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The Scot Abroad
Chapter 3 - The Statesman - Part 2


Another diplomatist whom I propose to call up, represented the United Kingdom of Great Britain; and it is curious enough that, after the lapse of half a century, during which the power of Louis XIV. had waxed and waned, we find the story of Dunkirk taken up and continued by a Scottish diplomatist. The lamentable transaction by which the fortress was sold to France is only too well known. The great Vauban soon afterwards expounded his system of fortification, which, by inexhaustible flanking works, was to render any swamp impregnable, if sufficient money and skill were expended on it. Colbert, whom we have found boasting of his Scottish descent, resolved to employ the great resources of France in raising a fortress at every extremity of the scattered empire of Louis. Besides the states it had absorbed in central Europe, it had a footing in Hindostan; and in the New World it bade fair for pre-eminence. Quebec, and the other Canadian forts, with the vast deserted ruins still visible in Nova Scotia, are remnants of the great works which, by fortifying the extremity of her frontier, seemed to be the steps by which France was gradually marching to the dominion of the world.

If the distant extremities were protected by works so costly, those opposite to the state which rivalled France and domineered over the sea were of course still more elaborately fortified. The works at Dunkirk became the wonder of the day; and topographical writers luxuriate in the description of the ten bastions, the half-moons, the great circumvallation of sand-mounds, and the ship-canal, uniting to form what Cherbourg became a hundred and fifty years afterwards. It was built to command the Channel, by affording an impregnable refuge to the fleets and the privateers of France. It was the natural resource of a nation unable to cope with us on sea, but strong on shore, to have places of refuge for her ships—a policy indeed so sound, that in the late war it saved for Russia all that she preserved of her marine force behind the walls built by a Scots engineer. The fortifications of Dunkirk were an object of strong alarm to Britain. At the treaty of Utrecht, while many more conspicuous advantages were abandoned by Britain, the destruction of these works was demanded and conceded. But it was believed that the French were again warily reconstructing them, and Lord Stair was sent to Paris to insist that the works should be stopped. Old age had crept on the Grand Monarque, accompanied by many humiliations; but this seemed the worst of all, that he should be controlled in the operation of ordinary public works, as if he were a sharp tenant on a building lease, who desired to overreach his landlord. Yet too many incidents in his brilliant history show that his observance of treaties was only to be relied on when he did not dare to violate them. Stair insisted on the works being stopped.

The Ambassadors pertinacity was extremely irritating to Louis. He became petulant and querulous; said he had heretofore ruled the affairs of his own dominions, sometimes those of others,—and was he to be controlled in the execution of certain canal and harbour works, calculated for the benefit of his poor subjects? But the Ambassador was firm: there were many other shapes in which works beneficial to the subjects of France might be carried out; these had the unfortunate effect of giving alarm to the merchants of England, and they were contrary to treaty—they must be abandoned. Louis sulkily yielded, leaving certain incompleted works to bear testimony against the rigidity of British diplomacy.

It was the fortune of Lord Stair’s embassy to exercise a considerable influence over the destinies of France. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Duke of Orleans as Regent. Louis XIV., in the fulness of his divine right, had settled the government of the kingdom by bequest. His will was set aside by the Parliament of Paris. It was thought that the States-General---which was the nearest parallel to a parliament in the British sense of the term—.should have been summoned on such an occasion, and that the adjustment should not have been left to a mere executive or official body like the Parliament of Paris. In truth, however, it was like many other events in French history—a coup, executed by the Duke of Orleans in the plentitude of his influence. Lord Stair was conspicuously present in one of the lanterns, or enthroned seats; and it was said by some of the contemporary annalists that this was suggested by the Abbé Dubois, for the purpose of proclaiming the support of Britain to the claims of the Duke. The assertion of some annalists of the period, that the Duke carried his point by intimidation, and that he brought with him an overwhelming armed force, is contradicted flatly by Voltaire, who says he was present,—that there was no more than the usual ceremonial display of military force, and that the Duke took his place as one who held it by etiquette and natural right.

