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Beacon Lights of History, Volume VIII by John Lord

Part 3 out of 5

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to face his own servant, who however made him comprehend the dangers
which surrounded his throne and person, and compelled him to part with
his mother,--the only woman he ever loved,--and without permitting her
to imprint upon his brow her own last farewell. "And the world saw the
extraordinary spectacle of this once powerful Queen, the mother of a
long line of kings, compelled to lead a fugitive life from court to
court,--repulsed from England by her son-in-law, refused a shelter in
Holland, insulted by Spain, neglected by Rome, and finally obliged to
crave an asylum from Rubens the painter, and, driven from one of his
houses, forced to hide herself in Cologne, where, deserted by all her
children, and so reduced by poverty as to break up the very furniture of
her room for fuel, she perished miserably between four empty walls, on a
wretched bed, destitute, helpless, heartbroken, and alone." Such was the
power and such was the vengeance of the cardinal on the highest
personage in France. Such was the dictation of a priest to a king who
personally disliked him; such was his ascendency, not by Druidical
weapons, but by genius presenting reasons of state.

The next most powerful personage in France was the Duke of Orleans,
brother of the King, who sought to steal his sceptre. As he was detected
in treasonable correspondence with Spain, he became a culprit, but was
spared after making a humiliating confession and submission. But Conde,
the first prince of the blood, was shut up in prison, and the powerful
Duke of Guise was exiled. Richelieu took away from the Duke of Bouillon
his sovereignty of Sedan; forced the proud Epernon to ask pardon on his
knees; drove away from the kingdom the Duke of Vendome, natural brother
of the King; executed the Duke of Montmorency, whose family traced an
unbroken lineage to Pharamond; confined Marshal Bassompierre to the
Bastile; arrested Marshal Marillac at the head of a conquering army; cut
off the head of Cinq-Mars, grand equerry and favorite of the King; and
executed on the scaffold the Counts of Chalais and Bouteville. All these
men were among the proudest and most powerful nobles in Europe; they all
lived like princes, and had princely revenues and grand offices, but had
been caught with arms in their hands, or in treasonable correspondence.
What hope for ordinary culprits when the proudest feudal nobles were
executed or exiled, like common malefactors? Neither rank nor services
could screen them from punishment. The great minister had no mercy and
no delay even for the favorites of royalty. Nay, the King himself became
his puppet, and was forced to part with his friends, his family, his
mistresses, and his pleasures. Some of the prime ministers of kings have
had as much power as Richelieu, but no minister, before or since, has
ruled the monarch himself with such an iron sway. How weak the King, or
how great the minister!

The third great force which Richelieu crushed was the parliament of
Paris. It had the privilege of registering the decrees of the King; and
hence was a check, the only check, on royal authority,--unless the King
came in person into the assembly, and enforced his decree by what was
called a "bed of justice." This body, however, was judicial rather than
legislative; made up of pedantic and aristocratic lawyers, who could be
troublesome. We get some idea of the humiliation of this assembly of
lawyers and nobles from the speech of Omer Talon,--the greatest lawyer
of the realm,--when called upon to express the sentiments of his
illustrious body to the King, at a "bed of justice": "Happy should we
be, most gracious sovereign, if we could obtain any favor worthy of the
honor which we derive from your majesty's presence; but the entry of
your sacred person into our assembly unfits us for our functions. And
inasmuch as the throne on which you are seated is a light that dazzles
us, bow, if it please you, the heavens which you inhabit, and after the
example of the Eternal Sovereign, whose image you bear, condescend to
visit us with your gracious mercy."

What a contrast to this servile speech was the conduct of the English
parliament about this time, in its memorable resistance to Charles I.;
and how different would have been the political destinies of the English
people, if Stratford, just such a man as Richelieu, had succeeded in his
schemes! But in England the parliament was backed by the nation,--at
least by the middle classes. In France the people had then no political
aspirations; among them a Cromwell could not have arisen, since a
Cromwell could not have been sustained.

Thus Richelieu, by will and genius, conquered all his foes in order to
uphold the throne, and thus elevate the nation; for, as Sir James
Stephen says, "the grandeur of the monarchy and the welfare of France
with him were but convertible terms." He made the throne the first in
Europe, even while he who sat upon it was personally contemptible. He
gave lustre to the monarchy, while he himself was an unarmed priest. It
was a splendid fiction to make the King nominally so powerful, while
really he was so feeble. But royalty was not a fiction under his
successor. How respectable did Richelieu make the monarchy! What a deep
foundation did he lay for royalty under Louis XIV.! What a magnificent
inheritance did he bequeath to that monarch! "Nothing was done for forty
years which he had not foreseen and prepared. His successor, Mazarin,
only prospered so far as he followed out his instructions; and the star
of Louis XIV. did not pale so long as the policy which Richelieu
bequeathed was the rule of his public acts." The magnificence of Louis
was only the sequel of the energy and genius of Richelieu; Versailles
was really the gift of him who built the Palais Royal.

The services of Richelieu to France did not end with centralizing power
around the throne. He enlarged the limits of the kingdom and subdued her
foreign enemies. Great rivers and mountains became the national
boundaries, within which it was easy to preserve conquests. He was not
ambitious of foreign domination; he simply wished to make the kingdom
impregnable. Had Napoleon pursued this policy, he could never have been
overthrown, and his dynasty would have been established. It was the
policy of Elizabeth and of Cromwell. I do not say that Richelieu did not
enter upon foreign wars; but it was to restore the "balance of power,"
not to add kingdoms to the empire. He rendered assistance to Gustavus
Adolphus, in spite of the protests of Rome and the disgust of Catholic
powers, in order to prevent the dangerous ascendency of Austria; thus
setting an example for William III., and Pitt himself, in his warfare
against Napoleon. In these days we should prefer to see the "balance of
power" maintained by a congress of nations, rather than by vast military
preparations and standing armies, which eat out the resources of
nations; but in the seventeenth century there was no other way to
maintain this balance than by opposing armies. Nor did Richelieu seek to
maintain the peace of Europe by force alone. Never was there a more
astute and profound diplomatist. His emissaries were in every court,
with intrigues very hard to be baffled. He equalled Metternich or
Talleyrand in his profound dissimulation, for European diplomacy has
ever been based on this. While he built up absolutism in France, he did
not alienate other governments; so that, like Cromwell, he made his
nation respected abroad. His conquest of Roussillon prepared the way for
the famous Treaty of the Pyrenees, under the administration of Mazarin.
While vigorous in war, his policy was on the whole pacific,--like that
of all Catholic priests who have held power in France. He loved glory
indeed, but, like Sully and Colbert, he also wished to develop the
national resources; and, as indeed all enlightened statesmen from Moses
downward have sought to do, he wished to make the country strong for
defence rather than offence.

He showed great sagacity as well as an enlightened mind. The ablest men
were placed in office. The army and navy were reorganized. Corruption
and peculation on the part of officials were severely punished. The
royal revenue was increased. Roads, bridges, canals were built and
repaired, and public improvements were made. The fine arts were
encouraged, and even learning was rewarded. It was he who founded the
French Academy,--although he excluded from it men of original genius
whose views he did not like. Law and order were certainly restored, and
anarchy ceased to reign. The rights of property were established, and
the finances freed from embarrassments.

So his rigid rule tended to the elevation of France; absolutism proved
necessary in his day, and under his circumstances. When arraigned at the
bar of posterity, he claims, like Napoleon, to be judged for his
services, and not for his defects of character. These defects will
forever make him odious in spite of his services. I hardly know a more
repulsive benefactor. He was vain, cold, heartless, rigid, and proud. He
had no amiable weakness. His smile was a dagger, and his friendship was
a snare. He was a hypocrite and a tyrant. He had no pity on a fallen
foe; and even when bending under the infirmities of age, and in the near
prospect of death, his inexorable temper was never for a moment subdued.
The execution of Cinq-Mars and De Thou took place when he had one foot
in his grave. He deceived everybody, sent his spies into the bosom of
families, and made expediency the law of his public life.

But it is nothing to the philosophic student of history that he built
the Palais Royal, or squandered riches with Roman prodigality, or
rewarded players, or enriched Marion Delorme, or clad himself in mail
before La Rochelle, or persecuted his early friends, or robbed the
monasteries, or made a spy of Father Joseph, or exiled the Queen-mother,
or kept the King in bondage, or sent his enemies to the scaffold: these
things are all against him, and make him appear in a repulsive light.
But if he brought order out of confusion, and gave a blow to feudalism,
and destroyed anarchies, and promoted law, and developed the resources
of his country, making that country formidable and honorable, and
constructed a vast machinery of government by which France was kept
together for a century, and would have fallen to pieces without
it,--then there is another way to survey this bad man; and we view him
not only as a great statesman and ruler, but as an instrument of
Providence, raised up as a terror to evil-doers. We may hate absolutism,
but must at the same time remember that there are no settled principles
of government, any more than of political economy. That is the best
government which is best adapted to the exigency of that human society
which at the time it serves. Republicanism would not do in China, any
more than despotism in New England. Bad men, somehow or other, must be
coerced and punished. The more prevalent is depravity, so much the more
necessary is despotic vigor: it will be so to the end of time. It is all
nonsense to dream of liberty with a substratum of folly and vice. Unless
evils can be remedied by the public itself, giving power to the laws
which the people create, then physical force, hard and cold tyranny,
must inevitably take the place. No country will long endure anarchy; and
then the hardest characters may prove the greatest benefactors.

It is on this principle that I am reconciled to the occasional rule of
despots. And when I see a bad man, like Richelieu, grasping power to be
used for the good of a nation, I have faith to believe it to be ordered
wisely. When men are good and honest and brave, we shall have
Washingtons; when they are selfish and lawless, God will send
Richelieus and Napoleons, if He has good things in store for the future,
even as He sends Neros and Diocletians when a nation is doomed to
destruction by incurable rottenness.

And yet absolutism in itself is not to be defended; it is what
enlightened nations are now striving to abolish. It is needed only under
certain circumstances; if it were to be perpetuated in any nation it
would be Satanic. It is endurable only because it may be destroyed when
it has answered its end; and, like all human institutions, it will
become corrupted. It was shamefully abused under Louis XIV. and Louis
XV. But when corrupted and abused it has, like slavery, all the elements
of certain decay and ruin. The abuse of power will lead to its own
destruction, even as undue haste in the acquisition of riches tendeth
to poverty.


Petitot's Memoires sur le Regne de Louis XIII.; Secret History of the
French Court, by Cousin; Le Clerc's Vie de Richelieu; Henri Martin's
History of France; Memoires de Richelieu, by Michaud and Poujoulat; Life
of Richelieu, by Capefigue, and E.E. Crowe, and G.P.R. James; Lardner's
Cabinet Cyclopaedia; Histoire du Ministere du Cardinal de Richelieu, by
A. Jay; Michelet's Life of Henry IV. and Richelieu; Biographie
Universelle; Sir James Stephen's Lectures on the History of France.


A.D. 1599-1658.


The most difficult character in history to treat critically, and the
easiest to treat rhetorically, perhaps, is Oliver Cromwell; after two
centuries and more he is still a puzzle: his name, like that of
Napoleon, is a doubt. Some regard him with unmingled admiration; some
detest him as a usurper; and many look upon him as a hypocrite. Nobody
questions his ability; and his talents were so great that some bow down
to him on that account, out of reverence for strength, like Carlyle. On
the whole he is a popular idol, not for his strength, but for his cause,
since he represents the progressive party in his day in behalf of
liberty,--at least until his protectorate began. Then new issues arose;
and while he appeared as a great patriot and enlightened ruler, he yet
reigned as an absolute monarch, basing his power on a standing army.

But whatever may be said of Cromwell as statesman, general, or ruler,
his career was remarkable and exceedingly interesting. His character,
too, was unique and original; hence we are never weary of discussing
him. In studying his character and career, we also have our minds
directed to the great ideas of his tumultuous and agitated age, for he,
like Napoleon, was the product of revolution. He was the offspring of
mighty ideas,--he did not create them; original thinkers set them in
motion, as Rousseau enunciated the ideas which led to the French
Revolution. The great thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries were divines, the men whom the Reformation produced. It was
Luther preaching the right of private judgment, and Calvin pushing out
the doctrine of the majesty of God to its remotest logical sequence, and
Latimer appealing to every man's personal responsibility to God, and
Gustavus Adolphus fighting for religious liberty, and the Huguenots
protesting against religious persecution, and Thomas Cromwell sweeping
away the abominations of the Papacy, and the Geneva divines who settled
in England during the reign of Elizabeth,--it was all these that
produced Oliver Cromwell.

He was a Puritan, and hence he was a reformer, not in church matters
merely, but in all those things which are connected with civil
liberty,--for there is as close a connection between Protestantism and
liberty as between Catholicism and absolutism. The Puritans intensely
hated everything which reminded them of Rome, even the holidays of the
Church, organs, stained-glass, cathedrals, and the rich dresses of the
clergy. They even tried to ignore Christmas and Easter, though
consecrated by the early Church. They hated the Middle Ages, looked with
disgust upon the past, and longed to try experiments, not only in
religion, but in politics and social life. The only antiquity which had
authority to them was the Jewish Commonwealth, because it was a
theocracy, and recognized God Almighty as the supreme ruler of the
world. Hence they adhered to the strictness of the Jewish Sabbath, and
baptized their children with Hebrew names.

