11 OCTOBER 1924, Page 16



[COPYRIGHT IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BY THE New York Times.] A King's Lesson in Statecraft. Louis XIV.: Letters to Hi3 - Heirs. Introduction and Notes by Jean Longnon. Trans-

lated by Herbert Wilson. (London : Fisher Unwin. 9s.


A FRENCHMAN is never quite happy unless he is teaching, explaining, and using other processes of intellectual tidying up. Sometimes he does it by satire, sometimes by imaginative

suggestion, sometimes by pure comedy. The element of exposition and instruction is always there whether it is Rabe-

lais or Voltaire, Pascal, or Penelon, or Rossuet, Racine or Corneille, Balzae or Anatole France who speaks. The mood goes from top to bottom. Thus we have Victor lingo's " L'Art d'etre Grandpere," balanced by Louis XIV.'s "Reflec- tions on the Role of King," his instructions to the Duke of

Anjou, and the other lessons in statecraft contained in his memorandum and letters to his heirs.

Though what Louis XIV. has to tell us of statecraft has not the intellectual fascination, nor the penetrating observa-

tion, nor again the naivete' and innocence which would make a crossing-sweeper's description of his art and craft delightful,

we are heartily glad to have Louis XIV.'s pompous legacies so well set forth and so well edited, and we may add, so well translated as they are in this notable volume. The French editor, M. Jean Longnon, may be a little too adoring and take the great monarch a. little too seriously, but, after all, that is better business for his readers, and indeed for all concerned, than editorial comments which are a running stream of 'vitriol. As for the translation, it is very pleasantly executed.

It is never too colloquial, but keeps the King's wig as straight and as well brushed, his ruffs and laces as neat, and his gold-

headed cane as well" conducted "—as Pope would have said—

as they are in the royal original. The atmosphere is, in a word, well preserved. We see "the great, little man," as

Lord Mansfield contemptuously called the younger Pitt, strut before us in his habit as he lived. But though the

thoughts and aims of Louis XIV. rf;ust always be of interest, the concern of the world in him must be admitted to be accidental. Some men, like Peter the Great and Napoleon, are such dynamic human atoms, are so intensely energized, that one feels that they would have done great things and cast the world in new moulds in whatever epoch they had been born, and at whatever place. Nothing could have kept them down but the hand of death.

In Louis' case, however, time, opportunity and environ- ment were of the essence of the contract. The stage was greater and of more moment than the actor. Think what a setting he had in which to play his big part ! No man with a natural passion for posing and strutting ever had such a chance to display his gift as Louis had between 1655 and 1715. One might almost think that the " Adamantine Destinies" had determined to amuse themselves with a piece of drama in which the elements of Olympian irony and human

Hubris should be developed to the full. The seventeenth century was par excellence the age of pretension, though often pretension based upon great things. The high heels (scarlet

for nobility), the lace ruffles, the vast wigs, the flounces and the finery (even for the Infantry of the Line), the gilt coaches and the rouged ladies, were all swollen out with pretence. Everyone was on tip-toe and showing himself or herself off to

the best advantage and "taking the stage," whether he was a theologian, or a man of science, or an administrator, or a gaolor, or a tax-payer, but, of course, most of all if he were a general, or a diplomat, or a state:man. These last -played the

game of " Pretend " with greater vigour than it was ever played before in the Council Chamber. Everybody took and gave "secret and devious instructions" which, though of no particular use in themselves, were splendid properties in the great French melodrama. Take as a single example the Man in the Iron Mask. Very probably he had done nothing

specially wicked, and was not even innocent, and for all we know may have largely deserved severe punishment. Yet 'what a piece of stage-craft it all was. All concerned, including the victim, seem to have appreciated the opportunities given by the performance and to have used them for all they were worth. The velvet mask, with its silver springs, was a real . in plration ; and think of the mise en scene. The lie Sainte Marguerite, with its beautiful little bastions, its palms and its sea front, was just the prison for such a person. Think of

the Governor who could, in all solemnity, tell the fisherman that if he had been able to read the things scratched upon the silver plate he found in his net no power on earth could have saved him. The man was a master of his craft, and made his little bit of business an immortal effort.

But it was the same all through. Louis XIV. could not go campaigning in his gilded coach with his ladies light and heavy, "to view the passage of the Rhine," as we see him doing it in the exquisite Gobelirt Tapestry which commemorates the event, -without loading the whole performance with pretension.

