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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Necker did not indulge in illusions


discontent of the great financiers and that of the courtiers was becoming every day more noisy, without as yet shaking the credit of M. Necker. "M. Necker wants to govern the kingdom of France like his little republic of Geneva," people said: "he is making a desert round the king; each loan is the recompense for something destroyed." "Just so," answered M. de Maurepas: "he gives us millions, provided that we allow him to suppress certain offices." "And if he were to ask permission to have the superintendents' heads cut off?" "Perhaps we should give it him," said the veteran minister, laughing. "Find us the philosopher's stone, as he has done, and I promise you that his Majesty will have you into the ministry that very day."

M. Necker did not indulge in illusions, he owed to the embarrassments of the government and to the new burdens created by the American war a complaisance which his bold attempts would not have met with under other circumstances. "Nobody will ever know," he himself said, "the steadfastness I found necessary; I still recall that long and dark staircase of M. de Maurepas' which I mounted in fear and sadness, uncertain of succeeding with him as to some new idea which I had in my mind, and which aimed most frequently at obtaining an increase of revenue by some just but severe operation. I still recall that upstairs closet, beneath the roof of Versailles, but over the rooms, and, from its smallness and its situation, seeming

to be really a superfine extract and abstract of all vanities and ambitions; it was there that reform and economy had to be discussed with a minister grown old in the pomps and usages of the court. I remember all the delicate management I had to employ to succeed, after many a rebuff. At last I would obttin some indulgences for the commonwealth. I obtained them, I could easily see, as recompense for the resources I had found during the war. I met with more courage in dealing with the king. Young and virtuous, he could and would hear all. The queen, too, lent me a favorable ear, but, all around their Majesties, in court and city, to how much enmity and hatred did I not expose myself? There were all kinds of influence and power which I had to oppose with firmness; there were all sorts of interested factions with which I had to fight in this perpetual struggle."

"Alas!" Madame Necker would say, "my heart and my regrets are ever yearning for a world in which beneficence should be the first of virtues. What reflections do I not make on our own particular case! I thought to see a golden age under so pure an administration; I see only an age of iron. All resolves itself into doing as little harm as possible." 0 the grievous bitterness of past illusions! Madame Necker consoled herself for the enmity of the court and for the impotence of that beneficence which had been her dream by undertaking on her own account a difficult reform, that of the hospitals of Paris, scenes, as yet, of an almost savage disorderliness. The sight of sick, dead, and dying huddled together in the same bed had excited the horror and the pity of Madame Necker. She opened a little hospital, supported at her expense and under her own direction, which still bears the name of Necker Hospital, and which served as a model for the reforms attempted in the great public establishments. M. Necker could not deny himself the pleasure of rendering homage to his wife's efforts in a report to the king; the ridicule thrown upon this honest but injudicious gush of conjugal pride proved the truth of what Madame Necker herself said. "I did not know the language of this country. What was called frankness in Switzerland became egotism at Paris."

[Illustration: Necker Hospital----432]

The active charity of Madame Necker had won her the esteem of the Archbishop of Paris, Christopher de Beaumont, a virtuous, fanatical priest; he had gained a great lawsuit against the city of Paris, which had to pay him a sum of three hundred thousand livres. "It is our wish," said the archbishop, "that M. Necker should dispose of these funds to the greatest advantage for the state, trusting to his zeal, his love of good, and his wisdom, for the most useful employment of the said funds, and desiring further that no account be required of him, as to such employment, by any person whatsoever." The prelate's three hundred thousand livres were devoted to the internal repairs of the Hotel-Dieu. "How is it," people asked, "that the archbishop thinks so highly of M. Necker, and even dines with him?" "0!" answered the wicked wags, "it is because M. Necker is not a Jansenist, he is only a Protestant."

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