« VorigeDoorgaan »
It is at Versailles that you can best understand the old régime-The monarchy overturned by the first revolution, the monarchy of Louis XIV.-Faults that he committed-Character of his successors-The alchemist and the cook-Necessity of maintaining the court nobility in public opinion by war-Impossibility of doing so-Many circumstances hastened what Louis XV. foresaw-Colbert, Law, Voltaire. -Review of the revolution and the old régime -Definition of the old ́ régime'—What Louis XVI. might have done-The court formed by the old nobility The monarch impoverished, and obliged to satisfy the former adherents of that nobility— The destruction of the great aristocracy burthened the monarch with the vices of the gentry-The wrath of the people delivered the nation into the hands of the mob-The good which came out of evil.
RELIEVE yon palace from the century with which its royal dome is overcharged-light up those vast apartments, gorgeous in paintings and gold-open wide those stately and solemn doors, crowd with a gay throng of courtiers
that wide flight of marble steps, down which a daughter of the house of Hapsburg, a queen of France, half naked, was once seen to flyGive for a moment, give its ancient splendour to the palace where you are still haunted by the memory of Louis XIV. !—It is at Versailles, as you gaze on those stiff and stately gardens, on that large and spacious court, on those immense buildings, still decorated with their title inscribed in letters of gold, "Les écuries du Roi." It is at Versailles, as you stand between the five roads which quit the royal gates for Spain, Italy, Paris, Germany and England-it is at Versailles —that you understand the genius of the ancient 'régime,' such as it existed in the head of its founder.
I call Louis XIV. its founder: for the monarchy which the Revolution of 1789 overthrew was the monarchy of Louis XIV., who made of a great fief a great kingdom, and destroyed the feudal government of eight centuries, which Richelieu had already undermined. The ancient monarchy was of a mixed nature, and the sovereign might be said to share his power with the nobility, the magistracy, and the clergy of the realm. Louis XIV. simplified the system, and said, "I am the state." He said it with impunity.
In the camp and the court the nobility had sacrificed their independence: weakened by the unsuccessful struggles of the Fronde, the parliament had not attempted to resist their youthful master's indignation: the clergy were subdued when they renounced the distribution of their possessions: and the silence which reigned every where was the sign of universal submission.
The vowed enemy of revolutions, this great king acted the part of a revolutionist—a part dangerous for prince or people. The violence of the mob placed the dictatorship in the hands of Cromwell and Napoléon; the absolute doctrines of their predecessors led Charles I. and Louis XVI, to the scaffold. In concentrating the power of the kingdom in the monarch, Louis XVI. united all the faults of his government with the existence of the monarchy, and made the force of the monarchy depend upon the force of an individual-the crown became too weighty to wear, and even he who made it what it was could only support it during the pride and strength of his youth.
The character of the duke of Orléans, a prince to whose capacity posterity has not rendered justice, was still the character of all others least likely to infuse vigour into a system already travailed by decay. Less affrighted by dangers than
difficulties, and easily captivated by any novelty that had originality to recommend it, his government was a series of harassing intrigues to avoid trouble, a continuation of dangerous expedients to avoid distress. The edifice, which depended for its safety on the preservation of the solemn grandeur that had presided over its foundation, he attempted to sustain by the brilliant tricks of a versatile address, and Europe was for awhile amused by a profligate and clever buffoon, who in the masquerade of a cardinal, represented the stately and decorous monarchy of Louis XIV.*
In the amusements of the regent, and of his successor in the pursuits of the alchemist and the cook, you may discover the genius which accompanied them into more serious affairs. The indolent epicureanism of Louis XV. sanctioned as a system that which under the regency was tolerated as a transient disorder. The eccentric debauch of the one consolidated itself into the regulated profligacy of the other, and the court which awed during the reign of Louis XIV. by its ceremonious pride, which astonished during the regency by its mysterious vices, disgusted under the succeeding reign by its insolent and dissolute manners. Besides, to sustain a nobility void of all civil resources, and arro* Dubois, Embassador to England.