13 APRIL 1929, Page 35

The Latest Louis XI.

Louis XI. By Pierre Champion. (Cassell. 1.5s.) M. PIERB.E CHAMPION declares that he has no intention of Writing an apology for his hero. Yet that is what he has Written. He has, he says, no hope that such a bails as his will destroy the myth of the cruel monster invented by bis mortal enemies, and seized upon as copy by the novelists, yet that is what he obviously hopes to do. Louis XI. of France was not only, according to our author, the greatest of the French kings but a true patriot and, on the whole, a beneficent ruler. From first to last the witnesses have contradicted each other. Among his contemporaries Bishop Basin, and the Duke of Orleans, wrote of him with detestation, but Basin was his political opponent—anableand exaggerating paraph= leteer, and the Duke was Louis' son-in-law anxiously seeking divorce from the deformed daughter whom Louis had forced upon him for reasons of State. On the other hand, Commynes, who was the King's secretary and servant for eleven years and would have been his Prime Minister, could such an office have been tolerated by his master, suggests in his memoirs and supplies evidence for much the same portrait as the One here put before us.

True or false, so far as likeness is concerned Mr. Champion's picture is intensely interesting. For him, as for Michelet, Louis XI. is the sage of the fifteenth century, the passionate innovator, the anti-feudal revolutionary, and administrator of genius using all means to gain his ends, which were the unification of France, the crippling of the nobles, the elevation of the middle class, and the rood of the people. Born when the Court of France was at its most poverty-stricken, a few years before " The Maid " delivered the country, the com- panions of his childhood were not nobles. By some freak of nature he looked like a child of the people and all through his life his face and bearing were an offence to the ruling caste. He chose to speak as the people spoke and very often to dress as they dressed. It is not easy, M. Champion would have us believe, fOr the student of Louis' reign to find out his system of action. It must be traced backwards from his successes. He died having accomplished his heart's desire,

• " to be the prosperous proprietor of a domain called France." He lived from day to day but always for France. "Crafty and land loving," as his -own peasantry, astute and 'honey loving as his own bourgeoisie; with the bourgeois respect for order, and the peasant's capacity for hilarity And religious devotion, he completely -understood the people over whom he ruled. Ceaselessly on the move, he would travel from town to town often incognito, would drink with the innkeeper and his wife, and talk familiarly to his guides and his hosts. In emotional mood he would go on pilgrimage to a far shrine. On his way he would do several strokes of business, so did the townsmen and peasants of central France. M. Champion denies absolutely that he was a hypocrite. -though his piety and his conduct were by no means in the harmony demanded by present-day moralists. He taxed heavily for wars which perhaps he die, not seek, but also for what we should now call the advancement of civilization. When he was still Dauphin, ruling his province of Dauphine, he changed the whole aspect of town and country life. He set him- self to put down brigandage, to clean the streets of refuse, to legalize a system of care for the sick, including lepers. Part of the town taxes went to keep ramparts, and public buildings in repair. The citizens grumbled but fires and epidemics were reduced to a minimum, and foreigners mar- Veiled at the safety, health, and absence of squalor which they saw. Where health was concerned he was much in advance of his time, partly perhaps because he had, and was not ashamed of having, a very great fear of death, which he would not allow to be talked of in his presence. In personal cleanliness he was almost modern, even his houshold dogs were washed, and all slept upon raised benches.

It is obvious that his reforms had to be enforced, and paid for, but M. Champion sees no reason to believe any accusations of outstanding cruelty. The cage used by way of prison was a punishment of the time. Prisoners were caged in the halls of castles and palaces in order to keep them under observation. The special instances of long confinement told

of Louis do not seem to be authenticated. One or two instances are given of persons concerned who are latown to have engaged in work and pleasure luring the time of their suppes&I sentence. Household accounts which have been preserved do not suggest cruelty. They tell of almsgiving, and many compensations are shown in'ihem.• So much was paid for " the trampling down of a poor man's corn " for sheep. Worrying by the royal dogs, a sum goes to a poor woman whose cat the king's fasiourite hound has killed, money is given for the future education of a little chorister, when his voice shall break: We know that in putting down a riot he gave order's that only the great shoidd. receive punishment, we know that as Dauphin- he begged:for the lives of English prisoners, t`. were they not foreigners who had .been ordered to conquer our land and who did not _thine of their own accord v " Perhaps when he asked thiS fiVOur he was still under the 'influence of the great divine, Jean Gerson, who directed his education, and impressed upon him very success fully that all men-are spiritually equal: ' But, however well M. Chain-Pion may marshal -his facts, the great evidence of tradition remains, which is on the whole unfavourable, though it runs in a„..( double stream. Many townspeople thought him " a good friend, an excellent sportsman, and such a laugher as never was:, Strange ! we say as we look at the grave, rather feminine fabe, painted by Colin of Amiens 'and reproduced upon the first page. It is quite certain that he was very unkind to both his wives, the daughter Of Scotland, (flay and charming, feared him so that she ceased to love life-, the Second seems to; have been more contentedly cowed ! Yet he was, for his rank and time a moral man:* It 'was not 'jealousy which broke the spirit of the two ladies ! When his eldest boy died as a young child he received the news out hunting and in " the rage of his sorrow " he ordered half the forest to be cut down, just as a violent workman of yesterday might have broken up the furniture. Yet how humbly he carried himself on his death bed ! 'The only thing to be' said fOr certain seems to be that he was inscrutable, and that is the only quality that Colin of Amiens seems to have set himself to bring out in his features. His is indeed a wonderful picture, not we think in agreement with M.' Champion's.