The age of Louis XIV



AT the beginning of the reign the genius of Colbert, the restorer of the national finances, was largely employed on the extension of commerce, then almost entirely in the hands of the Dutch and English. Not only a navy, but a mercantile marine was created; the West India and East India companies were both established in 1664. Almost every year of Colbert's ministry was marked by the establishment of a new industry.

Paris was lighted and paved and policed, almost rebuilt. Louis had a marked taste for architecture, for gardens and for sculpture. The law owed many reforms to this monarch. The army was reorganized; merit, not rank, became the ground of promotion; the bayonet replaced the pike, and the artillery was greatly developed. When Louis began to rule there was no navy. Arsenals were created, sailors were trained, and a fleet came into being which matched those of Holland and England.

Even a brief summary shows the vast changes in the state accomplished by Louis. His ministers seconded his efforts admirably. Theirs is the credit for the details, for the execution; but the scheme, the general principles, were due to him. The magistrates would not have reformed the laws, order would not have been restored in the finances, discipline in the army, police throughout the kingdom; there would have been no fleet, no encouragements of the arts; none of all those improvements carried out systematically, simultaneously, resolutely, under various ministers, had there not been a master, greater than them all, imbued with the general conceptions and determined on their fulfillment.

The spirit of common sense, the spirit of criticism, gradually progressing, insensibly destroyed much superstition; insomuch that simple charges of sorcery were excluded from the courts in 1672. Such a measure would have been impossible under Henry IV or Louis XIII. Nevertheless, such superstitions were deeply rooted. Everyone believed in astrology; the comet of 1680 was regarded as a portent.

In science France was, indeed, outstripped by England and Florence. But in eloquence, poetry, literature and philosophy the French were the legislators of Europe. One of the works which most contributed to forming the national taste was the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld. But the work of genius which in itself summed up the perfections of prose and set the mould of language was Pascal's Letters Provinciales. The age was characterised by the eloquence of Bossuet. The Telemaque of Fenelon, the Caracteres of La Bruyere, were works of an order entirely original and without precedent.

Racine, less original than Corneille, owes a still increasing reputation to his unfailing elegance, correctness and truth; he carried the tender harmonies of poetry and the graces of language to their highest possible perfection. These men taught the nation to think, to feel and to express itself.

The other arts had made little progress in France before this period. Lulli introduced an order of music hitherto unknown. Poussin was our first great painter in the reign of Louis XIII; he has had no lack of successors. French sculpture has excelled in particular.

And we must remark on the extraordinary advance of England during this period. We can exhaust ourselves in criticising Milton, but not in praising him. Dryden was equalled by no contemporary, surpassed by no predecessor. Addison's Cato is the one English tragedy of sustained beauty. Swift is a perfected Rabelais. Newton and Halley stand to-day supreme; and Locke is infinitely the superior of Plato.

To preserve at once union with the see of Rome and maintain the liberties of the Gallican Church--her ancient rights; to make the bishops obedient as subjects without infringing on their rights as bishops; to make them contribute to the needs of the state without trespassing on their privileges, required a mixture of dexterity and firmness which Louis almost always showed.

The one serious and protracted quarrel with Rome arose over the royal claim to appoint bishops. The French Assembly of the Clergy supported the king; but the famous Four Resolutions of that body were ultimately repudiated by the bishops personally, with the king's consent.

Dogmatism is responsible for introducing among men the horror of wars of religion. Following the Reformation, Calvinism was largely identified with republican principles. In France the fierce struggles of Catholics and Huguenots were stayed by the accession of Henry IV; the Edict of Nantes secured to the former the privileges which their swords had practically won. But after his time they formed an organization which led to further contests, ended by Richelieu.

Favoured by Colbert, to Louis the Huguenots were suspect as rebels who had with difficulty been forced to submission. By him they were subjected to constantly increasing disabilities. At last the Huguenots disobeyed the edicts against them. Still harsher measures were adopted; and the climax came in 1685 with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, following on the 'dragonnades' in Alsace. Protestantism was proscribed. The effect was not the forcible conversion of the Calvinists, but their wholesale emigration; the transfer to foreign states of an admirable industrial and military population. Later, the people of the Cevennes rose, and were put down with great difficulty, though Jean Cavalier was their sole leader worthy the name. In fact, the struggle was really ended by a treaty, and Cavalier died a general of France.





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