S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[King of France; born Sept. 16, 1638; ascended the throne at the age of five under the regency of Anne of Austria, who was directed by Cardinal Mazarin; at his death Louis assumed control of affairs; invaded Flanders and Franche-Comté, 1667; revoked the Edict of Nantes, 1685; opposed the Spanish and English in 1688, and in the war of the Spanish succession, 1700; died Aug. 31, 1715, after the most brilliant reign in French annals.]
No historic mot has enjoyed a greater celebrity than the alleged answer of Louis XIV., in 1655, when seventeen years of age, to the president of Parliament, who spoke of the interest of the state, and was interrupted by the kings exclamation, I am the state! It may be interesting to trace the history of this answer from its first appearance under the sanction of a great name, to notice the rhetorical embellishments it has received, and finally to observe upon how slight a foundation it rests, and how opposed it was to the character of the king and his position in the state.
It must be understood in the first place, that no contemporaneous authority is to be given for the literal expression, Létat, cest moi. Tradition, not history, had assigned these words under any circumstances to the king, until so recent a writer as Dulaure (History of Paris, 1863, p. 387) asserts that Louis interrupted a judge who used the expression, The king and the state, by saying, I am the state.
Leaving tradition, we find Voltaire, the inventor of history, giving an account of the appearance of the young king before the Parliament of Paris on the occasion already referred to:
The neglected state of the kings education, he says, a timidity caused by a fear of compromising himself, and ignorance of the intentions of Cardinal Mazarin, disposed the court to think that he would be a king but in name, like his father Louis XIII. Only one occasion showed those who looked beyond appearances what he was to become. Parliament wished, in 1655, to meet to discuss certain edicts after the close of the civil wars, when Louis had completed his first campaign, and taken the coronation oath. The king left Vincennes, dressed for the chase; followed by his court, he entered Parliament, booted, and whip in hand, and uttered these words of his own: I am aware of the evils your assemblies have produced; I order you to cease discussing my edicts: Mr. President, I forbid you to permit these assemblies, and any of you to demand them.Siècle de Louis XIV., chap. xxv. Voltaire then adds some dramatic touches: the kings figure already majestic, the nobility of his countenance, the tone of a master with which he spoke, imposed an authority which his rank, hitherto but little respected, had not given him. Voltaire cites no authority for this circumstantial narrative, but has himself served as an authority for all subsequent historians to follow. Certain slight differences are yet to be observed. Thus the Biographie Michaud, XXV. 1697, surrounds the young king, on his perilous expedition to beard the venerable judges of Paris, with several companies of guards. Lavallée, writing in 1847, adds spurs to the kings toilet of the chase, which already included a whip. Henri Martin (History of France, XII. 467) makes the extraordinary mistake of supposing that the bed of justice which the king ascended in this unusual costume was a piece of furniture! (le roi monta dans son lit de justice en ce costume inusité,) certainly an unusual costume, that of boots and spurs for a royal couch! The historian seemed ignorant of the fact that under the ancient monarchy of France a solemn session of Parliament was opened by the king sitting on a pile of cushions, like the woolsack of the English lord chancellor; and that, in consequence, later assemblages of Parliament under the presidency of the sovereign were called beds of justice (lits de justice), long after the cushions of the fourteenth century had disappeared.
The Duc de Noailles, in a History of Mme. de Maintenon, published more than twenty years ago, was the first to point out the improbability, not to say the falsity, of this legend of Louis XIV. Considering the question as in some sort the key to both the foreign and domestic policy of the kings reign of half a century, he asks, Did Louis XIV., in the possession and intoxication of an almost unlimited power, ever pronounce the famous mot, Létat, cest moi? Not only is this doubtful, for it is not contained in any contemporaneous narrative, but nothing is less authenticated than the anecdote of which it forms a part (that of the whip, etc.). Louis XIV., being resolved to abolish the political pretensions of Parliament after the Fronde, and to reduce it to its judicial functions (the old parlements of France were judicial and not legislative bodies), accomplished it with passion perhaps, but not in that contemptuous fashion so little in conformity with his royal dignity and the respect due the great bodies of the state: on the contrary, he executed his purpose with all the ceremony and solemnity of a lit de justice, first, in the session of Dec. 22, 1665, and secondly, without the ceremony of the lit de justice, in the session of April 20, 1667. These are the only sessions at which the king assisted; and the journal of Olivier dOrmesson, which narrates the events with minute detail, makes no mention of this haughty speech, so bitterly censured afterwards. This mot will, however, cling to him; because it is true, if taken in its right sense of indicating the community of interest existing between the country and royalty. (Vol. III. pp. 667670.)
