Aguesseau, Henry Francis D'

, a French statesman of great worth and talents, was born at Limoges, Nov. 7, 1668, the son of Henry d’Aguesseau, then intendant of the Limoisin, and afterwards counsellor of state. The family was distinguished for having produced many able magistrates, among whom was Anthony, the grandfather of the chancellor, who was first president of the parliament of Bourdeaux. Henry-Francis, the subject of the present article, was educated under his father in every species of knowledge which promised to qualify him for the office of magistrate. After being admitted, in 1690, an advocate, he became, a few months after, advocate-general of the parliament of Paris, at the age of only twenty-two years. | The king, in appointing one so young to an office of very great consequence, was guided solely by the recommendation of his father. “I know him,” said his majesty, “to be incapable of deceiving me, even in the case of his own son;” and the young advocate completely justified the confidence reposed in him. The celebrated Denis Talon, who had obtained great reputation in the same office, declared that he should have been willing to conclude his career as that young man had begun his. After having performed the functions of his office with reputation equal to his commencement, he became procurator-general; and the nature of his new office furnished him with occasion to display new talents in the public service. In particular, he introduced a complete system of reformation in the management of the hospitals, by which abuses were prevented or corrected; and he restored order and discipline in the tribunals, by which the criminal code was greatly improved. In questions respecting estates, he discovered much acuteness and knowledge of antiquities.

In 1709, the war and famine, ^nd public distress rendered his place of much importance, and called forth the qualities of the heart as well as the head. At this critical period, Desmarets, the comptroller-general, appointed a committee of the principal magistrates, among whom was D‘Aguessean, whose zeal and knowledge animated the whole. He contrived to discover the forestallers of pro­.visions; punished the most guilty; and re-established credit and confidence; and from this time, a sense of the value of his public services made him be often consulted on the most difficult points of administration, and employed to draw up memorials for the king. Towards the end of the reign, however, of Louis XIV. he was threatened withdisgrace for having refused to register the famous bull TJnigenitus. On this occasion it was that madame D’Aguesseau, when her husband was about to set out for Versailles, said, “Go, and before the king, forget your wife and children, and lose every thing but your honour.” D’Aguesseau, without perhaps understanding the whole of the doctrines condemned by that bull, thought he perceived, in part of its regulations, something that threatened the rights of monarchy, which he therefore had the courage to defend against the monarch himself. It was this sense of the matter which produced the spirited answer he gave to Quirini, the pope’s nuncio “Is it thus,” said | Quirini, “that you manufacture arms against Rome” “No, Monsieur,” replied D’Aguesseau, “these are not arms, but shields.

Louis XIV. however, died, and for some time during the regency, D‘Aguesseau enjoyed all the credit which his character and virtues merited. In 1717, he succeeded Voisin as chancellor; but before a year expired, the regent took the seals from him, and ordered him into exile for having opposed the establishment of the royal bank, and the other projects contrived by Mr. Law. It was in Vain that he endeavoured to expose the danger of issuing a quantity of notes, the value of which was merely imaginary; but the public were struck with the novelty of the scheme, and charmed with its delusive plausibility, and D’Aguesseau wat> ordered to retire to his estate at Fresnes, while the seals were given to D’Argenson.

The issue of Law’s project is w<>ll known. For two years, it amused the French public, and then the bubble burst. Government was now so embarrassed, and the people so dissatisfied, that in 1720, the regent thought proper to recall the discarded chancellor, and restore the seals to him. Mr. Law himself, and the chevalier de Conflans, first gentleman of the chamber to the regent, were dispatched to D‘Aguesseau at Fresnes, while Dubois was ordered to demand the seals from D’Argenson. D’Aguesseau’s return was blamed by a party composed of members of the parliament, and of some men of letters. They did not relish his accepting a favour conveyed through the hands of Mr. Law; but, says his biographer, he would have been more to blame, had he refused what had less tke appearance of a favour, than of amends for injury tendered by the chief minister of state.