Now to such a people, stern, lofty, ascetic, legal,
spiritual,--conservative of whatever the Bible reveals, yet progressive
and ardent for reforms,--the rule of the Stuarts was intolerable. It was
intolerable because it seemed to lean towards Catholicism, and because
it was tyrannical and averse to changes. The King was ruled by
favorites; and these favorites were either bigots in religion, like
Archbishop Laud, or were tyrannical or unscrupulous in their efforts to
sustain the King in despotic measures and crush popular agitations, like
the Earl of Strafford, or were men of pleasure and vanity like the Duke
of Buckingham. Charles I. was detested by the Puritans even more than
his father James. They looked upon him as more than half a Papist, a
despot, utterly insincere, indifferent to the welfare of the country,
intent only on exalting himself and his throne at the expense of the
interests of the people, whose aspirations he scorned and whose rights
he trampled upon. In his eyes they had no _rights_, only _duties_; and
duties to him as an anointed sovereign, to rule as he liked, with
parliaments or without parliaments; yea, to impose taxes arbitrarily,
and grant odious monopolies: for the State was his, to be managed as a
man would manage a farm; and those who resisted this encroachment on the
liberties of the nation were to be fined, imprisoned, executed, as
pestilent disturbers of the public peace. He would form dangerous
alliances with Catholic powers, marry his children to Catholic princes,
appoint Catholics to high office, and compromise the dignity of the
nation as a Protestant State. His ministers, his judges, his high
officials were simply his tools, and perpetually insulted the nation by
their arrogance, their venality, and their shameful disregard of the
Constitution. In short, he seemed bent on imposing a tyrannical yoke,
hard to be endured, and to punish unlawfully those who resisted it, or
even murmured against it. He would shackle the press, and muzzle the
members of parliament.

Thus did this King appear to the Puritans,--at this time a large and
influential party, chiefly Presbyterian, and headed by many men of rank
and character, all of whom detested the Roman Catholic religion as the
source of all religious and political evils, and who did not scruple to
call the Papacy by the hardest names, such as the "Scarlet Mother,"
"Antichrist," and the like. They had seceded from the Established Church
in the reign of Elizabeth, and became what was then called
Non-conformists. Had they been treated wisely, had any respect been
shown to their opinions and rights,--for the right of worshipping God
according to individual conscience is the central and basal pillar of
Protestantism,--had this undoubted right of private judgment, the great
emancipating idea of that age, been respected, the Puritans would have
sought relief in constitutional resistance, for they were conservative
and loyal, as English people ever have been, even in Canada and
Australia. They were not bent on _revolution_; they only desired
_reform_. So their representatives in Parliament framed the famous
"Petition of Right," in which were reasserted the principles of
constitutional liberty. This earnest, loyal, but angry Parliament, being
troublesome, was dissolved, and Charles undertook for eleven years to
reign without one,--against all precedents,--with Stafford and Laud for
his chief advisers and ministers. He reigned by Star Chamber decrees,
High-commission courts, issuing proclamations, resorting to forced
loans, tampering with justice, removing judges, imprisoning obnoxious
men without trial, insulting and humiliating the Puritans, and openly
encouraging a religion of "millineries and upholsteries," not only
illegally, but against the wishes and sentiments of the better part of
the nation,--thus undermining his own throne; for all thrones are based
on the love of the people.

The financial difficulties of the King--for the most absolute of kings
cannot extort _all_ the money they want--compelled him to assemble
another Parliament at an alarming crisis of popular indignation which he
did not see, when popular leaders began to say that even kings must rule
_by_ the people and not _without_ the people.

This new Parliament, with Hampden and Pym for leaders, though fierce and
aggressive, would have been contented with constitutional reform, like
Mirabeau at one period. But the King, ill-advised, obstinate, blinded,
would not accept reform; he would reign like the Bourbons, or not at
all. The reforms which the Parliament desired were reasonable and just.
It would abolish arbitrary arrests, the Star Chamber decrees, taxes
without its consent, cruelty to Non-conformists, the ascendency of
priests, irresponsible ministers, and offensive symbols of Romanism. If
these reforms had been granted,--and such a sovereign as Elizabeth would
have yielded, however reluctantly,--there would have been no English
revolution. Or even if the popular leaders had been more patient, and
waited for their time, and been willing to carry out these reforms
constitutionally, there would have been no revolution. But neither the
King nor Parliament would yield, and the Parliament was dissolved.

The next Parliament was not only angry, it was defiant and unscrupulous.
It resolved on revolution, and determined to put the King himself aside.
It began with vigorous measures, and impeached both Laud and
Strafford,--doubtless very able men, but not fitted for their times. It
decreed sweeping changes, usurped the executive authority, appealed to
arms, and made war on the government. The King also on his part appealed
to the sword, which now alone could settle the difficulties. The contest
was inevitable. The nation clamored for reform; the King would not grant
it; the Parliament would not wait to secure it constitutionally. Both
parties were angry and resolute; reason departed from the councils of
the nation; passion now ruled, and civil war began. It was not, at
first, a question about the form of government,--whether a king or an
elected ruler should bear sway; it was purely a question of reforms in
the existing government, limiting of course the power of the King,--but
reforms deemed so vital to the welfare of the nation that the best
people were willing to shed their blood to secure them; and if reason
and moderation could have borne sway, that angry strife might have been
averted. But people will not listen to reason in times of maddening
revolution; they prefer to fight, and run their chances and incur the
penalty. And when contending parties appeal to the sword, then all
ordinary rules are set aside, and success belongs to the stronger, and
the victors exact what they please. The rules of all deadly and
desperate warfare seem to recognize this.

The fortune of war put the King into the hands of the revolutionists;
and in fear, more than in vengeance, they executed him,--just what he
would have done to _their_ leaders if _he_ had won. "Stone-dead," said
Falkland, "hath no fellow." In a national conflagration we lose sight of
laws, even of written constitutions. Great necessities compel
extraordinary measures, not such as are sustained either by reason or
precedents. The great lesson of war, especially of civil war, is, that
contending parties might better make great concessions than resort to
it, for it is certain to demoralize a nation. Heated partisans hate
compromise; yet war itself generally ends in compromise. It is
interesting to see how many constitutions, how many institutions in both
Church and State, are based on compromise.

Now, it was amid all the fierce contentions of that revolutionary
age,--an age of intense earnestness, when the grandest truths were
agitated; an age of experiment, of bold discussions, of wild
fanaticisms, of bitter hatreds, of unconquerable prejudices, yet of
great loftiness and spiritual power,--that the star of Oliver Cromwell
arose. He was born in the year 1599, of a good family. He was a country
squire, a gentleman farmer, though not much given to fox-hunting or
dinner hilarities, preferring to read political pamphlets, or to listen
to long sermons, or to hold discussions on grace, predestination,
free-will, and foreknowledge absolute. His favorite doctrine was the
second coming of Christ and the reign of the saints, the elect,--to whom
of course he belonged. He had visions and rhapsodies, and believed in
special divine illumination. Cromwell was not a Presbyterian, but an
Independent; and the Independents were the most advanced party of his
day, both in politics and religion. The progressive man of that age was
a Calvinist, in all the grandeur and in all the narrowness of that
unfashionable and misunderstood creed. The time had not come for
"advanced thinkers" to repudiate a personal God and supernatural
agencies. Then an atheist, or even a deist, and indeed a materialist of
the school of Democritus and Lucretius, was unknown. John Milton was one
of the representative men of the Puritans of the seventeenth
century,--men who colonized New England, and planted the germs of
institutions which have spread to the Rocky Mountains,

Cromwell on his farm, one of the landed gentry, had a Cambridge
education, and was early an influential man. His sagacity, his
intelligence, his honesty, and his lofty religious life marked him out
as a fit person to represent his county in parliament. He at once became
the associate of such men as Hampden and Pym. He did not make very
graceful speeches, and he had an ungainly person; but he was eloquent in
a rude way, since he had strong convictions and good sense. He was
probably violent, for he hated the abuses of the times, and he hated
Rome and the prelacy. He represented the extreme left; that is, he was a
radical, and preferred revolution to tyranny. Yet even he would probably
have accepted reform if reform had been possible without violence. But
Cromwell had no faith in the King or his ministers, and was inclined to
summary measures. He afterwards showed this tendency of character in his
military career. He was one of those earnest and practical people who
could not be fooled with. So he became a leader of those who were most
violent against the Government During the Long Parliament, Cromwell sat
for Cambridge; which fact shows that he was then a marked man, far from
being unimportant. This was the Parliament, assembled in 1640, which
impeached Strafford and Laud, which abolished the Star Chamber, and
inaugurated the civil war, that began when Charles left Whitehall,
January, 1642, for York. The Parliament solicited contributions, called
out the militia, and appointed to the command of the forces the Earl of
Essex, a Presbyterian, who established his headquarters at Northampton,
while Charles unfurled the royal standard at Nottingham.

Cromwell was forty-two when he buckled on his sword as a volunteer. He
subscribed five hundred pounds to the cause of liberty, raised a troop
of horse, which gradually swelled into that famous regiment of one
thousand men, called "Ironsides," which was never beaten. Of this
regiment he was made colonel in the spring of 1643. He had distinguished
himself at Edgehill in the first year of the war, but he drew upon
himself the eyes of the nation at the battle of Marston Moor, July,
1644,--gained by the discipline of his men,--which put the north of
England into the hands of Parliament. He was then lieutenant-general,
second in command to the Earl of Manchester. The second battle of
Newbury, though a success, gave Cromwell, then one of the most
influential members of Parliament, an occasion to complain of the
imbecility of the noblemen who controlled the army, and who were
Presbyterians. The "self-denying ordinance," which prohibited members of
Parliament from command in the army, was a blow at Presbyterianism and
aristocracy, and marked the growing power of the Independents. It was
planned by Cromwell, although it would have deprived him also of his
command; but he was made an exception to the rule, and he knew he would
be, since his party could not spare him.

Then was fought the battle of Naseby, June 14, 1645, in which Cromwell
commanded the right wing of the army, Fairfax (nominally his superior
general) the centre, and Ireton the left; against Prince Rupert and
Charles. The battle was won by the bravery of Cromwell, and decided the
fortunes of the King, although he was still able to keep the field.
Cromwell now became the foremost man in England. For two years he
resided chiefly in London, taking an important part in negotiations with
the King, and in the contest between the Independents and
Presbyterians,--the former of which represented the army, while the
latter still had the ascendency in Parliament.

On the 16th of August, 1648, was fought the battle of Preston, in which
Cromwell defeated the Scotch army commanded by the Duke of Hamilton,
which opened Edinburgh to his victorious troops, and made him
commander-in-chief of the armies of the Commonwealth. The Presbyterians,
at least of Scotland, it would seem, preferred now the restoration of
the King to the ascendency of Cromwell with the army to back him, for it
was the army and not the Parliament which had given him supreme command.

Then followed the rapid conquest of the Scots, the return of the
victorious general to London, and the suppression of the liberty of
Parliament, for it was purged of its Presbyterian leaders. The
ascendency of the Independents began; for though in a minority, they
were backed by an army which obeyed implicitly the commands and even the
wishes of Cromwell.

The great tragedy which disgraced the revolution was now acted. The
unfortunate King, whose fate was sealed at the battle of Naseby, after
various vicissitudes and defeats, put himself into the hands of the
Scots and made a league with the Presbyterians. After Edinburgh was
taken, they virtually sold him to the victor, who caused him to be
brought in bitter mockery to Hampton Court, where he was treated with
ironical respect. In his reverses Charles would have made _any_
concessions; and the Presbyterians, who first took up arms against him,
would perhaps have accepted them. But it was too late. Cromwell and the
Independents now reigned,--a party that had been driven into violent
measures, and which had sought the subversion of the monarchy itself.

Charles is brought to a mock trial by a decimated Parliament, is
condemned and executed, and the old monarchy is supplanted by a military
despotism. "The roaring conflagration of anarchies" is succeeded by the
rule of the strongest man.

Much has been written and said about that execution, or martyrdom, or
crime, as it has been variously viewed by partisans. It simply was the
sequence of the revolution, of the appeal of both parties to the sword.
It may have been necessary or unnecessary, a blunder or a crime, but it
was the logical result of a bitter war; it was the cruel policy of a
conquering power. Those who supported it were able men, who deemed it
the wisest thing to do; who dreaded a reaction, who feared for
themselves, and sought by this means to perpetuate their sway. As one of
the acts of revolution, it must be judged by the revolution itself. The
point is, not whether it was wrong to take the life of the King, if it
were a military necessity, or seemed to be to the great leaders of the
day, but whether it was right to take up arms in defence of rights which
might have been gained by protracted constitutional agitation and
resistance. The execution proved a blunder, because it did not take away
the rights of Charles II., and created great abhorrence and indignation,
not merely in foreign countries, but among a majority of the English
people themselves,--and these, too, who had the prestige of wealth and
culture. I do not believe the Presbyterian party, as represented by
Hampden and Pym, and who like Mirabeau had applied the torch to
revolutionary passions, would have consented to this foolish murder.
Certainly the Episcopalians would not have executed Charles, even if
they could have been induced to cripple him.

