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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Member of the council of finance


were compelled to bring their

books before the court. Several tax-farmers (_traitants_) killed themselves to escape the violence and severity of the procedure. The Parliament, anything but favorable to the speculators, but still less disposed to suffer its judicial privileges to be encroached upon, found fault with the degrees of the Chamber. The Regent's friends were eager to profit by the reaction which was manifesting itself in the public mind; partly from compassion, partly from shameful cupidity, all the courtiers set themselves to work to obtain grace for the prosecuted financiers. The finest ladies sold their protection with brazen faces; the Regent, who had sworn to show no favor to anybody, yielded to the solicitations of his friends, to the great disgust of M. Rouille-Ducoudray, member of the council of finance, who directed the operations of the Chamber of Justice with the same stern frankness which had made him not long before say to a body of tax-farmers (_traitants_) who wanted to put at his disposal a certain number of shares in their enterprise, "And suppose I were to go shares with you, how could I have you hanged, in case you were rogues?" Nobody was really hanged, although torture and the penalty of death had been set down in the list of punishments to which the guilty were liable; out of four thousand five hundred amenable cases, nearly three thousand had been exempted from the tax. "The corruption is so wide-spread," says the preamble to the edict of March, 1727, which suppressed
the Chamber of Justice, "that nearly all conditions have been infected by it in such sort that the most righteous severities could not be employed to punish so great a number of culprits without causing a dangerous interruption to commerce, and a kind of general shock in the system of the state." The resources derived from the punishment of the tax-farmers (_traitants_), as well as from the revision of the state's debts, thus remaining very much below expectation, the deficit went on continually increasing. In order to re-establish the finances, the Duke of Noailles demanded fifteen years' impracticable economy, as chimerical as the increment of the revenues on which he calculated; and the Duke of Orleans finally suffered himself to bo led away by the brilliant prospect which was flashed before his eyes by the Scotsman, Law, who had now for more than two years been settled in France.

[Illustration: John Law----62]

Law, born at Edinburgh, in 1611, son of a goldsmith, had for a long time been scouring Europe, seeking in a clever and systematic course of gambling a source of fortune for himself, and the first foundation of the great enterprises he was revolving in his singularly inventive and daring mind. Passionately devoted to the financial theories he had conceived, Law had expounded them to all the princes of Europe in succession. "He says that of all the persons to whom he has spoken about his system, he has found but two who apprehended it, to wit, the King of Sicily and my son," wrote Madame, the Regent's mother. Victor Amadeo, however, had rejected Law's proposals. "I am not powerful enough to ruin myself," he had said. Law had not been more successful with Louis XIV. The Regent


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