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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

A place was found for the Duke of Noailles


[Illustration: The Bed of Justice----57]

On the 12th of September, the little king held a bed of justice; his governess, Madame de Ventadour, sat alone at the feet of the poor orphan, abandoned on the pinnacle of power. All the decisions of September 2 were ratified in the child's name. Louis XIV. had just descended to the tomb without pomp and without regret. The joy of the people broke out indecently as the funeral train passed by; the nation had forgotten the glory of the great king; it remembered only the evils which had for so long oppressed it during his reign.

The new councils had already been constituted, when it was discovered that commerce had been forgotten; and to it was assigned a seventh body. "Three sorts of men, the choice of whom was dictated by propriety, weakness, and necessity, filled the lists: in the first place, great lords, veterans in intrigue but novices in affairs, and less useful from their influence than embarrassing from their pride and their pettinesses; next, the Regent's friends, the cream of the rows, possessed with the spirit of opposition and corruption, ignorant and clever, bold and lazy, and far better calculated to harass than to conduct a government; lastly, below them, were pitch-forked in, pell-mell, councillors of State, masters of requests, members of Parliament, well-informed and industrious gentlemen, fated henceforth to crawl about at the bottom of the committees, and, without the spur of glory or emulation, to repair the blunders which must be expected from the incapacity of the first and the recklessness of the second class amongst their colleagues." [Lemontey, _Histoire de la Regence,_ t. i. p. 67.] "It is necessary," the young king was made to say in the preamble to the ordinance which established the councils, "that affairs should be regulated rather by unanimous consent than by way of authority."

How singular are the monstrosities of experience! At the head of the council of finance, a place was found for the Duke of Noailles, active in mind and restless in character, without any fixed principles, an adroit and a shameless courtier, strict in all religious observances under Louis XIV., and a notorious debauchee under the Regency, but intelligent, insolent, ambitious, hungering and thirsting to do good if he could, but evil if need were, and in order to arrive at his ends. His uncle, Cardinal Noailles, who had been but lately threatened by the court of Rome with the loss of his hat, and who had seen himself forbidden to approach the dying king, was now president of the council of conscience. Marshal d'Huxelles, one of the negotiators who had managed the treaty of Utrecht, was at the head of foreign affairs. The Regent had reserved to himself one single department, the Academy of Sciences. "I quite intend," said he, gayly, "to ask the king, on his majority, to let me still be Secretary of State of the Academy."

The Regent's predilection, consolidating the work of Colbert, contributed to the development of scientific researches, for which the neatness and clearness of French thought rendered it thenceforth so singularly well adapted.

The gates of the prison were meanwhile being thrown open to many a poor creature; the Jansenists left the Bastille; others, who had been for a long time past in confinement, were still ignorant of the grounds for their captivity, which was by this time forgotten by everybody. A wretched Italian, who had been arrested the very day of his arrival in Paris, thirty-five years before, begged to remain in prison; he had no longer any family, or relatives, or resources. For a while the Protestants thought they saw their advantage in the clemency with which the new reign appeared to be inaugurated, and began to meet again in their assemblies; the Regent had some idea of doing them justice, re-establishing the Edict of Nantes, and re-opening to the exiles the doors of their country, but his councillors dissuaded him; the more virtuous, like St. Simon, from Catholic piety, the more depraved from policy and indifference. However, the lot of the Protestants remained under the Regency less hard than it had been under Louis XIV., and than it became under the Duke of Bourbon.


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