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FrRevol_051-100.indd 3 3/16/12 1:02 PM CHAPTER IV Ofthe Character ofM. Necker as a Public Man. M. Necker, a citizen of the republic of Geneva, had cultivated literature from his earliest years with great attention; and, when called by circumstances to dedicate himself to business and financial transactions, his earlier taste for literature mixed dignified sentiments and philosophical views with the positive interests of life. Madame Necker, certainly one of the most enlightened women of her day, was in the habit of receiving at her house all the eminent men of the eighteenth century, so rich in distinguished and eminently talented individuals.1 At the same time her extreme strictness in point of religion rendered her inaccessible to every doctrine at variance with the enlightened creed in which she had happily beenborn. Those who knew her are unanimous in declaring that she passed over all the opinions and all the passions ofher age, without ceasing to be a Protestant in the true Christian spirit, equally remote from irreligion and intolerance . M. Necker was actuated by similar impressions: in fact, no exclusive system could be acceptable to his mind, of which prudence was one of the distinguishing features. He took no pleasure in changes, as far as regarded their novelty; but he was a stranger to those prejudices of habit to which a superior mind can never subject itself. His first literary essay was a "Eulogy on Colbert," which obtained the prize from the French Academy. He was blamed by the philosophers of the day for not applying, in all its extent, to commerce and finances the 1. Madame Necker married Jacques Necker in November 1764. She received, among others, Voltaire, Diderot, Halbach, Helvetius, Grimm, d'Alembert, Gibbon, Hume, and Walpole. FrRevol_051-100.indd 4 3/16/12 1:02 PM PART I system which they wished to impose on the mind. The philosophic fanaticism2 which proved one of the evils of the Revolution had already begun to show itself. These men were desirous of attributing to a few principles that absolute power which had hitherto been absorbed by a few individuals; as if the domain of inquiry admitted of restriction or exclusion. M. Necker, in his second work, On the Corn Trade and Corn Laws, admitted the necessity of certain restrictions on the export of corn: restrictions required by the daily and pressing wants of the indigent classes. It was on this occasion that M. Turgot and his friends came to a rupture with M. Necker: a popular commotion caused by the high price of bread took place in the year 1775/ when his book was published, and, from his having dwelt on the bad decisions which led to the tumult, the more enthusiastic part of the "Economistes" threw the blame of it on his publication. But the blame was evidently absurd; for a tract founded on purely general views can influence, at least in the outset, none but the upper classes. M. Necker, having been, during life, accustomed to real transactions, was capable of accommodating himself to the modifications which they required. This, however, by no means led him to disdainfully reject general principles, for none but inferior minds place theory and practice in opposition to each other. The one ought to be the result ofthe other; both are found to aid and extend each other. A few months before his appointment to the cabinet, M. Necker made a journey to England. He came back with a profound admiration ofmost of the institutions ofthat country; but what particularly fixed his attention was the great influence of publicity on national credit and the immense means conferred by the mere existence of a representative assembly for renewing the financial resources ofthe state. He had not, however, at that time, the slightest idea ofproposing a change in the political organization of France. And had not imperious circumstances afterward driven the King to such a change, M. Necker would never have thought himselfau2 . On this issue Madame de Stael is in agreement with Burke's critique of the philosophical radicalism of the French Revolution and its inclination to abstract thought. 3ยท The revolt, known as laguerre des farines, developed and manifested itself mostly in the region of Paris. FrRevol_051-100.indd 5 3/16/12 1:02 PM cHAPTER I v. Character ofNecker thorized to take part in it. His rule was to apply, above all things, to the direct and special duty of his situation; and, though amply...


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