XLVI. LOUIS XIV. AND HOME ADMINISTRATION.
It is King Louis XIV.'s distinction and heavy, burden in the eyes of history that it is, impossible to tell of anything in his reign without constantly recurring to himself. He had two ministers of the higher order, Colbert and Louvois; several of good capacity, such as Seignelay and Torcy; others incompetent, like Chamillard; he remained as much master of the administrators of the first rank as if they had been insignificant clerks; the home government of France, from 1661 to 1715, is summed up in the king's relations with his ministers.
"I resolved from the first not to have any premier minister," says Louis XIV. in his Memoires, "and not to leave to another the functions of king whilst I had nothing but the title. But, on the contrary, I made up my mind to share the execution of my orders amongst several persons, in order to concentrate their authority in my own alone. I might have cast my eyes upon people of higher consideration than those I selected, but they seemed to me competent to execute, under me, the matters with which I purposed to intrust them. I did not think it was to my interest to look for men of higher standing, because, as I wanted above all things to establish my own reputation, it was important that the public should know, from the rank of those of whom I made use, that I had no intention of sharing my authority with them, and that they themselves, knowing what they were, should not conceive higher hopes than I wished to give them."
It has been said already that the court governed France in the reign of Louis XIV.; and what was, in fact, the court? The men who lived about the king, depending on, his favor, the source or arbiter of their fortunes. The great lords served in the army, with lustre, when they bore the name of Conde, Turenne, or Luxembourg; but they never had any place amongst the king's confidential servants. "Luck, in spite of us, has as much to do as wisdom—and more—with the choice of our ministers," he says in his Memoires, "and, in respect of what wisdom may have to do therewith, genius is far more effectual than counsel." It was their genius which made the fortunes and the power of Louis XIV.'s two great ministers, Colbert and Louvois.
In advance, and on the faith of Cardinal Mazarin, the king knew the worth of Colbert. "I had all possible confidence in him," says he, "because I knew that he had a great deal of application, intelligence, and probity." Rough, reserved, taciturn, indefatigable in work, passionately devoted to the cause of order, public welfare, and the peaceable aggrandizement of France, Colbert, on becoming the comptroller of finance in 1661, brought to the service of the state superior views, consummate experience, and indomitable perseverance. The position of affairs required no fewer virtues. "Disorder reigned everywhere," says the king; "on casting over the various portions of my kingdom not eyes of indifference, but the eyes of a master, I was sensibly affected not to see a single one which did not deserve and did not press to be taken in hand. The destitution of the lower orders was extreme, and the finances, which give movement and activity to all this great framework of the monarchy, were entirely exhausted and in such plight that there was scarcely any resource to be seen; the affluent, to be seen only amongst official people, on the one hand cloaked all their malversations by divers kinds of artifices, and uncloaked them on the other by their insolent and audacious extravagance, as if they were afraid to leave me in ignorance of them."
The punishment of the tax-collectors (traitants), prosecuted at the same time as superintendent Fouquet, the arbitrary redemption of rentes (annuities) on the city of Paris or on certain branches of the taxes, did not suffice to alleviate the extreme suffering of the people. The talliages from which the nobility and the clergy were nearly everywhere exempt pressed upon the people with the most cruel inequality. "The poor are reduced to eating grass and roots in our meadows like cattle," said a letter from Blaisois those who can find dead carcasses devour them, "and, unless God have pity upon them, they will soon be eating one another." Normandy, generally so prosperous, was reduced to the uttermost distress. "The great number of poor has exhausted charity and the power of those who were accustomed to relieve them," says a letter to Colbert from the superintendent of Caen. "In 1662 the town was obliged to throw open the doors of the great hospital, having no longer any means of furnishing subsistence to those who were in it. I can assure you that there are persons in this town who have gone for whole days without anything to eat. The country, which ought to supply bread for the towns, is crying for mercy's sake to be supplied therewith itself." The peasants, wasted with hunger, could no longer till their fields; their cattle had been seized for taxes. Colbert proposed to the king to remit the arrears of talliages, and devoted all his efforts to reducing them, whilst regulating their collection. His desire was to arrive at the establishment everywhere of real talliages, on landed property, &c., instead of personal talliages, variable imposts, depending upon the supposed means or social position of the inhabitants. He was only very partially successful, without, however, allowing himself to be repelled by the difficulties presented by differences of legislation and customs in the provinces. "Perhaps," he wrote to the superintendent of Aix, in 1681, "on getting to the bottom of the matter and considering it in detail, you will not discover in it all the impossibilities you have pictured to yourself." Colbert died without having completed his work; the talliages, however, had been reduced by eight millions of livres within the first two years of his administration. "All the imposts of the kingdom," he writes, in 1662, to the superintendent of Tours, who is complaining of the destitution of the people, "are, as regards the talliages, but about thirty-seven millions, and, for forty or fifty years past, they have always been between forty and fifty millions, except after the peace, when his Majesty reduced them to thirty-two, thirty-three, and thirty-four millions."
Peace was of short duration in the reign of Louis XIV., and often so precarious that it did not permit of disarmament. At the very period when the able minister was trying to make the people feel the importance of the diminution in the talliages, he wrote to the king, "I entreat your Majesty to read these few lines attentively. I confess to your Majesty that the last time you were graciously pleased to speak to me about the state of the finances, my respect, the boundless desire I have always had to please you and serve you to your satisfaction, without making any difficulty or causing any hitch, and still more your natural eloquence which succeeds in bringing conviction of whatever you please, deprived me of courage to insist and dwell somewhat upon the condition of your finances, for the which I see no other remedy but increase of receipts and decrease of expenses; wherefore, though this is no concern at all of mine, I merely entreat your Majesty to permit me to say that in war as well as in peace you have never consulted your finances for the purpose of determining your expenditure, which is a thing so extraordinary that assuredly there is no example thereof. For the past twenty years during which I have had the honor of serving your Majesty, though the receipts have greatly increased, you would find that the expenses have much exceeded the receipts, which might perhaps induce you to moderate and retrench such as are excessive. I am aware, Sir, that the figure I present herein is not an agreeable one; but in your Majesty's service there are different functions; some entail nothing but agreeables whereof the expenses are the foundation; that with which your Majesty honors me entails this misfortune, that it can with difficulty produce anything agreeable, since the proposals for expenses have no limit; but one must console one's self by constantly laboring to do one's best."
