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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

De Maurepas had often been fatal


M.

Necker fell with the fixed intention and firm hope of soon regaining power. He had not calculated either the strength or inveteracy of his enemies, or the changeableness of that public opinion on which he relied. Before the distresses of the state forced Louis XVI. to recall a minister whom he had deeply wounded, the evils which the latter had sought to palliate would have increased with frightful rapidity, and the remedy would have slipped definitively out of hands too feeble for the immense burden they were still ambitious to bear.

CHAPTER LIX.----LOUIS XVI.--M. DE CALONNE AND THE ASSEMBLY OF NOTABLES. 1781-1787.

We leave behind us the great and serious attempts at reform. The vast projects of M. Turgot, seriously meant and founded on reason, for all their somewhat imaginative range, had become, in M. Necker's hands, financial expedients or necessary remedies, honorably applied to the most salient evils; the future, however, occupied the mind of the minister just fallen; he did not content himself with the facile gratifications of a temporary and disputed power, he had wanted to reform, he had hoped to found; his successors did not raise so high their real desires and hopes. M. Turgot had believed in the eternal potency of abstract laws; he had relied upon justice and reason to stop the kingdom and the nation on the brink of the abyss; M. Necker had nursed the illusion

that his courage and his intelligence, his probity and his reputation would suffice for all needs and exorcise all dangers; both of them had found themselves thwarted in their projects, deceived in their hopes, and finally abandoned by a monarch as weak and undecided as he was honest and good. M. de Turgot had lately died (March 20, 1781), in bitter sorrow and anxiety; M. Necker was waiting, in his retirement at St. Ouen, for public opinion, bringing its weight to bear upon the king's will, to recall him to office. M. de Maurepas was laughing in that little closet at Versailles which he hardly quitted any more: "The man impossible to replace is still unborn," he would say to those who were alarmed at M. Necker's resignation. M. Joly de Fleury, councillor of state, was summoned to the finance-department; but so strong was the current of popular opinion that he did not take up his quarters in the residence of the comptroller-general, and considered himself bound to pay M. Necker a visit at St. Ouen.

Before experience had been long enough to demonstrate the error committed by M. de Maurepas in depriving the king of M. Necker's able and honest services, the veteran minister was dead (November 21, 1784). In the teeth of all inclinations opposed to his influence, he had managed to the last to preserve his sway over the mind of Louis XVI.: prudent, moderate, imperturbable in the evenness of his easy and at the same time sarcastic temper, he had let slide, so far as he was concerned, the reformers and their projects, the foreign war, the wrath of the parliaments, the remonstrances of the clergy, without troubling himself at any shock, without ever persisting to obstinacy in any course, ready to modify his policy according to circumstances and the quarter from which the wind blew, always master, at bottom, in the successive cabinets, and preserving over all the ministers, whoever they might be, an ascendency more real than it appeared. The king regretted him sincerely. "Ah!" said he, "I shall no more hear, every morning, my friend over my head." The influence of M. de Maurepas had often been fatal; he had remained, however, like a pilot still holding with feeble hand the rudder he had handled for so long. After him, all direction and all predominance of mind disappeared from the conduct of the government. "The loss is more than we can afford," said clear-sighted folks already.


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