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

We have followed the course of good and bad fortune; we have exhibited France engaged abroad in a policy at the same time bold and generous, proceeding from rancor as well as from the sympathetic enthusiasm of the nation; we have seen the war, at first feebly waged, soon extending over every sea and into the most distant colonies of the belligerents, though the European continent was not attacked at any point save the barren rock of Gibraltar; we have seen the just cause of the United States triumphant and freedom established in the New World: it is time to inquire what new shocks had been undergone by France whilst she was supporting far away the quarrel of the revolted colonies, and what new burdens had come to be added to the load of difficulties and deceptions which she had seemed to forget whilst she was fighting England at so many different points. It was not without great efforts that France had acquired the generous fame of securing to her allies blessings which she did not herself yet possess to their full extent; great hopes, and powers fresh and young had been exhausted in the struggle: at the close of the American war M. Necker was played out politically as well as M. Turgot.

It was not to supersede the great minister who had fallen that the Genevese banker had been called to office. M. de Maurepas was still powerful, still up and doing; he loved power, in spite of his real levity and his apparent neglectfulness. M. Turgot had often galled him, had sometimes forced his hand; M. de Clugny, who took the place of the comptroller-general, had no passion for reform, and cared for nothing but leading, at the treasury's expense, a magnificently scandalous life; M. de Malesherbes had been succeeded in the king's household by Marquis Amelot. "At any rate," said M. de Maurepas, "nobody will accuse me of having picked him out for his wits."

Profoundly shocked at the irreligious tendencies of the philosophers, the court was, nevertheless, aweary of the theoricians and of their essays in reform; it welcomed the new ministers with delight; without fuss, and as if by a natural recurrence to ancient usage, the edict relative to forced labor was suspended, the anxieties of the noblesse and of the clergy subsided; the peasantry knew nothing yet of M. Turgot's fall, but they soon found out that the evils from which they had imagined they were delivered continued to press upon them with all their weight. For their only consolation Clugny opened to them the fatal and disgraceful chances of the lottery, which became a royal institution. To avoid the remonstrances of Parliament, the comptroller-general established the new enterprise by a simple decree of the council. "The entries being voluntary, the lottery is no tax and can dispense with enregistration," it was said. It was only seventy-five years later, in 1841, under the government of King Louis Philippe and the ministry of M. Humann, that the lottery was abolished, and this scandalous source of revenue forbidden to the treasury.

So much moral weakness and political changeableness, so much poltroonery or indulgence towards evil and blind passions disquieted serious minds, and profoundly shook the public credit. The Dutch refused to carry out the loan for sixty millions which they had negotiated with M. Turgot; the discount-fund (caisse d'escompte) founded by him brought in very slowly but a moderate portion of the assets required to feed it; the king alone was ignorant of the prodigalities and irregularities of his minister. M. de Maurepas began to be uneasy at the public discontent, he thought of superseding the comptroller-general: the latter had been ill for some time, on the 22d of October he died. By the advice of M. de Maurepas, the king sent for M. Necker.

James Necker was born at Geneva in 1732. Engaging in business without any personal taste for it and by his father's wish, he had been successful in his enterprises; at forty he was a rich man, and his banking-house enjoyed great credit when he retired from business, in 1772, in order to devote himself to occupations more in accordance with his natural inclinations. He was ambitious and disinterested. The great operations in which he had been concerned had made his name known. He had propped up the Compagnie des Indes nearly falling to pieces, and his financial resources had often ministered to the necessities of the State. "We entreat your assistance in the day of need," wrote Abbe Terray when he was comptroller-general; "deign to come to our assistance with a sum which is absolutely necessary." On ceasing to be a banker, Necker soon gave indications of the direction in which his thoughts turned; he wrote an indifferent Bloge de Colbert, crowned by the French Academy, in 1773. He believed that he was destined to wear the mantle of Louis XIV.'s great minister.