Louis XIV. did not "moderate or retrench his expenses."
Colbert labored to increase the receipts; the new imposts excited insurrections in Angoumois, in Guyenne, in Brittany. Bordeaux rose in 1695 with shouts of "Hurrah! for the king without gabel." Marshal d'Albret ventured into the streets in the district of St. Michel; he was accosted by one of the ringleaders. "Well, my friend," said the marshal, "with whom is thy business? Dost wish to speak to me?" "Yes," replied the townsman, "I am deputed by the people of St. Michel to tell you that they are good servants of the king, but that they do not mean to have any gabel, or marks on pewter or tobacco, or stamped papers, or yreffe d'arbitrage (arbitration-clerk's fee)." It was not until a year afterwards that the taxes could be established in Gascony; troops had to be sent to Rennes to impose the stamp-tax upon the Bretons. "Soldiers are more likely to be wanted in Lower Brittany than in any other spot," said a letter to Colbert from the lieutenant general, M. de Lavardin; "it is a rough and wild country, which breeds inhabitants who resemble it. They understand French but slightly, and reason not much better. The Parliament is at the back of all this." Riots were frequent, and were put down with great severity. "The poor Low-Bretons collect by forty or fifty in the fields," writes Madame de Sevigne on the 24th of September, 1675: "as soon as they see soldiers, they throw themselves on their knees, saying, Mea culpa! all the French they know. . . ."
"The severities are abating," she adds on the 3d of November: "after the hangings there will be no more hanging." All these fresh imposts, which had cost so much suffering and severity, brought in but two millions five hundred thousand livres at Colbert's death. The indirect taxes, which were at that time called fermes generales (farmings-general), amounted to thirty-seven millions during the first two years of Colbert's administration, and rose to sixty-four millions at the time of his death. "I should be apprehensive of going too far, and that the prodigious augmentations of the fermes (farmings) would be very burdensome to the people," wrote Louis XIV. in 1680. The expenses of recovering the taxes, which had but lately led to great abuses, were diminished by half. "The bailiffs generally, and especially those who are set over the recovery of talliages, are such terrible brutes that, by way of exterminating a good number of these, you could not do anything more worthy of you than suppress those," wrote Colbert to the criminal magistrate of Orleans. "I am at this moment promoting two suits against the collectors of talliages, in which I expect at present to get ten thousand crowns' damages, without counting another against an assessor's officer, who wounded one Grimault, the which had one of his daughters killed before his eyes, his wife, another of his daughters, and his female servant wounded with swords and sticks, the writ of distrainment being executed whilst the poor creature was being buried." The bailiffs were suppressed, and the king's justice was let loose not only against the fiscal officers who abused their power, but also against tyrannical nobles. Masters of requests and members of the Parliament of Paris went to Auvergne and Velay and held temporary courts of justice, which were called grands jours. Several lords were found guilty; Sieur de la Mothe actually died upon the scaffold for having unjustly despoiled and maltreated the people on his estates. "He was not one of the worst," says Flechier, in his Journal des Grands Jours d'Auvergne. The Duke of Bouillon, governor of the province, had too long favored the guilty. "I resolved," says the king in his Memoires, "to prevent the people from being subjected to thousands and thousands of tyrants, instead of one lawful king, whose indulgence alone it is that causes all this disorder." The puissance of the provincial governors, already curtailed by Richelieu, suffered from fresh attacks under Louis XIV. Everywhere the power passed into the hands of the superintendents, themselves subjected in their turn to inspection by the masters of requests. "Acting on the information I had that in many provinces the people were plagued by certain folks who abused their title of governors in order to make unjust requisitions," says the king in his Memoires, "I posted men in all quarters for the express purpose of keeping myself more surely informed of such exactions, in order to punish them as they deserved." Order was restored in all parts of France. "The Auvergnats," said a letter to Colbert from President de Novion, "never knew so certainly that they had a king as they do now."
"A useless banquet at a cost of a thousand crowns causes me incredible pain," said Colbert to Louis XIV., "and yet, when it is a question of millions of gold for Poland, I would sell all my property, I would pawn my wife and children, and I would go afoot all my life to provide for it if necessary. Your Majesty, if it please you, will forgive me this little transport. I begin to doubt whether the liberty I take is agreeable to your Majesty; it has seemed to me that you were beginning to prefer your pleasures and your diversions to everything else; at the very time when your Majesty told me at St. Germain that the morsel must be taken from one's mouth to provide for the increment of the naval armament, you spent two hundred thousand livres down for a trip to Versailles, to wit, thirteen thousand pistoles for your gambling expenses and the queen's, and fifty thousand livres for extraordinary banquets; you have likewise so intermingled our diversions, with the war on land that it is difficult to separate the two, and, if your Majesty will be graciously pleased to examine in detail the amount of useless expenditure you have incurred, you will plainly see that, if it were all deducted, you would not be reduced to your present necessity. The right thing to do, sir, is to grudge five sous for unnecessary things, and to throw millions about when it is for your glory."
