage in the event of industrial disturbance. If a bank has loans amounting to ten times its capital stock, a shrinkage of one-tenth in the value of its assets would wipe out the capital.
The Bank of France, the Bank of England, and the leading banks of Mexico seem to be conducted on a more conservative basis. The Bank of England and the Bank of France differ largely in their note issues. The former has the right to issue uncovered notes to the extent of the bank's loan to the English government. Upon this loan the bank receives no interest, the note issue being considered an equivalent, as no reserve is required to be kept against these notes. The bank can also issue notes in addition to these, but I found to my surprise that this note issue is not profitable to the bank, since these notes are virtually gold certificates, the bank being required to keep on hand an equal amount of gold as a redemption fund.
The Bank of France has outstanding nearly $900,000,000 in notes, which is the paper money of the country. The bank has the option of redeeming these notes either in gold or silver, and it exercises that option by refusing to pay gold when gold becomes scarce, or when it seems undesirable to furnish gold for export.
It has recently refused gold, and those desiring to export that metal have had to purchase it at a slight premium.
The "gold contract," which has become so common in the United States, and which was used to terrorize the public in 1896, seems to be unknown in France ; or at least I could find no one who knew any-thing about such contracts. They are regarded as contrary to public policy.
The president of the Bank of France is appointed by the government, so that the bank stands in a different attitude toward the government from the national banks of our country.
I had the pleasure of meeting a number of prominent Frenchmen during my visit to Paris, among them Senator Combes, the prime minister, who is just now a most conspicuous figure in the contest between the government and. the various religious orders ; Senator Clemenceau, one of the ablest editors in Paris, and a brilliant conversationalist; Baron d'Estonelles de Constant, a man of high ideals and leader of the peace movement in France; the Rev. Albert Kohler, author of "The Religion of Effort," and the Rev. Charles Wagner, whose book, "The Simple Life," has had such a large circulation in the United States.
The Rev. Mr. Wagner. is just such a looking man as you would expect to write such a book—strong, rugged and earnest. He impresses one as a man with a mission, and although young in years, he has already made an impress upon the thought of the world. His book is a protest against the materialism which is making man the slave of his possessions.
The influence which Mr. Wagner has already exerted shows the power of a great thought, even when it must cross the boundaries of nations and pass through translation into many different tongues. I shall remember my communion with this apostle of simplicity as one remembers a visit to a refreshing spring.
Dr. Max Nordau, the famous author of "Degeneracy," although a German, lives in Paris. I enjoyed my call upon him very much. One quickly recognizes the alertness of his mind, his brilliant powers of generalization and his aptness in epigram, I also had the pleasure of meeting Senator Fougeirol, a noted advocate of bimetallism.
The visitor to Paris is immediately impressed by the magnificence of the city's boulevards, parks and public squares. There is an elegant spaciousness about the boulevards and squares that surpasses anything I have seen elsewhere.
Parisians assert that the Avenue des Champs Elysees is the finest in the world, and so far as my observation goes I am not prepared to dispute the claim. The beauty of Paris deserves all the adjectives that have been lavished upon it.
One might dwell at length upon the almost endless array of brilliant shop windows where jewelry, bric-a-brac, hats, gowns and mantles are displayed (and I am not surprised that Paris is the Mecca for women), but I desire to refer briefly to the more permanent beauty of Paris—the beauty of its architecture, sculpture and paintings.
Paris' public buildings, ancient and modern, combine solidity with beauty. The statues, columns and arches that adorn the parks and boulevards bespeak the skill of the artists and the appreciation of the public which pays for their maintenance.
Paris' many picture galleries, chief of which are the Louvre and the Luxembourg, contain, as all the world knows, extraordinary collections of treasures of art. The encouragement given by the government to every form of art has made Paris the abode of students from the four corners of the earth.
The huge palaces at Versailles and Fontainebleau are interesting . relics of the monarchical period, and they are instructive, also, in that they draw a contrast between the days of the empire and the present time. The extremes of society have been drawn closely together by the growth of democracy, and the officials chosen by the people and governing by authority of the people are much nearer to the people who pay the taxes and support the government than the kings who lived in gorgeous palaces and claimed to rule by right divine.
I have left to the last those reminders of earlier France which are connected with the reigns of Napoleon. You cannot visit Paris with-out being made familiar with the face of the "Little Corsican," for it stares at you from the shop windows and looks down at you from the walls of palaces and galleries.
You see the figure of "the man of destiny" in marble and bronze, sometimes on a level with the eye, sometimes piercing the sky, as it does in the Place Vendome, where it is perched on top of a lofty column, whose pedestal and sides are covered with panels in relief made from cannon captured by Napoleon in battle.
The gigantic Arch of Triumph on the Champs Elysees, commenced by Napoleon, in commemoration of his successes, testifies to the splendor of his conceptions.
But overshadowing all other Napoleonic monuments is his tomb on the banks of the Seine, adjoining the Invalides. Its gilded dome attracts attention from afar, and on nearer approach one is charmed with the strength of its walls and the symmetry of its proportions.
At the door the guard cautions the thoughtless to enter with uncovered head, but the admonition is seldom necessary, for an air of solemnity pervades the place.
In the center of the rotunda, beneath the frescoed vault of the great dome, is a circular crypt. Leaning over the heavy marble balustrade I gazed on the massive sarcophagus below which contains all that was mortal of that marvelous combination of intellect and will.
The sarcophagus is made of dark red porphyry, a fitly chosen stone that might have been colored by the mingling of the intoxicating wine of ambition with the blood spilled to satisfy it.
Looking down upon the sarcophagus and the stands of tattered battle flags that surround it, I reviewed the tragic career of this grand master of the art of slaughter, and weighed, as best I could, the claims made for him by his friends. And then I found myself wondering what the harvest might have been had Napoleon's genius led him along peaceful paths, had the soil of Europe been stirred by the plowshare rather than by his trenchant blade, and the reaping done by implements less destructive than his shot and shell.
Just beyond and above the entombed emperor stands a cross upon which hangs a life-size figure of the Christ, flooded by a mellow lemon-colored light, which pours through the stained glass windows of the chapel.
I know not whether it was by accident or design that this god of war thus sleeps, as it were, at the very feet of the Prince of Peace.
Whether so intended or not, it will, to those who accept the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, symbolize love's final victory over force and the triumph of that philosophy which finds happiness in helpful service and glory in doing good.
( Originally Published 1907 )
The Old World And Its Way:
Homes And Shrines Of Great Britain
Glimpses Of Spain
A Word To Tourists
American Foreign Missions
A Study Of Governments
The Tariff Debate In England
Ireland And Her Leaders
Growth Of Municipal Ownership
France And Her People
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