THE COURT AND THE DESERT. * Tan subject of this novel
is the cruel persecutions of the French Protestants, which, beginning with the revocation of the edict of Nantes under Louis the Fifteenth, continued till the second half of the last century, and ended in the judicial murder of Calas. The object of the writer is to depict the unchangingly persecut- ing spirit of the Popish religion, arising from the substitution of the Church for God and its priests for a mediator, and at the same time to expose the spirit of lax irreligion which Popery allows to its nominal followers. The book itself consists of a very extensive picture of society in France about the year 1760. By means contributing little to the effect of the story as a fiction' but well enough adapted to answer the par- ticular purpose, the reader is carried behind the scenes of Louis the Fifteenth's corrupt court, and shown the principal actors engaged in their intrigues ; he is taken into the literary and philosophical society of Paris, and introduced to the most noted Encyclopedists and celebrities of the salons; the devoted, zealous, suffering Protestants of the Cevennes are depicted, though less fully and less dramatically than the court and the society of Paris; the gay insolence and licence of the nobility are not forgotten, while very fall justice is done to their loyal and gentlemanly spirit. The greatest elaboration of the writer is reserved for the French clergy of the period : the infidelity and corruption of the more worldly priests is clearly marked in a few characters ; the tyranny, cruelty, and unscrupulousness of the more serious, and the bigotry of the very best, are painted in the sternest style and with the darkest colours.
The book is a translation from the French ; and displays a large knowledge of the spirit as well as the facts of the time. It ex- hibits much dexterity in the 'planning of its incidents and scenes, great metaphysical ingenuity in selecting the qualities of the per- sons, and much literary cleverness in presenting them. The per- sons, however, are little more than abstractions or speaking pup- pets ; their dialogues are rather addressed to themselves than to the reader; and there is that species of forced smartness which though natural in some degree to Frenchmen seems artificial to us. The author has many qualities of the novelist,—knowledge of his subject, distinct purpose, liveliness of style, and considerable powers of description, reflection, and disquisition, the last too fre- quently interrupting the story : he wants—a great want—nature, and dramatic power. i
This want s more felt from the absence of a story ; that of the novel being too little connected with the principal events, and too constantly lost sight of to inspire the reader's interest ; while the two chief theological persons—Rabant, an active clergyman of the Protestants and representative of the truly Christian faith- Brisbaine, an excellent Roman Catholic priest, who at last can
• The Court and the Desert; or Priests. Pastors, and Philosophers, in the Time of Louis the Fifteenth. _ From the French. In three volumes. Published by Bentley.
scarcely overcome the evil training of his priesthood and allow of salvation beyond his church—are not in danger, scarcely in circumstances to excite care for the result ; and moreover they do little. Want of action, indeed, is the defect of the book ; for such action as there really is does not turn upon the persons of the no- vel, but whether Louis shall sign a decree of toleration or not, which his desnit confessor prevents him from doing by means of sheer terror.
Although not apparently so laboured by the writer, the King is the best conceived and most naturally developed character. He is not all good or all bad, any more than the rest of the dramatis per- sows; for the author is too skilful not to give some conscience or some good point to his worst men. Louis the Fifteenth is a na- tural and lifelike personage. The self-will of the absolute king is balanced by the good-nature of the man; the sense of duty in the monarch is not overwhelmed, but overborne by age and habitual indulgence ; the penetration of a mind not devoid of power or re- flection is rendered useless by its own inertness, and the custom Of leaning upon others ; and there is in plain colours the listless state of ennui and helplessness which sensualism had induced—the bur- den of himself which the monarch could not shake off, and which all the means of indulgence or amusement at his command had long failed to remove or even enliven. To be appreciated, the cha- racter must be perused in the book : this extract exhibits him upon one occasion. "The King, however, was not more dull, more ennuye than usual. The Marchioness de Pompadour had thought herself bound to signalize her brusque return to favour by brilliant fetes. The Château de Bellevue had lighted its numberless lustres ; the ancient crown forests, so mute and soli- tary since the King had ceased to care for the chase, had reawakened to the sound of the horn, to the bark of the hounds, to the loud tramp of galloping steeds rushing along the paths long invaded by brambles. But all these noises had resounded in vain in the desert heart of the King. These days, so filled with pleasure, had but made the vacuum the deeper; and although beforehand he had.iput little reckoned on a happier result, he had groaned in secret at not experiencing something different. In like manner, the invalid in vain assures himself that he had no faith in the efforts tilled to save him; it is always with a sad stupor that he sees their inutility confirmed.
"In this state, in which nothing can soothe his anguish, that which can best increase it is that there should be still a remedy that he thinks of, and yet of which he must still deprive himself. "This painful enhancement of his discomfort the King had for some days experienced.