By some writers, the influence which Stair exercised on this occasion has been carried far beyond the bounds of mere ceremonial countenance. It is said that, as the representative of the house of Hanover, which superseded the house of Stewart, he whispered into the ear of the ambitious Duke that it would be the interest of the new line of British monarchs to countenance a new line of French monarchs, which the junior branch of the house of Bourben might begin in the person of the Duke himself. There is no doubt that the Duke often consulted Stair; that the British Ambassador had a greater influence with him than the old French party liked. It is curious to connect the accounts rendered by men who died before the first Revolution of the advice given by the Ambassador, with the career of Egalité, and with the actual possession of the crown of France for eighteen years by Louis Philippe, the grandson of the Regent.

Stair had disagreeable duties to perform. He represented that first Government of the Hanover dynasty which, by its jealous severity towards its parliamentary opponents, created the Jacobite insurrection. He was enabled to provide his Government with information which, had they been active, might have enabled them to put down the attempt without either the soldier or the hangman. His precautionary warnings would have been a more agreeable duty had they been more successful, but the duty that remained was eminently unpleasant. Knowing that the Chevalier was going to pass through France on his way to Scotland, he demanded that the French Government should intercept him. He obtained an order from his friend the new-made Regent; but as Sismondi says, "Contades, chargé de cet ordre, etoit bien résolu à ne pas trouver celui qu’il cherchoit." Stair knew this very well, and made his own arrangements, through a man named Douglas, to catch the Prince; but the emissary and his followers were baffled by the dexterity of a maitresse de poste; and the Chevalier, after trying several points in vain, reached Dunkirk, where he was probably all the more easily enabled to embark, from the dismantling and abandonment of the fortifications which his pursuer had so rigidly carried out.

After the failure of the Chevalier’s enterprise, the disagreeable duties had to be resumed. There can surely be nothing more uncongenial to a fair and generous mind than to drive a fallen exile from his chosen place of retreat, and yet sometimes this must be done. To France the possession of the exiled British Court was the possession of a political weapon, by which Britain might at any time be threatened, or, if need be, wounded. it was a weapon which the rulers of France used entirely for present objects, and who shall blame them? Without committing some great crime, it was impossible to prevent foreign nations from including the cause of the exiled Stewarts in their game. But it was possible to keep the exiles at a distance from those courts with which their immediate connection was chiefly dangerous, it was the first point of all— the most important, yet the most difficult to be attained—that they should not remain within the soil of France. Such was the demand, and the Regent was obliged to comply.

No doubt throughout the tone of Lord Stair’s embassy there is a character of haughtiness and harshness not immediately reconcilable with the character earned by that ambassador, of having exceeded the most courtly Frenchman of his day in polished suavity and thorough knowledge of court etiquette, but he had an object before him which, under whatever suavity it was varnished, could not be accomplished without the fortiter in re. He had to bring Britain up to a par, in European consideration, with the position which the victories and fame of the Great Louis had achieved for France; and the task was all the more arduous, since the opportunity of accomplishing it, so signally afforded by Marlborough’s victories, had been lost at the Treaty of Utrecht. Britain owes him a good deal. He gave her diplomacy that manly tone which, when in proper hands, separates it entirely from the trickery of the Italian school. He taught practically that, at the conference-table, Britain must trust, not to skilful evasion, or happy dubiety of tone, but to her own strength, and the just moderation with which it is used. He taught that the true spirit of British diplomacy was plainly to ask what the country demanded, and to obtain fulfilment of that demand, neither abating it because the opponent is found to be strong, nor increasing it because he is found to be weak.

The French disliked him cordially. In the success with which he exacted the fulfilment of offensive demands, they saw the humiliation of their own rulers. Many offensive stories were mixed with his name. It was the fate of Britain at that time to have two representatives abroad whose ancestral names were associated with a great political crime still fresh in men’s minds, and well known wherever there were any adherents of the Stewarts—the massacre of Glencoe. Lord Glenorchy, the representative of the old wolf Breadalbane, was ambassador first to Denmark, and afterwards to Russia. Lord Stair was the son of the politic instigator of his Highland vengeance. Gloating over such a precedent, some letterwriters of the day accused Stair of what surely it is safe to call a crime that no British ambassador could be guilty, of—a design to assassinate the Chevalier. To show the spirit that was in his blood, a story was invented how an ancestor— called, in ignorance of the family name, Sir George Stair—had, from sheer love of a bloody gratification of his vengeance, obtained the privilege of acting the part of the masked executioner who beheaded Charles I. But, assailed as he was by a powerful French combination, it was the lot of the man who had bullied Louis XIV., and bent the Regent to his will, to fall before the predominance of an Edinburgh silversmith. He was recalled because he would not recommend himself to the countenance of John Law.

This seems the right time for bringing that notorious celebrity himself on the stage.

The French, who are said to forget their great men after a generation has passed over their tombs, still take a lively interest in the history of John Law. Probably there is something peculiarly adapted to their ardent taste in its meteoric character. Every historian who tells them the history of the regency, from Voltaire to Sismondi, braces himself up to the full tension of his powers of description and excitation as he approaches the great Mississippi scheme. But it is perhaps the most remarkable testimony to the popularity of the subject, that one should be able to pick up for a couple of francs, in the French Railway Library (the Bibliothèque des Chemins-de-fer), an amusing volume, called ‘Law—son Système et son Epoque,’ par P. A. Cochut. It must be admitted that the French historians are not always complimentary to the pilot of that storm. They had many provocations to attack him, and he offered, in the conditions by which he was surrounded, many avenues of attack. If a nation will submit to feel grateful for the services of a foreigner, it will never patiently endure injuries or calamities at his hands. The social position of John Law was not fixed on a sufficiently lofty pedestal to stand the fastidious criticism of a people who were the most aristocratic in Europe, down to the period of reaction, when it became a sin against democracy to speak of a Regent and Comptroller - general. If Cochut says, "Etait - II ou non gentilhiomine?" a question which, he says, caused much serious and determined debate at one time, and is not without its interest now.

The fact is, that he was in the position which we so well understand in this country, but which foreigners cannot comprehend, where a person is a gentleman or not, just as he possess, or is deficient in, certain qualities of the head and heart, promoted by certain petty indefinable social advantages. To those who chose to believe in him as a gentleman, he was Law de Lauriston, with a significant patronymic title; while his enemies could say, that any man rich enough to buy an estate in Britain could call his land and himself by what name he pleased. He was an Edinburgh silversmith, which sounded ill abroad, but had little significancy here. As in some other trades, it did not tell whether its owner was a mere retailer, or a merchant who dealt in large affairs, and was more likely than a provincial squire to be a gentleman. He might be a mere vendor of tooth-picks and pencil-cases; but, on the other hand, he might be a large dealer in bullion and money, whose transactions affected the monetary system in his country. George Heriot, his predecessor in his profession, married into the titled family of Rosebery; and Law married, without apparently any consciousness of inequality, the Lady Catherine, daughter of the Earl of Banbury; while, in the days of his pride and power, the house of Argyll was glad to claim kindred with him, through his mother, who was a Campbell.

After his fall, it was, however, ominously remarked against him that, even during the height of that pride and power, one fellow-countryman kept at haughty distance from him, and it was significant that this was the British ambassador. Stair thought at one time that the schemer was likely to make France too powerful a rival in trade and colonisation to England. He thought subsequently that the system was to ruin a country which he wished to see kept under the level of Britain, but not utterly destroyed. He adhered to his opposition with honourable firmness, alike disdaining the allurements of advantageous allocations which had bought over the greatest men in France, and coolly defying the threats of his own Court, which, protesting that it could not afford to be offensive to so great a man as the Comptroller-general, threatened to recall him. On the whole, it was a sight flattering to the pride of Scotland, to see in this conspicuous arena two of her sons rising so high above the level of all around them, and bidding each other stern defiance, each from the standard of his own fixed principles.

But leaving the question of Law’s family and social position where we found it, let us cast a glance on a few of those incidental characteristics of the greatness of his talents, the boldness of his policy, and the vastness of his influence, which are shown to us by the results of late inquiries. It is a historical vulgarism to speak of this man as a gambling adventurer, capable only of imposing on a confiding public with a glittering and hollow plan for making money. An adventurer perhaps he must be admitted to have been, but in the sense in which Ceasar, Artevelde, Wolsey, and Napoleon were adventurers. He was a statesman who looked far into the distant future for the results of all his acts—an erring statesman if you will, but still a great one. He firmly believed that he would raise up in France a power that would struggle with and put down the waxing commercial greatness of England. Nor can we well charge the project as criminally unpatriotic. Scotland and England had not been so long in union as to feel themselves one people; and when Law threw his interests into another nation, the old ally of Scotland, he did what in his father’s day would have been deemed an act of patriotism.

In the course of a series of letters to the English Court, full of alarming prognostications, we find the British ambassador saying, "You must henceforth look upon Law as the first minister whose daily discourse is that he will raise France to a greater height than ever she was, on the ruins of England and Holland." And again: ‘He in all his discourse pretends he will set France much higher than ever she was before, and put her in a condition to give the law to all Europe; that he can ruin the trade of England and Holland whenever he pleases; that he can break our bank whenever he has a mind, and our East India Company. He said publicly the other day at his own table, when Lord Londonderry was present, that there was but one great kingdom in Europe and one great town—and that was France and Paris. He told Pitt that he would bring down our East India stock; and entered into articles with him to sell him, at twelve months hence, £100,000 of stock at 11 per cent under the current price. You may imagine what we have to apprehend from a man of this temper, who makes no scruple to declare such views, and who will have all the power and all the influence at this Court." Such passages have not inaptly been compared with the boastings of Napoleon when he issued the Berlin and Milan decrees.

It involves no approval of the Mississippi scheme, or even of the conduct of its founder, to say that there was more soundness in Law’s views, and even in his practical proposals, than the world has been disposed to concede to them, and that many of the calamitous results of the affair were caused by their not obtaining fair play; or, perhaps it might be better said, because they got too much play. In reading that eventful chapter in history, it is but justice to separate two things from each other— what Law proposed, from what the French Government and people did. All his suggestions were subjected to that "ergoism," as it is aptly termed, of the French, which makes them drive every opinion ruthlessly to its utmost logical conclusion —that spirit so well exemplified in Robespierre, when it was said that he would slay one-half of mankind to get the other half to follow his principles of rigid virtue. Hence whatever Law commenced, was carried out to its utmost extreme; and when there arose the faintest reactive misgiving, the foundations of his complicated structure were at once kicked away, and the whole toppled down in ruin.

The utter prostration of the patient’s condition when the new physician ‘took her in hand, is not to be conceived. Louis XIV., with his costly triumphs, and the dire vengeance taken for them, had left the country destitute of ships, of commerce, of agriculture, of money, of hope itself. There had just been a savage hunting-down of farmers -general, monopolists, and other persons who were supposed to have enriched themselves at the public expense. But the slaughter and pillage of a few millionaires would not make up for the prostration of enterprise and industry.

The foreigner who offered to cure these constitutional disorders did not come as a nameless and needy wanderer. He was a favourite among the European courts, where he had dazzled the eyes of the smaller monarchs with visions which they sighed to reflect that they had not ready capital sufficient to realise. He is described as very handsome, very accomplished, and of marvelously fascinating address. More than all, he did not come empty-handed. He was in possession of a sum said to be a hundred thousand pounds in English money, which, with his usual sanguine impetuosity, he threw into his own scheme, and there lost. He was accused of having realised this money at the gaming-table. No doubt Law gambled; it was a prevalent vice of the day, only too congenial to a temperament so vivacious and susceptible. But he does not appear to have ever condescended to petty dissipated gambling. His practices had more of the character of stock-jobbing. He played with princes and ministers that he might strengthen his hand to hold a political part in European history; and he was rather too successful in accomplishing his object.

I am not going to offer a new history of "the System," but shall here notice only those incidents of violent oscillation, which show how remorselessly the complex plans of the ingenious speculator were dashed backwards or forwards, according to the prevalent humour or panic of the moment ‘When he had gathered together the threads of all the various funds and projects which were absorbed within the mighty "System," it was announced that the company could pay 200 livres on the shares which had cost 1000 livres.

