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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

When the execution of the unhappy Calas


The

hulks were still full of the audience of Paul Rabaut, and Protestant women were still languishing in the unwholesome dungeon of the Tower of Constance, when the execution of the unhappy Calas, accused of having killed his son, and the generous indignation of Voltaire cast a momentary gleam of light within the sombre region of prisons and gibbets. For the first time, public opinion, at white heat, was brought to bear upon the decision of the persecutors. Calas was dead, but the decree of the Parliament of Toulouse which had sentenced him, was quashed by act of the council: his memory was cleared, and the day of toleration for French Protestants began to glimmer, pending the full dawn of justice and liberty.

We have gone over in succession, and without break, the last cruel sufferings of the French Protestants; we now turn away our eyes with a feeling of relief mingled with respect and pride; we leave the free air of the desert to return to the rakes and effeminates of Louis XV.'s court. Great was the contrast between the government which persecuted without knowing why, and the victims who suffered for a faith incessantly revived in their souls by suffering. For two centuries the French Reformation had not experienced for a single day the formidable dangers of indifference and lukewarmness.

The young king was growing up, still a stranger to affairs, solely occupied with the pleasures of the chase, handsome,

elegant, with noble and regular features, a cold and listless expression. In the month of February, 1725, he fell ill; for two days there was great danger. The duke thought himself to be threatened with the elevation of the house of Orleans to the throne. "I'll not be caught so again," he muttered between his teeth, when he came one night to inquire how the king was, "if he recovers, I'll have him married." The king did recover, but the Infanta was only seven years old. Philip V., who had for a short time abdicated, retiring with the queen to a remote castle in the heart of the forests, had just remounted the throne after the death of his eldest son, Louis I. Small-pox had carried off the young monarch, who had reigned but eight months. Elizabeth Farnese, aided by the pope's nuncio and some monks who were devoted to her, had triumphed over her husband's religious scruples and the superstitious counsels of his confessor; she was once more reigning over Spain, when she heard that the little Infanta-queen, whose betrothal to the King of France had but lately caused so much joy, was about to be sent away from the court of her royal spouse. "The Infanta must be started off, and by coach too, to get it over sooner," exclaimed Count Morville, who had been ordered by Madame de Prie to draw up a list of the marriageable princesses in Europe. Their number amounted to ninety-nine; twenty-five Catholics, three Anglicans, thirteen Calvinists, fifty-five Lutherans, and three Greeks. The Infanta had already started for Madrid; the Regent's two daughters, the young widow of Louis I. and Mdlle. de Beaujolais, promised to Don Carlos, were on their way back to France; the advisers of Louis XV. were still looking out for a wife for him. Spain had been mortally offended, without the duke's having yet seen his way to forming a new alliance in place of that which he had just broken off. Some attempts at arrangement with George I. had failed; an English princess could not abjure Protestantism. Such scruples did not stop Catherine I., widow of Peter the Great, who had taken the power into her own hands to the detriment of the czar's grandson; she offered the duke her second daughter, the grand-duchess Elizabeth, for King Louis XV., with a promise of abjuration on the part of the princess, and of a treaty which should secure the support of all the Muscovite forces in the interest of France. At the same time the same negotiators proposed to the Duke of Bourbon himself the hand of Mary Leckzinska, daughter of Stanislaus, the dispossessed King of Poland, guaranteeing to him, on the death of King Augustus, the crown of that kingdom.


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