Colbert knew, in fact, how to "throw millions about" when it was for endowing France with new manufactures and industries. "One of the most important works of peace," he used to say, "is the re-establishment of every kind of trade in this kingdom, and to put it in a position to do without having recourse to foreigners for the things necessary for the use and comfort of the subjects." "We have no need of anybody, and our neighbors have need of us;" such was the maxim laid down in a document of that date, which has often been attributed to Colbert, and which he certainly put incessantly into practice. The cloth manufactures were dying out, they received encouragement; a Protestant Hollander, Van Robais, attracted over to Abbeville by Colbert, there introduced the making of fine cloths; at Beauvais and in the Gobelins establishment at Paris, under the direction of the great painter Lebrun, the French tapestries soon threw into the shade the reputation of the tapestries of Flanders; Venice had to yield up her secrets and her workmen for the glass manufactories of St. Gobain and Tourlaville. The great lords and ladies were obliged to give up the Venetian point with which their dresses had been trimmed; the importation of it was forbidden, and lace manufactories were everywhere established in France; there was even a strike amongst the women at Alencon against the new lace which it was desired to force them to make. "There are more than eighty thousand persons working at lace in Alencon, Seez, Argentan, Falaise, and the circumjacent parishes," said a letter to Colbert from the superintendent of Alencon, "and I can assure you, my lord, that it is manna and a blessing from heaven over all this district, where even little children of seven years of age find means of earning a livelihood; the little shepherd-girls from the fields work, like the rest, at it; they say that they will never be able to make such fine point as this, and that one wants to take away their bread and their means of paying their talliage." Point d'Alencon won the battle, and the making of lace spread all over Normandy. Manufactures of soap, tin, arms, silk, gave work to a multitude of laborers; the home trade of France at the same time received development; the bad state of the roads was "a dreadful hinderance to traffic;" Colbert ordered them to be every where improved. "The superintendents have done wonders, and we are never tired of singing their praises," writes, Madame de Sevigne to her daughter during one of her trips; "it is quite extraordinary what beautiful roads there are; there is not a single moment's stoppage; there are malls and walks everywhere." The magnificent canal of Languedoc, due to the generous initiative of Riquet, united the Ocean to the Mediterranean; the canal of Orleans completed the canal of Briare, commenced by Henry IV. The inland custom-houses which shackled the traffic between province and province were suppressed at divers points; many provinces demurred to the admission of this innovation, declaring that, to set their affairs right, "there was need of nothing but order, order, order." Colbert also wanted order, but his views were higher and broader than those of Breton or Gascon merchants; in spite of his desire to "put the kingdom in a position to do without having recourse to foreigners for things necessary for the use and comfort of the French," he had too lofty and too judicious a mind to neglect the extension of trade; like Richelieu, he was for founding great trading companies; he had five, for the East and West Indies, the Levant, the North, and Africa; just as with Richelieu, they were with difficulty established, and lasted but a little while; it was necessary to levy subscriptions on the members of the sovereign corporations; "M. de Bercy put down his name for a thousand livres," says the journal of Oliver d'Ormesson. "M. de Colbert laughed at him, and said that it could not be for his pocket's sake; and the end of it was, that he put down three thousand livres." Colbert could not get over the mortifying success of the company of the Dutch Indies. "I cannot believe that they pay forty per cent.," said he. It was with the Dutch that he most frequently had commercial difficulties. The United Provinces produced but little, and their merchant navy was exclusively engaged in the business of transport; the charge of fifty sous per ton on merchandise carried in foreign vessels caused so much ill humor amongst the Hollanders that it was partly the origin of their rupture with France and of the treaty of the Triple Alliance. Colbert made great efforts to develop the French navy, both the fighting and the merchant. "The sea-traffic of all the world," he wrote in 1669 to M. de Pomponne, then ambassador to Holland, "is done with twenty thousand vessels or thereabouts. In the natural order of things, each nation should have its own share thereof in proportion to its power, population, and seaboard. The Hollanders have fifteen or sixteen thousand out of this number, and the French perhaps four or five hundred at most. The king is employing all sorts of means which he thinks useful in order to approach a little more nearly to the number his subjects ought naturally to have." Colbert's efforts were not useless; at his death, the maritime trade of France had developed itself, and French merchants were effectually protected at sea by ships of war. "It is necessary," said Colbert in his instructions to Seignelay, "that my son should be as keenly alive to all the disorders that may occur in trade, and all the losses that may be incurred by every trader, as if they were his own." In 1692 the royal navy numbered a hundred and eighty-six vessels; a hundred and sixty thousand sailors were down on the books; the works at the ports of Toulon, Brest, and Rochefort were in full activity; Louis XIV. was in a position to refuse the salute of the flag which the English had up to that time exacted in the Channel from all nations. "The king my brother and those of whom he takes counsel do not quite know me yet," wrote the king to his ambassador in London, "when they adopt towards me a tone of haughtiness and a certain sturdiness which has a savor of menace. I know of no power under heaven that can make me move a step by that sort of way; evil may come to me, of course, but no sensation of fear. The King of England and his chancellor may, of course, see pretty well what my strength is, but they do not see my heart; I, who feel and know full well both one and the other, desire that, for sole reply to so haughty a declaration, they learn from your mouth that I neither seek nor ask for any accommodation in the matter of the flag, because I shall know quite well how to maintain my right whatever may happen. I intend before long to place my maritime forces on such a footing that the English shall consider it a favor if it be my good pleasure then to listen to modifications touching a right which is due to me more legitimately than to them." Duquesne and Tourville, Duguay-Trouin and John Bart, permitted the king to make good on the seas such proud words. From 1685 to 1712 the French fleets could everywhere hold their own against the allied squadrons of England and Holland.
So many and such sustained efforts in all directions, so many vast projects and of so great promise, suited the mind of Louis XIV. as well as that of his minister. "I tell you what I think," wrote Louis XIV. to Colbert in 1674; "but, after all, I end as I began, by placing myself entirely in your hands, being certain that you will do what is most advantageous for my service." Colbert's zeal for his master's service merited this confidence. "O," he exclaimed one day, "that I could render this country happy, and that, far from the court, without favor, without influence, the grass might grow in my very courts!"
Louis XIV. was the victim of three passions which hampered and in the long-run destroyed the accord between king and minister: that for war, whetted and indulged by Louvois; that for kingly and courtly extravagance; and that for building and costly fancies. Colbert likewise loved "buildments" (les batiments), as the phrase then was; he urged the king to complete the Louvre, plans for which were requested of Bernini, who went to Paris for the purpose; after two years' infructuous feelers and compliments, the Italian returned to Rome, and the work was intrusted to Perrault, whose plan for the beautiful colonnade still existing had always pleased Colbert. The completion of the castle of St. Germain, the works at Fontainebleau and at Chambord, the triumphal arches of St. Denis and St. Martin, the laying out of the Tuileries, the construction of the Observatory, and even that of the Palais des Invalides, which was Louvois' idea, found the comptroller of the finances well disposed, if not eager.
