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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

De Sartines and the Prince of Montbarrey superseded by MM


and it was upon the virtue

of the finance-minister that he had rested all the fabric of public confidence. The contest was every day becoming fiercer and the parties warmer. The useful reforms, the generous concern for the woes and the wants of the people, the initiative of which belonged to M. Necker, but which the king always regarded with favor, were by turns exclusively attributed to the minister and to Louis XVI. in the pamphlets published every day. Madame Necker became anxious and heartbroken at the vexation which such attacks caused her husband. "The slightest cloud upon his character was the greatest suffering the affairs of life could cause him," writes Madame de Stael; "the worldly aim of all his actions, the land-breeze which sped his bark, was love of reputation." Madame Necker took it into her head to write, without her husband's knowledge, to M. de Maurepas to complain of the libels spread about against M. Necker, and ask him to take the necessary measures against these anonymous publications this was appealing to the very man who secretly encouraged them.. Although Madame Necker had plenty of wits, she, bred in the mountains of Switzerland, had no conception of such an idiosyncrasy as that of M. de Maurepas, a man who saw in an outspoken expression of feeling only an opportunity of discovering the vulnerable point. As soon as he knew M. Necker's susceptibility he flattered himself that, by irritating it, he would drive him to give in his resignation." [_onsiderations sur la Revolution
frangaise,_t. i. p. 105.]

M. Necker had gained a victory over M. de Maurepas when he succeeded in getting M. de Sartines and the Prince of Montbarrey superseded by MM. de Castries and de Segur. Late lieutenant of police, with no knowledge of administration, M. de Sartines, by turns rash and hesitating, had failed in the difficult department of the ministry of marine during a distant war waged on every sea; to him were attributed the unsatisfatory results obtained by the great armaments of France; he was engaged in the intrigue against M. Necker. The latter relied upon the influence of the queen, who supported MM. de Castries and de Segur, both friends of hers. M. de Sartines was disgraced; he dragged down with him in his fall the Prince of Montbarrey, the heretofore indifferent lieutenant of M. de Saint- Germain. M. de Maurepas was growing feeble, the friends of M. Necker declared that he drivelled, and the latter already aspired to the aged minister's place. As a first step, the director-general of finance boldly demanded to be henceforth admitted to the council.

Louis XVI. hesitated, perplexed and buffeted between contrary influences and desires. He was grateful to M. Necker for the courageous suppressions he had accomplished, and for the useful reforms whereof the honor was to remain inseparable from his name; it was at M. Necker's advice that he had abolished mortmain in his dominions. A remnant of feudal serfdom still deprived certain of the rural classes, subject to the tenement law, of the right to marry or bequeath what they possessed to their children without permission of their lord. If they left the land which made them liable to this tyranny, their heritage reverted of right to the proprietor of the fief. Perfectly admitting the iniquity of the practice, Louis XVI. did not want to strike a blow at the principle of property; he confined himself to giving a precedent which the Parliament enregistered with this reservation: "Without there being anything in the present edict which can in any way interfere with the rights of lords." A considerable number of noblemen imitated the sovereign; many held out, amongst others the chapter of St. Claude; the enfranchisement of the serfs of the Jura, in whose favor Voltaire had but lately pleaded, would have cost the chapter twenty-five thousand livres a year; the monks demanded an indemnification from government. The body serfs, who were in all places persecuted by the signiorial rights, and who could not make wills even on free soil, found themselves everywhere enfranchised from this harsh law. Louis XVI. abolished the _droit de suite_ (henchman-law), as well as the use of the preparatory question or preliminary torture applied to defendants. The regimen of prisons was at the same time ameliorated, the dark dungeons of old times restored to daylight the wretches who were still confined in them.


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