But war is a conflagration; nothing can stop its ravages when it has
fairly begun. They who go to war must abide the issue of war; they who
take the sword must be prepared to perish by the sword. Thus far, in the
history of the world, very few rights have been gained by civil war
which could not have been gained in the end without it. The great rights
which the people have secured in England for two hundred years are the
result of an appeal to reason and justice. The second revolution was
bloodless. The Parliament which first arrayed itself against the
government of Charles was no mean foe, even if it had not resorted to
arms. It held the purse-strings; it had the power to cripple the King,
and to worry him into concessions. But if the King was resolved to
attack the Parliament itself, and coerce it by a standing army, and
destroy all liberty in England, then the question assumed another shape;
the war then became defensive, and was plainly justifiable, and Charles
could but accept the issue, even his own execution, if it seemed
necessary to his conquerors. They took up arms in self-defence, and war,
of course, brought to light the energies and talents of the greatest
general, who as victor would have his reward. Cromwell concluded to
sweep away the old monarchy, and reign himself instead; and the
execution of the King was one of his war measures. It was the penalty
Charles paid for making war on his subjects, instead of ruling them
according to the laws. His fate was hard and sad; we feel more
compassion than indignation. In our times he would have been permitted
to run away; but those stern and angry old revolutionists demanded
his blood.

For this cruel or necessary act Cromwell is responsible more than any
man in England, since he could have prevented it if he pleased. He ruled
the army, which ruled the Parliament. It was not the nation, or the
representatives of the nation, who decreed the execution of Charles. It
was the army and the purged Parliament, composed chiefly of
Independents, who wanted the subversion of the monarchy itself.
Technically, Charles was tried by the Parliament, or the judges
appointed by them; really, Cromwell was at the bottom of the affair, as
much as John Calvin was responsible for the burning of Servetus, let
partisans say what they please. There never has a great crime or blunder
been committed on this earth which bigoted, or narrow, or zealous
partisans have not attempted to justify. Bigoted Catholics have
justified even the slaughter of St. Bartholomew. Partisans have no law
but expediency. All Jesuits, political, religious, and social, in the
Catholic and Protestant churches alike, seem to think that the end
justifies the means, even in the most beneficent reforms; and when
pushed to the wall by the logic of opponents, will fall back on the
examples of the Old Testament. In defence of lying and cheating they
will quote Abraham at the court of Pharaoh. There is no insult to the
human understanding more flagrant, than the doctrine that we may do evil
that good may come. And yet the politics and reforms of the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries seem to have been based on that miserable form
of jesuitism. Here Machiavelli is as vulnerable as Escobar, and Burleigh
as well as Oliver Cromwell, who was not more profound in dissimulation
than Queen Elizabeth herself. The best excuse we can render for the
political and religious crimes of that age is, that they were in
accordance with its ideas. And who is superior to the ideas of his age?

On the execution of the King, the supreme authority was nominally in the
hands of Parliament. Of course all kinds of anarchies prevailed, and all
government was unsettled. Charles II. was proclaimed King by the Scots,
while the Duke of Ormond, in Ireland, joined the royal party to seat
Charles II. on the throne. In this exigency Cromwell was appointed by
the Parliament Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.

Then followed the conquest of Ireland, in which Cromwell distinguished
himself for great military abilities. His vigorous and uncompromising
measures, especially his slaughter of the garrison of Drogheda (a
retaliatory act), have been severely commented on. But war in the hands
of masters is never carried on sentimentally: the test of ability is
success. The measures were doubtless hard and severe; but Cromwell knew
what he was about: he wished to bring the war to a speedy close, and
intimidation was probably the best course to pursue. Those impracticable
Irish never afterwards molested him. In less than a year he was at
leisure to oppose Charles II. in Scotland; and on the resignation of
Fairfax he was made Captain-General of all the forces in the empire. The
battle of Dunbar resulted in the total defeat of the Scots; while the
"crowning mercy" at Worcester, Sept. 3, 1651, utterly blasted the hopes
of Charles, and completely annihilated his forces.

The civil war, which raged nine years, was now finished, and Cromwell
became supreme. But even the decimated Parliament was jealous, and
raised an issue,--on which Cromwell dissolved it with a file of
soldiers, and assembled another, neither elective nor representative,
composed of his creatures, without experience, chiefly Anabaptists and
Independents; which he soon did away with. He then called a council of
leading men, who made him Lord Protector, December 13, 1653. Even the
shadow of constitutional authority now vanishes, and Cromwell rules with
absolute and untrammelled power, like Julius Caesar or Napoleon
Bonaparte. He rules on the very principles which he condemned in Charles
I. The revolution ends in a military despotism.

If there was ever a usurpation, this was one. Liberty gave her last sigh
on the remonstrance of Sir Harry Vane, and a military hero, by means of
his army, stamps his iron heel on England. He dissolves the very body
from which he received his own authority he refuses to have any check on
his will; he imposes taxes without the consent of the people,--the very
thing for which he took up arms against Charles I.; he reigns alone, on
despotic principles, as absolute as Louis XIV.; he enshrouds himself in
royal state at Hampton Court; he even seeks to bequeath his absolute
power to his son. And if Richard Cromwell had reigned like his father
Oliver, then the cause of liberty would have been lost.

All this is cold, unvarnished history. We cannot get over or around
these facts; they blaze out to the eyes of all readers, and will blaze
to the most distant ages. Cromwell began as a reformer, but ended as a
usurper. Whatever name he goes by, whatever title he may have assumed,
he became, by force of his victories and of his army, the absolute ruler
of England,--as Caesar did of Rome, and Napoleon of Paris. We may
palliate or extenuate this fact; we may even excuse it on the ground
that the State had drifted into anarchy; that only he, as the stronger
man, could save England; that there was no other course open to him as a
patriot; and that it was a most fortunate thing for England that he
seized the reins, and became a tyrant to put down anarchies. But
whatever were the excuses by which Cromwell justified himself, or his
admirers justify him, let us not deny the facts. It may have been
necessary, under his circumstances, to reign alone, by the aid of his
standing army. But do not attempt to gloss over the veritable fact that
he did reign without the support of Parliament, and in defiance of all
constitutional authorities. It was not the nation which elevated him to
supreme power, but his soldiers. At no time would any legitimate
Parliament, or any popular voice, have made him an absolute ruler. He
could not even have got a plebiscitum, as Louis Napoleon did. He was not
liked by the nation at large,--not even by the more enlightened and
conservative of the Puritans, such as the Presbyterians; and as for the
Episcopalians, they looked upon him not only as a usurper but as a

It is difficult to justify such an act as usurpation and military
tyranny by the standard of an immutable morality. If the overturning of
all constitutional authority by a man who professed to be a reformer,
yet who reigned illegally as a despot, can be defended, it is only on
the principle of expediency, that the end justifies the means,--the plea
of the Jesuits, and of all the despots who have overturned constitutions
and national liberties. But this is rank and undisguised Caesarism. The
question then arises, Was it necessary that a Caesar should reign at
Hampton Court? Some people think it was; and all admit that after the
execution of the King there was no settled government, nothing but
bitter, intolerant factions, each of which wished its own ascendency,
and all were alike unscrupulous. Revolution ever creates factions and
angry parties, more or less violent. It is claimed by many that a good
government was impossible with these various and contending parties, and
that nothing but anarchy would have existed had not Cromwell seized the
reins, and sustained himself by a standing army, and ruled despotically.
Again, others think that he was urged by a pressure which even he could
not resist,--that of the army; that he was controlled by circumstances;
that he could do no otherwise unless he resigned England to her
fate,--to the anarchy of quarrelling and angry parties, who would not
listen to reason, and who were too inexperienced to govern in such
stormy times. The Episcopalians certainly, and the Presbyterians
probably, would have restored Charles II.,--and this Cromwell regarded
as a great possible calamity. If the King had been restored, all the
fruit of the revolution would have been lost; there would have been a
renewed reign of frivolities, insincerities, court scandals, venalities,
favorites, and disguised Romanism,--yea, an alliance would have been
formed with the old tyrants of Europe.

Cromwell was no fool, and he had a great insight into the principles on
which the stability and prosperity of a nation rested. He doubtless felt
that the nation required a strong arm at the helm, and that no one could
save England in such a storm but himself. I believe he was sincere in
this conviction,--a conviction based on profound knowledge of men and
the circumstances of the age. I believe he was willing to be aspersed,
even by his old friends, and heartily cursed by his enemies, if he could
guide the ship of state into a safe harbor. I am inclined to believe
that he was patriotic in his intentions; that he wished to save the
country even, if necessary, by illegal means; that he believed there was
a higher law _for him_, and that an enlightened posterity would
vindicate his name and memory. He was not deceived as to his abilities,
even if he were as to his call. He knew he was the strongest man in
England, and that only the strongest could rule. He was willing to
assume the responsibility, whatever violence he should do to his early
principles, or to the opinions of those with whom he was at first
associated. If there was anything that marked the character of Cromwell,
it was the abiding sense, from first to last, of his personal
responsibility to God Almighty, whose servant and instrument he felt
himself to be. I believe he was loyal to his conscience, if not to his
cause. He may have committed grave errors, for he was not infallible. It
may have been an error that he ruled virtually without a Parliament,
since it was better that a good measure should be defeated than that the
cause of liberty should be trodden under foot. It was better that
parliaments should wrangle and quarrel than that there should be no
representation of the nation at all. And it was an undoubted error to
transmit his absolute authority to his son, for this was establishing a
new dynasty of kings. One of the worst things which Napoleon ever did
was to seat his brothers on the old thrones of Europe. Doubtless,
Cromwell wished to perpetuate the policy of his government, but he had
no right to perpetuate a despotism in his own family: that was an insult
to the nation and to the cause of constitutional liberty. Here he was
selfish and ambitious, for, great as he was, he was not greater than the
nation or his cause.

But I need not dwell on the blunders of Cromwell, if we call them by no
harsher name. It would be harsh to judge him for his mistakes or sins
under his peculiar circumstances, his hand in the execution of Charles
I., his Jesuitical principles, his cruelties in Ireland, his dispersion
of parliaments, and his usurpation of supreme power. Only let us call
things by their right names; we gain nothing by glossing over defects.
The historians of the Bible tell us how Abraham told lies to the King of
Egypt, and David caused Uriah to be slain after he had appropriated his
wife. Yet who were greater and better, upon the whole, than these
favorites of Heaven?

Cromwell earned his great fame as one of the wisest statesmen and ablest
rulers that England ever had. Like all monarchs, he is to be judged by
the services he rendered to civilization. He was not a faultless man,
but he proved himself a great benefactor. Whether we like him or not, we
are compelled to admit that his administration was able and beneficent,
and that he seemed to be actuated by a sincere desire to do all the good
he could. If he was ambitious, his ambition was directed to the
prosperity and glory of his country. If he levied taxes without the
consent of the nation, he spent the money economically, wisely, and
unselfishly. He sought no inglorious pomps; he built no expensive
palaces; he gave no foolish fetes; nor did he seek to disguise his
tyranny by amusing or demoralizing the people, like the old Roman
Caesars. He would even have established a constitutional monarchy, had
it been practicable. The plots of royalists tempted him to appoint
major-generals to responsible situations. To protect his life, he
resorted to guards. He could not part with his power, but he used it for
the benefit of the nation. If he did not reign by or through the people,
he reigned _for_ the people. He established religious liberty, and
tolerated all sects but Catholics and Quakers. The Presbyterians were
his enemies, but he never persecuted them. He had a great regard for
law, and appointed the ablest and best men to high judicial positions.
Sir Matthew Hale, whom he made chief-justice, was the greatest lawyer in
England, an ornament to any country. Cromwell made strenuous efforts to
correct the abuses of the court of chancery and of criminal law. He
established trial by jury for political offences. He tried to procure
the formal re-admission of the Jews to England. He held conferences with
George Fox. He snatched Biddle, the Socinian, from the fangs of
persecutors. He fostered commerce and developed the industrial resources
of the nation, like Burleigh and Colbert. He created a navy, and became
the father of the maritime greatness of England. He suppressed all
license among the soldiers, although his power rested on their loyalty
to him. He honored learning and exalted the universities, placing in
them learned men. He secured the union between England and Scotland, and
called representatives from Scotland to his parliaments. He adopted a
generous policy with the colonies in North America, and freed them from
rapacious governors. His war policy was not for mere aggrandizement. He
succeeded Gustavus Adolphus as the protector of Protestantism on the
Continent. He sought to make England respected among all the nations;
and, as righteousness exalts a nation, he sought to maintain public
morality. His court was simple and decorous; he gave no countenance to
levities and follies, and his own private life was pure and
religious,--so that there was general admiration of his conduct as well
as of his government.

