I revel therefore we are.
hich one of the two, the Livret de Paul-Louis, vigneron or the Gazette du village, was composed first? It's difficult to answer this question. But this difficulty is not so important because – and this is a sign of the effervescence of political tensions in France – the two pamphlets were published at the same time, in February of 1823. Therefore, they are two sides of the same coin.
A white-hot coin that would leave an indelible trace on anyone foolhardy enough to take hold of it. In the Livret, a farmer “discovers” the capital, famed for its quick tongues. It's completely different with the Gazette du village, a kind of newspaper “neither literary nor scientific but rustic” that must “interest all those who rely on the soil for their livelihood, those who eat bread...with a bit of garlic...”
Falsely naïve, our fellow Paul – who is halfway between a farmer with calloused hands and a sore back, and a character straight out of La Fontaine’s cleverly subversive universe – is here the direct heir of the Athenian orator Lysias. No theory, nor any of that lyricism so dear to Chateaubriand, but rather small, short and cutting portraits, comic or dramatic echoes of provincial life where France’s heart beats, and that are despised by courtiers:
- Cows are not selling. Girls were expensive at the Veretz assembly, and the boys exorbitant...
- In Amboise, the cross was put up last Sunday. His Lordship was there too...
- We are saved from Saint-Anicet, crucial time for buds. If the vines can bloom without shattering...
In these notes that resemble so closely a personal diary, a main thread follows the local saga of the hidden struggle between peasants, and religious and political authorities, the latter two helping each other. But let's make no mistake: it is the singular dramatization of realities that perturb the whole country, particularly Touraine, and in its heart, Véretz. One point however: if the vigneron de la Chavonnière focuses his words on the parish where he lives with his wife and his eldest son, his pen forays into places like Luynes, Saint-Etienne-de-Chigny, Amboise… We are dealing here with a kind of kaleidoscope which, well decoded, composes a damning picture of the central power and its henchmen.
Does Courier focus the people primarily to criticize the state? An idle question. Bonhomme Paul knows the peasant's condition and is scared of this man-destroying machine that appears under the features so-called modernity:
- Pierre Moreau and his wife died at the age of twenty and twenty-five years old. Too much work killed them, as it has so many others. We say “to work like a slave;” we should say “like a free man.”
A distant echo of the terrible word hurled to the face of the world by Mrs Roland at the bottom of the scaffold, this legitimate claim of liberty is merciless. Anecdotally, in the file of the site dedicated to Courier, “They said about him,” a space is reserved for poets, and included are several poems by Eugène Bizeau (1883-1989), as well as one from his son Max-Olivier. It so happens that Pierre Moreau and his wife were the parents of Eugène’s grand-mother...
Courier denounces the numerous taxes imposed on the people, and even more, the scourge which overwhelms farmers: the draft. This last measure, put in place by the Revolution, sought to call on young men to protect the nation in danger. The Convention carried out an initial recruitment by the massive draft of 300 000 men, which the people sharply contested.
In asserting that "every Frenchman is a soldier and must defend his country," the Jourdan law of September 5th, 1798, founded the modern draft and modern military service. Soldiering, from which professionals were exempt, became a duty for 20 to 25 year-old male citizens who were required to register on the municipal register. To earn the favour of the bourgeoisie, Napoléon firstly implemented the substitution of any draftee for pay; and secondly, he introduced random drawing, and regulated service exemptions.
The people disapproved of these measures taken by “the ogre,” a disapproval so powerful that when Louis XVIII granted the Charter in June 1814, he announced in an undeniably political move in article 12:"Conscription is abolished. The form of enlistment for the Army and the navy is determined by law."
After some years of hesitation, the King entrusted the care to define this law to Gouvion, Minister for the War. With the text of March 10, 1818 which bears his name, contrary to the promise of the Charter, the marshal did not abrogate the draft. The law adjusted it by setting the number of men raised by drawing to 40 000, which would bring the total number of men at the end of six years (span of a soldier's service) to 240 000. The law planned for two stages: to call on enlisted volunteers, and then to supplement this number by having the county town draw draftees under the supervision of civil authorities.
The registered conscripts or their representatives were called in the order of the registration list and made to pick a number from a box. The draw stopped when the desired contingent was reached. The possibility of repurchasing one's number was always possible. Deserters were tried by a war council and risked the death penalty, such that those who were not rich enough to be replaced were often driven to the brink of suicide:
- Simon Gabelin, not wanting to go to the army…
Rarely has Courier shown himself to be as human as in this lampoon that is an indisputable plea for the cause of those whom no spokesperson defends, and who have only their lives for riches… We specify this to send back to their books all small-minded or right-thinking people, who see in the person of Paul-Louis Courier merely a wet blanket, a troublemaker, a spoilsport; he is in his core profoundly different from that; he is a man who suffers with other people, and proclaims their suffering.
A little more than a century later, Albert Camus reminds us of this, in his own way in "L'homme révolté" (The Rebel): "I rebel therefore we are".