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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Necker for the future well or ill


Necker had been treated less harshly than M. Turgot. The king accepted his resignation without having provoked it. The queen made some efforts to retain him, but M. Necker remained inflexible. "Reserved as he was," says his daughter, "he had a proud disposition, a sensitive spirit; he was a man of energy in his whole style of sentiments." The fallen minister retired to his country-house at St. Ouen.

He was accompanied thither by the respect and regret of the public, and the most touching proofs of their esteem. "You would have said, to see the universal astonishment, that never was news so unexpected as that of M. Necker's resignation," writes Grimm in his _Correspondance litteraire;_ "consternation was depicted on every face; those who felt otherwise were in a very small minority; they would have blushed to show it. The walks, the cafes, all the public thoroughfares were full of people, but an extraordinary silence prevailed. People looked at one another, and mournfully wrung one another's hands, as if in the presence, I would say, of a public calamity, were it not that these first moments of distress resembled rather the grief of a disconsolate family which has just lost the object and the mainstay of its hopes. The same evening they gave, at the Comedie-Francaise, a performance of the _Partie de Chasse de Henri IV_. I have often seen at the play in Paris allusions to passing events caught up with great cleverness, but I never saw

any which were so with such palpable and general an interest. Every piece of applause, when there was anything concerning Sully, seemed, so to speak, to bear a special character, a shade appropriate to the sentiment the audience felt; it was by turns that of sorrow and sadness, of gratitude and respect; the applause often came so as to interrupt the actor the moment it was foreseen that the sequel of a speech might be applicable to the public feeling towards M. Necker. The players have been to make their excuses to the lieutenant of police, they established their innocence by proving that the piece had been on the list for a week. They have been forgiven, and it was thought enough to take this opportunity of warning the journalists not to speak of M. Necker for the future-well or ill."

M. Necker derived some balm from these manifestations of public feeling, but the love of power, the ambition that prompted the work he had undertaken, the bitterness of hopes deceived still possessed his soul. When he entered his study at St. Ouen, and saw on his desk the memoranda of his schemes, his plans for reforming the gabel, for suppressing custom-houses, for extending provincial assemblies, he threw himself back in his arm-chair, and, dropping the papers he held in his hand, burst into tears. Like him, M. Turgot had wept when he heard of the re-establishment of forced labor and jurands.

"I quitted office," says M. Necker, "leaving funds secured for a whole year; I quitted it when there were in the royal treasury more ready money and more realizable effects than had ever been there within the memory of man, and at a moment when the public confidence, completely restored, had risen to the highest pitch.

"Under other circumstances I should have been more appreciated; but it is when one can be rejected and when one is no longer essentially necessary that one is permitted to fall back upon one's own reflections. Now there is a contemptible feeling which may be easily found lurking in the recesses of the human heart, that of preferring for one's retirement the moment at which one might enjoy the embarrassment of one's successor. I should have been forever ashamed of such conduct; I chose that which was alone becoming for him who, having clung to his place from honorable motives, cannot, on quitting it, sever himself for one instant from the commonwealth."

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