Society and public opinion exercised an ever increasing influence in the eighteenth century; M. Necker managed to turn it to account. He had married, in 1764, Mdlle. Suzanne Curchod, a Swiss pastor's daughter, pretty, well informed, and passionately devoted to her husband, his successes and his fame. The respectable talents, the liberality, the large scale of living of M. and Madame Necker attracted round them the literary and philosophical circle; the religious principles, the somewhat stiff propriety of Madame Necker maintained in her drawing-room an intelligent and becoming gravity which was in strong contrast with the licentious and irreligious frivolity of the conversations customary among the philosophers as well as the courtiers. Madame Necker paid continuous and laborious attention to the duties of society. She was not a Frenchwoman, and she was uncomfortably conscious of it. "When I came to this country," she wrote to one of her fair friends, "I thought that literature was the key to everything, that a man cultivated his mind with books only, and was great by knowledge only." Undeceived by the very fact of her admiration for her husband, who had not found leisure to give himself up to his natural taste for literature, and who remained rather unfamiliar with it, she made it her whole desire to be of good service to him in the society in which she had been called upon to live with him. "I hadn't a word to say in society," she writes; "I didn't even know its language. Obliged, as a woman, to captivate people's minds, I was ignorant how many shades there are of self-love, and I offended it when I thought I was flattering it. Always striking wrong notes and never hitting it off, I saw that my old ideas would never accord with those I was obliged to acquire; so I have hid my little capital away, never to see it again, and set about working for my living and getting together a little stock, if I can." Wit and knowledge thus painfully achieved are usually devoid of grace and charm. Madame du Deffand made this a reproach against M. Necker as well as his wife "He wants one quality, that which is most conducive to agreeability, a certain readiness which, as it were, provides wits for those with whom one talks; he doesn't help to bring out what one thinks, and one is more stupid with him than one is all alone or with other folks." People of talent, nevertheless, thronged about M. and Madame Necker. Diderot often went to see them; Galiani, Raynal, Abbe Morellet, M. Suard, quite young yet, were frequenters of the house; Condorcet did not set foot in it, passionately enlisted as he was amongst the disciples of M. Turgot, who were hostile to his successor; Bernardin de St. Pierre never went thither again from the day when the reading of Paul and Virginia had sent the company to sleep. "At first everybody listens in silence," says M. Aime Martin; "by degrees attention flags, people whisper, people yawn, nobody listens any more; M. de Buffon looks at his watch and asks for his carriage; the nearest to the door slips out, Thomas falls asleep, M. Necker smiles to see the ladies crying, and the ladies ashamed of their tears dare not acknowledge that they have been interested."

The persistent admiration of the general public, and fifty imitations of Paul and Virginia published in a single year, were soon to avenge Bernardin de St. Pierre for the disdainful yawns of the philosophers. It is pretty certain that Madame Necker's daughter, little Germaine, if she were present at the reading, did not fall asleep as M. Thomas did, and that she was not ashamed of her tears.

Next to M. Buffon, to whom Madame had vowed a sort of cult, and who was still writing to this faithful friend when he was near his last gasp, M. Thomas had more right than anybody to fall asleep at her house if he thought fit. Marmontel alone shared with him the really intimate friendship of M. and Madame Necker; the former had given up tragedies and moral tales; a pupil of Voltaire, without the splendor and inexhaustible vigor of his master, he was less prone to license, and his feelings were more serious; he was at that time correcting his Elements de Litterature, but lately published in the Encyclopaedie, and commencing the Memoires d'un pere, pour servir d l'instruction de ses enfants. Thomas was editing his Eloges, sometimes full of eloquence, often subtle and delicate, always long, unexceptionable, and wearisome. His noble character had won him the sincere esteem and affection of Madame Necker. She, laboriously anxious about the duties politeness requires from the mistress of a house, went so far as to write down in her tablets "To recompliment M. Thomas more strongly on the song of France in his poem of Pierre le Grand." She paid him more precious homage when she wrote to him: "We were united in our youth in every honorable way; let us be more than ever united now when ripe age, which diminishes the vivacity of impressions, augments the force of habit, and let us be more than ever necessary to one another when we live no longer save in the past and in the future, for, as regards myself, I, in anticipation, lay no store by the approbation of the circles which will surround us in our old age, and I desire nothing among posterity but a tomb to which I may precede M. Necker, and on which you will write the epitaph. Such resting-place will be dearer to me than that among the poplars which cover the ashes of Rousseau."

It was desirable to show what sort of society, cultivated and virtuous, lively and serious, all in one, the new minister whom Louis XVI. had just called to his side had managed to get about him. Though friendly with the philosophers, he did not belong to them, and his wife's piety frequently irked them. "The conversation was a little constrained through the strictness of Madame Necker," says Abbe Morellet; "many subjects could not be touched upon in her presence, and she was particularly hurt by freedom in religious opinions." Practical acquaintance with business had put M. Necker on his guard against the chimerical theories of the economists. Rousseau had exercised more influence over his mind; the philosopher's wrath against civilization seemed to have spread to the banker, when the latter wrote in his Traite sur le commerce des grains, "One would say that a small number of men, after dividing the land between them, had made laws of union and security against the multitude, just as they would have made for themselves shelters in the woods against the wild beasts. What concern of ours are your laws of property? the most numerous class of citizens might say: we possess nothing. Your laws of right and wrong? We have nothing to defend. Your laws of liberty? If we do not work to-morrow, we shall die."

Public opinion was favorable to M. Necker, his promotion was well received; it presented, however, great difficulties: he had been a banker, and hitherto the comptrollers-general had all belonged to the class of magistrates or superintendents; he was a Protestant, and, as such, could not hold any office. The clergy were in commotion; they tried certain remonstrances. "We will give him up to you," said M. de Maurepas, "if you undertake to pay the debts of the state." The opposition of the church, however, closed to the new minister an important opening; at first director of the treasury, then director-general of finance, M. Necker never received the title of comptroller-general, and was not admitted to the council. From the outset, with a disinterestedness not devoid of ostentation, he had declined the salary attached to his functions. The courtiers looked at one another in astonishment. "It is easy to see that he is a foreigner, a republican, and a Protestant," people said. M. de Maurepas laughed. "M. Necker," he declared, "is a maker of gold; he has introduced the philosopher's stone into the kingdom."