If we now turn to the contemporaneous Memoirs of Montglat, we find a much simpler scene enacted in the high court of justice than that given by Voltaire and later writers. After speaking of the apprehensions caused by the previous conduct of Parliament, Montglat says that this consideration caused the king to leave the château of Vincennes, and visit Parliament in the morning, wearing a red coat and a gray chapeau, accompanied by his entire court similarly attired, a fashion hitherto unknown. It is this expression, dans ce costume inusité, which Henri Martin applies to the kings mounting the lit de justice in high boots and spurs. When the session had been opened (quand il fut dans son lit de justice), he prohibited Parliament from assembling; and, after having said four words, he arose and departed, without listening to any address.Memoirs, Collection Petitot, L. 458. Madame de Motteville, another contemporary, agrees with Montglat, and adds high boots (grosses bottes) to the red coat and gray hat. Guizot alone, of modern historians, follows strictly Montglats account.History of France, IV. 236.
It has been left for a recent writer, M. Chéruel, to clearly demonstrate, by reference to a manuscript contemporaneous journal, the impossibility of the kings making use of such words as I am the state at this particular time. Having reviewed the tendencies of Parliament after the wars of the Fronde, M. Chéruel adds, It is here that a suspicious tradition has fixed the appearance of Louis XIV. before Parliament, dressed for the chase, and whip in hand, and that the famous answer to the president has been attributed to him, I am the state! In place of this dramatic scene, which has become graven in historic memory, the most authentic documents exhibit the king imposing silence upon Parliament, but without the affectation of an insolent hauteur. He then quotes from the manuscript journal written by a partisan of the Parliament, who would have reproduced any circumstances unfavorable to the king, had such occurred. The account closes with these words: The king, rising quickly before any one could reply to him, returned to the Louvre, and from there to the forest of Vincennes, which he had left in the morning, and where the Cardinal (Mazarin) awaited him.Histoire de ladministration monarchique en France, II. 32. We here have a description of the event clothed in its simplest terms. The king, hunting in the forest of Vincennes, left the château in the dress he would wear at such times,a red coat, gray hat, high boots,and appeared before Parliament to recite a lesson of four words he had learned from Cardinal Mazarin, who awaited his return to hear how his royal pupil had acquitted himself of his task. Into that lesson no such words as I am the state could have slipped. The state was not yet Louis XIV., says Fournier: it was still Mazarin.
When, after the cardinals death, the Archbishop of Rouen said to the king, Your Majesty ordered me to address myself to the cardinal in all matters: as he is dead, to whom shall I refer?To me, replied the king, resolved to be his own prime minister. He then called the members of his cabinet together, and said to them, I have assembled you to say that hitherto I have allowed you to conduct my affairs through the late cardinal, but that henceforth I intend to manage them myself: you will give me your counsel when desired. At an earlier period, when the court was discussing in his presence the absolute power of the Turkish sultans, and was giving examples of its extent, he exclaimed, That is as it should be: that is really reigning! In a course of public law, which years afterwards Louis XIV. caused to be written under the direction of M. de Torcy, for the guidance of his grandson, the Duke of Burgundy, the following words occur on the first page: The nation is not corporate in France: it lives entirely in the person of the king (La nation ne fait pas corps en France: elle réside tout entière dans la personne du roy); and Bossuet declared of the sovereign, All the state is in him (Tout létat est en lui). The germ of Létat, cest moi, lies in these incidents and sayings.
The education which the kings of France received did not conduce to a modest appreciation of their position in the state. The imperial library of St. Petersburg contains a large collection of manuscripts carried away from Paris during the Revolution. Among them is a sheet of paper on which Louis XIV., when a boy, had written five or six times, in a large, unformed hand, a lesson set by his master,Homage is due to kings: they do what they like (Lhommage est du aux rois: ils font tout ce que leur plaît).MARTIN: History of France, XV. 95. When Louis XV. became king, at as early an age as his predecessor, and, after his proclamation, was shown to the people assembled in the garden of the Tuileries, his governor, Maréchal de Villeroi, said to him, Behold all these people, my prince: they belong to you; all the people you see yonder are yours. After the education we received, said Charles X., it is a wonder that we did not become tigers.
