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A Popular History of France Vol 6
by Guizot, Francois Pierre Guillaume

Louis XV. was dead; France breathed once more; she was weary of the weakness as well as of the irregularities of the king who had untaught her her respect for him, and she turned with joyous hope towards his successor, barely twenty years of age, but already loved and impatiently awaited by his people. "He must be called Louis le Desire," was the saying in the streets before the death-rattle of Louis XV. had summoned his grandson to the throne. The feeling of dread which had seized the young king was more prophetic than the nation's joy. At the news that Louis XV. had just heaved his last sigh in the arms of his pious daughters, Louis XVI. and Maria Antoinette both flung themselves on their knees, exclaiming, "O God, protect us, direct us, we are too young."

The monarch's youth did not scare the country, itself everywhere animated and excited by a breath of youth. There were congratulations on escaping from the well-known troubles of a regency; the king's ingenuous inexperience, moreover, opened a vast field for the most contradictory hopes. The philosophers counted upon taking possession of the mind of a good young sovereign, who was said to have his heart set upon his people's happiness; the clergy and the Jesuits themselves expected everything from the young prince's pious education; the old parliaments, mutilated, crushed down, began to raise up their heads again, while the economists were already preparing their most daring projects. Like literature, the arts had got the start, in the new path, of the politicians and the magistrates. M. Turgot and M. de Malesherbes had not yet laid their enterprising hands upon the old fabric of French administration, and already painting, sculpture, architecture, and music had shaken off the shackles of the past. The conventional graces of Vanloo, of Watteau, of Boucher, of Fragonard, had given place to a severer school. Greuze was putting upon canvas the characters and ideas of Diderot's Drame naturel; but Vien, in France, was seconding the efforts of Winkelman and of Raphael Mengs in Italy; he led his pupils back to the study of ancient art; he had trained Regnault, Vincent, Menageot, and lastly Louis David, destined to become the chief of the modern school; Julien, Houdon, the last of the Coustous, were following the same road in sculpture Soufflot, an old man by this time, was superintending the completion of the church of St. Genevieve, dedicated by Louis XV. to the commemoration of his recovery at Metz, and destined, from the majestic simplicity of its lines, to the doubtful honor of becoming the Pantheon of the revolution; Servandoni had died a short time since, leaving to the church of St. Sulpice the care of preserving his memory; everywhere were rising charming mansions imitated from the palaces of Rome. The painters, the sculptors, and the architects of France were sufficient for her glory; only Gretry and Monsigny upheld the honor of that French music which was attacked by Grimm and by Jean Jacques Rousseau; but it was at Paris that the great quarrel went on between the Italians and the Germans; Piccini and Gluck divided society, wherein their rivalry excited violent passions. Everywhere and on, all questions, intellectual movement was becoming animated with fresh ardor; France was marching towards the region of storms, in the blindness of her confidence and joyante; the atmosphere seemed purer since Madame Dubarry had been sent to a convent by one of the first orders of young Louis XVI.

Already, however, far-seeing spirits were disquieted; scarcely had he mounted the throne, when the king summoned to his side, as his minister, M. de Maurepas, but lately banished by Louis XV., in 1749, on a charge of having tolerated, if not himself written, songs disrespectful towards Madame de Pompadour. "The first day," said the disgraced minister, "I was nettled; the second, I was comforted."

M. de Maurepas, grandson of Chancellor Pontchartrain, had been provided for, at fourteen years of age, by Louis XIV. with the reversion of the ministry of marine, which had been held by his father, and had led a frivolous and pleasant life; through good fortune and evil fortune he clung to the court; when he was recalled thither, at the age of sixty-three, on the suggestion of Madame Adelaide, the queen's aunt, and of the dukes of Aiguillon and La Vrilliere, both of them ministers and relations of his, he made up his mind that he would never leave it again. On arriving at Versailles, he used the expression, "premier minister." "Not at all," said the king abruptly. "O, very well," replied M. de Maurepas, "then to teach your Majesty to do without one." Nobody, however, did any business with Louis XVI. without his being present, and his address was sufficient to keep at a distance or diminish the influence of the princesses as well as of the queen. Marie Antoinette had insisted upon the recall of M. de Choiseul, who had arranged her marriage and who had remained faithful to the Austrian alliance. The king had refused angrily. The sinister accusations which had but lately been current as to the causes of the dauphin's death had never been forgotten by his son.

