Page images

street, or even of a small town, and that if they must live, they may live like hostess Quickly's gentlewomen-by voluntary contribution.

Necker was not permitted to transact business alone with his Majesty; M. de Maurepas always made a third. It was during one of his attacks of gout that Necker, finding himself alone with the King, obtained the dismissal of M. de Sartines from the Marine, and the appointment of the Maréchal de Castries in his place.

"M. de Sartines," says Madame de Staël,"was an example of the sort of choice which is made in the monarchies where the liberty of the press and the Assembly of the Deputies do not render it necessary to have recourse to men of talent. He had been an excellent lieutenant of police: some intrigue elevated him to the rank of Minister of the Marine. M. Necker went to his house some days after his nomination: he had had his chamber hung with maps; and he said to M. Necker, as he walked up and down his study, See what progress I have already made: I can put my hand upon that map and point out to you, shutting my eyes, where are the four quarters of the globe.””

Madame de Staël adds, with cruel irony-at least we take it so

"Ces belles connoissances n'auroient pas semblé suffisantes en Angleterre pour diriger la Marine.”

Madame de Staël says, that from that day M. de Maurepas became Necker's mortal enemy. This old courtier belonged to that class of Ministers with whom the public good went for nothing, who only interested themselves in what they called the service of the King; that service consisting in the favour which they might gain or lose at Court. Maurepas discovered, by an imprudence of Madame Necker, that Necker was very sensitive to libellous attacks. He encouraged certain persons about the Court, and in the service of the Comte d'Artois, to spread libels against Necker. Necker desired to have some mark of the royal approbation which should support him against the attacks of those libellers, and act as a discouragement to them. He demanded their dismissal from the service of the Comte d'Artois, and at the same time, admittance for himself into the Council of State, from which he had been excluded on the ground of his being a Protestant. In consequence of the answer he received to his demand, M. Necker gave in his resignation, which was accepted.†

In 1787 M. de Calonne, in the Assembly of the Notables, took occasion to attack the veracity of the statements submitted to the King by Necker. The latter lost no time in transmitting to his Majesty a memorial which fully established the fidelity of his statement. The King read it and was satisfied, but was unwilling that it should be made public. With this however Necker, as he conceived himself to have received a public affront in the printed discourse of M. de Calonne, would not comply. Accordingly he printed his reply to M. de Calonne, of which the King was no sooner apprised than he exiled Necker by a lettre de cachet to a distance of forty leagues from Paris. Whatever opinion may be entertained of the amiable qualities, of the goodness of Louis XVI., it will convey no inadequate

"Considerations," &c. tom. i. p. 94.

Madame de Staël's " Considérations sur la Révolution Française," tom. i."Private Life of M. Necker."-"Histoire de la Révolution de 1789, &c. par deux Amis de la Liberté."

idea of his weakness to give a portrait of the man whom he thus supported against Necker.

"Men were struck with surprise and consternation to behold the wealth of the State in the hands of a man who had wasted his patrimony; a man who, inconsiderate by character, immoral by system, had dishonoured his talents by his vices, his dignities by the opprobrium of his conduct; who long since grown old in amorous intrigues and in those of the Court, overwhelmed with disgrace and debts, came with the greedy crew of his protectors to pounce upon the riches of the Kingdom, and to devour the finances under pretence of administering them."*

The exile of Necker lasted only four months; and soon after its revocation, he was recalled to the court on the 25th of August 1788. The second administration of M. Necker, from the 25th of August 1788, to the 14th of July 1789, comprehended a period big with events of the most overwhelming interest-events the influence of which cannot fail to be felt amid all nations and over all ages.

During the seven years which elapsed between Necker's first and second ministry, affairs in France had been rapidly advancing towards the Revolution. That progress had been not a little assisted by the incapacity of some and the profligacy of others of the men to whom the Government of the country had been committed during that interval. When his daughter apprised Necker at St. Ouen of his approaching nomination, he said to her-"Ah! why did they not give me those fifteen months of the Archbishop of Sens? now it is too late!" On entering upon office, he found only 10,000l. in the public treasury; but the next day the monied men brought him considerable sums. The stocks rose thirty per cent. in one morning.

