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A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times
Louis XVI. M. De Calonne And The Assembly Of Notables. 1781-1787.
by Guizot, M.


We leave behind us the great and serious attempts at reform. The vast projects of M. Turgot, seriously meant and founded on reason, for all their somewhat imaginative range, had become, in M. Necker's hands, financial expedients or necessary remedies, honorably applied to the most salient evils; the future, however, occupied the mind of the minister just fallen; he did not content himself with the facile gratifications of a temporary and disputed power, he had wanted to reform, he had hoped to found; his successors did not raise so high their real desires and hopes. M. Turgot had believed in the eternal potency of abstract laws; he had relied upon justice and reason to stop the kingdom and the nation on the brink of the abyss; M. Necker had nursed the illusion that his courage and his intelligence, his probity and his reputation would suffice for all needs and exorcise all dangers; both of them had found themselves thwarted in their projects, deceived in their hopes, and finally abandoned by a monarch as weak and undecided as he was honest and good. M. de Turgot had lately died (March 20, 1781), in bitter sorrow and anxiety; M. Necker was waiting, in his retirement at St. Ouen, for public opinion, bringing its weight to bear upon the king's will, to recall him to office. M. de Maurepas was laughing in that little closet at Versailles which he hardly quitted any more: "The man impossible to replace is still unborn," he would say to those who were alarmed at M. Necker's resignation. M. Joly de Fleury, councillor of state, was summoned to the finance-department; but so strong was the current of popular opinion that he did not take up his quarters in the residence of the comptroller-general, and considered himself bound to pay M. Necker a visit at St. Ouen.

Before experience had been long enough to demonstrate the error committed by M. de Maurepas in depriving the king of M. Necker's able and honest services, the veteran minister was dead (November 21, 1784). In the teeth of all inclinations opposed to his influence, he had managed to the last to preserve his sway over the mind of Louis XVI.: prudent, moderate, imperturbable in the evenness of his easy and at the same time sarcastic temper, he had let slide, so far as he was concerned, the reformers and their projects, the foreign war, the wrath of the parliaments, the remonstrances of the clergy, without troubling himself at any shock, without ever persisting to obstinacy in any course, ready to modify his policy according to circumstances and the quarter from which the wind blew, always master, at bottom, in the successive cabinets, and preserving over all the ministers, whoever they might be, an ascendency more real than it appeared. The king regretted him sincerely. "Ah!" said he, "I shall no more hear, every morning, my friend over my head." The influence of M. de Maurepas had often been fatal; he had remained, however, like a pilot still holding with feeble hand the rudder he had handled for so long. After him, all direction and all predominance of mind disappeared from the conduct of the government. "The loss is more than we can afford," said clear-sighted folks already.

For a moment, and almost without consideration, the king was tempted to expand his wings and take the government into his own hands; he had a liking for and confidence in M. de Vergennes; but the latter, a man of capacity in the affairs of his own department and much esteemed in Europe, was timid, devoid of ambition and always disposed to shift responsibility into the hands of absolute power. Notwithstanding some bolder attempts, the death of M. de Maurepas did not seriously augment his authority. The financial difficulties went on getting worse; on principle and from habit, the new comptroller-general, like M. de Vergennes, was favorable to the traditional maxims and practices of the old French administration; he was, however, dragged into the system of loans by the necessities of the state, as well as by the ideas impressed upon men's minds by M. Necker. To loans succeeded imposts; the dues and taxes were increased uniformly, without regard for privileges and the burdens of different provinces; the Parliament of Paris, in the body of which the comptroller-general counted many relatives and friends, had enregistered the new edicts without difficulty; the Parliament of Besancon protested, and its resistance went so far as to place the comptroller-general on his defence. "All that is done in my name is done by my orders," replied Louis XVI. to the deputation from Franche-Comte. The deputation required nothing less than the convocation of the States-general. On all sides the nation was clamoring after this ancient remedy for their woes; the most clear-sighted had hardly a glimmering of the transformation which had taken place in ideas as well as manners; none had guessed what, in the reign of Louis XVI., those States-general would be which had remained dumb since the regency of Mary de Medici.

Still more vehement and more proud than the Parliamentarians, the states of Brittany, cited to elect the deputies indicated by the governor, had refused any subsidy. "Obey," said the king to the deputies; "my orders have nothing in them contrary to the privileges which my predecessors were graciously pleased to grant to my province of Brittany." Scarcely had the Bretons returned to the states, when M. Amelot, who had charge of the affairs of Brittany, received a letter which he did not dare to place before the king's eyes. "Sir," said the states of Brittany, "we are alarmed and troubled when we see our franchises and our liberties, conditions essential to the contract which gives you Brittany, regarded as mere privileges, founded upon a special concession. We cannot hide from you, Sir, the direful consequences of expressions so opposed to the constant principles of our national code. You are the father of your people, and exercise no sway but that of the laws; they rule by you and you by them. The conditions which secure to you our allegiance form a part of the positive laws of your realm." Contrary to all received usages during the session of the states, the royal troops marched into Rennes; the noblesse refused to deliberate, so long as the assembly had not recovered its independence. The governor applied to the petty nobles who preponderated in their order; ignorant and poor as they were, they allowed themselves to be bought, their votes carried the day, and the subsidies were at last voted, notwithstanding the opposition on the part of the most weighty of the noblesse; a hundred of them persistently staid away.

Internal quarrels in the cabinet rendered the comptroller-general's situation daily more precarious; he gave in his resignation. The king sent for M. d'Ormesson, councillor of state, of a virtue and integrity which were traditional in his family, but without experience of affairs and without any great natural capacity. He was, besides, very young, and he excused himself from accepting such a post on the score of his age and his feeble lights. "I am only thirty-one, Sir," he said. "I am younger than you," replied the king, "and my post is more difficult than yours." A few months later, the honest magistrate, overwhelmed by a task beyond his strength, had made up his mind to resign; he did not want to have any hand in the growing disorder of the finances; the king's brothers kept pressing him to pay their debts; Louis XVI. himself, without any warning to the comptroller-general, had just purchased Rambouillet from the Duke of Penthievre, giving a bond of fourteen millions; but Madame d'Ormesson had taken a liking to grandeur; she begged her husband hard to remain, and he did. It was not long before the embarrassments of the treasury upset his judgment: the tax-farming contract, so ably concluded by M. Necker, was all at once quashed; a regie was established; the Discount-fund (Caisse d'Escompte) had lent the treasury six millions: the secret of this loan was betrayed, and the holders of bills presented themselves in a mass demanding liquidation; a decree of the council forbade payment in coin over a hundred livres, and gave the bills a forced currency. The panic became general; the king found himself obliged to dismiss M. d'Ormesson, who was persecuted for a long while by the witticisms of the court. His incapacity had brought his virtue into ridicule.

Marshal de Castries addressed to the king a private note. "I esteem M. d'Ormesson's probity," said the minister of marine frankly, "but if the financial affairs should fall into such discredit that your Majesty finds yourself forced at last to make a change, I dare entreat you to think of the valuable man who is now left unemployed; I do beg you to reflect that, without Colbert, Louis XIV. would never perhaps have been called Louis le Grand; that the wish of the nation, to be taken into account by a good king, is secretly demanding, Sir, that the enlightened, economical, and incorruptible man whom Providence has given to your Majesty, should be recalled to his late functions. The errors of your other ministers, Sir, are nearly always reparable, and their places are easily filled. But the choice of him to whom is committed the happiness of twenty-four millions of souls and the duty of making your authority cherished is of frightful importance. With M. Necker, Sir, even in peace, the imposts would be accepted, whatever they might be, without a murmur. The conviction would be that inevitable necessity had laid down the laws for them, and that a wise use of them would justify them, . . . whereas, if your Majesty puts to hazard an administration on which all the rest depend, it is to be feared that the difficulties will be multiplied with the selections you will be obliged to have recourse to; you will find one day destroy what another set up, and at last there will arrive one when no way will be seen of serving the state but by failing to keep all your Majesty's engagements, and thereby putting an end to all the confidence which the commencement of your reign inspired."

