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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

To the devil with Lamoignon and Brienne


On

the 25th of August, 1788, the king sent for M. Necker.

A burst of public joy greeted the fall of the detested minister and the return of the popular minister. There were illuminations in the provinces as well as at Paris, at the Bastille as well as the houses of members of Parliament; but joy intermingled with hate is a brutal and a dangerous one: the crowd thronged every evening on the Pont-Neuf, forcing carriages as well as foot passengers to halt in front of Henry IV.'s statue. "Hurrah for Henry IV.! To the devil with Lamoignon and Brienne!" howled the people, requiring all passers to repeat the same cry. It was remarked that the Duke of Orleans took pleasure in crossing over the Pont-Neuf to come in for the cheers of the populace. "He was more crafty than ambitious, more depraved than naturally wicked," says M. Malouet: "resentment towards the court had hurried him into intrigue; he wanted to become formidable to the queen. His personal aim was vengeance rather than ambition, that of his petty council was to effect an upheaval in order to set the prince at the head of affairs as lieutenant-general and share the profits."

The tumult in the streets went on increasing; the keeper of the seals, Lamoignon, had tried to remain in power. M. Necker, supported by the queen, demanded his dismissal. His departure, like that of Brienne, had to be bought; he was promised an embassy for his son; he claimed a sum

of four hundred thousand livres; the treasury was exhausted, and there was no finding more than half. The greedy keeper of the seals was succeeded by Barentin, premier-president of the Court of Aids. Two dummies, one dressed in a _simarre_ (gown) and the other in pontifical vestments, were burned on the Pont-Neuf: the soldiers, having been ordered to disperse the crowds, some persons were wounded and others killed; the mob had felt sure that they would not be fired upon, whatever disorder they showed; the wrath and indignation were great; there were threats of setting fire to the houses of MM. de Brienne and de Lamoignon; the quarters of the commandant of the watch were surrounded. The number of folks of no avocation, of mendicants and of vagabonds, was increasing every day in Paris.

Meanwhile the Parliament had gained its point, the great baillie-courts were abolished; the same difficulty had been found in constituting them as in forming the plenary court; all the magistrates of the inferior tribunals refused to sit in them; the Breton deputies were let out of the Bastille; everywhere the sovereign courts were recalled. The return of the exiles to Paris was the occasion for a veritable triumph and the pretext for new disorders among the populace. It was the Parliament's first duty to see to the extraordinary police (_haute police_) in its district; it performed the duty badly and weakly. The populace had applauded its return and had supported its cause during its exile; the first resolution of the court was directed against the excesses committed by the military in repressing the disorders. When it came to trying the men seized with arms in their hands and the incendiaries who had threatened private houses, all had their cases dismissed; by way of example, one was detained a few days in prison. Having often been served in its enterprises by the passions of the mob, the Parliament had not foreseen the day when those same outbursts would sweep it away like chaff before the wind with all that regimen of tradition and respect to which it still clung even in its most audacious acts of daring.

For an instant the return of M. Necker to power had the effect of restoring some hope to the most far-sighted. On his coming into office, the treasury was empty, there was no scraping together as much as five thousand livres. The need was pressing, the harvests were bad; the credit and the able resources of the great financier sufficed for all; the funds went up thirty percent. in one day, certain capitalists made advances, the chamber of the notaries of Paris paid six millions into the treasury, M. Necker lent two millions out of his private fortune. Economy had already found its way into the royal household; Louis XVI. had faithfully kept his promises; despite the wrath of courtiers, he had reduced his establishment. The Duke of Coigny, premier equerry, had found his office abolished. "We were truly grieved, Coigny and I," said the king, kindly, "but I believe he would have beaten me had I let him." "It is fearful to live in a country where one is not sure of possessing to-morrow what one had the day before," said the great lords who were dispossessed; "it's a sort of thing seen only in Turkey." Other sacrifices and more cruel lessons in the instability of human affairs were already in preparation for the French noblesse.


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