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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Since Law became comptroller general


At

the pinnacle of his power and success the new comptroller-general fell into no illusion as to the danger of the position. "He had been forced to raise seven stories on foundations which he had laid for only three," said a contemporary, as clear-sighted as impartial. Some large shareholders were already beginning to quietly realize their profits. The warrants of the _Compagnie des Indes_ had been assimilated to the bank-notes; and the enormous quantity of paper tended to lower its value. First, there was a prohibition against making payments in silver above ten francs, and in gold above three hundred. Soon afterwards money was dislegalized as a tender, and orders were issued to take every kind to the Bank on pain of confiscation, half to go to the informer. Informing became a horrible trade; a son denounced his father. The Regent openly violated law, and had this miscreant punished. The prince one day saw President Lambert de Vernon coming to visit him. "I am come," said the latter, "to denounce to your Royal Highness a man who has five hundred thousand livres in gold." The Duke of Orleans drew back a step. "Ah, Mr. President," he cried, "what low vocation have you taken to?" "Monseigneur," rejoined the president, "I am obeying the law; but your Royal Highness may be quite easy; it is myself whom I have come to denounce, in hopes of retaining at least a part of this sum, which I prefer to all the bank-notes." "My money is at the king's service," was the proud remark of
Nicolai, premier president of the Exchequer-Chamber, "but it belongs to nobody." The great mass of the nation was of the same opinion as the two presidents; forty-five millions only found their way to the Bank; gold and silver were concealed everywhere. The crisis was becoming imminent; Law boldly announced that the value of the notes was reduced by a half. The public outcry was so violent that the Regent was obliged to withdraw the edict, as to which the council had not been consulted. "Since Law became comptroller-general, his head has been turned," said the prince. That same evening Law was arrested by the major of the Swiss; it was believed to be all over with him, but the admirable order in which were his books, kept by double entry after the Italian manner, as yet unknown in France, and the ingenious expedients he indicated for restoring credit, gave his partisans a moment's fresh confidence. He ceased to be comptroller-general, but he remained director of the Bank. The death-blow, however, had been dealt his system, for a panic terror had succeeded to the insensate enthusiasm of the early days. The Prince of Conti had set the example of getting back the value of his notes; four wagons had been driven up to his house laden with money. It was suffocation at the doors of the Bank, changing small notes, the only ones now payable in specie. Three men were crushed to death on one day in the crowd. It was found necessary to close the entrances to Quincampoix Street, in order to put a stop to the feverish tumult arising from desperate speculation. The multitude moved to the Place Vendome; shops and booths were thrown up; there was a share-fair; this ditty was everywhere sung in the streets:--

[Illustration: La Rue Quincampoix---68]

"On On Monday I bought share on share; On Tuesday I was a millionaire; On Wednesday took a grand abode; On Thursday in my carriage rode; On Friday drove to the Opera-ball; On Saturday came to the paupers' hall."

To restore confidence, Law conceived the idea of giving the seals back to D'Aguesseau; and the Regent authorized him to set out for Fresnes. In allusion to this step, so honorable for the magistrate who was the object of it, Law afterwards wrote from Venice to the Regent, "In my labors I desired to be useful to a great people, as the chancellor can bear me witness. . . . At his return I offered him my shares, which were then worth more than a hundred millions, to be distributed by him amongst those who had need of them." The chancellor came back, though his influence could neither stop the evil, nor even assuage the growing disagreement between the Duke of Orleans and the Parliament. None could restore the public sense of security, none could prevent the edifice from crumbling to pieces. With ruin came crimes. Count Horn, belonging to the family of the celebrated Count Horn, who was beheaded under Philip II., in company with Count Lamoral d'Egmont, murdered at an inn a poor jobber whom he had inveigled thither on purpose to steal his pocket-book. In spite of all his powerful family's entreaties, Count Horn died on the wheel, together with one of his accomplices. It was represented to the Regent that the count's house had the honor of being connected with his. "Very, well, gentlemen," said he, "then I will share the shame with you," and he remained inflexible.


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