To a cardinal who followed him in a heavy shower. This is also attributed to the Abbé de Polignac, in answer to the kings fears concerning him. In this case it would illustrate the flattery paid to the grand monarch. Thus, asking, on one occasion, the time of day, he was told, The time your Majesty pleases. Cardinal dEstrées was dining with Louis, who complained of the inconvenience of having no teeth in his old age. Teeth? asked the courtier, who has any? (Qui est-ce qui en a?) How could a sovereign coming to the throne in childhood, and surrounded at all times by flatterers, be properly educated? Louis saw later how his youth had been misspent, and asked, Was there not birch enough in the forest of Fontainebleau? Although encouraging literature, which found its Augustan age in his reign, he once asked the Duc de Vivonne, who was much given to books, Of what use is reading? (Mais, à quoi sert bon de lire?) Vivonne, who was a bon vivant, and was plump and fresh-colored, replied, Reading, sire, does to the mind what your partridges do to my cheeks (La lecture fait à lesprit ce que vos perdrix font à mes joues).
When the king reproached the duke on his embonpoint, in presence of the equally stout Duc dAumont, and advised him to take more exercise, Vivonne replied, You do me injustice, sire: not a day passes that I do not take three turns round my cousin dAumont.
On at least one occasion Louis XIV. received an answer which must have surprised him. The republic of Genoa sent out in 1684 a fleet to chastise the Algerine pirates; but Louis chose to consider it intended to assist Spain, with which he was then at war. He therefore despatched eight thousand men in a fleet of one hundred and sixty vessels, and bombarded Genoa on the 17th and 18th of May of that year. In accordance with the terms of the treaty of peace which was made after the subjection of the city, the doge, Francesco Maria Lecaro, visited Versailles, May 15, 1685, to humbly apologize, on behalf of Genoa, for an insult of which the republic was guiltless. He was received with great ceremony, and treated with the elaborate courtesy of which the French monarch was capable. After a banquet given to the doge and his councillors, the king accompanied Lecaro in a walk through the magnificently arranged park of the château, and displayed the treasures of his menagerie and stables. At the close of an exhibition of fireworks, Louis turned to his guest, and asked him what surprised him most of all that he had witnessed. To see myself here (Cest de my voir), was the reply.
The motto of the device Louis XIV. is said to have adopted, of the rising sun casting his rays upon the earth. Its meaning has been variously surmised, I shine on more worlds than one being a not unnatural signification. Fournier, however, denies that either the device or the motto originated with the king; but asserts that they were contrived by the antiquary Douvrier, on the occasion of the famous Carrousel, in the space between the Louvre and the Tuileries, which has retained the name of the festival. It was, besides, an old device of Philip II. of Spain, who reigned over parts of two hemispheres, and had more right than the monarch of a single kingdom to compare himself with the sun.
Whatever may have been its origin, it led to a celebrated toast, which has been ascribed to several different persons. During the war between England, France, and Holland, in 17029, the ambassador of France to a neutral power proposed at a banquet the health of Louis XIV., alluding to him as the rising sun; the representative of Queen Anne drank to the moon; the Dutch minister, mindful of the fact that his country disputed with England the supremacy of the seas, and, by breaking the dikes, had caused the army of the Great King to retreat, proposed Holland, like Joshua, who commanded the sun and moon to stand still, and they obeyed him! According to another account, Lord Stair, when minister from England to Holland, gave a banquet, at which France was toasted as the sun, and the empress Maria Theresa as the moon and stars: when the company thought that nothing was left for his country, Lord Stair proposed England, who, like Joshua, caused the solar system to pause. A third version gives Franklin credit for the toast, when the treaty had been signed in Paris by which France was set against England, in order to accomplish the independence of America.
An inscription which Louis XIV. ordered engraved on cannon. Büchmann cites the letter of an officer in the correspondence column of Ueber Land und Meer, Dec. 17, 1865, who saw in Mantua cannon having the same inscription, dated 1613, twenty-five years before the birth of the French king. Frederick the Great wrote to his brother, Prince Henry, April 21, 1759: Dont forget your great guns, which are the most respectable arguments of the rights of kings.
The National Assembly, wishing to recognize neither kings nor war, voted, Aug. 19, 1790, to remove from the cannon the words which Louis XIV. had caused to be engraved upon them, Ultima ratio regum. The Assembly removed the inscription, and set up the guillotine, upon which might have been inscribed Chamforts interpretation of the motto of the Republic, Fraternité ou la mort (vide), which Lebrun versified:
The king was accustomed to say, when he made an appointment to office, Jai fait dix mécontents et un ingrat.
