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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The ministry of cardinal fleury


with a contempt which unfortunately

did not protect her from contagion. When Madame died, an inscription had been put on the tomb of that honest, rude, and haughty German: "Here lies Lazybones" (_Ci-git l'oisivete_). All the vices thus imputed to the Regent did not perish with him, when he succumbed at forty-nine years of age under their fatal effects. "The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones;" the Regency was the signal for an irregularity of morals which went on increasing, like a filthy river, up to the end of the reign of Louis XV.; the fatal seed had been germinating for a long time past under the forced and frequently hypocritical decency of the old court; it burst out under the easy-going regency of an indolent and indulgent prince, himself wholly given to the licentiousness which he excused and authorized by his own example. From the court the evil soon spread to the nation; religious faith still struggled within the soul, but it had for a long while been tossed about between contrary and violent opinions; it found itself disturbed, attacked, by the new and daring ideas which were beginning to dawn in politics as well as in philosophy. The break-up was already becoming manifest, though nobody could account for it, though no fixed plan was conceived in men's minds. People devoured the memoirs of Cardinal Retz and Madame de Motteville, which had just appeared; people formed from them their judgments upon the great persons and great events which they had seen and
depicted. The University of Paris, under the direction of Rollin, was developing the intelligence and lively powers of burgessdom; and Montesquieu, as yet full young, was shooting his missiles in the _Lettres persanes_ at the men and the things of his country with an almost cynical freedom, which was, as it were, the alarum and prelude of all the liberties which he scarcely dared to claim, but of which he already let a glimpse be seen. Evil and good were growing up in confusion, like the tares and the wheat. For more than eighty years past France has been gathering the harvest of ages; she has not yet separated the good grain from the rubbish which too often conceals it.

CHAPTER LII.----LOUIS XV., THE MINISTRY OF CARDINAL FLEURY., 1723-1748.

[Illustration: Louis XV.----110]

The riotous and frivolous splendor of the Regency had suffered eclipse; before their time, in all their vigor, through disgrace or by death, Law, Dubois, and the Regent, had suddenly disappeared from the stage of the world. To these men, a striking group for different reasons, notwithstanding their faults and their vices, was about to succeed a discreet but dull and limp government, the reign of an old man, and, moreover, a priest. The Bishop of Frejus, who had but lately been the modest preceptor of the king, and was quietly ambitious and greedy of power, but without regard to his personal interests, was about to become Cardinal Fleury, and to govern France for twenty years; in 1723 he was seventy years old.

Whether from adroitness or prudence, Fleury did not all at once aspire to all-powerfulness. Assured in his heart of his sway over the as yet dormant will of his pupil, he suffered the establishment of the Duke of Bourbon's ministry, who was in a greater hurry to grasp the power he had so long coveted. When the king received his cousin, head of the house of Conde, who had but lately taken the place of the Duke of Maine near his person, he sought in his preceptor's eyes the guidance he needed, and contented himself with sanctioning by an inclination of the head the elevation of the duke, presented by Fleury. The new Duke of Orleans, as yet quite a youth, hovering between debauchery and devotion, obtained no portion of his father's heritage; he had taken away from him even the right of doing business with the king, a right secured to him by his office of colonel-general.


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