Front Page Titles (by Subject) NOTES ON CHAPTER XXVI. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
NOTES ON CHAPTER XXVI. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. XII.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
NOTES ON CHAPTER XXVI.
Philip V. of Spain.—The king of Spain profited by these wholesome advices: he was a virtuous prince.
The author of the “Memoirs of Madame de Maintenon” (tom. v, p. 200) accuses him of having had “a scandalous supper with the princess of Ursino the day after the death of his first wife,” and of having intended to marry that lady, whom he loads with the most bitter invectives. It must be observed that the princess of Ursino, who had been maid of honor to the deceased queen, was then in the sixtieth year of her age. These popular reports, which should be buried in oblivion, become calumnies that deserve the most severe punishment, when people have the impudence to print them, and endeavor to sully the most respectable names without the least proof.
GOVERNMENT, COMMERCE, LAWS, MILITARY DISCIPLINE, UNDER LOUIS XIV.
This justice we owe to persons of a public character who have done good to the age they have lived in: that we should view the point from which they have set out, in order to form a just idea of the changes they have produced in their own country. Posterity is eternally indebted to them for the examples they have given, even though these are surpassed. This just glory is their only recompense. It is certain that the love of such glory animated Louis XIV.; when beginning to govern by himself, he had resolved to reform his kingdom, embellish his court, and perfect the arts.
He not only imposed it as a law upon himself, to labor regularly with each of his ministers, but every man that was but known might obtain a particular audience of him, and all citizens had the liberty of presenting their requests and projects; the petitions were received at first by a master of requests, who marked them on the margin, and they were afterward sent to the officers of the ministers. The projects were examined in council, when they deserved it, and their authors were admitted more than once to discuss the points they contained with the ministers, in presence of their master. Thus we see a correspondence subsisting between the throne and the nation, notwithstanding absolute power.
Louis XIV. accustomed himself to labor; and this was so much the more painful, as it was new to him, and the seduction of pleasures might easily distract him. He wrote the first despatches himself to his ambassadors. The most important letters were often afterward minuted with his own hand, and there was none written in his name which he did not cause to be read to him.
Scarcely had Colbert, after the fall of Fouquet, re-established order in the finances, before the king remitted to his people all the arrears due on the imposts from 1647 till 1656, and especially three millions of taille or excise. The enormous duties were abolished for five hundred thousand crowns a year. Thus Abbé de Choisy seems either to have been very ill informed, or to be guilty of very great injustice, when he says that the public receipt was not diminished; for it is certain that it was lessened by these indulgent remissions, and increased by good order.
The care of the first president, de Bellièvre, assisted by the liberalities of the duchess d’Aiguillon, and several citizens, had established the general hospital. The king augmented it, and caused similar edifices to be erected in all the principal towns of the kingdom.
The great roads, till that time impassable, were not neglected, and by degrees they have become what they are now, under the reign of Louis XV.—the admiration of foreigners. On whatever side you come out of Paris, you travel at present from fifty to sixty leagues, and in some places of the neighborhood, through close alleys bordered with trees. The roads made by the ancient Romans were more durable indeed, but not so spacious nor so beautiful.
Colbert’s genius turned chiefly toward commerce, which was but weakly cultivated, and its grand principles were not yet known. The English, and the Dutch still more, carried on in their own bottoms almost the whole traffic of France. The Dutch, especially, loaded with our merchandise in our ports, and distributed it all over Europe. The king began, from 1662, to exempt his subjects from an impost called the duty of freight, which all the vessels of foreigners paid; and he granted the French the indulgence of transporting their merchandise themselves at less expense. It was then that maritime commerce had its birth. The council for that department, which at present continues, was established, and in it the king presided every fifteenth day.
Dunkirk and Marseilles were declared free ports; and soon afterward this advantage drew the trade of the Levant to Marseilles, and that of the North to Dunkirk.
In 1664 was formed a West India Company, and that of the East Indies was established the same year. Before this time France paid tribute for her luxuries to the Dutch. The partisans of the ancient economy, who were timid, ignorant, and had contracted views, declaimed in vain against a commerce in which a continual exchange was made of money that would not perish for effects which do. They did not reflect that these merchandises of India, which were become necessary, would be more dearly paid for by foreigners. We carry indeed to the East Indies more kinds of goods than we bring from there, and by that means Europe is impoverished. But these come from Peru and Mexico; they are the price of our goods carried to Cadiz, and there remains more of this money in France than the East Indies absorb of it.
The king gave more than six millions of our present currency to the company. He invited rich people to embark in it. The queens, the princes, and all the court furnished two millions of the coin of that time. The superior courts gave twelve hundred thousand livres, the financiers two millions, the body of merchants six hundred and fifty thousand livres. So the whole nation seconded their king.
This company has always subsisted; for though the Dutch had taken Pondicherry in 1694, and the commerce of the Indies has languished ever since, it has recovered in our days new strength; Pondicherry has become a rival to Batavia: and this India company, founded with extreme difficulty by the great Colbert, and re-established in our days by singular revolutions, is now one of the greatest resources of the kingdom. The king also founded a Company of the North, in 1669; he invested funds in it, as he did in that of the Indies. It was then very plain that commerce is no disgrace to any, since the greatest houses interested themselves in these establishments, after the example of the monarch.
The West India Company was no less encouraged than the others. The king furnished the tenth part of all the funds.
He granted thirty francs per ton for exportation, and forty for importation. All those who had vessels built in the ports of the kingdom received five livres for each ton they contained.
Yet one cannot forbear being very much surprised that Abbé de Choisy has censured these establishments in his memoirs, which cannot be read without some mistrust. We are sensible in our days of all that Colbert did for the benefit of the kingdom; but at that time we were entirely ignorant of it; he worked for ungrateful people. They were much more disgusted with him in Paris for the suppression of certain rents on the town house, purchased at a cheap rate since 1656, and for the discredit into which the notes of the king’s privy treasury fell, that were squandered under the preceding minister, than they were sensible of the general good which he did. In this affair were concerned more burgesses than good citizens. Few people had an eye to the public advantage. It is well known what a fascinating power interest has upon the eyes, and how it contracts the mind; I do not mean this only concerning the interest of a single trader, but that of a company, and even a town. The clownish answer of a merchant called Hazon—who upon being consulted by this minister, told him: “You have found the carriage overset on one side, and have overturned it on the other”—was still obsequiously quoted in my young days: and this anecdote is to be met with in Moréri. The philosophic spirit introduced very late into France, reformed the prejudices of the people, so as to make them at length do entire justice to the memory of this great man. He had the same exactness as the duke de Sully; but withal, he had views which were much more extensive. The one was acquainted only with economy, but the other knew how to form grand establishments.
Almost everything was either repaired or created in his time. The reduction of interest on the twentieth denier, on the loans given to the king and particular persons, was a sensible proof of an abundant circulation in 1665. His meaning was, both to enrich and to people France. Marriages in the country were encouraged by an exemption from the taille during the space of five years, for such as would settle themselves at the age of twenty; and every father of a family who had ten children was exempted all his lifetime, because he gave more to the state by the labor of these than he could possibly have done in paying the taille. This regulation ought to have continued forever, unrepealed.
From 1663 till 1672, each year of this ministry was distinguished by the establishment of some manufacture or other. The fine cloths, which before had been brought from England and Holland, were manufactured in Abbeville. The king advanced to the manufacturer, for each working loom, two thousand livres, besides considerable gratuities. In 1669 about forty-four thousand two hundred woollen looms were reckoned to be in the kingdom. The silk manufactures, when brought to perfection, produced a commerce of above fifty millions currency of that time; and the advantage drawn from these was not only very much above the prime cost of the silk necessary in their manufacture, but the cultivation of mulberry trees put the manufacturers into a condition of dispensing with foreign silk for the woof of their stuffs.
From the year 1666 they began to make as fine glasses as at Venice, which city had always before furnished the whole consumption throughout Europe; and they soon made pieces of this kind, which, for largeness and beauty, could never be imitated in any other place. The carpets of Turkey and Persia were surpassed at Savonnières: the tapestry hangings from Flanders were inferior to those of the Gobelins; which vast enclosure was filled at that time with more than eight hundred workmen, and of these three hundred were lodged in it. The best painters had the direction of the work, either from their own designs, or those of the ancient masters of Italy. Besides the tapestry hangings, was made an admirable kind of mosaic, and the art of inlaying was carried to its highest perfection.
Besides this fine manufactory of tapestry in the Gobelins, another was set up at Beauvais. The first manufacturer had six hundred workmen in this town; and the king made him a present of sixty thousand livres.
Sixteen hundred young girls were employed in lace works, and thirty principal workwomen in this way were brought from Venice, and two hundred out of Flanders, who had thirty-six thousand livres given them for their encouragement.
The manufactory of the cloths of Sedan, and that of the tapestry hangings of Abusson, degenerated and fallen into decay, were re-established. The rich stuffs, in which silk is mixed with gold and silver, were woven at Lyons and Tours, with an industry which had not been seen before.
It is a thing well known, that the ministry purchased in England the secret of that ingenious machine by which stockings are made ten times faster than with needles. Tin plates, steel, fine delft ware, and Morocco leather, which was always brought from abroad, were made in France. But the Calvinists, who had the secret of making tin plates and steel, carried it away with them in 1686, and imparted this advantage, with several others, to foreign nations.
The king every year expended about four hundred thousand livres upon the different works of taste which were fabricated in his kingdom, of which he made presents.
Paris was then very different from what it is at present; for it wanted light, security, and cleanliness. It was necessary to make provision for the continual cleansing of the streets, for lighting of them, which is done by means of five thousand lamps burning every night, for paving the city quite through, building two new gates, and repairing the old ones, and causing a continual guard on foot and on horseback to keep watch for the security of the citizens. The king took the whole upon himself, allotting funds for these necessary expenses. In 1667 he created a magistrate solely for taking care of the police. The greater part of the large cities of Europe did not follow these examples till a long time after; and none have equalled them: so that no city is paved like Paris; and Rome itself is not lighted at all.
Everything began to have so great a tendency to perfection that the second lieutenant of police, which Paris had, acquired in that post a reputation which set him in the rank of those who have done honor to this age: such was the capacity of this man for everything. He was afterward in the ministry, and he had been a good general. The place of lieutenant of the police was below his birth and merit, yet it gained him a much greater name than the inconsiderable post in the ministry which he obtained near the end of his days.
Here we should observe that M. d’Argenson was by no means the only person of the ancient nobility who had been in the public magistracy. France is almost the only country of Europe where the ancient nobility have often taken to the long robe. All other nations, merely from the remains of Gothic barbarism, are still ignorant that there is dignity in this profession.
The king still carried on the buildings at the Louvre, St.-Germain, and Versailles, from 1661. Private individuals, after his example, erected in Paris a thousand superb and commodious edifices. Of these the number was so increased that, after the building of the environs of the Palais Royal, and those of St.-Sulpice, there were formed in Paris two new towns, very much superior to the old one. It was at this time that they invented the magnificent convenience of coaches adorned with glasses and hung upon springs; so that a citizen of Paris could convey himself through this large city with more pomp than the first Romans displayed in their triumphal processions to the capitol. This custom was soon after received throughout Europe; and being now very common, it is no longer a piece of luxury.
