THE French Revolution did not break out because the French peasant was worse off than any other peasant: for one thing it was not a peasant movement, and for another the French peasant was better off than the peasants of any other continental state. It came, rather, because in France surviving abuses and injustices were more irritating than in countries where few people had the intelligence to perceive the anomaly, or had ever been accustomed to anything but oppression. An additional reason was that the French despotism was suffering from the ultimate sickness of all despotisms-the absence of a capable despot. Whatever happened in France interested all Europe and produced commotion; the disturbances, however, ended with fewer changes in Europe than had seemed likely at first. A few intelligent men had predicted the Revolution, but most people had been quite blind to its coming: the evidence of change would nowadays be thought sufficient, but Europe was not used to revolutions on such a scale. There must, however, have been a very strong disposition towards revolution in many minds, and there is some indication of conspiracy in the deeds of violence that occurred.
The way had been prepared by the clever writers of the eighteenth century. For instance, a group under Diderot who published an Encyclopaedia in which common objects and institutions were used as pegs on which to hang critical disquisitions. A series of unsatisfactory officials had acted as chief minister, chiefly influenced by the unpopular Austrian Queen, Marie Antoinette. In 1774 Louis XVI. had made Turgot minister. Turgot was a very able administrator who had written an excellent introduction to economics, but his proposals for reform caused so much opposition among vested interests, especially among the nobles, that he was dismissed. Calone was the worst of his successors. Necker, another of them, however, published the true state of the government's debts. The American war and the Queen's extravagance had brought the government to bankruptcy. Louis at last consulted a Council of Notables and then summoned the States General or Parliament in 1789-the '"'first time since 1614. There had been bad harvests, and hosts of unemployed and vagabonds collected in Paris.