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speaking, which was so familiar to Madame de Sévigné, to Dangeau, to St. Simon, to all the great noblemen of the time, and alas, also to Racine the plebeian gentleman in waiting,—this way of speaking, we say, was not altogether the consequence of their looking upon, or imagining they looked upon the people* as so profound a nonentity; there was at the bottom of it, a very tangible fact, and one not very flattering to the nobility. They called themselves "La France," only on the condition of being nothing at all; they only represented France, in order to prostrate themselves in her name at the foot of the throne, and the more exclusively they used their ancient right of despising the people, the more they ought to have felt, that it was the only one which remained to them. But no, it appears that they did not perceive it, or rather, that they dared not perceive it; and although this, after all, was a very fortunate thing for the country which they had ruined so many times, and in so many ways, yet we cannot help feeling some sympathy with the chagrin of a La Rochefoucault and a St. Simon, at seeing so many people of heart and head, forced to throw away their lives in useless promenadings, and frivolous conversations about nothings. It is true, that these nothings did not seem so to those who were constantly occupied with them. Little matters always become great matters, in proportion as men interest themselves in them; and this same St. Simon, sometimes so good a philosopher, had not his equal for elevating a trifling question of vanity or etiquette into an affair of state.t
plebeian. The noblemen said, "May I be beheaded!" Richelieu had not refused them this right.
"After all, what is the nation ?" said the Regent one day to Stair, the English ambassador. "I confess it is no great thing," replied the Englishman, so long as there is no standard raised," i. e. no fighting to be done.-Letter from Stair to Stanhope.
"In vain were courage, honor and industry combined in the soul of
“It is difficult for us," says a modern critic,-" with our habits of regular occupation, to picture to ourselves faithfully this life of leisure and gossip. Our days are passed in study or in business, -our evenings in discussions ;-of gossiping there is little or none. The noble society of our days, which has retained in the highest degree the idle habits of the last two centuries,-has done so only at the expense of remaining ignorant of the ideas. and ways of the present.* In any age which advances this is inevitable ;—but at that time the age was not advancing. One man alone moved on, and provided that the eyes of men were fixed upon him, they might be sure of not being left behind."
In the midst of these perpetual conversations, the language had made such progress, that it became at last more elegant than the manners. The more we examine the history of this reign, the more remnants of barbarism do we find concealed beneath its brilliant exterior;-yet the most astonishing thing is, not to find them there, but to perceive how far the most reasonable and humane persons were from feeling the absurdity and horror of a number of things, the very remembrance of which is revolting to us. But how was it possible not to look upon all as beautiful and good in a country viewed through the medium of the splendor of Versailles! How criticize a machine, the creaking of whose wheels was so faintly heard above the sound of fountains and balls, and the flourish of trumpets?
It is only towards the end of Louis XIV.'s reign, that we begin to perceive some traces of opposition, properly speaking, in France; that is to say, criticism directed in the name of the na
this worthy man, so eminently suited to ruin a kingdom. Like those madmen who are possessed of but one sole idea, he saw nothing else in the universe but the privileges of the peerage."-LEMONTEY. History of the Regency.
* ST. BEUVE.—Article Sévigné.
tion against the king or the government. Until then, all discontents had a purely personal character. Excepting some complaints in regard to the taxes,-common complaints regarded as of so little consequence, that they were repeated in the pulpit, and even before the king,-every man complained for himself when he thought he had reason. If contented himself, no man thought of crying out for others. Crying out, moreover, is scarcely the expression, for any such cry would undoubtedly have died away beneath the vaults of the Bastile; but even in secret, it appears that complaints were rarely of a political character. The affairs of state occupied but little attention, save in so far as private interests might be involved with them. If a campaign were talked of,—no one thought of inquiring its cause,—but only who was to command, and who was to receive promotion. If any question arose, it was but rarely that any one ventured to have an opinion upon its fundamental considerations; if any discussion took place, its object was rarely any other than that of trying to know or guess what the king's decision would be. Thus there were none save the ministers, the ambassadors, and a very small number of clear-headed men, who had any connected views in regard to the policy or enterprises of Louis XIV. In the army, the general himself often gave himself little trouble to know exactly what he was fighting for. The subordinate officers did not imagine that it concerned them the least in the world.*
All being thus left to the supreme decision of the king, everything reduced to the knowledge of what his orders would be,every one eagerly caught at the slightest rumor; all puzzled their
* "How should I know?" said the Captain; " and what difference does this fine project make to me? I live two hundred leagues from the capital;-I hear it said that war is declared;-I immediately leave my family and go to seek fortune or death,-provided that I have not much labor to perform."-VOLTAIRE. Babouc.
heads by putting together the most trivial occurrences, and giving significance and extent, to things utterly insignificant. Perhaps. old Letellier came to the king a few moments sooner or later than usual; or Monsieur de Louvois gave his valet a blow with his cane ;-a proof that he is irritated at some one to whom he cannot display it in the same manner;—or Monsieur Colbert, (the North, as Madame de Sévigné called him,) appears a little more or less icy than usual ;*- or a courier has arrived from no one
* Although the responsibility of the ministers was far from being in France the legal corollary of the king's inviolability, this latter was established in fact, particularly since the Fronde. But as yet it scarcely went beyond raillery and portraits; not daring to attack actions,—characteristics were seized upon. The pulpit itself sometimes set the example in this. “One, (a minister,) always precipitate, makes your mind uneasy;—the other, with a troubled countenance, makes your heart beat; this one presents himself before you from custom or politeness, and allows his thoughts to wander, while your remarks cannot arrest his attention; -the other, still more cruel, has his ears stopped by his preoccupations," etc.-BOSSUET. Funeral Oration of Letellier. These words doubtless caused the exchange of many a smile, for it was impossible, in a few words better to describe the four principal ministers of the period. But Louis XIV. was not sorry to see those defects criticized in his ministers, from which he was, or fancied himself free. The more impenetrable Colbert appeared, and the more repulsive Louvois,-the more affable it pleased the king to be. Thus, this same Doge of Genoa said, that the king took his heart captive, but the ministers restored it to him again.
In the discussions with Rome on the subject of the Assembly of 1682, the system of the responsibility of the ministers was used towards the pope with a boldness which would not have been tolerated towards the king. “I blush,” says Bossuet, somewhere, "for those who have not been ashamed to inspire his Holiness with such sentiments." We shall not undertake to explain how this was reconcilable with the doctrine of papal infallibility. If the pope has been even once ill counselled,—wrongly inspired, there is not the least reason why he should not be again; if Bossuet thought himself obliged to blush for those who had influenced the pope in a certain direction,--were there not then others who could have blushed for those who influenced him in a contrary direction -See note to Chap. XII.
knows what province, or has been dispatched no one knows whither. And if such is the importance of the slightest action, the smallest word of a minister,-what will be that of the least gesture, the least syllable of the king,-particularly when he is known to be so impenetrable,*—so completely master of himself as Louis XIV.,—so that a movement, a look, a nothing may be the indication of a punishment or a reward,-of fair weather, or of a tempest!
*"This will be a great king;-he never says a word of what he thinks."-MAZARIN.