1 Louis XIV. had a taste for architecture, gardening, and sculpture; and this showed itself in all these to be great and noble. From the time that Comptroller-General Colbert had, in 1664, the direction of the buildings, which is properly the office of the arts, he applied himself to second the schemes of his master. The first necessary work was to finish the Louvre. Francis Mansard, one of the greatest architects whom France had produced, was fixed upon to construct the vast edifices that were projected. He would not undertake this task unless he had liberty given him to rectify whatever should appear to him defective in the execution. This diffidence of himself, which had drawn a train of too much expense after it, was the reason for excluding him. The chevalier Bernini was therefore sent for from Rome, an artist whose name was famous on account of the colonnade which surrounds the portal of St. Peter’s church, the equestrian statue of Constantine, and the Navonne fountain. Equipages were furnished him for his journey. He was conducted to Paris as a man who came to do honor to France. He received, besides five louis d’or a day, for the eight months that he staid there, a present of fifty thousand crowns, with a pension of two thousand more, and one of five hundred for his son. This generosity of Louis XIV. to Bernini was much greater than the munificence of Francis I. to Raphael. Bernini, by way of acknowledgment, made since that time in Rome the equestrain statue of the king, which is to be seen at Versailles. But when he came to Paris with so much parade, as the only person worthy of being employed by Louis XIV., he was very much surprised to see the design of the front of the Louvre on the side of St.-Germain l’Auxerrois, which soon after, when completed, became one of the most august monuments of architecture in the world. Claude Perrault had given this design, which was executed by Louis Levau and Dorbay. He invented the machines with which the stones of fifty-two feet in length were raised, that form the pediment of this majestic edifice. Sometimes there is fetched from afar what is to be met with at hand among ourselves. No palace of Rome has an entrance comparable to that of the Louvre, for which we are indebted to this Perrault,1 whom Boileau has attempted to render ridiculous. Travellers allow that the most celebrated villas of Italy are not superior to the castle of Maisons, which Francis Mansard had built at so little expense. Bernini was magnificently recompensed, but did not deserve it; he only gave designs which were not executed.
The king, when the works at the Louvre were in progress, the completion of which was so much desired; when making a town at Versailles, near this palace, which has cost so many millions; when building Trianon and Marly, and ordering so many other edifices to be embellished, caused the observatory to be erected, which was begun in 1666, after the time that he established the Academy of Sciences. But the most glorious monument for its utility, grandeur, and the difficulties encountered in the execution was the canal of Languedoc, which joins the two seas, and falls into the port of Cette, constructed for the receiving of its waters. These works were begun in 1664, and continued without interruption till 1681. The founding of the Hôtel des Invalides, and the chapel of that structure, the finest in Paris, the establishment of St. Cyr, the last of so great a number of works constructed by this monarch, are alone sufficient to render his name revered. Four thousand soldiers, and a great number of officers, who find in one of these grand asylums comforts in their old age, and relief for their wounds and wants; two hundred and fifty daughters of noblemen, who receive an education worthy of them in the other, are so many voices that celebrate the praises of Louis XIV. The establishment of St. Cyr will be surpassed by that which Louis XV. has just formed for the education of five hundred gentlemen; but far from causing St. Cyr to be forgotten, it makes it to be remembered. This is the art of doing good, brought to perfection.
Louis XIV. was at the same time desirous to perform greater things, and those of more general utility, but more difficult in the execution; and that was to reform the laws. In this he employed the labors of the chancellor Séguier, de Lamoignon, Talon, Bignon, and more especially the chancellor of state, Pussort. He himself sometimes assisted at their assemblies. The year 1667 was at the same time the epoch of his first laws and first conquests. The civil ordinances appeared first; next the code of the waters and forests; then the statutes for all the manufactures; the criminal ordinances; the code of commerce, and that of the marine. All these followed nearly one year after another. There was also a new jurisprudence, established in favor of the negroes of our colonies, a sort of men who had not yet enjoyed the privileges of humanity.
A profound knowledge of the civil law is not to be acquired by a sovereign. But the king was acquainted with the principal laws; he possessed the spirit of them, and knew how, either to maintain or mitigate them properly. He often decided the causes of his subjects, not only in the council of the secretaries of state, but in that called the “Conseil des Parties.” There are two celebrated determinations of his, in which he decided against himself.
In the first, which was given in 1680, the case was in a process between him and certain inhabitants of Paris, who had built upon his ground. He decided that the houses should remain to them, with the land belonging to himself, and which he ceded to them.
The other related to a Persian merchant, called Roupli, whose goods had been seized by the commissaries of his farms, in 1687. His decision was, that all should be restored to him, and the king added a present of three thousand crowns. Roupli carried his admiration and gratitude with him into his own country; and when Mehemet Rizabeg was afterward in Paris we found him acquainted with this fact by common report.
The abolition of duels was one of the greatest services which he did to his country. These combats had been formerly authorized even by the parliament, and by the Church; and though they had been prohibited from the time of Henry IV., yet this fatal custom prevailed more than ever. The famous combat of the La Frettes, four against four, in 1663, was that which determined Louis XIV. not to pardon it any longer. His happy severity corrected by degrees our own nation, and even the neighboring nations, who conformed themselves to our wise customs, after having adopted our bad ones. There are in Europe now a hundred times fewer duels than in the time of Louis XIII.
He was the legislator both of his people, and of his armies. It was strange, that, before his time, uniforms among the troops was a thing not known. It was he, who in the first year of his administration, ordered that each regiment should be distinguished, either by the color of their clothes, or by different marks; a regulation which was adopted soon after by all nations. It was he also who instituted brigadiers, and put the corps of which the household troops of the king are formed upon the footing they are on at present. He formed a company of musketeers out of the guards of Cardinal Mazarin, and fixed at five hundred men, the number of the two companies, to which he gave the clothing they still retain.
Under him were made no constables, and after the death of the duke d’Épernon no colonels-general of the infantry; Marshal Gramont, who was only campmaster of the French guards, under the duke d’Épernon, and took orders from that colonel-general, for the future took them only from the king, and was the first who had the title of colonel of the guards. He himself installed these colonels at the heads of their regiments, by giving them, with his own hands, a gilt gorget and pike, and afterward a spontoon, or a kind of half pike, when the use of the former weapon was abolished. He instituted the grenadiers, at first to the number of four in each company of the king’s regiment, which is of his own creation; afterward he formed a company of grenadiers in each regiment of foot; he gave two companies of them to the French guards, which at present have three. He very much augmented the corps of dragoons, and gave them a colonel-general. We must not forget the establishment of studs for breeding of horses, in 1667, which had been absolutely set aside before that time, and was afterward a great resource for remounting the cavalry.
The use of the bayonet at the end of the gun is an institution of the king’s. Before his time it was used occasionally, and some companies only had this weapon; there was no uniform usage nor exercise with it: all was left to the general’s discretion. The pike was looked upon as the most formidable weapon. The first regiment which had bayonets, and was trained to this exercise, was that of the fusiliers, established in 1671.
The manner in which the artillery is managed at present is entirely owing to him. He founded schools for this purpose at Douai, afterward at Metz and Strasburg; and the regiment of artillery was at length filled with officers, almost all capable of conducting a siege. All the magazines of the kingdom were stored, and every year furnished with eight hundred thousand weight of powder. He formed a regiment of bombardiers, and one of hussars, a kind of horsemen which, before his time, were known only among our enemies.
In 1688 he established thirty regiments of militia, furnished and equipped by the communities of the kingdom. These corps of militia exercised themselves in war without neglecting the cultivation of the lands.
Companies of cadets were entertained in most parts of the frontiers; there they learned mathematics, designing, and all the exercises, and did also the duty of soldiers. This institution lasted ten years. At length they were tired of these youths, as it was too difficult a matter to discipline them; but the corps of engineers, which the king formed, and to which he gave the regulations still followed by them, is an establishment that will last forever. Under him the art of fortification was carried to perfection by Marshal de Vauban1 and his pupils, who surpased Count de Pagan. He constructed or repaired a hundred and fifty fortified places.
In order to maintain the military discipline, he created inspectors-general, afterward directors, who gave an account of the state of the troops; and from their reports it was seen whether or not the commissaries of war had done their duty.
He instituted the order of St. Louis, an honorable recompense, often courted more than fortune. The Hôtel des Invalides crowned the cares which he took for meriting to be well served.
It was owing to such cares as these, that, from 1672, he had a hundred and eighty thousand regular troops; and that by augmenting his forces in proportion as the number and power of his enemies increased, he had at length four hundred and fifty thousand men in arms, including the troops of the marine.
Before his time, no such strong armies had been seen. His enemies hardly opposed to him any of equal force; though there was a necessity for a close union among them. He showed what France alone could do; and he had always either great success or great resources.
He was the first, who, in time of peace, gave a perfect idea and complete lesson of war. In 1698 he assembled at Compiègne seventy thousand men, where he performed all the operations of a campaign; and this was in order to instruct his three grandsons. But this military academy became a school of luxury.
The attention which he showed in forming numerous and well-disciplined armies, even before he was engaged in any war, he likewise exerted in acquiring the empire of the sea. First, the few vessels which Cardinal Mazarin had suffered to rot in the harbors were repaired; some others were bought in Holland and Sweden; and after the third year of his government he sent his maritime forces to make an attempt on the coast of Africa. The duke de Beaufort cleared the sea of pirates, in 1665, and two years after France had in its ports sixty ships of war.
This was only a beginning. But, while new regulations and new efforts were being made, he already felt all his force. He was unwilling to consent that his ships should strike their flag to that of England. The council of King Charles II. in vain insisted upon this right, which force, industry, and time had given to the English. Louis XIV. wrote to Count d’Estrades, his ambassador: “The king of England and his chancellor may see what my forces are; but they do not see my heart. I regard my honor more than all other things.”
He said no more than what he was resolved to maintain; and, in fact, the usurpation of the English gave way to natural right, and the firmness of Louis XIV. Everything was equal between these two nations at sea. But, while he would have an equality kept up with England, he maintained his superiority over Spain. He obliged the Spanish admirals to strike to his flag in virtue of the solemn precedence agreed upon in 1662.
Pains, however, were used on all sides for the establishment of a marine capable of justifying those high sentiments. The town and port of Rochefort were built at the mouth of the Charente. Sailors were enrolled and ranked by classes, who were to serve at one time in merchant ships, and at another in the royal navy. And soon there were found to be sixty thousand of these actually registered.
Councils of construction were established in the ports, for giving vessels the most commodious form. Five marine arsenals were built: at Brest, Rochefort, Toulon, Dunkirk, and Havre-de-Grâce. In 1672 there were sixty ships of the line and forty frigates. In 1681, a hundred and eighty ships of war, including the tenders, and thirty galleys, were in the harbor of Toulon, either equipped or ready to be so. Eleven thousand regular troops served on board the ships; and the galleys had three thousand. There were a hundred and sixty-six thousand men registered by classes, for all the different services of the marine. The following years there were reckoned to be in the service a thousand gentlemen, doing the duty of soldiers on board the ships, and learning in the ports whatever might qualify them for the art of navigation, and the working of a ship; these were the marine guards; they were on sea what the cadets were on land; and were instituted in 1672, but in small numbers. This corps has been the school which has produced the best officers of the service of the navy.