An able man, in spite of his incurable levity, M. de Maurepas soon sacrificed the Duke of Aiguillon to the queen's resentment; the people attached to the old court accused her of despising etiquette; it was said that she had laughed when she received the respectful condolence of aged dames looking like beguines in their coifs; already there circulated amongst the public bitter ditties, such as,
          My little queen, not twenty-one,
          Maltreat the folks, as you've begun,
          And o'er the border you shall run.  .  .  .
The Duke of Aiguillon, always hostile to the Choiseuls and the House of Austria, had lent his countenance to the murmurs; Marie Antoinette was annoyed, and, in her turn, fostered the distrust felt by the people towards the late ministers of Louis XV. In the place of the Duke of Aiguillon, who had the ministry of war and that of foreign affairs both together, the Count of Muy and the Count of Vergennes were called to power. Some weeks later, the obscure minister of marine, M. de Boynes, made way for the superintendent of the district (generalite) of Limoges, M. Turgot.

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, born at Paris on the 10th of May, 1727, was already known and everywhere esteemed, when M. de Maurepas, at the instance, it is said, of his wife whom he consulted on all occasions, summoned him to the ministry. He belonged to an ancient and important family by whom he had been intended for the Church. When a pupil at Louis-le-Grand college, he spent his allowance so quickly that his parents became alarmed; they learned before long that the young man shared all he received amongst out-of-college pupils too poor to buy books.

This noble concern for the wants of others, as well as his rare gifts of intellect, had gained young Turgot devoted friends. He was already leaning towards philosophy, and he announced to his fellow-pupils his intention of giving up his ecclesiastical status; he was a prior of Sorbonne; the majority disapproved of it. "Thou'rt but a younger son of a Norman family," they said, "and, consequently, poor. Thou'rt certain to get excellent abbotries and to be a bishop early. Then thou'lt be able to realize thy fine dreams of administration and to become a statesman at thy leisure, whilst doing all manner of good in thy diocese. It depends on thyself alone to make thyself useful to thy country, to acquire a high reputation, perhaps to carve thy way to the ministry; if thou enter the magistracy, as thou desirest, thou breakest the plank which is under thy feet, thou'lt be confined to hearing causes, and thou'lt waste thy genius, which is fitted for the most important public affairs." "I am very fond of you, my dear friends," replied M. Turgot, "but I don't quite understand what you are made of. As for me, it would be impossible for me to devote myself to wearing a mask all my life." He became councillor-substitute to the attorney-general, and before long councillor in the Parliament, on the 30th of December, 1752. Master of requests in 1753, he consented to sit in the King's Chamber, when the Parliament suspended the administration of justice. "The Court," he said, "is exceeding its powers." A sense of equity thus enlisted him in the service of absolute government. He dreaded, moreover, the corporate spirit, which he considered narrow and intolerant. "When you say, We," he would often repeat, "do not be surprised that the public should answer, You."

Intimately connected with the most esteemed magistrates and economists, such as MM. Trudaine, Quesnay, and Gournay, at the same time that he was writing in the Encyclopaedia, and constantly occupied in useful work, Turgot was not yet five and thirty when he was appointed superintendent of the district of Limoges. There, the rare faculties of his mind and his sincere love of good found their natural field; the country was poor, crushed under imposts, badly intersected by roads badly kept, inhabited by an ignorant populace, violently hostile to the recruitment of the militia. He encouraged agriculture, distributed the talliages more equitably, amended the old roads and constructed new ones, abolished forced labor (corvees), provided for the wants of the poor and wretched during the dearth of 1770 and 1771, and declined, successively, the superintendentship of Rouen, of Lyons, and of Bordeaux, in order that he might be able to complete the useful tasks he had begun at Limoges. It was in that district, which had become dear to him, that he was sought out by the kindly remembrance of Abbe de Wry, his boyhood's friend, who was intimate with Madame de Maurepas. Scarcely had he been installed in the department of marine and begun to conceive vast plans, when the late ministers of Louis XV. succumbed at last beneath the popular hatred; in the place of Abbe Terray, M. Turgot became comptroller-general.

The old parliamentarians were triumphant; at the same time as Abbe Terray, Chancellor Maupeou was disgraced, and the judicial system he had founded fell with him. Unpopular from the first, the Maupeou Parliament had remained in the nation's eyes the image of absolute power corrupted and corrupting. The suit between Beaumarchais and Councillor Goezman had contributed to decry it, thanks to the uproar the able pamphleteer had managed to cause; the families of the former magistrates were powerful, numerous, esteemed, and they put pressure upon public opinion; M. de Maurepas determined to retract the last absolutist attempt of Louis XV.'s reign; his first care was to send and demand of Chancellor Maupeou the surrender of the seals. "I know what you have come to tell me," said the latter to the Duke of La Vrilliere, who was usually charged with this painful mission, "but I am and shall continue to be chancellor of France," and he kept his seat whilst addressing the minister, in accordance with his official privilege. He handed to the duke the casket of seals, which the latter was to take straight to M. de Miromesnil. "I had gained the king a great cause," said Maupeou; "he is pleased to reopen a question which was decided; as to that he is master." Imperturbable and haughty as ever, he retired to his estate at Thuit, near the Andelys, where he drew up a justificatory memorandum of his ministry, which he had put into the king's hands, without ever attempting to enter the court or Paris again; he died in the country, at the outset of the revolutionary storms, on the 29th of July, 1792, just as he had made the State a patriotic present of 800,000 livres. At the moment when the populace were burning him in effigy in the streets of Paris together with Abbe Terray, when he saw the recall of the parliamentarians, and the work of his whole life destroyed, he repeated with his usual coolness: "If the king is pleased to lose his kingdom—well, he is master."