Two sayings may illustrate the arrogant tone which Louis could assume towards foreign powers. When the Popes nuncio represented to him that many sovereigns had renounced privileges they previously enjoyed at Rome, the king replied, I have never governed myself by the example of another: it is for me to set an example (Je ne me suis jamais reglé sur lexemple dautrui: et cest à moi de servir dexemple). The English ambassador made certain suggestions to him concerning improvements at Mardick in 1714. M. lAmbassadeur, interrupted the king, I have always been master of my own house, sometimes of anothers: do not call it to mind (Jai toujours été le maître chez moi, quelques-fois chez les autres: quon ne men fasse pas souvenir). Voltaire, however, says that President Hénault invented this anecdote.
Of the Huguenots the king once said, My grandfather [Henry IV.] loved them, and did not fear them; my father [Louis XIII.] loved them not, and feared them: for my part, I neither love nor fear them. Pope Pius IX. is reported to have said of Lord Clarendon, Lord Beaconsfield, and Mr. Gladstone, I like the first, and understand him; I like the second, and do not understand him: I neither like nor understand the third.
The king rebuked the Duchess of Burgundy, who jested at supper on the ugliness of an officer who was present, by saying to her, I think him one of the handsomest men in my kingdom, for he is one of the bravest.
He remarked of the Duc dOrleans, afterwards regent, He is a braggart of vices he does not possess (Encore est-il fanfaron de vives quil na point). Benjamin Constant said of Mme. Rilliet, She has all the virtues which she affects.
One has no more luck at our age (On nest pas heureux à notre âge.)
To Marshal Villeroi, on his return from the disastrous battle of Ramillies, which he lost against Marlborough and Prince Eugene, May 23, 1706. Villeroi was then sixty-two years old, Louis sixty-eight. It was one of those delicate remarks which the king knew so well how to make, and which sounded almost like a compliment.
As the great Condé was walking slowly, from the effects of gout, up the grand staircase of Versailles, after the battle of Seneffe, which he fought, Aug. 11, 1674, against William of Orange, afterwards William III. of England, he exclaimed to the king who awaited him on the landing above, Sire, I crave your Majestys pardon, if I keep you waiting; to which Louis replied, My cousin, do not hurry: no one could move more quickly who was loaded with laurels as you are! It was the language of courts. When Louis XIV. asked Mignard, who was painting his portrait for the tenth time, if he did not look older, the painter concealed the truth beneath a delicate flattery: Sire, it is true that I see some more victories on the forehead of your Majesty! Children, even, could turn a compliment. The Duc de Maine, son of Louis XIV., once congratulated the king by saying to him, Sire, I shall never learn any thing, for my tutor gives me a holiday for each victory of your Majesty.
An officer, with whom the king had been dissatisfied, distinguished himself at Mons. Meeting him soon afterwards, Louis forgave the past by saying, Datons de Mons.
The king accepted Boileaus poetical epistle on the passage of the Rhine, with this modest remark: It is a fine work, and I should praise you more if you had praised me less (Cela est beau, et je vous louerais davantage si vous maviez loué moins). He who first assigned this phrase to Louis, says Fournier, which Boileau does not mention, as he would have done had it been addressed to him, took it word for word from the preface of the Memoirs of Queen Marguerite [of Navarre]. It serves as the dedication of the book to Brantôme, to thank him for the eulogistic chapter he had devoted to her in his Dames Illustres: Je louerais davantage vostre uvre, she said, si elle me louoit moins.
Another saying did not originate with the king, although it may have taken its present form from him. He remarked of Maria Theresa of Spain, Heaven takes from me a wife who has never given me any other grief than her death (Le ciel me prive dune épouse, qui ne ma jamais donné dautre chagrin que celui de sa mort). The thought, if not the grief, was borrowed from the poet Maynard:
La morte que tu plains fut exempte de blâme,
Et le triste accident qui termina ses jours
Est le seul déplaisir quelle a mis dans ton âme.
