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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The Regent's rash infatuation for a system


The

public wrath and indignation fastened henceforth upon Law, the author and director of a system which had given rise to so many hopes, and had been the cause of so many woes. His carriage was knocked to pieces in the streets. President de Mesmes entered the Grand Chamber, singing with quite a solemn air,--

"Sirs, sirs, great news! What is it? It's--They've smashed Law's carriage all to bits."

The whole body jumped up, more regardful of their hatred than of their dignity; and "Is Law torn in pieces?" was the cry. Law had taken refuge at the Palais Royal. One day he appeared at the theatre in the Regent's box; low murmurs recalled to the Regent's mind the necessity for prudence; in the end he got Law away secretly in a carriage lent him by the Duke of Bourbon.

Law had brought with him to France a considerable fortune; he had scarcely enough to live upon when he retired to Venice, where he died some years later (1729), convinced to the last of the utility of his system, at the same time that he acknowledged the errors he had committed in its application. "I do not pretend that I did not make mistakes," he wrote from his retreat; "I know I did, and that if I had to begin again I should do differently. I should go more slowly but more surely, and I should not expose the state and my own person to the dangers which may attend the derangement of a general

system." "There was neither avarice nor rascality in what he did," says St. Simon; "he was a gentle, kind, respectful man, whom excess of credit and of fortune had not spoilt, and whose bearing, equipage, table, and furniture could not offend anybody. He bore with singular patience and evenness the obstructions that were raised against his operations, until at the last, finding himself short of means, and nevertheless seeking for them and wishing to present a front, he became crusty, gave way to temper, and his replies were frequently ill-considered. He was a man of system, calculation, comparison, well informed and profound in that sort of thing, who was the dupe of his Mississippi, and in good faith believed in forming great and wealthy establishments in America. He reasoned Englishwise, and did not know how opposed to those kinds of establishments are the levity of our nation and the inconveniences of a despotic government, which has a finger in everything, and under which what one minister does is always destroyed or changed by his successor." The disasters caused by Law's system have recoiled upon his memory. Forgotten are his honesty, his charity, his interest in useful works; remembered is nothing but the imprudence of his chimerical hopes and the fatal result of his enterprises, as deplorable in their effects upon the moral condition of France, as upon her wealth and her credit.

The Regent's rash infatuation for a system, as novel as it was seductive, had borne its fruits. The judgment which his mother had pronounced upon Philip of Orleans was justified to the last. "The fairies," said Madame, "were all invited to the birth of my son; and each endowed him with some happy quality. But one wicked fairy, who had been forgotten, came likewise, leaning upon her stick, and not being able to annul her sisters' gifts, declared that the prince should never know how to make use of them."


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