We willingly concede that Louis XVI. and his Queen were two of the most amiable and gracious persons that ever filled a throne: and of the many foul murders committed in the Revolution, if there were some, as that of the unfortunate and lovely Princess de Lamballe, which from the manner of them excite a thrill of more unmitigated horror, a feeling of deeper disgust, there was none calculated to fill the mind of him who loves and would wish to be able to respect his species, with sentiments of such deep and genuine sorrow, of such sincere and eternal regret. Alas! that it should have been the fate of a man so truly virtuous, so scrupulously conscientious to become an atonement and an offering for the follies, the vices, and the crimes of those whom he succeeded! This was indeed visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children-ay, even unto the third and fourth-nay, unto the fortieth generation. The Absolutists and Divine-right-men, both in Church and State, are in the habit of pouring forth all the vials of their wrath upon the French Revolution. But let them bear in mind that He without whose Providence a sparrow cannot fall to the ground, willed it; for, if he had not, it would have never been.

It may bear a question whether Louis XVI., with the strongest character and the greatest talents that have ever been given to mortal, with the unclouded understanding and the unconquerable will of a Cæsar, a Cromwell, or a Napoleon, could have prevented the

* Révolution de 1789. Par deux Amis de la Liberté, p. 16, tom. i. Paris, 1790.

Revolution. But as it was, the good, the excellent weak man had no chance. Yet, ill-educated and kept in ignorance of the truth as he was, he had from the commencement of his reign felt and owned the necessity of some reform. He first entrusted the execution of this to Turgot, but Turgot's glorious designs for the salvation of his country and the happiness of mankind, were frustrated by the intrigues of the aristocratic faction that were the bane of France, we may add, of Europe; for much of the courtly and aristocratic vices that have been the scourge of the human race for the last three centuries have sprung from that source. Necker, with less knowledge and inferior abilities, shared the same fortune. Next came Calonne, and after him Brienne-of both of whom it may be truly said, that, if they did not make the fortune of the State, they made their own. During all this time, though these were the Ministers, another filled the office of favourite, and in that capacity, in some sort, directed the weak monarch's private judgments. Upon the death of Maurepas, Marie Antoinette succeeded him in influence over the Royal mind. Before the commencement of this influence she had been little courted by that swarm of court reptiles, so dangerous and yet so necessary to kings. But now they surrounded and besieged her with their pestilential breath, poured into her ear their aristocratic prejudices, and strove to interest and involve her in their party hates and their low ambition. The effect thus produced, through her, upon the King, proved her own and her husband's death-warrant, and that of the dynasty of their race. Her distaste for the stiff ceremonial of the old French Court, her light-hearted gaiety, nay, her very innocence, gave occasion to those libels upon her character, afforded those handles to calumny, that dissolute hypocrisy would have avoided. Thus was engendered that hatred with which she was regarded by the rabble to the very last, and which was only quenched by the blood of their gentle and innocent victim. Strange and mysterious award of Fortune! that a Richelieu and a Mazarin, an Orleans and a Louis XV., a Pompadour and a Du Barry, should go down to their graves in peace, while a Louis XVI. and a Marie Antoinette died by the hands of the executioner! If such creatures were capable of being influenced for good by the force of any example, the effect produced in this instance by their vile intrigues should become to those noxious and noisome reptiles who burrow and breed their sweltering venom in the shade of Courts, an everlasting warning to abstain in future from such practices. But until the Ethiopian shall change his skin and the leopard his spots, those obscure creeping things will continue to work after the manner of their kind; and by their baneful instrumentality the ears of other queens may be poisoned like those of Marie Antoinette, and the heads of other Kings rolled in the dust like that of her consort.

We have already alluded to Necker's adoption of the plan devised by Turgot of creating provincial assemblies, that were to be intrusted with the task of partitioning the imposts, thus exercising administrative rather than legislative power. Necker ordered that in these assemblies the number of members chosen by the tiers état should be equal to that of those chosen by the two privileged orders united. By this arrangement the noblesse formed a fourth, the clergy a

fourth, the deputies of towns and deputies of the country one-half. This served as a precedent for the organization of the Statesgeneral.

On the 5th of May 1789 the States-General met. "I shall never forget the hour," says Madame de Staël, "when I saw the twelve hundred deputies of France pass in procession to church to hear mass the day before the opening of the Assembly." That procession contained all that was most distinguished in France by rank or talent. The noblesse of recent origin were seen in great numbers in the ranks of the aristocracy; but it was observed that the plume and sword did not become them; and people asked why they took their station with the first class in the country, merely because they had obtained an exemption from their share of the taxes. But it was the six hundred deputies of the Tiers Etat, in their black cloaks and dresses, and, notwithstanding that still abiding mark of inferiority to the sworded and plumed aristocracy, displaying in their looks a confidence that the people's representatives in France had never dared to display before, that fixed the attention of the spectators. Literary men, merchants, and lawyers, formed the chief part of this order. A few noblemen had got themselves elected deputies of the Tiers Etat. Of these the most conspicuous, indeed as yet the only celebrated name among the six hundred deputies of the Tiers Etat, was that Onpiov, as Eschines called Demosthenes, the Comte de Mirabeau, conspicuous by his talents, his immorality, the ugliness of his countenance, and his Samson-like head of hair-a man, whom even the French aristocracy, though, as all the world knows, nowise squeamish as to morals, had vomited forth from its ranks.