The honest zeal of Marshal de Castries for the welfare of the state had inspired him with prophetic views; but royal weakness exhibits sometimes unexpected doggedness. "As regards M. Necker," answered Louis XVI., "I will tell you frankly that after the manner in which I treated him and that in which he left me, I couldn't think of employing him at all." After some court-intrigues which brought forward names that were not in good odor, that of Foulon, late superintendent of the forces, and of the Archbishop of Toulouse, Lomenie de Brienne, the king sent for M. de Calonne, superintendent of Lille, and intrusted him with the post of comptroller-general.

It was court-influence that carried the day, and, in the court, that of the queen, prompted by her favorite, Madame de Polignac. Tenderly attached to his wife, who had at last given him a son, Louis XVI., delivered from the predominant influence of M. de Maurepas, was yielding, almost unconsciously, to a new power. Marie Antoinette, who had long held aloof from politics, henceforth changed her part; at the instigation of the friends whom she honored with a perhaps excessive intimacy, she began to take an important share in affairs, a share which was often exaggerated by public opinion, more and more hard upon her every day.

Received on her arrival in France with some mistrust, of which she had managed to get the better amongst the public, having been loved and admired as long as she was dauphiness, the young queen, after her long period of constraint in the royal family, had soon profited by her freedom; she had a horror of etiquette, to which the court of Austria had not made her accustomed; she gladly escaped from the grand palaces of Louis XIV., where the traditions of his reign seemed still to exercise a secret influence, in order to seek at her little manor-house of Trianon new amusements and rustic pleasures, innocent and simple, and attended with no other inconvenience but the air of cliquedom and almost of mystery in which the queen's guests enveloped themselves. Public rumor soon reached the ears of Maria Theresa. She, tenderly concerned for her daughter's happiness and conduct, wrote to her on this subject:—

"I am always sure of success if you take anything in hand, the good God having endowed you with such a face and so many charms besides, added to your goodness, that hearts are yours if you try and exert yourself, but I cannot conceal from you, nevertheless, my apprehension: it reaches me from every quarter and only too often, that you have diminished your attentions and politenesses in the matter of saying something agreeable and becoming to everybody, and of making distinctions between persons. It is even asserted that you are beginning to indulge in ridicule, bursting out laughing in people's faces; this might do you infinite harm and very properly, and even raise doubts as to the goodness of your heart; in order to amuse five or six young ladies or gentlemen, you might lose all else. This defect, my dear child, is no light one in a princess; it leads to imitation, in order to pay their court, on the part of all the courtiers, folks ordinarily with nothing to do and the least estimable in the state, and it keeps away honest folks who do not like being turned into ridicule or exposed to the necessity of having their feelings hurt, and in the end you are left with none but bad company, which by degrees leads to all manner of vices. . . . Likings carried too far are baseness or weakness; one must learn to play one's part properly if one wishes to be esteemed; you can do it if you will but restrain yourself a little and follow the advice given you; if you are heedless, I foresee great troubles for you, nothing but squabbles and petty cabals which will render your days miserable. I wish to prevent this and to conjure you to take the advice of a mother who knows the world, who idolizes her children, and whose only desire is to pass her sorrowful days in being of service to them."

Wise counsels of the most illustrious of mothers uselessly lavished upon her daughters! Already the Queen of Naples was beginning to betray the fatal tendencies of her character; whilst, in France, frivolous pleasures, unreflecting friendships, and petty court-intrigues were day by day undermining the position of Marie Antoinette. "I am much affected at the situation of my daughter," wrote Maria Theresa, in 1776, to Abbe Vermond, whom she had herself not long ago placed with the dauphiness, then quite a child, and whose influence was often pernicious: "she is hurrying at a great pace to her ruin, surrounded as she is by base flatterers who urge her on for their own interests."

Almost at the same moment she was writing to the queen "I am very pleased to learn that you had nothing to do with the change that has been made in the cases of MM. Turgot and Malesherbes, who, however, have a great reputation among the public and whose only fault, in my opinion, is that they attempted too much at once. You say that you are not sorry; you must have your own good reasons, but the public, for some time past, has not spoken so well of you, and attributes to you point blank petty practices which would not be seemly in your place. The king loving you, his ministers must needs respect you; by asking nothing that is not right and proper, you make yourself respected and loved at the same time. I fear nothing in your case (as you are so young) but too much dissipation. You never did like reading, or any sort of application: this has often caused me anxieties. I was so pleased to see you devoted to music; that is why I have often plagued you with questions about your reading. For more than a year past there has no longer been any question of reading or of music; I hear of nothing but horse-racing, hunting too, and always without the king and with a number of young people not over-select, which disquiets me a great deal, loving you as I do so tenderly. I must say, all these pleasures in which the king takes no part, are not proper. You will tell me, 'he knows, he approves of them.' I will tell you, he is a good soul, and therefore you ought to be circumspect and combine your amusements with his; in the long run you can only be happy through such tender and sincere union and affection."

The misfortune and cruel pangs of their joint lives were alone destined to establish between Marie Antoinette and her husband that union and that intimacy which their wise mother would have liked to create in the days of tranquillity. Affectionate and kind, sincerely devoted to his wife, Louis XVI. was abrupt and awkward; his occupations and his tastes were opposed to all the elegant or frivolous instincts of the young queen. He liked books and solid books; his cabinet was hung with geographical charts which he studied with care; he had likewise a passion for mechanical works, and would shut himself up for hours together in a workshop in company with a blacksmith named Gamin. "The king used to hide from the queen and the court to forge and file with me," this man would remark in after days: "to carry about his anvil and mine, without anybody's knowing anything about it required a thousand stratagems which it would take no end of time to tell of." "You will allow that I should make a sorry figure at a forge," writes the queen to her brother Joseph II.; "I should not be Vulcan, and the part of Venus might displease the king more than those tastes of mine of which he does not disapprove."

Louis XVI. did not disapprove, but without approving. As he was weak in dealing with his ministers, from kindliness and habit, so he was towards the queen with much better reason. Whilst she was scampering to the Opera ball, and laughing at going thither in a hackney coach one day when her carriage had met with an accident, the king went to bed every evening at the same hour, and the talk of the public began to mix up the name of Marie Antoinette with stories of adventure. In the hard winter of 1775, whilst the court amused themselves by going about in elegantly got-up sledges, the king sent presents of wood to the poor. "There are my sledges, sirs," said he as he pointed out to the gentlemen in attendance the heavy wagons laden with logs. The queen more gladly took part in the charities than in the smithy. She distributed alms bountifully; in a moment of gratitude the inhabitants of Rue St. Honore had erected in her honor a snow pyramid bearing these verses:
          Fair queen, whose goodness is thy chiefest grace,
          With our good king, here occupy thy place;
          Though this frail monument be ice or snow,
          Our warm hearts are not so.


Bursts of kindness and sympathy, sincere as they may be, do not suffice to win the respect and affection of a people. The reign of Louis XV. had used up the remnants of traditional veneration, the new right of the public to criticise sovereigns was being exercised malignantly upon the youthful thoughtlessnesses of Marie Antoinette.