This was 20 per cent—a very pretty dividend, which, with interest at 4 per cent, made each thousand livres’ share worth 5000. But the public would not leave them at this humble figure; and though there was no promise of a prospective enlargement of the already enormously enhanced dividend, they bade them up, in the mad contests so often described by historians, until they reached 10,000 livres; an increase in their original value of 900 per cent. The impetuosity with which the "actions" rose was such, that ere two men could conclude a bargain for sale with the utmost possible rapidity, a difference of some thousands of livres had arisen in the value of the article sold; and in this way, messengers who were sent to sell stock at eight thousand, for instance, found that, if they could but linger a few minutes at the mart, the stock would rise to nine thousand, and they might pocket the difference.

There has been wild enough work of this sort in our own country; but the peculiarity of the great French system was, that whenever the popular mania took a particular direction, the Government beckoned it, urged it—nay, coerced it—on to the utmost extreme. The public mind was so well saturated with Law’s aversion to the precious metals and preference for paper money, that for once gold became a drug in the market. People who chose might hoard it, but none, save a few eccentric exceptions to the prevailing opinions, then wished to hoard. All were under a sort of trading fever; they must be speculating and increasing their wealth; and with so worthless a thing as gold there was no use of trading, for no one would take it. Thus, to the eminent satisfaction of the leaders of opinion, the precious metals were rapidly streaming out of the kingdom into countries still so benighted as to deem them worthy of possession.

Still there were a few—a very few—people of sceptical and saturnine temperament, who, distrusting the "System," were suspected of having secret hoards of the precious metal in their possession. This was a sort of treason against the system, and must not be permitted. Accordingly, that celebrated edict was issued, which required that no person or corporation could legally possess more than 500 livres in specie, whether it were in coined money or in the shape of plate or ornaments. A sort of insane aversion to the precious metals—a simple desire to put them out of existence—is the best account that history gives of this affair. But we can suppose that the design of Law himself was to bring the bullion into his bank, and make a metallic basis, somewhat on Sir Robert Peers system, for his paper currency. Bullion did, in fact, flow into the bank, to the extent, in three weeks, of 44 millions of livres—about 5½ millions sterling; but it passed through as from a sieve, not apparently in the slightest degree to the regret of the Regent and his courtiers.

The dilapidation which the law of confiscation created among the family plate in the great houses may easily be imagined; but such a trifling inconvenience was not to be permitted to impede the onward progress of the system. The law was carried out with rigour and cruelty. The police were directed to make domiciliary visits, and the informer received one-half of the forfeited treasure. It would appear, from an anecdote, that whoever had served the public by denouncing a bullion-keeper, might retain what he had so worthily acquired. One day the President Lambert de Varmon appeared before the chief of police, and stated that he was prepared to denounce a criminal possessed of 5000 livres’ worth of bullion. The chief was shocked somewhat; he thought the rage for denunciation was spreading far indeed, when so amiable and excellent a man was infected by it. "Whom was he to denounce?" Himself. He knew no other way of saving a moiety of his plate.

As part of his grand project for resuscitating France, and lifting her to a height of greatness far above that achieved by the great monarch who had just passed to his account, Law proposed to carry out the greater portion of those internal reforms which France has subsequently adopted; having effected some of them by peaceful degrees, and others by sudden violence. But the relentless vehemence with which the Government proposed immediately to enforce all these radical changes effectually defeated them.

It was part of his plan to abolish the infamous corvée, ‘with all the multitudinous feudal taxes, and to establish a capitation and property tax. Doubtless the exemptions enjoyed by the nobility would have been swept away before the paper hurricane as they fell in the great day of sacrifices at the commencement of the Revolution, and the Government again was not to impede the system on so trifling a consideration; but the reaction postponed the sacrifice for half a century. Farther, Law anticipated the beneficent policy of Turgot, in a proposal to abolish the provincial restrictions and monopolies which interrupted the trade of the country, and made Frenchmen strangers to each other. He had a vast colonisation scheme, which was to serve two objects. It was to raise up a French empire in America, which, beginning in the valley of the Mississippi, should radiate thence and pervade the whole of the western hemisphere. It was to be at the same time a means of removing the damaged and surplus population of France, and sweetening the blood of the country.

