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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The comptroller general has raised a new troop of comedians


and sound maxims, only too often destined to be strikingly belied by human passions! When he supported in the House of Commons, in 1786, an alliance with monarchical France, Mr. Pitt did not foresee the terrible struggle he--would one day maintain, in the name of England and of Europe, against revolutionary, anarchical, or absolutist France.

The treaty had just been signed (September 26, 1786). M. de Vergennes was not long to survive his latest work: he died on the 13th of February, 1787, just before the opening of the Assembly of Notables, as if he would fain escape the struggle and the crisis he dreaded. Capable and far-sighted in his foreign policy, ever conciliatory and sometimes daring, M. de Vergennes, timid and weak as he was in home affairs, was nevertheless esteemed: he had often served as a connect ing link between the different elements of the government. The king gave his place to M. de Montmorin, an honest but insignificant man, without influence in France as well as in Europe.

On the 29th of December, 1786, at the close of the despatch-council, the king at last broke the silence he had so long kept even as regarded the queen herself. "Gentlemen," he said, "I shall convoke for the 29th of January an assembly composed of persons of different conditions and the best qualified in the state, in order to communicate to them my views for the relief of my people, the ordering of the finances, and the

reformation of several abuses." Louis XVI.'s hesitations had disappeared: he was full of hope. "I have not slept a wink all night," he wrote on the morning of the 30th of December to M. de Calonne, "but it was for joy."

The sentiments of the public were very diverse: the court was in consternation. "What penalty would King Louis XIV. have inflicted upon a minister who spoke of convoking an assembly of notables?" asked old Marshal Richelieu, ever witty, frivolous, and corrupt. "The king sends in his resignation," said the young Viscount de Segur. At Paris curiosity was the prevalent feeling; but the jokes were bitter. "The comptroller-general has raised a new troop of comedians; the first performance will take place on Monday the 20th instant," said a sham play-bill: "they will give us the principal piece _False Confidences,_ followed by _Forced Consent_ and an allegorical ballot, composed by M. de Calonne, entitled _The Tub of the Danaids_."

The convocation of the notables was better received in the provinces: it was the first time for a hundred and sixty years that the nation had been called upon to take a part, even nominally, in the government of its affairs; it already began to feel powerful and proud. A note had been sent to the _Journal de Paris_ to announce the convocation of the Assembly. "The nation," it said, "will see with transport that the king deigns to draw near to her." The day of excessive humiliation was no more, even in forms; M. de Calonne modified the expression thus: "The nation will see with transport that the king draws near to her."

Indisposition on the part of the comptroller-general had retarded the preparatory labors; the session opened on the 22d of February, 1787. The Assembly numbered one hundred and forty-four members, all nominated by the king: to wit, seven princes of the blood; fourteen archbishops and bishops; thirty-six dukes and peers, marshals of France and noblemen; twelve councillors of state and masters of requests; thirty-eight magistrates of sovereign courts; twelve deputies of states-districts, the only ones allowed to present to the king memorials of grievances; and twenty-five municipal officers of the large towns. In this Assembly, intended to sanction the abolition of privileges, a few municipal officers alone represented the third estate and the classes intended to profit by the abolition. The old Marquis of Mirabeau said facetiously: "This Calonne assembles a troop of Guillots, which he calls the nation, to present them with the cow by the horns, and say to them, 'Gentlemen, we take all the milk and what not, we devour all the meat and what not, and we are going to try and get that what not out of the rich, whose money has no connection with the poor, and we give you notice that the rich means you. Now, give us your opinion as to the manner of proceeding.'"

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