"A great revolution," said Louis XVIII. (then Monsieur,) to the Municipality of Paris, in 1789, "is at hand; the King, by his views, his virtues, his supreme rank, ought to be at its head." All that wisdom could suggest on the occasion, observes Madame de Staël, we think most justly, is contained in these words. The real adversaries of the King's authority at that time were the privileged orders; and had the King proceeded firmly in the course on which he had entered, and not withdrawn himself from the representatives of the Tiers Etat, it was the opinion of Necker, and Madame de Staël considers it beyond a doubt that they would have supported his prerogative.

A minority of the noblesse, consisting of more than sixty members, of highly illustrious families, and on a level with the age in information, were desirous that, as far as regarded the plan of a constitution, the mode of voting should be individually. The majority, however, supported by a portion of the clergy, showed an inveterate repugnance to any conciliatory measures. The provincial noblesse were still less tractable than those of the highest rank.

"These personages," says Madame de Stael," did not scruple to dwell on their lately acquired rank, with as much emphasis as if it had existed before the creation of the world. They considered privileges, which were of no use but to themselves, like that right of property which forms the basis of general security. Privileges are sacred only when conducive to the general advantage; it requires then some arguments to support them, and they cannot be said to be truly solid, except when sanctioned by public utility. But the chief part of the

noblesse entrenched themselves in the assertion-' C'étoit ainsi jadis.' They were actuated by a certain aristocratic foppery-a mixture of frivolity in manner, and of pedantry in opinion; the whole united to a profound disdain for talent and information, unless enlisted in the ranks of folly, that is, employed in giving a retrograde course to reason.'


In the space to which we are necessarily limited, it will, of course, be impossible to give more than a mere outline, and that only of one or two of the many events of that momentous and eventful period. In the Council, M. Necker had opposed the order for collecting at Versailles and Paris the French and Swiss soldiers. He also voted for an amicable accommodation with the Commons. counsel was overruled, and the King was persuaded, that by changing But this salutary the Minister, he would remove the difficulty.

"It was on the 11th of July," says Madame de Staël,+ "as my father was sitting down to table, with a numerous dinner party, that the Minister of the Marine came to his house, and taking him aside, presented to him a letter from the King, requiring him to resign his office, and to withdraw from France as quietly as possible. My mother, though in delicate health, departing without a female attendant, without even a travelling dress, entered with my father the carriage in which they usually took their evening airing, and in this they travelled day and night till they reached Basle, where, when I rejoined them four days after, they still wore the same full dress in which they had presided at the dinner party, from whence they withdrew, by stealth and in silence, from France, from their home, from their friends, from splendour, and from power."

A few days before Necker's exile, Messrs. Hope, the bankers of Amsterdam, had asked him to lend security from his own fortune of two millions, for a supply of wheat. On his arrival at Brussels, fearing that the news of his exile might impede the expected supplies, he wrote to confirm the guarantee. the King without emolument, but even risked the greatest part of his He thus not only served private fortune in the service of the state. land, through Germany, Necker was overtaken at Frankfort by a mesOn his way to Switzersenger, who brought letters from the King and the National Assembly, which, for the third time, called him to the Ministry.

Much of the laudation bestowed on Necker by his daughter, Madame de Staël, for "his constant vigilance and unremitted care" in preserving Paris from famine, arises from an utter misapprehension of the true principles of commerce. the Corn-Trade" is as poor an affair, in one way, as his little novel, His "Essay upon Corn-Laws and "The Fatal Consequences of a Single Fault," to which bis daughter has prefixed a laudatory preface, is in another. His eulogy on Colbert we have not read, but we conceive that no man who could write an eulogy upon such a statesman as Colbert, could have any accurate knowledge of the true principles of statesmanship.

"Much has been said," says Madame de Staël, in her Private Life of her father, "of his want of firmness; and firmness is undoubtedly an essential quality in those who preside over a great nation; but it would not be difficult to prove, that in 1789 and 1790, such was the fermentation of the public mind, that no moral force could have arrested its violence. It is impossible to supply the want of firmness in the chief of an Empire. Talents may be lent, activity

* Considerations on the French Revolution, i. 197.
+ Memoirs of the Private Life of M. Necker.

« PreviousContinue »