Abbe Terray had been less proud, and was more harshly treated. It was in vain that he sought to dazzle the young king with ably prepared memorials. "I can do no more," he said, "to add to the receipts, which I have increased by sixty millions; I can do no more to keep down the. debts, which I have reduced by twenty millions. . . . It is for you, Sir, to relieve your people by reducing the expenses. This work, which is worthy of your kind heart, was reserved for you." Abbe Terray had to refund nearly 900,000 livres to the public treasury. Being recognized by the mob as he was passing over the Seine in a ferry-boat, he had some difficulty in escaping from the hands of those who would have hurled him into the river.

The contrast was great between the crafty and unscrupulous ability of the disgraced comptroller-general and the complete disinterestedness, large views, and noble desire of good which animated his successor. After his first interview with the king, at Compiegne, M. Turgot wrote to Louis XVI.:—"Your Majesty has been graciously pleased to permit me to place before your eyes the engagement you took upon yourself, to support me in the execution of plans of economy which are at all times, and now more than ever, indispensable. I confine myself for the moment, Sir, to reminding you of these three expressions: 1. No bankruptcies; 2. No augmentation of imposts; 3. No loans. No bankruptcy, either avowed or masked by forced reductions. No augmentation of imposts the reason for that lies in the condition of your people, and still more in your Majesty's own heart. No loans; because every loan always diminishes the disposable revenue: it necessitates, at the end of a certain time, either bankruptcy or augmentation of imposts. . . . Your Majesty will not forget that, when I accepted the office of comptroller-general, I perceived all the preciousness of the confidence with which you honor me; . . . but, at the same time I perceived all the danger to which I was exposing myself. I foresaw that I should have to fight single-handed against abuses of every sort, against the efforts of such as gain by those abuses, against the host of the prejudiced who oppose every reform, and who, in the hands of interested persons, are so powerful a means of perpetuating disorder. I shall be feared, shall be even hated by the greater part of the court, by all that solicit favors. . . . This people to whom I shall have sacrificed myself is so easy to deceive, that I shall perhaps incur its hatred through the very measures I shall take to defend it against harassment. I shall be calumniated, and perhaps with sufficient plausibility to rob me of your Majesty's confidence. . . . You will remember that it is on the strength of your promises that I undertake a burden perhaps beyond my strength; that it is to you personally, to the honest man, to the just and good man, rather than to the king, that I commit myself."

It is to the honor of Louis XVI. that the virtuous men who served him, often with sorrow and without hoping anything from their efforts, always preserved their confidence in his intentions. "It is quite encouraging," wrote M. Turgot to one of his friends, "to have to serve a king who is really an honest and a well-meaning man." The burden of the necessary reforms was beyond the strength of the minister as well as of the sovereign; the violence of opposing currents was soon about to paralyze their genuine efforts and their generous hopes.

M. Turgot set to work at once. Whilst governing his district of Limoges, he had matured numerous plans and shaped extensive theories. He belonged to his times and to the school of the philosophers as regarded his contempt for tradition and history; it was to natural rights alone, to the innate and primitive requirements of mankind, that he traced back his principles and referred as the basis for all his attempts. "The rights of associated men are not founded upon their history but upon their nature," says the Memoire au Roi sur les Municipalites, drawn up under the eye of Turgot. By this time he desired no more to reform old France; he wanted a new France. "Before ten years are over," he would say, "the nation will not be recognizable, thanks to enlightenment. This chaos will have assumed a distinct form. Your Majesty will have quite a new people, and the first of peoples." A profound error, which was that of the whole Revolution, and the consequences of which would have been immediately fatal; if the powerful instinct of conservatism and of natural respect for the past had not maintained between the regimen which was crumbling away and the new fabric connections more powerful and more numerous than their friends as well as their enemies were aware of.