No sooner was the scheme proposed than the Government plunged into it with its wonted impetuosity. On the morning of the 19th September 1719, the bells of St Martin gave forth a wedding-peal; it was no mere private joy-peal, but some thing that might announce a royal wedding or some other important ceremony. All the people are on the alert; and behold there wind through the street one hundred and eighty damsels, dressed in white, with garlands of flowers, each attended by a bridegroom suitably apparelled. They move onwards with signal regularity and precision; and no wonder,—they are chained together with iron fetters, and on each side of them marches a file of musqueteers. These are the female convicts of the prison of St Martin des Champs, each mated with a suitable husband from one of the other prisons, and the whole are to be shipped off to form an earthly paradise in the West. It had been well had matters stopped with the prisons; but a kind of emigration rapacity seized upon the Government. They looked around with greedy eyes, finding this or that darn-aged part of the population, and immediately amputating it for removal.

It was as if a universal press-gang were abroad. People hid themselves, and were dragged forth from their hiding-places, lodged in some prison, and marched down in chains to a vessel. At Rochelle a gang of one hundred and fifty women fell on their keepers and tore them. The guard fired on the amazons, killing six and wounding many others. At the same time the wildest exaggerations were published, to encourage voluntary emigration. Some deep politicians thought it would assist the progress of French aggrandisement in the West, and make the Parisian Empire that was to cover the New Hemisphere arise more rapidly, were some French blood infused into the native royal races of North America. Accordingly the Queen of Missouri was induced to come to Paris to select a husband. The fortunate object of her choice was a stalwart sergeant in the Guards, named Dubois. A disagreeable condition said to be attached to the new dignity probably impeded more distinguished candidates. The Queen of Missouri, being a Daughter of the Sun, was entitled to cut off her husband’s head if he displeased her; and rumour went that Dubois the First actually suffered the penalty of this rigid discipline. But all distinct record of his fate was lost in the tangled mixture of wild adventures encountered by the thousands who were un-shipped on the desert shore—shovelled, as it were, into a strange land swarming with savages, and left there to struggle for life and food.

The Government was ready to do anything—to banish the Parliament from Paris—to hang a member of one of the first families in Europe—to confiscate fortunes and abolish powers and privileges—if it appeared that the act was likely to have the faintest efficacy in establishing the universal dominion of "the System." In the same manner, ‘when the first breath was blown on it, instead of leaving it to struggle on or die naturally, they turned on it and rent it. The first symptom of alarm was the high price of commodities. They mounted, though not by such extravagant leaps, as rapidly as the value of the actions, doubling, trebling, and quadrupling. This was just the natural effect of an excessive and valueless currency. If the Government could have reduced that currency by buying it in, they might have made it rather more approrpriate to its object. But short, violent remedies were the rule under the Regent’s Government, and a decree was issued reducing the nominal value of notes to one-hall It reduced their actual value to nothing. They were something to be got rid of on any terms.

Had the French Revolution taken place before the verdict of a jury of historians had been passed upon John Law, they would have found no true bill against him, but, after the laudable fashion of English grand juries, would have vented round opinions on all the defects in public affairs which had rendered their assembling together necessary. To have made all the madness of those times was beyond the capacity of any human being, however malignantly he were inclined. There is indeed throughout all the narratives of the affair a signal and almost appalling parallelism with the earlier symptoms of the great Revolution. It looks as if the long latent disease had endeavoured to break out, but had been thrown back into the constitution to gather power and malignity. There was much dire misery among the humbler people; and many who belonged to the comfortable classes, whose dis-satisfactions are generally supposed to proceed less from destitution than unsatisfied ambition, felt the gripe of hunger and the want of a roof Amid all this misery, and at the times when it was at its very worst, it was noticed by thoughtful bystanders, as it afterwards was noticed during the Reign of Terror, that the theatres never were so well filled, or all the usual novelties of Paris so eagerly pursued. Frondes and mots abounded, and the rapidity of the ruin which fell on thousands was improved in multitudinous pasquinades, such as—

"Lundi, j’achetai des actions,
Mardi,
je gagnai des millions,
Mercredi, j’ornai mon ménage,
Jeudi, je pris un équipage,
Vendredi, je m’en fis au bal,
Et Samedi à l’hôpital."

