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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Marshal de Castries addressed to the king a private note


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in the cabinet rendered the comptroller-general's situation daily more precarious; he gave in his resignation. The king sent for M. d'Ormesson, councillor of state, of a virtue and integrity which were traditional in his family, but without experience of affairs and without any great natural capacity. He was, besides, very young, and he excused himself from accepting such a post on the score of his age and his feeble lights. "I am only thirty-one, Sir," he said. "I am younger than you," replied the king, "and my post is more difficult than yours." A few months later, the honest magistrate, overwhelmed by a task beyond his strength, had made up his mind to resign; he did not want to have any hand in the growing disorder of the finances; the king's brothers kept pressing him to pay their debts; Louis XVI. himself, without any warning to the comptroller-general, had just purchased Rambouillet from the Duke of Penthievre, giving a bond of fourteen millions; but Madame d'Ormesson had taken a liking to grandeur; she begged her husband hard to remain, and he did. It was not long before the embarrassments of the treasury upset his judgment: the tax-farming contract, so ably concluded by M. Necker, was all at once quashed; a _regie_ was established; the Discount- fund (_Caisse d'Escompte+) had lent the treasury six millions: the secret of this loan was betrayed, and the holders of bills presented themselves in a mass demanding liquidation; a decree of the council forbade payment in
coin over a hundred livres, and gave the bills a forced currency. The panic became general; the king found himself obliged to dismiss M. d'Ormesson, who was persecuted for a long while by the witticisms of the court. His incapacity had brought his virtue into ridicule.

Marshal de Castries addressed to the king a private note. "I esteem M. d'Ormesson's probity," said the minister of marine frankly, "but if the financial affairs should fall into such discredit that your Majesty finds yourself forced at last to make a change, I dare entreat you to think of the valuable man who is now left unemployed; I do beg you to reflect that, without Colbert, Louis XIV. would never perhaps have been called Louis le Grand; that the wish of the nation, to be taken into account by a good king, is secretly demanding, Sir, that the enlightened, economical, and incorruptible man whom Providence has given to your Majesty, should be recalled to his late functions. The errors of your other ministers, Sir, are nearly always reparable, and their places are easily filled. But the choice of him to whom is committed the happiness of twenty-four millions of souls and the duty of making your authority cherished is of frightful importance. With M. Necker, Sir, even in peace, the imposts would be accepted, whatever they might be, without a murmur. The conviction would be that inevitable necessity had laid down the laws for them, and that a wise use of them would justify them, . . . whereas, if your Majesty puts to hazard an administration on which all the rest depend, it is to be feared that the difficulties will be multiplied with the selections you will be obliged to have recourse to; you will find one day destroy what another set up, and at last there will arrive one when no way will be seen of serving the state but by failing to keep all your Majesty's engagements, and thereby putting an end to all the confidence which the commencement of your reign inspired."

The honest zeal of Marshal de Castries for the welfare of the state had inspired him with prophetic views; but royal weakness exhibits sometimes unexpected doggedness. "As regards M. Necker," answered Louis XVI., "I will tell you frankly that after the manner in which I treated him and that in which he left me, I couldn't think of employing him at all." After some court-intrigues which brought forward names that were not in good odor, that of Foulon, late superintendent of the forces, and of the Archbishop of Toulouse, Lomenie de Brienne, the king sent for M. de Calonne, superintendent of Lille, and intrusted him with the post of comptroller-general.


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