Two fundamental principles regulated the financial system of M. Turgot, economy in expenditure and freedom in trade; everywhere he ferreted out abuses, abolishing useless offices and payments, exacting from the entire administration that strict probity of which he set the example. Louis XVI. supported him conscientiously at that time in all his reforms; the public made fun of it. "The king," it was said, "when he considers himself an abuse, will be one no longer." At the same time, a decree of September 13, 1774, re-established at home that freedom of trade in grain which had been suspended by Abbe Terray, and the edict of April, 1776, founded freedom of trade in wine. "It is by trade alone, and by free trade, that the inequality of harvests can be corrected," said the minister in the preamble of his decree. "I have just read M. Turgot's masterpiece," wrote Voltaire to D'Alembert "it seems to reveal to us new heavens and a new earth." It was on account of his financial innovations that the comptroller-general particularly dreaded the return of the old Parliament, with which he saw himself threatened every day. "I fear opposition from the Parliament," he said to the king. "Fear nothing," replied the king warmly, "I will stand by you;" and, passing over the objections of the best politician amongst his ministers, he yielded to M. de Maurepas, who yielded to public opinion. On the 12th of November, 1774, the old Parliament was formally restored.

The king appeared at the bed of justice; the princes, the dukes, and the peers were present; the magistrates were introduced. "The king my grandfather," said Louis XVI., "compelled by your resistance to his repeated orders, did what the maintenance of his authority and the obligation of rendering justice to his people required of his wisdom. Today I recall you to functions which you never ought to have given up. Appreciate all the value of my bounties, and do not forget them." At the same time the keeper of the seals read out an edict which subjected the restored Parliament to the same jurisdiction which had controlled the Maupeou Parliament. The latter had been sent to Versailles to form a grand council there.

Stern words are but a sorry cloak for feeble actions: the restored magistrates grumbled at the narrow limits imposed upon their authority; the Duke of Orleans, the Duke of Chartres, the Prince of Conti supported their complaints; it was in vain that the king for some time met them with refusals; threats soon gave place to concessions; and the parliaments everywhere reconstituted, enfeebled in the eyes of public opinion, but more than ever obstinate and Fronde-like, found themselves free to harass, without doing any good, the march of an administration becoming every day more difficult. "Your Parliament may make barricades," Lord Chesterfield had remarked contemptuously to Montesquieu, "it will never raise barriers."

M. Turgot, meanwhile, was continuing his labors, preparing a project for equitable redistribution of the talliage and his grand system of a graduated scale (hierarchie) of municipal assemblies, commencing with the parish, to culminate in a general meeting of delegates from each province; he threatened, in the course of his reforms, the privileges of the noblesse and of the clergy, and gave his mind anxiously to the instruction of the people, whose condition and welfare he wanted to simultaneously elevate and augment; already there was a buzz of murmurs against him, confined as yet to the courtiers, when the dearness of bread and the distress which ensued till the spring of 1775 furnished his adversaries with a convenient pretext. Up to that time the attacks had been cautious and purely theoretical. M. Necker, an able banker from Geneva, for a long while settled in Paris, hand and glove with the philosophers, and keeping up, moreover, a great establishment, had brought to the comptroller-general a work which he had just finished on the trade in grain; on many points he did not share M. Turgot's opinions. "Be kind enough to ascertain for yourself," said the banker to the minister, "whether the book can be published without inconvenience to the government." M. Turgot was proud and sometimes rude. "Publish, sir, publish," said he, without offering his hand to take the manuscript; "the public shall decide." M. Necker, out of pique, published his book; it had an immense sale; other pamphlets, more violent and less solid, had already appeared; at the same moment a riot, which seemed to have been planned and to be under certain guidance, broke out in several parts of France. Drunken men shouted about the public thoroughfares, "Bread! cheap bread!"

Burgundy had always been restless and easily excited. It was at Dijon that the insurrection began; on the 20th of April, the peasantry moved upon the town and smashed the furniture of a councillor in the Maupeou Parliament, who was accused of monopoly; they were already overflowing the streets; exasperated by the cruel answer of the governor, M. de la Tour du Pin: "You want something to eat? Go and graze; the grass is just coming up." The burgesses trembled in their houses; the bishop threw himself in the madmen's way and succeeded in calming them with his exhortations. The disturbance had spread to Pontoise; there the riot broke out on the 1st of May, the market was pillaged; and the 2d, at Versailles, a mob collected under the balcony of the castle. Everywhere ruffians of sinister appearance mingled with the mob, exciting its passions and urging it to acts of violence: the same men, such as are only seen in troublous days, were at the same time scouring Brie, Soissonnais, Vexin, and Upper Normandy; already barns had been burned and wheat thrown into the river; sacks of flour were ripped to pieces before the king's eyes, at Versailles. In his excitement and dismay he promised the mob that the bread-rate should for the future be fixed at two sous; the rioters rushed to Paris.

