The later years of King Louis XV



WHILE 500,000 men were in arms over the election of an emperor, while Europe, America and India were being devastated, Frenchmen were absorbed in a petty warfare of the pen which made them forget Metz and Fontenoy, victories and disgraces, all that was setting Europe in turmoil. This was the mighty quarrel between the Paris Parliament and the ecclesiastical interest concerning the refusal of the sacraments to dying persons who would not accept the bull Unigenitus.

Thrice did the Parliament refuse to administer justice if its writs against the clericals were set aside, while the pacific king endeavoured to have all these matters referred to his own privy council, and exhorted, rebuked, or strove to conciliate the antagonists. The storm spread from Paris to the provinces. Finally, the king issued an edict forbidding the intervention of the Parliament and enjoining moderation on the clericals; but the decree was very ill received.

Great, however, was the public consternation when a certain Daniens, crazed with religious excitement, succeeded in approaching the person of the king and stabbing him. Doubtless, as the man declared to the last, it was not his intention to kill Louis, and his motive was 'religion'--in this case anti-clericalism. The wound was not mortal, and Damiens suffered the doom of Ravaillac, the assassin of Henry IV.

An attempt on the life of the King of Portugal, Jesuit in its origin, led to the expulsion of the order from Portugal in 1761; and this was shortly followed in 1764 by its suppression in France and in all the Spanish and Bourbon possessions in Europe, Asia and America.

Another controversy with the Papacy cost nothing but ink and paper; but money and blood were needed to bring Corsica into subjection to France. The island was peopled largely by descendants of the ancient Carthaginians and Saracens, as well as by aborigines. For many centuries they had been subject to the Genoese Republic, but had for long been in revolt. In 1837 they had appealed to France, which intervened spasmodically, being occupied with larger conflicts.

In 1755 Pascal Paoli became the Corsican leader, a man of great qualities, who did enough for glory, but not enough either to free Corsica or to become her absolute ruler. The Genoese efforts at conquest were foiled; at last, in 1768, the republic ceded the island to France, with a nominal right of repurchase.

The bargain was good for Genoa; but could France make her purchase good? Paoli and the Corsicans would not accept a mere change of masters. That the resistance was crushed at last was due to Choiseul, as also was the prosperity of the American possessions still left to France. His ultimate reward was exile.

On May 10, 1774, Louis died of smallpox--contracted because he had refused to protect himself by inoculation. The nation, hitherto violently prejudiced against this preventive, learnt the lesson.

THE legal reforms of Louis XV had been directed almost exclusively to establishing uniformity of procedure. The cruelties and absurdities of the criminal law, with all its arbitrary local variations, remained in force. Torture and confiscation of goods continued, though the first was entirely repudiated by the Greeks and Romans, and the second was only introduced by Sulla. French judges could still appeal to the tyrannies of Israelite kings for legal precedents. A majority of judges could still condemn a man to death, even when the protest of a minority demonstrated that the crime was not proved.

The same spirit of blind and narrow prejudice and ignorance which rejected inoculation for smallpox dealt the deadliest blows against the magnificent enterprise of the Encyclopedie. Nevertheless, it is certain that the knowledge of nature, the spirit which has challenged the time-honoured fables graced with the name of history, and a healthy metaphysic freed from the trammels and excrescences of scholasticism, are all the fruits of this age, and that reason has reached its highest perfection. The very experiments which have themselves been disastrous and ruinous failures have been incidentally the cause of valuable discoveries.





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