Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

France in Our Day

Meantime, after a presidency of some six months, Casimir-Perier (1894—1895) had resigned, to be replaced by Favre, sixth president, who concluded an alliance with Russia (1895), and exchanged official visits with the Czar Nicholas II.

Loubet, seventh president of the French Republic, duly followed his example, but, before undertaking the long journey to Russia, he had occasion to entertain many distinguished visitors in Paris, where at the Exposition of 1900 there were ninety-seven million admissions. The permanent constructions remaining after this vast exposition are the Bridge Alexander, and two great palaces (Petit Palais and Grand Palais) where national exhibitions of all kinds are constantly held.

In 1898 occurred the "Fasho'da Incident" which, for a short time, threatened to occasion war between England and France in the Nile Valley. It seems that a French exploring expedition (under Marchand), starting from the French Congo, crossed Africa and raised the French flag at Fashoda on the White Nile. The English, whose protectorate over Egypt had continued ever since 1882, and who, were just completing the subjection of the upper Nile valley, strongly objected to the appearance of the French in that region, to which they claimed Egypt alone had any right. Fortunately, the officials on both sides behaved with such dignity and courtesy in this delicate matter, that affairs could soon be amicably adjusted by their respective governments.

Meantime, another dispute between England and France, regarding possession and trade rights in Siam, lasted three years, and was settled at last by making part of Siam neutral territory between English Burma and French Indo-China (1899).

Various foreign countries have always been anxious to get footholds in China so as to trade there. For a long while the Chinese, however, would not allow strangers to set foot in their country. Little by little this prejudice gave way, until five ports had been thrown open for foreign trade (1842). Many foreigners settled in these ports, while Christian missionaries, in spite of dangers and persecution, visited different parts of China to preach the gospel. Still, the concessions made by the Chinese did not satisfy the foreigners, who gradually gained more and more. The English and Germans proved so grasping, that a Chinese Religious Society, the "Boxers," began to plan in 1899 to drive all foreigners out of the country, so as to keep their old religion and mode of living and trading unchanged.

Because the Germans and English had seized ports in China, the French wished one, too, and when it was refused, simply took possession of Kwangchau (1900). This deprived China of an important port, and as the foreigners everywhere had treated the Chinese unfairly, it decided the outbreak of the Boxer Rebellion. During this war, many foreigners missionaries and others were slain and their property destroyed. Even the lives of the foreign ambassadors were in great danger, for they and their friends were besieged in Peking two months, during which they were cut off from all communication with their governments. Such being the case, the foreign powers banded together, and their troops forced a way to Peking to relieve the besieged. Still, it was only after many lives had been lost, and much property stolen or destroyed, that the trouble was finally settled, and the foreign troops could withdraw from Peking (1901).

As you already know, France is a Catholic country; some thirty-six out of its thirty-eight million inhabitants profess that religion. During the Revolution, which was largely instigated by writers openly opposed to Christianity, the Church went down with the Monarchy, and all Church property was confiscated for the benefit of the State, while Christian worship was partly suppressed.

But after Bonaparte became Consul, he signed the Concordat with the Pope (1801)—an agreement providing that the State should pay the salaries of the Catholic clergy, and should have certain control over the secular affairs of the Church, the appointment of bishops, etc. This arrangement lasted nearly one hundred years, during which up to eight million dollars a year was paid by the State to the Catholic clergy. The State also paid Protestant and Jewish clergy proportionate amounts (up to four hundred thousand dollars yearly).

From the beginning the Concordat never proved entirely satisfactory to Church or State, but as Monarchy and Empire upheld the Church, the religious congregations gradually grew in strength and in influence, until they largely controlled charitable and educational matters, some 16,000 schools being in their hands. Since 1870, when the Third Republic was proclaimed, the majority of the Republicans have claimed that clerical teaching was against republican principles; as a result there was so much friction, that in 1901 the National Assembly decreed the suppression of the teaching and charitable orders, the confiscation of much property, and stopped all religious teaching in the public schools. These changes were not effected without protest and riots, and have in many instances caused great suffering to those whose lives they so entirely changed.

Previously we read how the change from Monarchy to Republic (1792) was not accomplished without harshness, injustice, and bitterness of feeling, because nations cannot change in a day the habits of centuries. You can readily understand, therefore, that this sudden change in time-honored religious habits caused extreme irritation. The interference of the government in the election of certain bishops finally brought about a crisis, and the party led by Clemenceau secured the repeal of the Concordat (1905).

Since then, the clergy in France have depended entirely upon the voluntary offerings of the people, such church buildings, however, as are not reserved for government purposes, being in the hands of local trustees and still used by the respective churches. This Church and State question, the most important topic in France during the first decade of the twentieth century, still causes trouble, although both parties hope it can in time be satisfactorily adjusted.

Meantime, some other things occurred which are worth mentioning, amongst others the eruption of Mt. Pelee, on the island of Martinique,—a French colony,—which in May, 1901, destroyed the city of St. Pierre and several villages, thus causing the death of some twenty-five thousand people. Not only did ruin spread over miles of fertile country, but the home of Josephine and her statue—which were the pride of the island—suffered greatly.

In 1902 the army law was changed for the second time. After the war of 1870 every young Frenchman had been obliged to serve five years unless he could pass a very rigid examination. In that case he could become "Volunteer" and serve but one. This requirement was changed in Boulanger's time to three years' service, and in 1902 it was reduced to two years' army life for every able-bodied citizen.

In spite of the troublesome Church and State question, which kept the country in a state of ferment, Loubet proved so calm and able a president, that he served his full time, making room for Fallieres (1906), who, like his predecessors, paid sundry visits to European courts, where he has been duly honored as representative of France.

During the early part of the twentieth century, owing to the fact that neither pretender was popular, less and less has been heard of the Royalist and Imperial parties. So, at elections the main question now seems to be which republican party will get the upper hand.

During the last fifty years in France many famous names occur in every branch of science; literature, and art, some of which have already been mentioned. Were merely the names of the men and women distinguished in these different branches printed here, they would fill many pages. Still, many of you will read either in French or in translations, the fascinating works of Daudet and other novelists, the poetry of Rostand, and the plays of the younger Dumas, to mention one name only in each of these great branches. You will also doubtless enjoy the music of Gounod, and the paintings of Rosa Bonheur, as well as those of the many artists whose names appear under illustrations in this book.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


There have, besides, been great physicians like Pasteur, who, you know, discovered a way to save the lives of many babies, and a cure for mad-dog bites if you take it in time; great chemists like Mr. and Mrs. Curie, and great inventors of all kinds. There are, for instance, inventors of airships there, who have done great things since the time when the first balloon rose from the lawn at Versailles, in the days of Marie Antoinette, until a Frenchman (Bleriot) was first to fly across the English Channel to England in a monoplane, in 1909, covering the twenty-one miles in thirty-seven minutes. Less than a month later he also took part in the flying matches at Rheims, where aviators of different nations competed, and where England made the longest record, France the highest, and the United States the fastest.

During the winter of 1910, France suffered greatly from terrible floods, which brought ruin to many homes, and at one time threatened to destroy a part of Paris. The soldiers were, however, immediately detailed to rescue and maintain order, and as generous contributions poured in from all sides for the sufferers, the disaster proved less great than was at first feared.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber