« VorigeDoorgaan »
justice of Louis the Fourteenth received their just reward, in the loss of the staple manufactures of his kingdom, which not only declined in France, but were transferred to the dominions of his rivals.
Louis the Fourteenth in his Chamber.
The reign of Louis the Fourteenth has been termed the Augustan age of France. This monarch had none of the commanding qualities which create a nation or an era, and he would not have been distinguished from common princes in common circumstances. Destitute himself of the true sentiment of greatness, he yet
became, fortuitously, the instrument of great deeds, and his reign will always be a memorable period in history. France made great progress under his rule, for which, however, she was no further indebted to him than as he was a general encourager of every thing that could flatter his pride and vanity. He was perpetually told that he was the greatest of all mortals, and he believed it. One of his ablest panegyrists has summed
up his character by saying, that, if he was not a great king, he was, at least, a great actor of royalty.
Louis the Fourteenth was born in 1638. On the death of his father, in 1643, he succeeded to the crown, under the regency of his mother, Anne of Austria. France was disturbed by a civil war, and the royal family were obliged to leave the capital, and wander from province to province. The education of the young king was much neglected, and he was kept ig. norant of most things useful to a monarch. The les. son most strongly impressed upon him from his child. hood was the sentiment of his own importance. Taught by his flatterers that he himself was every thing, and that his subjects were nothing in the comparison, he considered no sacrifice of theirs too great for the promotion of his glory, or the gratification of his desires. Cardinal Mazarin was at first his prime minister; but after his death, in 1661, Louis determined to govern by himself, and that office became vacant. An ignorant young man, whose time had been devoted to amusement, could not, however, really manage the concerns of a great nation ; and it was fortunate for him that able officers, in all the departments of state,
had been formed under the preceding administrations. To the genius of Colbert, the great financier, France is indebted for the revival of her commerce, and the splendid establishments of manufactures and the arts which Aourished in the early part of this reign. It was he, who, though unlearned himself, yet capable of valuing literature, suggested to Louis that plan of pensioning all the eminent men of letters throughout Europe, which at a very small expense secured to him more erudite adulation than any other prince in modern times has received.
Louis made war upon his neighbours for his own glory and to amuse the ladies of his court. Holland was at that time flourishing by her commerce and col. onies, and, with her prosperity, had adopted a character of republican haughtiness. Louis, who could endure no pride in competition with his own, and who viewed the wealth of this country as a tempting prey, found a frivolous pretext for quarrelling with the Dutch. He poured a vast army into Holland, and overran nearly all the country. Amsterdam was saved only by laying the surrounding territory under water. The ambition
. and rapacity of Louis stirred up coalitions against him, and he was forced to abandon Holland as speedily as he had conquered it. Other wars followed, with Spain, the German Empire, and other powers. Louis, attended by his courtiers, ladies, and all the pomp luxury of a court, formed several sieges in person, and his generals took care that he should always prove successful. He carried with him historiograph. ers to record his exploits, and every act that flattery could devise was employed to exalt him in his
own estimation and in the eyes of Europe. He received from his subjects the title of the Great,” which for a considerable time seemed durably attached to his name; but he lived to see it lost among foreigners, and it has finally become obsolete among his own country.
From the palace of St. Cloud one may descry the spire of the abbey of St. Denis, where the kings of France are entombed. Louis could endure the sight of nothing that reminded him of his mortality. He determined upon a residence in another quarter, and Versailles was built, at an expense so enormous, that even Louis himself was alarmed on examining the accounts, and ordered them to be burnt, that the world might never know what monstrous sums had been squandered upon his pleasures. His leading object was always his personal grandeur, and in whatever point any other prince had attained greatness, he resolved to emulate him. Absolute master of a rich and powerful country, he employed all its resources to surpass every competitor in all that could conduce to his own glory. This disposition led to many truly great and useful projects, but, for want of limit and moderation, it defeated its own purposes, and exhausted the means before the end had been attained. If the age of Louis the Fourteenth was that in which the reputation of France for arms, arts, literature, and magnificence stood at its highest pitch, it was also that of its wretchedness and humiliation ; and this king ought rather to be regarded as the squanderer of his country's wealth than as the author of its prosperity. The conceited and egotistical French nation, however, found its own
vanity gratified by the assumed superiority of le Grand Monarque, and regarded him with the most profound and servile veneration.
Louis the Fourteenth was a most regular and devout observer of the forms of religion ; yet in morals he was far from setting an example of virtue, or even of decency. More than one chapter in the history of France must be occupied by the scandalous chronicle of his mistresses. He seemed to claim the privilege of impudent licentiousness as the exclusive prerogative of the crown. In his expedition through the conquered places of Flanders, he displayed to the eyes of Europe the shameful sight of a king, calling himself “ Most Christian,” accompanied by his wife and two ack/fowledged mistresses, sometimes all together in the same carriage, sometimes each in her own vehicle, with the royal guard riding at the side of each. The simple peasantry, unable to conceive the full impudence of crime, imagined that a new law had been framed for the especial pleasure of the monarch, and, running forward to behold the splendid display of concubinage and adultery, asked each other if they had
the three queens. Every species of ostentatious luxury, magnificent palaces and gardens, works of art, shows of pomp and splendor, and infinite sums of money, were lavished upon these favorites. Yet Louis, thus living in the violation of every moral duty, received high praise, because “he never ate meat on a fast day, except when ill, and never was absent a single day from mass, but once, on a very long march.” One after another, his mistresses were discarded and new ones assumed,