There had not been yet marshals of France in the corps of the marine; and this shows how this essential part of the forces of France had been neglected. John d’Estrées was the first marshal, in 1681. It appears that one of the great objects of Louis XIV. was to inspire all ranks with that emulation without which everything languishes.
In all the naval fights in which the French fleets were engaged, the advantage was always on their side, till the battle of La Hogue, in 1692, when Count de Tourville, following the orders of the court, attacked with forty-four sail a fleet of ninety English and Dutch ships: there was no standing against numbers; fourteen capital ships, of the first rate, were lost; which, being run aground, were burned, lest they should fall into the hands of the enemy. Notwithstanding this defeat, the maritime forces supported themselves; but they declined in the following war. They did not begin to be well re-established till 1751, during a happy peace, the only proper time for establishing a good marine, for the accomplishment of which there is neither leisure nor power while a war lasts.
These naval forces were of use to protect commerce. The colonies of Martinique, Santo Domingo, and Canada, before in a languishing condition, now flourished: not indeed to such a height of prosperity as we see them now arrived at, but with an advantage which till then had not been hoped for; for, from 1635 till 1665, these colonies had been a positive burden to the state.
In 1664 the king sent a colony to Cayenne, and soon after another to Madagascar. He tried all methods for repairing the loss and misfortune which France had suffered for a long time by neglecting the sea, while her neighbors had erected empires for themselves at the extremities of the earth.
From this general view, we see what changes Louis XIV. introduced into the state; changes indeed advantageous, as they still exist. His ministers had an emulation among themselves, who should second him best. The whole detail, the whole execution is undoubtedly owing to them, but the general disposition to him. It is certain that the magistrates would not have reformed the laws, the finances would not have been put again in order, discipline introduced into the armies, general police in the kingdom; that there would have been no fleets; the arts would not have been encouraged; and all this in concert, and at the same time, with perseverance, and under different ministers, if there had not been found a master who had in general all these grand views, with a will determined to accomplish them.
He did not separate his own glory from the advantage of France, nor look upon the kingdom with the same eye as a lord does upon his lands, from which he draws all he can, that he may live luxuriously. Every king who loves glory, loves the public good. He had no longer Colbert and Louvois when, in 1698, he ordered, with a view to the instruction of the duke of Burgundy, that each intendant should give a circumstantial description of his respective province; by which means an exact account might be obtained of the kingdom, and the true number of its inhabitants ascertained. The work was useful, though all the intendants had not the capacity and attention of M. Lamoignon de Bâville. Had the views of the king been so fully answered, with regard to each province, as they had been by this magistrate in the enumeration of the people of Languedoc, this collection of memoirs would have been one of the finest monuments of the age. Some of them are well done; but a plan was wanting by which all the intendants were to be subjected to the same order. It had been a thing much to be desired, that each had given in columns a state of the number of inhabitants in every province, also that of the nobles, citizens, laborers, artificers, works of art, the beasts of every sort, the good, middling, and bad lands, the whole clergy, regular and secular, their revenues, with those of the towns and companies.
All these objects are confounded in the greatest part of the memoirs which have been given; the matters in them are not canvassed thoroughly, and are done with little exactness. You are often obliged to seek with pains for the necessary lights which a minister should find ready under his hand, and catch up by a single glance, that he may easily discover the several forces, wants, and resources contained therein. The project was excellent, and a uniform execution of it would have been of the greatest utility.
This then in general is what Louis XIV. did and attempted, that he might render his own nation more flourishing. It seems to me that one cannot behold all these labors and all these efforts without some acknowledgment, and being animated with the love of the public good, which inspired them. Let us but represent to ourselves what the state of the kingdom was in the days of The Fronde, and what it is at present. Louis XIV. did more good to his own nation than twenty of his predecessors put together, and yet it falls infinitely short of what might have been done. The war, which was ended by the Peace of Ryswick, began the ruin of that commerce which Colbert had established, and the succeeding war completed it.
Had he employed for the embellishing of Paris and the completion of the Louvre, those immense sums expended on the aqueducts, and the works of Maintenon for conveying water to Versailles, works indeed interrupted and useless; had he laid out in Paris the fifth part of what that cost, in order to force nature at Versailles, Paris would be throughout its whole extent as beautiful as it is on the side of the Tuileries and the Pont-royal, and would have been the most magnificent city in the world.
It is a great deal to have reformed the laws; but chicanery could not be crushed by justice. The government once thought of making jurisprudence uniform: it is so already in criminal affairs, in those of commerce, and the forms of process; it might be so likewise in the laws which regulate the fortunes of the subject. It is a great inconvenience, that the same tribunal has more than a hundred different customs to give decisions upon. The duties arising from lands, either equivocal, or burdensome to society, still continue, as the remains of the feudal government, which itself subsists no longer. These are the remains of a Gothic building, now no more.
It is not pretended these different orders of the state should be subjected to the same law, for one is very sensible that the usages of the noblesse, the clergy, the magistrates, and those who cultivate the earth should be different. But it is undoubtedly to be wished for, that each order should have its uniform law throughout the kingdom, that what is just and true in Champagne may not be considered false in Normandy. Uniformity in all sorts of administration is a virtue; but the difficulties of this great work have deterred people from attempting it.
Louis XIV. might have more easily dispensed with the dangerous resource of the farmers of the taxes, to which he was compelled by the constant anticipation of the receipt of his revenues, as may be seen in the chapter of the finances.
Had he not believed that he was sufficiently able, merely by his own authority, to oblige a million of men to change their religion, France had not lost so many subjects. This country, however, notwithstanding its various shocks and losses, is at present the most flourishing on the face of the earth, because all the good which Louis XIV. did is still in existence, and the evil, which it was difficult for him to avoid in turbulent times, has been repaired. In fine, posterity, who pass judgment on kings, and whose judgment they should always have before their eyes, will admit on weighing the virtues and foibles of this monarch, that though he had been too much praised in his lifetime, he deserved to be so forever; and that he was worthy of the statue erected to him at Montpellier, with the inscription “To Louis the Great, after his death.”
All the changes which we have just now seen pointed out in the government, and in all the orders of the state, must necessarily have produced a very considerable one in the manners of the people. The spirit of faction, fury, and rebellion, which possessed the nation from the time of Francis II., became a spirit of emulation for serving the prince. The lords, who possessed great estates, being no longer cantoned upon them; the governors of provinces having no more posts of honor to bestow, each individual studied to deserve no other favors than those of the sovereign; and the state became one regular whole, every line of which terminated in the centre.
This was what delivered the court from factions and conspiracies, which had always troubled the state during a course of so many years. Under the administration of Louis XIV. there was but one plot, in 1674, which was contrived by la Traumont, a gentleman of Normandy, ruined by debauchery and debt; he was joined by one of the house of Rohan, who, by like conduct, had been reduced to the same indigent circumstances. In this plot were concerned only the chevalier de Preaux, nephew of la Traumont, who, seduced by his uncle, also seduced his mistress, Madame de Villiers. Their aim and hopes neither were, nor could be, to form a party in the kingdom. They only intended to sell and deliver up Quillebeuf to the Dutch, and introduce the enemy into Normandy. This was a base treason ill planned rather than a conspiracy. The punishment of all the criminals was the only event which this mad and fruitless affair produced, of which there is hardly at present any remembrance left.
If there were any seditions in the provinces, these were only feeble tumults of the people, which were easily repressed. Even the Huguenots were always quiet, till their churches were demolished. At length the king succeeded so far as to make, out of a nation till then turbulent, a peaceable people, who were dangerous only to the enemy, after having been so to themselves for above a hundred years. Their manners were softened, without hurting their courage.
In the houses which the nobility built or bought in Paris, their ladies lived with dignity, and formed schools of politeness, which drew by degrees the young people from a life spent at the taverns, which had been the prevailing mode for a long time before, and only served to inspire those who frequented them with an insolent debauchery. Manners depend on such trifles, that the custom of riding on horseback in Paris kept up a disposition for quarrels, which ceased as soon as this usage was abolished. Decorum, for which we are principally obliged to the fair sex, who assembled company at their houses, rendered conversation more agreeable, and, by reading, came in time to be more solid. Treasons and great crimes, which do not disgrace mankind in times of faction and confusion, were hardly known any longer. The villainies of Brinvilliers and Voisin were only transitory storms, under a sky otherwise serene: and it would be equally unreasonable to condemn a whole nation on account of the glaring crimes of some individuals, as to canonize it on account of the reformation of La Trappe.
All the different states of life were, in former times, easily known by the faults which characterized them. Those of a military turn, and the young people who designed themselves for the profession of arms, had a hasty vivacity; those belonging to the courts of justice, a stern, forbidding gravity; to which the custom of going always in a long robe, even to court, did not a little contribute. And it was the same case with regard to the universities, and to physicians. Merchants still wore little robes whenever they met together, and when they went to wait on the ministers; also the most considerable tradesmen were at that time persons of rustic manners. But the houses, the theatres, and the public walks, in which they began to meet together, in order to enjoy the pleasure of a social life, gradually rendered the exterior appearance of all these people nearly alike. One may see at this day, even in tradesmen’s shops, that politeness has gained ground upon all ranks. The provinces have in time also felt the effects of these changes.
At length people no longer place luxury in anything but taste and convenience. The crowd of pages and servants in livery has disappeared, to make way for more freedom in the houses of the great; vain pomp and outward pride have been left to those nations, among whom the people still know no more than to show themselves in public, and who are ignorant of the art of living.
The extreme easiness introduced into the intercourse of the world, affability, simplicity, and the cultivation of the mind, have rendered Paris a city which, for the conveniences of life enjoyed there, probably very much surpasses Rome and Athens in the height of their splendor.
That great number of helps always ready, always open for the whole circle of the sciences, all the arts, particular tastes and wants, so many solid advantages uniting with such a number of agreeable things, joined to that openness peculiar to the inhabitants of Paris; all these together induce vast numbers of strangers to travel, or take up their residence in this social city. If some natives quit it, they are either such as being called elsewhere on account of their talents, are an honorable testimony to their country, or else the refuse of the nation, who try to make their advantage of the consideration it has acquired.
Complaints are made, that no longer is to be seen at court so much grandeur and dignity as formerly; the truth is that there are no petty tyrants, as in the days of The Fronde, under the reign of Louis XIII., and in the preceding ages. But true greatness is now to be met with in those crowds of nobility, who were formerly debased for so long a time by serving subjects grown too powerful. There are seen gentlemen, and also citizens, who would have thought themselves honored in former days to be the domestics of these lords, become now their equals, and very often their superiors in the military service: and the more this service prevails over titles, the more flourishing is any state.
The age of Louis XIV. has been compared to that of Augustus. Not that the power and personal events in both can be compared: for Rome and Augustus were ten times more considerable in the world than Louis XIV. and Paris. But we must call to mind that Athens was equal to the Roman Empire in all things which do not derive their value from force and power. We must further consider, that if there is nothing at present in the world like ancient Rome and Augustus, yet all Europe together is much superior to the whole Roman Empire. In the time of Augustus there was but one nation, and at this day there are several who are well regulated, warlike, and enlightened, who are possessed of arts to which the Greeks and Romans were utter strangers; and among these nations there are none which has been more illustrious for about an age past than that formed in some measure by Louis XIV.
FINANCE UNDER LOUIS XIV.
