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Stray Pearls   By: (1823-1901)

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No one can be more aware than the author that the construction of this tale is defective. The state of French society, and the strange scenes of the Fronde, beguiled me into a tale which has become rather a family record than a novel.

Formerly the Muse of the historical romance was an independent and arbitrary personage, who could compress time, resuscitate the dead, give mighty deeds to imaginary heroes, exchange substitutes for popular martyrs on the scaffold, and make the most stubborn facts subservient to her purpose. Indeed, her most favoured son boldly asserted her right to bend time and place to her purpose, and to make the interest and effectiveness of her work the paramount object. But critics have lashed her out of these erratic ways, and she is now become the meek hand maid of Clio, creeping obediently in the track of the greater Muse, and never venturing on more than colouring and working up the grand outlines that her mistress has left undefined. Thus, in the present tale, though it would have been far more convenient not to have spread the story over such a length of time, and to have made the catastrophe depend upon the heroes and heroines, instead of keeping them mere ineffective spectators, or only engaged in imaginary adventures for which a precedent can be found, it has been necessary to stretch out their narrative, so as to be at least consistent with the real history, at the entire sacrifice of the plot. And it may be feared that thus the story may partake of the confusion that really reigned over the tangled thread of events. There is no portion of history better illustrated by memoirs of the actors therein than is the Fronde; but, perhaps, for that very reason none so confusing.

Perhaps it may be an assistance to the reader to lay out the bare historical outline like a map, showing to what incidents the memoirs of the Sisters of Ribaumont have to conform themselves.

When Henry IV. succeeded in obtaining the throne of France, he found the feudal nobility depressed by the long civil war, and his exchequer exhausted. He and his minister Sully returned to the policy of Louis XI., by which the nobles were to be kept down and prevented from threatening the royal power. This was seldom done by violence, but by giving them employment in the Army and Court, attaching them to the person of the King, and giving them offices with pensions attached to them.

The whole cost of these pensions and all the other expenses of Government fell on the townspeople and peasantry, since the clergy and the nobles to all generations were exempt from taxation. The trade and all the resources of the country were taking such a spring of recovery since the country had been at peace, and the persecution of the Huguenots had ceased, that at first the taxation provoked few murmurs. The resources of the Crown were further augmented by permitting almost all magistrates and persons who held public offices to secure the succession to their sons on the payment of a tariff called LA PAULETTE, from the magistrate who invented it.

In the next reign, however, an effort was made to secure greater equality of burthens. On the meeting of the States General the only popular assembly possessed by France Louis XIII., however, after hearing the complaints, and promising to consider them, shut the doors against the deputies, made no further answer, and dismissed them to their houses without the slightest redress. The Assembly was never to meet again till the day of reckoning for all, a hundred and seventy years later.

Under the mighty hand of Cardinal Richelieu the nobles were still more effectually crushed, and the great course of foreign war begun, which lasted, with short intervals, for a century. The great man died, and so did his feeble master; and his policy, both at home and abroad, was inherited by his pupil Giulio Mazarini, while the regency for the child, Louis XIV... Continue reading book >>

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