Cromwell was certainly very fortunate in his regime. The army and navy
did wonders; Blake and Monk gained great victories; Gibraltar was
taken,--one of the richest prizes that England ever gained in war. The
fleets of Spain were destroyed; the trade of the Indies was opened to
his ships. He maintained the "balance of power." He punished the African
pirates of the Mediterranean. His glory reached Asia, and extended to
America. So great was his renown that the descendants of Abraham, even
on the distant plains of Asia, inquired of one another if he were not
the servant of the King of Kings, whom they were looking for. A learned
Rabbi even came from Asia to London for the purpose of investigating his
pedigree, thinking to discover in him the "Lion of the tribe of Judah."
If his policy had been followed out by his successors, Louis XIV. would
not have dared to revoke the Edict of Nantes; if he had reigned ten
years longer, there would have been no revival of Romanism. I suppose
England never had so enlightened a monarch. He was more like Charlemagne
than Richelieu. Contrast him with Louis XIV., a contemporaneous despot:
Cromwell devoted all his energies to develop the resources of his
country, while Louis did what he could to waste them; Cromwell's reign
was favorable to the development of individual genius, but Louis was
such an intolerable egotist that at the close of his reign all the great
lights had disappeared; Cromwell was tolerant, Louis was persecuting;
Cromwell laid the foundation of an indefinite expansion, Louis sowed the
seeds of discontent and revolution. Both indeed took the sword,--the one
to dethrone the Stuarts, the other to exterminate the Protestants.
Cromwell bequeathed to successors the moral force of personal virtue,
Louis paved the way for the most disgraceful excesses; Cromwell spent
his leisure hours with his family and with divines, Louis with his
favorites and mistresses; Cromwell would listen to expostulations, Louis
crushed all who differed from him. The career of the former was a
progressive rise, that of the latter a progressive fall. The ultimate
influence of Cromwell's policy was to develop the greatness of England;
that of Louis, to cut the sinews of national wealth, and poison those
sources of renovation which still remained. The memory of Cromwell is
dear to good men in spite of his defects; while that of Louis, in spite
of his graces and urbanities, is a watchword for all that is repulsive
in despotism. Hence Cromwell is more and more a favorite with
enlightened minds, while Louis is more and more regarded as a man who
made the welfare of the State subordinate to his own glory. In a word,
Cromwell feared only God; while Louis feared only hell. The piety of the
one was lofty; that of the other was technical, formal, and pharisaical.
The chief defect in the character of Cromwell was his expediency, or
what I call _jesuitism_,--following out good ends by questionable means;
the chief defect in the character of Louis was an absorbing egotism,
which sacrificed everything for private pleasure or interest.

The difficulty in judging Cromwell seems to me to be in the imperfection
of our standards of public morality. We are apt to excuse in a ruler
what we condemn in a private man. If Oliver Cromwell is to be measured
by the standard which accepts expediency as a guide in life, he will be
excused for his worst acts. If he is to be measured by an immutable
standard, he will be picked to pieces. In regard to his private life,
aside from cant and dissimulation, there is not much to condemn, and
there is much to praise. He was not a libertine like Henry IV., nor an
egotist like Napoleon. He delighted in the society of the learned and
the pious; he was susceptible to grand sentiments; he was just in his
dealings and fervent in his devotions. He was liberal, humane, simple,
unostentatious, and economical. He was indeed ambitious, but his
ambition was noble.

His intellectual defect was his idea of special divine illumination,
which made him visionary and rhapsodical and conceited. He was a
second-adventist, and believed that Christ would return, at no distant
time, to establish the reign of the saints upon the earth. But his
morals were as irreproachable as those of Marcus Aurelius. Like Michael
Angelo, he despised frivolities, though it is said he relished rough
jokes, like Abraham Lincoln. He was conscientious in the discharge of
what he regarded as duties, and seemed to feel his responsibility to God
as the sovereign of the universe. His family revered him as much as the
nation respected him. He was not indeed lovable, like Saint Louis; but
he can never lose the admiration of mankind, since the glory of his
administration was not sullied by those private vices which destroy
esteem and ultimately undermine both power and influence. He was one of
those world-heroes of whom nations will be proud as they advance in the
toleration of human infirmities,--as they draw distinction between
those who live for themselves and those who live for their country,--and
the recognition of those principles on which all progress is based.

Cromwell died prematurely, if not for his fame, at least for his
usefulness. His reign as Protector lasted only five years, yet what
wonders he did in that brief period! He suppressed the anarchies of the
revolution, he revived law, he restored learning, he developed the
resources of his country; he made it respected at home and abroad, and
shed an imperishable glory on his administration,--but "on the threshold
of success he met the inexorable enemy."

It was a stormy night, August 30, 1658, when the wild winds were roaring
and all nature was overclouded with darkness and gloom, that the last
intelligible words of the dying hero were heard by his attendants: "O
Lord! though I am a miserable sinner, I am still in covenant with Thee.
Thou hast made me, though very unworthy, an instrument to do Thy people
good; and go on, O Lord, to deliver them and make Thy name glorious
throughout the world!" These dying words are the key alike to his
character and his mission. He believed himself to be an instrument of
the Almighty Sovereign in whom he believed, and whom, with all his
faults and errors, he sought to serve, and in whom he trusted.

And it is in this light, chiefly, that the career of this remarkable
man is to be viewed. An instrument of God he plainly was, to avenge the
wrongs of an insulted, an indignant, and an honest nation, and to
impress upon the world the necessity of wise and benignant rulers. He
arose to vindicate the majesty of public virtue, to rebuke the egotism
of selfish kings, to punish the traitors of important trusts. He arose
to point out the true sources of national prosperity, to head off the
troops of a renovated Romanism, to promote liberty of conscience in all
matters of religious belief. He was raised up as a champion of
Protestantism when kings were returning to Rome, and as an awful
chastiser of those bigoted and quarrelsome Irish who have ever been
hostile to law and order, and uncontrollable by any influence but that
of fear. But, above all, he was raised up to try the experiment of
liberty in the seventeenth century.

That experiment unfortunately failed. All sects and parties sought
ascendency rather than the public good; angry and inexperienced, they
refused to compromise. Sectarianism was the true hydra that baffled the
energy of the courageous combatant. Parliaments were factious,
meddlesome, and inexperienced, and sought to block the wheels of
government rather than promote wholesome legislation. The people
hankered for their old pleasures, and were impatient of restraint; their
leaders were demagogues or fanatics; they could not be coerced by mild
measures or appeals to enlightened reason. Hence coercive measures were
imperative; and these could be carried only by a large standing
army,--ever the terror and menace of liberty; the greatest blot on
constitutional governments,--a necessity, but an evil, since the
military power should be subordinate to the civil, not the civil to the
military. The iron hand by which Cromwell was obliged to rule, if he
ruled at all, at last became odious to all classes, since they had many
rights which were ignored. When they clamored for the blood of an
anointed tyrant, they did not bargain for a renewed despotism more
irksome and burdensome than the one they had suppressed. The public
rejoicings, the universal enthusiasm, the brilliant spectacles and
fetes, the flattering receptions and speeches which hailed the
restoration of Charles II., showed unmistakably that the regime of
Cromwell, though needed for a time, was unpopular, and was not in
accordance with the national aspirations. If they were to be ruled by a
tyrant, they preferred to be ruled according to precedents and
traditions and hallowed associations. The English people loved then, as
they love now, as they ever have loved, royalty, the reign of kings
according to the principles of legitimacy. They have shown the
disposition to fetter these kings, not to dispense with them.

So the experiment of Cromwell and his party failed. How mournful it
must have seemed to the original patriots of the revolution, that hard,
iron, military rule was all that England had gained by the struggles and
the blood of her best people. Wherefore had treasures been lavished in a
nine years' contest; wherefore the battles of Marston Moor and
Worcester; wherefore the eloquence of Pym and Hampden? All wasted. The
house which had been swept and garnished was re-entered by devils worse
than before.

Thus did this experiment seem; teaching, at least, this useful and
impressive lesson,--that despotism will succeed unwise and violent
efforts for reform; that reforms are not to be carried on by bayonets,
but by reason; that reformers must be patient, and must be contented
with constitutional measures; that any violation of the immutable laws
of justice will be visited with unlooked-for retribution.

But sad as this experiment seemed, can it be pronounced to be wholly a
failure? No earnest human experiment is ever thrown away. The great
ideas of Cromwell, and of those who originally took up arms with him,
entered into new combinations. The spirit remained, if the form was
changed. After a temporary reaction, the love of liberty returned. The
second revolution of 1688 was the logical sequence of the first. It was
only another act in the great drama of national development. The spirit
which overthrew Charles I. also overturned the throne of James II.; but
the wisdom gained by experience sent him into exile, instead of
executing him on the scaffold. Two experiments with those treacherous
Stuarts were necessary before the conviction became fastened on the mind
of the English people that constitutional liberty could not exist while
they remained upon the throne; and the spirit which had burst out into a
blazing flame two generations earlier, was now confined within
constitutional limits. But it was not suppressed; it produced salutary
reforms with every advancing generation. "It produced," says Macaulay,
"the famous Declaration of Right, which guaranteed the liberties of the
English upon their present basis; which again led to the freedom of the
press, the abolition of slavery, Catholic emancipation, and
representative reform," Had the experiment not been tried by Cromwell
and his party, it might have been tried by worse men, whose gospel of
rights would be found in the "social contract" of a Rousseau, rather
than in the "catechism" of the Westminster divines. It was fortunate
that revolutionary passions should have raged in the bosoms of
Christians rather than of infidels,--of men who believed in obedience to
a personal God, rather than men who teach the holiness of untutored
impulse, the infallibility of majorities, and the majesty of the
unaided intellect of man. And then who can estimate the value of
Cromwell's experience on the patriots of our own Revolution? His example
may even have taught the great Washington how dangerous and inconsistent
it would be to accept an earthly crown, while denouncing the tyranny of
kings, and how much more enduring is that fame which is cherished in a
nation's heart than that which is blared by the trumpet of idolatrous
soldiers indifferent to those rights which form the basis of social


Bulstrode's Memoirs; Ludlow's Memoirs; Sir Edward Walker's Historical
Discourses; Carlyle's Speeches and Letters of Oliver Cromwell;
Macaulay's Essays; Hallam's Constitutional History; Froude's History of
England; Guizot's History of Cromwell; Lamartine's Essay on Cromwell;
Forster's Statesmen of the British Commonwealth; Clarendon's History of
the Rebellion; Hume and Lingard's Histories of England; Life of
Cromwell, by Russell; Southey's Protectorate of Cromwell; Three English
Statesmen, Goldwin Smith; Dr. Wilson's Life of Cromwell; D'Aubigne's
Life of Oliver Cromwell; Articles in North American, North British,
Westminster, and British Quarterlies on Cromwell.


A.D. 1638-1715.


The verdict of this age in reference to Louis XIV. is very different
from that which his own age pronounced. Two hundred years ago his
countrymen called him _Le Grand Monarque_, and his glory filled the
world. Since Charlemagne, no monarch had been the object of such
unbounded panegyric as he, until Napoleon appeared. He lived in an
atmosphere of perpetual incense, and reigned in dazzling magnificence.

Although he is not now regarded in the same light as he was in the
seventeenth century, and originated no great movement that civilization
values,--in fact was anything but a permanent benefactor to his country
or mankind,--yet Louis XIV. is still one of the Beacon Lights of
history, for warning if not for guidance. His reign was an epoch; it was
not only one of the longest in human annals, but also one of the most
brilliant, imposing, and interesting. Whatever opinion may exist as to
his inherent intellectual greatness, no candid historian denies the
power of his will, the force of his character, and the immense influence
he exerted. He was illustrious, if he was not great; he was powerful, if
he made fatal mistakes; he was feared and envied by all nations, even
when he stood alone; and it took all Europe combined to strip him of the
conquests which his generals made, and to preserve the "balance of
power" which he had disturbed. With all Europe in arms against him, he,
an old and broken-hearted man, contrived to preserve, by his fortitude
and will, the territories he had inherited; and he died peacefully upon
his bed, at the age of seventy-six, still the most absolute king that
ever reigned in France. A man so strong, so fortunate until his latter
years; so magnificent in his court, which he made the most brilliant of
modern times; so lauded by the great geniuses who surrounded his throne,
all of whom looked up to him as a central sun of power and glory,--is
not to be flippantly judged, or ruthlessly hurled from that proud
pinnacle on which he was seated, amid the acclamations of two
generations. His successes dazzled the world; his misfortunes excited
its pity, except among those who were sufferers by his needless wars or
his cruel persecutions. His virtues and his defects both stand out in
bold relief, and will make him a character to meditate upon as long as
history shall be written.

