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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

De Maurepas hypocritically expressed his regret


a long while the king had remained faithful to M. Turgot. "People may say what they like," he would repeat, with sincere conviction, "but he is an honest man!" Infamous means were employed, it is said, with the king; he was shown forged letters, purporting to come from M. Turgot, intercepted at the post and containing opinions calculated to wound his Majesty himself. To pacify the jealousy of M. de Maurepas, Turgot had given up his privilege of working alone with the king. Left to the adroit manoeuvres of his old minister, Louis XVI. fell away by degrees from the troublesome reformer against whom were leagued all those who were about him. The queen had small liking for M. Turgot, whose strict economy had cut down the expenses of her household; contrary to their usual practice, her most trusted servants abetted the animosity of M. de Maurepas. "I confess that I am not sorry for these departures," wrote Marie Antoinette to her mother, after the fall of M. Turgot, "but I have had nothing to do with them." "Sir," M. Turgot had written to Louis XVI., "monarchs governed by courtiers have but to choose between the fate of Charles I. and that of Charles XI." The coolness went on increasing between the king and his minister. On the 12th of May, 1776, the comptroller-general entered the king's closet; he had come to speak to him about a new project for an edict; the exposition of reasons was, as usual, a choice morsel of political philosophy. "Another commentary!" said the king
with temper. He listened, however. When the comptroller-general had finished, "Is that all?" asked the king. "Yes, Sir." "So much the better," and he showed the minister out. A few hours later, M. Turgot received his dismissal.

[Illustration: Turgot's Dismissal----367]

He was at his desk, drawing up an important decree; he laid down his pen, saying quietly, "My successor will finish;" and when M. de Maurepas hypocritically expressed his regret, "I retire," said M. Turgot, "without having to reproach myself with feebleness, or falseness, or dissimulation." He wrote to the king: "I have done, Sir, what I believed to be my duty in setting before you, with unreserved and unexampled frankness, the difficulty of the position in which I stood and what I thought of your own. If I had not done so, I should have considered myself to have behaved culpably towards you. You, no doubt, have come to a different conclusion, since you have withdrawn your confidence from me; but, even if I were mistaken, you cannot, Sir, but do justice to the feeling by which I was guided. All I desire, Sir, is that you may always be able to believe that I was short-sighted, and that I pointed out to you merely fanciful dangers. I hope that time may not justify me, and that your reign may be as happy and as tranquil, for yourself and your people, as they flattered themselves it would be, in accordance with your principles of justice and beneficence."

Useless wishes, belied in advance by the previsions of M. Turgot himself. He had espied the danger and sounded some of the chasms just yawning beneath the feet of the nation as well as of the king; he committed the noble error of believing in the instant and supreme influence of justice and reason. "Sir," said he to Louis XVI., "you ought to govern, like God, by general laws." Had he been longer in power, M. Turgot would still have failed in his designs. The life of one man was too short, and the hand of one man too weak to modify the course of events, fruit slowly ripened during so many centuries. It was to the honor of M. Turgot that he discerned the mischief and would fain have applied the proper remedy. He was often mistaken about the means, oftener still about the strength he had at disposal. He had the good fortune to die early, still sad and anxious about the fate of his country, without having been a witness of the catastrophes he had foreseen and of the sufferings as well as wreckage through which France must pass before touching at the haven he would fain have opened to her.

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