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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 4

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It was now that Mirabeau, destined to act so prominent a part in the revolution, came to the light with his celebrated essay on the abominations of the lettres de cachet. Mirabeau had lain for years in different dungeons and fortresses, the victim of this terrible engine of despotism, and could well describe its tyrannies. Honore Gabriel Riquetti, count of Mirabeau, was the son of Victor Riquetti, count Mirabeau, who was known as the author of V Ami des Hommes, and other works, and was the leader of the school of the Economistes. The family was originally from Florence, and engaged on the Ghibelline side of the factions of the Guelfs and Ghibellines. Being exiled by the prevailing faction, the family settled at Bignon, near Nemours, in Provence, in 1749, and their Italian name, Arrighetti, became Frenchified into Riquetti. The race was considered wild and eccentric, and old Victor, though calling himself "The Friend of Man," was a harsh despot in his own family, and his austerity has been said to have driven his son into excesses. Whatever the cause, Mirabeau himself says that his family was a family of Atreus and Thyestes. At all events, if not so bloody, it was much divided. Honore Gabriel very early showed the utmost tendency to dissipation and to the most unrestrained love intrigues. Immediately on leaving school, he went into the army, where the conduct and conversation of his brother officers did not by any means improve his morals. He fell desperately in love, and his father, to check his extravagance, as well as to thwart his passion - for he seems to have found the highest pleasure in opposing his children's inclinations - had him arrested by lettres de cachet, and shut up in a fortress on the island of Rhe. When he got out, Mirabeau volunteered into the army in Corsica, and took part in its bloody campaigns. He obtained a commission as captain of dragoons, but, his father refusing to purchase him a regiment, he abandoned the military profession. He next married a rich heiress of Aix, in Provence, but soon dissipated her fortune, ran into enormous debt, separated from his wife, whom he had obtained by a disgraceful stratagem, and at the age of twenty-five had the reputation of being the most debauched man in France.

To arrest his wild career, his father had him again secured by lettres de cachet, and shut up in the Chateau d'If, on the Mediterranean shore, above Marseilles. Thence he was removed to the fortress of Joux, in the Jura mountains. There the commandant of the fort, won over by his captivating address, allowed him the liberty of frequenting the neighbouring town of Pontailier, where he seduced the young and pretty wife of the old marquis de Mounier, president of the chamber of accounts, at Dole, and ran off with her to Holland. There he was in such absolute destitution, that he took to writing for the booksellers, a profession which he actively followed till he became a member of the National Assembly, one of its most distinguished characters, and with more prolific means of income. In Holland, Mirabeau soon seduced another lady, young, unmarried, handsome, and of good connections. Her he speedily abandoned. The Dutch now readily allowed the French police to seize him by authority of another lettre de cachet, who carried him to the dungeons of Vincennes, where he lay for more than three years. During this confinement, he studied with much diligence, made translations from the Latin, and from modern foreign authors, as well as wrote several works of an amorous and immoral kind. Notwithstanding his infidelity to Sophie Mounier, he continued to correspond with her, and this correspondence, after his death, was published. After his release, he hastened to Provence, and engaged in a number of lawsuits with the relations of his wife, and with his father, brother, and other relatives. Sophie, about this time, died suddenly, being supposed to have poisoned herself. In these trials he pleaded his own cause, as well as in a prosecution brought against him by the husband of his mistress, Sophie Mounier.