In the home circle of the royal family, the queen had not found any intimate; the king's aunts had never taken to her; the crafty ability of the Count of Provence and the giddiness of the Count of Artois seemed in the prudent eye of Maria Theresa to be equally dangerous; Madame Elizabeth, the heroic and pious companion of the evil days, was still a mere child; already the Duke of Chartres, irreligious and debauched, displayed towards the queen, who kept him at a distance, symptoms of a bitter rancor which was destined to bear fruit. Marie Antoinette, accustomed to a numerous family, affectionately united, sought friends who could "love her for herself," as she used to say: an illusive hope, in one of her rank, for which she was destined to pay dearly. She formed an attachment to the young Princess of Lamballe, daughter-in-law of the Duke of Penthievre, a widow at twenty years of age, affectionate and gentle, for whom she revived the post of lady-superintendent, abolished by Mary Leczinska. The court was in commotion, and the public murmured; the queen paid no heed, absorbed as she was in the new delights of friendship; the intimacy, in which there was scarcely any inequality, with the Princess of Lamballe, was soon followed by a more perilous affection. The Countess Jules de Polignac, who was generally detained in the country by the narrowness of her means, appeared at court on the occasion of a festival; the queen was pleased with her, made her remain, and loaded her, her and her family, not only with favors, but with unbounded and excessive familiarity. Finding the court circles a constraint and an annoyance, Marie Antoinette became accustomed to seek in the drawing-room of Madame de Polignac amusements and a freedom which led before long to sinister gossip. Those who were admitted to this royal intimacy were not always prudent or discreet, they abused the confidence as well as the generous kindness of the queen; their ambition and their cupidity were equally concerned in urging Marie Antoinette to take in the government a part for which she was not naturally inclined. M. de Calonne was intimate with Madame de Polignac; she, created a duchess and appointed governess to the children of France (the royal children), was all-powerful with her friend the queen; she dwelt upon the talents of M. de Calonne, the extent and fertility of his resources; M. de Vergennes was won over, and the office of comptroller-general, which had but lately been still discharged with lustre by M. Turgot and M. Necker, fell on the 30th of October, 1784, into the hands of M. de Calonne.

Born in 1734 at Douai, Charles Alexander de Calonne belonged to a family of magistrates of repute and influence in their province; he commenced his hereditary career by the perfidious manoeuvres which contributed to the ruin of M. de la Chalotais. Discredited from the very first by a dishonorable action, he had invariably managed to get his vices forgotten, thanks to the charms of a brilliant and fertile wit. Prodigal and irregular as superintendent of Lille, he imported into the comptroller-generalship habits and ideas opposed to all the principles of Louis XVI. "The peace would have given hope a new run," says M. Necker in his Memoires, "if the king had not confided the important functions of administering the finances to a man more worthy of being the hero of courtiers than the minister of a king. The reputation of M. de Calonne was a contrast to the morality of Louis XVI., and I know not by what argumentation, by what ascendency such a prince was induced to give a place in his council to a magistrate who was certainly found agreeable in the most elegant society of Paris, but whose levity and principles were dreaded by the whole of France. Money was lavished, largesses were multiplied, there was no declining to be good-natured or complaisant, economy was made the object of ridicule, it was daringly asserted that immensity of expenditure, animating circulation, was the true principle of credit."

M. de Calonne had just been sworn in at the Court of Aids, pompously attended by a great number of magistrates and financiers; he was for the first time transacting business with the king. "Sir," said he, "the comptrollers-general have many means of paying their debts: I have at this moment two hundred and twenty thousand livres' worth payable on demand; I thought it right to tell your Majesty, and leave everything to your goodness." Louis XVI., astounded at such language, stared a moment at his minister, and then, without any answer, walked up to a desk. "There are your two hundred and twenty thousand livres," he said at last, handing M. de Calonne a packet of shares in the Water Company. The comptroller-general pocketed the shares, and found elsewhere the resources necessary for paying his debts. "If my own affairs had not been in such a bad state, I should not have undertaken those of France," said Calonne gayly to M. de Machault, at that time advanced in age and still the centre of public esteem. The king, it was said, had but lately thought of sending for him as minister in the room of M. de Maurepas, he had been dissuaded by the advice of his aunts; the late comptroller-general listened gravely to his frivolous successor; the latter told the story of his conversation with the king. "I had certainly done nothing to deserve a confidence so extraordinary," said M. de Machault to his friends. He set out again for his estate at Arnonville, more anxious than ever about the future.

If the first steps of M. de Calonne dismayed men of foresight and of experience in affairs, the public was charmed with them, no less than the courtiers. The bail des fermes was re-established, the Caisse d'escompte had resumed payment, the stockholders (rentiers) received their quarters' arrears, the loan whereby the comptroller-general met all expenses had reached eleven per cent. "A man who wants to borrow," M. de Calonne would say, "must appear rich, and to appear rich he must dazzle by his expenditure. Act we thus in the public administration. Economy is good for nothing, it warns those who have money, not to lend it to an indebted treasury, and it causes decay among the arts which prodigality vivifies." New works, on a gigantic scale, were undertaken everywhere. "Money abounds in the kingdom," the comptroller-general would remark to the king; "the people never had more openings for work; lavishness rejoices their eyes, because it sets their hands going. Continue these splendid undertakings, which are an ornament to Paris, Bordeaux, Lyons, Nantes, Marseilles, and Nimes, and which are almost entirely paid for by those flourishing cities. Look to your ports, fortify Havre, and create a Cherbourg, braving the jealousy of the English. None of those measures which reveal and do not relieve the straits of the treasury! The people, whom declaiming jurisconsults so vehemently but vainly incite to speak evil of lavishness, would be grieved if they saw any interruption in the expenditure which a silly parsimony calls superfluous."

The comptroller-general's practice tallied with his theories; the courtiers had recovered the golden age; it was scarcely necessary to solicit the royal favor. "When I saw everybody holding out hands, I held out my hat," said a prince. The offices abolished by M. Turgot and M. Necker were re-established, the abuses which they had removed came back, the acceptances (acquits de comptant) rose in 1785 to more than a hundred and thirty-six millions of livres. The debts of the king's brothers were paid; advantageous exchanges of royal lands were effected to their profit; the queen bought St. Cloud, which belonged to the Duke of Orleans; all the great lords who were ruined, all the courtiers who were embarrassed, resumed the pleasant habit of counting upon the royal treasury to relieve their wants. The polite alacrity of the comptroller-general had subdued the most rebellious; he obtained for Brittany the right of freely electing its deputies; the states-hall at Rennes, which had but lately resounded with curses upon him, was now repeating a new cry of "Hurrah for Calonne!" A vote of the assembly doubled the gratuitous gift which the province ordinarily offered the king. "If it is possible, it is done," the comptroller would say to applicants; "if it is impossible, it will get done."

The captivation was general, the blindness seemed to be so likewise; a feverish impulse carried people away into all newfangled ways, serious or frivolous. Mesmer brought from Germany his mysterious revelations in respect of problems as yet unsolved by science, and pretended to cure all diseases around the magnetic battery; the adventurer Cagliostro, embellished with the title of count, and lavishing gold by handfuls, bewitched court and city, and induced Councillor d'Epremesnil to say, "The friendship of M. de Cagliostro does me honor." At the same time splendid works in the most diverse directions maintained at the topmost place in the world that scientific genius of France which the great minds of the seventeenth century had revealed to Europe. "Special men sometimes testify great disdain as regards the interest which men of the world may take in their labors, and, certainly, if it were merely a question of appraising their scientific merit, they would be perfectly right. But the esteem, the inclination of the public for science, and the frequent lively expression of that sentiment, are of high importance to it, and play a great part in its history. The times for that sympathy, somewhat ostentatious and frivolous as it may be, have always been, as regards sciences, times of impulse and progress, and, regarding things in their totality, natural history and chemistry profited by the social existence of M. de Buffon and of M. Lavoisier as much as by their discoveries" [M. Guizot, Melanges biographiques, Madame de Rumford].

It was this movement in the public mind, ignorant but sympathetic, which, on the eve of the Revolution, supported, without understanding them, the efforts of the great scholars whose peaceful conquests survived the upheaval of society. Farmer-general (of taxes) before he became a chemist, Lavoisier sought to apply the discoveries of science to common and practical wants. "Devoted to the public instruction, I will seek to enlighten the people," he said to the king who proposed office to him. The people were to send him to the scaffold. The ladies of fashion crowded to the brilliant lectures of Fourcroy.