M. Turgot had been confined to his bed for some months by an attack of gout; the Paris bakers' shops had already been pillaged; the rioters had entered simultaneously by several gates, badly guarded; only one bakery, the owner of which had taken the precaution of putting over the door a notice with shop to let on it, had escaped the madmen. The comptroller-general had himself put into his carriage and driven to Versailles: at his advice the king withdrew his rash concession; the current price of bread was maintained. "No firing upon them," Louis XVI. insisted. The lieutenant of police, Lenoir, had shown weakness and inefficiency; Marshal Biron was intrusted with the repression of the riot. He occupied all the main thoroughfares and cross-roads; sentries were placed at the bakers' doors; those who had hidden themselves were compelled to bake. The octroi dues on grain were at the same time suspended at all the markets; wheat was already going down; when the Parisians went out of doors to see the riot, they couldn't find any. "Well done, general in command of the flour (general des farina)," said the tremblers, admiring the military arrangements of Marshal Biron.

The Parliament had caused to be placarded a decree against street assemblies, at the same time requesting the king to lower the price of bread. The result was deplorable; the severe resolution, of the council was placarded beside the proclamation of the Parliament; the magistrates were summoned to Versailles. The prosecution of offenders was forbidden them; it was intrusted to the provost's department. "The proceedings of the brigands appear to be combined," said the keeper of the seals; "their approach is announced; public rumors indicate the day, the hour, the places at which they are to commit their outrages. It would seem as if there were a plan formed to lay waste the country-places, intercept navigation, prevent the carriage of wheat on the high-roads, in order to starve out the large towns, and especially the city of Paris." The king at the same time forbade any "remonstrance." "I rely," said he on dismissing the court, "upon your placing no obstacle or hinderance in the way of the measures I have taken, in order that no similar event may occur during the period of my reign."

The troubles were everywhere subsiding, the merchants were recovering their spirits. M. Turgot had at once sent fifty thousand francs to a trader whom the rioters had robbed of a boat full of wheat which they had flung into the river; two of the insurgents were at the same time hanged at Paris on a gallows forty feet high; and a notice was sent to the parish priests, which they were to read from the pulpit in order to enlighten the people as to the folly of such outbreaks and as to the conditions of the trade in grain. "My people, when they know the authors of the trouble, will regard them with horror," said the royal circular. The authors of the trouble have remained unknown; to his last day M. Turgot believed in the existence of a plot concocted by the Prince of Conti, with the design of overthrowing him.

Severities were hateful to the king; he had misjudged his own character, when, at the outset of his reign, he had desired the appellation of Louis le Severe. "Have we nothing to reproach ourselves with in these measures?" he was incessantly asking M. Turgot, who was as conscientious but more resolute than his master. An amnesty preceded the coronation, which was to take place at Rheims on the 11th of June, 1775.

A grave question presented itself as regarded the king's oath: should he swear, as the majority of his predecessors had sworn, to exterminate heretics? M. Turgot had aroused Louis XVI.'s scruples upon this subject. "Tolerance ought to appear expedient in point of policy for even an infidel prince," he said; "but it ought to be regarded as a sacred duty for a religious prince." His opinion had been warmly supported by M. de Malesherbes, premier president of the Court of Aids. The king in his perplexity consulted M. de Maurepas. "M. Turgot is right," said the minister, "but he is too bold. What he proposes could hardly be attempted by a prince who came to the throne at a ripe age and in tranquil times. That is not your position. The fanatics are more to be dreaded than the heretics. The latter are accustomed to their present condition. It will always be easy for you not to employ persecution. Those old formulas, of which nobody takes any notice, are no longer considered to be binding." The king yielded; he made no change in the form of the oath, and confined himself to stammering out a few incoherent words. At the coronation of Louis XV. the people, heretofore admitted freely to the cathedral, had been excluded; at the coronation of Louis XVI. the officiator, who was the coadjutor of Rheims, omitted the usual formula addressed to the whole assembly, "Will you have this king for your king?" This insolent neglect was soon to be replied to by the sinister echo of the sovereignty of the people. The clergy, scared by M. Turgot's liberal tendencies, reiterated their appeals to the king against the liberties tacitly accorded to Protestants. "Finish," they said to Louis XVI., "the work which Louis the Great began, and which Louis the Well-beloved continued." The king answered with vague assurances; already MM. Turgot and de Malesherbes were entertaining him with a project which conceded to Protestants the civil status.

