« ZurückWeiter »
Old Series Compiete in 63 vols.
religious principle, the degradation which avenges the triumph of selfish and ignoble ambitions. The records of this period have been lately enriched by many new est to the lessons to be drawn from it. documents, which impart a graver interThe Memoirs of the Duc de Luynes, order of court etiquette and ceremony, though tediously particular about the having been compiled and referred to as books of precedent in such matters, yet contain trustworthy journals of the daily life inside Versailles, since the Duke and Duchess de Luynes were the close friends of Maria Lecszinska, and the deserted Queen lived almost exclusively in their society. The influence of the King's daughters, and of the party of the Dauphin, is exhibited in the Duc de Luynes' pages with greater clearness than elsewhere. The correspondence of Louis XV. with the Duc de Noailles is a product of the short-lived energy which the King displayed after the death of Fleury. The correspondence taken from the secret diplomacy of the King affords a curious insight into the mind of a mon
arch who instituted this underhand kind of activity by way of revenging himself for his public insignificance. But the But the most interesting records of this reign are the Memoirs of M. d'Argenson, the most respectable of all the ministers of Louis XV. These memoirs, written after his disgrace and the termination of a ministry of barely two years' duration, unveil more fully than ever the corruption, profligacy, and selfishness of this shameful period.* M. Michelet's volume is an eccentric and sometimes brilliant sort of overture of which the epoch of Louis XV. is the theme. This gifted and learned writer has thrown more and more mannerism into his history as he recedes from the middle ages, which he had investigated with great acuteness, and moreover the period of which he now treats lacks the deep interest that pervaded his pathetic and tragic pages on the Reformation and the religious wars of France. His history of Louis XV. is unintelligible by any except those previously acquainted with the history of the time. It has in places inimitable flashes of historic perception and admirable intuitions of character, but it is a rhapsody, alike deficient in the precision of an historical narrative and the truth of historical criticism.
The reigns of Louis XIV. and Louis XV. filled up a space of one hundred and thirty-one years, nearly a century and a half of the history of the French monarchy; a period which, in England, was occupied by the reigns of eight kings and queens besides a commonwealth and a dictatorship. Beneath, however, this superficial appearance of stability, the
The Marquis d'Argenson, called la bête at Versailles to distinguish him from his brother the Count, who possessed the courtier spirit in a much greater degree, is a character worth studying as a product of his time and as an example of what a mind and heart of more than average excel
lence might become in such an atmosphere. His principles were of the loftiest on some subjects, but on others on marriage for example-they were of the loosest. He was both a stoic and a voluptuary, both cosmopolitan and national, wildly utopian yet eminently practical, and had surprising intuitions of the future both in science and politics, He was called by the Maréchal de Richelieu "Le Secré aire d'Etat de la République de Platon." It is observable that he became more utopian the further he was removed from the practice of affairs. The edition of his Mémoires by M. Rathery is by far the most accurate and complete of the three already published.
French nation was in fact undergoing a radical change. The vices of the Government had poisoned the scources of public happiness, and degraded irretrievably the national character. The splendid despotism of Louis XIV. having exhibited to modern Europe a type of post-feudal royalty of unsurpassed grandeur and magnificence, dwindled into a melancholy regime of short-sighted ambition, intolerance, and fanaticism, which emasculated the aristocracy of France, ruined her finances,* and plunged her population into the extremity of indigence and desolation. From the France of Richelieu, Colbert, and Louvois, to that of the Maintenon and Chamillart, seems indeed a change greater than it could be possible for one reign to effect. The tragic celerity with which the hand of Providence had removed all the descendants of Louis XIV., gave rise to a universal suspicion of poison, and darkened the aspect of the future destinies of the country. In the last five years of that monarch's reign, the two princes on whom the hopes of the nation were centred-the Dauphin, the pupil of Bossuet, and the Duc de Bourgogne, into whose congenial spirit Fenelon had infused no small portion of his own virtues and piety-were successively struck down, and the great-grandchildren of the aged monarch were all swept away, with the exception of a boy who inherited at five years of age the responsibility of governing a great people with unlimited power.
To add still further to this inauspicious state of things, the child was subjected to a tutelage, and the Government to a Regency, of the most deplorable character. Louis XIV., with a just distrust of the vices of Philip of Orleans, who was by right of birth the regent of the kingdom, had made provision for controlling his nephew by a council, and placing his great-grandchild under the charge of his legitimised natural son the Duke of Maine. But the testamentary dispositions of the Great Monarch shared the
* At the death of Louis XIV. the public debt amounted to 789 millions; the whole revenue amounted to 165 millions; of which only sixtynine came into the treasury. The expenditure was 147 millions; consequently, the yearly deficit was seventy-eight millions.