The princes of pure science, M. de Lagrange, M. de Laplace, M. Monge, did not disdain to wrench themselves from their learned calculations in order to second the useful labors of Lavoisier. Bold voyagers were scouring the world, pioneers of those enterprises of discovery which had appeared for a while abandoned during the seventeenth century. M. de Bougainville had just completed the round of the world, and the English captain, Cook, during the war which covered all seas with hostile ships, had been protected by generous sympathy. On the 19th of March, 1779, M. de Sartines, at that' time minister of marine, wrote by the king's order, at the suggestion of M. Turgot: "Captain Cook, who left Plymouth in the month of July, 1776, on board the frigate Discovery, to make explorations on the coasts, islands, and seas of Japan and California, must be on the point of returning to Europe. As such enterprises are for the general advantage of all nations, it is the king's will that Captain Cook be treated as the commander of a neutral and allied power, and that all navigators who meet this celebrated sailor do inform him of his Majesty's orders regarding him."

Captain Cook was dead, massacred by the savages, but the ardor which had animated him was not extinct; on the 10th of August, 1785, a French sailor, M. de La Peyrouse, left Brest with two frigates for the purpose of completing the discoveries of the English explorer. The king had been pleased to himself draw up his instructions, bearing the impress of an affectionate and over-strained humanity. "His Majesty would regard it as one of the happiest successes of the expedition," said the instructions, "if it were terminated without having cost the life of a single man." La Peyrouse and his shipmates never came back. Louis XVI. was often saddened by it. "I see what it is quite well," the poor king would repeat, "I am not lucky."

M. de La Peyrouse had scarcely commenced the preparations for his fatal voyage, when, on the 5th of June, 1783, the States of the Vivarais, assembled in the little town of Annonay, were invited by MM. de Montgolfier, proprietors of a large paper-manufactory, to be witnesses of an experiment in physics. The crowd thronged the thoroughfare. An enormous bag, formed of a light canvas lined with paper, began to swell slowly before the curious eyes of the public; all at once the cords which held it were cut, and the first balloon rose majestically into the air. Successive improvements made in the Montgolfiers' original invention permitted bold physicists ere long to risk themselves in a vessel attached to the air-machine. There sailed across the Channel a balloon bearing a Frenchman, M. Blanchard, and an Englishman, Dr. Jefferies; the latter lost his flag. Blanchard had set the French flag floating over the shores of England; public enthusiasm welcomed him on his return. The queen was playing cards at Versailles. "What I win this game shall go to Blanchard," she said. The same feat, attempted a few days later by a professor of physics, M. Pilatre de Rozier, was destined to cost him his life.

So many scientific explorations, so many new discoveries of nature's secrets were seconded and celebrated by an analogous movement in literature. Rousseau had led the way to impassioned admiration of the beauties of nature; Bernardin de St. Pierre had just published his Etudes de la Nature; he had in the press his Paul et Virginie; Abbe Delille was reading his Jardin, and M. de St. Lambert his Saisons. In their different phases and according to their special instincts, all minds, scholarly or political, literary or philosophical, were tending to the same end, and pursuing the same attempt. It was nature which men wanted to discover or recover: scientific laws and natural rights divided men's souls between them. Buffon was still alive, and the great sailors were every day enriching with their discoveries the Jardin du Roi; the physicists and the chemists, in the wake of Lavoisier, were giving to science a language intelligible to common folks; the jurisconsults were attempting to reform the rigors of criminal legislation at the same time with the abuses they had entailed, and Beaumarchais was bringing on the boards his Manage de Figaro.

The piece had been finished and accepted at the Theatre Francais since the end of 1781, but the police-censors had refused permission to bring it out. Beaumarchais gave readings of it; the court itself was amused to see itself attacked, caricatured, turned into ridicule; the friends of Madame de Polignac reckoned among the most ardent admirers of the Manage de Figaro. The king desired to become acquainted with the piece. He had it read by Madame de Campan, lady of the chamber to the queen, and very much in her confidence. The taste and the principles of Louis XVI. were equally shocked. "Perpetually Italian concetti!" he exclaimed. When the reading was over: "It is detestable," said the king; "it shall never be played; the Bastille would have to be destroyed to make the production of this play anything but a dangerous inconsistency. This fellow jeers at all that should be respected in a government."

Louis XVI. had correctly criticised the tendencies as well as the effects of a production sparkling with wit, biting, insolent, licentious; but he had relied too much upon his persistency in his opinions and his personal resolves. Beaumarchais was more headstrong than the king; the readings continued. The hereditary grand-duke of Russia, afterwards Paul I., happening to be at Paris in 1782, under the name of Count North, no better diversion could be thought of for him than a reading of the Manage de Figaro. Grimm undertook to obtain Beaumarchais' consent. "As," says Madame de Oberkirsch, who was present at the reading, "as the mangy (chafouin) looks of M. de la Harpe had disappointed me, so the fine face, open, clever, somewhat bold, perhaps, of M. de Beaumarchais bewitched me. I was found fault with for it. I was told he was a good-for-naught. I do not deny it, it is possible; but he has prodigious wit, courage enough for anything, a strong will which nothing can stop, and these are great qualities."

Beaumarchais took advantage of the success of the reading to boldly ask the keeper of the seals for permission to play the piece; he was supported by public curiosity, and by the unreflecting enthusiasm of a court anxious to amuse itself; the game appeared to have been won, the day for its representation, at the Menus-Plaisirs Theatre, was fixed, an interdiction on the part of the king only excited the ill-humor and intensified the desires of the public. "This prohibition appeared to be an attack upon liberty in general," says Madame Campan. "The disappointment of all hopes excited discontent to such a degree, that the words oppression and tyranny were never uttered, in the days preceding the fall of the throne, with more passion and vehemence." Two months later, the whole court was present at the representation of the Marriage de Figaro, given at the house of M. de Vandreuil, an intimate friend of the Duchess of Polignac, on his stage at Gennevilliers. "You will see that Beaumarchais will have more influence than the keeper of the seals," Louis XVI. had said, himself foreseeing his own defeat. The Mariage de Figaro was played at the Theatre Francais on the 27th of April, 1784.

"The picture of this representation is in all the collections of the period," says M. de Lomenie. "It is one of the best known reminiscences of the eighteenth century; all Paris hurrying early in the morning to the doors of the Theatre Francais, the greatest ladies dining in the actresses' dressing-room in order to secure places." "The blue ribands," says Bachaumont, "huddled up in the crowd, and elbowing Savoyards; the guard dispersed, the doors burst, the iron gratings broken beneath the efforts of the assailants." "Three persons stifled," says La Harpe, "one more than for Scudery; and on the stage, after the rising of the curtain, the finest collection of talent that had probably ever had possession of the Theatre Francais, all employed to do honor to a comedy scintillating with wit, irresistibly lively and audacious, which, if it shocks and scares a few of the boxes, enchants, rouses, and fires an electrified pit." A hundred representations succeeding the first uninterruptedly, and the public still eager to applaud, such was the twofold result of the audacities of the piece and the timid hesitations of its censors. The Mariage de Figgaro bore a sub-title, la Folle Journee. "There is something madder than my piece," said Beaumarchais, "and that is its success." Figaro ridiculed everything with a dangerously pungent vigor; the days were coming when the pleasantry was to change into insults. Already public opinion was becoming hostile to the queen: she was accused of having remained devoted to the interests of her German family; the people were beginning to call her the Austrian. During the American war, M. de Vergennes had managed to prevail upon the king to remain neutral in the difficulties that arose in 1778 between Austria and Prussia on the subject of the succession to the elector palatine; the young queen had not wanted or had not been able to influence the behavior of France, as her mother had conjured her to do. "My dear lady— daughter," wrote Maria Theresa, "Mercy is charged to inform you of my cruel position, as sovereign and as mother. Wishing to save my dominions from the most cruel devastation, I must, cost what it may, seek to wrest myself from this war, and, as a mother, I have three sons who are not only running the greatest danger, but are sure to succumb to the terrible fatigues, not being accustomed to that sort of life. By making peace at this juncture, I not only incur the blame of great pusillanimity, but I render the king of Prussia still greater, and the remedy must be prompt. I declare to you, my head whirls and my heart has for a long time been entirely numb." France had refused to engage in the war, but she had contributed to the peace of Teschen, signed on the 13th of May, 1779. On the 29th of November, 1780, Maria Theresa died at the age of sixty-three, weary of life and of that glory to which she "was fain to march by all roads," said the Great Frederick, who added: "It was thus that a woman executed designs worthy of a great man."