M. de Malesherhes, indeed, had been for some months past seconding his friend in the weighty task which the latter had undertaken. Born at Paris on the 6th of December, 1721, son of the chancellor William de Lamoignon, and for the last twenty-three years premier president in the Court of Aids, Malesherbes had invariably fought on behalf of honest right and sound liberty; popularity had followed him in exile; it had increased continually since the accession of Louis XVI., who lost no time in recalling him; he had just presented to the king a remarkable memorandum touching the reform of the fiscal regimen, when M. Turgot proposed to the king to call him to the ministry in the place of the Duke of La Vrilliere. M. de Maurepas made no objection. "He will be the link of the ministry," he said, "because he has the eloquence of tongue and of heart." "Rest assured," wrote Mdlle. de Lespinasse, "that what is well will be done and will be done well. Never, no never, were two more enlightened, more disinterested, more virtuous men more powerfully knit together in a greater and a higher cause." The first care of M. de. Malesherbes was to protest against the sealed letters (lettres de cachet—summary arrest), the application whereof he was for putting in the hands of a special tribunal; he visited the Bastille, releasing the prisoners confined on simple suspicion. He had already dared to advise the king to a convocation of the states-general. "In France," he had written to Louis XVI., "the nation has always had a deep sense of its right and its liberty. Our maxims have been more than once recognized by our kings; they have even gloried in being the sovereigns of a free people. Meanwhile, the articles of this liberty have never been reduced to writing, and the real power, the power of arms, which, under a feudal government, was in the hands of the grandees, has been completely centred in the kingly power. . . . We ought not to hide from you, Sir, that the way which would be most simple, most natural, and most in conformity with the constitution of this monarchy, would be to hear the nation itself in full assembly, and nobody should have the poltroonery to use any other language to you; nobody should leave you in ignorance that the unanimous wish of the nation is to obtain states-general or at the least states-provincial. . . . Deign to consider, Sir, that on the day you grant this precious liberty to your people it may be said that a treaty has been concluded between king and nation against ministers and magistrates: against the ministers, if there be any perverted enough to wish to conceal from you the truth; against the magistrates, if there ever be any ambitious enough to pretend to have the exclusive right of telling you it."

Almost the whole ministry was in the hands of reformers; a sincere desire to do good impelled the king towards those who promised him the happiness of his people. Marshal Muy had succumbed to a painful operation. "Sir," he had said to Louis XVI., before placing himself in the surgeon's hands, "in a fortnight I shall be at your Majesty's feet or with your august father." He had succumbed. M. Turgot spoke to M. de Maurepas of the Duke of St. Germain. "Propose him to the king," said the minister, adding his favorite phrase "one can but try."

In the case of government, trials are often a dangerous thing. M. de St. Germain, born in the Jura in 1707, and entered first of all amongst the Jesuits, had afterwards devoted himself to the career of arms: he had served the Elector Palatine, Maria Theresa, and the Elector of Bavaria; enrolled finally by Marshal Saxe, he had distinguished himself under his orders; as lieutenant-general during the Seven Years' War, he had brought up his division at Rosbach more quickly than his colleagues had theirs, he had fled less far than the others before the enemy; but his character was difficult, suspicious, exacting; he was always seeing everywhere plots concocted to ruin him. "I am persecuted to the death," he would say. He entered the service of Denmark: returning to France and in poverty, he lived in Alsace on the retired list; it was there that the king's summons came to find him out. In his solitude M. de St. Germain had conceived a thousand projects of reform; he wanted to apply them all at once. He made no sort of case of the picked corps and suppressed the majority of them, thus irritating, likewise, all the privileged. "M. de St. Germain," wrote Frederick II. to Voltaire, "had great and noble plans very advantageous for your Welches; but everybody thwarted him, because the reforms he proposed would have entailed a strictness which was repugnant to them on ten thousand sluggards, well frogged, well laced." The enthusiasm which had been excited by the new minister of war had disappeared from amongst the officers; he lost the hearts of the soldiers by wanting to establish in the army the corporal punishments in use amongst the German armies in which he had served. The feeling was so strong, that the attempt was abandoned. "In the matter of sabres," said a grenadier, "I like only the edge." Violent and weak both together, in spite of his real merit and his genuine worth, often giving up wise resolutions out of sheer embarrassment, he nearly always failed in what he undertook; the outcries against the reformers were increased thereby; the faults of M. de St. Germain were put down to M. Turgot.