All this time Mirabeau was busily writing for a livelihood, and the quantity of work he seemed to accomplish was astonishing. But the fact was, that he engaged other men to do the work, while he put his own name to it, and had the credit of it. In this respect, he only resembled a number of men of distinction in this country. In this manner he soon sent forth Doutes sur la Liberte de AEscaut, or " Considerations on the Navigation of the Scheldt; " an essay on political economy, another on count Cagliostro, an address to the democrats of Holland, &c. His biographer, Dumont, says: - "Having become acquainted with a geographer, he began to think of writing a universal geography. Had any one shown him the elements of a Chinese grammar, he would, I have no doubt, have attempted a treatise on the Chinese language! He studied a subject whilst writing upon it, and he only required an assistant who should furnish matter to him. He could contrive to get notes and additions from twenty different hands; and, had he been offered a good price, I am confident he would have undertaken to write even an Encyclopedia. His activity was prodigious. If he worked little himself, he made others work very hard. He had the skill of finding out men of talent, and of successfully flattering those who could be of use to him; he worked upon them by means of insinuations of friendship and of ideas of public benefit. His interesting and animated conversation was like a hone which he used to sharpen his tools with. Nothing was lost to him; he collected with care anecdotes, conversations, and thoughts; appropriated to his own benefit the fruits of the reading and study of his friends; knew how to use the information thus acquired, so as to appear to have been possessed of it; and, when he had begun a work in earnest, it was seen to make a rapid and daily progress."

In 1784 he paid a visit to London, where he made the acquaintance of Samuel Romilly, afterwards Sir Samuel, lord Shelburne, first marquis of Lansdowne, and other Englishmen of note; renewed his acquaintance with Sir Gilbert Eliott, afterwards earl of Minto, who had been his schoolfellow in France, &c. But he did not there, any more than anywhere else, avoid quarrels and lawsuits. He had a violent dispute with John Wilkes, on the subject of the gallows, and prosecuted his amanuensis, one Jacques Philippe Hardi, for stealing his shirts. Hardi, it seems, had demanded his wages, and threatened Mirabeau with arrest; when it appeared clear to judge Buller, who was on the bench, that Mirabeau, to get rid of this troublesome demand, accused the man of stealing more shirts than Mirabeau ever possessed! The man was acquitted; and Mirabeau incurred great discredit by the transaction. All this time he was busy writing for the press; one week against the proposed American order of Cincinnatus, for which he sought material in his usual way, from others; and another, a series of letters to his friend Chamfort, in which he praised the political institutions of England.

On his return to Paris he became acquainted with the minister Calonne, who, in 1786, sent him on a secret mission to the court of Berlin, in fact, as a spy, where he spent about eight months, and witnessed the end of Frederick, called the Great, and the commencement of the reign of his weak successor. He collected material there for a work on the Prussian monarchy; that is, he collected it in his usual way, for his biographer confesses that it was entirely the work of major Maun Villan, an officer in the Prussian service, whose talents were overlooked by his own government. This work, published in eight volumes, brought Mirabeau great reputation. But another work, more his own, " A Secret History of the Court of Berlin," was filled with court scandals of the vilest kind. Montmorin, the French foreign minister, bought the MS. to suppress it; but Mirabeau, having got the money, immediately produced and sold another MS. to a bookseller. The work, which was anonymous, was ordered by the parliament of Paris to be burned by the hangman, and Mirabeau, in the French and English papers, denied the authorship of it, though all the world knew it to be his.

The convocation of the states-general, in 1789, opened to Mirabeau a far more brilliant career than that of authorship; and we shall now soon find him most conspicuous in the turbulent current of the times. In person he was tall, thick-set, and robust, but of a very plain countenance, amounting to ugliness, but which was soon forgotten in the fascination of his manner. His head was large, and he had a vast mass of dark hair, which hung on his shoulders, and, when he wished to produce terror, he had only to shake what he called his wild boar's head, and assume a menacing aspect, and raise his thunderous voice, and the effect was instantaneous. For the rest, he had the worst character for licentiousness, the highest for splendour of oratory, of any man of his time. His genius was quick and penetrating, and the opinions which he formed of his most notorious contemporaries, Robespierre, Barnave, Petion, Desmoulins, &c., time fully confirmed. With all Mirabeau's faults - and they were many and great - he was averse to the extremes of the revolution, was disposed to retain the monarchy, and never showed that thirst of blood which disgraced the majority of his countrymen. When he presented himself in Provence as a candidate for election to the states-general, he was rejected with insult, professedly on the plea that he possessed no fief, but really on the ground of his bad reputation, for seduction of the wives and daughters of his friends, for endless lawsuits, and general profligacy. He cursed the aristocrats, and offered himself to the tiers etat, and was elected, both for Aix and Marseilles. He sate for Aix, and soon taught the noblesse to repent their rejection of him. His own family never forgave him what they considered the degradation of his appearing in the states-general as a plebeian, where his younger brother sate as a noble.

