EUROPE UNDER THE OLD REGIME
Century and led to the independence of the United States has some features in common with these instances already given.
The end of the eighteenth century sees hardly a shadow of international action or aspiration. But with the French Revolution (it is important to note it) the era of international effort begins again, and in various forms has continued, in spire of wars with which the nineteenth century is filled, until the daring effort of the League of Nations. We shall attempt in this book, while telling the story of the different countries of Europe, not to lose sight of the whole in the parts, and especially to examine the forces which from time to time made for war or peace.
It will be well to begin with a survey of the European Powers towards the eighteenth century. Of Great Britain, it is enough to say that, despite the humiliation of the loss of the Powers. Her navy had recovered from its momentary eclipse, The industrial revolution, which transformed her life, brought to her great wealth and allowed her to bear the strain of the long contest with France and Napoleon. Her Government was, in spite of names, a narrow oligarchy; but it worked in conjunction with a Parliament which had grown steadily more powerful since the end of the mediaeval period. It had a freer press and was in closer touch with large and important sections of the nation than any government on the Continent, and the large measure of support which it received accounts for its survival when nearly all the governments on the Continent perished in the revolutionary storm.
France had lost her military prestige when she was crushed by the alliance of Great Britain and of Prussia in the Seven Years’ War. King Louis XV, who died in 1774, was typical of the monarchical decadence. The French Monarchy owed its strength to the effective leadership which it had given to the nation in war, and he was sunk in vice, without energy or military ardor; and under him, the nation had suffered great and irremediable defeats. His grandson, Louis XVI, succeeded in 1774, and in the War of American Independence fortune had returned to the standards of France. But the treasury was alarmingly empty, and the organization of monarchical France was undermined by aristocratic opposition, by the growing strength and discontent of the middle classes, and by the new hopes and passions which were spreading throughout the country from the great writers of the time. The Revolutionary storm first broke in France; and her Constitution and social life have been often treated as if they were an altogether exceptional example of oppression, incompetence, and social distress. But there was very much in France that eas representative of conditions that prevailed throughout Europe. Here was a Monarchy which had done great things for the safety and the prosperity of France, which had overthrown all rivals for the power-the feudal aristocracy, the legal profession, representative institutions both central, provincial and municipal-which ruled