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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Pursued by remorse for the partition of Poland


The

partition of Poland was barely accomplished, the confederates of Barr, overwhelmed by the Russian troops, were still arriving in France to seek refuge there, and already King Louis XV., for a moment roused by the audacious aggression of the German courts, had sunk back into the shameful lethargy of his life. When Madame Louise, the pious Carmelite of St. Denis, succeeded in awakening in her father's soul a gleam of religious terror, the courtiers in charge of the royal pleasures redoubled their efforts to distract the king from thoughts so perilous for their own fortunes. Louis XV., fluctuating between remorse and depravity, ruled by Madame Dubarry, bound hand and foot to the triumvirate of Chancellor Maupeou, Abbe Terray, and the Duke of Aiguillon, who were consuming between them in his name the last remnants of absolute power, fell suddenly ill of small-pox. The princesses, his daughters, had never had that terrible disease, the scourge and terror of all classes of society, yet they bravely shut themselves up with the king, lavishing their attentions upon him to the last gasp. Death, triumphant, had vanquished the favorite. Madame Dubarry was sent away as soon as the nature of the malady had declared itself. The king charged his grand almoner to ask pardon of the courtiers for the scandal he had caused them. "Kings owe no account of their conduct save to God only," he had often repeated to comfort himself for the shame of his life. "It is just He whom I fear," said Maria
Theresa, pursued by remorse for the partition of Poland.

Louis XV. died on the 10th of May, 1774, in his sixty-fourth year, after reigning fifty-nine years, despised by the people who had not so long ago given him the name of Well-beloved, and whose attachment he had worn out by his cold indifference about affairs and the national interests as much as by the irregularities of his life. With him died the old French monarchy, that proud power which had sometimes ruled Europe whilst always holding a great position therein. Henceforth France was marching towards the unknown, tossed about as she was by divers movements, which were mostly hostile to the old state of things, blindly and confusedly as yet, but, under the direction of masters as inexperienced as they were daring, full of frequently noble though nearly always extravagant and reckless hopes, all founded on a thorough reconstruction of the bases of society and of its ancient props. Far more even than the monarchy, at the close of Louis XV.'s reign, did religion find itself attacked and threatened; the blows struck by the philosophers at fanaticism recoiled upon the Christian faith, transiently liable here below for human errors and faults over which it is destined to triumph in eternity.

CHAPTER LV.----LOUIS XV., THE PHILOSOPHERS.

Nowhere and at no epoch had literature shone


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