THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
In 1715 the great career of the Roi-Soleil reached its end in a gloomy anticlimax. Louis XIV's son and grandson having died before him, the great-grandson, a boy of five, ascended the throne. A regency was established under Phillip of Orléans, who proceeded to set an example of debauchery that was followed with zeal by the king throughout his life. The tone of the court degenerated with the absence of the discipline which the old monarch had upheld, and with this relaxation went a good deal of the genuine refinement that had characterized the preceding reign. Indeed there came a time during the eighteenth century when a young Dauphin excelled in his repertory of mouth-filling oaths.
The royalty, with such a mode of life, showed little concern for the public treasury. Taxes were increased to make up for royal extravagance. The king connived at shady dealings with corporate bodies fostering business schemes analogous to that of John Law. When ruin was imminent, clever economists like Turgot and Necker found themselves unable to do much in the way of staving off disaster.
The precarious state of the government induced a somewhat dismal interest in things economic. Large international enterprises were forming, the French were in India and commerce extended into far-off lands. There was scarcely an industrial revolution, for machinery had not yet entered the field, but there was a great deal of interest in theoretical economics under the influence of Adam Smith and others of the English school. The favorite topics were the nature of wealth and its distribution. Land as the form of riches was the question taken up by a group known as Physiocrats. It was natural that agriculture should come into its own. As a matter of fact, certain nobles returned to their estates and there