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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

But lately banished by Louis XV


Louis

XV. was dead; France breathed once more; she was weary of the weakness as well as of the irregularities of the king who had untaught her her respect for him, and she turned with joyous hope towards his successor, barely twenty years of age, but already loved and impatiently awaited by his people. "He must be called Louis le Desire," was the saying in the streets before the death-rattle of Louis XV. had summoned his grandson to the throne. The feeling of dread which had seized the young king was more prophetic than the nation's joy. At the news that Louis XV. had just heaved his last sigh in the arms of his pious daughters, Louis XVI. and Maria Antoinette both flung themselves on their knees, exclaiming, "O God, protect us, direct us, we are too young."

The monarch's youth did not scare the country, itself everywhere animated and excited by a breath of youth. There were congratulations on escaping from the well-known troubles of a regency; the king's ingenuous inexperience, moreover, opened a vast field for the most contradictory hopes. The philosophers counted upon taking possession of the mind of a good young sovereign, who was said to have his heart set upon his people's happiness; the clergy and the Jesuits themselves expected everything from the young prince's pious education; the old parliaments, mutilated, crushed down, began to raise up their heads again, while the economists were already preparing their most daring projects. Like

literature, the arts had got the start, in the new path, of the politicians and the magistrates. M. Turgot and M. de Malesherbes had not yet laid their enterprising hands upon the old fabric of French administration, and already painting, sculpture, architecture, and music had shaken off the shackles of the past. The conventional graces of Vanloo, of Watteau, of Boucher, of Fragonard, had given place to a severer school. Greuze was putting upon canvas the characters and ideas of Diderot's _Drame naturel;_ but Vien, in France, was seconding the efforts of Winkelman and of Raphael Mengs in Italy; he led his pupils back to the study of ancient art; he had trained Regnault, Vincent, Menageot, and lastly Louis David, destined to become the chief of the modern school; Julien, Houdon, the last of the Coustous, were following the same road in sculpture Soufflot, an old man by this time, was superintending the completion of the church of St. Genevieve, dedicated by Louis XV. to the commemoration of his recovery at Metz, and destined, from the majestic simplicity of its lines, to the doubtful honor of becoming the Pantheon of the revolution; Servandoni had died a short time since, leaving to the church of St. Sulpice the care of preserving his memory; everywhere were rising charming mansions imitated from the palaces of Rome. The painters, the sculptors, and the architects of France were sufficient for her glory; only Gretry and Monsigny upheld the honor of that French music which was attacked by Grimm and by Jean Jacques Rousseau; but it was at Paris that the great quarrel went on between the Italians and the Germans; Piccini and Gluck divided society, wherein their rivalry excited violent passions. Everywhere and on, all questions, intellectual movement was becoming animated with fresh ardor; France was marching towards the region of storms, in the blindness of her confidence and _joyante;_ the atmosphere seemed purer since Madame Dubarry had been sent to a convent by one of the first orders of young Louis XVI.

Already, however, far-seeing spirits were disquieted; scarcely had he mounted the throne, when the king summoned to his side, as his minister, M. de Maurepas, but lately banished by Louis XV., in 1749, on a charge of having tolerated, if not himself written, songs disrespectful towards Madame de Pompadour. "The first day," said the disgraced minister, "I was nettled; the second, I was comforted."


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