This was for a long while the feeling throughout France. "No bankruptcies, no new imposts, no loans," M. Turgot had said, and had looked to economy alone for the resources necessary to restore the finances. Bolder and less scrupulous, M. Necker, who had no idea of having recourse to either bankruptcy or imposts, made unreserved use of the system of loans. During the five years that his ministry lasted, the successive loans he contracted amounted to nearly five hundred million livres. There was no security given to insure its repayment to the lenders. The mere confidence felt in the minister's ability and honesty had caused the money to flow into the treasury.

M. Necker did not stop there: a foreigner by birth, he felt no respect for the great tradition of French administration; practised in the handling of funds, he had conceived as to the internal government of the finances theories opposed to the old system; the superintendents established a while ago by Richelieu had become powerful in the central administration as well as in the provinces, and the comptroller-general was in the habit of accounting with them; they nearly all belonged to old and notable families; some of them had attracted the public regard and esteem. The new minister suppressed several offices and diminished the importance of some others; he had taken away from M. Trudaine, administrator of gabels and heavy revenues (grosses fermes), the right of doing business with the king; M. Trudaine sent in his resignation; he was much respected, and this reform was not approved of. "M. Necker," people said, "wants to be assisted by none but removable slaves." At the same time the treasurers-general, numbering forty-eight, were reduced to a dozen, and the twenty-seven treasurers of marine and war to two; the farmings-general (of taxes) were renewed with an advantage to the treasury of fifteen millions. The posts at court likewise underwent reform; the courtiers saw at one blow the improper sources of their revenues in the financial administration cut off, and obsolete and ridiculous appointments, to which numerous pensions, were attached, reduced. "Acquisitions of posts, projects of marriage or education, unforeseen losses, abortive hopes, all such matters had become an occasion for having recourse to the sovereign's munificence," writes M. Necker. "One would have said that the royal treasury was bound to do all the wheedling, all the smoothing-down, all the reparation; and as the method of pensions, though pushed to the uttermost (the king was at that time disbursing in that way some twenty-eight millions of livres), could not satisfy all claims or sufficiently gratify shameful cupidity, other devices had been hit upon, and would have gone on being hit upon, every day; interests in the collection of taxes, in the customs, in army supplies, in the stores, in many pay-offices, in markets of every kind, and even in the furnishing of hospitals, all was fair game, all was worthy of the attention of persons often, from their position, the most above any business of the kind."

The discontent of the great financiers and that of the courtiers was becoming every day more noisy, without as yet shaking the credit of M. Necker. "M. Necker wants to govern the kingdom of France like his little republic of Geneva," people said: "he is making a desert round the king; each loan is the recompense for something destroyed." "Just so," answered M. de Maurepas: "he gives us millions, provided that we allow him to suppress certain offices." "And if he were to ask permission to have the superintendents' heads cut off?" "Perhaps we should give it him," said the veteran minister, laughing. "Find us the philosopher's stone, as he has done, and I promise you that his Majesty will have you into the ministry that very day."

M. Necker did not indulge in illusions, he owed to the embarrassments of the government and to the new burdens created by the American war a complaisance which his bold attempts would not have met with under other circumstances. "Nobody will ever know," he himself said, "the steadfastness I found necessary; I still recall that long and dark staircase of M. de Maurepas' which I mounted in fear and sadness, uncertain of succeeding with him as to some new idea which I had in my mind, and which aimed most frequently at obtaining an increase of revenue by some just but severe operation. I still recall that upstairs closet, beneath the roof of Versailles, but over the rooms, and, from its smallness and its situation, seeming to be really a superfine extract and abstract of all vanities and ambitions; it was there that reform and economy had to be discussed with a minister grown old in the pomps and usages of the court. I remember all the delicate management I had to employ to succeed, after many a rebuff. At last I would obtain some indulgences for the commonwealth. I obtained them, I could easily see, as recompense for the resources I had found during the war. I met with more courage in dealing with the king. Young and virtuous, he could and would hear all. The queen, too, lent me a favorable ear, but, all around their Majesties, in court and city, to how much enmity and hatred did I not expose myself? There were all kinds of influence and power which I had to oppose with firmness; there were all sorts of interested factions with which I had to fight in this perpetual struggle."

"Alas!" Madame Necker would say, "my heart and my regrets are ever yearning for a world in which beneficence should be the first of virtues. What reflections do I not make on our own particular case! I thought to see a golden age under so pure an administration; I see only an age of iron. All resolves itself into doing as little harm as possible." O the grievous bitterness of past illusions! Madame Necker consoled herself for the enmity of the court and for the impotence of that beneficence which had been her dream by undertaking on her own account a difficult reform, that of the hospitals of Paris, scenes, as yet, of an almost savage disorderliness. The sight of sick, dead, and dying huddled together in the same bed had excited the horror and the pity of Madame Necker. She opened a little hospital, supported at her expense and under her own direction, which still bears the name of Necker Hospital, and which served as a model for the reforms attempted in the great public establishments. M. Necker could not deny himself the pleasure of rendering homage to his wife's efforts in a report to the king; the ridicule thrown upon this honest but injudicious gush of conjugal pride proved the truth of what Madame Necker herself said. "I did not know the language of this country. What was called frankness in Switzerland became egotism at Paris."