The reign of Louis XIV. would be remarkable for the great men who shed
lustre on his throne, if he had himself been contemptible. Voltaire
doubted if any age ever saw such an illustrious group, and he compares
it with the age of Pericles in Greece, with that of Augustus in Rome,
and that of the Medici in Italy,--four great epochs in intellectual
excellence, which have never been surpassed in brilliancy and variety of
talent. No such generals had arisen since the palmy days of Roman
grandeur as Conde, Turenne, Luxembourg, Vauban, Berwick, and Villars, if
we except Gustavus Adolphus, and those generals with whom the marshals
of Louis contended, such as William III., Marlborough, and Eugene. No
monarch was ever served by abler ministers than Colbert and Louvois; the
former developing the industries and resources of a great country, and
the latter organizing its forces for all the exigencies of vast military
campaigns. What galaxy of poets more brilliant than that which shed
glory on the throne of this great king!--men like Corneille, Boileau,
Fontanelle, La Fontaine, Racine, and Moliere; no one of them a Dante or
a Shakspeare, but all together shining as a constellation. What great
jurists and lawyers were Le Tellier and D'Aguesseau and Mole! What great
prelates and preachers were Bossuet, Fenelon, Bourdaloue, Massillon,
Flechier, Saurin,--unrivalled for eloquence in any age! What original
and profound thinkers were Pascal, Descartes, Helvetius, Malebranche,
Nicole, and Quesnel! Until the seventeenth century, what more
respectable historians had arisen than Dupin, Tillemont, Mabillon, and
Fleury; or critics and scholars than Bayle, Arnauld, De Sacy, and
Calmet! La Rochefoucauld uttered maxims which were learned by heart by
giddy courtiers. Great painters and sculptors, such as Le Brun, Poussin,
Claude Lorrain, and Girardon, ornamented the palaces which Mansard
erected; while Le Notre laid out the gardens of those palaces which are
still a wonder.

It must be borne in mind that Louis XIV. had an intuitive perception of
genius and talent, which he was proud to reward and anxious to
appropriate. Although his own education had been neglected, he had a
severe taste and a disgust of all vulgarity, so that his manners were
decorous and dignified in the midst of demoralizing pleasures. Proud,
both from adulation and native disposition, he yet was polite and
affable. He never passed a woman without lifting his hat, and he
uniformly rose when a lady entered into his presence. But, with all his
politeness, he never unbent, even in the society of his most intimate
friends, so jealous was he of his dignity and power. Unscrupulous in his
public transactions, and immoral in his private relations with women, he
had a great respect for the ordinances of religion, and was punctilious
in the outward observances of the Catholic Church. The age itself was
religious; and so was he, in a technical and pharisaical piety and petty
ritualistic duties. He was a bigot and a persecutor, which fact endeared
him to the Jesuits, by whom, in matters of conscience, he was ruled, so
that he became their tool even while he thought he controlled
everything. He was as jealous of his power as he was of his dignity, and
he learned to govern himself as well as his subjects. He would himself
submit to the most rigid formalities in order to exact a rigorous
discipline and secure unconditional obedience from others. No one ever
dared openly to thwart his will or oppose his wishes, although he could
be led through his passions and his vanity: he was imperious in his
commands, and exacting in the services he demanded from all who
surrounded his person. He had perfect health, a strong physique, great
aptitude for business, and great regularity in his habits. It was
difficult to deceive him, for he understood human nature, and thus was
able to select men of merit and talent for all high offices in State
and Church.

In one sense Louis XIV. seems to have been even patriotic, since he
identified his own glory with that of the nation, having learned
something from Richelieu, whose policy he followed. Hence he was
supported by the people, if he was not loved, because he was ambitious
of making France the most powerful nation in Christendom. The love of
glory ever has been one of the characteristics of the French nation, and
this passion the king impersonated, which made him dear to the nation,
as Napoleon was before he became intoxicated by power; and hence Louis
had the power of rallying his subjects in great misfortunes. They
forgave extravagance in palace-building, from admiration of
magnificence. They were proud of a despot who called out the praises of
the world. They saw in his parks, his gardens, his marble halls, his
tapestries, his pictures, and his statues a glory which belonged to
France as well as to him. They marched joyfully in his armies, whatever
their sacrifices, for he was only leading them to glory,--an empty
illusion, yet one of those words which has ruled the world, since it is
an expression of that vanity which has its roots in the deepest recesses
of the soul. Glory is the highest aspiration of egotism, and Louis was
an incarnation of egotism, like Napoleon after him. They both
represented the master passions of the people to whom they appealed.
"Never," says St. Simon, "has any one governed with a better grace, or,
by the manner of bestowing, more enhanced the value of his favors. Never
has any one sold at so high a price his words, nay his very smiles and
glances." And then, "so imposing and majestic was his air that those who
addressed him must first accustom themselves to his appearance, not to
be overawed. No one ever knew better, how to maintain a certain manner
which made him appear great." Yet it is said that his stature was small.
No one knew better than he how to impress upon his courtiers the idea
that kings are of a different blood from other men. He even knew how to
invest vice and immorality with an air of elegance, and was capable of
generous sentiments and actions. He on one occasion sold a gold service
of plate for four hundred thousand francs, to purchase bread for
starving troops. If haughty, exacting, punctilious, he was not cold.
Even his rigid etiquette and dignified reserve were the dictates of
statecraft, as well as of natural inclination. He seemed to feel that he
was playing a great part, with the eyes of the world upon him; so that
he was an actor as Napoleon was, but a more consistent one, because in
his egotism he never forgot himself, not even among his mistresses. As
_grand monarque_, the arbiter of all fortunes, the central sun of all
glory, was he always figuring before the eyes of men. He never relaxed
his habits of ceremony and ostentation, nor his vigilance as an
administrator, nor his iron will, nor his thirst for power; so that he
ruled as he wished until he died, in spite of the reverses of his sad
old age, and without losing the respect of his subjects, oppressed as
they were with taxes and humiliated by national disasters.

Such were some of the traits which made Louis XIV. a great sovereign, if
not a great man. He was not only supported by the people who were
dazzled by his magnificence, and by the great men who adorned his court,
but he was aided by fortunate circumstances and great national ideas. He
was heir of the powers of Richelieu and the treasures of Mazarin. Those
two cardinals, who claimed equal rank with independent princes, higher
than that of the old nobility, pursued essentially the same policy,
although this policy was the fruit of Richelieu's genius; and this
policy was the concentration of all authority in the hands of the king.
Louis XIII. was the feeblest of the Bourbons, but he made his throne the
first in Europe. Richelieu was a great benefactor to the cause of law,
order, and industry, despotic as was his policy and hateful his
character. When he died, worn out by his herculean labors, the nobles
tried to regain the privileges and powers they had lost, and a miserable
warfare called the "Fronde" was the result, carried on without genius or
system. But the Fronde produced some heroes who were destined to be
famous in the great wars of Louis XIV. Mazarin, with less ability than
Richelieu, and more selfish, conquered in the end, by following out the
policy of his predecessor. He developed the resources of the kingdom,
besides accumulating an enormous fortune for himself,--about two hundred
millions of francs,--which, when he died, he bequeathed, not to the
Church or his relatives, but to the young King, who thus became
personally rich as well as strong. To have entered upon the magnificent
inheritance which these two able cardinals bequeathed to the monarchy
was most fortunate to Louis,--unrestricted power and enormous wealth.

But Louis was still more fortunate in reaping the benefits of the
principle of royalty. We have in the United States but a feeble
conception of the power of this principle in Europe in the seventeenth
century; it was nursed by all the chivalric sentiments of the Middle
Ages. The person of a king was sacred; he was regarded as divinely
commissioned. The sacred oil poured on his head by the highest dignitary
of the Church, at his coronation, imparted to him a sacred charm. All
the influences of the Church, as well as those of Feudalism, set the
king apart from all other men, as a consecrated monarch to rule the
people. This loyalty to the throne had the sanction of the Jewish
nation, and of all Oriental nations from the remotest ages. Hence the
world has known no other form of government than that of kings and
emperors, except in a few countries and for a brief period. Whatever the
king decreed, had the force of irresistible law; no one dared to disobey
a royal mandate but a rebel in actual hostilities. Resistance to royal
authority was ruin. This royal power was based on and enforced by the
ideas of ages. Who can resist universally accepted ideas?

Moreover, in France especially, there was a chivalric charm about the
person of a king; he was not only sacred, of purer blood than other
people, but the greatest nobles were proud to attend and wait upon his
person. Devotion to the person of the prince became the highest duty. It
was not political slavery, but a religious and sentimental allegiance.
So sacred was this allegiance, that only the most detested tyrants were
in personal danger of assassination, or those who were objects of
religious fanaticism. A king could dismiss his most powerful minister,
or his most triumphant general at the head of an army, by a stroke of
the pen, or by a word, without expostulation or resistance. To disobey
the king was tantamount to defiance of Almighty power. A great general
rules by machinery rather than devotion to his person. But devotion to
the king needed no support from armies or guards. A king in the
seventeenth century was supposed to be the vicegerent of the Deity.

Another still more powerful influence gave stability to the throne of
Louis: this was the Catholic Church. Louis was a devout Catholic in
spite of his sins, and was true to the interests of the Pope. He was
governed, so far as he was governed at all, by Jesuit confessors. He
associated on the most intimate terms with the great prelates and
churchmen of the day, like Bossuet, Fenelon, La Chaise, and Le Tellier.
He was regular at church and admired good sermons; he was punctilious in
all the outward observances of his religion. He detested all rebellion
from the spiritual authority of the popes; he hated both heresy and
schism. In his devotion to the Catholic Church he was as narrow and
intolerant as a village priest. His sincerity in defence of the Church
was never questioned, and hence all the influences of the Church were
exerted to uphold his domination. He may have quarrelled with popes on
political grounds, and humiliated them as temporal powers, but he stood
by them in the exercise of their spiritual functions. In Louis' reign
the State and Church were firmly knit together. It was deemed necessary
to be a good Catholic in order to be even a citizen,--so that religion
became fashionable, provided it was after the pattern of that of the
King and court. Even worldly courtiers entered with interest into the
most subtile of theological controversies. But the King always took the
side devoted to the Pope, and he hated Jansenism almost as much as he
hated Protestantism. Hence the Catholic Church ever rallied to
his support.

So, with all these powerful supports Louis began his long reign of
seventy-six years,--which technically began when he was four years old,
on the death of his father Louis XIII., in 1643, when the kingdom was
governed by his mother, Anne of Austria, as regent, and by Cardinal
Mazarin as prime minister. During the minority of the King the
humiliation of the nobles continued. Protestantism was only tolerated,
and the country distracted rather than impoverished by the civil war of
the Fronde, with its intrigues and ever-shifting parties,--a giddy maze,
which nobody now cares to unravel; a sort of dance of death, in which
figured cardinals, princes, nobles, bishops, judges, and generals,--when
"Bacchus, Momus, and Moloch" alternately usurped dominion. Those
eighteen years of strife, folly, absurdity, and changing fortunes, when
Mazarin was twice compelled to quit the kingdom he governed; when the
queen-regent was forced also twice to fly from her capital; when
Cardinal De Retz disgraced his exalted post as Archbishop of Paris by
the vilest intrigues; when Conde and Conti obscured the lustre of their
military laurels; when alternately the parliaments made war on the
crown, and the seditious nobles ignobly yielded their functions merely
to register royal decrees,--these contests, rivalries, cabals, and
follies, ending however in the more solid foundations of absolute royal
authority, are not to be here discussed, especially as nobody can thread
that political labyrinth; and we begin, therefore, not with the
technical reign of the great King, but with his actual government,
which took place on the death of Mazarin, when he was twenty-two.

It is said that when that able ruler passed away so reluctantly from his
pictures and his government, the ministers asked of the young
King,--thus far only known for his pleasures,--to whom they should now
bring their portfolios, "To me," he replied; and from that moment he
became the State, and his will the law of the land.

I have already alluded to the talents and capacities of Louis for
governing, and the great aid he derived from the labors of Richelieu and
the moral sentiments of his age respecting royalty and religion; so I
will not dwell on personal defects or virtues, but proceed to show the
way in which he executed the task devolved upon him,--in other words,
present a brief history of his government, for which he was so well
fitted by native talents, fortunate circumstances, and established
ideas. I will only say, that never did a monarch enter upon his career
with such ample and magnificent opportunities for being a benefactor of
his people and of civilization. In his hands were placed all the powers
of good and evil; and so far as government can make a nation great,
Louis had the means and opportunities beyond those of any monarch in
modern times. He had armies and generals and accumulated treasures; and
all implicitly served him. His ministers and his generals were equally
able and supple, and he was at peace with all the world. Parliaments,
nobles, and Huguenots were alike submissive and reverential. He had
inherited the experience of Sully, of Richelieu, and of Mazarin. His
kingdom was protected by great natural boundaries,--the North Sea, the
ocean, the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees, the Alps, and the mountains
which overlook the Rhine. By nothing was he fettered but by the decrees
of everlasting righteousness. To his praise be it said, he inaugurated
his government by selecting Colbert as one of his prime ministers,--the
ablest man of his kingdom. It was this honest and astute servant of
royalty who ferreted out the peculations of Fouquet, whom Louis did not
hesitate to disgrace and punish. The great powers of Fouquet were
gradually bestowed on the merchant's son of Rheims.

