France, the most westerly portion of Europe, lying between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. France in its present limits covers 207,054 square miles, or one nineteenth of Europe, with a coast-line of 1,760 miles (1,304 on the Atlantic and 456 on the Mediterranean). It is bounded on the north by the English Channel and the Strait of Dover; on the northeast by Belgium and the grand-duchy of Luxemburg; on the east by Lorraine, Alsace, Switzerland and Italy; on the south by the Mediterranean and Spain; and on the west by the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic. Its greatest length from north to south is 606 miles and from east to west 556 miles. Its land-frontier extends over 1,575 miles, of which 1,156 miles are along the Belgian, German, Swiss and Italian frontiers and 419 miles along the Spanish frontier.
The earliest historian of France was Julius Caesar, who invaded and conquered it in 58 B. C. It was then called Gaul, and the people were mainly Celts. It covered not only France, but Belgium and parts of Switzerland and Germany. At the time of Caesar's invasion the Gauls had towns and fortifications, knew the arts of embroidery and working metals, and had made improvements in agricultural implements; but they were a rough, savage people, their females slaves, their prisoners barbarously treated and their religion idolatry, with the sacrifice of human victims. After Gaul became a part of the Roman empire, it was gradually civilized and in the second century A. D. it was the most populous of the Roman provinces. The Roman power yielded to that of the Franks, a Germanic tribe, under Clovis in 481. Paris was his capital. This first dynasty was called the Merovingian. Under Charlemagne, the second ruler of the second dynasty, called Carlovingian, which began in 751, France was raised to a high position in western Europe. The real founder of the French monarchy, as distinct from the
Frankish kingdom of Charlemagne, was Hugh Capet, count of Paris and Orleans, who was made king by the feudal chiefs in 987. The Norsemen, however, had already seized what now is Normandy, and in the i2th and i3th centuries their Anglo-Norman descendants owned far the greater part of France. For many years the kings of England laid claim to the crown of France. Hence the enmity between the two countries; the crusades and the Crimean war being the only instances of a military union between them. Normandy, Maine, Touraine and Poitou were taken back from France (1180-1223). With Philip VI (1328-50) came the house of Valois, which succeeded to the throne by the Salic law, which had come down from the Franks and excluded women from royal power. From 1339 to 1422 France suffered from the long though intermittent struggle with England, in which took place the battles of Crécy (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Agin-court (1415). Louis XII, the Father of His People, and Francis I wasted the resources of the country in fruitless efforts to establish their claims on Lombardy. Francis I in his wars with Charles V secured Burgundy (1544), and Henry II recovered Calais. Under Francis II the Catholic house of Guise became powerful; while the reform movement was headed by their opponents, the house of Bourbon. The massacre of St. Bartholomew (1572) ttnder Charles IX did much to weaken France.
Henry IV of Navarre (1589-1610), the first of the Bourbon princes, was succeeded by Louis XIII, who, influenced by Richelieu, sided with the Protestant princes in the Thirty Years' War, and he by Louis XIV (1643-1715), in whose reign the French monarchy reached its highest point of luxury and power. He extended the borders of France to the Rhine, and art, literature and science flourished to a degree unknown before; but the revocation of the edict of Nantes (1598) sent 400,000 of its best citizens from France. In the reign of Louis XV Corsica was added to France, but by the peace of Paris (1763) the larger part of the French colonies was yielded to England. Louis XVI, a well-meaning but weak prince, succeeded to a weakened throne. The spirit of the time, the success of the American War of Independence, the sufferings of the people and the oppressions of the nobles all united in the Revolution which broke out in 1789. In January, 1793, the king was beheaded; a reaction set in; and the people, wearied of bloodshed, were anxious for peace, and a general amnesty was declared in 1795. The state was governed by three consuls, Napoleon Bonaparte being the first, after the directory, to fill that office. At the head of the French army he gained the battle of Marengo. By the peace of LuneVille the boundaries of France were once more extended to the Rhine. In 1804 Napoleon was declared emperor by the vote of the people. In his victorious career he made himself king of Italy, made Holland and Naples vassal kingdoms, set up in Germany the Confederation of the Rhine, conquered Prussia, occupied Portugal, deposed the Bourbons in Spain, made Rome a French town and carried off the pope to Fontainebleau. With 1811 came a turning point in his fortunes; he was defeated in 1814; Paris capitulated to the allies and Napoleon retired to Elba. Louis XVIII (1814-24) succeeded to the throne, his reign being soon interrupted by the return of Napoleon, who met his final defeat at Waterloo. Charles X and Louis Philippe end the long line of French kings, the Revolution of 1848 overthrowing the latter. Louis Napoleon was in 1848 elected president of the new republic, but assumed the powers of a dictator by the coup d'etat of December, 1851, and a year later, by a vote of the people, became emperor as Napoleon III, reigning nearly twenty years. The Franco-German War (1870-71) was begun by him as a vent for the growing discontent of the people; but the French army lost battle after battle, until at Sedan the emperor, with 83,000 men, surrendered to Prussia. France, after the treaty by which she lost Alsace and a part of Lorraine, again became a republic, the first president being M. Thiers (q. v.) who had opposed the war with Germany. She has since been successfully endeavoring to restore the "prosperity of the people and make up for the ravages of war. The colonial possessions of France include, besides those in Africa—Algeria, Tunis, Senegal, French Sudan, Dahome, French Congo, Madagascar and Reunion —a few possessions in India, in Indo-China (including Tonking, Anam, Cochin-China and Cambodia), French Guiana, New Caledonia and several islands in the West Indies, the Pacific and those off Newfoundland.
