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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Turgot and Malesherbes had fallen


The

joy of the courtiers was great, at Versailles, when the news arrived of M. Turgot's fall; the public regretted it but little: the inflexible severity of his principles which he never veiled by grace of manners, a certain disquietude occasioned by the chimerical views which were attributed to him, had alienated many people from him. His real friends were in consternation. "I was but lately rejoicing," said Abbe Very, "at the idea that the work was going on of coolly repairing a fine edifice which time had damaged. Henceforth, the most that will be done will be to see after repairing a few of its cracks. I no longer indulge in hopes of its restoration; I cannot but apprehend its downfall sooner or later." "O, what news I hear!" writes Voltaire to D'Alembert; "France would have been too fortunate. What will become of us? I am quite upset. I see nothing but death for me to look forward to, now that M. Turgot is out of office. It is a thunderbolt fallen upon my brain and upon my heart."

A few months later M. de St. Germain retired in his turn, not to Alsace again, but to the Arsenal with forty thousand livres for pension. The first, the great attempt at reform had failed. "M. de Malesherbes lacked will to remain in power," said Abbe Wry, "M. Turgot conciliatoriness (_conciliabilite_), and M. de Maurepas soul enough to follow his lights." "M. de Malesherbes," wrote Condorcet, "has, either from inclination or from default of mental rectitude,

a bias towards eccentric and paradoxical ideas; he discovers in his mind numberless arguments for and against, but never discovers a single one to decide him. In his private capacity he had employed his eloquence in proving to the king and the ministers that the good of the nation was the one thing needful to be thought of; when he became minister, he employed it in proving that this good was impossible." "I understand two things in the matter of war," said M. de St. Germain just before he became minister, "to obey and to command; but, if it comes to advising, I don't know anything about it." He was, indeed, a bad adviser; and with the best intentions he had no idea either how to command or how to make himself obeyed. M. Turgot had correctly estimated the disorder of affairs, when he wrote to the king on the 30th of April, a fortnight before his disgrace: "Sir, the parliaments are already in better heart, more audacious, more implicated in the cabals of the court than they were in 1770, after twenty years of enterprise and success. Minds are a thousand times more excited upon all sorts of matters, and your ministry is almost as divided and as feeble as that of your predecessor. Consider, Sir, that, in the course of nature, you have fifty years to reign, and reflect what progress may be made by a disorder which, in twenty years, has reached the pitch at which we see it."

Turgot and Malesherbes had fallen; they had vainly attempted to make the soundest as well as the most moderate principles of pure philosophy triumphant in the government; at home a new attempt, bolder and at the same time more practical, was soon about to resuscitate for a while the hopes of liberal minds; abroad and in a new world there was already a commencement of events which were about to bring to France a revival of glory and to shed on the reign of Louis XVI. a moment's legitimate and brilliant lustre.


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