Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

enjoyed, without not only any attempt, but even the shadow of a design to alter and invade them, let not those sacred names be made use of, as artful and plausible pretences to undermine the present establishment, under which alone they can be safe.

“I have nothing to wish, but that my people may not be misguided; I appeal to their own consciences for my conduct, and hope the Providence of God will direct them in the choice of such representatives as are most fit to be trusted with the care and preservation of the Protestant religion, the present establishment, and all the civil and religious rights of Great Britain."

Even in the king's speech of 1737, after the murder of Captain Porteous at Edinburgh, and other circumstances of very great and just offence to the minister and the executive power, the expressions made use of were only the following; perfectly reasonable and dignified, and worthy of the minister, and of the sovereign of a free people.

“ My Lords and Gentlemen, “ You cannot be insensible, what just scandal and offence the licentiousness of the present times, under the colour and disguise of liberty, gives all honest and sober men, and how absolutely necessary it is to restrain this excessive abuse, by a due and vigorous execution of the laws: defiance of all authority, contempt of magistracy, and even resistance of the laws, arę become too general, although equally prejudicial to the prerogative of the crown and the liberties of the people, the support of the one being inseparable from the protection of the other. I have made the laws of the land the constant rule of my actions, and I do, with reason, expect in return, all that submission to my authority and government, which the same laws have made the duty, and shall always be the interest, of my subjects.”

LECTURE XXVII.

1810.

LAW-MISSISSIPPI SCHEME. SOUTH SEA

BUBBLE, ETC.

URING the period which we have been lately consider

ing, a remarkable connexion of amity and good offices took place between the two rival countries of England and France.

On the death of Louis XIV, the Duke of Orleans became, or rather made himself regent; the Duke of Bourbon succeeded; then came Cardinal Fleury. It is the era which comprehends the administration of the three that must engage our attention.

The writers that we must read or consult are the following: the Memoirs of the Duke de St. Simon; the concluding volume of D'Anquetil's Louis XIV. sa Cour, and Le Regent; Memoirs of Duclos; L'Histoire of Lacretelle.

All these works may be read with ease and advantage; but any one of them may be sufficient for the era which it embraces. The topics are in all the same. St. Simon is the groundwork of the rest, and Duclos' book is in its manner the most agreeable and the most generally read; but the truth is, that the whole, in whatever author read, presents to the view little to occupy the philosophical reader of history.

We have the intrigues of ministers and courtiers at home and abroad; a scene displayed lively and striking, and even necessary to the comprehension of the history of Europe at that time.

But we have no alterations in the constitution of France, and indeed little concern expressed on the subject. Even in those instances which are fitted to convey instruction to a statesman, the historians may be said to desert us : they write

memoirs; they please and entertain us; but are either unable or unwilling to do more; and they enter into no minuteness of explanation, or criticism, on subjects that to posterity must surely appear of far more importance than those which they discuss.

Our own Charles II. is made to revive in our memory in the person of the regent, the Duke of Orleans, and Clarendon in the virtuous and faithful St. Simon; but the regent is more outrageously debauched than Charles, and St. Simon, brought up in an arbitrary court, cannot have the views and feelings of Clarendon.

It may be observed, however, that the ill success of St. Simon, in his very laudable efforts to reform his master, are well fitted, in a moral point of view, to offer edifying lessons, if any were wanting, of the danger of self-indulgence, the fascination of bad habits, and, whatever we may think of the celebrated doctrines of free-will and necessity, of the impossibility which every man will find of altering his character at his pleasure ; that is, the absurdity, in the first place, of indulging bimself in courses of folly and vice, and of then supposing that, whenever he thinks proper, he may begin to be virtuous and wise.