By the will of Charles II., King of Spain, the Duc dAnjou, second son of the dauphin, and grandson of Louis XIV., succeeded to the throne as Philip V. In giving him his final instructions, Louis said, Be a good Spaniard, it is your duty; but remember that you are French, and that you maintain the union of the two countries; embracing him, he added, Il ny a plus de Pyrénées. Why, asks Fournier, should Voltaire have written thus (Age of Louis XIV.), when he might have found that the king never said it? It is a Spanish rather than a French mot, told by Dangeau, a courtier who followed Philip to his new kingdom, as the remark of the ambassador of Spain, who said that the journey between the two countries would be easy, as the Pyrenees were now melted (les Pyrénées étaient fondues).Journal de Dangeau, VII. 449. Malherbe, years before, had paraphrased the mot in advance when celebrating the marriage of Louis XIII. and Anne of Austria:
Puis quand ces deux grands hyménées,
Dont le fatal embrassement
Doit aplanir les Pyrénées
According to the Mercure Volant, November, 1700, p. 237, the Spanish ambassador used the expression afterwards attributed to the king; for, after falling at the feet of his new sovereign, and kissing his hand, his eyes being filled with tears, he rose, led forward his son and the Spaniards of his suite, who made likewise their obeisance. He then exclaimed, What joy! il ny a plus de Pyrénées: they are uprooted, and we are henceforth but one.
Napoleon gave instructions to his brother Louis, when making him king of Holland, somewhat similar to those of Louis XIV.: Your first duty is to me, your second to France, your third to your people.
The king also said to his grandson, If you wish to have your will habitually respected, you must show that you yourself are a slave to it. Some time afterwards he was urged to depose Philip V., whose accession caused the long war of the Spanish succession; but he replied, If I must wage war, I should rather wage it against my enemies than against my children.
I imagined it was more difficult to die (Javais cru plus difficile de mourir).
To Mme. de Maintenon, in his last illness.MARTIN: History of France, XIV. Bk. 91. Sir Harry Vane said on the scaffold, in 1662, Why should we shrink from death? I find it rather shrinks from me, than I from it; and again, Death is but a little word, but tis a great work to die. He was not thinking of it in its physical sense, which was present to the mind of Mirabeau when he wrote in his last hours, It is not so difficult to die. The Constable de Montmorenci said to the priest after receiving a mortal wound at St. Denis, in 1567, I have not lived eighty years without knowing how to bear dying for one-quarter of an hour. Murat, King of Naples, said on the scaffold, Oct. 13, 1815, I have too often braved death to fear it.
When asked if he suffered, Louis XIV. is said to have replied, That is what troubles me: I should like to suffer more for the expiation of my sins.
He gave this piece of advice, among other recommendations, to the child who was soon to succeed him as Louis XV.: I have loved war too well: do not imitate me in that (Jai trop aimé la guerre: ne mimitez pas en cela). More than half a century now separated him from the occasion of the following remark: Self-aggrandizement is the noblest as well as the pleasantest occupation of kings.
Mme. de Maintenon had reached, at the time of the kings death, her eightieth year. To show his opinion of her judgment and good sense, Louis once said, The Pope is called your Holiness; kings, your Majesty; princes, your Highness: you, madame, should be called your Solidity. He now expressed the hope that they should soon meet again (nous nous verrons bientôt). She made him no answer, but, if the Chroniques de lil de Buf are to be believed, exclaimed, as if unconsciously, when she left the apartment, A pretty rendezvous he has given me! That man has never loved any one but himself (Voilà le beau rendez-vous quil me donne! Cet homme na jamais aimé que lui-même). It requires a better authority than these anonymous chronicles to fasten to the memory of the wife of Louis XIV. words so heartless. As she retired, the king saw in an opposite mirror the reflection of two of his valets, who were weeping bitterly. Why do you weep? he asked: did you think that I was immortal? (Pourquoi pleurez-vous? mavez-vous cru immortel?)MARTIN: XIV. 91.
At the termination of the last prayers, in which he joined audibly, Louis said with a calm voice, These are the last favors of the Church; repeating several times, nunc et in horâ mortis, he exclaimed, O my God, come to my aid, and hasten to help me! He never spoke again.
His funeral sermon was preached by Massillon; who, looking for a moment upon the magnificent draperies and insignia of mourning around him, and thinking of the title the deceased monarch had borne even during life, began his discourse with the simple but striking words, God alone is great, my brethren! (Dieu seul est grand, mes frères!)
Napoleon said of him, If he had not been a king, he would have been a great man. Cardinal Mazarin prophesied of him in his minority, He will be a great king: he never says a word of what he thinks (Il sera un grand roi: il ne dit pas mot de ce quil pense). When the Maréchal de Grammont was congratulating Mazarin on the prospect of long-enduring power, the cardinal demurred: He [Louis] will mature late, but he will go further than the rest: he has the material for four kings and one honest man (Il y a en lui de létoffe pour faire quatre rois et un honnête homme). Berryer said of him, He came too late, and went away too soon.