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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Malouet and those who thought with him


Malouet and those who thought with him, more in number than anybody could tell, demanded instructions as to the elections in the bailiwicks. "Can you have allowed this great crisis to come on without any preparations for defence, without any combination?" they said to the ministers. "You have, through the police, the superintendents, the king's proctors in the tribunals, means of knowing men and choosing them, or, at any rate, of directing choice; these means, have you employed them?"

M. Necker could not give his instructions; he had not yet made up his mind on the question which was engaging everybody's thoughts; he hesitated to advise the king to consent to the doubling of the third. "He had a timid pride which was based on his means, on his celebrity, and which made him incessantly afraid of compromising himself with public opinion, which he could no longer manage to control when he found himself opposed by it," said Malouet. Marmontel, who knew the minister well, added, "That solitary mind, abstracted, self-concentrated, naturally enthusiastic, had little communication with men in general, and few men were tempted to have communication with him; he knew them only by glimpses too isolated or too vague, and hence his illusions as to the character of the people at whose mercy he was placing the state and the king."

M. Necker's illusions as to himself never disappeared; he had a vague presentiment of the weakening

of his influence over public opinion, and he was pained thereat. He resolved at last to follow it. "It is a great mistake," he wrote at a later period in his _Memoires,_ "to pretend to struggle, with only antiquated notions on your side, against all the vigor of the principles of natural justice, when that justice renews its impulse and finds itself seconded by the natural desire of a nation. The great test of ability in affairs is to obtain the merit of the sacrifice before the moment when that same sacrifice will appear a matter of necessity."

The favorable moment, which M. Necker still thought of seizing, had already slipped by him. The royal resolution proclaimed under this strange title, _Result of the King's Council held on the 27th of December, 1788,_ caused neither great astonishment nor lively satisfaction amongst the public. M. Necker was believed to be more favorable to the doubling of the third (estate) than he really was; the king was known to be weak and resigned to following the counsels of the minister who had been thrust upon him. "The cause of the third estate," said the Report to the king, "will always have public opinion for it; the wishes of the third estate, when unanimous, when in conformity with the principles of equity, will always be only another name for the wishes of the nation; the judgment of Europe will encourage it. I will say, then, upon my soul and conscience, and as a faithful servant of his Majesty, I do decidedly think that he may and ought to call to the States-general a number of deputies of the third estate equal to that of the deputies of the two other orders together, not in order to force on decisions by poll (_deliberation par tete_), as appears to be feared, but in order to satisfy the general wishes of the commons of his kingdom." "The king," said the edict, "having heard the report made in his council by the minister of finance relative to the approaching convocation of the States-general,

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