The active charity of Madame Necker had won her the esteem of the Archbishop of Paris, Christopher de Beaumont, a virtuous, fanatical priest; he had gained a great lawsuit against the city of Paris, which had to pay him a sum of three hundred thousand livres. "It is our wish," said the archbishop, "that M. Necker should dispose of these funds to the greatest advantage for the state, trusting to his zeal, his love of good, and his wisdom, for the most useful employment of the said funds, and desiring further that no account be required of him, as to such employment, by any person whatsoever." The prelate's three hundred thousand livres were devoted to the internal repairs of the Hotel-Dieu. "How is it," people asked, "that the archbishop thinks so highly of M. Necker, and even dines with him?" "O!" answered the wicked wags, "it is because M. Necker is not a Jansenist, he is only a Protestant."

Notwithstanding this unusual tolerance on the part of Christopher de Beaumont, his Protestantism often placed M. Necker in an awkward position. "The title of liberator of your Protestant brethren would be a flattering one for you," said one of the pamphlets of the day, "and it would be yours forever, if you could manage to obtain for them a civil existence, to procure for them the privileges of a citizen, liberty and tolerance. You are sure of a diminution in the power of the clergy. Your vigorous edict regarding hospitals will pave the way for the ruin of their credit and their wealth; you have opened the trenches against them, the great blow has been struck. All else will not fail to succumb; you will put all the credit of the state and all the money of France in the hands of Protestant bankers, Genevese, English, and Dutch. Contempt will be the lot of the clergy, your brethren will be held in consideration. These points of view are full of genius, you will bring great address to bear upon them." M. Necker was at the same time accused of being favorable to England. "M. Necker is our best and our last friend on the Continent," Burke had said in the House of Commons. Knowing better than anybody the burdens which the war imposed upon the state, and which he alone had managed to find the means of supporting, M. Necker desired peace. It was for Catholics and philosophers that the honor was reserved of restoring to Protestants the first right of citizens, recognition of their marriages and a civil status for their children. The court, the parliaments, and the financiers were leagued against M. Necker. "Who, pray, is this adventurer," cried the fiery Epremesnil, "who is this charlatan who dares to mete out the patriotism of the French magistracy, who dares to suppose them lukewarm in their attachments and to denounce them to a young king?" The assessment of the twentieths (tax) had raised great storms; the mass of citizens were taxed rigorously, but the privileged had preserved the right of themselves making a declaration of their possessions; a decree of the council ordered verification of the income from properties. The Parliaments burst out into remonstrances. "Every owner of property has the right to grant subsidies by himself or by his representatives," said the Parliament of Paris; "if he do not exercise this right as a member of a national body, it must be reverted to indirectly, otherwise he is no longer master of his own, he is no longer undisturbed owner." Confidence in personal declarations, then, is the only indemnity for the right, which the nation has not exercised but has not lost, of itself granting and assessing the twentieths. A bold principle, even in a free state, and one on which the income-tax rests in England, but an untenable principle, without absolute equality on the part of all citizens and a common right to have their consent asked to the imposts laid upon them.

M. Necker did not belong to the court; he had never lived there, he did not set foot therein when he became minister. A while ago Colbert and Louvois had founded families and taken rank among the great lords who were jealous of their power and their wealth. Under Louis XVI., the court itself was divided, and one of the queen's particular friends, Baron do Besenval, said, without mincing the matter, in his Memoires: "I grant that the depredations of the great lords who are at the head of the king's household are enormous, revolting. . . . Necker has on his side the depreciation into which the great lords have fallen; it is such that they are certainly not to be dreaded, and that their opinion does not deserve to be taken into consideration in any political speculation."

M. Necker had a regard for public opinion, indeed he attached great importance to it, but he took its influence to be more extensive and its authority to rest on a broader bottom than the court or the parliaments would allow. "The social spirit, the love of regard and of praise," said he, "have raised up in France a tribunal at which all men who draw its eyes upon them are obliged to appear: there public opinion, as from the height of a throne, decrees prizes and crowns, makes and unmakes reputations. A support is wanted against the vacillations of ministers, and this important support is only to be expected from progress in the enlightenment and resisting power of public opinion. Virtues are more than ever in want of a stage, and it becomes essential that public opinion should rouse the actors; it must be supported, then, this opinion, it must be enlightened, it must be summoned to the aid of ideas which concern the happiness of men."

M. Necker thought the moment had come for giving public opinion the summons of which he recognized the necessity he felt himself shaken at court, weakened in the regard of M. de Maurepas, who was still puissant in spite of his great age, and jealous of him as he had been of M. Turgot; he had made up his mind, he said, to let the nation know how its affairs had been managed, and in the early days of the year 1781 he published his Compte rendu au roi.

