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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

A sort of bankruptcy in disguise


The

chancellor, Voysin, had just died. To this post the Regent summoned the attorney-general, D'Aguesseau, beloved and esteemed of all, learned, eloquent, virtuous, but too exclusively a man of Parliament for the functions which had been confided to him. "He would have made a sublime premier president," said St. Simon, who did not like him. The magistrate was attending mass at St. Andre-des-Arts; he was not ignorant of the chancellor's death, when a valet came in great haste to inform him that the Regent wanted him at the Palais-Royal. D'Aguesseau piously heard out the remainder of the mass before obeying the prince's orders. The casket containing the seals was already upon the table. The Duke of Orleans took the attorney-general by the arm and, going out with him into the gallery thronged with courtiers, said, "Gentlemen, here is your new and most worthy chancellor!" and he took him away with him to the Tuileries, to pay his respects to the little king.

On returning home, still all in a whirl, D'Aguesseau went up to the room of his brother, "M. de Valjouan, a sort of Epicurean (_voluptueux_) philosopher, with plenty of wit and learning, but altogether one of the oddest creatures." He found him in his dressing-gown, smoking in front of the fire. "Brother," said he, as he entered, "I have come to tell you that I am chancellor." "Chancellor!" said the other, turning round; "and what have you done with the other one?" "He died suddenly to-night."

"O, very well, brother, I am very glad; I would rather it were you than I;" and he resumed his pipe. Madame D'Aguesseau was better pleased. Her husband has eulogized her handsomely. "A wife like mine," he said, "is a good man's highest reward."

The new system of government, as yet untried, and confided to men for the most part little accustomed to affairs, had to put up with the most formidable difficulties, and to struggle against the most painful position. The treasury was empty, and the country exhausted; the army was not paid, and the most honorable men, such as the Duke of St. Simon, saw no other remedy for the evils of the state but a total bankruptcy, and the convocation of the States-general. Both expedients were equally repugnant to the Duke of Orleans. The Duke of Noailles had entered upon a course of severe economy; the king's household was diminished, twenty- five thousand men were struck off the strength of the army, exemption from talliage for six years was promised to all such discharged soldiers as should restore a deserted house, and should put into cultivation the fields lying waste. At the same time something was being taken off the crushing weight of the taxes, and the state was assuming the charge of recovering them directly, without any regard for the real or supposed advances of the receivers-general; their accounts were submitted to the revision of the brothers Paris, sons of an innkeeper in the Dauphinese Alps, who had made fortunes by military contracts, and were all four reputed to be very able in matters of finance. They were likewise commissioned to revise the bills circulating in the name of the state, in other words, to suppress a great number without re-imbursement to the holder, a sort of bankruptcy in disguise, which did not help to raise the public credit. At the same time also a chamber of justice, instituted for that purpose, was prosecuting the tax-farmers (_traitants_), as Louis XIV. had done at the commencement of his reign, during the suit against Fouquet. All were obliged to account for their acquisitions and the state of their fortunes; the notaries


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