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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Lavoisier as much as by their discoveries M


The

comptroller-general's practice tallied with his theories; the courtiers had recovered the golden age; it was scarcely necessary to solicit the royal favor. "When I saw everybody holding out hands, I held out my hat," said a prince. The offices abolished by M. Turgot and M. Necker were re-established, the abuses which they had removed came back, the acceptances (_acquits de comptant_) rose in 1785 to more than a hundred and thirty-six millions of livres. The debts of the king's brothers were paid; advantageous exchanges of royal lands were effected to their profit; the queen bought St. Cloud, which belonged to the Duke of Orleans; all the great lords who were ruined, all the courtiers who were embarrassed, resumed the pleasant habit of counting upon the royal treasury to relieve their wants. The polite alacrity of the comptroller-general had subdued the most rebellious; he obtained for Brittany the right of freely electing its deputies; the states-hall at Rennes, which had but lately resounded with curses upon him, was now repeating a new cry of "Hurrah for Calonne!" A vote of the assembly doubled the gratuitous gift which the province ordinarily offered the king. "If it is possible, it is done," the comptroller would say to applicants; "if it is impossible, it will get done."

The captivation was general, the blindness seemed to be so likewise; a feverish impulse carried people away into all newfangled ways, serious or frivolous. Mesmer

brought from Germany his mysterious revelations in respect of problems as yet unsolved by science, and pretended to cure all diseases around the magnetic battery; the adventurer Cagliostro, embellished with the title of count, and lavishing gold by handfuls, bewitched court and city, and induced Councillor d'Epremesnil to say, "The friendship of M. de Cagliostro does me honor." At the same time splendid works in the most diverse directions maintained at the topmost place in the world that scientific genius of France which the great minds of the seventeenth century had revealed to Europe. "Special men sometimes testify great disdain as regards the interest which men of the world may take in their labors, and, certainly, if it were merely a question of appraising their scientific merit, they would be perfectly right. But the esteem, the inclination of the public for science, and the frequent lively expression of that sentiment, are of high importance to it, and play a great part in its history. The times for that sympathy, somewhat ostentatious and frivolous as it may be, have always been, as regards sciences, times of impulse and progress, and, regarding things in their totality, natural history and chemistry profited by the social existence of M. de Buffon and of M. Lavoisier as much as by their discoveries" [M. Guizot, _Melanges biographiques,_ Madame de Rumford].

[Illustration: Lavoisier----465]

It was this movement in the public mind, ignorant but sympathetic, which, on the eve of the Revolution, supported, without understanding them, the efforts of the great scholars whose peaceful conquests survived the upheaval of society. Farmer-general (of taxes) before he became a chemist, Lavoisier sought to apply the discoveries of science to common and practical wants. "Devoted to the public instruction, I will seek to enlighten the people," he said to the king who proposed office to him. The people were to send him to the scaffold. The ladies of fashion crowded to the brilliant lectures of Fourcroy.


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