Versailles was a constant source of vexation to him. "Your Majesty is coming back from Versailles," he wrote to the king on the 28th of September, 1685. "I entreat that you will permit me to say two words about the reflections I often make upon this subject, and forgive me, if it please you, for my zeal. That mansion appertains far more to your Majesty's pleasure and diversion than to your glory; if you would be graciously pleased to search all over Versailles for the five hundred thousand crowns spent within two years, you would assuredly have a difficulty in finding them. If your Majesty thinks upon it, you will reflect that it will appear forever in the accounts of the treasurers of your buildments that, whilst you were expending such great sums on this mansion, you neglected the Louvre, which is assuredly the most superb palace in the world, and the most worthy of your Majesty's grandeur. You are aware that, in default of splendid deeds of arms, there is nothing which denotes the grandeur and spirit of princes more plainly than buildments do, and all posterity measures them by the ell of those superb mansions which they have erected during their lives. O, what pity it were that the greatest king and the most virtuous in that true virtue which makes the greatest princes should be measured by the ell of Versailles! And, nevertheless, there is room to fear this misfortune. For my part, I confess to your Majesty that, notwithstanding the repugnance you feel to increase the cash-orders [comptants], if I could have foreseen that this expenditure would be so large, I should have advised the employment of cash-orders, in order to hide the knowledge thereof forever." [The cash-orders (ordonnances au comptant) did not indicate their object, and were not revised. The king merely wrote, Pay cash; I know the object of this expenditure (Bon au comptant: je sais l'objet de cette depense).]
Colbert was mistaken in his fears for Louis XIV.'s glory; if the expenses of Versailles surpassed his most gloomy apprehensions, the palace which rose upon the site of Louis XIV.'s former hunting-box was worthy of the king who had made it in his own image, and who managed to retain all his court around him there, by the mere fact of his will and of his royal presence.
Colbert was dead before Versailles was completed; the bills amounted then to one hundred and sixteen millions; the castle of Marly, now destroyed, cost more than four millions; money was everywhere becoming scarce; the temper of the comptroller of finances went on getting worse. "Whereas formerly it had been noticed that he set to his work rubbing his hands with joy," says his secretary Perrault, brother of the celebrated architect, "he no longer worked but with an air of vexation, and even with sighs. From the good-natured and easy-going creature he had been, he became difficult to deal with, and there was not so much business, by a great deal, got through as in the early years of his administration." "I do not mean to build any more, Mansard; I meet with too many mortifications," the king would say to his favorite architect. He still went on building, however; but he quarrelled with Colbert over the cost of the great railings of Versailles. "There's swindling here," said Louis XIV. "Sir," rejoined Colbert, "I flatter myself, at any rate, that that word does not apply to me?" "No," said the king; "but more attention should have been shown. If you want to know what economy is, go to Flanders; you will see how little those fortifications of the conquered places cost."
It was Vauban whose praise the king thus sang, and Vauban, devoted to Louvois, had for a long time past been embroiled with Colbert. The minister felt himself beaten in the contest he had so long maintained against Michael Le Tellier and his son. In 1664, at the death of Chancellor Seguier, Colbert had opposed the elevation of Le Tellier to this office, "telling the king that, if he came in, he, Colbert, could not serve his Majesty, as he would have him thwarting everything he wanted to do." On leaving the council, Le Tellier said to Brienne, "You see what a tone M. Colbert takes up; he will have to be settled with." The antagonism had been perpetuated between Colbert and Louvois; their rivalry in the state had been augmented by the contrary dispositions of the two ministers. Both were passionately devoted to their work, laborious, indefatigable, honest in money matters, and both of fierce and domineering temper; but Louvois was more violent, more bold, less scrupulous as to ways and means of attaining his end, cruel in the exercise of his will and his wrath, less concerned about the sufferings of the people, more exclusively absorbed by one fixed idea; both rendered great service to the king, but Colbert performing for the prince and the state only useful offices in the way of order, economy, wise and far-sighted administration, courageous and steady opposition; Louvois ever urging the king on according to his bent, as haughty and more impassioned than he, entangling him and encouraging him in wars which rendered his own services necessary, without pity for the woes he entailed upon the nation. It was the misfortune and the great fault of Louis XIV. that he preferred the counsels of Louvois to those of Colbert, and that he allowed all the functions so faithfully exercised by the dying minister to drop into the hands of his enemy and rival.
At sixty-four years of age Colbert succumbed to excess of labor and of cares. That man, so cold and reserved, whom Madame de Sevigne called North, and Guy-Patin the Man of Marble (Vir marmoreus), felt that disgust for the things of life which appears so strikingly in the seventeenth century amongst those who were most ardently engaged in the affairs of the world. He was suffering from stone; the king sent to inquire after him and wrote to him. The dying man had his eyes closed; he did not open them. "I do not want to hear anything more about him," said he, when the king's letter was brought to him; "now, at any rate, let him leave me alone." His thoughts were occupied with his soul's salvation. Madame de Maintenon used to accuse him of always thinking about his finances, and very little about religion. He repeated bitterly, as the dying Cardinal Wolsey had previously said in the case of Henry, "If I had done for God what I have done for that man, I had been saved twice over; and now I know not what will become of me." He expired on the 6th of September, 1683; and on the 10th, Madame de Maintenon wrote to Madame de St. Geran, "The king is very well; he feels no more now than a slight sorrow. The death of M. de Colbert afflicted him, and a great many people rejoiced at that affliction. It is all stuff about the pernicious designs he had; and the king very cordially forgave him for having determined to die without reading his letter, in order to be better able to give his thoughts to God. M. de Seignelay was anxious to step into all his posts, and has not obtained a single one; he has plenty of cleverness, but little moral conduct. His pleasures always have precedence of his duties. He has so exaggerated his father's talents and services, that he has convinced everybody how unworthy and incapable he is of succeeding him." The influence of Louvois and the king's ill humor against the Colberts peep out in the injustice of Madame de Maintenon. Seignelay had received from Louis XIV. the reversion of the navy; his father had prepared him for it with anxious strictness, and he had exercised the functions since 1676. Well informed, clever, magnificent, Seignelay drove business and pleasure as a pair. In 1685 he gave the king a splendid entertainment in his castle of Sceaux; in 1686 he set off for Genoa, bombarded by Duquesne; in 1689 he, in person, organized the fleet of Tourville at Brest. "He was general in everything," says Madame de la Fayette; "even when he did not give the word, he had the exterior and air of it." "He is devoured by ambition," Madame de Maintenon had lately said: in 1689 she writes, "Anxious (L'Inquiet, i. e., Louvois) hangs but by a thread; he is very much shocked at having the direction of the affairs of Ireland taken from him; he blames me for it. He counted on making immense profits; M. de Seignelay counts on nothing but perils and labors. He will succeed if he do not carry things with too high a hand. The king would have no better servant, if he could rid himself a little of his temperament. He admits as much himself; and yet he does not mend." Seignelay died on the 3d of November, 1690, at the age of thirty-nine. "He had all the parts of a great minister of state," says St. Simon, "and he was the despair of M. de Louvois, whom he often placed in the position of having not a word of reply to say in the king's presence. His defects corresponded with his great qualities. As a hater and a friend he had no peer but Louvois." "How young! how fortunate how great a position!" wrote Madame de Sevigne, on hearing of the death of M. de Seignelay, "it seems as if splendor itself were dead."
