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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Starting from the reign of Louis XV


In

spite of his faults and his numerous and culpable errors, Louis XIV. had lived and died like a king. The slow and grievous agony of olden France was about to begin.

[Illustration: Versailles at Night----52]

CHAPTER LI.----LOUIS XV., THE REGENCY, AND CARDINAL DUBOIS. 1715-1723.

At the very moment when the master's hand is missed from his work, the narrative makes a sudden bound out of the simple times of history. Under Henry IV., under Richelieu, under Louis XIV., events found quite naturally their guiding hand and their centre; men as well as circumstances formed a group around the head of the nation, whether king or minister, to thence unfold themselves quite clearly before the eyes of posterity. Starting from the reign of Louis XV. the nation has no longer a head, history no longer a centre; at the same time with a master of the higher order, great servants also fail the French monarchy; it all at once collapses, betraying thus the exhaustion of Louis XIV.'s latter years; decadence is no longer veiled by the remnants of the splendor which was still reflected from the great king and his great reign; the glory of olden France descends slowly to its grave. At the same time, and in a future as yet obscured, intellectual progress begins to dawn; new ideas of justice, of humanity, of generous equity towards the masses germinate sparsely in

certain minds; it is no longer Christianity alone that inspires them, though the honor is reflected upon it in a general way and as regards the principles with which it has silently permeated modern society, but they who contribute to spread them, refuse with indignation to acknowledge the source whence they have drawn them. Intellectual movement no longer appertains exclusively to the higher classes, to the ecclesiastics, or to the members of the Parliaments; vaguely as yet, and retarded by apathy in the government as well as by disorder in affairs, it propagates and extends itself imperceptibly pending that signal and terrible explosion of good and evil which is to characterize the close of the eighteenth century. Decadence and progress are going on confusedly in the minds as well as in the material condition of the nation. They must be distinguished and traced without any pretence of separating them.

There we have the reign of Louis XV. in its entirety.

[Illustration: The Regent Orleans----54]

The regency of the Duke of Orleans and the ministry of Cardinal Dubois showed certain traits of the general tendencies and to a certain extent felt their influence; they formed, however, a distinct epoch, abounding in original efforts and bold attempts, which remained without result, but which testified to the lively reaction in men's minds against the courses and fundamental principles of the reign which had just ended.

Louis XIV. had made no mistake about the respect which his last wishes were destined to meet with after his death. In spite of the most extreme precautions, the secret of the will had transpired, giving occasion for some days past to secret intrigues. Scarcely had the king breathed his last, when the Duke of Orleans was urged to get the regency conferred upon him by the dukes and peers, simply making to Parliament an announcement of what had been done. The Duke of Orleans was a better judge of the moral authority belonging to that important body; and it was to the Palace of Justice that he repaired on the morning of September 2, 1715. The crowd there was immense; the young king alone was not there, in spite of his great-grandfather's express instructions. The day was a decisive one; the legitimatized princes were present, "the Duke of Maine bursting with joy," says St. Simon; "a smiling, satisfied air overrippled that of audacity, of confidence, which nevertheless peeped through, and the politeness which seemed to struggle against it. He bowed right and left, piercing every one with his looks. Towards the peers, the earnestness, it is not too much to say the respectfulness, the slowness, the profoundness of his bow was eloquent. His head remained lowered even on recovering himself." The Duke of Orleans had just begun to speak; his voice was not steady; he repeated the terms of which the king had made use, he said, for the purpose of confiding the dauphin to his care. "To you I commend him; serve him faithfully as you have served me, and labor to preserve to him his kingdom. I have made such dispositions as I thought wisest; but one cannot foresee everything; if there is anything that does not seem good, it will of course be altered."


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