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ing statesman if you will, but still a
England and Holland whenever he
This was Lord Stair, the British ambassador ; the man who by his firmness, courage, and sagacity, was the first to restore the influence of England on the Continent, where it had greatly decayed since the time when his countryman Lockhart represented the Commonwealth. We might have here, were there not richer materials at hand, no mean specimen of the eminent Scot abroad, but we only notice Lord Stair parenthetically, to say that his enmity to Law was on public grounds, not on private_or social. He 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 bold ness 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 Caesar, Arteveld, Wolsey, and Napoleon were adventurers. He was a statesman who looked far into the distant future for the results of all his acts--an err
We are not going to undertake the Quixotic task of vindicating the Mississippi scheme when we say, that there was more soundness in Law's proposals than the world has been disposed to concede to one who was unfortunate, and that many of the
* Hardwicke's State Papers, ii. 593.
calamitous results were caused by their not obtaining fair play. They 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.
In Law's politico-economical works there are many views of undisputed soundness. His 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 them
selves so fundamentally sound that they virtually repeated it in the celebrated issue of assignats during the Revolution.
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 farmersgeneral, 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 was no 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 marvellously 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 gamed; 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.
Our readers are not to expect from us a history of "the System," and we 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 buy 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.
The Scot Abroad.
[July, 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, 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 Peel's 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 5 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 bullionkeeper, 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 in gold. 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 fortune.
As part of his grand project for re
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 board 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
suscitating 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 something 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 damaged 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 unshipped 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 appropriate 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-half. It reduced their actual value to nothing. They were something to be got rid of on any terms.
misery, and at the times when it was
Mardi, je gagnai des millions,
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 dissatisfactions 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
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,
C'est l'affaire d'un moment."
They rushed on the palace, just as their grandchildren did on the renowned tenth 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 Parissurrounded 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