The peasant is dependent on two things; the field which yields his nourishment, the wood where he hides.
It would be difficult for one to imagine what the forests of Brittany were; they were towns. Nothing could be more silent, more mute and wild than those inextricable tangles of thorns and branches; those widespread thickets were the dwelling-places of silence and repose, no desert could seem more dead and more sepulchral.
If the trees could have been cut away suddenly and with a single stroke, like lightning, a swarm of men would have come abruptly into view.
Round, narrow pits, screened outside with coverings of stones and branches, first placed vertically, then horizontally, spread out underground like tunnels, ending in dark, gloomy chambers; that is what Cambyses found in Egypt, and Westermann found in Brittany; the former were in the desert, the latter in Brittany; in the caves of Egypt there were dead men, in the caves of Brittany there were living beings. One of the wildest clearings in the wood of Misdon, completely perforated with galleries and cells where a mysterious people came and went, was called "la Grande ville." Another clearing not less deserted above ground, and not less inhabited below, was called "la Place royale."
This subterranean life had existed in Brittany, from time immemorial. Man had always fled before man there. Hence these dens of reptiles hollowed out under the trees. They dated back to the Druids, and some of these crypts were as ancient as the cromlechs. The larvæ of legend and the monsters of history, all passed over this black country, Teutatès, Cæsar, Hoël, Néomènes, Geoffrey of England, Alain-gant-de-fer, Pierre Mauclerc, the French house of Blois, the English house of Montfort, kings and dukes, the nine barons of Brittany, the judges of the Grands-Jours, the counts of Nantes quarrelling with the counts of Rennes, highwaymen, banditti, the Free companies, René II., Viscount de Rohan, the governors for the king, the "good Duke de Chaulnes," hanging peasants under Madame de Sévigné's window, in the fifteenth century, the seigneurial butcheries; in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the religious wars; in the eighteenth century, thirty thousand dogs trained to hunt men; under this frightful trampling underfoot the people resolved to disappear. The Troglodytes to escape the Celts, the Celts to escape the Romans, the Britons to escape the Romans, the Huguenots to escape the Catholics, the smugglers to escape the excisemen,—each in turn took refuge first in the forests, then under the ground. The resource of wild beasts. Thus it is that tyranny reduces nations. For two thousand years, despotism in all its forms, conquest, feudalism, fanaticism, the exchequer, all hunted down this wretched, desperate Brittany; a sort of inexorable battue, which only ceased in one form to begin under another. The men went to ground.
Dismay, which is a kind of anger, was all ready in their souls, the caves were all ready in the woods, when the French Republic burst forth. Brittany rose in revolt, finding herself oppressed by this forced deliverance, the customary mistake of slaves.