If we compare the administration of Colbert with all the preceding ones, posterity will be fond of this man, whose body the frantic populace after his death would have torn to pieces. The French certainly owe to him their industry and their commerce; and consequently that wealth, the sources of which are sometimes diminished in war, but are always opened again with an abundant flow in peace. Yet in 1702 people had still the ingratitude to throw the blame upon Colbert for the languor which began to be perceivable in the sinews of the state. A financier of Normandy published about that time an account of the revenues of France, in two small volumes, in which he pretended that everything was in a declining state from 1660. But so far from this being the case, it was quite the reverse. France had never been so flourishing as since the death of Cardinal Mazarin, down to the war of 1689; and even in that war, the body of the state, though beginning to be out of order, supported itself by means of the vigor which Colbert had diffused through all its members. The author of this detail pretended that, from 1660, the lands of the kingdom had diminished in value fifteen hundred millions. But nothing was more false, nor less probable. These captious arguments, however, persuaded such as would be persuaded to believe this ridiculous paradox.
It was easier in France than in any other country to decry the ministry of the finances in the minds of the people. This ministry is the most odious, because the imposts are always so; besides, there prevailed in general as much prejudice and ignorance in the finances, as there did in philosophy.
It was so long before people received better information, that even in our days we find in 1718, the parliament in a body telling the duke of Orleans that the intrinsic value of the silver mark is twenty-five livres; as if there was any other real intrinsic value than that of the weight and the fineness: and the duke of Orleans, with all his penetration in other respects, had not enough of it in this to remove that mistake of the parliament.
It is true, Colbert had not done all that he could, and still less than he would have done. Men were not then sufficiently enlightened; and in a great kingdom there are always great abuses. The arbitrary taille, the multiplicity of duties, the different customs of the provinces, which make one part of the inhabitants of France strangers and even enemies to the other; the little resemblance there is between the measures of one town and those of another; with twenty other maladies of the body politic, could not be remedied.
Colbert, in order to furnish at once the expense of the war, of buildings, and pleasures, was obliged to re-establish, in 1672, what at first he intended to have abolished forever; namely, imposts on places, rents, new offices, and the augmentation of salaries: in short, that which supports the state for some time but involves it in debt for many years.
He was carried beyond his intended measures; for by all the instructions remaining of his, we see he was persuaded that the riches of a country consist only in the number of its inhabitants, the cultivation of the lands, the industry of the people, and commerce. We see, that the king, possessing very few domains, and being only the administrator of the goods of his subjects, cannot indeed be rich but by imposts easy to bear and equally assessed.
He feared so much to give up the state to the farmers of the king’s revenue, that some time after the dissolution of the chamber of justice, which he had caused to be erected against them, he got an arret of council passed, which made it death for those who should advance money upon the new imposts. His meaning by this menacing arret, which was never printed, was to cure the avidity of undertakers. But soon after he was obliged to make use of them, without even revoking the arret: for the king was pressing, and it was necessary to find prompt means to satisfy him.
This invention, brought from Italy into France by Catherine de Medici, had so much corrupted the government, by the facility with which it procured supplies, that after having been suppressed in the glorious days of Henry IV., it appeared again throughout the reign of Louis XIII. and greatly infected the latter times of Louis XIV.
Six years after the death of Colbert, in 1689, France was precipitated into a war, which she was obliged to maintain against all Europe, without having any funds in reserve. The minister, Lepelletier, believed that it would be sufficient to diminish luxury. An ordinance was accordingly made, that all the movables of solid plate, which were to be seen at that time in considerable quantities in the houses of the great, and were a proof of opulence, should be carried to the mint. The king set the example: he parted with all those silver tables, branched chandeliers, grand canopy-couches of massive silver, and all the other movables, which were masterpieces, chased by the hand of Ballin, the greatest artist in his way, and all done from designs of Lebrun. They had cost ten millions, but produced only three. The wrought plate belonging to private persons yielded three millions more. The resource was inconsiderable.
In 1691 and 1692 the finances of the state appeared sensibly out of order. Those who attributed the diminution of the public revenue to the profusion of Louis XIV. on his buildings, the arts, and his pleasures were not aware that, on the contrary, the expenses which encourage industry, enrich a state. It is war that necessarily impoverishes the public treasury, unless the spoils of the vanquished can fill it again. Since the time of the ancient Romans, I know of no nation that has enriched itself by victories. Italy, in the sixteenth century, was rich only by commerce. Holland would not have existed long had she confined herself to the taking of the plate-fleet of the Spaniards, and were not the East Indies the support of her power. England has always impoverished herself by war, even in destroying the French fleets: and commerce alone has maintained her. The Algerines, who have hardly any more than what they gain by piracy, are most miserably poor.
Among the nations of Europe, war, at the end of some years, renders the conqueror nearly as unhappy as the conquered. It is a gulf in which all the streams of abundance are absorbed. Ready money, that principle of all good and of all evil, raised with such difficulty in the provinces, terminates in the coffers of a hundred stock-jobbers and farmers of the revenue, who advance the sums wanting by the state, and who buy, by virtue of these advances, the right of pillaging the nation in the name of the sovereign. The people, in consequence of this, looking on the government as their enemy, conceal their wealth; and the want of circulation brings a languor on the kingdom.
No sudden remedy can supply a fixed and permanent establishment of long standing, which provides at a distance against any unforeseen wants. The capitation1 was established in 1695. It was suppressed at the Peace of Ryswick, and re-established later. Comptroller-General de Pontchartrain sold patents of nobility for two thousand crowns, in 1696; five hundred persons bought them. But the resource was transitory, and the shame permanent. The nobles, both ancient and modern, were obliged to register their coats of arms, and to pay for the permission of sealing their letters with them. The farmers bargained for this tax, and advanced the money; so that the ministry had hardly ever recourse to any but petty resources, in a country which could have furnished much greater.
They dared not impose the tenth penny till 1710. But this tenth penny, raised after so many other burdensome taxes, appeared so hard, that they dared not exact it with rigor. The government did not draw from it twenty-five millions a year, at forty francs to the mark.
Colbert had made few attempts to change the nominal value of money. But it is better not to change it at all. Silver and gold, those standards of exchange, should be invariable. He raised the nominal value of the silver mark, which was twenty-six francs in his time, only to twenty-seven and twenty-eight; and after his death, in the last years of Louis XIV., this denomination was extended as far as forty imaginary livres: a fatal resource, by which the king was relieved for a moment, in order to be ruined afterward; for instead of a silver mark, he had only given him little more than the half of it. He who owed twenty-six livres in 1668, gave a mark; and he who owed forty livres, gave little more than this same mark in 1710. The diminutions which followed disconcerted the little commerce that remained, as much as raising it had done.
A real resource might have been found in paper credit; but this should be established in a time of prosperity, that it may maintain itself in times that are otherwise.
The minister, Chamillard, began in 1706 to pay in bank notes, notes of subsistence, and free quarters; but as this paper money was not received into the king’s coffers, it was destroyed almost as soon as it appeared. The government was reduced to the necessity of continuing to negotiate heavy loans, and use by anticipation four years of the revenues of the crown.
We are told, in the history written by La Hode, and put under the name of de la Martinière, that it cost seventy-two per cent. for exchange in the wars of Italy, which is an absurdity. The matter of fact is this, that M. Chamillard, in order to pay the armies, made use of the credit of the chevalier Bernard. This minister believed, through an old prejudice, that money must not go out of the kingdom, as if such money were given for nothing, and as if it were possible that one nation indebted to another, and which does not discharge itself by mercantile effects, should not pay in ready money. This minister gave the banker eight per cent. of the profits, upon condition that foreigners were paid without making the money go out of France. Besides this, he paid the exchange, which amounted to five or six per cent. loss; yet the banker, notwithstanding his promise, was obliged to pay his accounts with the foreigners in money; and this produced a considerable loss.
Comptroller-General Desmarets, nephew of the celebrated Colbert, having succeeded Chamillard in 1708, could not cure an evil which everything rendered incurable.
Nature conspired with fortune to distress the state. The severe winter of 1709 obliged the king to remit to the people nine millions of taxes at the time when he had not wherewithal to pay his soldiers. The scarcity of provisions was so excessive that it cost forty-five millions for provisions for the army; and the king’s ordinary revenue produced scarcely forty-nine. The expenses of 1709 amounted to two hundred and twenty-one millions. There was then a necessity for ruining the state, that the enemy might not make themselves masters of it. The disorder grew to such a head, and was so little repaired, that for a long time after the peace, at the beginning of 1715, the king was obliged to cause thirty-two millions of notes to be negotiated, in order to have eight millions in specie. In short, at his death, he left a debt of two thousand six hundred millions, reckoning twenty-eight livres to the mark, the rate to which the coin was then reduced; and this makes about four thousand five hundred millions of our current money in 1750.
It is astonishing, but true, that this immense debt would not have been a burden impossible to bear, had there been at that time a flourishing commerce in France, a paper credit established, and substantial companies, which would have answered this credit, as is the case in Sweden, England, Venice, and Holland: for when a powerful state is indebted only within itself, credit and circulation are sufficient to make payments. But a great deal was wanting for France to have at that time a sufficient number of springs to operate so vast and complicated a machine, the weight of which crushed it.
Louis XIV. in his reign expended eighteen thousand millions; which amounts, one year with another, to three hundred and thirty millions of the present currency, by compensating interchangeably with each other, the nominal raisings and lowerings of the coin.
Under the administration of the great Colbert, the ordinary revenues of the crown rose only to a hundred and seventeen millions, at twenty-seven livres, and afterward twenty-eight livres to the silver mark. Thus the whole surplus was always furnished by extraordinary methods. Colbert was obliged, for example, to raise four hundred millions in six years, in the war of 1672. The king had but very few ancient domains of the crown left. These were declared unalienable by all the parliaments of the kingdom; and yet almost all of them were alienated. The king’s revenue consisted of the wealth of his subjects, and was a perpetual circulation of debts and payments. His majesty owed the people more nominal millions a year, under the name of annuities of the town house, than any king ever drew from the domains of the crown.
In order to form an idea of this prodigious increase of taxes, debts, riches, circulation, and at the same time of the embarrassments and trouble which have been experienced in France and other countries, it is to be considered that, at the death of Francis I., the state owed about thirty millions of livres to the town house, and that at present it owes over forty-five millions a year.
Those who have compared the revenues of Louis XIV. with those of Louis XV. have found, by only keeping to the fixed and current revenue, that Louis XIV. was much richer in 1683, at the time of Colbert’s death, with a hundred and seventeen millions of revenue, than his successor was in 1730, with nearly two hundred millions: and this will appear, by considering only the fixed and ordinary revenues of the crown. For a hundred and seventeen nominal millions, with the mark at twenty-eight livres, is a much greater sum than two hundred millions at forty-nine livres, which was the amount of the king’s revenue in 1730; and moreover, we must reckon the charges increased by the loans of the crown. But the revenues of the king, that is, of the state, have since been accumulated; and the knowledge of the finances has been brought to such a state of perfection, that in the ruinous war of 1741, there was no stagnation of credit. We have begun to form funds of mortgages, as among the English: it was necessary to adopt a part of their system of finances, as we have done of their philosophy: and if in a state purely monarchial, these circulating notes could be introduced, which at least double the wealth of England, the administration of France would acquire its last degree of perfection.1
In 1683, there were about five hundred nominal millions of silver coin in the kingdom; and about twelve hundred of the present currency. But the denomination in our days is almost double what it was in Colbert’s time. It therefore appears, that France is only about one-sixth part richer in circulating specie, since the death of that minister. It is much more so in materials of silver and gold worked and used for service and luxury. In 1690 it had not four hundred millions of our perfect coin; and at this day we have as much as there is circulating specie. Nothing shows more plainly how commerce, the sources of which Colbert opened, has been increased, when a free course has been given to its channels, that were shut close by the wars. Industry has been brought to perfection, notwithstanding the emigration of so many artists, which the revoking of the Edict of Nantes has dispersed; and this industry still increases daily. The nation is capable of as great things, and even still greater, than it was under Louis XIV., because genius and commerce always gain new strength wherever they are encouraged.