Yet the pretension was done so well that very few-people saw the joke. Probably none in France saw it in this light, though one is proud to think that one Englishman certainly did— a great wit, and in his way a great philosopher, Matthew Prior. His Ode on the taking of Namur, and his pther racy bits a chaff about the "grand monarque," show that in his

case, at any rate, there was a perfectly gootb understanding of Louis' pose. Prior sat in the stalls and enjoyed the piece, though he was not the least taken in or Carried away by the actors of the tragi-comedy. If he had been questioned, however, he would no doubt have told us that what he admired most were the little gentlemen in the fairly plain coats, Colbeit and Vauban. They provided the stage machines, which were even more important to the drama than the paint, pasteboard, and tinsel of Royalty.

- The proper way to enjoy Louis XIV.'s L'Art cretre Roi is to think of it as a piece of play acting, and not as a serious work on statecraft, or even of " tatism," that terrible engine of tyranny and the sterilization of the body politic, and also of the nation's soul which grew out of Louis XIV.'s policy, though he had not himself a very clear conception of

the science he was practising. If we do not look for great penetration of thought, or for originality, or for signs of the life-urge in Louis' writing, but are content with the obvious and the conventional, and the obvious and conventional clothed tamely and pompously rather than poignantly, we shall not be disappointed. I will go so far as to say that, in spite of the want of that vividness and greatness which we found in the writings of Napoleon or in the sayings of Peter the Great, there is, nevertheless, a certain element of greatness in some of Louis' remarks. A sign, however, of the essential pettiness of the man is that he took himself so mighty seriously.

He really believed his flatterers and enjoyed their flattery. though in the usual conventional way of kings he pretended to be able to read them like an open book. When a flatterei said to Napoleon in awed tones, "What would happen.

Your Majesty, if you were to die suddenly ? What would your people say or do ? " the Emperor replied that they would not be the least perturbed. They would only say, " Pouf I That's over I " If the same question had been put to Louis XIV., he would, no doubt, have thought to himself that

that was the business of the Almighty, though it was obvious that if He was not careful in the matter there would be the most terrific bouleversement.

What I have said about the rather tepid and conventional nature of the great monarch's statecraft as expressed by himself is to be found in his rather disagreeable dissertation on treaties. After quoting some examples of bad faith or bad observation of their obligations by the Swedes, which he describes, he makes these general remarks to his grandson :—

" From this I think you should learn two things ; one, that neither the sanctity of treaties, nor the good faith of promises once given are strong enough to hold back those who by nature are untrustworthy; and the other, that for the execution of our plans we must base them only on our knowledge of our own capa- bilities. Although it is incumbent on the probity of a Prince to keep his ,word under all circumstances, it is not prudent in him to trust that of others absolutely. We should also realize that in -this matter the strongest precautions are useless. There is no clause so dearly defined that it does not encounter varied interpretations, and the moment one has taken the resolution to go back upon it, a pretext can easily be found. In treaties everyone uses words to suit present interests, but the majority endeavour afterwards to explain their words according to the circumstances as they arrive, and when the reason which made

them give their undertaking no longer exists, few people are found to make their promises hold good.

That sounds not only magnificent, but rather magnanimous ; but when we get a little further we find passages like the following :—

" Elsewhere I was maintaining relations with the Catholics in Ireland, and had already destined troops to go there on the appearance of any rising in that island. I had also some corre- spondence with a remnant of the Cromwell faction, from whom I received various propositions, among others from Sidney, an English gentleman, who promised me to stir up important risings ; but his proposal that I should advance a hundred thousand ecus made me distrustful of his promises, and, being &willing to risk so large a sum on the faith of a fugitive, I only offered him twenty thousand ecus down, with an understanding to furnish his ad- herents with the rest immediately they appeared in a condition to be of service to me."

Another example of the King's double dealing is the following. It is to be found in the course of a dissertation on the wise use of money :—

"I maintained pensioners in Ireland with the object of stirring up the Catholics against the English, and I entered into relations with certain refugees from England to whom I promised to furnish large sums to resuscitate the remnant of the Cromwell faction. I gave a hundred thousand &us to the King of Denmark to make him enter the league against the King of Great Britain, and after that presented a valuable necklace to the Queen, his wife. I had another sent to the Electress of Brandenburg and made a present of considerable value to the Queen of Sweden, not doubting that these Princesses (over and above the general interests of their States) would feel honoured in their persons by the pains I took to seek their friendship. Being aware of the credit which the Chancellor enjoyed in Sweden, and what power the Prince of Anhalt and the Comte de Schwerin had with the Elector of Brandenburg, I did what I could to win them over by my liberality."

