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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

You will allow that I should make a sorry figure at a forge


Almost at the same moment she was writing to the queen "I am very pleased to learn that you had nothing to do with the change that has been made in the cases of MM. Turgot and Malesherbes, who, however, have a great reputation among the public and whose only fault, in my opinion, is that they attempted too much at once. You say that you are not sorry; you must have your own good reasons, but the public, for some time past, has not spoken so well of you, and attributes to you point blank petty practices which would not be seemly in your place. The king loving you, his ministers must needs respect you; by asking nothing that is not right and proper, you make yourself respected and loved at the same time. I fear nothing in your case (as you are so young) but too much dissipation. You never did like reading, or any sort of application: this has often caused me anxieties. I was so pleased to see you devoted to music; that is why I have often plagued you with questions about your reading. For more than a year past there has no longer been any question of reading or of music; I hear of nothing but horse-racing, hunting too, and always without the king and with a number of young people not over-select, which disquiets me a great deal, loving you as I do so tenderly. I must say, all these pleasures in which the king takes no part, are not proper. You will tell me, 'he knows, he approves of them.' I will tell you, he is a good soul, and therefore you ought to be circumspect and combine your amusements with his; in the long run you can only be happy through such tender and sincere union and affection."

[Illustration: MARIE ANTOINETTE 456]

The misfortune and cruel pangs of their joint lives were alone destined to establish between Marie Antoinette and her husband that union and that intimacy which their wise mother would have liked to create in the days of tranquillity. Affectionate and kind, sincerely devoted to his wife, Louis XVI. was abrupt and awkward; his occupations and his tastes were opposed to all the elegant or frivolous instincts of the young queen. He liked books and solid books; his cabinet was hung with geographical charts which he studied with care; he had likewise a passion for mechanical works, and would shut himself up for hours together in a workshop in company with a blacksmith named Gamin. "The king used to hide from the queen and the court to forge and file with me," this man would remark in after days: "to carry about his anvil and mine, without anybody's knowing anything about it required a thousand stratagems which it would take no end of time to tell of." You will allow that I should make a sorry figure at a forge," writes the queen to her brother Joseph II.; "I should not be Vulcan, and the part of Venus might displease the king more than those tastes of mine of which he does not disapprove."

Louis XVI. did not disapprove, but without approving. As he was weak in dealing with his ministers, from kindliness and habit, so he was towards the queen with much better reason. Whilst she was scampering to the Opera ball, and laughing at going thither in a hackney coach one day when her carriage had met with an accident, the king went to bed every evening at the same hour, and the talk of the public began to mix up the name of Marie Antoinette with stories of adventure. In the hard winter of 1775, whilst the court amused themselves by going about in elegantly got-up sledges, the king sent presents of wood to the poor. "There are my sledges, sirs," said he as he pointed out to the gentlemen in attendance the heavy wagons laden with logs. The queen more gladly took part in the charities than in the smithy. She distributed alms bountifully; in a moment of gratitude the inhabitants of Rue St. Honore had erected in her honor a snow pyramid bearing these verses:


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