Along with this well and ill timed gaiety, crime increased rapidly; at all events, it was supposed to increase. The administration appears to have been too deeply absorbed otherwise to pay much attention to it. The bodies of the murdered seem, however, to have been thought worth counting, and they were so numerous as abundantly to alarm the living.

On one occasion, the thousands of Paris gathered in insurrection, carrying with them the bodies of those who had been killed in the crush before the bank. They sang—

"Français, la bravure vous manque,
Vous êtes pleins d’aveuglement;
Pendre Law avec le Régent,
Et vous emparer de la Basque,
C'est l’affaire d'un moment"

They rushed on the palace, just as their grandchildren did on the renowned 10th of August. So far as history speaks, architecture seems to have postponed the catastrophe. The old Palais Royal was a vast square or place, bordered by straight lines of high, many-windowed houses. These had gradually been filled with soldiers. Thus when the mob came to the point of attack, they found themselves in the position in which the military have so frequently found themselves in the streets of Paris—surrounded by buildings garrisoned by the enemy. While the wheel of fortune thus revolved amid storm and fire, there was, so far as we can infer from history, in the conduct of the presiding genius, serenity and haughty calmness. He was the most wonderful, if not the most powerful man in the world; and the humiliations undergone by the greatest people of France to propitiate him call up a blush for human nature. It was scoffingly said of him that he gave a blandly condescending reception to his countryman the Duke of Argyll; but the Duke was a mere provincial respectability beside the triumphant Comptroller-general, and he knew it.

To others of his countrymen of very humble rank, Law appears to have been kind and affable. He stands entirely free from the taint of mercenary premeditation. He could have fortified himself by investments to any extent in England, and many other places, had not his faith or his allegiance bound him to his own system. When it broke he scattered everything from him, as one to whom the preservation of a mere private fortune was felt as infinitely despicable. There was perhaps something more of recklessness than of virtue in this; yet it would have been more painful to have found him in search of some little prize for himself among the ruins. While the house was falling he was often exposed to personal danger, and he gained respect by his haughty defiance of it.

Once he seems to have lost his temper. A mob following his carriage with fierce cries, he stepped out and faced them, saying, "Vous êtes canailles," and walked on. "Soit," says M. Cochut, "que le mot se fût perdu dans le tumulte, soit qu’un majestueux sang-froid eut imposé à la multitude, l’Ecossais put gagner le Palais-Royal sans accident." Not so with the coachman. He, inspired with sympathetic fervour, repeated his master’s scornful epithet, and the canaille, in consequence, tore him from his seat, and stamped him to death, while they broke the carriage in pieces. The Premier - President de Mesme, who beheld this little incident, acquired much fame by relating it to his brethren, thus—

"Messieur, messieurs, bonne nouvelle,
La carosse de Law est rêduit en cannelle."

In the fictions, and perhaps in the realities of the East, when the favourite of the caliph, who has sprung from nothing, forgets himself in his overweening pride, and abuses the royal confidence, he is at once hurled from his height of power, and sits a beggar at the corner of the marketplace, to bear the gibes and cuffs of those who used to court him. In like manner the popular conception of John Law is, that, when his meteoric flight was over, he became extinguished to sight in some jeweller’s stall or petty gambling-house. But he was still a personage, carrying about him the faded lustre of a deposed prince; or, perhaps, more fitly speaking, the repute of a fallen minister, of whom it is not to be forgotten that he may rise again. As he left France his carriage was followed by another in hot pursuit. It contained, not an officer of justice, but M Pressy, the agent of the Emperor of Russia— come to solicit the aid of the great financier for the adjustment of the pecuniary affairs of the empire; but the Ex-Comptroller-general does not appear to have encouraged the proposal. Alberoni went to Venice to meet him, and for some time he carried about in his wanderings a sort of shifting levee of ministers and petty princes. Desiring to return to Britain. Sir John Norris, who commanded the Baltic fleet, thought it due to so eminent a person to give him a passage in the admiral’s own ship. The courtesy with which the Government received him created some excitement in the Opposition; and the last time when Law’s name was brought conspicuously before the world, was in a debate in the House of Lords.

