Abbildungen der Seite



135 were amongst these. Lille and French Flanders remained to Louis. He retained this important conquest, as well as Alsace; advantages which the triumphs of Villars materially tended to gain. The title of the king of Prussia was acknowledged, and a certain accession of territory procured to him. The Protestant succession to the throne of England was also

uarantied by France. It is remarked as singular that a treaty ontaining this clause, so fatal to the Stuarts, should have been negotiated and signed by the cardinal de Polignac, who had received his hat under the nomination of the pretender.

One of the principal difficulties of the treaty was to procure from the kings of France and Spain a valid renunciation of their mutual rights to either crown, so as to obviate the possibility of their being united upon one head. The verbal renunciation, or even the oath of the monarch, was found insuffi cient, and not without reason, seeing how lightly the declaration of Louis XIV. on his marriage had been set aside. The English required the guarantee of a national assembly corresponding to their parliament, that in short of the statesgeneral. Louis was, however, more indignant and hurt at thiş suggestion than at the most arrogant demands of the allies. He represented the nullity of the states, and his own omnipotence. I'état, c'est moi," (the state, 't is I myself,) argued he. Still his sovereign word was not sufficient. Different modes were suggested. St. Simon advised to call an assembly of dukes to affix their signatures. Others proposed the entire peerage: but Louis was as jealous of noble as plebeian, and could not tolerate the aristocracy except in the garb and in the submissive office of a courtier. All the guarantee he would give was the solemn registry of the renunciation in his parliament or assembly of legists; and even to this he took care to invite the peers with less than the ordinary form and solemnity

This was almost the last act of the reign of Louis, in which his ruling passion, the establishing of absolute power, is manifest. He had been but too successful in this aim. The nobility stood submissive before the throne, the people in silence and suffering, far beneath and beyond its ken. Nevertheless, Louis might have observed, that, as nor virtue nor happiness is without alloy, so neither is despotism. His met resistance, a very slight resistance certainly, and hidden in the minute folds of but a few consciences; still it was resistance, and as such angered and fretted and distressed the monarch almost as much as rebellion. To explain this :-The French king had established the monarchic principle of absolutism. His will was law; and all classes found it impossible to resist politically.


In the domain of conscience alone could a demur be made or independence shown. It was so shown; and a sect was formed, of which the fundamental maxim was, that religion and religious truth or beliet were independent of either royal or pontifical power. This is the true, though never avowed, principle of Jansenism; which, though it always put forward some other pretext for dispute, nevertheless looked to this as the source and the aim of its arguments. Jansenism was the only opposition that the government of Louis XIV. met with, and as such he hated and persecuted it.

The doctrines upheld by Jansenius were chiefly, that man was indebted to grace, and grace only, for well-doing, for pardon, for redemption. The Jesuits, or courtly part of the church, disliked this doctrine as independent. They traced the greater portion of divine power as transmitted to the head of the church, and through him to each confessor, whom they endowed with full authority over the conscience of penitents, to cleanse, to direct, to forgive. The Jansenists said no to all this, and drew up a code of morals which they opposed, as fixed, and deduced from reason and the scriptures, to the arbitrary and often absurd as well as impious maxims of the Jesuits. It was here that the former had the advantage; it was on this theme that Pascal triumphed. Jansenism, to which every independent mind rallied, from madame de Longueville the insurrectionist of the Fronde, to the pious Fénélon and the aristocratic St. Simon, was still more opposed to ultra-montanism and the pope's universal power than even to that of the king. In the affair of the regale, or right of the crown to appoint to inferior benefices during the vacancy of the see, they declared for the king against the pontiff. The privileges of the Gallican church were above all things dear to them; but afterwards, when the Jesuits had got complete nold of the king, and through him of the pope, obtaining

from the latter a bull in condemnation of the propositions of Quesnel, the Jansenists withstood pope and monarch, and refused to acknowledge the bull; saving themselves, however, from the accusation of heresy, by arguing that the pope, infallible as to faith, might err as to matters of fact,

-an ingenious mode of avoiding the open schism of Protestantism. The archbishop of Paris, Noailles, was the chief opponent to the king and the Jesuits in this matter; and he was ably supported by D'Aguesseau. The details of this quarrel and the history of the famous bull Unigenitus would fill an ample chap ter. It must suffice here to glance at them, and to mark the exertions of a certain portion of the church represented by the Jesuits to share the monarch's despotic power by extend




ing it over the doinain of conscience, and at the same time he counter-efforts of an independent party to resist where resistance was alone possible, and to preserve some particle of at least spiritual independence, since political and civil freedom was no more.

Louis now began to feel his health seriously decay. The hour of his dissolution could not be distant. The future fate of his family and kingdom occupied his thoughts. Of his legitimate descendants but one feeble infant remained, with the exception of the king of Spain, who by his renunciation was set aside from inheriting the crown of France. The duke of Orleans thus filled the place of heir presumptive, and from his station aspired to the regency. Louis dreaded to trust the infant Louis XV. to the keeping of this prince, who bore the worst of characters. Though unconvicted, suspicion still rested upon him of having poisoned his relatives. "Louis did him more justice in calling him a fanfaron de crimes, a braggard of crimes. But still the objection in the royal breast was not removed. Actuated by these motives, as well as by tenderness for the children born to him of madame de Montespan, Louis issued a decree, giving to the illegitimate prince

aces the full rights of the legitimate blood, calling them in succession to the throne immediately after the young dauphin. Nothing marks the extreme submissiveness of the parliament more than their registry of this decree. But this obsequiousness was evidently owing to the inutility of disturbing the last moments of the monarch. Louis completed this attempt in favor of his illegitimate children by a testament which gave to the duc du Maine, the eldest of these princes, the command of the household troops and the chief power during the minority.