Aguesseau himself considered it as an honour to be recalled in a time of danger, and immediately began to repair the mischief done in his absence, by ordering the payment of the notes issued by the bank, as far as was possible; and although the loss to individuals was great, this measure was less odious than a total bankruptcy, which had been proposed. But a new storm burst forth in this corrupt court, which he was unable to oppose with his usual firmness. The regent, who had cajoled the parliament to nullify the will of Louis XIV. now solicited him to register the declaration of the king in favour of the bull Unigenitus. This was done in compliance with Dubois, now become | archbishop of Cambray, and wfro, expecting a cardinal’s hat, had flattered the court of Rome with hopes of hayiug the bull registered. D‘Aguesseau had refused this, as we have seen, in the reign of Louis XIV. without being influenced by any spirit of party, but purely from his attachment to the rights of the crown. But now, when chancellor, he seemed to view the matter in another light; he thought it his duty tx> negociate with the parliament; and the parliament rejected his propositions, and was banished to Pontoise. The regent then imagiued he might register the declaration in the grand council. In this solemn assembly D’Aguesseau met with a repartee which he no doubt felt. Perelle, one of the members, having opposed the registration with much spirit, D’Aguesseau asked him where he had found all his arguments against it “In the pleadings of the deceased M. chancellor D’Aguesseau,” answered Perelle, very coolly; nor was this the only instance in which he was treated with ridicule on this change in his sentiments and conduct. In the mean time the court having threatened to send the parliament to Blois, the chancellor offered to resign the seals; but the regent requested him to retain them: and at length the parliament consented to register the disputed declaration with certain modifications. D‘Aguesseau, however, did not enjoy his honours long. In 1722, he refused to yield precedence to cardinal Dubois, the first minister; and this statesman, who wished to keep at a distance from court every man of virtue and dignity of character, procured the chancellor to be again banished, and he was not recalled until 1727, but without having the seals restored to him. In the mean time the court and parliament were still at variance on ecclesiastical affairs, and the cardinal Fleuri wished to engage D’Aguesseau’s influence in favour of the court; but the latter had unfortunately lost his credit in a great measure, and was considered as a deserter from the cause which he Jiad once defended with so much spirit.

In 1737, the seals were again restored to him, but sick jof court affairs and intrigues, he determined to confine himself to his duties as a minister of justice, and in this capacity he performed essential service to his country by restoring the true spirit of the laws, and rendering the execution of them uniform throughout France. In 1730, having attained his eighty-second year, he felt for the first time that his infirmities interrupted his labours, and did | not wish to retain a situation of which he could no longer perform the duties. The king, in accepting his resignation, continued to him the honours of the office of chancellor, and bestowed on him a pension of 100,000 franks, which he did not long enjoy, as he died Feb. 9, 1751.

In 1694, he married Anne le Fevre d‘Ormesson, a lady worthy of him, and with whom he lived happily until her death at the village of Anteuil in 1735, when she was interred, agreeably to her own orders, in the common burial place of the parish; and there her husband desired also to be interred, and for some time a simple cross only pointed out the remains of the chancellor D’ Aguesseau. Louis XV. however, caused a magnificent monument, in the form of an obelisk, to be erected, which remained until destroyed by the revolutionary rabble. It has since been repaired at the public expense; and in 1810 the statue of D‘ Aguesseau was placed before the peristyle of the legislative, palace, parallel to that of the famous L’Hopital.

D' Aguesseau, it is universally acknowledged, was an excellent and upright magistrate, and of sentiments more liberal than could be tolerated in a corrupt court. His memory was surprising, his apprehension quick, and his knowledge of the law extensive and profound. He understood radically, not only his mother tongue, but also English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Greek, and the oriental languages. Studying languages he called an amusement; and reading the ancient poets, the only passion of his youth. He made verses, which were approved by Racine and Boileau, who were almost the only companions of his leisure. His talents he exercised in offices of virtue, but never to shew his superiority; and he himself appeared to be the last man who was acquainted with the advantages he conferred on society. His countrymen fondly compare him to our illustrious Bacon; but although we are not disposed to rank him so high, it may be allowed that his imagination was fertile, his ideas clear, his images striking, his arguments strong, and his Janguage elegant. He was indeed a prodigy of science and virtue, and a model of true elegance and taste; and the sweetness of his temper, with the gentleness and modesty of his deportment and manners, cast a most attractive lustre over his great intellectual acquirements. He was a stranger to no human science, and made them all subservient to the improvement of those religious and moral principles that | ennoble human nature. He wasone of the first men of his age, and that was the age of Louis XIV. Another important part of his character we shall give in the words of one of his editors: “The enemies,” says he, “of revealed religion, are perpetually telling us, that it renders man abject and pusillanimous; contracts and shackles the understanding; retards the progress of science, and is only fit for weak and vulgar minds. If there were not a multitude of examples, adapted to confound the abettors of such an extravagant notion, that of the chancellor D’Aguesseau would alone be sufficient for that purpose. This illustrious magistrate, whose sublime genius, and universal knowledge, his country, and indeed the learned world in general, beheld with admiration; who was one of the brightest ornaments of the present age; and who, with unremitting activity, consecrated his talents, and his whole life, to the service of his country, was an humble and zealous disciple of the Christian religion, which he considered as the true philosophy; because it was, according to him, the only guide which could shew man what he was, what he is, and can render him what he ought to be.

The works of D’Aguesseau are comprized in 13 vols. 4to, Paris, 1759 89. The edition printed at Yverdun, 1772 75, 12 vols. 8vo, is not complete. A few of them have been published separately. 1


Biographie Universelle. —Moreri, vol. X. p. 74. —Dict. Hist.orique. Life prefixed to his wgrks. Crit. Rev. vol. VI. p. 75. Month. Rev. vol. LXXIII.