Seignelay had spent freely, but he left at his death more than four hundred thousand livres a year. Colbert's fortune amounted to ten millions, legitimate proceeds of his high offices and the king's liberalities. He was born of a family of merchants, at Rheims, ennobled in the sixteenth century, but he was fond of connecting it with the Colberts of Scotland. The great minister would often tell his children to reflect "what their birth would have done for them if God had not blessed his labors, and if those labors had not been extreme." He had married his daughters to the Dukes of Beauvilliers, Chevreuse, and Mortemart; Seignelay had wedded Mdlle. de Matignon, whose grandmother was an Orleans-Longueville. "Thus," said Mdlle de Montpensier, "they have the honor of being as closely related as M. le Prince to the king; Marie de Bourbon was cousin-german to the king my grandfather. That lends a grand air to M. de Seignelay, who had by nature sufficient vanity." Colbert had no need to seek out genealogies, and great alliances were naturally attracted to his power and the favor he was in. He had in himself that title which comes of superior merit, and which nothing can make up for, nothing can equal. He might have said, as Marshal Lannes said to the Marquis of Montesquieu, who was exhibiting a coat taken out of his ancestors' drawers, "I am an ancestor myself."
Louvois remained henceforth alone, without rival and without check. The work he had undertaken for the reorganization of the army was pretty nearly completed; he had concentrated in his own hands the whole direction of the military service, the burden and the honor of which were both borne by him. He had subjected to the same rules and the same discipline all corps and all grades; the general as well as the colonel obeyed him blindly. M. de Turenne alone had managed to escape from the administrative level. "I see quite clearly," he wrote to Louvois on the 9th of September, 1673, "what are the king's wishes, and I will do all I can to conform to them but you will permit me to tell you that I do not think that it would be to his Majesty's service to give precise orders, at such a distance, to the most incapable man in France." Turenne had not lost the habit of command; Louvois, who had for a long while been under his orders, bowed to the will of the king, who required apparent accord between the marshal and the minister, but he never forgave Turenne for his cool and proud independence. The Prince of Conde more than once turned to advantage this latent antagonism. After the death of Louvois and of Turenne, after the retirement of Conde, when the central power fell into the hands of Chamillard or of Voysin, the pretence of directing war from the king's closet at Versailles produced the most fatal effects. "If M. de Chamillard thinks that I know nothing about war," wrote Villars to Madame de Maintenon, "he will oblige me by finding somebody else in the kingdom who is better acquainted with it." "If your Majesty," he said again, "orders me to shut myself up in Bavaria, and if you want to see your army lost, I will get myself killed at the first opportunity rather than live to see such a mishap." The king's orders, transmitted through a docile minister, ignorant of war, had a great deal to do with the military disasters of Louis XIV.'s later years.
Meanwhile order reigned in the army, and supplies were regular. Louvois received the nickname of great Victualler (Vivrier). The wounded were tended in hospitals devoted to their use. "When a soldier is once down, he never gets up again," had but lately been the saying. "Had I been at my mother's, in her own house, I could not have been better treated," wrote M. D'Alligny on the contrary, when he came out of one of the hospitals created by Louvois. He conceived the grand idea of the Hotel des Invalides. "It were very reasonable," says the preamble of the king's edict which founded the establishment, "that they who have freely exposed their lives and lavished their blood for the defence and maintenance of this monarchy, who have so materially contributed to the winning of the battles we have gained over our enemies, and who have often reduced them to asking peace of us, should enjoy the repose they have secured for our other subjects, and should pass the remainder of their days in tranquillity." Up to his death Louvois insisted upon managing the Hotel des Invalides himself.
Never had the officers of the army been under such strict and minute supervision; promotion went, by seniority, by "the order on the list," as the phrase then was, without any favor for rank or birth; commanders were obliged to attend to their corps. "Sir," said Louvois one day to M. de Nogaret, "your company is in a very bad state." "Sir," answered Nogaret, "I was not aware of it." "You ought to be aware," said M. de Louvois: "have you inspected it?" "No, sir," said Nogaret. "You ought to have inspected it, sir." "Sir, I will give orders about it." "You ought to have given them. A man ought to make up his mind, sir, either to openly profess himself a courtier or to devote himself to his duty when he is an officer." Education in the schools for cadets, regularity in service, obligation to keep the companies full instead of pocketing a portion of the pay in the name of imaginary soldiers who appeared only on the registers, and who were called dummies (passe-volants), the necessity of wearing uniform, introduced into the army customs to which the French nobility, as undisciplined as they were brave, had hitherto been utter strangers.
Artillery and engineering were developed under the influence of Vauban, "the first of his own time and one of the first of all times" in the great art of besieging, fortifying, and defending places. Louvois had singled out Vauban at the sieges of Lille, Tournay, and Douai, which he had directed in chief under the king's own eye. He ordered him to render the places he had just taken impregnable. "This is no child's play," said Vauban on setting about the fortifications of Dunkerque, "and I would rather lose my life than hear said of me some day what I hear said of the men who have preceded me." Louvois' admiration was unmixed when he went to examine the works. "The achievements of the Romans which have earned them so much fame show nothing comparable to what has been done here," he exclaimed; "they formerly levelled mountains in order to make highroads, but here more than four hundred have been swept away; in the place where all those sand-banks were there is now to be seen nothing but one great meadow. The English and the Dutch often send people hither to see if all they have been told is true; they all go back full of admiration at the success of the work and the greatness of the master who took it in hand." It was this admiration and this dangerous greatness which suggested to the English their demands touching Dunkerque during the negotiations for the peace of Utrecht.
