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failed.to employ his rash courage and headlong spirit of enterprise in actions for which his happier native country afforded no free stage.
At this period, as if to save this fair realm from the various woes with which it was menaced, the tottering throne was ascended by Louis XI., whose character, evil as it was in itself, met, combatted, and in a great degree neutralised the mischiefs of the time—as poisons of opposing qualities are said, in ancient books of medicine, to have the power of counteracting each other.
Brave enough for every useful and political purpose, Louis had not a spark of that romantic valour, or of the pride connected with it, and arising out of it, which fought on for the point of honour, when the point of utility had been long gained. Calm, crafty, and profoundly attentive to his own interest, he made every sacrifice, both of pride and passion, which could interfere with it. He was careful in disguising his real sentiments and purposes from all who approached him, and frequently used the expressions, "that the king knew not how to reign who knew not how to dissemble; and that, for himself, if he thought his very cap knew his secrets, he would throw it into the fire." No man of his own, or of any other time, better understood how to avail himself of the frailties of others, and when to avoid giving any advantage by the untimely indulgence of his own.
He was by nature vindictive and cruel, even to the extent of finding pleasure in the frequent executions which he commanded. But, as no touch of mercy ever induced him to spare, when he could with safety condemn, so no sentiment of vengeance ever stimulated him to a premature violence. He seldom sprung on his prey till it was fairly within his grasp, and till all chance of rescue was in vain; and his movements were so studiously disguised, that his success was generally what first announced to the world what object he had been manoeuvring to attain.
In like manner the avarice of Louis gave way to apparent profusion, when it was necessary to bribe the favourite or minister of a rival prince for averting any impending attack, or to break up any alliance confederated against him. He was fond of licence and pleasure; but neither beauty nor the chase, though both were ruling passions, ever withdrew him from the most regular attendance to public business and the affairs of his kingdom. His knowledge of mankind was profound, and he had sought it in the private walks of life, in which he often personally mingled; and, though personally proud and haughty, he hesitated not, with an inattention to the arbitrary divisions of society, which was then thought something portentously unnatural, to raise from the lowest rank men whom he employed on the most important duties, and knew so well how to choose them, that he was rarely disappointed in their qualities.
Yet there were contradictions in the nature of this artful and able monarch; for humanity is never uniform. Himself the most false and insincere of mankind, some of the greatest errors of his life arose from too rash a confidence in the
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honour and integrity of others. When these errors took place, they seem to have arisen from an over refined system of policy, which induced Louis to assume the appearance of undoubting confidence in those whom it was his object to overreach; for, in his general conduct, he was as jealous and suspicious as any tyrant who ever lived.
Two other points may be noticed, to complete the sketch of this formidable character, who rose among the rude chivalrous sovereigns of the period to the rank of a keeper among wild beasts, who, by superior wisdom and policy, by distribution of food, and some discipline by blows, comes finally to predominate over those, who, if unsubjected by his arts, would by main strength have torn him to pieces.
The first of these attributes was Louis's excessive superstition, a plague with which Heaven often afflicts those who refuse to listen to the dictates of religion. The remorse arising from his evil actions, Louis never endeavoured to appease by any relaxation in his Machiavellian stratagems, but laboured in vain to sooth and silence that painful feeling by superstitious observances, severe penance, and profuse gifts to the ecclesiastics. The second property, with which the first is sometimes found strangely united, was a disposition to low pleasures and obscure debauchery. The wisest, or at least the most crafty sovereign of his time, he was fond of ordinary life, and, being himself a man of wit, enjoyed the jests and repartees of social conversation more than could have been expected from
other points of his character. He even mingled in the comic adventures of obscure intrigue, with a freedom scarce consistent with the habitual and guarded jealousy of his character; and was so fond of this species of humble gallantry, that he caused a number of its gay and licentious anecdotes to be enrolled in a collection well known to book collectors, in whose eyes (and the work is unfit for any other) the right edition is very precious.
By means of this monarch's powerful and prudent, though most unamiable character, it pleased Heaven, who works by the tempest as well as by the soft small rain, to restore to the great French nation the benefits of civil government, which, at the time of his accession, they had nearly lost altogether.
Ere he succeeded to the crown, Louis had given evidence of his vices rather than of his talents. His first wife, Margaret of Scotland, was " done to death by slanderous tongues" in her husband's court, where, without his encouragement, no word had been breathed against that amiable and injured princess. He had been an ungrateful and a rebellious son; at one time conspiring to seize his father's person, and at another levying open war against him. For the first he was banished to his appanage of Dauphine', which he governed with much sagacity; for the second, he was driven into absolute exile, and forced to throw himself on the mercy, and almost the charity of the duke of Burgundy and his son, where he enjoyed hospitality, afterwards indifferently requited, until the death of his father in 1461.
In the very outset of his reign, Louis was almost overpowered by a league formed against him by the great vassals of France, with the Duke of Burgundy, or rather his son, the Count de Charalois, at its head. They levied a powerful army, blockaded Paris, fought a battle of doubtful event under its very walls, and put the French monarchy on the brink of actual destruction. It usually happens in such cases, that the most sagacious general of the two gains the real fruit, though perhaps not the martial fame, of the disputed field. Louis, who had shown great personal bravery during the battle of Montehery, was able, by his prudence, to avail himself of its undecided event, as if it had been a victory on his side. He temporized until the enemy had broken up their leagues, and showed so much dexterity in sowing jealousies among those great powers, that their alliance " for the public weal," as they termed it, but, in reality, for the overthrow of all but the external appearance of the French monarchy, broke to pieces, and was never again renewed in a manner so formidable. From this period, for several years, Louis, relieved of all danger from England, by the civil wars of York and Lancaster, was engaged, like an unfeeling but able physician, in curing the wounds of the body politic, or rather in stopping, now by gentle remedies, now by the use of fire and steel, the progress of those mortal gangrenes with which it was then infected. The brigandage of the free companies, and the unpunished oppressions of the nobility, he laboured to lessen, since he could not actually stop them; and gradually, by dint