It was a bold innovation; hitherto the administration of the finances had been carefully concealed from the eyes of the public as the greatest secret in the affairs of state; for the first time the nation was called upon to take cognizance of the position of the public estate, and, consequently, pass judgment upon its administration. "The principal cause of the financial prosperity of England, in the very midst of war," said the minister, "is to be found in the confidence with which the English regard their administration and the source of the government's credit." The annual publication of a financial report was, M. Necker thought, likely to inspire the same confidence in France. It was paying a great compliment to public opinion to attribute to it the power derived from free institutions and to expect from satisfied curiosity the serious results of a control as active as it was minute.

The Report to the king was, moreover, not of a nature to stand the investigation of a parliamentary committee. In publishing it M. Necker had a double end in view. He wanted, by an able exposition of the condition of the treasury, to steady the public credit which was beginning to totter, to bring in fresh subscribers for the loans which were so necessary to support the charges of the war; he wanted at the same time to call to mind the benefits and successes of his own administration, to restore the courage of his friends and reduce his enemies to silence. With this complication of intentions, he had drawn up a report on the ordinary state of expenditure and receipts, designedly omitting the immense sacrifices demanded by the land and sea armaments as well as the advances made to the United States. He thus arrived, by a process rather ingenious than honest, at the establishment of a budget showing a surplus of ten million livres. The maliciousness of M. de Maurepas found a field for its exercise in the calculations which he had officially overhauled in council. The Report was in a cover of blue marbled paper. "Have you read the Conte bleu (a lying story)?" he asked everybody who went to see him; and, when he was told of the great effect which M. Necker's work was producing on the public: "I know, I know," said the veteran minister, shrugging his shoulders, "we have fallen from Turgomancy into Necromancy."

M. Necker had boldly defied the malevolence of his enemies. "I have never," said he, "offered sacrifice to influence or power. I have disdained to indulge vanity. I have renounced the sweetest of private pleasures, that of serving my friends or winning the gratitude of those who are about me. If anybody owes to my mere favor a place, a post, let us have the name." He enumerated all the services he had rendered to the king, to the state, to the nation, with that somewhat pompous satisfaction which was afterwards discernible in his Memoires. There it was that he wrote: "Perhaps he who contributed, by his energies, to keep off new imposts during five such expensive years; he who was able to devote to all useful works the funds which had been employed upon them in the most tranquil times; he who gratified the king's heart by providing him with the means of distributing among his provinces the same aids as during the war, and even greater; he who, at the same time, proffered to the monarch's amiable impatience the resources necessary in order to commence, in the midst of war, the improvement of the prisons and the hospitals; he who indulged his generous inclinations by inspiring him with the desire of extinguishing the remnants of serfage; he who, rendering homage to the monarch's character, seconded his disposition towards order and economy; he who pleaded for the establishment of paternal administrations in which the simplest dwellers in the country-places might have some share; he who, by manifold cares, by manifold details, caused the prince's name to be blest even in the hovels of the poor,—perhaps such a servant has some right to dare, without blushing, to point out, as one of the first rules of administration, love and care for the people."

"On the whole," says M. Droz, with much justice, in his excellent Histoire du regne de Louis XVI., "the Report was a very ingenious work, which appeared to prove a great deal and proved nothing." M. Necker, however, had made no mistake about the effect which might be produced by this confidence, apparently so bold, as to the condition of affairs in a single year, 1781, the loans amounted to two hundred and thirty-six millions, thus exceeding in a few months the figures reached in the four previous years. A chorus of praises arose even in England, reflected from the minister on to his sovereign. "It is in economy," said Mr. Burke, "that Louis XVI. has found resources sufficient to keep up the war. In the first two years of this war, he imposed no burden on his people. The third year has arrived, there has as yet been no question of any impost, indeed I believe that those which are a matter of course in time of war have not yet been put on. I apprehend that in the long run it will no doubt be necessary for France to have recourse to imposts, but these three years saved will scatter their beneficent influence over a whole century. The French people feel the blessing of having a master and minister devoted to economy; economy has induced this monarch to trench upon his own splendor rather than upon his people's subsistence. He has found in the suppression of a great number of places a resource for continuing the war without increasing his expenses. He has stripped himself of the magnificence and pomp of royalty, but he has manned a navy; he has reduced the number of persons in his private service, but he has increased that of his vessels. Louis XVI., like a patriotic king, has shown sufficient firmness to protect M. Necker, a foreigner, without support or connection at court, who owes his elevation to nothing but his own merit and the discernment of the sovereign who had sagacity enough to discover him, and to his wisdom which can appreciate him. It is a noble example to follow: if we would conquer France, it is on this ground and with her own weapons that we must fight her: economy and reforms."

