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again! It is but a short time since, that I requested a friend of mine to lend me "Montaigne," a book which, in former days, was my delight: I returned it to him without being able to finish a single page. The same thing would happen if I attempted to read Plutarch, that writer who formed my heart and intellect, and from whom I always drew my most wholesome nourishment. The very sight of the book would open afresh all my wounds.'
Such details as these, concerning a character like that of Rousseau, cannot fail to excite the sympathy of every person who is acquainted with his works. But it is not just that they should be compelled to look for these scanty gleanings through a dense mass of literary lumber, when a moderately sized pamphlet would have contained every thing that is useful or entertaining in the whole of the one thousand pages.
ART. XII. Mémoires du Marquis d'Argenson, Ministre sous Louis XV. Publiés par RENÉ D'ARGENSON. 8vo. Paris. Baudouin, Frères. 1825.
THE Marquis d' Argenson was of one of those parliamentary
families which, under the old regime of France, were almost the only nobility not created by court-service. They formed rather a singular feature in the French aristocracy. In general, looked down upon by the haughty descendants of the great nobles, who, in the midst of their servile prostration before the King, cherished a very perfect scorn of all retainers, and not much valued by the courtiers in general, they yet produced the greatest men of France. From among them sprung De Thou, Montesquieu, D'Aguessau, and many others, of whom the subject of the present Memoirs is not the least distinguished.
It is little wonderful that these families produced men more deserving of respect in general than the regular aristocracy. After the wars with England and those of the League had broken down the great French families, it was not a very difficult task for Richelieu to complete, as it were, the conquest over the nobles, which the monarchical power had obtained in consequence of these events. He employed his own great talents, and all the resources of the kingdom, in the pursuit. The Protestant nobles, as long as they existed, could have always opposed a barrier to the total enslavement of the aristocracy under a king differing from them in religion. With the extinction of the Protestant military power by the taking of Rochelle, all apprehension on that point was removed. There remained no other aristocratical body in France which M m 4
could oppose the royal domination, and from that period forward, every art was used, and eventually with perfect success, to draw the nobility to Paris, and to make them the mere dependents of the court. The favor of the King was the greatest of rewards, the greatest of punishments banishment from his presence. Paris was every thing, France nothing; and this effect of the system has continued in a great measure to our own days.
In return for this servitude the nobility obtained some very solid rewards. The great offices of the state that required neither trouble nor ability were theirs exclusively. The great prizes of the church, and the wealth of the Gallican church before the Revolution was incalculable, were scarcely with a single exception bestowed upon them, and the army was entirely their own. What need had such a body of education? and accordingly they scarcely ever received any other than what enabled them to mix in the diversions of the court.
Still there were certain posts which required something more than being born noble. The church occasionally produced a clever or a worthy man. Fenelon and Bossuet will occur to every one. Those read in the history of the times may add a dozen more. But these were in truth raræ aves among the vast mass of political and moral corruption; and in the church they were always eclipsed by the profligate and intriguing, who rose to high situations, and the dissipated and ignorant who claimed them as a right. The legal, financial, and ministerial situations, which required labor and talent not merely military, were shunned by the nobles, and those situations, as we have already mentioned, are the only quarter in which we must look for abilities which we can respect. They gradually created an order of aristocracy, which, however, never entirely amalgamated with the old noblesse.
This circumstance produced one curious result, which we believe has no parallel in any other history. The head offices of state descended in a great degree from father to son, or, at all events, did not travel out of the families that first obtained them, after the commencement of the new European system, which took the government of the world from the mere men of the sword, to place it in that of men of the cabinet. In other countries, our own for instance, the sons of our great ministers of state, or of law, have rarely succeeded in the career of their fathers. Pitt and Fox are, we believe, the only exceptions, and in no case has the descent gone into the third generation. We have no legal caste, no family of financiers. On the contrary, when titles and
wealth have flowed into any such family, they take their seats with the nobility who derive their titles from any other source. If we examine our House of Lords, we shall find that the sword, the old feudal claim to nobility, has contributed no more than its proportion. The law and other civil services have given a full quota of theirs. Even our premier Duke of Norfolk, claiming a descent, as he does, from the females of the Plantagenet, derives his male ancestry from a judge. But in France, the sons of a minister succeeded to the office of the father, or at least some of them, as regularly as they did to their estates. For instance, P. Phelippeaux de Pontchartrain was secretary to Mary de Medicis in 1600. His youngest son D'Herbaut was treasurer, and died in 1629, leaving] his son De la Vrilliere Secretary of State, in which office he was succeeded by his son De Chateauneuf who died in 1700. At his death the office was filled by his son De la Vrilliere, who died secretary in 1725, and was succeeded by his son the Count Saint-Florentin, who died in the ministry in 1774. The success of the elder branch was nearly as striking. In the same way almost every other department was managed, and it was to this same principle that the Marquis D'Argenson owed his introduction to public life. His father was Lieutenant-General of the Police under Louis XIV., an office which he filled very sternly, and efficiently, and afterwards Keeper of the Seals under the Regent Orleans, a post which he held for little more than a year, when he was dismissed. It is said that he died of chagrin, but this his son most positively contradicts. It is certain, however, that an affection for place was never more strongly marked in any one than in D'Argenson's brother, as will appear by a passage we shall quote hereafter.