Colbert was a plebeian and a Protestant,--cold, severe, reserved,
awkward, abrupt, and ostentatiously humble, but of inflexible integrity
and unrivalled sagacity and forethought; more able as a financier and
political economist than any man of his century. It was something for a
young, proud, and pleasure-seeking monarch to see and reward the talents
of such a man; and Colbert had the tact and wisdom to make his young
master believe that all the measures which he pursued originated in the
royal brain. His great merit as a minister consisted in developing the
industrial resources of France and providing the King with money.

Colbert was the father of French commerce, and the creator of the French
navy. He saw that Flanders was enriched by industry, and England and
Holland made powerful by a navy, while Spain and Portugal languished and
declined with all their mines of gold and silver. So he built ships of
war, and made harbors for them, gave charters to East and West India
Companies, planted colonies in India and America, decreed tariffs to
protect infant manufactures, gave bounties to all kinds of artisans,
encouraged manufacturing industry, and declared war on the whole brood
of aristocratic peculators that absorbed the revenues of the kingdom. He
established a better system of accounts, compelled all officers to
reside at their posts, and reduced the percentage of the collection of
the public money. In thirteen years he increased the navy from thirty
ships to two hundred and seventy-three, one hundred of which were ships
of the line. He prepared a new code of maritime law for the government
of the navy, which called out universal admiration. He dug the canal of
Languedoc, which united the Mediterranean with the Atlantic Ocean. He
instituted the Academies of Sciences, of Inscriptions, of Belles
Lettres, of Painting, of Sculpture, of Architecture; and founded the
School of Oriental languages, the Observatory, and the School of Law. He
gave pensions to Corneille, Racine, Moliere, and other men of genius. He
rewarded artists and invited scholars to France; he repaired roads,
built bridges, and directed the attention of the middle classes to the
accumulation of capital. "He recognized the connection of works of
industry with the development of genius. He saw the influence of science
in the production of riches; of taste on industry; and the fine arts on
manual labor." For all these enlightened measures the King had the
credit and the glory; and it certainly redounds to his sagacity that he
accepted such wise suggestions, although he mistook them for his own. So
to the eyes of Europe Louis at once loomed up as an enlightened monarch;
and it would be difficult to rob him of this glory. He indorsed the
economical reforms of his great minister, and rewarded merit in all
departments, which he was not slow to see. The world extolled this
enlightened and fortunate young prince, and saw in him a second Solomon,
both for wisdom and magnificence.

Another great genius ably assisted Louis as soon as he turned his
attention to war,--the usual employment of ambitious kings,--and this
was Le Tellier, Marquis of Louvois, the great war minister, who laid out
the campaigns and directed the movements of such generals as Conde,
Turenne, and Luxembourg. And here again it redounds to the sagacity of
Louis that he should select a man for so great a post whom he never
personally loved, and who in his gusts of passion would almost insult
his master. Louvois is acknowledged to have been the ablest war minister
that France ever had.

Louis reigned peaceably and prosperously for six years before the
ambition of being a conqueror and a hero seized him. At twenty-eight he
burned to play the part of Alexander. Thenceforth the history of his
reign chiefly pertains to his gigantic wars,--some defensive, but mostly
offensive, aggressive, and unprovoked.

In regard to these various wars, which plunged Europe in mourning and
rage for nearly fifty years, Louis is generally censured by historians.
They were wars of ambition, like those of Alexander and Frederic II.,
until Europe combined against him and compelled him to act on the
defensive. The limits of this lecture necessarily prevent me from
describing these wars; I can only allude to the most important of them,
and then only to show results.

His first great war was simply outrageous, and was an insult to all
Europe, and a violation of all international law. In 1667, with an
immense army, he undertook the conquest of Flanders, with no better
excuse than Frederic II. had for the invasion of Silesia,--because he
wanted an increase of territory. Flanders had done nothing to warrant
this outrage, was unprepared for war, and was a weak state, but rich and
populous, with fine harbors, and flourishing manufactures. With nearly
fifty thousand men, under Conde, Turenne, and Luxembourg, and other
generals of note, aided by Louvois, who provided military stores of
every kind, and all under the eye of the King himself, full of ideas of
glory, the issue of the conflict was not doubtful. In fact, there was no
serious defence. It was hopeless from the first. Louis had only to take
possession of cities and fortresses which were at his mercy. The
frontier towns were mostly without fortifications, so that it took only
about two or three days to conquer any city. The campaign was more a
court progress than a series of battles. It was a sort of holiday sport
for courtiers, like a royal hunt. The conquest of all Flanders might
have been the work of a single campaign, for no city offered a stubborn
resistance; but the war was prolonged for another year, that Louis might
more easily take possession of Franche-Comte,--a poor province, but
fertile in soil, well peopled, one hundred and twenty miles in length
and sixty in breadth. In less than three weeks this province was added
to France. "Louis," said the Spanish council in derision, "might have
sent his _valet de chambre_ to have taken possession of the country in
his name, and saved himself the trouble of going in person."

This successful raid seems to have contented the King for the time,
since Holland made signs of resistance, and a league was forming against
him, embracing England, Holland, and Sweden.

The courtiers and flatterers of Louis XIV. called this unheroic seizure
"glory." And it doubtless added to the dominion of France, inflamed the
people with military ambition, and caused the pride of birth for the
first time to yield to military talent and military rank. A marshal
became a greater personage than a duke, although a marshal was generally
taken from the higher nobility.

Louis paid no apparent penalty for this crime, any more than prosperous
wickedness at first usually receives. "His eyes stood out with fatness."
To idolatrous courtiers "he had more than heart could wish." But the
penalty was to come: law cannot be violated with impunity.

The peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1668 followed, which made Louis the most
prominent figure in Europe. He was then twenty-nine years of age, in the
pride of strength, devoted equally to pleasure and ambition. It was then
that he was the lover of the Duchesse de La Valliere, who was soon to be
supplanted by the imperious Montespan. Louis remained at peace for four
years, but all the while he was preparing for another war, aimed against
Holland, which had offended him because resolved to resist him.

Vaster preparations were made for this war than that against Flanders,
five years before. The storm broke out in 1672, when this little state
saw itself invaded by one hundred and thirty thousand men, led by the
King in person, accompanied by his principal marshals, his war-minister
Louvois, and Vauban, to whom was intrusted the direction of siege
operations,--an engineer who changed the system of fortifications. This
was the most magnificent army that Europe had ever seen since the
Crusades, and much was expected of it. Against Conde, Turenne,
Luxembourg, and Vauban, all under the eye of the King, with a powerful
train of artillery, and immense sums of money to bribe the commanders of
garrisons, Holland had only to oppose twenty-five thousand soldiers,
under a sickly young man of twenty-two, William, Prince of Orange.

Of course Holland was unable to resist such an overwhelming tide of
enemies, such vast and disproportionate forces. City after city and
fortress after fortress was compelled to surrender to the generals of
the French King. "They were taken almost as soon as they were invested."
All the strongholds on the Rhine and Issel fell. The Prince of Orange
could not even take the field. Louis crossed the Rhine without
difficulty, when the waters were low, with only four or five hundred
horsemen to dispute his passage. This famous passage was the subject of
ridiculous panegyrics by both painters and poets. It was generally
regarded as a prodigious feat, especially by the people of Paris, as if
it were another passage of the Granicus.

Then rapidly fell Arnheim, Nimeguen, Utrecht, and other cities. The
wealthy families of Amsterdam prepared to embark in their ships for the
East Indies. Nothing remained to complete the conquest of Holland but
the surrender of Amsterdam, which still held out. Holland was in
despair, and sent ambassadors to the camp of Louis, headed by Grotius,
to implore his mercy. He received them, after protracted delays, with
blended insolence and arrogance, and demanded, as the conditions of
his mercy, that the States should give up all their fortified
cities, pay twenty millions of francs, and establish the Catholic
religion,--conditions which would have reduced the Hollanders to
absolute slavery, morally and politically. From an inspiration of
blended patriotism and despair, the Dutch opened their dykes, overflowed
the whole country in possession of the enemy, and thus made Amsterdam
impregnable,--especially as they were still masters of the sea, and had
just dispersed, in a brilliant naval battle under De Ruyter, the
combined fleets of France and England.

It was this memorable resistance to vastly superior forces, and
readiness to make any sacrifices, which gave immortal fame to William of
Orange, and imperishable glory also to the little state over which he
ruled. What a spectacle!--a feeble mercantile state, without powerful
allies, bracing itself up to a life-and-death struggle with the
mightiest potentate of Europe. I know no parallel to it in the history
of modern times. Our fathers in the Revolutionary war could retreat to
forests and mountains; but Holland had neither mountains nor forests.
There was no escape from political ruin but by the inundation of fertile
fields, the destruction to an unprecedented degree of private property,
and the decimation of the male part of the population. Nor did the noble
defenders dream of victory; they only hoped to make a temporary stand.
William knew he would be beaten in every battle; his courage was moral
rather than physical. He lost no ground by defeat, while Louis lost
ground by victory, since it required a large part of his army to guard
the prisoners and garrison the fortresses he had taken.

Some military writers say that Louis should have persevered until he had
taken Amsterdam. As well might Napoleon have remained in Russia after
the conflagration of Moscow. In May, Louis entered Holland; in July, all
Europe was in confederacy against him, through the negotiations of the
Prince of Orange. Louis hastened to quit the army when no more
conquests could be made in a country overflowed with water, leaving
Turenne and Luxembourg to finish the war in Franche-Comte. The able
generals of the French king were obliged to evacuate Holland. That
little state, by an act of supreme self-sacrifice, saved itself when all
seemed lost. I do not read of any military mistakes on the part of the
generals of Louis. They were baffled by an unforeseen inundation; and
when they were compelled to evacuate the flooded country, the Dutch
quietly closed their dykes and pumped the water out again into their
canals by their windmills, and again restored fertility to their fields;
and by the time Louis was prepared for fresh invasions, a combination
existed against him so formidable that he found it politic to make
peace. The campaigns of Turenne on the Rhine were indeed successful; but
he was killed in an insignificant battle, from a chance cannonball,
while the Prince of Conde retired forever from military service after
the bloody battle of Senif. On the whole, the French were victorious in
the terrible battles which followed the evacuation of Holland, and Louis
dictated peace to Europe apparently in the midst of victories at
Nimeguen, in 1678, after six years of brilliant fighting on both sides.

At the peace of Nimeguen Louis was in the zenith of his glory, as
Napoleon was after the peace of Tilsit. He was justly regarded as the
mightiest monarch of his age, the greatest king that France had ever
seen. All Europe stood in awe of him; and with awe was blended
admiration, for his resources were unimpaired, his generals had greatly
distinguished themselves, and he had added important provinces to his
kingdom, which was also enriched by the internal reforms of Colbert, and
made additionally powerful by commerce and a great navy, which had
gained brilliant victories over the Dutch and Spanish fleets. Duquesne
showed himself to be almost as great a genius in naval warfare as De
Ruyter, who was killed off Aosta in 1676. In those happy and prosperous
days the Hotel de Ville conferred upon Louis the title of "Great," which
posterity never acknowledged. "Titles," says Voltaire, "are never
regarded by posterity. The simple name of a man who has performed noble
actions impresses on us more respect than all the epithets that can be

After the peace of Nimeguen, in 1678, the King reigned in greater
splendor than before. There were no limits to his arrogance and his
extravagance. He was a modern Nebuchadnezzar. He claimed to be the
state. _L'etat, c'est moi!_ was his proud exclamation. He would bear no
contradiction and no opposition. The absorbing sentiment of his soul
seems to have been that France belonged to him, that it had been given
to him as an inheritance, to manage as he pleased for his private
gratification. "Self-aggrandizement," he wrote, "is the noblest
occupation of kings." Most writers affirm that personal aggrandizement
became the law of his life, and that he now began to lose sight of the
higher interests and happiness of his people, and to reign not for them
but for himself. He became a man of resentments, of caprices, of
undisguised selfishness; he became pompous and haughty and self-willed.
We palliate his self-exaggeration and pride, on account of the
disgraceful flatteries he received on every hand. Never was a man more
extravagantly lauded, even by the learned. But had he been half as great
as his courtiers made him think, he would not have been so intoxicated;
Caesar or Charlemagne would not thus have lost his intellectual balance.
The strongest argument to prove that he was not inherently great, but
made apparently so by fortunate circumstances, is his self-deception.

In his arrogance and presumption, like Napoleon after the peace of
Tilsit, he now sets aside the rights of other nations, heaps galling
insults on independent potentates, and assumes the most arrogant tone in
all his relations with his neighbors or subjects. He makes conquests in
the midst of peace. He cites the princes of Europe before his councils.
He deprives the Elector Palatine and the Elector of Treves of some of
their most valuable seigniories. He begins to persecute the
Protestants. He seizes Luxembourg and the principality which belonged to
it. He humbles the republic of Genoa, and compels the Doge to come to
Versailles to implore his clemency. He treats with haughty insolence the
Pope himself, and sends an ambassador to his court on purpose to insult
him. He even insists on giving an Elector to Cologne.

