THE BATTLE OF BLENHEIM, 1704
"The decisive blow struck at Blenheim resounded through every part of Europe: it at once destroyed the vast fabric of power which it had taken Louis XIV., aided by the talents of Turenne, and the genius of Vauban, so long to construct."—ALISON.
THOUGH more slowly moulded and less imposingly vast than the empire of Napoleon, the power which Louis XIV, had acquired and was acquiring at the commencement of the eighteenth century, was almost equally menacing to the general liberties of Europe. If tested by the amount of permanent aggrandisement which each procured for France, the ambition of the royal Bourbon was more successful than were the enterprises of the imperial Corsican. All the provinces that Bonaparte conquered, were rent again from France within twenty years from the date when the very earliest of them was acquired. France is not stronger by a single city or a single acre for all the devastating wars of the Consulate and the Empire. But she still possesses Franche-Comté, Alsace, and part of Flanders. She has still the extended boundaries which Louis XIV. gave her. And the royal Spanish marriages, a few years ago, proved clearly how enduring has been the political influence which the arts and arms of France's "Grand Monarque" obtained for her southward of the Pyrenees.
When Louis XIV took the reins of government into his own hands, after the death of Cardinal Mazarin, there was a union of ability with opportunity, such as France had not seen since the days of Charlemagne. Moreover, Louis's career was no brief one. For upwards of forty years, for a period nearly equal to the duration of Charlemagne's reign, Louis steadily followed an aggressive and a generally successful policy. He passed a long youth and manhood of triumph, before the military genius of Marlborough made him acquainted with humiliation and defeat. The great Bourbon lived too long. He should not have outstayed our two English kings—one his dependant, James II., the other his antagonist, William III. Had he died in the year within which they died, his reign would be cited as unequalled