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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

He writes to Marshal Noailles on the 26th of November


For

some time previously, in view of the great age and rapid enfeeblement of Cardinal Fleury, Marshal Noailles, ever able and far-sighted, had been pressing Louis XV. to take into his own hands the direction of his affairs. Having the command on the frontier of the Low Countries, he had adopted the practice of writing directly to the king. "Until it may please your Majesty to let me know your intentions and your will," said the marshal at the outset of his correspondence, "confining myself solely to what relates to the frontier on which you have given me the command, I shall speak with frankness and freedom about the object confided to my care, and shall hold my peace as regards the rest. If you, Sir, desire the silence to be broken, it is for you to order it." For the first time Louis XV. seemed to awake from the midst of that life of intellectual lethargy and physical activity which he allowed to glide along, without a thought, between the pleasures of the chase and the amusements invented by his favorite; a remembrance of Louis XIV. came across his mind, naturally acute and judicious as it was. "The late king, my great- grandfather," he writes to Marshal Noailles on the 26th of November, 1743, "whom I desire to imitate as much as I can, recommended me, on his death-bed, to take counsel in all things, and to seek out the best, so as always to follow it. I shall be charmed, then, if you will give me some; thus do I open your mouth, as the pope does the cardinals, and I permit
you to say to me what your zeal and your affection for me and my kingdom prompt you." The first fruit of this correspondence was the entrance of Marshal Noailles into the Council.

[Illustration: Louis XV. and his Councillors----148]

"One day as he was, in the capacity of simple courtier, escorting the king, who was on his way to the Council, his Majesty said to him, "Marshal, come in; we are going to hold a council," and pointed to a place at his left, Cardinal Tencin being on his right. "This new minister does not please our secretaries of state. He is a troublesome inspector set over them, who meddles in everything, though master of nothing." The renewal of active hostilities was about to deliver the ministers from Marshal Noailles.

The prudent hesitation and backwardness of Holland had at last yielded to the pressure of England. The States-general had sent twenty thousand men to join the army which George II. had just sent into Germany. It was only on the 15th of March, 1744, that Louis XV. formally declared war against the King of England and Maria Theresa, no longer as an auxiliary of the 'emperor, but in his own name and on behalf of France. Charles VII., a fugitive, driven from his hereditary dominions, which had been evacuated by Marshal Broglie, had transported to Frankfurt his ill fortune and his empty titles. France alone supported in Germany a quarrel the weight of which she had imprudently taken upon herself.

The effort was too much for the resources; the king's counsellors felt that it was; the battle of Dettingen, skilfully commenced on the 27th of June, 1743, by Marshal Noailles, and lost by the imprudence of his nephew, the Duke of Gramont, had completely shaken the confidence of the armies; the emperor had treated with the Austrians for an armistice; establishing the neutrality of his troops, as belonging to the empire. Noailles wrote to the king on the 8th of July, "It is necessary to uphold this phantom, in order to restrain Germany, which would league against us, and furnish the English with all the troops therein, the moment the emperor was abandoned." It was necessary, at the same time, to look out elsewhere for more effectual support. The King of Prussia had been resting for the last two years, a curious and an interested spectator of the contests which were bathing Europe in blood, and which answered his purpose by enfeebling his rivals. He frankly and coolly flaunted his selfishness. "In a previous war with France," he says in his memoirs, "I abandoned the French at Prague, because I gained Silesia by that step. If I had escorted them to Vienna, they would never have given me so much." In turn the successes of the Queen of Hungary were beginning to disquiet him; on the 5th of June, 1744, he signed a new treaty with France; for the first time Louis XV. was about to quit Versailles and place himself at the head of an army. "If my country is to be devoured," said the king, with a levity far different from the solemn tone of Louis XIV., "it will be very hard on me to see it swallowed without personally doing my best to prevent it."


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