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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Germain had conceived a thousand projects of reform


Almost

the whole ministry was in the hands of reformers; a sincere desire to do good impelled the king towards those who promised him the happiness of his people. Marshal Muy had succumbed to a painful operation. "Sir," he had said to Louis XVI., before placing himself in the surgeon's hands, "in a fortnight I shall be at your Majesty's feet or with your august father." He had succumbed. M. Turgot spoke to M. de Maurepas of the Duke of St. Germain. "Propose him to the king," said the minister, adding his favorite phrase "one can but try."

In the case of government, trials are often a dangerous thing. M. de St. Germain, born in the Jura in 1707, and entered first of all amongst the Jesuits, had afterwards devoted himself to the career of arms: he had served the Elector Palatine, Maria Theresa, and the Elector of Bavaria; enrolled finally by Marshal Saxe, he had distinguished himself under his orders; as lieutenant-general during the Seven Years' War, he had brought up his divisionn at Rosbach more quickly than his colleagues had theirs, he had fled less far than the others before the enemy; but his character was difficult, suspicious, exacting; he was always seeing everywhere plots concocted to ruin him. "I am persecuted to the death," he would say. He entered the service of Denmark: returning to France and in poverty, he lived in Alsace on the retired list; it was there that the king's summons came to find him out. In his solitude M. de St.

Germain had conceived a thousand projects of reform; he wanted to apply them all at once. He made no sort of case of the picked corps and suppressed the majority of them, thus irritating, likewise, all the privileged. "M. de St. Germain," wrote Frederick II. to Voltaire, "had great and noble plans very advantageous for your Welches; but everybody thwarted him, because the reforms he proposed would have entailed a strictness which was repugnant to them on ten thousand sluggards, well frogged, well laced." The enthusiasm which had been excited by the new minister of war had disappeared from amongst the officers; he lost the hearts of the soldiers by wanting to establish in the army the corporal punishments in use amongst the German armies in which he had served. The feeling was so strong, that the attempt was abandoned. "In the matter of sabres," said a grenadier, "I like only the edge." Violent and weak both together, in spite of his real merit and his genuine worth, often giving up wise resolutions out of sheer embarrassment, he nearly always failed in what he undertook; the outcries against the reformers were increased thereby; the faults of M. de St. Germain were put down to M. Turgot.

It was against the latter indeed, that the courtiers' anger and M. de Maurepas' growing jealousy were directed. "Once upon a time there was in France," said a ,pamphlet, entitled _Le Songe de M. de Maurepas,_ attributed to Monsieur, the king's brother,--"there was in France a certain man, clumsy, crass, heavy, born with more of rudeness than of character, more of obstinacy than of firmness, of impetuosity than of tact, a charlatan in administration as well as in virtue, made to bring the one into disrepute and the other into disgust, in other respects shy from self-conceit, timid from pride, as unfamiliar with men, whom he had never known, as with public affairs, which he had always seen askew; his name was Turgot. He was one of those half-thinking brains which adopt all visions, all manias of a gigantic sort. He was believed to be deep, he was really shallow; night and day he was raving of philosophy, liberty, equality, net product." "He is too much (trop fort) for me," M. de Maurepas would often say. "A man must be possessed (or inspired-- _enrage_)," wrote Malesherbes, "to force, at one and the same time, the hand of the king, of M. de Maurepas, of the whole court and of the Parliament."


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