29 DECEMBER 1866, Page 18


FRANCE UNDER RICHELIEU AND COLBERT.* Winzzi the lectures composing this volume were first delivered at Edinburgh, the title chosen for them was "The Age of Louis XIV." The present name describes the book better. But in the former name there was an unconscious irony which we are almost sorry to lose. There was something grand in identifying Louis with a long period of great deeds and greater failures, when the deeds belonged to others and the failures were his only contribution. Yet Mr. Bridges, though he has altered his title, though in one or two places he acknowledges that the glories of Louis's reign were due to Colbert, that Louis found France rich and left her bankrupt, found general peace and plunged into useless and hopeless wars, found wise men and good generals, and either survived them or drove them into opposition,—is loth to draw the right moral, or even wholly to abandon his quondam hero. He goes so far as to • France under Richelieu and Colbert. By J. Bridges, M.B. Edinburgh: Edmenatou arid Douglas. 1M1a protest against Mr. Buckle's admirable exposure of Louis's vaunted patronage. He says that the conception of France, happy and prosperous at home, powerful and respected abroad, the centre of the European State system, and the leader of the movement of European thought, was not wholly wanting to Louis. But all he can urge in answer to Mr. Buckle is that some great men were left during the second half of Louis's reign, and that others were growing to manhood. Racine's chef d'oeuvre was published, he says, during the period which Mr. Buckle considers utterly barren ; Bossuet and Fenelon were still alive ; Vol.. taire was twenty-one, and Montesquieu twenty-six at the King's death. The argument would not have been so com- plete, but its fallacies would have been less blameable, had Mr. Bridges not passed over Phedre, Racine's real master-piece, and given the palm to Athalie. He might fairly have remembered that Bossuet's Oraisons were all delivered before 1688, and his chief works written, if not published. The book by which Fenelon's name is remembered was published in 1669. And nothing can be more fatal than the appeal to the name of Voltaire, whom Mr. Bridges himself had shown us two pages before "waiting like a wild beast chained till the cry of joy that rang through.France at the King's death should give the signal for the combat." It is possible that Louis may have had the conception of France for which Mr. Bridges gives him credit. But he certainly did not take the pains to realize it. Instead of dictating laws to other States, he made them all impatient of his attempted interference. He de- stroyed the French Navy, which Colbert's son had created; he squandered the surplus which Colbert had left, and loaded the country with the debt against which Colbert had striven ; he drove the most industrious workers of France into exile, and then, having given, his enemies all the materials of war—generals, soldiers, revenue, and thirst for vengeance — he rushed into war that all might be employed against him. We need not go beyond Mr. Bridges' own book for these details, nor for the further touch that while Louis was thus ruining his kingdom at the bidding of the Jesuits, he thought an atheist was infinitely preferable to a Jansenist.

We said that Mr. Bridges did not attempt to draw the right moral, and we attribute it to his belonging to the sect of the Positivists. A belief in France and a dislike of England are two of the first principles of this body. There is no reason why the Positivists should not believe in the country which gave them their apostle, but we object to their distorting history for the sake either of Comte or of his philosophy. Mr. Bridges talks grandly and vaguely about the laws of modern progress, when cause and effect are clear. He traces with much acuteness the course of events from the time when Richelieu broke the power of the nobles and strengthened the crown, till, both power and will being con- centrated hi the monarch, the edifice of the State fell with the fall of its one pillar. But to hint that the State would have been firmer on a broader basis is blasphemy against France and a tribute to the English Constitution. Mr. Bridges tells us that, if instead of strengthening the crown Richelieu had convened the States-General, he would have given supremacy to the very class against which he was contending—the great land- holders. We may fairly ask if this was the result of the next convocation of the States-General. Even if the seven- teenth century was not ripe for such a form of government, and if Richelieu's rule in itself was nearly perfect, the statesman must look to the future, and choose institutions for their durability more than for their temporary success. So long as there was a weak king governed by a great statesman, or a king who was himself a statesman, Richelieu's system might answer. Despotism would not be the best of governments even if you could always have a despot of supreme ability and the purest devotion to his people's interests. But these two conditions are necessary to a decent despotism, and the Positivists leave them out of sight. Mr. Bridges does not indeed commit all the excesses of his school. He talks of Christian civilization, and gives the Popes credit for being guided by wise and statesman-like instincts in stimulating Western Europe to the Crusades. What will Mr. Congreve say to such bigotry? How will he talk any longer of the presence of the Turks in Europe as a valuable protest against the exclusive claims of Christianity?