The honesty and moral worth of Vauban equalled his genius; he was as high-minded as he was modest; evil reports had been spread about concerning the contractors for the fortifications of Lille. Vauban demanded an inquiry. "You are quite right in thinking, my lord," he wrote to Louvois, to whom he was united by a sincere and faithful friendship, "that, if you do not examine into this affair, you cannot do me justice, and, if you do it me not, that would be compelling me to seek means of doing it myself, and of giving up forever fortification and all its concomitants. Examine, then, boldly and severely; away with all tender feeling, for I dare plainly tell you that in a question of strictest honesty and sincere fidelity I fear neither the king, nor you, nor all the human race together. Fortune had me born the poorest gentleman in France, but in requital she honored me with an honest heart, so free from all sorts of swindles that it cannot bear even the thought of them without a shudder." It was not until eight years after the death of Louvois, in 1699, when Vauban had directed fifty-three sieges, constructed the fortifications of thirty-three places, and repaired those of three hundred towns, that he was made a marshal, an honor that no engineer had yet obtained. "The king fancied he was giving himself the baton," it was said, "so often had he had Vauban under his orders in besieging places."
The leisure of peace was more propitious to Vauban's fame than to his favor. Generous and sincere as he was, a patriot more far-sighted than his contemporaries, he had the courage to present to the king a memorial advising the recall of the fugitive Huguenots, and the renewal, pure and simple, of the edict of Nantes. He had just directed the siege of Brisach and the defence of Dunkerque when he published a great economical work entitled la Dime royale, the fruit of the reflections of his whole life, fully depicting the misery of the people and the system of imposts he thought adapted to relieve it. The king was offended; he gave the marshal a cold reception and had the work seized. Vauban received his death-blow from this disgrace. The royal edict was dated March 19, 1707; the great engineer died on the 30th; he was not quite seventy-four. The king testified no regret for the loss of so illustrious a servant, with whom he had lived on terms of close intimacy. Vauban had appeared to impugn his supreme authority; this was one of the crimes that Louis XIV. never forgave.
In 1683, at Colbert's death, Vauban was enjoying the royal favor, which he attributed entirely to Louvois. The latter reigned without any one to contest his influence with the master. It had been found necessary to bury Colbert by night to avoid the insults of the people, who imputed to him the imposts which crushed them. What an unjust and odious mistake of popular opinion which accused Colbert of the evils which he had fought against and at the same time suffered under to the last day! All Colbert's offices, except the navy, fell to Louvois or his creatures. Claude Lepelletier, a relative of Le Tellier, became comptroller of finance; he entered the council; M. de Blainville, Colbert's second son, was obliged to resign in Louvois' favor the superintendence of buildments, of which the king had previously promised him the reversion. All business passed into the hands of Louvois. Le Tellier had been chancellor since 1677; peace still reigned; the all-powerful minister occupied himself in building Trianon, bringing the River Eure to Versailles, and establishing unity of religion in France. "The counsel of constraining the Huguenots by violent means to become Catholics was given and carried out by the Marquis of Louvois," says an anonymous letter of the time. "He thought he could manage consciences and control religion by those harsh measures which, in spite of his wisdom, his violent nature suggests to him almost in everything." Louvois was the inventor, of the dragonnades; it was his father, Michael le Tellier, who put the seals to the revocation of the edict of Nantes; and, a few days before he died, full of joy at his last work, he piously sang the canticle of Simeon. Louis XIV. and his ministers believed in good faith that Protestantism was stamped out. "The king," wrote Madame de Maintenon, "is very pleased to have put the last touch to the great work of the reunion of the heretics with the church. Father la Chaise, the king's confessor, promised that it would not cost a drop of blood, and M. de Louvois said the same thing." Emigration in mass, the revolt of the Camisards, and the long-continued punishments, were a painful surprise for the courtiers accustomed to bend beneath the will of Louis XIV.; they did not understand that "anybody should obstinately remain of a religion which was displeasing to the king." The Huguenots paid the penalty for their obstinacy. The intelligent and acute biographer of Louvois, M. Camille Rousset, could not defend him from the charge of violence in their case. On the 10th of June, 1686, he wrote to the superintendent of Languedoc, "On my representation to the king of the little heed paid by the women of the district in which you are to the penalties ordained against those who are found at assemblies, his Majesty orders that those who are not demoiselles (that is, noble) shall be sentenced by M. de Baville to be whipped, and branded with the fleur-de-lis." He adds, on the 22d of July, "The king having thought proper to have a declaration sent out on the 15th of this month, whereby his Majesty orders that all those who are henceforth found at such assemblies shall be punished by death, M. de Baville will take no notice of the decree I sent you relating to the women, as it becomes useless by reason of this declaration." The king's declaration was carried out, as the sentences of the victims prove:—Condemned to the galleys, or condemned to death—for the crime of assemblies. This was the language of the Roman emperors. Seventeen centuries of Christianity had not sufficed to make men comprehend the sacred rights of conscience. The refined and moderate mind of Madame de Sevigne did not prevent her from writing to M. de Bussy on the 28th of October, 1685, "You have, no doubt, seen the edict by which the king revokes that of Nantes; nothing can be more beautiful than its contents, and never did or will any king do anything more memorable." The noble libertine and freethinker replied to her, "I admire the steps taken by the king to reunite the Huguenots. The war made upon them in former times and the St. Bartholomew gave vigor to this sect; his Majesty has sapped it little by little, and the edict he has just issued, supported by dragoons and Bourdaloues, has given it the finishing stroke." It was the honorable distinction of the French Protestants to proclaim during more than two centuries, by their courageous resistance, the rights and duties which were ignored all around them.