To see the affluence of individuals, the number of agreeable houses built in Paris and in the provinces, the multitude of equipages, the conveniences and refinements of luxury, you would think that our opulence is twenty times greater than it was formerly. All this is the fruit of ingenious labor rather than of riches. At this day it costs but little more for an agreeable lodging than it did for a bad one in the reign of Henry IV. A beautiful sort of glass of our own manufacture adorns our houses, at much less expense than the little glasses which were brought from Venice; our fine and showy stuffs are cheaper than those which we brought from foreign countries, and which were not of equal value with them. In effect, it is not silver and gold that procure a commodious life, but genius. A people possessed only of these metals would be miserable; whereas, on the other hand, a people without these metals, but who can happily employ all the productions of the earth, would be the truly wealthy people. France has this advantage, with a great deal more specie than is necessary for circulation.
Industry being brought to perfection in the towns, grew up and increased in the country. There will always be complaints raised about the condition of the tillers of the soil; you hear them in all countries of the world; and such murmurings are generally produced from indolent people of fortune, who condemn the government more than they bemoan the people. It is true that in almost every country, if such as pass their days in rural labors had leisure to murmur, they would rise up against the exactions which take from them a part of their substance. They would detest the necessity of paying such taxes as they had not laid upon themselves, and of bearing the burden of the state without participating in the advantages enjoyed by other citizens. It does not belong to the province of history to examine how the people may be taxed without being oppressed, and to mark the precise point so difficult to be fixed between the execution of the laws and the abuse of them; between impost and rapine. But history should show that it is impossible for a town to be flourishing, unless the country round it enjoys plenty; for certainly the produce of its fields supports its inhabitants. We hear on particular days, in all the towns of France, the reproaches of those who by their profession are allowed to declaim in public against all the different branches of consumption to which the name of luxury is given. It is evident that the nourishment for this luxury is furnished only by the industrious labor of the tillers of the ground: a labor which is always dearly paid for.
More vineyards have been planted, and better cultivated. New wines have been made, that were not known before, like those of Champagne, the makers of which have been well acquainted with the methods of giving them the color, flavor, and strength of the Burgundy wines, and which they vend among foreigners to a great advantage. This increase of wines has produced that of brandies. The cultivation of gardens of pulse and fruit has received a prodigious improvement; and the commerce in provisions with the colonies of America has from this been augmented. The loud complaints which have been made in all times about the misery of the country have now ceased to have any foundation. Besides, in these vague complaints there is no distinction made between the planters, the farmers, and the mechanics. These last live only by the labor of their hands; and the case is alike in all the countries of the world, where the bulk of the people, or the greater number, should subsist by that means: but there is scarcely a kingdom in the universe in which the planter and the farmer are more at ease than in France; and England alone may dispute this advantage with it. The proportional land-tax, instead of that substituted at discretion, has still contributed for about thirty years past to render more stable the fortunes of such husbandmen as have ploughs, vineyards, and gardens. The craftsman, or workman, must be restricted to necessaries for labor: such is the nature of man. For though the greater part of mankind may be poor, there is no necessity for their being miserable.
The middling sort have enriched themselves by industry. The ministers and the courtiers are less wealthy, because money having been raised nominally about half its value, their appointments and pensions have continued the same; and the price of goods has risen more than half. This is what has happened in all the countries of Europe. The several dues and fees have everywhere remained on the ancient footing. An elector of the empire, who receives the investiture of his states, pays no more than what his predecessors paid in the time of the emperor Charles IV., in the fourteenth century: and in this ceremony there is only a crown due to the emperor’s secretary.
What is much stranger is, that though all things have been raised, the nominal value of coin, the quantity of materials in gold and silver, and the price of merchant goods, yet the pay of a soldier has continued at the same rate as it was two hundred years ago. A foot soldier has five nominal sous, the same as he had in the time of Henry IV. None among the great number of ignorant men who sell their lives at so cheap a rate know that since the over-rating of the specie, and the dearness of merchandise, he receives about two-thirds less than the soldiers of Henry IV. did. If he knew it, and demanded a pay two-thirds greater, it must have been granted him. Hence it must happen that as the powers of Europe would keep on foot two-thirds fewer troops, their forces would be balanced in the same proportion; the cultivation of the ground and the manufactures would profit by this measure.
We must further observe, that the profits of commerce, being augmented, and the appointments for all the great offices diminished in their real value, there is found to be less wealth among the great than formerly, and more among the middling rank of people: and this circumstance has put men more upon a level. In former days there was no resource for the little but to serve the great. At present, industry has opened a thousand ways, which were not known a hundred years ago. In short, in whatever manner the finances of the state may be administered, France possesses in the labor of twenty millions of inhabitants an inestimable treasure.
PROGRESS OF THE SCIENCES.
This happy age, which has seen a revolution produced in the human mind, did not seem destined to it. To begin with philosophy, there was no appearance in the time of Louis XIV. that it would have emerged out of the chaos into which it was plunged. The Inquisition of Italy, Spain, and Portugal had linked the errors of philosophy to the tenets of religion; the civil wars in France, and the disputes of Calvinism were not more adapted to cultivate human reason than was the fanaticism of Cromwell’s time in England. Though a Canon Thorn renewed the ancient planetary system of the Chaldæans, which had been exploded for so long a time, this truth was condemned at Rome; and the congregation of the holy office, composed of seven cardinals, having declared not only heretical but absurd the motion of the earth, without which there is no true astronomy—the great Galileo having asked pardon at the age of seventy for being in the right—there was no appearance that the truth would be received in the world.
Chancellor Bacon had shown, but at a distance, the track which might be followed. Galileo had made some discoveries on the descent of bodies; Torricelli began to ascertain the gravity of the air which surrounds us; and some experiments had been made at Magdeburg. Notwithstanding these essays, all the schools continued in absurdity, and the world in ignorance. Then appeared Descartes; he did the contrary of what should have been done; instead of studying nature, he wanted to guess at her. He was the greatest geometrician of his age; but geometry leaves the mind as she finds it. That of Descartes was too much addicted to invention. The prince of mathematicians made scarcely any more than romances of philosophy. A man who scorned experiments, never cited Galileo, and was for building without materials, could erect no more than an imaginary edifice.
That which was romantic in it succeeded; and the few truths, mixed with these new chimeras, were at first contested; but at last these few truths broke out by the help of the method which he himself introduced. For before his time there was no thread for this labyrinth; and at least he gave one, of which a use was made after he had bewildered himself. It was a great deal to destroy the chimeras of Peripateticism, though by means of other chimeras. These two phantoms combated each other. They fell successively; and reason raised itself at length upon their ruins. There was at Florence an academy for experiments, under the name of del Cimento, established by Cardinal Leopold de Medici, about 1655. They were already aware in this country of the arts, that it was not possible to comprehend anything about the grand fabric of nature, but by examining her minutely. This academy, after the days of Galileo, and from the time of Torricelli, performed signal services.
Some philosophers in England, under the gloomy administration of Cromwell, met together for the discovery of truth, at a time when it was oppressed by the severity of enthusiasm. Charles II., being called home to the throne of his ancestors, by the repentance and inconstancy of his own nation, gave letters patent to this infant and rising academy; but this was all that the government gave. The royal society, or rather the free society of London, labored to promote useful knowledge. It was from this illustrious body that in our days proceeded the discoveries on light, the principle of gravitation, the motion of the fixed stars, and a hundred other discoveries, which in that respect might give occasion to the calling of this age the age of the English as well as that of Louis XIV.
In 1666, Colbert, jealous of this new kind of glory, was desirous that the French should partake of it; and, at the entreaty of some learned men, prevailed on Louis XIV. to condescend to the establishment of the Academy of Sciences. It was free till 1699, like that of England and the French Academy. Colbert drew from Italy, Dominico de Cassini,1 and Huygens from Holland, by means of large pensions. They discovered the satellites and the ring of Saturn. The world is indebted to Huygens for pendulum clocks. By degrees, knowledge was acquired in all parts of true physics, by rejecting systems. The public was surprised to see a chemistry, in which researches were made neither for the grand secret nor for the art of prolonging life beyond the bounds of nature; an astronomy which did not predict the events of the world; and a medicine independent of the phases of the moon. Putrefaction was no longer the parent of animals and plants. There were no more prodigies, from the time that nature came to be better known; for she was studied in all her works.
Geography received astonishing improvements. No sooner had Louis XIV. built the observatory, than he caused a degree of the meridian to be measured in 1669, by Dominico de Cassini and Picard; which was continued toward the north in 1683, by de Lahire, and at last Cassini prolonged it in 1700, as far as the extremity of Roussillon. This is the finest monument of astronomy, and is sufficient to eternize this age.
In 1672, natural philosophers were sent to Cayenne, in order to make useful observations. This voyage gave rise to the discovery of a new law of nature, which the great Newton has demonstrated, and has paved the way for those more famous voyages which have since given a lustre to the reign of Louis XV.
In 1700, de Tournefort was sent to the Levant, to collect there the plants necessary to enrich the royal garden, which was formerly neglected, but was at that time restored, and is now worthy of the curiosity of Europe. The royal library, already well stocked, was enriched under Louis XIV. with upward of thirty thousand volumes; and this example is so well followed in our days, that it contains at this time more than a hundred and eighty thousand. He caused the law school, which had been shut for a hundred years past, to be opened. He established in all the universities of France professors of the French law. One would imagine that there should be no other here, and that the good Roman laws incorporated with those of the country, should form but one body of the laws of the nation.
Under him literary journals were established. It is well known that the “Journal des Savans,” which began in 1665, is the first of all the works of this kind with which Europe is at this day filled, and into which too many abuses have crept, as commonly happens in things of the greatest utility.
The Academy of the Belles-Lettres, composed at first, in 1663, of some members of the French Academy, for transmitting to posterity, by medals, the actions of Louis XIV., became useful to the public, from the time that it was no longer solely employed about the monarch, and that they applied themselves to researches into antiquity, and a judicious criticism upon opinions and facts. It produced nearly the same effect in history as the Academy of Sciences did in natural philosophy: it dispelled errors.
