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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

All the patriotic courage and zeal of the Duke of Choiseul


M.

de Choiseul submitted in despair to the consequences of the long-continued errors committed by the government of Louis XV. "Were I master," said he, "we would be to the English what Spain was to the Moors; if this course were taken, England would be destroyed in thirty years from now." The king was a better judge of his weakness and of the general exhaustion. "The peace we have just made is neither a good one nor a glorious one; nobody sees that better than I," he said in his private correspondence; "but, under such unhappy circumstances, it could not be better, and I answer for it that if we had continued the war, we should have made, a still worse one next year." All the patriotic courage and zeal of the Duke of Choiseul, all the tardy impulse springing from the nation's anxieties, could not suffice even to palliate the consequences of so many years' ignorance, feebleness, and incapacity in succession.

Prussia and Austria henceforth were left to confront one another, the only actors really interested in the original struggle, the last to quit the battle-field on to which they had dragged their allies. By an unexpected turn of luck, Frederick II. had for a moment seen Russia becoming his ally; a fresh blow came to wrest from him this powerful support. The Czarina Catherine II., Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst and wife of the Czar Peter III., being on bad terms with her husband and in dread of his wrath, had managed to take advantage of the young

czar's imprudence in order to excite a mutiny amongst the soldiers; he had been deposed, and died before long in prison. Catherine was proclaimed in his place. With her accession to the throne there commenced for Russia a new policy, equally bold and astute, having for its sole aim, unscrupulously and shamelessly pursued, the aggrandizement and consolidation of the imperial power; Russia became neutral in the strife between Prussia and Austria. The two sovereigns, left without allies and with their dominions drained of men and money, agreed to a mutual exchange of their conquests; the boundaries of their territories once more became as they had been before the Seven Years' War. Frederick calculated at more than eight hundred thousand men the losses caused to the belligerents by this obstinate and resultless struggle, the fruit of wicked ambition or culpable weaknesses on the part of governments. Thanks to the indomitable energy and the equally zealous and unscrupulous ability of the man who had directed her counsels during the greater part of the war, England alone came triumphant out of the strife. She had won India forever; and, for some years at least, civilized America, almost in its entirety, obeyed her laws. She had won what France had lost, not by superiority of arms, or even of generals, but by the natural and proper force of a free people, ably and liberally governed.

The position of France abroad, at the end of the Seven Years' War, was as painful as it was humiliating; her position at home was still more serious, and the deep-lying source of all the reverses which had come to overwhelm the French. Slowly lessened by the faults and misfortunes of King Louis XIV.'s later years, the kingly authority, which had fallen, under Louis XV., into hands as feeble as they were corrupt, was ceasing to inspire the nation with the


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