Whilst the reformers were undergoing conversion, exile, or death, war was recommencing in Europe, with more determination than ever on the part of the Protestant nations, indignant and disquieted as they were. Louvois began to forget all about the obstinacy of the religionists, and prepared for the siege of Philipsburg and the capture of Manheim and Coblentz. "The king has seen with pleasure," he wrote to Marshal Boufflers, "that, after well burning Coblentz, and doing all the harm possible to the elector's palace, you were to march back to Mayence." The haughtiness of the king and the violence of the minister went on increasing with the success of their arms; they treated the pope's rights almost as lightly as those of the Protestants. The pamphleteers of the day had reason to write, "It is clearly seen that the religion of the court of France is a pure matter of interest; the king does nothing but what is for that which he calls his glory and grandeur; Catholics and heretics, Holy Pontiff, church, and anything you please, are sacrificed to his great pride; everything must be reduced to powder beneath his feet; we in France are on the high road to putting the sacred rights of the Holy See on the same footing as the privileges granted to Calvinists; all ecclesiastical authority is annihilated. Nobody knows anything of canons, popes, councils; everything is swallowed up in the authority of one man." "The king willeth it:" France had no other law any longer; and William III. saved Europe from the same enslavement.
The Palatinate was in flames; Louvois was urging on the generals and armies everywhere, sending despatch after despatch, orders upon orders. "I am a thousand times more impatient to finish this business than you can be," was the spirited reply he received from M. de la Hoguette, who commanded in Italy, in the environs of Cuneo; "besides the reasons of duty which I have always before my eyes, I beg you to believe that the last letters I received from you were quite strong enough to prevent negligence of anything that must be done to prevent similar ones, and to deserve a little more confidence; but the most willing man can do nothing against roads encumbered with ice and snow." Louvois did not admit this excuse; he wanted soldiers to be able to cross the defiles of mountains in the depths of winter just as he would have orange trees travel in the month of February. "I received orders to send off to Versailles from La Meilleraye the orange trees which the Duke of Mazarin gave the king," writes Superintendent Foucauld in his journal. "M. Louvois, in spite of the representations I made him, would have them sent by carriage through the snow and ice. They arrived leafless at Versailles, and several are dead. I had sent him word that the king could take towns in winter, but could not make orange trees bear removal from their hothouses." The nature and the consciences of the Protestants were all that withstood Louis XIV. and Louvois. On the 16th of July, 1691, death suddenly removed the minister, fallen in royal favor, detested and dreaded in France, universally hated in Europe, leaving, however, the king, France, and Europe with the feeling that a great power had fallen, a great deal of merit disappeared. "I doubt not," wrote Louis XIV. to Marshal Boufflers, "that, as you are very zealous for my service, you will be sorry for the death of a man who served me well." "Louvois," said the Marquis of La Fare, "should never have been born, or should have lived longer." The public feeling was expressed in an anonymous epitaph:
"Here lieth he who to his will Bent every one, knew everything Louvois, beloved by no one, still Leaves everybody sorrowing."
The king felt his loss, but did not regret the minister whose tyranny and violence were beginning to be oppressive to him. He felt himself to be more than ever master in the presence of the young or inexperienced men to whom he henceforth intrusted his affairs. Louvois' son, Barbezieux, had the reversion of the war department; Pontchartrain, who had been comptroller of finance ever since the retirement of Lepelletier, had been appointed to the navy in 1690, at the death of Seignelay. "M. de Pontchartrain had begged the king not to give him the navy," says Dangeau ingenuously, "because he knew nothing at all about it; but the king's will was absolute that he should take it. He now has all that M. de Colbert had, except the buildments." What mattered the inexperience of ministers? The king thought that he alone sufficed for all.
God had left it to time to undeceive the all-powerful monarch; he alone held out amidst the ruins; after the fathers the sons were falling around him; Seignelay had followed Colbert to the tomb; Louvois was dead after Michael Le Tellier; Barbezieux died in his turn in 1701. "This secretary of state had naturally good wits, lively and ready conception, and great mastery of details in which his father had trained him early," writes the Marquis of Argenson. He had been spoiled in youth by everybody but his father. He was obliged to put himself at the mercy of his officials, but he always kept up his position over them, for the son of M. de Louvois, their creator, so to speak, could not fail to inspire them with respect, veneration, and even attachment. Louis XIV., who knew the defects of M. de Barbezieux, complained to him, and sometimes rated him in private, but he left him his place, because he felt the importance of preserving in the administration of war the spirit and the principles of Louvois. "Take him for all in all," says St. Simon, "he had the making of a great minister in him, but wonderfully dangerous; the best and most useful friend in the world so long as he was one, and the most terrible, the most inveterate, the most implacable and naturally ferocious enemy; he was a man who would not brook opposition in anything, and whose audacity was extreme." A worthy son of Louvois, as devoted to pleasure as he was zealous in business, he was carried off in five days, at the age of thirty-three. The king, who had just put Chamillard into the place of Pontchartrain, made chancellor at the death of Boucherat, gave him the war department in succession to Barbezieux, "thus loading such weak shoulders with two burdens of which either was sufficient to break down the strongest."
Louis XIV. had been faithfully and mightily served by Colbert and Louvois; he had felt confidence in them, though he had never had any liking for them personally; their striking merits, the independence of their character, which peeped out in spite of affected expressions of submission and deference, the spirited opposition of the one and the passionate outbursts of the other, often hurt the master's pride, and always made him uncomfortable; Colbert had preceded him in the government, and Louvois, whom he believed himself to have trained, had surpassed him in knowledge of affairs as well as aptitude for work; Chamillard was the first, the only one of his ministers whom the king had ever loved. "His capacity was nil," says St. Simon, who had very friendly feelings towards Chamillard, "and he believed that he knew everything and of every sort; this was the more pitiable in that it had got into his head with his promotions, and was less presumption than stupidity, and still less vanity, of which he had none. The joke is, that the mainspring of the king's great affection for him was this very incapacity. He confessed it to the king at every step, and the king was delighted to direct and instruct him; in such sort that he grew jealous for his success as if it were his own, and made every excuse for him."