In 1784, Joseph II. reigned alone. Less prudent and less sensible than his illustrious mother, restless, daring, nourishing useful or fanciful projects, bred of humanity or disdain, severe and affectionate at the same time towards his sister the queen of France, whose extravagance he found fault with during the trip he made to Paris in 1777, he was now pressing her to act on his behalf in the fresh embarrassments which his restless ambition had just excited in Europe. The mediation of King Louis XVI. between the emperor and the Dutch, as to the navigation of the Scheldt, had just terminated the incident pacifically: the king had concluded a treaty of defensive alliance with Holland. The minister of war, M. de Segur, communicated to the queen the note he had drawn up on this important question. "I regret," he said to Marie Antoinette, "to be obliged to give the king advice opposed to the desire of the emperor." "I am the emperor's sister, and I do not forget it," answered the queen; "but I remember above all that I am queen of France and mother of the dauphin." Louis XVI. had undertaken to pay part of the indemnity imposed upon Joseph II.; this created discontent in France. "Let the emperor pay for his own follies," people said; and the ill-humor of the public openly and unjustly accused the queen.

This direful malevolence on the part of public opinion, springing from a few acts of imprudence and fomented by a long series of calumnies, was about to burst forth on the occasion of a scandalous and grievous occurrence. On the 15th of August, 1785, at Mass-time, Cardinal Rohan, grand almoner of France, already in full pontificals, was arrested in the palace of Versailles and taken to the Bastille. The king had sent for him into his cabinet. "Cardinal," said Louis XVI. abruptly, "you bought some diamonds of Boehmer?" "Yes, Sir." "What have you done with them?" "I thought they had been sent to the queen." "Who gave you the commission?" (The cardinal began to be uneasy.) "A lady, the Countess de la Motte Valois, . . . she gave me a letter from the queen; I thought I was obliging her Majesty. . . . " The queen interrupted. She had never forgiven M. de Rohan for some malevolent letters written about her when she was dauphiness. On the accession of Louis XVI. this intercepted correspondence had cost the prince his embassy to Vienna. "How, sir," said the queen, "could you think, you to whom I have never spoken for eight years, that I should choose you for conducting this negotiation, and by the medium of such a woman?" "I was mistaken, I see; the desire I felt to please your Majesty misled me," and he drew from his pocket the pretended letter from the queen to Madame de la Motte. The king took it, and, casting his eye over the signature: "How could a prince of your house and my grand almoner suppose that the queen would sign Marie Antoinette de France? Queens sign their names quite short. It is not even the queen's writing. And what is the meaning of all these doings with jewellers, and these notes shown to bankers?"

The cardinal could scarcely stand; he leaned against the table. "Sir," he stammered, "I am too much overcome to be able to reply." "Walk into this room, cardinal," rejoined the king kindly; "write what you have to say to me." The written explanations of M. de Rohan were no clearer than his words; an officer of the body-guard took him off to the Bastille; he had, just time to order his grand-vicar to burn all his papers.

The correspondence as well as the life of M. de Rohan was not worthy of a prince of the church: the vices and the credulity of the cardinal had given him over, bound hand and foot, to an intriguing woman as adroit as she was daring. Descended from a bastard of Henry II.'s, brought up by charity and married to a ruined nobleman, Madame de la Motte Valois had bewitched, duped, and robbed Cardinal Rohan. Accustomed to an insensate prodigality, asserting everywhere that a man of gallantry could not live on twelve hundred thousand livres a year, he had considered it very natural that the queen should have a fancy for possessing a diamond necklace worth sixteen hundred thousand livres. The jewellers had, in fact, offered this jewelry to Marie Antoinette; it was during the American war. "That is the price of two frigates," the king had said. "We want ships and not diamonds," said the queen, and dismissed her jeweller. A few months afterwards he told anybody who would listen that he had sold the famous collar in Constantinople for the favorite sultana. "This was a real pleasure to the queen," says Madame Campan; "she, however, expressed some astonishment that a necklace made for the adornment of Frenchwomen should be worn in the seraglio, and, thereupon, she talked to me a long while about the total change which took place in the tastes and desires of women in the period between twenty and thirty years of age. She told me that when she was ten years younger she loved diamonds madly, but that she had no longer any taste for anything but private society, the country, the work and the attentions required by the education of her children. From that moment until the fatal crisis there was nothing more said about the necklace."

The crisis would naturally come from the want of money felt by the jewellers. Madame de la Motte had paid them some instalments on account of the stones, which her husband had sold in England: they grew impatient and applied to the queen. For a long while she did not understand their applications: when the complaints of the purveyors at last made her apprehend an intrigue, she sent for Abbe de Vermond and Baron de Breteuil, minister of the king's household both detested the cardinal, both fanned the queen's wrath; she decided at last to tell the king everything. "I saw the queen after the departure of the baron and the abbe," says Madame Campan; "she made me tremble at her indignation." The cardinal renounced the privileges of his rank and condition; he boldly accepted the jurisdiction of the Parliament.

The trial revealed a gross intrigue, a disgraceful comedy, a prince of the church and a merchant equally befooled by a shameless woman, with the aid of the adventurer Cagliostro, and the name, the favors, and even the personality of the queen impudently dragged in. The public feeling was at its height, constantly over-excited by the rumors circulated during the sessions of the court. Opinion was hostile to the queen. "It was for her and by her orders that the necklace was bought," people said. The houses of Conde and Rohan were not afraid to take sides with the cardinal: these illustrious personages were to be seen, dressed in mourning, waiting for the magistrates on their way, in order to canvass them on their relative's behalf. On the 31st of May, 1786, the court condemned Madame de la Motte to be whipped, branded, and imprisoned; they purely and simply acquitted Cardinal Rohan. In its long and continual tussle with the crown, the Parliament had at last found the day of its revenge: political passions and the vagaries of public opinion had blinded the magistrates.

"As soon as I knew the cardinal's sentence, I went to the queen," says Madame Campan. "She heard my voice in the room leading to her closet; she called to me. I found her very sad. She said to me in a broken voice: 'Condole with me; the intriguer who wanted to ruin me, or procure money by using my name and forging my signature, has just been fully acquitted. But,' she added vehemently, 'as a Frenchwoman, accept my condolence. A people is very unfortunate to have for its supreme tribunal a lot of men who consult nothing but their passions, and of whom some are capable of bribery and others of an audacity which they have always displayed towards authority, and of which they have just given a striking example against those who are clothed therewith.' The king entered at this moment. 'You find the queen in great affliction,' he said to me: 'she has great reason to be. But what then! They would not see in this business anything save a prince of the church and the prince of Rohan, whereas it is only the case of a man in want of money and a mere dodge for raising the wind, wherein the cardinal has been swindled in his turn. Nothing can be easier to understand, and it needs no Alexander to cut this Gordian knot.'"

Guilty in the king's eyes, a dupe according to the judgment of history, Cardinal Rohan was exiled to his abbey of Chaise-Dieu, less to be pitied than the unhappy queen abruptly wrenched from the sweet dreams of a romantic friendship and confidence, as well as from the nascent joys of maternal happiness, to find herself henceforth confronting a deluded people and an ever increasing hostility which was destined to unjustly persecute her even to the block.

