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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Replied Chevert to the Austrian sent to parley


Chevert

still occupied Prague, with six thousand sick or wounded; the Prince of Lorraine had invested the place and summoned it to surrender at discretion. "Tell your general;" replied Chevert to the Austrian sent to parley, "that, if he will not grant me the honors of war, I will fire the four corners of Prague, and bury myself under its ruins." He obtained what he asked for, and went to rejoin Marshal Belle-Isle at Egra. People compared the retreat from Prague to the Retreat of the Ten Thousand; but the truth came out for all the fictions of flattery and national pride. A hundred thousand Frenchmen had entered Germany at the outset of the war; at the commencement of the year 1743, thirty-five thousand soldiers, mustered in Bavaria, were nearly all that remained to withstand the increasing efforts of the Austrians.

Marshal Belle-Isle was coldly received at Paris. "He is much inconvenienced by a sciatica," writes the advocate Barbier, "and cannot walk but with the assistance of two men. He comes back with grand decorations: prince of the empire, knight of the Golden Fleece, blue riband, marshal of France, and duke. He is held accountable, however, for all the misfortunes that have happened to us; it was spread about at Paris that he was disgraced and even exiled to his estate at Vernon, near Gisors. It is true, nevertheless, that he has several times done business with the king, whether in M. Amelot's presence, on foreign affairs, or M. d'Aguesseau's,

on military; but this restless and ambitious spirit is feared by the ministers."

Almost at the very moment when the Austrians were occupying Prague and Bohemia, Cardinal Fleury was expiring, at Versailles, at the age of ninety. Madame Marshal Noailles, mother of the present marshal, who is at least eighty-seven, but is all alive, runs about Paris and writes all day, sent to inquire after him. He sent answer to her, "that she was cleverer than he--she managed to live; as for him, he was ceasing to exist. In fact, it is the case of a candle going out, and being a long while about it. Many people are awaiting this result, and all the court will be starting at his very ghost, a week after he has been buried." [_Journal de Barbier,_ t. ii. p. 348.]

Cardinal Fleury had lived too long: the trials of the last years of his life had been beyond the bodily and mental strength of an old man elevated for the first time to power at an age when it is generally seen slipping from the hands of the most energetic. Naturally gentle, moderate, discreet, though stubborn and persevering in his views, he had not an idea of conceiving and practising a great policy. France was indebted to him for a long period of mediocre and dull prosperity, which was preferable to the evils that had for so long oppressed her, but as for which she was to cherish no remembrance and no gratitude, when new misfortunes came bursting upon her.

Both court and nation hurled the same reproach at Cardinal Fleury; he alone prevented the king from governing, and turned his attention from affairs, partly from jealousy, and partly from the old habit acquired as a preceptor, who can never see a man in one who has been his pupil. When the old man died at last, as M. d'Argenson cruelly puts it, France turned her eyes towards Louis XV. "The cardinal is dead: hurrah! for the king!" was the cry amongst the people. The monarch himself felt as if he were emancipated. "Gentlemen, here am I--premier minister!" said he to his most intimate courtiers. "When MM. de Maurepas and Amelot went to announce to him this death, it is said that he was at first overcome, and that when he had recovered himself, he told them that hitherto he had availed himself of Cardinal Fleury's counsels; but he relied upon it that they would so act, that they would not need to place any one between them and him. If this answer is faithfully reported," adds the advocate Barbier, "it is sufficiently in the high style to let it be understood that there will be no more any premier minister, or at any rate any body exercising the functions thereof."


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