The spirit of discernment and criticism, which increased by degrees, insensibly destroyed superstition. It is to this dawn of reason that we owe the declaration of the king in 1672, which forbids the tribunals to admit simple accusations of sorcery. This was a matter which dared not be attempted under Henry IV. and Louis XIII. And if, since 1672, there have been accusations of enchantment, the judges have not condemned the persons accused, excepting where profanation of religion, or the use of poison was proved against them.1
It was formerly very common to try sorcerers by plunging them in water, being first bound with cords; and if they floated on the surface, they were convicted. Several judges in the provinces had ordered such trials to be made; and these methods still continued for a long time among the people. Every shepherd was a sorcerer; and amulets and studded rings were used in the towns. The effects of the hazel wand, with which it was believed that springs, treasures, and thieves could be found out, were looked upon as certain; and have still a great deal of credit given them in more than one province in Germany. There was hardly anybody but who had his nativity cast; and nothing was talked of but magical secrets. All ranks were infected with the delusion. Learned men and magistrates had written seriously on these matters. A set of authors was distinguished by the name of “Dæmonographi.” There were rules for discerning true magicians, and true demoniacs from the false. In fine, even to our time, there was hardly anything adopted from antiquity but errors of every kind. Superstitious notions were so rooted among men, that people were frightened by a comet in 1680; and scarcely anyone dared to combat this popular fear. James Bernoulli, one of the greatest mathematicians in Europe, in his answer to those who maintained the ominous nature of comets, says, that its head cannot be a sign of the divine wrath, because that head is eternal; but that the tail may very well be so. However, neither the head nor tail are eternal. It was then necessary that Bayle should write against vulgar prejudices, a book, famous at that time, which the progress since made by reason has now rendered useless.
One would not believe that sovereigns had obligations to philosophers. It is, however, true, that this philosophic spirit, which has gained ground among all ranks except the lower class of people, has very much contributed to give a due weight to the rights of princes. Disputes which would have formerly produced excommunications, interdicts, and schisms have caused none of these things. It has been said that the people would be happy had they philosophers for their kings; it is equally true, that kings are the more happy, when many of their subjects are philosophers.
It must be allowed that the reasonable spirit, which begins to preside over education in the large towns, has not been able to cure the frenzy of the fanatics in the Cévennes, nor prevent the inferior people of Paris showing their folly at the tomb of St. Médard,1 nor quiet the disputes, as violent as they are frivolous, which arise between men who ought to be wiser. But before this age, such disputes had caused troubles in Europe: the miracles of St. Médard were believed by the most considerable citizens; and fanaticism, which had been confined within the mountains of the Cévennes, diffused itself into the towns.
Science and literature seemed carried to perfection in this age; and so many writers have extended the powers of the human understanding that those who at other times would have been thought prodigies passed undistinguished in the crowd. Their glory is lessened on account of their number; but the glory of the age is greatly exalted.
THE POLITE ARTS IN EUROPE AT THE TIME OF LOUIS XIV.
I have sufficiently hinted, in the course of this history, that the public disasters it contains, which succeed one another almost without intermission, are at length erased from the registers of time. The springs and minute circumstances of politics, sink into oblivion; while wise laws and institutions, the monuments produced by the arts and sciences, continue forever.
Of the immense crowd of strangers that now travel to Rome, not as pilgrims, but as persons of taste, hardly one takes pains to inquire anything concerning Gregory VII. or Boniface VIII. They admire the beautiful churches built by a Bramantes and a Michelangelo, the paintings of a Raphael, and the sculptures of a Bernini; if they have genius, they read the works of Ariosto and Tasso, and reverence the ashes of Galileo. In England the exploits of Cromwell are scarcely mentioned, and the disputes of the white and red roses are almost forgotten; but Newton is studied for whole years together: no one is surprised to see in his epitaph that “he was the glory of mankind;” but it would be a matter of great wonder in that country to see the remains of any statesman honored with such a title.
I should be glad, in this place, to do justice to all the great men, who, like him, were the ornaments of their country in the last century. I have called this the Age of Louis XIV. not only because this monarch patronized the arts much more than all the other kings, his contemporaries, put together, but also because he saw all the generations of the princes of Europe thrice renewed. I have fixed this epoch some years before the time of Louis XIV. and have carried it down some years after his decease, as this was, in fact, the space of time in which the human mind made the greatest progress.
The English have made greater advances toward perfection, in almost every species of learning, from 1660 till the present time, than in all the preceding ages. I shall not here repeat what I have elsewhere said, of Milton. It is true, he is accused by several critics of a whimsical extravagance in his description, such as that of the fools’ paradise; the walls of alabaster with which the garden of Eden was surrounded; the devils, who transformed themselves from giants to pygmies, to take up less room in the council chamber of hell, built all of pure gold; the firing of cannon in heaven; the hills that the combatants flung at one another’s heads; angels on horseback, and angels whose bodies, after being cut asunder, unite again. He is complained of for his prolixity and incessant repetitions. They say he equals neither Ovid nor Hesiod in that long description of the formation of the earth, animals, and man. His dissertations on astronomy are censured, as being too dry and uninteresting; his invention is thought rather extravagant than wonderful, and more disgusting than striking; for instance, the long causeway over chaos; sin and death enamored of each other, and having children by their incestuous commerce; “Death, who lifts up his nose, to snuff, through the immensity of chaos, the change which has befallen the earth, as a raven smells dead carcasses.” The same Death who smells out sin, who strikes with his petrifying club on the elements of Earth and Water, which, together with Heat and Humidity, become four valiant generals of an army, leading in battle-array the light-armed embryos of atoms.1 In short, writers have exhausted themselves in criticisms on this celebrated work; but there can be no end to the praises it merits. Milton will ever continue the boast and admiration of the English nation, will always be compared to Homer, whose faults are equally great, and always preferred to Dante, whose imagination is even more extravagant.
Among the great number of pleasing poets that adorned the reign of Charles II., such as Waller, the earls of Dorset and Roscommon, the duke of Buckingham, etc., the celebrated Dryden holds a distinguished place; he is equally famous in all the different kinds of poetry. His writings abound with a number of minute particulars, at once natural and lively, animated, bold, nervous, and pathetic; a merit in which he has been equalled by no other poet of his nation, nor exceeded by anyone among the ancients. If Pope, who came after him, had not, in the latter part of his life written his “Essay on Man,” he would have fallen far short of Dryden.
No nation has ever treated morality, in verse, with so much energy and depth, as the English. In this, I think, seems to lie the greatest merit of their poets.
There is another kind of varied literature, which requires a still more cultivated and universal genius; this Addison possessed in an eminent degree. He has not only immortalized his name by his “Cato,” which is the only English tragedy written with elegance and well-supported dignity, but his other writings, both moral and critical, breathe the very soul of good taste; here sense is everywhere embellished with the flowers of imagination; and his manner of writing may serve as a model to all nations. There are several little pieces of Dean Swift, unmatched by anything of the kind in antiquity. He is Rabelais improved.
The English are not acquainted with funeral orations, it not being the custom with them to praise their kings and queens in their churches, but pulpit eloquence, which, before the reign of Charles II., was very rude, became formed on a sudden. Bishop Burnet acknowledges that this was owing to their imitation of the French; perhaps they have even surpassed their masters; they are not so stiff, affected, and declamatory in their sermons as the French are.
It is also remarkable that these islanders, who are separated from the rest of the world, and who remained so long untaught, should have acquired at least as much knowledge of antiquity as is to be met with in Rome, though the centre of all nations. Masham has unveiled the dark accounts of ancient Egypt; no Persian had ever a more perfect knowledge of the religion of Zoroaster than the celebrated Hyde. The history of Mahomet, and the times preceding him, which was unknown to the Turks, has been fully illustrated by Hales, who made so many useful voyages to Arabia.
There is no country in the world where the Christian religion has been so strongly attacked and so learnedly defended as in England. From the time of Henry VIII. to that of Cromwell, they carried on their disputes like the ancient gladiators, who were wont to come into the arena to fight with scimitars in their hands and bandages about their eyes. Some slight differences in doctrine and worship were productive of the most bloody wars; whereas, from the Restoration to the present time, though scarcely a year has passed without some attack on Christianity, the controversy has not excited the least disturbance, learning being the only weapon now employed on either side, instead of fire and sword, as formerly.
But, it is in philosophy that the English have particularly had the mastery over all other nations. Ingenious and speculative notions were out of the question. The fables of the Greeks had been long laid aside, and those of the moderns were to appear no more. Chancellor Bacon first led the way, by asserting that we should search into nature in a new manner, and have recourse to experiments. Boyle employed his whole life in making them. This is no place for discussions on natural philosophy; let it suffice to say that, after three thousand years of vain inquiries, Newton was the first who discovered and demonstrated the great law of nature, by which every part of matter tends toward the centre, and all the planets are retained in their proper course. He was the first who truly beheld light; before him we knew not what it was.
His principles of the mathematics, which contain a system of natural philosophy, entirely new and true, are founded on the discovery of what is called the Calculation of Infinites, the last effect of geometry, and which was executed by him at the age of twenty-four. This occasioned that great philosopher, the learned Halley, to say: “It will never be permitted any mortal to approach nearer to the Deity.”
Numberless good geometricians and natural philosophers were at once improved by his discoveries, and encouraged to pursue the course he had pointed out to them. Bradley at length went so far as to discover the parallax of the fixed stars, at twelve millions of millions of miles distant from our little globe.
Halley, though no more than a private astronomer, had the command of one of the king’s ships in 1698. In this ship he determined the position of the stars of the Antarctic, or South Pole, and marked the different variations of the compass in all the parts of the known world. The famous voyage of the Argonauts was, in comparison with his, no more than the passing from one side of a river to another in a boat; and yet this voyage of Halley’s has scarcely been spoken of in Europe.
This indifference of ours for great things, when become too familiar, and the admiration paid by the ancient Greeks to the most trivial ones, is another proof of the prodigious superiority of our age over the ancient times. Boileau, in France, and Sir William Temple, in England, obstinately deny any such superiority; they seem resolved to depreciate their own age, in order to exalt themselves above it. This dispute between the ancients and moderns is at length decided, at least as to philosophy. There is not one of the ancient philosophers whose works are now made use of for the instruction of youth in any of the enlightened nations.
Locke alone might serve as a great instance of the advantage that the present time has over the finest ages of Greece. From Plato down to him there is one great chasm, no one during all that interval having explained the operations of the soul; and a person who should be acquainted with all that Plato has written, and acquainted with that only, would have very little knowledge, and even that erroneous.
The Greek was indeed an eloquent writer; his apology for Socrates is a great piece of service done to the learned of all nations. It is but just to hold in veneration him who made oppressed virtue so venerable, and its persecutors so detestable. It was for a long time thought that he, who was so fine a moralist, could not be a bad natural philosopher; he was held almost for a father of the Church, on account of his “Ternarion,” which no one understood; but what would be thought of a philosopher in our days who would tell us that matter is the author; and that the world is a figure of twelve pentagons; that fire is a pyramid, and is linked to the earth by numbers? How would a person be received, who should go about to prove the immortality and metempsychosis of the soul, by saying that sleep comes from watching, watching from sleep, life from death, and death from life? Yet such are the arguments that have been the admiration of so many ages, and ideas still more extravagant have since continued to be made use of, in the education of mankind.
Locke is the only one who has explained human understanding, in a book where there is nothing but truths; and what renders the work perfect is that these truths are all clear.
If we would, once for all, see in what this last age has the superiority over the former ones, we have only to cast our eyes upon Germany and the North. Dantzic has produced a Hevelius, who is the first astronomer that was ever well acquainted with the planet of the moon, no man before him having ever so carefully examined the heavens; among the many great men whom this age has produced, no one is a more striking example how justly it may be called the age of Louis XIV. Hevelius lost an immense library by fire. The French monarch recompensed the astronomer with a present that far overpaid his loss.