M. de Calonne had taken little part in the excitement which the trial of Cardinal Rohan caused in court and city he was absorbed by the incessantly recurring difficulties presented by the condition of the treasury; speculation had extended to all classes of society; loans succeeded loans, everywhere there were formed financial companies, without any resources to speak of, speculating on credit. Parliament began to be alarmed, and enregistered no more credits save with repugnance. Just as he was setting out on a trip to Normandy, which afforded him one of the last happy days of his life and as it were a dying flicker of his past popularity, the king scratched out on the registers of the Parliament the restrictions introduced by the court into the new loan of eighty millions presented by M. de Calonne. "I wish it to be known that I am satisfied with my comptroller-general," said Louis XVI. with that easy confidence which he did not always place wisely. When he returned from Cherbourg, at the end of June, 1786, M. de Calonne had at last arrived at the extremity of his financial expedients. He set his views and his ideas higher. Speculation was succeeded by policy.

"Sir," said the note handed to the king by the comptroller-general, "I will not go back to the fearful position in which the finances were when your Majesty deigned to intrust them to me. It is impossible to recall without a shudder that there was at that time neither money nor credit, that the pressing debts were immense, the revenues exhausted in anticipation, the resources annihilated, the public securities valueless, the coinage impoverished and without circulation, the discount-fund bankrupt, the general tax-exchequer (ferme general) on the point of failing to meet its bills, and the royal treasury reduced to two bags of 1200 livres. I am far from claiming credit for the success of the operations which, owing to the continuous support given by your Majesty, promptly established abundance of coin, punctuality in the payments, public confidence proved by the rise in all securities and by the highest degree of credit, abroad as well as at home: what I must forcibly call your Majesty's attention to is the importance of the present moment, the terrible embarrassment concealed beneath the appearance of the happiest tranquillity, the necessity of soon taking some measure for deciding the lot of the state. It must be confessed, Sir, that France at this moment is only kept up by a species of artifice; if the illusion which stands for reality were destroyed, if the confidence at present inseparable from the working staff were to fail, what would become of us with a deficit of a hundred millions every year? Without a doubt no time must be lost in filling up a void so enormous; and that can be done only by great measures. The plan I have formed appears to me the one that can solve so difficult a problem. Solely occupied with this great object, which demands enormous labor, and for the accomplishment of which I would willingly sacrifice my existence, I only beg your Majesty to accord to me, until I have carried it out, so much support and appearance of favor as I need to give me strength to attain it. It will perhaps be an affair of six months or a year at most. After that your Majesty may do as you please with me; I shall have followed the promptings of the heartiest zeal for your service, I shall be able to say,—
               'Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domino.'"



This mysterious plan, which was to produce results as desirable as rare, and which M. de Calonne had hit upon to strengthen his shaky position, was the same which, in 1628, had occurred to Cardinal Richelieu, when he wanted to cover his responsibility in regard to the court of Rome. In view of the stress at the treasury, of growing discontent, of vanished illusions, the comptroller-general meditated convoking the Assembly of Notables, the feeble resource of the old French kingship before the days of pure monarchy, an expedient more insufficient and more dangerous than the most far-seeing divined after the lessons of the philosophers and the continuous abasement of the kingly Majesty.

The convocation of the Notables was the means upon which M. de Calonne relied; the object was the sanctioning of a financial system new in practice but old in theory. When the comptroller-general proposed to the king to abolish privileges, and assess the impost equally, renouncing the twentieths, diminishing the gabel, suppressing custom-houses in the interior and establishing provincial assemblies, Louis XVI. recognized an echo of his illustrious ministers. "This is sheer Necker!" he exclaimed. "In the condition in which things are, Sir, it is the best that can be done," replied M. de Calonne. He had explained his reasons to the king in an intelligent and able note.

"Such a plan," said the comptroller-general, after having unfolded his projects, "demands undoubtedly the most solemn examination and the most authentic sanction. It must be presented in the form most calculated. to place it beyond reach of any retardation and to acquire for it unassailable strength by uniting all the suffrages of the nation. Now, there is nothing but an assembly of notables that can fulfil this aim. It is the only means of preventing all parliamentary resistance, imposing silence on the clergy, and so clinching public opinion that no special interest dare raise a voice against the overwhelming evidence of the general interest. Assemblies of notables were held in 1558, in 1583, in 1596, in 1617, and in 1626; none was convoked for objects so important as those in question now, and never were circumstances' more favorable to success; as the situation requires strong measures, so it permits of the employment of strong means."

The king hesitated, from instinctive repugnance and the traditions of absolutism, at anything that resembled an appeal to the people. He was won, however, by the precedent of Henry IV. and by the frank honesty of the project. The secret was strictly kept. The general peace was threatened afresh by the restless ambition of Joseph II. and by the constant encroachments of the Empress Catherine. The Great Frederick was now dead. After being for a long while the selfish disturber of Europe, he had ended by becoming its moderator, and his powerful influence was habitually exerted on behalf of peace. The future was veiled and charged with clouds. M. de Vergennes, still possessing Louis XVI.'s confidence, regarded with dread the bold reforms proposed by M. de Calonne; he had yielded to the comptroller-general's representations, but he made all haste to secure for France some support in Europe; he concluded with England the treaty of commerce promised at the moment of signing the peace. There was a lively debate upon it in the English Parliament. Mr. Fox, then in opposition, violently attacked the provisions of the treaty; Mr. Pitt, quite young as yet, but already established in that foremost rank among orators and statesmen which he was to occupy to his last hour, maintained the great principles of European policy. "It is a very false maxim," said he, "to assert that France and England are not to cease to be hostile because they have been so heretofore. My mind revolts at so monstrous a principle, which is an outrage upon the constitution of societies as well as upon the two nations. Situated as we are in respect of France, it is expedient, it is a matter of urgency for the welfare of the two countries, to terminate this constant enmity which has been falsely said to be the basis of the true sentiments felt by the two nations towards each other. This treaty tends to augment the means of making war and to retard its coming."

Generous and sound maxims, only too often destined to be strikingly belied by human passions! When he supported in the House of Commons, in 1786, an alliance with monarchical France, Mr. Pitt did not foresee the terrible struggle he—would one day maintain, in the name of England and of Europe, against revolutionary, anarchical, or absolutist France.

The treaty had just been signed (September 26, 1786). M. de Vergennes was not long to survive his latest work: he died on the 13th of February, 1787, just before the opening of the Assembly of Notables, as if he would fain escape the struggle and the crisis he dreaded. Capable and far-sighted in his foreign policy, ever conciliatory and sometimes daring, M. de Vergennes, timid and weak as he was in home affairs, was nevertheless esteemed: he had often served as a connecting link between the different elements of the government. The king gave his place to M. de Montmorin, an honest but insignificant man, without influence in France as well as in Europe.

On the 29th of December, 1786, at the close of the despatch-council, the king at last broke the silence he had so long kept even as regarded the queen herself. "Gentlemen," he said, "I shall convoke for the 29th of January an assembly composed of persons of different conditions and the best qualified in the state, in order to communicate to them my views for the relief of my people, the ordering of the finances, and the reformation of several abuses." Louis XVI.'s hesitations had disappeared: he was full of hope. "I have not slept a wink all night," he wrote on the morning of the 30th of December to M. de Calonne, "but it was for joy."

The sentiments of the public were very diverse: the court was in consternation. "What penalty would King Louis XIV. have inflicted upon a minister who spoke of convoking an assembly of notables?" asked old Marshal Richelieu, ever witty, frivolous, and corrupt. "The king sends in his resignation," said the young Viscount de Segur. At Paris curiosity was the prevalent feeling; but the jokes were bitter. "The comptroller-general has raised a new troop of comedians; the first performance will take place on Monday the 20th instant," said a sham play-bill: "they will give us the principal piece False Confidences, followed by Forced Consent and an allegorical ballot, composed by M. de Calonne, entitled The Tub of the Danaids."

