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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Created Marchioness of Pompadour


Decadence

went on swiftly, and no wonder. At forty years of age Louis XV., finding every pleasure pall, indifferent to or forgetful of business from indolence and disgust, bored by everything and on every occasion, had come to depend solely on those who could still manage to amuse him.

[Illustration: Madame de Pompadour----215]

Madame de Pompadour had accepted this ungrateful and sometimes shameful task. Born in the ranks of the middle class, married young to a rich financier, M. Lenormant d'Etioles, Mdlle. Poisson, created Marchioness of Pompadour, was careful to mix up more serious matters with the royal pleasures. The precarious lot of a favorite was not sufficient for her ambition. Pretty, clever, ingenious in devising for the king new amusements and objects of interest, she played comedy before him in her small apartments and travelled with him from castle to castle; she thus obtained from his easy prodigality enormous sums to build pleasaunces which she amused herself by embellishing; Bellevue, Babiole, the marchioness' house at Paris, cost millions out of the exhausted treasury. Madame de Pompadour was fond of porcelain; she conceived the idea of imitating in France the china-work of Saxony, and founded first at Vincennes and then at Sevres the manufacture of porcelain, which the king took under his protection, requiring the courtiers to purchase the proceeds of it at high prices. Everybody was anxious to

please the favorite; her incessantly renewed caprices contributed to develop certain branches of the trade in luxuries. The expenses of the royal household went on increasing daily; the magnificent prodigalities of King Louis XIV. were surpassed by the fancies of Madame de Pompadour. Vigilant in attaching the courtiers to herself, she sowed broadcast, all around her, favors, pensions, profitable offices, endowing the gentlemen to facilitate their marriage, turning a deaf ear to the complaints of the people as well as to the protests of the States or Parliaments. The greedy and frivolous crowd that thronged at her feet well deserved the severe judgment pronounced by Montesquieu on courtiers and courts. "Ambition amidst indolence, baseness amidst pride, the desire to grow rich without toil, aversion from truth, flattery, treason, perfidy, neglect of all engagements, contempt for the duties of a citizen, fear of virtue in the prince, hope in his weaknesses, and more than all that, the ridicule constantly thrown upon virtue, form, I trow, the characteristics of the greatest number of courtiers, distinctive in all places and at all times." The majesty of Louis XIV. and the long lustre of his reign had been potent enough to create illusions as to the dangers and the corruptions of the court; the remnants of military glory were about to fade out round Louis XV.; the court still swarmed with brave officers, ready to march to death at the head of the troops; the command of armies henceforth depended on the favor of Madame the Marchioness of Pompadour.

The day had come when the fortune of war was about to show itself fatal to France. Marshal Saxe had died at Chambord, still young and worn out by excesses rather than by fatigue; this foreigner, this Huguenot, as he was called by Louis XV., had been the last to maintain and continue the grand tradition of French generals. War, however, was inevitable; five months of public or private negotiation, carried on by the ambassadors or personal agents of the king, could not obtain from England any reparation for her frequent violation of the law of nations; the maritime trade of France was destroyed; the vessels of the royal navy were themselves no longer safe at sea. On the 21st of December, 1755, the minister of foreign affairs, Rouille, notified to the English cabinet, "that His Most Christian Majesty, before giving way to the effects of his resentment, once more demanded from the King of England satisfaction for all the seizures made by the English navy, as well as restitution of all vessels, whether war-ships or merchant-ships, taken from the French, declaring that he should regard any refusal that might be made as an authentic declaration of war." England eluded the question of law, but refused restitution. On the 23d of January, an embargo was laid on all English vessels in French ports, and war was officially proclaimed. It had existed in fact for two years past.


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