The names of the pays and provinces have persisted to this day

The names of the pays and provinces have persisted to this day. They are attached to a particular part of the country with a distinct human individuality -- s the Cotswolds in England have a physical individuality -- and the same name has been given to various political divisions of the country that roughly correspond with the same area. Some of the provinces have their origin in the Roman civitas, such as Touraine (civitas Turonum, the Gallic tribe of the Turones); others in the areas of the Gallic tribal groups such as Poitou (the Gallic tribe of the Pictones); while the majority emerged as political groupings in the Middle Ages, such as Champagne, Languedoc and Aquitaine. Some of the smaller provinces emerged from pagi, as Aunis from the pagus Alionensis, Senonais from the pagus Senonicus. The names of the provinces were in popular usage on the eve of the French Revolution, and although some of the political divisions carried the name of a province, these divisions varied in extent. Thus it is impossible to define the province exactly, any more than one can precisely define, for example, the limits of the Cotswolds or the Weald. "MalgrÉ les fluctuations historiques, malgrÉ les vicissitudes des rattachements ou des sectionnements politiques, il est un certain nombre d'ensembles provinciaux majeurs qui ont conservÉ ce que nous pourrions appeler une certaine continuitÉ de personnalitÉ, et cela jusqu'à notre siècle même." 1 This unity is often reflected in "un esprit provincial, un art provincial, une littÉrature provinciale", 2 and indeed the very mention of the name of a province, writes Brunhes, "Éveille et rÉveille d'un seul coup des ensembles de souvenir, de pensÉes, de coûtumes, de passions, et d'images correspondant à des sÉries seculaires de connexions humaines dont la synthèse est encore un fait social, historique et gÉographique tout actuel".

The pays is usually smaller than the province, but, like the latter, it is essentially a social unit. This unity it owes to the distinctive mode of life, common interests and traditions of its inhabitants. Though the pays sometimes corresponds with a distinctive physical unit, it is far more characteristically, like the province, an amalgam of two or more distinct types of country, whose people are interdependent by reason of the exchange of goods and ideas through the medium of a central capital town, from which it often takes its name. Examples are Touraine, capital Tours; Anjou, capital Angers; Poitou, capital Poitiers; Lyonnais, capital Lyon; Limousin, capital Limoges; PÉrigord, capital PÉrigueux; Angoumois, capital Angoulême; Bordelais, capital Bordeaux; Agennais, capital Agen: Maconnais, capital Macon; Laonnais, capital Laon; Soissonnais, capital Soissons.

There are certain contrasts in the character of the social groups that have developed historically in the north and in the south and west of France. In the north, in the area characterized in the past by the compact village with a three-field system of cultivation worked on a compulsory communal system, space groupings have been more permanent and are more real than in the west and south, where the isolated farmstead has been dominant. The pays of Beauce, Brie, Vexin and Valois are ancient names antedating that of France itself. Their origins date back to the Gallic tribal divisions and the Roman civitates, through the pagus to the medieval comtÉ. The same stability is characteristic of the commune, the successor in 1789 of the parish, which in effect was the village community area. In the south and west, on the other hand, the parish was not so clearly defined, as the dispersed farmsteads and hamlets were not suitable for the erection of parishes centred on one village. With the formation of the communes as civil units in 1789 these had to be imposed on the countryside, since there was no existing village community area. In the north, the arrondissement also became a real unit and shows the same cohesion as the commune. "C'est une vÉritable sociÉtÉ homogène, consciente, bien ordonnÉe autour de sa petite ville comme autour d'une capitale." It is often coincident with the ancient bailliage and this, in turn, was often based on a seigneurial district or a fief. In the west and south, space-groupings are neither so homogeneous nor so clearly defined. Commune and arrondissement are somewhat arbitrary units, since there were no clearly defined social units in 1789 on which they could be based. Ancient noms de pays of GalloRoman origin are rare. Feudalism did not have nearly the same hold as north of the Seine. The family was the primary social unit situated in the centre of its own lands, and above it was the château of the nobility which formed a distinct aristocratic class, frequently in opposition to the peasantry.

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