Very different was the fate of the regent: favoured by nature with superior gifts of fancy and of understanding, with no malignity in his disposition, and well calculated to receive the love and approbation of mankind, it was in vain that he often resolved to make some reasonable efforts to deserve both; to exercise some self-control; in a word, to be virtuous. He was bound down to the earth by the chains of his long established associations; that is, in common language, by his bad habits. Dubois and his mistresses always prevailed over his better reason; and the kind and honourable counsels of St. Simon were sounds that were no sooner heard, than they were swept away from the sense, or rather were never properly heard at all amid the unholy revelry of his impieties and abominations.

He died immaturely of an apoplectic fit; for at last he could not even exercise self-control sufficient to take proper steps for the security of his own life, and his favourite medical attendant Chirac remonstrated with him on this occasion, as vainly as had done before his virtuous counsellor, St. Simon.

“ The most amiable of men in society,” says one of the historians; “ full of genius, talents, courage, and humanity, but the worst of princes; that is, the most unfit to govern."

This is, however, too favourable a portrait of the regent : one more minute and exact is given by Lacretelle, and that with great force and beauty of colouring.

This is the prince to whom Pope alludes

“ A godless regent, tremble at a star."

He was one of those licentious men, who, as sometimes happens, believe nothing but what no one else believes ; for instance, astrology and magic; and St. Simon mentions a recital given him by the regent, of some images shown him in a mirror, descriptive of future events, which I cannot but confess are quite inexplicable. St. Simon had nothing to say, but to request him not to have any more communication with the powers of darkness.

On the subject of the parliaments you must consult Duclos. It is an important subject, but one, that if you endeavour regularly to study, you will find intolerably tedious, and at last but unsatisfactory.

This resistance of the parliaments at last grew to be formidable to the monarch, and at length ended in the late tremendous revolution. The word parliament must be, therefore, a most interesting word, whenever we can observe it in the memoirs or histories of France.

But the student, while adverting to the history of France, will at length be conducted to the financial schemes of the celebrated John Law; and the appearance which this speculator and his projects make, is well calculated to awaken our curiosity. Some of the particulars mentioned are of a ludicrous, others of a grave nature; but they all indicate, and even if they were, some of them, exaggerated, the very existence of them, as anecdotes belonging to the times, would still indicate a state of the public mind and of the country, very highly deserving of our attention. I will mention some of them.

Law, from an obscure individual and a foreigner, had become the first man of consequence in such a kingdom as France. Voltaire says, that he saw him going through the gallery of the Palais Royal, followed by the first clergy and nobility of France, who were paying their court to himdukes and peers, marshals and bishops.

Again: It was about Law that the English ambassador, Lord Stair, differed with his own court; and the result was, Lord Stair's recall.

Of a less grave nature are anecdotes of the following kind : That a woman of fashion contrived to have her carriage overturned to take the chance of his running to her assistance, and affording her an opportunity of thus becoming acquainted with him. That another lady, finding all regular expedients vain, went with her chariot and servants, and set up a cry

of fire near the house where he was dining. Again: such was the ferment, and such the fury of speculation excited in Paris, that a poor man who had a hump-back, made a livelihood by standing in the place where the bargains were made, and converting his infirmity into a sort of writing-desk.

Anecdotes like these may be thought only entertaining, but in another stage of Law's financial system, three men were, in the confusion and pressure of the crowd, actually killed.

Soon after the whole scheme had fallen into ruin, it happened that a conflagration had destroyed half the town of Rennes, and that Marseilles and part of Provence were visited by the plague. When the bishops of the different diocesses of France were exhorted by a circular letter from the regent, to make efforts for the assistance of the sufferers, the Bishop of Castris replied, “that all the efforts he could make had only produced one hundred pistoles in money, and five thousand livres in paper : that the inundation of this last sort of currency had done more mischief in his district than all the faines could have done in Bretagne: that it was of no consequence that the houses were not reduced to ashes, if there remained nothing of all that was necessary to their existence, but what was fit only to be thrown into the fire,

“What revolution," continues the bishop, “has not been produced in six months by this paper money, in fortunes that

« ForrigeFortsett »