It was those reforms, for which the English orator gave credit to M. Necker and Louis XVI., that rendered the minister's fall more imminent every day. He had driven into coalition against him the powerful influences of the courtiers, of the old families whose hereditary destination was office in the administration, and of the parliament everywhere irritated and anxious. He had lessened the fortunes and position of the two former classes, and his measures tended to strip the magistracy of the authority whereof they were so jealous. "When circumstances require it," M. Necker had said in the Report, "the augmentation of imposts is in the hands of the king, for it is the power to order them which constitutes sovereign greatness;" and, in a secret Memoire which saw publicity by perfidious means: "The imposts are at their height, and minds are more than ever turned towards administrative subjects. The result is a restless and confused criticism which adds constant fuel to the desire felt by the parliaments to have a hand in the matter. This feeling on their part becomes more and more manifest, and they set to work, like all those bodies that wish to acquire power, by speaking in the name of the people, calling themselves defenders of the nation's rights; there can be no doubt but that, though they are strong neither in knowledge nor in pure love for the well-being of the state, they will put themselves forward on all occasions as long as they believe that they are supported by public opinion. It is necessary, therefore, either to take this support away from them, or to prepare for repeated contests which will disturb the tranquillity of your Majesty's reign, and will lead successively either to a degradation of authority or to extreme measures of which one cannot exactly estimate the consequences."

In order to apply a remedy to the evils he demonstrated as well as to those which he foresaw, M. Necker had borrowed some shreds from the great system of local assemblies devised by M. Turgot; he had proposed to the king and already organized in Berry the formation of provincial assemblies, recruited in every district (generalite) from among the three orders of the noblesse, the clergy, and the third estate. A part of the members were to be chosen by the king; these were commissioned to elect their colleagues, and the assembly was afterwards to fill up its own vacancies as they occurred. The provincial administration was thus confided almost entirely to the assemblies. That of Berry had already abolished forced labor, and collected two hundred thousand livres by voluntary contribution for objects of public utility. The assembly of Haute-Guyenne was in course of formation. The districts (generalites) of Grenoble, Montauban, and Moulins claimed the same privilege. The parliaments were wroth to see this assault upon their power. Louis XVI. had hesitated a long while before authorizing the attempt. "The presidents-born, the councillors, the members of the states-districts (pays d'etats), do not add to the happiness of Frenchmen in the districts which are under their administration," wrote the king in his marginal notes to M. Necker's scheme. "Most certainly Brittany, with its states, is not happier than Normandy which happens to be without them. The most just and most natural among the powers of the parliaments is that of hanging robbers of the finances. In the event of provincial administrations, it must not be taken away. It concerns and appertains to the repose of my people to preserve privileges."

The instinct of absolute power and the traditions of the kingship struggled in the narrow mind and honest heart of Louis XVI. against the sincere desire to ameliorate the position of his people and against a vague impression of new requirements. It was to the former of these motives that M. de Vergennes appealed in his Note to the king on the effect of the Report. "Your Majesty," he said, "is enjoying the tranquillity which you owe to the long experience of your ancestors, and to the painful labors of the great ministers who succeeded in establishing subordination and general respect in France. There is no longer in France clergy, or noblesse, or third estate; the distinction is factitious, merely representative and without real meaning; the monarch speaks, all else are people, and all else obey.

"M. Necker does not appear content with this happy state of things. Our inevitable evils and the abuses flowing from such a position are in his eyes monstrosities; a foreigner, a republican, and a Protestant, instead of being struck with the majestic totality of this harmony, he sees only the discordants, and he makes out of them a totality which he desires to have the pleasure and the distinction of reforming in order to obtain for himself the fame of a Solon or a Lycurgus.

"Your Majesty, Sir, told me to open my heart to you: a contest has begun between the regimen of France and the regimen of M. Necker. If his ideas should triumph over those which have been consecrated by long experience, after the precedent of Law, of Mazarin, and of the Lorraine princes, M. Necker, with his Genevese and Protestant plans, is quite prepared to set up in France a system in the finance, or a league in the state, or a 'Fronde' against the established administration. He has conducted the king's affairs in a manner so contrary to that of his predecessors that he is at this moment suspected by the clergy, hateful to the grandees of the state, hounded to the death by the heads of finance (la haute finance), dishonored amongst the magistracy. His Report, on the whole, is a mere appeal to the people, the pernicious consequences whereof to this monarchy cannot as yet be felt or foreseen. M. Necker, it is true, has won golden opinions from the philosophy and the innovators of these days, but your Majesty has long ago appraised the character of such support. In his Report M. Necker lays it down that advantage has been taken of the veil drawn over the state of the finances in order to obtain, amidst the general confusion, a credit which the state would not otherwise be entitled to. It is a new position, and a remarkable one in our history is that of M. Necker teaching the party he calls public opinion that under a good king, under a monarch beloved of the people, the minister of finance has become the sole hope, the sole security, by his moral qualities, of the lenders and experts who watch the government. It will be long before your Majesty will close up the wound inflicted upon the dignity of the throne by the hand of the very person in the official position to preserve it and make it respected by the people."