And the same inflated pride and vanity which led Louis to trample on the
rights of other nations, led him into unbounded extravagance in
palace-building. Versailles arose,--at a cost, some affirm, of a
thousand millions of livres,--unrivalled for magnificence since the fall
of the Caesars. In this vast palace did he live, more after the fashion
of an Oriental than an Occidental monarch, having enriched and furnished
it with the wonders of the world, surrounded with princes, marshals,
nobles, judges, bishops, ambassadors, poets, artists, philosophers, and
scholars, all of whom rendered to him perpetual incense. Never was such
a grand court seen before on this earth: it was one of the great
features of the seventeenth century. There was nothing censurable in
collecting all the most distinguished and illustrious people of France
around him: they must have formed a superb society, from which the proud
monarch could learn much to his enlightenment. But he made them all
obsequious courtiers, exacted from all an idolatrous homage, and
subjected them to wearisome ceremonials. He took away their intellectual
independence; he banished Racine because the poet presumed to write a
political tract. He made it difficult to get access to his person; he
degraded the highest nobles by menial offices, and insulted the nation
by the exaltation of abandoned women, who squandered the revenues of the
state in their pleasures and follies, so that this grand court, alike
gay and servile, intellectual and demoralized, became the scene of
perpetual revels, scandals, and intrigues.

It was at this period that Louis abandoned himself to those adulterous
pleasures which have ever disgraced the Bourbons. Yet scarcely a single
woman by whom he was for a while enslaved retained her influence, but a
succession of mistresses arose, blazed, triumphed, and fell. Mancini,
the niece of Mazarin, was forsaken without the decency of the slightest
word of consolation. La Valliere, the only woman who probably ever loved
him with sincerity and devotion, had but a brief reign, and was doomed
to lead a dreary life of thirty-six years in penitence and neglect in a
Carmelite convent. Madame de Montespan retained her ascendency longer
for she had talents as well as physical beauty; she was the most
prodigal and imperious of all the women that ever triumphed over the
weakness of man. She reigned when Louis was in all the pride of manhood
and at the summit of his greatness and fame,--accompanying him in his
military expeditions, presiding at his fetes, receiving the incense of
nobles, the channel of court favor, the dispenser of honors but not of
offices; for amid all the slaveries to which women subjected the
proudest man on earth by the force of physical charms, he never gave to
them his sceptre. It was not till Madame de Maintenon supplanted this
beautiful and brilliant woman in the affections of the King, and until
he was a victim of superstitious fears, and had met with great reverses,
that state secrets were intrusted to a female friend,--for Madame de
Maintenon was never a mistress in the sense that Montespan was.

During this brilliant period of ten years from the peace of Nimeguen, in
1678, to the great uprising of the nations to humble him, in 1688,
Versailles and other palaces were completed, works of art adorned the
capital, and immortal works of genius made his reign illustrious.

While Colbert lived, I do not read of any extraordinary blunder on the
part of the Government. Perhaps palace-building may be considered a
mistake, since it diverted the revenues of the kingdom into monuments of
royal vanity. But the sums lavished on architects, gardeners, painters,
sculptors, and those who worked under them, employed thousands of useful
artisans, created taste, and helped to civilize the people. The people
profited by the extravagance of the King and his courtiers; the money
was spent in France, which was certainly better than if it had been
expended in foreign wars; it made Paris and Versailles the most
attractive cities of the world; it stimulated all the arts, and did not
demoralize the nation. Would this country be poorer, and the government
less stable, if five hundred millions were expended at Washington to
make it the most beautiful city of the land, and create an honest pride
even among the representatives of the West, perhaps diverting them from
building another capital on the banks of the Mississippi? Would this
country be richer if great capitalists locked up their money in State
securities, instead of spending their superfluous wealth in reclaiming
sterile tracts and converting them into gardens and parks? The very
magnificence of Louis impressed such a people as the French with the
idea of his power, and tended to make the government secure, until
subsequent wars imposed such excessive taxation as to impoverish the
people and drain the sources of national wealth. We do not read that
Colbert made serious remonstrances to the palace-building of the King,
although afterwards Louis regarded it as one of the errors of his reign.

But when Colbert died, in 1685, another spirit seemed to animate the
councils of the King, and great mistakes were made,--which is the more
noteworthy, since the moral character of the King seemed to improve. It
was at this time that he fell under the influence of Madame de Maintenon
and the Jesuits. They made his court more decorous. Montespan was sent
away. Bossuet and La Chaise gained great ascendency over the royal
conscience. Louis began to realize his responsibilities; the love of
glory waned; the welfare of the people was now considered. Whether he
was _ennuied_ with pleasure, or saw things in a different light, or felt
the influence of the narrow-minded but accomplished and virtuous woman
whom he made his wife, or was disturbed by the storm which was gathering
in the political horizon, he became more thoughtful and grave, though
not less tyrannical.

Yet it was then that he made the most fatal mistake of his life, the
evil consequences of which pursued him to his death. He revoked the
Edict of Nantes, which Henry IV. had granted, and which had secured
religious toleration. This he did from a perverted conscience, wishing
to secure the unanimity and triumph of the Catholic faith; to this he
was incited by the best woman with whom he was ever brought in intimate
relations; in this he was encouraged by all the religious bigots of his
kingdom. He committed a monstrous crime that good might come,--not
foreseeing the ultimate consequences, and showing anything but an
enlarged statesmanship. This stupid folly alienated his best subjects,
and sowed the seeds of revolution in the next reign, and tended to
undermine the throne. Richelieu never would have consented to such an
insane measure; for this cruel act not only destroyed veneration at
home, but created detestation among all enlightened foreigners.

It is a hackneyed saying, that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the
Church." But it would seem that the persecution of the Protestants was
an exception to this truth,--and a persecution all the more needless and
revolting since the Protestants were not in rebellion against the
government, as in the tune of Charles IX. This diabolical persecution,
justified however by some of the greatest men in France, had its
intended results. The bigots who incited that crime had studied well the
principles of successful warfare. As early as 1666 the King was urged to
suppress the Protestant religion, and long before the Edict of Nantes
was revoked the Protestants had been subjected to humiliation and
annoyance. If they held places at court, they were required to sell
them; if they were advocates, they were forbidden to plead; if they were
physicians, they were prevented from visiting patients. They were
gradually excluded from appointments in the army and navy; little
remained to them except commerce and manufactures. Protestants could not
hold Catholics as servants; soldiers were unjustly quartered upon them;
their taxes were multiplied, their petitions were unread. But in 1685
dragonnades subjected them to still greater cruelties; who tore up their
linen for camp beds, and emptied their mattresses for litters. The poor,
unoffending Protestants filled the prisons, and dyed the scaffolds with
their blood. They were prohibited under the severest penalties from the
exercise of their religion; their ministers were exiled, their children
were baptized in the Catholic faith, their property was confiscated, and
all attempts to flee the country were punished by the galleys. Two
millions of people were disfranchised; two hundred thousand perished by
the executioners, or in prisons, or in the galleys. All who could fly
escaped to other countries; and those who escaped were among the most
useful citizens, carrying their arts with them to enrich countries at
war with France. Some two hundred thousand contrived to fly,--thus
weakening the kingdom, and filling Europe with their execrations. Never
did a crime have so little justification, and never was a crime followed
with severer retribution. Yet Le Tellier, the chancellor, at the age of
eighty, thanked God that he was permitted the exalted privilege of
affixing the seal of his office to the act before he died. Madame de
Maintenon declared that it would cover Louis with glory. Madame de
Sevigne said that no royal ordinance had ever been more magnificent.
Hardly a protest came from any person of influence in the land, not even
from Fenelon. The great Bossuet, at the funeral of Le Tellier, thus
broke out: "Let us publish this miracle of our day, and pour out our
hearts in praise of the piety of Louis,--this new Constantine, this new
Theodosius, this new Charlemagne, through whose hands heresy is no
more." The Pope, though at this time hostile to Louis, celebrated a
Te Deum.

Among those who fled the kingdom to other lands were nine thousand
sailors and twelve thousand soldiers, headed by Marshal Schomberg and
Admiral Duquesne,--the best general and the best naval officer that
France then had. Other distinguished people transferred their services
to foreign courts. The learned Claude, who fled to Holland, gave to the
world an eloquent picture of the persecution. Jurieu, by his burning
pamphlets, excited the insurrection of Cevennes. Basnage and Rapin, the
historians, Saurin the great preacher, Papin the eminent scientist, and
other eminent men, all exiles, weakened the supports of Louis. France
was impoverished in every way by this "great miracle" of the reign; "so
that," says Martin, "the new temple that Louis had pretended to erect to
unity fell to ruin as it rose from the ground, and left only an open
chasm in place of its foundations.... The nothingness of absolute
government by one alone was revealed under the very reign of the
great King."

The rebound of the revocation overthrew all the barriers within which
Louis had intrenched himself. All the smothered fires of hatred and of
vengeance were kindled anew in Holland and in every Protestant country.
William of Orange headed the confederation of hostile states that
dreaded the ascendency and detested the policy of Louis XIV. All Europe
was resolved on the humiliation of a man it both feared and hated. The
great war which began in 1688, when William of Orange became King of
England on the flight of James II., was not sought by Louis. This war
cannot be laid to his military ambition; he provoked it indeed,
indirectly, by his arrogance and religious persecutions, but on his part
it was as truly defensive as were the wars of Napoleon after the
invasion of Russia. Whatever is truly heroic in the character of Louis
was seen after he was forty-eight. Whatever claims to greatness he may
have had are only to be sustained by the memorable resistance he made
to united Europe in arms against him, when his great ministers and his
best generals had died, Turenne died in 1675, Colbert in 1683, Conde in
1686, Le Tellier in 1687, and Louvois in 1691. Then it was that his
great reverses began, and his glory paled before the sun of the King of
England, These reverses may have been the result of incapacity, and
they may have been the result of the combined forces which outnumbered
or overmatched his own; certain it is that in the terrible contest to
which he was now doomed, he showed great force of character and great
fortitude, which command our respect.

I cannot enter on that long war which began with the League of Augsburg
in 1686, and continued to the peace of Ryswick in 1697,--nine years of
desperate fighting, when successes and defeats were nearly balanced, and
when the resources of all the contending parties were nearly exhausted.
France, at the close of the war, was despoiled of all her conquests and
all the additions to her territory made since the Peace of Nimeguen,
except Strasburg and Alsace. For the first time since the accession of
Richelieu to power, France lost ground.

The interval between this war and that of the Spanish succession--an
interval of three years--was only marked by the ascendency of Madame de
Maintenon, and a renewed persecution, directed not against Protestants,
but against those Catholics who cultivated the highest and freest
religious life, and in which Bossuet appears to a great disadvantage by
the side of his rival, the equally illustrious Fenelon. It was also
marked by the gradual disappearance of the great lights in literature.
La Fontaine died in 1695, Racine in 1699. Boileau was as good as dead;
Mesdames de la Sabliere and de la Fayette, Pellisson and Bussy-Rabutin,
La Bruyere and Madame Sevigne, all died about this time. The only great
men at the close of the century in France who made their genius felt
were Bossuet, who encouraged the narrow intolerance which aimed to
suppress the Jansenists and Quietists, and Fenelon, who protected them
although he did not join them,--the "Eagle of Meaux" and the "Swan of
Cambray," as they were called, offering in the realm of art "the eternal
duality of strength and grace," like Michael Angelo and Raphael; the one
inspiring the fear and the other the love of God, yet both seeing in the
Christian religion the highest hopes of the world. The internal history
of this period centres around those pious mystics of whom Madame Guyon
was the representative, and those inquiring intellectual Jansenists who
had defied the Jesuits, but were finally crushed by an intolerant
government. The lamentable dispute between Bossuet and Fenelon also then
occurred, which led to the disgrace of the latter,--as banishment to his
diocese was regarded. But in his exile his moral influence was increased
rather than diminished; while the publication of his "Telemaque," made
without his consent from a copy that had been abstracted from him, won
him France and Europe, though it rendered Louis XIV. forever
irreconcilable. Bossuet did not long survive the banishment of his
rival, and died in 1704, a month before Bourdaloue, and two years before
Bayle. France intellectually, under the despotic intolerance of the
King, was going through an eclipse or hastening to a dissolution, while
the material state of the country showed signs of approaching
bankruptcy. The people were exhausted by war and taxes, and all the
internal improvements which Colbert had stimulated were neglected. "The
fisheries of Normandy were ruined, and the pasture lands of Alsace were
taken from the peasantry. Picardy lost a twelfth part of its population;
many large cities were almost abandoned. In Normandy, out of seven
hundred thousand people, there were but fifty thousand who did not sleep
on straw. The linen manufactures of Brittany were destroyed by the heavy
duties; Touraine lost one-fourth of her population; the silk trade of
Tours was ruined; the population of Troyes fell from sixty thousand to
twenty thousand; Lyons lost twenty thousand souls since the beginning
of the war."

