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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 everywhere 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 XIV. 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 a while 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 alchymist 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 arrogant only in the exclusive privilege of wearing a sword, it was necessary to bring that nobility frequently before the nation on the field of battle; and, indeed, we find it pardoned,, if not beloved, by a vain and military people, when it mingled valour with voluptuousness, ambition with frivolity, chivalry with love.
But as war is carried on in modern times, it cannot be maintained without considerable expense, and every year increases the necessity and the danger of making peace. The condition, therefore, on which such a system was based, rendered it, under the present military system, difficult of duration. The nobility, caged in the court, were likely to find themselves opposed by the great body of the people; and the sovereign, if he identified himself with the nobility, was likely to share the fate of an impotent and insolent aristocracy, whose pretensions he had left, and whose power he had destroyed.
Undoubtedly many circumstances hastened this conclusion, which the eye of Louis XV., less improvident than his disposition, had from afar dimly foreseen.
The more indeed that we look at the events of those times, the more we are struck by the variety of elements which were working towards the same result. The commercial prosperity which rose with the wisdom and economy of Colbert, the commercial ruin which followed the scientific but terrible operations of Law, were equally favourable to that moneyed nobility by whom the first revolution was aided, and to whom the second revolution belongs. More than this; the poetical vanity of Richelieu, the domineering arrogance of Louis XIV., the intriguing character of the regent, the weak and indolent disposition of Louis XV., all concurred in hastening the advancement of a new nobility, destined to be still more formidable to the ancient order of things, and which has, in fact, changed the destiny of a great part of the world.
Flattering the passions, and associating itself with the tastes, literature finally overthrew the interests of the great. The doctrines, which delivered from a philosophic chair would have been punished and prohibited, insinuated themselves into favour by the elegance of a song, the point of an epigram, or the eloquence of the stage: conducted less by systematic artifice than casual interest, the writer who abused the class praised the individual; and the same man, who from the solitude of Ferney breathed destruction to the clergy, the monarchy, and the court, dedicated a poem to a pope, corresponded with an empress, and was the unblushing panegyrist of a fashionable débauché and a royal mistress. Thus were there two new classes, the one powerful for its wealth, the other more mighty for its intelligence, in tacit league against the existing order of things-an order of things from which they had sprung, but which, having been formed at a time when they were hardly in existence, offered them no legitimate place in society equal to that which they found themselves called upon to assume. It was by the side of galleys crowded with musicians, and decorated with flowers, that you might once have seen the sombre vessel destined to bring to France the pesti
lence* which had been merited by her crimes; and so with the prosperity and the glory of the golden days of the ancient "régime," with its commerce and with its arts, came on, darkly and unnoticed, the just but terrible revolution of 1789.
For many years it has been the custom to pick up our recollections of the ancient "régime" out of the ruins of the Bastille, or to collect our materials for the history of the revolution from the dungeons of the Conciergerie and La Force. The time is come when the writer is bound to be more impartial, and to allow that there was a certain glory and greatness in the ancient monarchy, a strict justice, and an almost inevitable necessity, in the catastrophe which overwhelmed it. Of the revolution I shall speak presently. What I have to say of the ancient "régime" will be confined to a few remarks. A writer, whose essay on the monarchy of Louis XIV. is at once calculated to impress posterity with a just idea of the ancient history and the modern genius of the French people, has said,
"Cette monarchie peut être ainsi définie; une royauté absolue et dispendieuse, sévere pour le peuple, hostile envers l'étranger, appuyée sur l'armée, sur la police, sur la gloire du roi, et tempérée par la justice du monarque et par la sagesse de ses conseils choisis dans les différens ordres de l'état, et par le besoin de ménager pour la guerre et pour l'impôt le nombre et la fortune de ses sujets." This sentence comprises the spirit of a military system which, as I have said before, depended upon the personal character of its chief. Scratch out the words " 'dispendieuse" and "sévere ;" read "une royauté absolue mais économique, douce pour le peuple," and you have, what may be said with some propriety of the Prussian monarchy, not an unpopular government with an enlightened people at
The Chevalier d'Orléans, natural son of the regent and grand prior of Malta, was returning from Genoa, whither he had escorted his sister. By the side of his galleys floated several vessels, which, coming from a port in Syria, carried into France the plague, which desolated Marseilles.
the present day, and a government peculiarly adapted to many characteristic dispositions of the French. It was into something like the Prussian government that Louis XVI. might perhaps have converted his own.
The expenses of the crown, the privileges of the nobility, the venality of places, the frequent imprisonments, and the excessive charges of the people—these were faults incompatible with the welfare of a nation, but not necessarily combined with the haughty prerogatives of the crown. By diminishing the useless expenses of the court, the army might more easily have been supported; by equally dividing the burthens of the state, the commons might have become reconciled to the nobility; and by uniting the army with the nation, and thus avoiding the necessity of displaying the valour of one class in order to appease the discontent of another, the military system might have become one of defence instead of one of aggression. By these means, doubtless, the ancient monarchy might have been rendered tolerable, and its destruction prevented or deferred. Its faults, if you do not consider the court as part of the constitution, were faults chiefly of administration, but were faults inseparable from the court. The great misfortune entailed by the destruction of the great nobility was the crea tion of this court. In other respects, the policy of Louis XIV., dangerous to himself and to his descendants, was not, upon the whole, so disadvantageous to his people.
The simplicity which he introduced, productive of despotism, was also productive of order,—the indisputable necessity of a state that wishes to advance and to improve. In his reign the streets of Paris were regularly lighted, and an effective police created. The arts, as an embellishment to the monarchy, were cultivated; commerce, as the means of supporting a more regular state of warfare, was encouraged; and during the time that the genius of him who had operated the change was equal to preside over it, France obtained a prosperity which it required a long series