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Surface and Drainage. The country is divided between the lowlands in the northwest and a large tableland which covers the southeastern half, and on the south and southeast borders the slopes of the Pyrenees and Alps. The tableland rises in its highest parts from 3,000 to 4,000 feet, with deep river-valleys and mountain-chains, reaching 5,000 or 6,000 feet in height. The plain slopes toward the Rhône and the Mediterranean, fringed by the Cevennes Mountains, the highest peak being Mont Mezenc (5,754 feet). This chain of mountains separates two widely different regions: the fertile, sunny and warm plains of the Rhône and Languedoc and the plains of the Rouergue, dreary, cold and high, where only rye grows and flocks of sheep find rich grazing-grounds. Central France is the highest part of this tableland, a region of granite, gneisses and slates, with many extinct volcanic cones surrounded by wide sheets of lava. Puy-de-Saucy, 6,188 feet, is the highest peak of the Auvergne Mountains in central France. Besides the Cevennes, the mountain-ranges include the Pyrenees, the Vosges, the Jura and the Alps. The Pyrenees separate France from Spain, extending 260 miles, the highest peak, Néthou, being 11,168 feet high. The passes across the Pyrenees are few, lofty and difficult, the lowest being 6,700 feet high, so that railroads hug the seacoasts or stop at the foot of the mountains. The Vosges and Jura Mountains and the Alps are on the eastern border. Since 1860, with the annexation of Savoy, the northern slopes of Mont Blanc, the highest and most beautiful mountain in Europe, are in French territory. The passes of Mont Cenis and Mont Genevre lead into Italy, as does also the famous Mont Cenis tunnel. The largest rivers are the Loire, 670 miles long, the Garonne (346), Dordogne (305), the Seine (485), and the Rhone (507). The island of Corsica is the only large island on the French coast belonging to France.
Natural Resources. Owing to its long coast-line of 1,760 miles the fisheries are of great importance. The country is deficient in minerals; iron and coal are imported in large quantities, though it has excellent quarries of stone.
Agriculture. Three fourths of the people live in the country and one fourth in the cities. Half of the people live by agriculture. The products are wheat, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat and corn; beetroots grown for sugar cover half a million acres; while market-gardening has been carried to great perfection, reaching often from $300 to $900 an acre in the value of the crop. Cattle-breeding, raising horses and mules and sheep-rearing are large industries.
Manufactures. In manufactures France is progressing rapidly. It has nearly 150,000 factories, employing 2,000,000 people. France holds the first rank in silk-manufacture; and is about equal to Germany in the manufacture of cotton-goods, though below Great Britain and the United States. All industries connected with furniture, dress and articles of luxury are active, and show the artistic taste for which the people are noted. Valenciennes, Chantilly and Alenjon laces, Sevres and Limoges porcelain and Aubusson carpets are examples of the productions of this class, while in the manufacture of jewelry few places in the world can rival Paris. It also is the greatest book-market in the world.
Revenues and Commerce. The revenues of France in 1911 were 4,386 million francs, and its expenditures nearly equalled this sum. Commerce is carried on by 15,878 sailing-vessels of 638,265 tons, with crews of 72,968 men; there also are 1,670 steamers of 806,073 tons and crews numbering 16,558. Much internal commerce is conducted via the rivers, canals and railways. These canals connect the natural waterways and thus establish easy communication through the interior as well as between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. There are 30,709 miles of railway and 113,332 of telegraph lines.
Government. The present government is republican. There are a president, elected for seven years, and two nouses, the chamber of deputies with 584 members and the senate, which consists of 300 members, of whom seventy-five hold their seats for life. There are eleven ministers, corresponding to the cabinet-officers of the United States. There are three courts, the civil, criminal and supreme court, the latter called the court of cassation. The unit of the local government is the commune, most of these having less than 1,500 inhabitants. The army in time of peace has 629,500 men, and in time of war, with the active army, a garrison-force and reserves, it comprises nearly two and a half millions of men. Every young man serves, from 20 to 45, either in the active army or in the reserves. The navy, second only to that of Great Britain, consists of 515 vessels, including battleships, armored cruisers, torpedo-boats, submarines, etc., besides those building or completing, about 36 in number. Cherbourg, Brest, Toulon, Roche-fort and L'Orient are fortified naval ports. The population of France is 39,601,509, of whom 1,126,531 are foreigners. The annual increase of population Is slower than in the other chief countries of Europe, owing to the small number of marriages and the small number of children in a family. In 1907 the death-rate was greater than the birth-rate. The French emigrate only in small numbers, and the French colonies have never brought any large revenue to the state. There are, it is estimated, 125,000 French immigrants in the United States.
Political Divisions — Cities. France is divided into eighty-seven provinces or departments. The principal cities are Paris (2,888,110); Lyons (523,796); Marseilles (550,619); Bordeaux (261,678); Lille (217,-804); Toulouse (149,576); Nantes (170,535); St. Etienne (148,656); Le Havre (136,159); and Rouen (124,987).
Education. This is free, and provided by common schools, classical and scientific schools, colleges and universities. Free public instruction commences with infant-schools attended by children from 2 to 6 years of age. Then follow the primary schools, which all children between 6 and 13 are obliged to attend. Next come the superior primary schools; then the Lycées, the latter two being maintained separately for the sexes.
The record for one year estimates the annual cost of maintaining these institutions as, for boy's Lycées 16 million francs for girl's Lycées 3½ million francs. Among other higher institutions of learning maintained by public funds are the College of France and the Museum of Natural History. In Paris is the famous University of Paris, which as early as the i6th century had 12,000 students and now has 15,000 to 18,000 in attendance. There is a naval school at Brest, and there are many schools providing professional and technical education.
See French and English by Hamerton; French Revolution by Carlyle; History of the Girondists by Lamartine; and History of France (for young people) by Charlotte M. Yonge.
The New Student's Reference Work (1914)