Having thus by his last act endeavored to extend beyond the grave that despotic will which he had raised above all obstacles in life, Louis prepared with piety and firmness for kis end. A gangrene in his leg was the immediate cause which threatened the decay of the system. His great-grandson and heir he bade be brought to him to hearken to a few words of counsel. The principal advice of the dying king to his successor was, that he should avoid war, and consult the happiness of his subjects by peace: the disasters occasioned by his wars hung heavy on the conscience of Louis. The monareh lingered long, the crowd of courtiers thronging to the palace of the duke of Orleans in order to worship the rising sun, for the testament of Louis was not known. At intervals the king rallied ; and in one of these that seemed líke recovery, the crowd flocked back to Versailles from the

Palais Royal; but at the moment of death Louis was utterly deserted : even madame de Maintenon, either unable to bear the sight, or to consult security, had retired to St. Cyr. On the 1st of September, 1715, Louis XIV. breathed his last, after a reign of seventy-seven years.

Montesquieu characterizes Voltaire by observing, that he had in an infinite degree those qualities of mind which ail the world had. A similar judgment might be passed of Louis. He had all common virtues and talents in perfection, without any of those striking and salient attributes which constitute the hero, or, in history's eye, the great. There are few mortals to whom a more glorious epitaph might be inscribed : but his career was neither of that astounding or interesting class which claims and wins apotheosis.

Yet the grandeur of superiority of character of Louis XIV. becomes more evident on a close examination. : One may mock the facility, contrasted with the pride of his early conquests, and with his latter reverses. But to have ruled over every mind and every class that ever came in contact with him, as Louis did, and coming to power when he did, in troublous times, during which all authority and principle of authority were questioned,—this required a spirit whose claim by nature to rule equalled at least his right by birth. During his reign the historian has little need of descending to detail the lives of minister or mistress, unless indeed, to vary his narrative, or fill up the blank annals of despotic power. None had material influence upon him. We can trace no war, no act of policy or legislation, to favor or intrigue. Colbert and Louvois were but instruments in the monarch's hand. Desmarest, who was 'minister in the latter end of the reign, was their equal in talents and in probity ; but the difficulties of the time were such as no minister could support, and thus Desmarest passes for a blockhead and Louvois for a genius. It was only in the declining days of Louis that we begin to trace the effects of influence, and this influence that of his confessor. The Jesuits having won the monarch's ear through Père La Chaise, kept it by an audacious threat. That priest gave a dying injunction to Louis to choose another Jesuit for his confessor, else the order might be tempted to strike a blow, in other words, poison him. Louis hearkened to this request; perhaps he applauded the audacity of the Jesuit principles, which would dare any crime in order to advance their fortunes. Letellier succeeded La Chaise; and 1715.

* The story of the war occasioned by the window of Trianon being found not perpendicular, and Louvois being scolded for it, may be set aside as the were gossiping of the court.



from the moment this dark incubus mastered the conscience of Louis, one can indeed mark the Jesuit speaking and acting in the monarch's garb.

Louis XIV. was the most despotic monarch, in proportion to the civilization of his people, that ever lived." His will effected this; which proves superiority and strength of mind. Is he to be censured ? Scarcely. He thought it the best, the only remedy against anarchy; and his people, though not so confidently, partook at first of the same opinion. The reign, in fact, and the despotism of Louis, was an experiment, a great experiment, to try if absolute power was compatible with modern civilization, and whether it was the natural, the durable, the just form of government. It failed: and with our advanced experience we might now declare, that it would and should fail. But it tells strongly in favor of liberty that the experiment was made; and without that full and universal knowledge of its consequences, of the whole phenomena in short, with which history presents us, dreamers might still at this day find a Utopia in unlimited monarchy.





In looking back over the reign of Louis XIV., it is impossible to avoid comparing it to that of an Oriental sovereign. We find the same absolute authority producing similar effects; he absence of prosperity, talent,* and even life amongst the people; and amongst the great, rendering ceremonial distinctions the all-absorbing object of ambition and of thought. Several chapters of St. Simon seem to transport us to China, or to the capital of the Mogul, where the privilege of wearing a cap or sitting on a stool is contested with as much fury, as of old the possession of a fortress or a province. In order, however, to reduce France to a state of Oriental simplicity in government, it would have been necessary to destroy. heredi

St. Simon thus describes the state of the nation on Louis's death: “There were no true personages," says he, “in any kind or state, so much had this long reign of the vile burgessry," (so he styles the ministers of Louis,) " adroit to govern by itself, and to take the king by his weak side, tended to annihilate every thing, to hinder man from being man, in rooting out all emulation, all capacity, all fruits of instruction, and in banishing and destroying every individual capable of application or of entertaining an opinion.”

« ZurückWeiter »