Mirabeau's essay on the horrors of lettres de cachet, as well as his personal exertions, hastened the summoning of the states-general. The parliament of Dauphiny protested against this terrible engine of despotism, and made it a capital crime for any one to attempt enforcing them in that province. The provincial assemblies of Brittany, held at Rennes and Grenoble, joined with Dauphiny, and all declared that they would allow no further collection of taxes till the parliament of Paris was restored to its freedom. Encouraged by these measures, the parliament of Paris boldly quitted Troyes, and returned to Versailles. There, on the 13th of September, 1787, the president demanded an audience of Louis XVI., and plainly told him that, unless the parliament was restored, and the states-general called, there would be a revolution. Louis knew that Brienne was utterly powerless, had found it impossible to enforce the subvention territoriale, or land tax, and was destitute of funds. He therefore consented to recall the parliament, to give up the stamp-tax and the land-tax, and only required that they should register the appointment of Brienne as minister. The parliament returned triumphantly to Paris, and addressed the king in most loyal terms of satisfaction, declaring that they would support all his plans for the relief and benefit of the people. But Louis, with a fatal duplicity, in which he much resembled our own Charles I., though without- his courage, either ill-advised, or ill-prompted by his own mind, within a single week took a daring step in reversal of his ready acquiescence. Louis XIV. had frightened his parliament into obedience by suddenly returning from hunting, and, in boots and hunting garb, entering the parliament chamber, and issuing his positive commands. Poor Louis XVI. made an unhappy parody of this transaction, forgetting that the times were very different, and he himself a very different person. On the 19th of November he suddenly appeared at the gates of the Palais de Justice, where the parliament was sitting, after having given out that he was going to hunt in the forest of St. Germain. He was not, indeed, in the costume of the cnase, but in regal garb, and attended by the princes of the blood, the great officers of the state and the church, and a long retinue, as if going to hold a bed of justice. The parliament was struck with consternation, and Louis, assuming a stern tone, informed them that he was come to recall them to a sense of duty. In allusion to the demand for the convocation of the states-general, he assured them that he was the proper judge of the necessity of its assembling, and that he would not suffer himself to be indiscreetly importuned for what ought to be expected from his wisdom and love to his people. He then demanded that they should register two edicts - one for a succession of loans, running through five years, and amounting altogether to nine millions sterling, the other for granting all civil rights to the protestants of his dominions.

The emancipation of the protestants was become a popular subject in France, and was not likely to encounter any opposition; on the contrary, there is little doubt but that it was linked to the other and less palatable edict to render it the more passable. But the enormous loans, and the peremptory tone of the king, produced a scene of the most violent debate, which continued for six or seven hours, and to which Louis was compelled to listen. There was a loud and general demand for the calling of the states-general. D'Espremenil, Sebastian de Cabre, and Freteau, especially urged the king to this measure, as of inevitable necessity. But, at length, Lamoignon, the keeper of the seals, whispered to Louis to put an end to the sitting, and he rose and commanded the edicts to be instantly registered. The duke of Orleans, the king's cousin, and first prince of the blood next to his own brothers, who was soon to occupy so remarkable a position in the revolution, asked whether this was a bed of justice or a seance royale. Louis replied a seance royale, and Orleans rejoined that edicts could not be registered at a stance royale, and he, for one, must enter his protest against such a registry. Notwithstanding this, Louis insisted, and the registry was made. Orleans, according to court etiquette, accompanied Louis to the gate on his departure, but he then returned and entered a determined protest against the legality of the registry, in which he was joined by the majority of the parliament. The duke was applauded as the greatest of patriots, and the parliament voted the registry of the edicts, under such circumstances, null and void.

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