The excitements of the gambling-table had from his youth been one of the great wants of his incurable ennui; but he had required the excitement to be constantly increasing, as the drinker requires his beverages to be more and more potent. For the last two or three years, piles of loins alone could stimulate him to shake off a little of this ennui. He often lost ; and as his dignity obliged him in case of success, to restore under other forms all that he might have gained, his 'card-money,' as they called it, was one of the heaviest items of his private budget. "Now, the Comptroller-General, M. de Silhouette, had just exacted the sup- pression of this item, either as a means of lightening the general expen or of authorizing still more important suppressions. The King had submitted to it; but suffered, in consequence, more and more every day. • * * "This very day, the alarming calculations of the Comptroller-General had not been able to prevent him from going back to the .question of his card- money—in private only, however, to the Duke de ChcaseuL We have seen that M. de Silhouette induced him to renounce it; we have seen also, how heavily this privation weighed upon him. Ever since the third or fourth day, without speaking of it, he had been meditating some means for its recovery. Take the money point-blank he dared not. M. de Silhouette was a serious personage ; the public, besides, had been made acquainted with the thing.. They had praised the King, and still more the Minister. In that way, con- sequently., there was nothing to be done. "The King had, therefore, broached the subject with the Duke de Choiseul. We shall see,' said the Duke ; but he asked nothing better than to reopen to the King the old path. It was already a piece of good fortune to have to ren- der him such a service. Choiseul had almost promised to procure the usual funds. So, after having sent for him for a very different purpose! the King, when his Minister arrived, had already ceased to think of anything but this most important matter. He took him at once into his cabinet. " 'Well, Duke, anything new ? '
"'Some despatches from Germany, Bice.' " Ah! from Germany,' said the King, in the tone of a man who has re- ceived a totally different answer from the one he hoped for. "News general, serious news, be it understood, interested him but little. He had always willingly lost the thread of an important narrative for the sake of a bit of town gossip. 'They have news from Bavaria,' wrote he one day to Madame de ClAteauroux. 'They are of the 13th December; but I have not seen them yet.' It was then the 3d of January. Madame de Chateaurour, who aspired to the role of Agnes Sorel, tormented herself a great deal about this strange indifference; Madame de Pompadour, on the contrary, took ad- vantage of it. "The King seemed on this occasion to care very little to know the con- tents of the despatches; but the Minister was glad to let him sigh a little for what he so much wanted to know.
"'Yes, Sire, from Germany. It seems that all is going on well there. The campaign has commenced rather late—in June.'
"'Which is very ridiculous,' said the King. "'Provisions are scarce and the transports difficult.' " 'According to the contractors.' "'Perhaps so. But here is Marshal Broglie established in Hesse. They are now occupied in laying Hanover under contribution.' "'Poor Hanover ! After Richelieu, Broglie! Have they been beaten ?' " ' Yes, near Clostercamp.'
"'The whole army ? '
"'One corps only, commanded by the Marquis de Castries. They have relieved Wesel, that the Duke of Brunswick was on the point of taking. He nearly beat us.' " 'About those contributions,' said the King, 'that they are likely to raise in Hanover ; shall we have nothing of them?' "'Nothing, Sire. It is very lucky for us that they cover a part of the expenses of the army.' But there will be at least, I understand, something to spare of the allotted funds ? '
" ' On the contrary ; the given sum is already exceeded. There will be several millions to add to it.'
"'But, in short, have you found me any money ? Am I to be the last served ?' " ' Your Majesty can do what you please. You may command ; but you are not ignorant of the fact that many eyes are at this moment fixed upon you.' " ' You say that the Duke of Brunswick was very near beating us ? ' " 'And.would have beaten us, Sire, but for the admirable self-devotion of an officer of the regiment of Auvergne, the Chevalier d'Assaa' "Another to be paid !' sighed the King. " 'No, Sire ; lids dead.' Si Ah
"They They were about to fall into an ambuscade. D'Assas, who marched in the van, is suddenly surrounded by enemies. They desire him to be silent, on pain of death. "To the rescue !" shouted he, "they are our foes!" and he falls covered with wouruls.'
"But the King had other things to do than to admire those who died for mm. He wanted his card-money ; he stuck to the point with the tenacity of a child who gets indignant at a too long protracted refusal. The Minister -NM that, unless he yielded now, there would be-no gratitude to-get.
"'Sire,' said he, 'all things considered, what you wish is not altogether impossible, perhaps. Some secret retrenchments on the funds of my mi- nistry will indemnify you for the loss of that which you were pleased to
relign.".;ind will no one know anything about it ?'
-" 'No one.'
"'But when they see me play?' The King has no account to render.' "lie accepted. Two days afterwards the affair was public. Who had betrayed the secret ? Perhaps the Minister ; perhaps the King himself, un- consciously. But he continued to believe that no one thought any harm of it; and as stolen fruit is always better, they say, than that which is gathered in one's own garden, he had never played with so much pleasure as with this money stolen from diplomatic intrigues."