It was against the latter indeed, that the courtiers' anger and M. de Maurepas' growing jealousy were directed. "Once upon a time there was in France," said a pamphlet, entitled Le Songe de M. de Maurepas, attributed to Monsieur, the king's brother,—"there was in France a certain man, clumsy, crass, heavy, born with more of rudeness than of character, more of obstinacy than of firmness, of impetuosity than of tact, a charlatan in administration as well as in virtue, made to bring the one into disrepute and the other into disgust, in other respects shy from self-conceit, timid from pride, as unfamiliar with men, whom he had never known, as with public affairs, which he had always seen askew; his name was Turgot. He was one of those half-thinking brains which adopt all visions, all manias of a gigantic sort. He was believed to be deep, he was really shallow; night and day he was raving of philosophy, liberty, equality, net product." "He is too much (trop fort) for me," M. de Maurepas would often say. "A man must be possessed (or inspired— enrage)," wrote Malesherbes, "to force, at one and the same time, the hand of the king, of M. de Maurepas, of the whole court and of the Parliament."

Perhaps the task was above human strength; it was certainly beyond that of M. Turgot. Ever occupied with the public weal, he turned his mind to every subject, issuing a multiplicity of decrees, sometimes with rather chimerical hopes. He had proposed to the king six edicts; two were extremely important; the first abolished jurorships (jurandes) and masterships (maitrises) among the workmen. "The king," said the preamble, "wishes to secure to all his subjects, and especially to the humblest, to those who have no property but their labor and their industry, the full and entire enjoyment of their rights, and to reform, consequently, the institutions which strike at those rights, and which, in spite of their antiquity, have failed to be legalized by time, opinion, and even the acts of authority." The second substituted for forced labor on roads and highways an impost to which all proprietors were equally liable.

This was the first step towards equal redistribution of taxes; great was the explosion of disquietude and wrath on the part of the privileged; it showed itself first in the council, by the mouth of M. de Miromesnil; Turgot sprang up with animation. "The keeper of the seals," he said, "seems to adopt the principle that, by the constitution of the state, the noblesse ought to be exempt from all taxation. This idea will appear a paradox to the majority of the nation. The commoners (roturiers) are certainly the greatest number, and we are no longer in the days when their voices did not count." The king listened to the discussion in silence. "Come," he exclaimed abruptly, "I see that there are only M. Turgot and I here who love the people," and he signed the edicts.

The Parliament, like the noblesse, had taken up the cudgels; they made representation after representation. "The populace of France," said the court boldly, "is liable to talliage and forced labor at will, and that is a part of the constitution which the king cannot change." Louis XVI. summoned the Parliament to Versailles, and had the edicts enregistered at a bed of justice. "It is a bed of beneficence!" exclaimed Voltaire, a passionate admirer of Turgot.

The comptroller-general was triumphant; but his victory was but the prelude to his fall. Too many enemies were leagued against him, irritated both by the noblest qualities of his character, and at the same time by the natural defects of his manners. Possessed of love "for a beautiful ideal, of a rage for perfection," M. Turgot had wanted to attempt everything, undertake everything, reform everything at one blow. He fought single-handed. M. de Malesherbes, firm as a rock at the head of the Court of Aids, supported as he was by the traditions and corporate feeling of the magistracy, had shown weakness as a minister. "I could offer the king only uprightness and good-heartedness," he said himself, "two qualities insufficient to make a minister, even a mediocre one." The courtiers, in fact, called him "good-heart" (bonhomme). "M. de Malesherbes has doubts about everything," wrote Madame du Deffand; "M. Turgot has doubts about nothing." M. de Maurepas having, of set purpose, got up rather a serious quarrel with him, Malesherbes sent in his resignation to the king; the latter pressed him to withdraw it: the minister remained inflexible. "You are better off than I," said Louis XVI. at last, "you can abdicate."

For a long while the king had remained faithful to M. Turgot. "People may say what they like," he would repeat, with sincere conviction, "but he is an honest man!" Infamous means were employed, it is said, with the king; he was shown forged letters, purporting to come from M. Turgot, intercepted at the post and containing opinions calculated to wound his Majesty himself. To pacify the jealousy of M. de Maurepas, Turgot had given up his privilege of working alone with the king. Left to the adroit manoeuvres of his old minister, Louis XVI. fell away by degrees from the troublesome reformer against whom were leagued all those who were about him. The queen had small liking for M. Turgot, whose strict economy had cut down the expenses of her household; contrary to their usual practice, her most trusted servants abetted the animosity of M. de Maurepas. "I confess that I am not sorry for these departures," wrote Marie Antoinette to her mother, after the fall of M. Turgot, "but I have had nothing to do with them." "Sir," M. Turgot had written to Louis XVI., "monarchs governed by courtiers have but to choose between the fate of Charles I. and that of Charles XI." The coolness went on increasing between the king and his minister. On the 12th of May, 1776, the comptroller-general entered the king's closet; he had come to speak to him about a new project for an edict; the exposition of reasons was, as usual, a choice morsel of political philosophy. "Another commentary!" said the king with temper. He listened, however. When the comptroller-general had finished, "Is that all?" asked the king. "Yes, Sir." "So much the better," and he showed the minister out. A few hours later, M. Turgot received his dismissal.