The Marquis was born in 1694. He did not attain high office very early. In 1706 he was counsellor of the Parliament; in 1720 was named intendant of Hainault and Cambresis, where he made himself somewhat conspicuous by stopping Law in his flight from France. In 1725, he returned to Paris, when he attended chiefly to his parliamentary duties, amusing himself with literary pursuits, and collecting a great library. In 1737, he was intended to have been sent ambassador to Portugal, but the fall of his friend M. Chauvelin hindered it. In 1744 he was rather unexpectedly drawn from retirement and made Minister of Foreign Affairs at a very critical period. It was owing chiefly to him, and his brother who was Minister of War, that the French succeeded so well in the campaign of 1745, when they defeated
the Duke of Cumberland at Fontenoy, a victory which highly gratified the French; for the arms of France had been any thing but successful during the century, and were particularly unlucky in the very war in which they were then engaged. D'Argenson was present in the battle: his letter describing it is preserved in the works of Voltaire, who pronounced it to be a masterpiece of composition. It is certainly very spirited, though defaced by the servile flattery with which it was the fashion of the times to bespatter Louis XV. Voltaire introduces him in his poem on Fontenoy, one of the most popular of his compositions. It is wholly devoid of poetical merit: but it was so gratifying to national vanity that 10,000 copies were sold in ten days.
It is much to D'Argenson's credit that he was anxious for peace. He clearly saw the ruin that the injudicious wars into which the intrigues of the minor members of the House of Bourbon were continually thrusting France, for no national object, was bringing on the country. He was mainly instrumental in getting up the congress of Breda in 1746, but obstacles innumerable intervened to prevent his pacific intentions. The Queen of Spain, Elizabeth Farnese, had views on some petty Italian provinces, which, with the usual feelings of her countrywomen, she regarded of importance paramount to all other considerations, and in them she was thwarted by D'Argenson. She was furious against him in consequence, and employed, as the Bishop of Rennes said, all her power to" condamner à fers, et à sang, le Marquis." Her intrigues were successful. She was powerfully aided by old Marshal de Noailles, Louis's chief confidant, and between them they teased the King into their measures. Their views were promoted by the unfortunate issue of the French campaign in Italy, which they lost by the battle of Placentia in 1746. In January, 1747, the Marquis was dismissed from office. He was the last French minister that followed the views of Richelieu, Mazarine, and Louis XIV., in depressing the power of the house of Austria. His successors took the contrary course. He lived in literary retirement the remainder of his life, little affected by the loss of place, therein forming a strong contrast to his brother, the Comte D'Argenson, who filled the post of Minister of War till his dismissal in 1757. He bore the catastrophe with the utmost pusillanimity. Marmontel has left a description of his conduct in retirement.
"While walking through the gardens I perceived at a distance a marble statue of the King. I have not courage to look at it,' said he; and turning away, 'Ah! Marmontel,' he cried, if you knew with what zeal I served him. If you knew how often he has assured me
that we should pass our lives together, and that I had not a better friend in the world! Such are the promises, such the friendship of kings!' In saying these words his eyes filled with tears. That evening, during supper, we remained in the drawing-room. It was full of pictures, representing the battles in which the King and he had been together. He shewed me the spot where they had been placed during the action; he repeated to me what the King had said to him: he had not forgotten a word. Here,' said he, speaking of one of these battles, I was for two hours under the impression that one of my sons was dead. The King had the goodness to appear touched by my grief: how he has changed! No concern of mine touches him any longer.' These ideas came over him when he was ever so short a time left to himself. He fell, as if ingulfed (abimè) in his grief. Then his young daughter-in-law, Madame de Voyer, came speedily to sit beside him, pressed him in her arms, and caressed him, while he like a child let his head fall on the breast or the knees of his consoler, and bathed them with tears which he did not conceal."
To such a degradation had the servile government of Louis reduced even the minds of his ministers. We are proud to reflect that no such scene as the above disgraces our ministerial annals of any party.
D'Argenson was a great friend of Voltaire. They were class-fellows in college, and the friendship, commenced at the early age of ten, continued through life. When in power, D'Argenson patronized him, and several other literary men, of whom we have very interesting sketches in these Memoirs. The notice of his life, prefixed to these, is very poorly executed: written in vile taste, without order or arrangement; and its pompous galimatias, conveying the tritest reflections in the most conceited language, affords a strange contrast to the simple and severe style of the Marquis himself, who employs the plainest language to give the most weighty information. We shall extract his character of Vendome.
'I am old enough to have known the Grand Prior, Vendome, younger brother of the celebrated Duke of Vendome; all whose good and bad qualities he possessed, but in a less proportion, From this it has resulted that he has acquired less glory than the Duke, and his memory will be less revered by posterity. But in the world, and in society, the Grand Prior has succeeded better than his brother, of whom I have heard, from eye-witnesses, stories of indelicate behaviour so singular, that I should report them here, were they not still more disgusting than laughable. It was by applauding these saloperies of the Duke that Alberoni made his fortune: so true it is that people succeed by means of all sorts, and that an Italian priest is not squeamish in making use of any of them.
It is certain that Vendome, particularly towards the end of his life, carried his dirty habits, and his laziness, to so great a degree