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I have derived much information on this head from the reports of the States, and, at a later period, from those of the Provincial Assemblies. In countries where the supreme power is predominant, very few ideas, or desires, or grievances can exist without coming before it in some shape or other.
I have freely used the whose originals form a large series of folio volumes, will ever remain as the testament of the old French society, the final expression of its wishes, the authentic statement of its last will. But few interests can be created or passions aroused that are not at some time laid bare before it.
None of its business was made public; hence people did not shrink from confiding to it their most secret infirmities.
I have devoted much time to the study of its remains at Paris and in the provinces.* I have found in them, as I anticipated, the actual life of the old regime, its ideas, its passions, its prejudices, its practices.
In the eighteenth century, as a perusal of this work will show, the government was already highly centralized, very powerful, prodigiously active.
It was constantly at work aiding, prohibiting, permitting this or that. It exercised paramount influence not only over the transaction of business, but over the prospects of families and the private life of individuals.
I have undertaken to grope into the heart of this old regime.
It is not far distant from us in years, but the Revolution hides it.
Free access to the files of the Department of the Interior and the various prefectures would soon enable a foreigner to know more about France than we do ourselves.
Many of the laws and political usages of the old regime which disappeared in 1789 reappeared some years afterward, just as some rivers bury themselves in the earth and rise to the surface at a distance, washing new shores with the old waters.