In spite of these calamities the blinded King prepared for another
exhausting war, in order to put his grandson on the throne of Spain.
This last and most ruinous of all his wars might have been averted if he
only could have cast away his ambition and his pride. Humbled and
crippled, he yet could not part with the prize which fell to his family
by the death of Carlos II. of Spain. But Europe was determined that the
Bourbons should not be further aggrandized.

Thus in 1701 war broke out with even intensified animosities, and lasted
twelve years; directed on the one part by Marlborough, Eugene, and
Heinsius, and on the other part by Villars, Vendome, and Catinat, during
which the finances of France were ruined and the people reduced to
frightful misery. It was then that Louis melted up the medallions of his
former victories, to provide food for his starving soldiers. He offered
immense concessions, which the allies against him rejected. He was
obliged to continue the contest with exhausted resources and a saddened
soul. He offered Marlborough four millions to use his influence to
procure a peace; but this general, venal as he was, preferred ambition
to money. The despair which once overwhelmed Holland now overtook
France. The French marshals encountered a greater general than William
III., whose greatness was in the heroism of his soul and his diplomatic
talents, rather than in his genius on the battlefield. But Marlborough,
who led the allies, never lost a battle, nor besieged a fortress he did
not take. His master-stroke was to transfer his operations from Flanders
to the Danube. At Blenheim was fought one of the decisive battles of the
world, in which the Teutonic nations were marshalled against the French.
The battle of Ramillies completed the deliverance of Flanders; and
Louis, completely humiliated, agreed to give up ten Flemish provinces to
the Dutch, and to surrender to the Emperor of Germany all that France
had gained since the peace of Westphalia in 1648. He also agreed to
acknowledge Anne, as Queen of Great Britain, and to banish the Pretender
from his dominions; England was to retain Gibraltar, and Spain to cede
to the Emperor of Germany her possessions in Italy and the Netherlands.
But France, with all her disasters, was not ruined; the treaty of
Utrecht, 1713, left Louis nearly all his inherited possessions, except
in America.

Louis was now seventy-four,--an old man whose delusions were dispelled,
and to whom successive misfortunes had brought grief and shame. He was
deprived by death of his son and grandson, who gave promise of rare
virtues and abilities; only a feeble infant--his great-grandson--was the
heir of the monarchy. All his vast enterprises had failed. He suffered,
to all appearance, a righteous retribution for his early passion for
military glory. "He had invaded the rights of Holland; and Holland gave
him no rest until, with the aid of the surrounding monarchies, France
was driven to the verge of ruin. He had destroyed the cities of the
Palatinate; and the Rhine provinces became a wall of fire against his
armies. He had conspired against liberty in England; and it was from
England that he experienced the most fatal opposition." His wars, from
which he had expected glory, ended at last in the curtailment of his
original possessions. His palaces, which had excited the admiration of
Europe, became the monuments of extravagance and folly. His
persecutions, by which he hoped to secure religious unity, sowed the
seeds of discontent, anarchy, and revolution. He left his kingdom
politically weaker than it was when he took it; he entailed nothing but
disasters to his heirs. His very grants and pensions were subversive of
intellectual dignity and independence. At the close of the seventeenth
century the great lights had disappeared; he survived his fame, his
generals, his family, and his friends; the infirmities of age oppressed
his body, and the agonies of religious fears disturbed his soul. We see
no greatness but in his magnificence; we strip him of all claims to
genius, and even to enlightened statesmanship, and feel that his
undoubted skill in holding the reins of government must be ascribed to
the weakness and degradation of his subjects, rather than to his own
strength. But the verdicts of the last and present generation of
historians, educated with hatred of irresponsible power, may be again
reversed, and Louis XIV. may loom up in another age, if not as the
_grand monarque_ whom his contemporaries worshipped, yet as a man of
great natural abilities who made fatal mistakes, and who, like Napoleon
after him, alternately elevated and depressed the nation over which he
was called to reign,--not like Napoleon, as a usurper and a fraud, but
as an honest, though proud and ambitious, sovereign, who was supposed to
rule by divine right, of whom the nations of Europe were jealous, who
lived in fear and hatred of his power, and who finally conspired, not to
rob him of his throne and confine him to a rock, but to take from him
the provinces he had seized and the glory in which he shone.


Voltaire's Age of Louis XIV.; Henri Martin's History of France; Miss
Pardoe's History of the Court of Louis XIV.; Letters of Madame de
Maintenon; Memoires de Greville; Saint Simon; P. Clement; Le
Gouvernement de Louis XIV.; Memoires de Choisy; Oeuvres de Louis XIV.;
Limiers's Histoire de Louis XIV.; Quincy's Histoire Militaire de Louis
XIV.; Lives of Colbert, Turenne, Vauban, Conde, and Louvois; Macaulay's
History of England; Lives of Fenelon and Bossuet; Memoires de Foucault;
Memoires du Due de Bourgogne; Histoire de l'Edit de Nantes; Laire's
Histoire de Louis XIV.; Memoires de Madame de la Fayette; Memoires de
St. Hilaire; Memoires du Marechal de Berwick; Memoires de Vilette;
Lettres de Madame de Sevigne; Memoires de Mademoiselle de Montpensier;
Memoires de Catinat; Life, by James.


A. D. 1710-1774.


It is impossible to contemplate the inglorious reign of Louis XV.
otherwise than as a more complete development of the egotism which
marked the life of his immediate predecessor, and a still more fruitful
nursery of those vices and discontents which prepared the way for the
French Revolution. It is in fact in connection with that great event
that this reign should be considered. The fabric of despotism had
already been built by Richelieu, and Louis XIV. had displayed and
gloried in its dazzling magnificence, even while he undermined its
foundations by his ruinous wars and courtly extravagance. Under Louis
XV. we shall see even greater recklessness in profitless expenditures,
and more complete abandonment to the pleasures which were purchased by
the burdens and sorrows of his people; we shall see the monarch and his
court still more subversive of the prosperity and dignity of the nation,
and even indifferent to the signs of that coming storm which, later,
overturned the throne of his grandson, Louis XVI.

And Louis XV. was not only the author of new calamities, but the heir of
seventy years' misrule. All the evils which resulted from the wars and
wasteful extravagance of Louis XIV. became additional perplexities with
which he had to contend. But these evils, instead of removing, he only
aggravated by follies which surpassed all the excesses of the preceding
reign. If I were asked to point out the most efficient though indirect
authors of the French Revolution, I would single out those royal tyrants
themselves who sat upon the throne of Henry IV. during the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries. I shall proceed to state the principal events
and features which have rendered that reign both noted and ignominious.

In contemplating the long reign of Louis XV,--whom I present as a
necessary link in the political history of the eighteenth century,
rather than as one of the Beacon Lights of civilization,--we first
naturally turn our eyes to the leading external events by which it is
marked in history; and we have to observe, in reference to these, that
they were generally unpropitious to the greatness and glory of France,
Nearly all those which emanated from the government had an unfortunate
or disgraceful issue. No success attended the French arms in any quarter
of the world, with the exception of the victories of Marshal Saxe at
Fontenoy (1745); and the French lost the reputation they had previously
acquired under Henry IV., Conde, Turenne, and Luxembourg. Disgrace
attended the generals who were sent against Frederic II., in the Seven
Years' War, even greater than what had previously resulted from the
contests with the English and the Dutch, and which were brought to a
close by the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 1748. But it was not on the
fields of Germany that the greatest disasters happened; the French were
rifled of their possessions both in America and in India. Louisbourg
yielded to the bravery of New England troops, and finally Canada itself
was lost. All dreams of establishing a new empire on the Mississippi and
the Gulf of St. Lawrence vanished for ever, while Madras and Calcutta
fell into the hands of the English, with all the riches of Mahometan and
Mogul empires. During the regency of the Duke of Orleans,--for Louis XV.
was an infant five years of age when his great-grandfather died in
1715,--we notice the disgraceful speculations which followed the schemes
of Law, and which resulted in the ruin of thousands, and the still
greater derangement of the national finances. The most respectable part
of the reign of Louis XV. were those seventeen years when the
administration was hi the hands of Cardinal Fleury, who succeeded the
Duke of Bourbon, to whom the reins of government had been intrusted
after the death of the Duke of Orleans, two years before the young King
had attained his majority. Though the cardinal was a man of peace, was
irreproachable in morals, patriotic in his intentions, and succeeded in
restoring for a time the credit of the country, still even he only
warded off difficulties,--like Sir Robert Walpole,--instead of bravely
meeting them before it should be too late. His timid rule was a negative
rather than a positive blessing. But with his death ended all
prosperity, and the reign of mistresses and infamous favorites
began,--the great feature of the times, on which I shall presently speak
more fully, as one of the indirect causes of subsequent revolution.

In singling out and generalizing the evils and public misfortunes of the
reign of Louis XV., perhaps the derangement of the finances was the most
important in its political results. But for this misfortune the King was
not wholly responsible: a vast national debt was the legacy of Louis
XIV. This was the fruit of his miserable attempt at self-aggrandizement;
this was the residuum of his glories. Yet as a national debt, according
to some, is no calamity, but rather a blessing,--a chain of loyalty and
love to bind the people together in harmonious action and mutual
interest, and especially the middle classes, upon whom it chiefly falls,
to the support of a glorious throne,--we must not waste time by
dwelling on the existence of this debt,--a peculiarity which has
attended the highest triumphs of civilization, an invention of honored
statesmen and patriotic ministers, and perhaps their benignant boon to
future generations,--but rather we will look to the way it was sought to
be discharged.

Louis XIV. spent in wars fifteen hundred millions of livres, and in
palaces about three hundred millions more; and his various other
expenses, which could not be well defrayed by taxation, swelled the
amount due to his creditors, at his death, to nearly two thousand
millions,--a vast sum for those times. The regent, Duke of Orleans, who
succeeded him, increased this debt still more, especially by his
reckless and infamous prodigalities, under the direction of his prime
minister,--his old friend and tutor,--Cardinal Dubois. At last his
embarrassments were so great that the wheels of government were likely
to stop. His friend, the Due de Saint Simon, one of the great patricians
of the court, proposed, as a remedy, national bankruptcy,--affirming
that it would be a salutary lesson to the rich plebeian capitalists not
to lend their money. An ingenious Scotch financier, however, proposed a
more palatable scheme, which was, to make use of the credit of the
nation for a bank, the capital of which should be guaranteed by shares
in the Mississippi Company. John Law, already a wealthy and prosperous
banker, proposed to increase the paper currency, and supersede the use
of gold and silver. His offer was accepted, and his bank became a royal
one, its bills going at once into circulation. Now, as the most absurd
delusions existed as to the wealth of Louisiana, and the most boundless
faith was placed in Law's financiering; and as only Law's bills could
purchase shares in the Company which was to make everybody's
fortune,--gold and silver flowed to his bank. The shares of the Company
continued to rise in value, and bank-bills were indefinitely issued. In
a little while (1719), six hundred and forty millions of livres in these
bills were in circulation, and soon after nearly half of the national
debt was paid off'; in other words, people had been induced to exchange
government securities, to the amount of eight hundred millions, for the
Mississippi stock. They sold consols at Law's bank, and were paid in his
bills, with which they bought shares. The bills of the bank were of
course redeemable in gold and silver; but for a time nobody wanted gold
and silver, so great was the credit of the bank. Moreover, the bank
itself was guaranteed by the shares of the Company, which were worth at
one period twelve times their original value. John Law, of course, was
regarded as a national benefactor. His financiering had saved a nation;
and who had ever before heard of a nation being saved by stock-jobbing?
All sorts of homage and honors were showered upon so great a man. His
house was thronged with dukes and peers; he became controller-general of
the finances, and virtually prime-minister. He was elected a member of
the French Academy; his fame extended far and wide, for he was a
beneficent deity that had made everybody rich and no one poor. Surely
the golden age had come. Paris was crowded with strangers from all parts
of the world, who came to see a man whose wisdom surpassed that of
Solomon, and who made silver and gold to be as stones in the streets. As
everybody had grown rich, twelve hundred new coaches were set up;
nothing was seen but new furniture and costly apparel, nothing was felt
but universal exhilaration. So great was the delusion, that the stock of
the Mississippi Company reached the almost fabulous amount of three
thousand six hundred millions,--nearly twice the amount of the national
debt. But as Law's bank, where all these transactions were made,
revealed none of its transactions, the public were in ignorance of the
bills issued and stock created.

At last, the Prince of Conti,--one of the most powerful of the nobles,
and a prince of the blood-royal, who had received enormous amounts in
bills as the price of his protection,--annoyed to find that his
ever-increasing demands were finally resisted, presented his notes at
the bank, and of course obtained gold and silver; then other nobles did
the same, and then foreign merchants, until the bank was drained. Then
came the panic, then the fall of stocks, then general ruin, then
universal despondency and rage. The bubble had burst! Four hundred
thousand families, who thought themselves rich, and who had been
comfortable, were hopelessly ruined; but the State had got rid of half
the national debt, and for a time was clear of embarrassment. The
people, however, had been defrauded and deceived by Government, and they
rendered in return their secret curses. The foundations of a throne are

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