The Marquis and the Chevalier

The Marquis and the Chevalier

The Marquis and the Chevalier

The Marquis and the Chevalier

Excerpt

In 1740 the Paris of Louis Quinze resembled the camp of a luxurious army, living on its wits in the midst of a sullen but impotent population. France was still the richest country in Europe, as well as the most highly civilized. The prestige won during the long reign of Louis XIV, the present king's immediate predecessor, had not yet diminished. The English, the Prussians, the Austrians, the Spaniards, the Italians and even the Russians were all uneasily conscious of their inferiority beside the brilliant intelligence, the charm and the polish which the Great Century, as it was generally called, of Molière and of Racine, of Turenne and of Colbert, had imparted to French culture.

But this wit and grandeur were concentrated at the centre. The Court glittered. The lawyers and the business men, beyond this magic pale, struggled in an apprehensive twilight. The shopkeepers and the peasantry, the great majority of the people of France, still largely illiterate, superstitious and excluded, in principle, from all hope of economic advancement, seethed helplessly in an outer darkness. They still called their handsome young king Louis the Well Beloved. They still enjoyed the reflected glory of his palace, the Tuileries. But France, socially, was Paris; and Paris, socially, was the throne and the nobility.

To be born into that inner circle meant to have the best of the contemporary world at one's feet, to be familiar, if one chose, with its arts and sciences, to be an honoured guest among its material splendours, to dispose freely of its power and wealth. Such inordinate privileges led inevitably, for the majority of those who exploited them, to an arrogant and cynical extravagance of self-indulgence and in particular to a frank sensuality, ungoverned by any but fashionable considerations, which would today be impossible for any but a few astute master-criminals.

This half savage, half exquisite world of fêtes galantes and ferocious public executions, of graceful refinement and systematized debauchery . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.