The adroit malevolence of M. de Vergennes had managed to involve in one and the same condemnation the bold innovations of M. Necker and the faults he had committed from a self-conceit which was sensitive and frequently hurt. He, had not mentioned M. de Maurepas in his long exposition of public administration, and it was upon the virtue of the finance-minister that he had rested all the fabric of public confidence. The contest was every day becoming fiercer and the parties warmer. The useful reforms, the generous concern for the woes and the wants of the people, the initiative of which belonged to M. Necker, but which the king always regarded with favor, were by turns exclusively attributed to the minister and to Louis XVI. in the pamphlets published every day. Madame Necker became anxious and heartbroken at the vexation which such attacks caused her husband. "The slightest cloud upon his character was the greatest suffering the affairs of life could cause him," writes Madame de Stael; "the worldly aim of all his actions, the land-breeze which sped his bark, was love of reputation." Madame Necker took it into her head to write, without her husband's knowledge, to M. de Maurepas to complain of the libels spread about against M. Necker, and ask him to take the necessary measures against these anonymous publications this was appealing to the very man who secretly encouraged them. "Although Madame Necker had plenty of wits, she, bred in the mountains of Switzerland, had no conception of such an idiosyncrasy as that of M. de Maurepas, a man who saw in an outspoken expression of feeling only an opportunity of discovering the vulnerable point. As soon as he knew M. Necker's susceptibility he flattered himself that, by irritating it, he would drive him to give in his resignation." [considerations sur la Revolution francaise,t. i. p. 105.]

M. Necker had gained a victory over M. de Maurepas when he succeeded in getting M. de Sartines and the Prince of Montbarrey superseded by MM. de Castries and de Segur. Late lieutenant of police, with no knowledge of administration, M. de Sartines, by turns rash and hesitating, had failed in the difficult department of the ministry of marine during a distant war waged on every sea; to him were attributed the unsatisfactory results obtained by the great armaments of France; he was engaged in the intrigue against M. Necker. The latter relied upon the influence of the queen, who supported MM. de Castries and de Segur, both friends of hers. M. de Sartines was disgraced; he dragged down with him in his fall the Prince of Montbarrey, the heretofore indifferent lieutenant of M. de Saint-Germain. M. de Maurepas was growing feeble, the friends of M. Necker declared that he drivelled, and the latter already aspired to the aged minister's place. As a first step, the director-general of finance boldly demanded to be henceforth admitted to the council.

Louis XVI. hesitated, perplexed and buffeted between contrary influences and desires. He was grateful to M. Necker for the courageous suppressions he had accomplished, and for the useful reforms whereof the honor was to remain inseparable from his name; it was at M. Necker's advice that he had abolished mortmain in his dominions. A remnant of feudal serfdom still deprived certain of the rural classes, subject to the tenement law, of the right to marry or bequeath what they possessed to their children without permission of their lord. If they left the land which made them liable to this tyranny, their heritage reverted of right to the proprietor of the fief. Perfectly admitting the iniquity of the practice, Louis XVI. did not want to strike a blow at the principle of property; he confined himself to giving a precedent which the Parliament enregistered with this reservation: "Without there being anything in the present edict which can in any way interfere with the rights of lords." A considerable number of noblemen imitated the sovereign; many held out, amongst others the chapter of St. Claude; the enfranchisement of the serfs of the Jura, in whose favor Voltaire had but lately pleaded, would have cost the chapter twenty-five thousand livres a year; the monks demanded an indemnification from government. The body serfs, who were in all places persecuted by the signiorial rights, and who could not make wills even on free soil, found themselves everywhere enfranchised from this harsh law. Louis XVI. abolished the droit de suite (henchman-law), as well as the use of the preparatory question or preliminary torture applied to defendants. The regimen of prisons was at the same time ameliorated, the dark dungeons of old times restored to daylight the wretches who were still confined in them.

So many useful and beneficent measures, in harmony with the king's honest and generous desires, but opposed to the prejudices still potent in many minds and against the interests of many people, kept up about M. Necker, for all the esteem and confidence of the general public, powerful hatreds, ably served: his admission to the council was decidedly refused. "You may be admitted," said M. de Maurepas with his, usual malice, "if you please to abjure the errors of Calvin." M. Necker did not deign to reply. "You who, being quite certain that I would not consent, proposed to me a change of religion in order to smooth away the obstacles you put in my path," says M. Necker in his Memoires, "what would you not have thought me worthy of after such baseness? It was rather in respect of the vast finance-administration that this scruple should have been raised. Up to the moment when it was intrusted to me, it was uncertain whether I was worth an exception to the general rules. What new obligation could be imposed upon him who held the post before promising?"

"If I was passionately attached to the place I occupied," says M: Necker again, "it is on grounds for which I have no reason to blush. I considered that the administrator of finance, who is responsible on his honor for ways and means, ought, for the welfare of the state and for his own reputation, to be invited, especially after several years' ministry, to the deliberations touching peace and war, and I looked upon it as very important that he should be able to join his reflections to those of the king's other servants: A place in the council may, as a general rule, be a matter in which self-love is interested; but I am going to say a proud thing: when one has cherished another passion, when one has sought praise and glory, when one has followed after those triumphs which belong to one's self alone, one regards rather coolly such functions as are shared with others."