The convocation of the notables was better received in the provinces: it was the first time for a hundred and sixty years that the nation had been called upon to take a part, even nominally, in the government of its affairs; it already began to feel powerful and proud. A note had been sent to the Journal de Paris to announce the convocation of the Assembly. "The nation," it said, "will see with transport that the king deigns to draw near to her." The day of excessive humiliation was no more, even in forms; M. de Calonne modified the expression thus: "The nation will see with transport that the king draws near to her."

Indisposition on the part of the comptroller-general had retarded the preparatory labors; the session opened on the 22d of February, 1787. The Assembly numbered one hundred and forty-four members, all nominated by the king: to wit, seven princes of the blood; fourteen archbishops and bishops; thirty-six dukes and peers, marshals of France and noblemen; twelve councillors of state and masters of requests; thirty-eight magistrates of sovereign courts; twelve deputies of states-districts, the only ones allowed to present to the king memorials of grievances; and twenty-five municipal officers of the large towns. In this Assembly, intended to sanction the abolition of privileges, a few municipal officers alone represented the third estate and the classes intended to profit by the abolition. The old Marquis of Mirabeau said facetiously: "This Calonne assembles a troop of Guillots, which he calls the nation, to present them with the cow by the horns, and say to them, 'Gentlemen, we take all the milk and what not, we devour all the meat and what not, and we are going to try and get that what not out of the rich, whose money has no connection with the poor, and we give you notice that the rich means you. Now, give us your opinion as to the manner of proceeding.'"

The king's speech was short and unimportant. Though honestly impressed with reminiscences of Henry IV., he could not manage, like him, to say to the notables he had just convoked, "I have had you assemble to take your counsels, to trust in them, to follow them, in short, to place myself under tutelage in your hands,—a feeling which is scarcely natural to kings, graybeards, and conquerors; but the violent love I bear my subjects, the extreme desire I have to add the title of liberator and restorer of this realm to that of king, make me find everything easy and honorable." M. de Calonne had reserved to himself the duty of explaining the great projects he had suggested to the king. "Gentle men," said he in his exordium, "the orders I am under at present do me the more honor in that the views of which the king has charged me to set before you the sum and the motives have been entirely adopted by him personally." Henry IV. might have said to the notables assembled by his successor, as he had said regarding his predecessors: "You were summoned hither not long ago to approve of the king's wishes."

The state was prosperous, at any rate in appearance; the comptroller-general assumed the credit for it. "The economy of a minister of finance," he said, "may exist under two forms so different that one might say they were two sorts of economy: one, which strikes the eye by its external strictness, which proclaims itself by startling and harshly uttered refusals, which flaunts its severity in the smallest matters in order to discourage the throng of applicants. It has an imposing appearance which really proves nothing, but which does a great deal as regards opinion; it has the double advantage of keeping importunate cupidity at arm's length and of quieting anxious ignorance. The other, which considers duty rather than force of character, can do more, whilst showing less strictness and reserve, as regards whatever is of any importance; it affects no austerity as regards that which is of none; it lets the talk be of what it grants, and does not talk about what it saves. Because it is seen to be accessible to requests, people will not believe that it refuses the majority of them; because it has not the useful and vulgar character of inflexibility, people refuse it that of wise discretion, and often, whilst by assiduous application to all the details of an immense department, it preserves the finances from the most fatal abuses and the most ruinously unskilful handling, it seems to calumniate itself by an easy-going appearance which the desire to injure transforms very soon into lavishness."

So much easy grace and adroitness succeeding the austere stiffness of M. Necker had been powerless to relieve the disorder of the finances; it was great and of ancient date. "A deficit has been existing in France for centuries," the comptroller-general asserted. It at last touched the figure of a hundred millions a year. "What is left for filling up so frightful a void and for reaching the desired level?" exclaimed M. de Calonne: "abuses! Yes, gentlemen, it is in abuses themselves that there is to be found a mine of wealth which the state has a right to reclaim and which must serve to restore order. Abuses have for their defenders interests, influence, fortune, and some antiquated prejudices which time seems to have respected. But of what force is such a vain confederation against the public welfare and the necessity of the state? Let others recall this maxim of our monarchy: 'As willeth the king, so willeth the law;' his Majesty's maxim is: 'As willeth the happiness of the people, so willeth the king.'"

Audaciously certain of the success of his project, M. de Calonne had not taken the trouble to disguise the vast consequences of it; he had not thought any the more about pre-securing a majority in the assembly. The members were divided into seven committees presided over by the princes; each committee disposed of one single vote; the comptroller-general had not taken exception to the selections designated by his adversaries. "I have made it a point of conscience," he said, "to give suitable nominations according to the morality, and talent, and importance of individuals." He had burned his ships, and without a care for the defective composition of the assembly, he set forth, one after the other, projects calculated to alarm the privileged orders. "More will be paid," he said in the preamble printed at the head of his notes and circulated in profusion over the whole of France, "undoubtedly more will be paid, but by whom? . . . By those only who do not pay enough; they will pay what they ought, according to a just proportionment, and nobody will be aggrieved. Privileges will be sacrificed! Yes! Justice wills it, necessity requires it! Would it be better to surcharge the non-privileged, the people?"

The struggle was about to begin, with all the ardor of personal interest; the principle of provincial assemblies had been favorably received by the notables; the committees (bureaux) had even granted to the third estate a representation therein equal to that of the two upper orders, on condition that the presidents of the delegates should be chosen from the nobility or the clergy. The recognition of a civil status for Protestants did not seem likely to encounter any difficulty. For more than twenty years past the parliaments, especially the parliament of Toulouse, had established the ruling of the inadmissibility of any one who disputed the legitimacy of children issue of Protestant marriages. In 1778, the parliament of Paris had deliberated as to presenting to the king a resolution in favor of authentic verification of non-Catholic marriages, births, and deaths; after a long interval, on, the 2d of February, 1787, this resolution had been formally, promulgated.

It was M. de Lafayette who had the honor of supporting in the assembly of notables the royal project announced by M. de Calonne and advised by the Parliament. In the ministry, MM. de Castries and De Breteuil had supported the equitable measure so long demanded by Protestants. M. de Rulhieres had drawn up for the king a note, entitled: Historic Evidences as to the Causes of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and M. de Malesherbes had himself presented to Louis XVI. a scheme for a law. "It is absolutely necessary," said he, "that I should render the Protestants some kind offices; my great-uncle De Baville did them so much injury!" The Assembly of notables appealed to the king's benevolence on behalf of "that considerable portion of his subjects which groans under a regimen of proscription equally opposed to the general interests of religion, to good morals, to population, to national industry, and to all the principles of morality and policy." "In the splendid reign of Louis XIV.," M. de Calonne had said, "the state was impoverished by victories, and the kingdom dispeopled through intolerance." "Are assemblies of non-Catholics dangerous?" asked M. Turgot. "Yes, as long as they are forbidden; no, when they are authorized."

The preliminary discussions had been calm, the great question was coming on; in theory, the notables were forced to admit the principle of equal assessment of the impost; in practice, they were, for the most part, resolved to restrict its application. They carried the war into the enemy's camp, and asked to examine the financial accounts. The king gave notice to the committees that his desire was to have the deliberations directed not to the basis of the question but to the form of collection of taxes. The Archbishop of Narbonne (Dillon) raised his voice against the king's exclusive right to decide upon imposts. "Your Royal Highness will allow me to tell you," was the reply made to the Count of Artois, president of his committee, by an attorney-general of the parliament of Aix, M. de Castillon, "that there exists no authority which can pass a territorial impost such as that proposed, nor this assembly, august as it may be, nor the parliaments, nor the several states, nor the king himself; the States-general alone would have that power."