He was at his desk, drawing up an important decree; he laid down his pen, saying quietly, "My successor will finish;" and when M. de Maurepas hypocritically expressed his regret, "I retire," said M. Turgot, "without having to reproach myself with feebleness, or falseness, or dissimulation." He wrote to the king: "I have done, Sir, what I believed to be my duty in setting before you, with unreserved and unexampled frankness, the difficulty of the position in which I stood and what I thought of your own. If I had not done so, I should have considered myself to have behaved culpably towards you. You, no doubt, have come to a different conclusion, since you have withdrawn your confidence from me; but, even if I were mistaken, you cannot, Sir, but do justice to the feeling by which I was guided. All I desire, Sir, is that you may always be able to believe that I was short-sighted, and that I pointed out to you merely fanciful dangers. I hope that time may not justify me, and that your reign may be as happy and as tranquil, for yourself and your people, as they flattered themselves it would be, in accordance with your principles of justice and beneficence."

Useless wishes, belied in advance by the previsions of M. Turgot himself. He had espied the danger and sounded some of the chasms just yawning beneath the feet of the nation as well as of the king; he committed the noble error of believing in the instant and supreme influence of justice and reason. "Sir," said he to Louis XVI., "you ought to govern, like God, by general laws." Had he been longer in power, M. Turgot would still have failed in his designs. The life of one man was too short, and the hand of one man too weak to modify the course of events, fruit slowly ripened during so many centuries. It was to the honor of M. Turgot that he discerned the mischief and would fain have applied the proper remedy. He was often mistaken about the means, oftener still about the strength he had at disposal. He had the good fortune to die early, still sad and anxious about the fate of his country, without having been a witness of the catastrophes he had foreseen and of the sufferings as well as wreckage through which France must pass before touching at the haven he would fain have opened to her.

The joy of the courtiers was great, at Versailles, when the news arrived of M. Turgot's fall; the public regretted it but little: the inflexible severity of his principles which he never veiled by grace of manners, a certain disquietude occasioned by the chimerical views which were attributed to him, had alienated many people from him. His real friends were in consternation. "I was but lately rejoicing," said Abbe Very, "at the idea that the work was going on of coolly repairing a fine edifice which time had damaged. Henceforth, the most that will be done will be to see after repairing a few of its cracks. I no longer indulge in hopes of its restoration; I cannot but apprehend its downfall sooner or later." "O, what news I hear!" writes Voltaire to D'Alembert; "France would have been too fortunate. What will become of us? I am quite upset. I see nothing but death for me to look forward to, now that M. Turgot is out of office. It is a thunderbolt fallen upon my brain and upon my heart."

A few months later M. de St. Germain retired in his turn, not to Alsace again, but to the Arsenal with forty thousand livres for pension. The first, the great attempt at reform had failed. "M. de Malesherbes lacked will to remain in power," said Abbe Wry, "M. Turgot conciliatoriness (conciliabilite), and M. de Maurepas soul enough to follow his lights." "M. de Malesherbes," wrote Condorcet, "has, either from inclination or from default of mental rectitude, a bias towards eccentric and paradoxical ideas; he discovers in his mind numberless arguments for and against, but never discovers a single one to decide him. In his private capacity he had employed his eloquence in proving to the king and the ministers that the good of the nation was the one thing needful to be thought of; when he became minister, he employed it in proving that this good was impossible." "I understand two things in the matter of war," said M. de St. Germain just before he became minister, "to obey and to command; but, if it comes to advising, I don't know anything about it." He was, indeed, a bad adviser; and with the best intentions he had no idea either how to command or how to make himself obeyed. M. Turgot had correctly estimated the disorder of affairs, when he wrote to the king on the 30th of April, a fortnight before his disgrace: "Sir, the parliaments are already in better heart, more audacious, more implicated in the cabals of the court than they were in 1770, after twenty years of enterprise and success. Minds are a thousand times more excited upon all sorts of matters, and your ministry is almost as divided and as feeble as that of your predecessor. Consider, Sir, that, in the course of nature, you have fifty years to reign, and reflect what progress may be made by a disorder which, in twenty years, has reached the pitch at which we see it."

Turgot and Malesherbes had fallen; they had vainly attempted to make the soundest as well as the most moderate principles of pure philosophy triumphant in the government; at home a new attempt, bolder and at the same time more practical, was soon about to resuscitate for a while the hopes of liberal minds; abroad and in a new world there was already a commencement of events which were about to bring to France a revival of glory and to shed on the reign of Louis XVI. a moment's legitimate and brilliant lustre.


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