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No. 180. WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 1711.
-Delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi. HOR. EPIST. i. 2. 14.
The monarch's folly makes the people rue.
THE following letter has so much weight and good sense, that I cannot forbear inserting it, though it relates to a hardened sinner, whom I have very little hopes of reforming, viz. Lewis XIV. of France.
"Amidst the variety of subjects of which you have treated, I could wish it had fallen in your way, to expose the vanity of conquests. This thought would naturally lead one to the French king, who has been generally esteemed the greatest conqueror of our age, till her Majesty's armies had torn from him so many of his countries, and deprived him of the fruit of all his former victories. For my own part, if I were to draw his picture, I should be for taking him no lower than to the peace of Ryswick, just at the end of his triumphs, and before his reverse of fortune; and even then I should not forbear thinking his ambition had been vain, and unprofitable to himself and his people.
"As for himself, it is certain he can have gained nothing by his conquests, if they have not rendered him master of more subjects, more riches, or greater power. What I shall be able to offer upon these heads, I resolve to submit to your consideration.
"To begin then with his increase of subjects. From the time he came of age, and has been a manager for himself, all the people he had acquired were such only as he had reduced by his wars, and were left in his possession by the peace; he had conquered not above one third part of Flanders, and consequently no more than one third part of the inhabitants of that province.
"About one hundred years ago the houses in that country were all numbered, and by a just computation the inhabitants of all sorts could not then exceed 750,000 souls. And if any man will consider the desolation by almost perpetual wars, the numerous armies that have lived almost ever since at discretion upon the people, and how much of their commerce has been removed for more security to other places, he will have little reason to imagine that their numbers have since increased; and therefore with one third part of that province that prince can have gained no more than one third part of the inhabitants, or 250,000 new subjects, even though it should be supposed they were all contented to live still in their native country, and transfer their allegiance to a new master.
"The fertility of this province, its convenient situation for trade and commerce, its capacity for furnishing employment and subsistence to great numbers, and the vast armies that have been maintained here, make it credible that the remaining two thirds of Flanders are equal to all his other conquests; and consequently by all, he cannot have gained more than 750,000 new subjects, men, women, and children, especially if a deduction shall be made of such as have retired from the conqueror, to live under their old masters.
"It is time now to set his loss against his profit,
and to show for the new subjects he had acquired, how many old ones he had lost in the acquisition. I think that in his wars he has seldom brought less into the field in all places than 200,000 fighting men, besides what have been left in garrisons; and I think the common computation is, that of an army, at the latter end of a campaign, without sieges or battles, scarce four fifths can be mustered of those that came into the field at the beginning of the year. His wars at several times, till the last peace, have held about twenty years; and if 40,000 yearly lost, or a fifth part of his armies, are to be multiplied by 20, he cannot have lost less than 800,000 of his old subjects, and all able-bodied men; a greater number than the new subjects he had acquired.
"But this loss is not all. Providence seems to have equally divided the whole mass of mankind into different sexes, that every woman may have her husband, and that both may equally contribute to the continuance of the species. It follows then, that for all the men that have been lost, as many women must have lived single, and it were but charity to believe, they have not done all the service they were capable of doing in their generation. In so long a course of years great part of them must have died, and all the rest must go off at last, without leaving any representatives behind. By this account he must have lost not only 800,000 subjects, but double that number, and all the increase that was reasonably to be expected from it.
"It is said in the last war there was a famine in his kingdom, which swept away two millions of his people. This is hardly credible. If the loss was only of one fifth part of that sum, it was very great. But it is no wonder there should be famine, where so much of the people's substance is taken away for the
king's use, that they have not sufficient left to provide against accidents; where so many of the men are taken from the plough to serve the king in his wars, and a great part of the tillage is left to the weaker hands of so many women and children. Whatever was the loss, it must undoubtedly be placed to the account of his ambition.
"And so must also the destruction or banishment of 3 or 400,000 of his reformed subjects; he could have no other reasons for valuing those lives so very cheap but only to recommend himself to the bigotry of the Spanish nation.
"How should there be industry in a country where all property is precarious? What subject will sow his land, that his Prince may reap the whole harvest? Parsimony and frugality must be strangers to such a people; for will any man save to day, what he has reason to fear will be taken from him to-morrow? And where is the encouragement for marrying? Will any man think of raising children, without any assurance of clothing for their backs, or so much as food for their bellies? And thus by his fatal ambition, he must have lessened the number of his subjects, not only by slaughter and destruction; but by preventing their very births, he has done as much as was possible towards destroying posterity itself.
"Is this then the great, the invincible Lewis? This the immortal man, the tout puissant, or the almighty, as his flatterers have called him? Is this the man that is so celebrated for his conquests? For every subject he has acquired, has he not lost three that were his inheritance? Are not his troops fewer, and those neither so well fed, or clothed, or paid, as they were formerly, though he has now so much greater cause to exert himself? And what can be
the reason of all this, but that his revenue is a great deal less, his subjects are either poorer, or not so many to be plundered by constant taxes for his use?
"It is well for him he had found out a way to steal a kingdom; if he had gone on conquering as he did before, his ruin had been long since finished. This brings to my mind a saying of King Pyrrhus, after he had a second time beat the Romans in a pitched battle, and was complimented by his generals; 'Yes,' says he, such another victory and I am quite undone.’ And since I have mentioned Pyrrhus, I will end with a very good, though known story of this ambitious madman. When he had shown the utmost fondness for his expedition against the Romans, Cyneas, his chief minister, asked him what he proposed to himself by this war? Why,' says Pyrrhus, 'to conquer the Romans, and reduce all Italy to my obedience.' 'What then?' says Cyneas. To pass over into Sicily,' says Pyrrhus, and then all the Sicilians must be our subjects. 'And what does your Majesty intend next?' 'Why truly,' says the king, to conquer Carthage, and make myself master of all Africa.' 'And what, sir,' says the minister, 'is to be the end of all your expeditions? Why then,' says the king, 'for the rest of our lives we will sit down to good wine.' 'How, sir,' replied Cyneas, 'to better than we have now before us? Have we not already as much as we can drink?'
"Riot and excess are not the becoming characters of princes; but if Pyrrhus and Lewis had de
*The kingdom of Spain, seized by Louis XIV. in 1701, for his grandson, as left him by the will of Charles II. which the enemies of France looked upon as forged, or made when Charles was non compos.