Thus was proposed, in the very midst of the Assembly intended to keep it out, that great question of the convocation of the States-general which had been so long uppermost in all minds. "It is the States-general you demand!" said the Count of Artois to M. de La Fayette. "Yes, my lord," replied the latter, "and something better still if possible!" The comptroller-general continued to elude inquiry into the state of the treasury. M. Necker, offended by the statements of his successor, who questioned the truthfulness of the Report, addressed explanatory notes to the several committees of the Assembly. He had already, in 1784, published an important work in explanation and support of his financial system; the success of the book had been immense; in spite of the prohibition issued, at first, against the sale, but soon tacitly withdrawn, the three volumes had sold, it was said, to the extent of eighty thousand copies. In 1787, the late director-general asked leave to appear before the Assembly of notables to refute the statements of M. de Calonne; permission was refused. "I am satisfied with your services," the king sent word to him, "and I command you to keep silence." A pamphlet, without any title, was however sent to the notables. "I served the king for five years," said M. Necker, "with a zeal which knew no limits the duties I had taken upon myself were the only object of my solicitude. The interests of the state had become my passion and occupied all my faculties of heart and mind. Forced to retire through a combination of singular circumstances, I devoted my powers to the composition of a laborious work, the utility of which appears, to me to have been recognized. I heard it said that a portion of those ideas about administration which had been so dear to me formed the basis of the projects which were to be submitted to the Assembly of notables. I rendered homage to the beneficent views of his Majesty. Content with the contributions I had offered to the common weal, I was living happily and in peace, when all at once I found myself attacked or rather assailed in the most unjust and the strangest manner. M. de Calonne, finding it advisable to trace to a very remote period the causes of the present condition of the finances, was not afraid, in pursuance of this end, to have recourse to means with which he will, probably, sooner or later reproach himself; he declared in a speech, now circulated throughout Europe, that the Report to his Majesty, in 1781, was so extraordinarily erroneous, that, instead of the surplus published in that Report, there was, at that very time, an enormous deficit."

At the moment when M. Necker was publishing, as regarded the statements of M. de Calonne, an able rectification which did not go to the bottom of things any more than the Report had previously gone, the comptroller-general was succumbing beneath his enemies' attacks and his own errors. Justly irritated at the perfidious manoeuvres practised against him by the keeper of the seals in secretly heading at the Assembly of notables the opposition of the magistracy, Calonne had demanded and obtained from the king the recall of M. Miromesnil. He was immediately superseded by M. de Lamoignon, president of the parliament of Paris and a relative of M. de Malesherbes. The comptroller-general had the imprudence to push his demands further; he required the dismissal of M. de Breteuil. "I consent," said Louis XVI. after some hesitation; "but leave me time to forewarn the queen, she is much attached to M. de Breteuil." When the king quitted Marie Antoinette, the situation had changed face; the disgrace of M. de Calonne was resolved upon.

The queen had represented the dissatisfaction and opposition of the notables, which "proceeded solely," she said, "from the mistrust inspired by the comptroller-general;" she had dwelt upon the merits and resources of the Archbishop of Toulouse. "I don't like priests who haven't the virtues of their cloth," Louis XVI. had answered dryly. He called to the ministry M. Fourqueux, councillor of state, an old man, highly esteemed, but incapable of sustaining the crushing weight of affairs. The king himself presented M. de Calonne's last projects to the Assembly of notables; the rumor ran that the comptroller-general was about to re-enter the cabinet. Louis XVI. was informed of the illicit manoeuvres which M. de Calonne had authorized in operations on 'Change: he exiled him to his estate in Berry, and a few days afterwards to Lorraine. M. Necker had just published without permission his reply to the attacks of M. de Calonne the king was put out at it. "The eye of the public annoys those who manage affairs with carelessness," M. Necker had but lately said in his work on financial administration, "but those who are animated by a different spirit would be glad to multiply lights from every quarter." "I do not want to turn my kingdom into a republic screeching over state affairs as the city of Geneva is, and as happened during the administration of M. Necker," said Louis XVI. He, banished his late minister to a distance of twenty leagues from Paris. Madame Necker was ill, and the execution of the king's order was delayed for a few days.

Meanwhile the notables were in possession of the financial accounts, but the satisfaction caused them by the disgrace of M. de Calonne was of short duration; they were awaiting a new comptroller-general, calculated to enlighten them as to the position of affairs. M. de Montmorin and M. de Lamoignon were urgent for the recall of M. Necker. The king's ill feeling against his late minister still continued. "As long as M. Necker exists," said M. de Montmorin, "it is impossible that there should be any other minister of finance, because the public will always be annoyed to see that post occupied by any but by him." "I did not know M. Necker personally," adds M. de Montmorin in his notes left to Marmontel; "I had nothing but doubts to oppose to what the king told me about his character, his haughtiness, and his domineering spirit." Louis XVI. yielded, however. "Well!" he said, snappishly, "if it must be, recall him." M. de Breteuil was present. "Your Majesty," said he, "has but just banished M. Necker he has scarcely arrived at Montargis; to recall him now would have a deplorable effect." He once more mentioned the name of Leonie de Brienne, and the king again yielded. Ambitious, intriguing, debauched, unbelieving, the new minister, like his predecessor, was agreeable, brilliant, capable even, and accustomed in his diocese to important affairs. He was received without disfavor by public opinion. The notables and the chief of the council of finance undertook in concert the disentanglement of the accounts submitted to them.

In this labyrinth of contradictory figures and statements, the deficit alone came out clearly. M. de Brienne promised important economies, the Assembly voted a loan: they were not willing to accept the responsibility of the important reforms demanded by the king. The speeches were long and vague, the objections endless. All the schemes of imposts were censured one after the other. "We leave it to the king's wisdom," said the notables at last; "he shall himself decide what taxes will offer the least inconveniences, if the requirements of the state make it necessary to impose new sacrifices upon the people." "The notables have seen with dismay the depth of the evil caused by an administration whereof your parliament had more than once foreseen the consequence," said the premier president of the parliament of Paris. "The different plans proposed to your Majesty deserve careful deliberation. The most respectful silence is at this moment our only course."

The notables had themselves recognized their own impotence and given in their resignation. A formal closing session took place on the 25th of May, 1787. The keeper of the seals, enumerating the results of the labors of the Assembly, enregistered the royal promises as accomplished facts: "All will be set right without any shock, without any ruin of fortunes, without any alteration in the principles of government, without any of those breaches of faith which should never be so much as mentioned in the presence of the monarch of France.

"The resolved or projected reform of various abuses, and the permanent good for which the way is being paved by new laws concerted with you, gentlemen, are about to co-operate successfully for the present relief of the people.

"Forced labor is proscribed, the gabel (or salt-tax) is revised (juyee), the obstacles which hamper home trade are destroyed, and agriculture, encouraged by the free exportation of grain, will become day by day more flourishing.

"The king has solemnly promised that disorder shall not appear again in his finances, and his Majesty is about to take the most effective measures for fulfilling this sacred engagement, of which you are the depositaries.

"The administration of the state will approach nearer and nearer to the government and vigilance of a private family, and a more equitable assessment, which personal interest will incessantly watch over, will lighten the burden of impositions."

Only the provincial administrations were constituted; the hopes which had been conceived of the Assembly of notables remained more vague than before its convocation: it had failed, like all the attempts at reform made in succession by Louis XVI.'s advisers, whether earnest or frivolous, whether proved patriots or ambitious intriguers. It had, however, revealed to the whole country the deplorable disorder of the finances; it had taught the third estate and even the populace how deep was the repugnance among the privileged classes towards reforms which touched their interests. Whilst spreading, as a letter written to America by M. de La Fayette put it, "the salutary habit of thinking about public affairs," it had at the same time betrayed the impotence of the government, and the feebleness of its means of action. It was a stride, and an immense stride, towards the Revolution.

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