"Your Majesty saw that M. Necker, in his dangerous proposal, was sticking to his place with a tenacity which lacks neither reason nor method," said M. de Vergennes in a secret Note addressed to the king; "he aspires to new favors, calculated from their nature to scare and rouse that long array of enemies by whom his religion, his birth, his wife, the epochs and improvements of their fortune, are, at every moment of his administration, exposed to the laughter or the scrutiny of the public. Your Majesty finds yourself once more in the position in which you were with respect to M. Turgot, when you thought proper to accelerate his retirement; the same dangers and the same inconveniences arise from the nature of their analogous systems."

It was paying M. Necker a great compliment to set his financial talents on a par with the grand views, noble schemes, and absolute disinterestedness of M. Turgot. Nevertheless, when the latter fell, public opinion had become, if not hostile, at any rate indifferent to him; it still remained faithful to M. Necker. Withdrawing his pretensions to admission into the council, the director-general of finance was very urgent to obtain other marks of the royal confidence, necessary, he said, to keep up the authority of his administration. M. de Maurepas had no longer the pretext of religion, but he hit upon others which wounded M. Necker deeply; the latter wrote to the king on a small sheet of common paper, without heading or separate line, and as if he were suddenly resuming all the forms of republicanism: "The conversation I have had with M. de Maurepas permits me to no longer defer placing my resignation in the king's hands. I feel my heart quite lacerated by it, and I dare to hope that his Majesty will deign to. preserve some remembrance of five years' successful but painful toil, and especially of the boundless zeal with which I devoted myself to his service." [May 19, 1783.]

M. Necker had been treated less harshly than M. Turgot. The king accepted his resignation without having provoked it. The queen made some efforts to retain him, but M. Necker remained inflexible. "Reserved as he was," says his daughter, "he had a proud disposition, a sensitive spirit; he was a man of energy in his whole style of sentiments." The fallen minister retired to his country-house at St. Ouen.

He was accompanied thither by the respect and regret of the public, and the most touching proofs of their esteem. "You would have said, to see the universal astonishment, that never was news so unexpected as that of M. Necker's resignation," writes Grimm in his Correspondance litteraire; "consternation was depicted on every face; those who felt otherwise were in a very small minority; they would have blushed to show it. The walks, the cafes, all the public thoroughfares were full of people, but an extraordinary silence prevailed. People looked at one another, and mournfully wrung one another's hands, as if in the presence, I would say, of a public calamity, were it not that these first moments of distress resembled rather the grief of a disconsolate family which has just lost the object and the mainstay of its hopes. The same evening they gave, at the Comedie-Francaise, a performance of the Partie de Chasse de Henri IV. I have often seen at the play in Paris allusions to passing events caught up with great cleverness, but I never saw any which were so with such palpable and general an interest. Every piece of applause, when there was anything concerning Sully, seemed, so to speak, to bear a special character, a shade appropriate to the sentiment the audience felt; it was by turns that of sorrow and sadness, of gratitude and respect; the applause often came so as to interrupt the actor the moment it was foreseen that the sequel of a speech might be applicable to the public feeling towards M. Necker. The players have been to make their excuses to the lieutenant of police, they established their innocence by proving that the piece had been on the list for a week. They have been forgiven, and it was thought enough to take this opportunity of warning the journalists not to speak of M. Necker for the future-well or ill."

M. Necker derived some balm from these manifestations of public feeling, but the love of power, the ambition that prompted the work he had undertaken, the bitterness of hopes deceived still possessed his soul. When he entered his study at St. Ouen, and saw on his desk the memoranda of his schemes, his plans for reforming the gabel, for suppressing custom-houses, for extending provincial assemblies, he threw himself back in his arm-chair, and, dropping the papers he held in his hand, burst into tears. Like him, M. Turgot had wept when he heard of the re-establishment of forced labor and jurands.

"I quitted office," says M. Necker, "leaving funds secured for a whole year; I quitted it when there were in the royal treasury more ready money and more realizable effects than had ever been there within the memory of man, and at a moment when the public confidence, completely restored, had risen to the highest pitch.

"Under other circumstances I should have been more appreciated; but it is when one can be rejected and when one is no longer essentially necessary that one is permitted to fall back upon one's own reflections. Now there is a contemptible feeling which may be easily found lurking in the recesses of the human heart, that of preferring for one's retirement the moment at which one might enjoy the embarrassment of one's successor. I should have been forever ashamed of such conduct; I chose that which was alone becoming for him who, having clung to his place from honorable motives, cannot, on quitting it, sever himself for one instant from the commonwealth."

M. Necker fell with the fixed intention and firm hope of soon regaining power. He had not calculated either the strength or inveteracy of his enemies, or the changeableness of that public opinion on which he relied. Before the distresses of the state forced Louis XVI. to recall a minister whom he had deeply wounded, the evils which the latter had sought to palliate would have increased with frightful rapidity, and the remedy would have slipped definitively out of hands too feeble for the immense burden they were still ambitious to bear.


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