In Holstein, Mercator was the forerunner of Newton in geometry. The Bernouillis of Switzerland were disciples worthy this great man, and Leibnitz was for some time considered his rival.
The famous Leibnitz was born at Leipsic; he ended his days in Hanover, like a true philosopher, believing in a God, like Newton, without consulting the various opinions of mankind. He was perhaps a man of the most universal learning in Europe; he was a historian indefatigable in his inquiries; a profound civilian, who enlightened the study of law by philosophy, foreign as it may appear to that kind of study; so thorough a metaphysician, as to attempt reconciling divinity and the metaphysics; a tolerable Latin poet; and lastly, so good a mathematician, as to dispute with the great Newton the invention of the Calculation of Infinities, and to make it for some time doubted which of them had the justest claim to the honor of that discovery.
This was then the golden age of geometry. Mathematicians sent frequent challenges to one another, that is to say, problems to solve, much in the same manner as it is said the ancient kings of Egypt and Asia sent enigmas to be answered by one another. The problems proposed by these geometricians were of a much more difficult nature than the Egyptian enigmas, and yet none of them remained unanswered, either in Germany, England, Italy, or France. There never was a more universal correspondence kept between philosophers than at this period, and Leibnitz contributed not a little to encourage it. A republic of letters was insensibly established in Europe, in the midst of the most obstinate war, and the number of different religions; the arts and sciences, all of them thus received mutual assistance from each other, and the academies helped to form this republic. Italy and Russia were united by the bonds of science, and the natives of England, Germany, and France went to study at Leyden. The famous physician, Boerhaave, was consulted at the same time by the pope and the czar of Muscovy. His principal pupils have in like manner drawn strangers after them, and have in some measure become the physicians of nations. The truly learned of every denomination have strengthened the bonds of this grand society of geniuses, which is universally diffused, and everywhere independent. This correspondence is still carried on, and proves one of the greatest comforts against the evils which ambition and politics scatter through the world.
Italy has preserved her ancient glory in this age, though she has produced no new Tassos, nor Raphaels. It is sufficient that she has once produced them. A Cabrera, a Zappi, and a Filicaia have shown that delicacy is always the portion of this nation. The “Merope” of Maffei, and the dramatic works of Metastasio, are the beautiful monuments of the age.
The study of true natural philosophy, as established by Galileo, still keeps its ground in spite of the ancient philosophy, which has but too many bigoted admirers. The Cassinis, the Vivianis, the Mandis, the Bianchinis, the Zanottis, and many others have spread over Italy the same light that beamed in other countries, and, though its principal rays came from England, yet the Italian schools have been able to gaze on it in all its splendor.
Every kind of literature has been cultivated in this ancient seat of the arts as much as elsewhere, except in those subjects where a liberty of thinking allows a greater scope to the genius in other nations. This age in particular has attained a better knowledge of antiquity than the preceding. Italy furnishes more monuments than all Europe together, and in proportion as these have been brought to light, science has become more extensive.
We are indebted for this progress to some wise men and geniuses, scattered in small numbers over some parts of Europe, almost all of them for a long time subjected to persecutions, and lost in oblivion; they have enlightened and comforted the world during the wars that spread desolation through it. There are lists to be met with elsewhere, of all those who have been the ornaments of Germany, England, and Italy. It would be very improper, in a stranger, to pretend to rate the merits of so many illustrious men; let it suffice then to have shown, that in the last age mankind acquired throughout Europe greater light than in all the ages that preceded it.
THE CHILDREN OF LOUIS XIV.—THE SOVEREIGN PRINCES CONTEMPORARY WITH HIM—HIS GENERALS AND MINISTERS.
THE CHILDREN OF LOUIS XIV.
Louis XIV. married Maria Theresa of Austria, born in 1638, only daughter of Philip IV. by his first queen, Elizabeth of France, and sister of Charles II. and Margaret Theresa, whom Philip IV. had by his second wife, Marie Anne of Austria. The nuptials were celebrated July 9, 1660, and Maria Theresa died in 1683. He had by her:
Louis, the dauphin, called Monseigneur, born Nov. 1, 1661, who died at Meudon, April 14, 1711. Nothing was more common for some time before the death of this prince than the following proverb, which was applied to him: “The son of a king, the father of a king, and never king.” The event seemed to countenance the credulity of those who place faith in predictions; but this saying was only a repetition of that which went about concerning Philip de Valois, and was moreover founded chiefly on Louis XIV.’s own state of health, he being much more robust than his son. This prince had by Mary Anne Christina Victoria of Bavaria, who died April 20, 1690:
1. Louis, duke of Burgundy, who was born Aug. 6, 1682, and died Feb. 18, 1712. He had issue by his duchess, Maria Adelaide of Savoy, who died Feb. 12, 1712: N., duke of Brittany, who died in 1705; Louis, duke of Brittany, who died in 1712; and Louis XV., who was born Feb. 15, 1710.
2. Philip, duke of Anjou, king of Spain, born Dec. 19, 1683, died July 9, 1746.
3. Charles, duke de Berry, born Aug. 31, 1686, died May 4, 1714.
Louis XIV. had two other sons and three daughters, who all died young.
His Natural and Legitimated Children.
Louis XIV. had by the duchess de la Vallière, who turned Carmelite nun June 2, 1674, took the habit June 4, 1675, and died June 6, 1710, aged sixty-five:
Louis de Bourbon, count of Vermandois, born Oct. 2, 1667, died in 1683.
Mary Anne, called Mademoiselle de Blois, born in 1666, married to Armand, prince of Conti, and died in 1739.
Other Natural and Legitimated Children.
Louis Augustus, of Bourbon, duke de Maine, born March 31, 1670, died in 1736.
Louis Cæsar, count of Vexin, abbot of St. Denis and St.-Germain-des-Prés, born in 1672, died in 1683.
Louis Alexander de Bourbon, count of Toulouse, born June 6, 1678, died in 1737.
Louise Frances of Bourbon, called Mademoiselle de Nantes, born in 1673, married to Louis III., duke of Bourbon-Condé, and died in 1743.
Louise Marie of Bourbon, called Mademoiselle de Tours, died in 1681.
Frances Mary, of Bourbon, called Mademoiselle de Blois, born in 1677, married to Philip II., duke de Orleans, regent of France, died in 1749.
Two other sons both died young.
CELEBRATED ARTISTS AND MUSICIANS.
[The foregoing review of the progress made in the arts and sciences would be incomplete without a glance at the leading artists in painting and music. Each nation has its peculiar theories of art, which fact tends to the formation of schools, modified by conditions of national life, scenery, climate, and largely by patriotic enthusiasms. In no art are national characteristics more marked than in that of music.]
French music, especially the vocal, is disliked by all other nations. It cannot be otherwise, because the French prosody or versification differs from that of every other country of Europe. We make the pauses always upon the last syllable, whereas all others make it upon the penult, or antepenult, as the Italians. Our language is the only one that has words terminating in e mute, and those e’s that are not pronounced in ordinary discourse, yet are uniformerly so in music, as gloire, victoire, etc. Hence it comes, that most of our airs and recitative are insupportable to those who have not been accustomed to them. The climate denies us that flexibility of voice which it gives the Italians, and it is not custom among us, as at Rome and other Italian courts, to make eunuchs of men, in order to render their voices finer than those of women. All these things, joined to the slowness of our singing, which, by the bye, forms a strange contrast with our native vivacity, will always make the French music disagreeable to any but Frenchmen.
After all, foreigners who have resided some considerable time in France, acknowledge that our musicians have performed wonders in adapting their airs to our words, and also that the music is very expressive; but only so to ears that have been some time accustomed to it, and besides, the execution must be very good.
Our instrumental music is not altogether free from the monotony and slowness of the vocal; but many of our symphonies and tunes have been relished by foreigners. They are admitted into many of the Italian operas, and scarcely any others are in use at the court of a king who has one of the best operas in Europe, and who, among his other extraordinary talents, has a fine taste for music, which he cultivates with great assiduity.
Jean Baptiste Lulli, who was born at Florence in 1633, and came to France at the age of fourteen, when he could perform on no instrument but the violin, was the parent of true French music. He knew how to suit his art to the genius of the language, which was the only sure way to succeed: but at that time the Italian music had not begun to deviate from that gravity and noble simplicity which we still admire in Lulli’s recitative. Nothing resembles these recitatives more than the “Motet” of Lugi, sung in Italy with so much success in the seventeenth century, which begins thus:
It must be observed, that in this pure recitative music, which is the mélopée of the ancients, the beauty of the singing is principally owing to the natural melody of the words; no words but such as are musical can well have a place in recitative. But of this they were not sufficiently sensible in the days of Quinault and Lulli. The poets were jealous of these gentlemen as poets, but not as musicians. Boileau thus addresses Quinault:
The tender passions, which Quinault expressed so well, were much rather a striking picture of the human heart, than a loose morality; his diction animated the music still more than Lulli’s art did the words. These two, with the help of actors, have, of some scenes of Atys, Armida, and Roland, made an entertainment such as no people, ancient or modern, can match. Detached airs and ariettes did not at all come up to the perfections of these grand scenes. They very much resembled our Christmas carols, or the Venetian barcaroles; and yet they were contented with them at that time. The more artless the music then was, the fonder they were of it.
After Lulli, all our musicians, such as Colasse, Campra, Destouches, and others, copied after him, till at last one appeared, who far excels them in sublime harmony, and has vastly altered and improved the art of music.
With regard to sacred music, though we have had some celebrated composers in France, yet their pieces have not been executed anywhere but in the king’s chapel.
The case is not the same with regard to painting as with music. The latter may be such as to please none but the natives, because the genius of the language is incompatible with any other; but painters should represent nature, which is the same everywhere, and seen with the same eyes.
The only true test of a painter’s merit is the judgment of foreigners. It is not enough that he has a party, and is praised by scribblers; his works must be in request, and bear a high price. What sometimes hampers the genius of painters one would be apt to imagine would elevate and enlarge it, I mean the particular taste or manner of the school, or of those who preside in it. Academies are, without doubt, extremely useful to form pupils, especially when the directors aim at the sublime in painting; but if they are men of grovelling taste, if their manner is dry and minute, if their figures are ungraceful, their pieces painted like fans; their pupils are the dupes of imagination, or aiming at the applause of a bad master. There is a sort of fatality attending academies. None of the works styled academic, of any kind, have been works of genius. Suppose an artist extremely solicitous lest he should not hit the manner of his fellow academicians, his productions will infallibly be stiff and disgusting. But if a man is free from these prejudices, and aims only at copying nature, it is ten to one that he succeeds. Almost all the eminent painters either flourished before the establishment of academies, or got the better of the prejudices contracted there.
Corneille, Racine, Despréaux, and Lemoyne took a route quite different from their brethren, and in consequence had most of them for their enemies.
Nicholas Poussin was born at Andelys in Normandy, in 1599. Nature gave him a genius for painting, which he improved at Rome. He is called the painter of men of sense; with equal justice may he be denominated that of men of taste. His only defect is his heightening of the dismal and solemn in the coloring of the Roman school. He was the greatest painter in Europe in his time. He was invited from Rome to Paris; but was forced to give way to envy and cabal, and to withdraw, as many other ingenious men have done. He went back to Rome, where he lived poor, but contented, his philosophy enabling him to despise the frowns of fortune. He died in 1665.