What a wild world it would be if economic schemers—even the most moderate among them— had absolute despotic powers put into their hands wherewith to give effect to their own schemes! This reflection comes up as appropriate to the difficulty that any reader would feel in discovering the seeds of so tremendous an affair as the Mississippi scheme in Law’s writings. He will find in them, indeed, many views of undisputed soundness. Law’s ideas of the nature of metallic money correspond with the prevalent political economy of the present day. He seems, indeed, to have been the first to disperse the theory, entertained by Locke and many others, that the precious metals are endowed, by the general consent of mankind, with an imaginary value; and he shows that their universal employment as a circulating medium depends on their real value, arising from their ornamental and portable character, their indestructibility, and, above all, the nearly uniform amount of labour that it ever costs to bring them into the market. His notion of the real value of the precious metals was the antinome, as it were, of his view that their cost prevented the supply of money in sufficient abundance; that they were too dear, in short, and ought to be discarded for a cheaper and more prolific medium. The main tenor of his theory was, that when a country is exhausted, it can only be resuscitated by an infusion of fresh financial blood in the shape of easy issues of money. Voltaire, in his ‘Age of Louis XV.,’ testifies that, in the end, it was successful, and that, through all the misery and ruin she endured, the country was the better for the Mississippi scheme, deriving from it an elasticity of movement which led her on to subsequent prosperity. Many people will doubt this view; but it is rather remarkable that Law’s scheme was considered by the French themselves so fundamentally sound that they virtually repeated it in the celebrated issue of assignats, in which the French Convention played over again the same desperate piece of gambling. It has obtained a higher sanction still. In this present year (1864) the people who enjoy the reputation of being the acutest and "smartest" in the world are hard at work playing the desperate game, and will bring it to its inevitable results.

When a suspension-bridge breaks down or a boiler explodes, engineers avoid the method of construction which leads to such a calamity. It is otherwise in the social machinery, where all the passions and prejudices of mankind are the materials used in the construction. Events have their actions and reactions going on re-echoing each other into after generations, under so many different forms, that people question if the beginning of all really was a calamity. The echoes of this Mississippi affair itself are not yet dead. It was followed immediately by the South Sea storm in England, and a similar catastrophe in Holland. The scheme left the French government burdened with the colony of Louisiana. It was sold in 1803 to the United States for fifteen millions of dollars cash down. It was this purchase that created the preponderating influence of the slaveholding States of the Union—and what that has done and is now doing we all know. Again, the scheme left France in the possession of an East India Company which rivalled our own, but of that rivalry came the great contest in which Clive and Hastings asserted the superiority that made the British Eastern empire: but for this contest, and the military position it gave us in the East, it is possible that our country might have known nothing of Hindostan save as a field of trade.

One thing that makes the world respect political and commercial schemers is their power; and there is something fascinating in the contemplation of power, whether used for good or for bad ends. The ideas of Law have supporters in the present day in those economists who vehemently urge the extension of credit as a means of multiplying capital—of doubling, trebling, or quadrupling it. And yet credit operations are but a form of gambling, and should be so treated. The lower form of gambling at the gaming-table has sometimes great results, not always entirely pernicious. A renowned professional gambler once made a large fortune by his pursuit—an extremely uncommon result. His daughter was married to a man of genius, who, backed by her wealth, became prime minister of Britain—and a prime minister who put his mark upon his age. man found wasting his brains and his health at rouge et noir, however, would hardly get credit for sincerity if he said he was working to get a good prime minister for the country. Be the end of it in the far future what it may, every act of gambling, whether in the share-market or in the gaming-table, is not an operation for the benefit of the human race, but an act done through the influence of a selfish passion; and, like all other ad-fish passions, it should be the duty of those who take upon them the function of instructors rather to repress than encourage it.


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