The king loved Chamillard; the court bore with him because he was easy and good-natured, but the affairs of the state were imperilled in his hands; Pontchartrain had already had recourse to the most objectionable proceedings in order to obtain money; the mental resources of Colbert himself had failed in presence of financial embarrassments and increasing estimates. It is said that, during the war with Holland, Louvois induced the king to contract a loan; the premier-president, Lamoignon, supported the measure. "You are triumphant," said Colbert, who had vigorously opposed it; "you think you have done the deed of a good man; what! did not I know as well as you that the king could get money by borrowing? But I was careful not to say so. And so the borrowing road is opened. What means will remain henceforth of checking the king in his expenditure? After the loans, taxes will be wanted to pay them; and, if the loans have no limit, the taxes will have none either." At the king's death the loans amounted to more than two milliards and a half, the deficit was getting worse and worse every day, there was no more money to be had, and the income from property went on diminishing. "I have only some dirty acres which are turning to stones instead of being bread," wrote Madame de Sevigne. Trade was languishing, the manufactures founded by Colbert were dropping away one after another; the revocation of the edict of Nantes and the emigration of Protestants had drained France of the most industrious and most skilful workmen; many of the Reformers had carried away a great deal of capital; the roads, everywhere neglected, were becoming impracticable. "The tradesmen are obliged to put four horses instead of two to their wagons," said a letter to Barbezieux from the superintendent of Flanders, "which has completely ruined the traffic." The administration of the provinces was no longer under supervision. "Formerly," says Villars, "the inspectors would pass whole winters on the frontiers; now they are good for nothing but to take the height and measure of the men and send a fine list to the court." The soldiers were without victuals, the officers were not paid, the abuses but lately put down by the strong hand of Colbert and Louvois were cropping up again in all directions; the king at last determined to listen to the general cry and dismiss Chamillard.
"The Dukes of Beauvilliers and Chevreuse were intrusted with this unpleasant commission, as well as with the king's assurance of his affection and esteem for Chamillard, and with the announcement of the marks thereof he intended to bestow upon him. They entered Chamillard's presence with such an air of consternation as may be easily imagined, they having always been very great friends of his. By their manner the unhappy minister saw at once that there was something extraordinary, and, without giving them time to speak, 'What is the matter, gentlemen?' he said with a calm and serene countenance. 'If what you have to say concerns me only, you can speak out; I have been prepared a long while for anything.' They could scarcely tell what brought them. Chamillard heard them without changing a muscle, and with the same air and tone with which he had put his first question, he answered, 'The king is master. I have done my best to serve him; I hope another may do it more to his satisfaction and more successfully. It is much to be able to count upon his kindness and to receive so many marks of it.' Then he asked whether he might write to him, and whether they would do him the favor of taking charge of his letter. He wrote the king, with the same coolness, a page and a half of thanks and regards, which he read out to them at once just as he had at once written it in their presence. He handed it to the two dukes, together with the memorandum which the king had asked him for in the morning, and which he had just finished, sent word orally to his wife to come after him to L'Etang, whither he was going, without telling her why, sorted out his papers, and gave up his keys to be handed to his successor. All this was done without the slightest excitement; without a sigh, a regret, a reproach, a complaint escaping him, he went down his staircase, got into his carriage, and started off to L'Etang, alone with his son, just as if nothing had happened to him, without anybody's knowing anything about it at Versailles until long afterwards." [Memoires de St. Simon, t. iii. p. 233.]
Desmarets in the finance and Voysin in the war department, both superintendents of finance, the former a nephew of Colbert's and initiated into business by his uncle, both of them capable and assiduous, succumbed, like their predecessors, beneath the weight of the burdens which were overwhelming and ruining France. "I know the state of my finances," Louis XIV. had said to Desmarets; "I do not ask you to do impossibilities; if you succeed, you will render me a great service; if you are not successful, I shall not hold you to blame for circumstances." Desmarets succeeded better than could have been expected without being able to rehabilitate the finances of the state. Pontchartrain had exhausted the resource of creating new offices. "Every time your Majesty creates a new post, a fool is found to buy it," he had said to the king. Desmarets had recourse to the bankers; and the king seconded him by the gracious favor with which he received at Versailles the greatest of the collectors (traitants), Samuel Bernard. "By this means everything was provided for up to the time of the general peace," says M. d'Argenson. France kept up the contest to the end. When the treaty of Utrecht was signed, the fleet was ruined and destroyed, the trade diminished by two thirds, the colonies lost or devastated by the war, the destitution in the country so frightful that orders had to be given to sow seed in the fields; the exportation of grain was forbidden on pain of death; meanwhile the peasantry were reduced to browse upon the grass in the roads and to tear the bark off the trees and eat it. Thirty years had rolled by since the death of Colbert, twenty-two since that of Louvois; everything was going to perdition simultaneously; reverses in war and distress at home were uniting to overwhelm the aged king, alone upstanding amidst so many dead and so much ruin.
"Fifty years' sway and glory had inspired Louis XIV. with the presumptuous belief that he could not only choose his ministers well, but also instruct them and teach them their craft," says M. d'Argenson. His mistake was to think that the title of king supplied all the endowments of nature or experience; he was no financier, no soldier, no administrator, yet he would everywhere and always remain supreme master; he had believed that it was he who governed with Colbert and Louvois; those two great ministers had scarcely been equal to the task imposed upon them by war and peace, by armies, buildments, and royal extravagance; their successors gave way thereunder and illusions vanished; the king's hand was powerless to sustain the weight of affairs becoming more and more disastrous; the gloom that pervaded the later years of Louis XIV.'s reign veiled from his people's eyes the splendor of that reign which had so long been brilliant and prosperous, though always lying heavy on the nation, even when they forgot their sufferings in the intoxication of glory and success.
It is the misfortune of men, even of the greatest, to fall short of their destiny. Louis XIV. had wanted to exceed his, and to bear a burden too heavy for human shoulders. Arbiter, for a while, of the affairs of all Europe, ever absolute master in his own dominions, he bent at last beneath the load that was borne without flinching by princes less powerful, less fortunate, less adored, but sustained by the strong institutions of free countries. William III. had not to serve him a Conde, a Turenne, a Colbert, a Louvois; he had governed from afar his own country, and he had always remained a foreigner in the kingdom which had called him to the throne; but, despite the dislikes, the bitternesses, the fierce contests of parties, he had strengthened the foundations of parliamentary government in England, and maintained freedom in Holland, whilst the ancient monarchy of France, which reached under Louis XIV. the pinnacle of glory and power, was slowly but surely going down to perdition beneath the internal and secret malady of absolute power, without limit and without restraint.