• One more quotation to illustrate the "great little man's" outlook on the world may be given, for it is specially interesting as showing how a commonplace man may feel who is shot by Inheritance into the position of that of the King of France. After telling his grandson how as a young man he laid out his time, and especially how he permitted people to talk to hirn freely about affairs of State, "with the exception of foreign ministers who sometimes find too favourable moments in the familiarity allowed to them, either to obtain or to discover something, and whom one should not hear without being previously prepared," he proceeds (Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs please note !) :—

" I cannot tell you what fruit I gathered immediately I had taken this resolution. I felt myself, as it were, uplifted in thought and courage ; I found myself quite another man, and with joy re- proached myself for having been too long unaware of it. This first timidity, which a little self-judgment always produces and which at the beginning gave me pain, especially on occasions when I had to speak in public, disappeared in less than no time. The only thing I felt then was that I was King, and born to be one. I experienced next a delicious feeling, hard to express, and which you will not know yourself except by tasting it as I have done. For you must not imagine, my son, that the affairs of State are like some obscure and thorny path of learning which may possibly have already wearied you, wherein the mind strives to raise itself with effort above its purview, more often to arrive at no conclusion, and whose utility or apparent utility is repugnant to us as much as its difficulty.'

There is, no doubt, a good deal of common sense in many parts of the King's anatomy of Kingcraft, but somehow it is, difficult to feel that it is not tainted by the egoism and narrowness of the cruel and heartless pedant who penned it. In truth, the man had no passion in him. He was cold- blooded and reptile-hearted. Therefore, though he was riot a brutal madman like Peter the Great, or a dark-souled disciple of Machiavelli, Caesar Borgia and the Condottieri like Napoleon, one likes them better than the man in the wig, for both were intensely human.

Neither could have written the very sensible but yet tepid and disagreeable advice to the Due d'Anjou on how to smother his feelings when he was inclined to say bitter things. The King, he says, must be careful never to show Ike least mark of contempt for a private individual, because the circumstances, as he explains with unusual insight for him, take away the two things which as a rule console a man for "stinging banter" or contemptuous word uttered by one of his fellows. The first of these consolations is that the man promises himself to take his revenge. The second is that he is able to persuade himself as a rule that the thing said to his disadvantage by one of his fellows will not make much impression on those who heard it. "But the man about whom the Prince has spoken feels his hurt all the more keenly because he has not any of these remedies. He cannot get his revenge and he cannot pretend to himself that the contemptuous remark will fall flat, because he knows with what delight the words of those in authority are received daily."

But it is not often that the King chatters as interestingly or as originally as this. As a rule he is puffing out his chest and strutting on paper before his grandchild and the other descendants whom he envisages reading his words of wisdom. Oddly enough, too, whenever he does seem to have made an epigram, it can be turned against himself. Take one of these rare examples—his remark about clever people : "The beaux esprits by profession have not always belles (Imes, and in the belles choses which they utter in public they rarely refuse to take care of their own particular interests." The cap fits the King exactly. So much for Louis XIV.'s " haver- ings " on subjects which were for the most part a good deal above the intellectual plane in which he usually moved ; but one must be fair, after all, to this tyrant in a naturalistic periwig of vast size crowned with laurel. That is how we see him in the delightful reproduction of an engraving after the pastel by Nanteuil in the frontispiece of this book.

Though Louis XIV. preached rather badly, I am bound to say that the practice of the principles which he so clumsily and half-heartedly proclaimed was, on the whole, distinctly efficient. His diplomacy, though tortuous, was ingenious and successful till he met his match first in our Dutch William and then in Marlborough. Yet, on the whole, he is more likely to live as the creator of Versailles than as a master of policy. Nevertheless; Versailles though his glory was his ruin. It is a curious fact that far more monarchs have been ruined by architects and master-builders than even by mistresses. The man with a plan in one hand and a spirit-level in the other is a far greater danger to kings than any Cleopatra or Nell Gwynn. George IV.'s squalid "lubriques" amours did much less harm to his good name and even to his finances than Cannon House and the Pavilion.