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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Estimated at seven or eight millions


The

Duke of Noailles had resigned his presidency of the council of finance; but, ever adroit, even in disgrace, he had managed to secure himself a place in the council of regency. The seals were intrusted to M. d'Argenson, for some years past chief of police at Paris. "With a forbidding face, which reminded one of the three judges of Hades, he made fun out of everything with excellence of wit, and he had established such order amongst that innumerable multitude of Paris, that there was no single inhabitant of whose conduct and habits he was not cognizant from day to day, with exquisite discernment in bringing a heavy or light hand to bear on every matter that presented itself, ever leaning towards the gentler side, with the art of making the most innocent tremble before him." [St. Simon, t. xv. p. 387.] Courageous, bold, audacious in facing riots, and thereby master of the people, he was at the same time endowed with prodigious activity. "He was seen commencing his audiences at three in the morning, dictating to four secretaries at once on various subjects, and making his rounds at night whilst working in his carriage at a desk lighted with wax candles. For the rest, without any dread of Parliament, which had often attacked him, he was in his nature royal and fiscal; he cut knots, he was a foe to lengthiness, to useless forms or such as might be skipped, to neutral or wavering conditions." [Lemontey, _Histoire de la Regence,_ t. i. p. 77.] The Regent considered that he had
secured to himself an effective instrument of his views; acceptance of the system had been the condition _sine qua non_ of M. d'Argenson's elevation.

He, however, like his predecessors, attempted before long to hamper the march of the audacious foreigner; but the die had been cast, and the Duke of Orleans outstripped Law himself in the application of his theories. A company, formed secretly, and protected by the new keeper of the seals, had bought up the general farmings (_fermes generales_), that is to say, all the indirect taxes, for the sum of forty-eight million fifty-two thousand livres; the _Compagnie des Indes_ re-purchased them for fifty- two millions; the general receipts were likewise conceded to it, and Law's bank was proclaimed a Royal Bank; the company's shares already amounted to the supposed value of all the coin circulating in the kingdom, estimated at seven or eight millions. Law thought he might risk everything in the intoxication which had seized all France, capital and province. He created some fifteen hundred millions of new shares, promising his shareholders a dividend of twelve per cent. From all parts silver and gold flowed into his hands; everywhere the paper of the Bank was substituted for coin. The delirium had mastered all minds. The street called Quincampoix, for a long time past devoted to the operations of bankers, had become the usual meeting-place of the greatest lords as well as of discreet burgesses. It had been found necessary to close the two ends of the street with gates, open from six A. M. to nine P. M.; every house harbored business agents by the hundred; the smallest room was let for its weight in gold. The workmen who made the paper for the bank-notes could not keep up with the consumption. The most modest fortunes suddenly became colossal, lacqueys of yesterday were millionaires to-morrow; extravagance followed the progress of this outburst of riches, and the price of provisions followed the progress of extravagance. Enthusiasm was at its height in favor of the able author of so many benefits. Law became a convert to Catholicism, and was made comptroller-general; all the court was at his feet. "My son was looking for a duchess to escort my granddaughter to Genoa," writes Madame, the Regent's mother. "'Send and choose one at Madame Law's,' said I; 'you will find them all sitting in her drawing-room.'" Law's triumph was complete; the hour of his fall was about to strike.


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