Le Sueur, born at Paris in 1617, had no other master than Vouet, and yet became a celebrated painter. He carried the art to a high degree of perfection, when he was taken off the stage of time at the age of thirty-eight years, in 1655.
Bourdon and Valentin were eminent men. Three of the best pictures that adorn the church of St. Peter at Rome, are by Poussin, Bourdon, and Valentin.
Charles Lebrun, born at Paris in 1619, had scarcely begun to display his talent, when Superintendent Fouquet, one of the most generous, and at the same time most unhappy men that ever lived, gave him a pension of twenty-four thousand livres present money. His picture of the family of Darius at Versailles is little short, in point of coloring, of that of Paul Veronese, which faces it; and in design, composition, dignity, expression, and observance of costume, surpasses it. His battles of Alexander, engraved, are still more in request than those of Constantine by Raphael and Julio Romano. He died in 1690.
Peter Mignard, born at Troyes, in Champagne, in 1610, rivalled Lebrun for some time; but he is now considered as much below him. He died in 1695.
Claude Lorrain.—His father, when he would have made a pastry-cook of him, did not foresee that he would one day be reckoned one of the greatest landscape painters that ever Europe had produced. He died at Rome in 1682.
Case.—We have some pieces of his that begin to be highly valued. We do not do justice to ingenious men in France as soon as we should. Their indifferent performances often prevent us from seeing the beauties of their masterpieces. On the contrary, the Italians extol what is great and excellent, without taking notice of what is indifferent. Every nation seeks to promote its own glory and renown, except the French. They value nothing but what is foreign.
Joseph Parrocel, born in 1648, was a good painter, but inferior to his son. He died in 1704.
John Jouvenet, born at Rouen in 1644, was Lebrun’s pupil, and a good painter, but not to be compared to his master. He has painted almost everything yellow; for by some extraordinary conformation of his organs, they appeared to him of that color. He died in 1717.
Jean Baptiste Santerre.—There are some admirable pictures of his, the color of which is just and delicate. His picture of Adam and Eve is one of the finest in Europe: that of St. Theresa, in the chapel of Versailles, is a very noble piece, but rather luscious for an altarpiece.
Lafosse distinguished himself much in the same way.
Bon Boullongne was an excellent painter, of which the high price and great demand for his pieces are an evidence.
Louis Boullongne.—His works, though not without merit, yet are not so much admired as his brother’s.
Raoux.—His pieces are not all of equal merit. In some of them he is nothing short of Rembrandt.
Rigaud.—Though he excelled chiefly in portraits, yet his piece of Cardinal Bouillon opening the jubilee, is not at all inferior to any of Rubens.
Detroy.—He painted in Rigaud’s manner. There are some good historical pieces by his son.
Watteau.—He excelled as much in the graceful as Teniers did in the grotesque. Some of his pupils have done him honor.
Lemoine.—His “Hercules’ Apotheosis,” at Versailles, is perhaps superior to anything I have yet mentioned. It was intended as a compliment to Cardinal Hercules de Fleury, who, by the way, had nothing in common with the fabulous Hercules. It would have been more apropos to have represented the apotheosis of Henry IV. in the falcon of a French king. Lemoine, being envied by his brethren, and thinking himself ill-reputed by the cardinal, died of grief and despair.
Besides these there have been some other painters, who excelled in still life, or in painting animals, as Desportes and Oudry; others in miniature, and others in portraits. At present we have some that distinguish themselves in the grand and sublime, and posterity, in all appearance, will have them, too.
Sculptors, Architects, and Engravers.
Under Louis XIV. sculpture was carried to perfection, in which it still continues under Louis XV.
James Sarazin, born in 1590, executed some masterpieces at Rome for Pope Clement VIII., and at Paris he was equally successful. He died in 1660.
Peter Puget, born in 1622, was an architect, sculptor, and painter. He is celebrated chiefly for his “Andromeda,” and “Milo of Crotona.” He died in 1694.
Italy is indebted to Legros and Theodon for many of its embellishments.
Francis Girardon, born in 1630.—Antiquity can boast of nothing superior to his “Bath of Hercules,” and his “Tomb of Cardinal Richelieu.” He died in 1715.
Coysevox and Coustou were eminent in their way; yet we have three or four sculptors at present that excel them.
Chauveau, Nanteuil, Vermeulen, Audran, Hedlinger, Leclerc, les Drevet, Poilly, Picart, Duchange, though they have been outdone, yet were ingenious men, and their engravings supply the want of original pictures, etc., all over Europe.
There were also some goldsmiths, such as Ballin and Germain, who, on account of the beauty of their designs, and elegance of execution, deserve to be ranked among the most celebrated artists.
It is more difficult for one born with a genius for architecture to make his talent appear, than for any other artist. Unless he is set to work by princes he has no opportunity to display his taste and skill in any work of grandeur and magnificence. Thus have the talents of many an architect been entirely useless to him.
Francis Mansard was one of the best architects of Europe. The château, or palace of Maisons, near St.-Germain’s, is a masterpiece, because he was at liberty to give full scope to his genius.
Jules Hardouin Mansard, his nephew, was superintendent of the buildings under Louis XV. and made an immense fortune. The beautiful chapel of the Invalides is a design of his. As to the palace of Versailles, he could not display his talents to advantag in it, by reason of the situation.
Foreigners say that the city of Paris has only two fountains in good taste; the old one of John Gougeon, and the new of Bouchardon; and even these are badly situated. Neither has it any magnificent theatre besides that of the Louvre, which is not used. The places for the public diversions and representations have neither proportion, taste, nor ornament; and their situation is as bad as their contrivance, notwithstanding the example that has been set us by some cities in the provinces, but which we have not yet thought fit to follow. France, however, can boast of magnificent buildings of another sort, and of more importance, such as stately hospitals, storehouses, stone bridges, quays, dikes for checking the inundations of rivers, canals, sluices, ports, and especially the fortifications of the frontier towns, in which beauty is united with solidity.
The magnificent structures erected from the designs of Perrault, Levau, and Dorbay are too well known to require mention.
The art of gardening was in a manner invented and perfected by Lenôtre, and de la Quintinie; by the former with respect of beauty and ornament, and by the latter with regard to utility.
Engraving of precious stones, coining of medals, and casting of types for printing have kept pace with the other arts in point of improvement.
Clocks and watches, the makers of which may be considered as a sort of practical naturalists, have likewise been carried to a very high degree of perfection.
The watering of stuffs, and the gold with which they are embellished and enriched, displays such rare ingenuity and taste that what is worn only from vanity and luxury deserves to be preserved as a monument of industry.
The making of porcelain was set on foot at St. Cloud before it was attempted anywhere else in Europe.
In fine, the last age has taught the present how to unite, and transmit as a sacred deposit to posterity, the whole assemblage of the arts and sciences, each of them carried to the utmost perfection possible; and to do so is actually the object and aim of numbers of learned and ingenious men at this day. But such is the brevity of human life, that the execution of part of the immense and immortal design must be left to posterity.
[1 ] The abbot St.-Pierre, in his “Annales Politiques,” page 104 of his manuscript, says: “These things plainly show the number of lazy lubbers, as also their taste for laziness, which sufficiently serves to maintain and cherish other kinds of dronish fellows; and yet this is the condition of the Italian nation at present, where these arts are carried to a high degree of perfection; for they are beggars, lazy, heavy, vain poltroons, occupied about impertinences,” etc.
These rude reflections, written in language equally rude, are void of justice. The time in which the Italians succeeded best in these arts was under the Medici, while Venice was in its most warlike and opulent state; then it was that Italy produced great warriors and illustrious artists of all kinds. And it was also in the flourishing years of Louis XIV. that the arts have been carried to the greatest perfection. The abbot St.-Pierre has mistaken a great number of things, and has given grounds for regretting that reason has not always seconded his good intentions.
[1 ] Claude Perrault was a member of the Royal Academy at Paris, and bred a physician, though he did not practise that art. He made some noble designs in architecture, and was allowed to be a man of genius by all the world but Boileau, who, from private pique, has satirized both him and his brother Charles; a want of candor in Boileau which greatly detracts from the merit of his genius.
[1 ] Anthony le Prêtre, chevalier, count de Vauban, is so well known as the greatest engineer of his time—if Coehorn does not contest that pre-eminence—that we need not dwell upon the particulars of his character.
[1 ] In Vol. iv, p. 136, of Maintenon’s “Memoirs,” we find that the capitation “brought in beyond the hopes of the farmers.” But there has never been any farm of the capitation. It is said that “the lackeys of Paris went to the town house to beg that they might be put into the capitation.” This ridiculous story destroys itself, for masters always paid for their domestics.
[1 ] The abbot of St.-Pierre, in his “Journal Politique,” in the article “System,” says that in England and Holland there are no more notes than specie; but it is certain that the former greatly exceed the latter and do not subsist but by credit.
[1 ] John Dominico Cassini was one of the most able astronomers that Italy ever produced. He flourished in the seventeenth century, and in his youth was appointed professor of astronomy at Bologna, but he was invited to France by Colbert to be a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, and there he spent the remaining part of his life, which was happily extended to extreme old age. He explained the nature and revolutions of comets; he discovered that the planet Mars revolved upon its own axis in twenty-four hours and forty minutes; he discerned the spots on the body of Venus; he demonstrated that Saturn had five satellites, instead of one, which was all that Huygens had discerned; and he measured a degree of the meridian in the south of France.
[1 ] In 1609 six hundred sorcerers were condemned in the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Bordeaux, and most of them burned. Nicholas Remi, in his “Demonolatri,” gives an account of nine hundred arrets, passed in fifteen years against sorcerers in Lorraine only. The famous curate, Louis Guaffredi, burned at Aix in 1611, had publicly owned that he was a sorcerer, and the judges believed him.
It is shameful that Father Lebrun, in his treatise of “Superstitious Practices,” still admits of the decision of doubtful matters by casting lots. He even goes so far as to say, page 524, that the Parliament of Paris acknowledged it; but he is mistaken; the parliament indeed owned that there were profanations and enchantments, but no supernatural effects produced by the devil. The book of Don Calmet, “Sur les Vampires et sur les Apparitions,” has been looked upon as the work of a disordered brain, but it plainly shows how much the mind of man is addicted to superstition.
[1 ] Miracles were said to be performed at the tomb of Abbé Paris, in 1730. As this abbé was a professed Jansenist, the Jesuits would not allow him to be a saint, and found means to interest both the clergy and the government against his pretensions to this title. The archbishop of Paris published a mandamus, condemning the new miracles of this beatified Jansenist. The life of the abbé, which had been published at Brussels, was pronounced heretical by the holy congregation of the office, and burned by the hands of the hangman; but the reputation of the defunct flourished under this persecution. His tomb was surrounded by crowds of devotees, the lame were cured, the blind were restored to sight; so that the catalogue of miracles daily increased, until the burying-ground of St. Médard was shut up by the king’s express arret, and then the saint being deprived of his retinue, sank into oblivion.Four champions fierce,Strive here for mastery, and to battle bringTheir embryon atoms.—Paradise Lost.