It is unfortunate that Mr. Bridges is too ready to follow the lead of his fellow-disciples on another article of the Positivist faith. He persists in glorifying the French Revolution without once looking at the facts on which he bases his eulogy. In one page he tells us that Richelieu pronounced forty-seven sentences of death on nobles, but only executed twenty-six of them, and adds, "a number which, like that of the victims of the guillotine, is far

less than the loud cries uttered against Richelieu's tyranny have led historians to imagine." Is it just to compare 27 capital execu- tions during 18 years with 1,285 in 45 days? Yet this is the result of Mr. Bridges' parallel. Then, he says, the Revolution of 1789 inaugurated a polity founded upon peaceful industry. He speaks twice within six pages of the glorious defence of their soil, which at the close of the eighteenth century the French Republicans maintained against the kings and aristocracies of Europe," com- paring it the second time to Marathon and to the struggle of William the Silent against the overwhelming forces and general- ship of Spain. He even strings together in one line, as fields at which the blood rises, Marathon and Salamis, Morgarten, Ban- nockburn, and Valmy. Those who have not read the history of the French revolutionary wars would of course conclude, as the Positivists mean them to conclude, that the kings and nobles of Europe made a united attack on France, and that France repelled them by heroic efforts. The overwhelming forces of the Persians at Marathon, the ships by thousands and men in nations of Salamis, the 20,000 Austrians crushed by 1,600 Swiss in the defile of Morgarten, were foemen whom it was a glory to overcome, and whose defeat was the making of a nation. If Mr. Bridges con- trasts the general conduct of the revolutionary wars with these battles, he ought not to forget that the allied Kings were never agreed, or united, or resolute. They took the field reluctantly because France declared war against them, but their efforts were directed elsewhere, and their hearts were with their efforts. The field of Valmy is even more unaptly chosen. The French had posted themselves so badly that they must have been beaten. One of their Generals saw it, and ordered his men to fill their pockets with potatoes, and be ready to break their ranks and slip away singly through the woods. The Prussians carried on a cannonade during the morning, and the explosion of some powder waggons in the rear of the French almost caused the flight of these revolutionary heroes. But at the very moment when the Prussians had got ready to attack in three columns, the Duke of Brunswick pronounced against fighting. If this makes Mr. Bridges' blood rise he must be easily excited. The account would rather make our gorge rise, if we were not diverted from contemplation of the incapacity shown by the allied Kings and aristocracies and of the safe violence of the Republicans, by the calumnies with which that incapacity is tortured into power, and that violence is magnified into heroism.

Now that we have shown Mr. Bridges what we consider his faults, and what are, to our thinking, very grave ones, we will let him show us one of his most conspicuous merits. The following brilliant scene reads well in a book ; we can conceive that it was still more successful in a lecture :—

" It is worth while to glance for a moment as eye-witnesses into old Paris during the month of August in 1648; not forgetting that the Ring of England was in Carisbrook prison then ; and that, in the year before, the Viceroy of Naples had yielded his power to a fisherman. The loud debates in the old Palais de Justice ; the grave lawyers, who, from time immemorial, had been the bulwarks of the monarchical authority against the feudal power, goaded into hot opposition ; the Parlament making common cause with the other sovereign Courts of Paris ; Pre- sidents Lamoignon, Talon, De Mesmes, Mold, strenuously attacking Mazarin's profligate expenditure with one hand, and with the other as strenuously pressing backward against Brouasel, the Roman tribune,' and other impetuous members of their own body, who in antique classical republican harangues were agitating for nothing less than a complete transference to themselves of the whole legislative power of the monarchy ; the people of Paris who, ever since the religious wars, had become a political power in France, with whom statesmen had to count, hanging on the lips of these grave agitators, and clamouring for the removal of the octroi just imposed on all provisions brought into the -city ; the noblesse, eagerly watching which party offered the best lever- age for the restoration of their power ; the proud Austrian Queen, half insolent, half piteous of the people's misery, not unwilling, were it less troublesome, to alleviate their distress, but chiefly scandalized at their disobedience ; Mazarin, her confidential minister (if not, as it was whispered, in a far nearer relation), the butt of that terrible Parisian sarcasm which, like the flash of the cannon, is so apt to be followed by its shot and shell, managing his foes and friends with smiling face and trembling heart, framing his hand-to-mouth budgets, amassing an enor- mous private fortune, yet never losing sight of that which alone redeems him, the high aim of his European diplomacy,—such was political life in Paris while the Thirty Years' War was being closed at Mfinster, Spanish armies alone standing stubbornly against young Conde in the Netherlands. The drama, after all, would have hardly aufficient interest for us, but for the inimitable skill of its narrators, who, like insects in amber, have immortalized their own and their friends' littleness in the brilliant transparency of their French style. We have memoirs of a Mademoiselle de Montpensier, bravest and unbashfulleat of Amazons, fighting and intriguing for a husband, royal, princely, ducal, or, if better might not be, at least noble ; of a Madame de Motteville, Queen's favourite, sweet, faithful, ladylike, the insolence of her caste and breed- ing contrasting so strangely with the delicate gentleness and candour of her nature ; finally, of the Archbishop, and arch-conspirator himself, John Francis Paul de Glondi, afterwards Cardinal de Retz ; intriguing over night with every disaffected man, whether prime of the blood*

parliamentary orator, hungry trader, or starving artisan; moving the market women to tears next morning, in the nave of Notre Dame, by eloquent discourses on the duty of forgiveness to enemies ; haranguing the mob from his coach, when the service was over, with cautious, cunning, stimulating exhortations to obey the Queen, and disobey her chosen minister ; presenting himself at Court in the afternoon with the cool, shrewd audacity of a Parisian gamin, and offering to quell the rioters ; and finding leisure in this busy life for scandalous intrigues with the most fashionable ladies of the period ; De Retz, bright-eyed, impudent ecclesiastical demagogue, vicious, witty, veracious hypocrite, has in his inimitable memoirs left photographic images of all that passed around him."