Necker, James

, a celebrated statesman and financier of France, brother to the preceding Louis Necker, was born at Geneva in 1732. After such an education as might qualify him for business, he was in his fifteenth year sent to Paris, where he was employed, first in the bankinghouse of Vernet, and then in that of Thelluson, of which last he became first cashier, and afterwards a partner. Upon the death of Thelluson he established a bank of his own, in partnership with Girardot and Haller, in which, we have just noticed, his brother had a concern. In 1776, when the French finances were in a disordered state, he was appointed director, and soon after comptroller-general of that department. Besides his reputation for financial knowledge and probity, which was now at its height, he had in the reign of Louis XV. adjusted some differences subsisting between the East India company and the crown in such a manner as to obtain, what rarely occurs in such cases, the approbation of both parties. His appointment to the comptrollership of the finances was hailed as an instance of enlargement of mind and liberality of | sentiment, and as honourable to the reign of Lewis XVI.; Necker being the first protestant since the revocation of the edict of Nantes, who had held any important place in the French administration. Of the wisdom of his plans, in this critical situation, various opinions have been entertained, which this is not the place to examine, but it seems generally agreed that his intentions were pure, and his conduct disinterested. He refused all emolument for his services, and advanced a large sum to government from his private property, which he never drew from the public funds. His administration was generally popular, but he had enemies at court, and alter having filled the office of minister of finance for five years, he resigned. Previously to this he had published his “Compte Rendu,” in explanation of his financial system, which was followed by a work entitled “De P Administration des Finances.” This was read and circulated with great avidity, and unhappily scattered opinions on matters of government, by which the people knew not how to profit. M. Calonne, who was his successor, made an attack, before the assembly of notables, upon the veracity of his statements. Necker drew up a reply, which he transmitted to the king, who intimated that if he would forbear making it public, he should shortly be restored to his place. This he refused, and appealed to the nation by publishing his defence, which was so displeasing to the court, that he was exiled to his country-seat at St. Ouen, at the distance of 120 miles from the capital. During his retreat he wrote his work entitled “De l’Importance des Opinions R6ligieuses,” in which he speaks of religion like one who felt its power operating on his own mind, and who was fully convinced of its importance both to individuals and society. Calonne, however, and Brienne, another minister, finding it impossible to lessen the deficiencies of the revenue, thev resigned in their turn; and in August 1788, Necker was reinstated in his former post, to the apparent satisfaction of the court, as well as to the joy of the people; but the acclamations of the latter could not banish from his mind the difficulties with which he had to struggle. He was aware that de Calonne and the archbishop of Sens had both sunk under the public distress, and the impracticability of raising the necessary supplies; and he well knew that the evil was not diminished, and unless some expedient could be hit on to re-establish public credit, he foresaw his | own fate must be similar to that of his predecessors. first intentions were to recal the banished members of the parliament of Paris, and to restore that body to its functions; to replenish the treasury, which he found almost empty; and to relieve the scarcity of corn under which the kingdom, and the capital in particular, then laboured. His next plan was the convocation of the states-general, which had been already promised by the king, and which, in fact, proved the immediate fore-runner of the revolution. Necker was particularly blamed for having consented that the number of members of the tiers etat should be equal to that of the nobles and clergy united, as the nobility and clergy would very naturally insist on voting by orders, while the tiers etat would contend with equal obstinacy for a plurality of voices. The consequences were therefore exactly such as had been foreseen. When the assembly of the states opened, Necker addressed them in a studied speech that pleased no party; even the tiers etat, already taught the sentiments of democracy, resented his saying that the meeting was the effect of royal favour, instead of a right. Nor was he more successful in the plan of government which he drew up, and which the king was to recommend in a speech, for this underwent so many alterations that he absented himself when it was delivered. At this time the prevalence of the democratic party was such as to induce the king to assemble troops around Paris, which measure Necker opposed, and on July 11, 1789, was therefore ordered to quit the kingdom within twenty ­four hours. This he immediately obeyed, and went to Brussels. As soon as his absence was known, the populace assembled, destroyed the Bastille, and proceeded to such other outrages, that the king thought it necessary to recal Necker to appease their fury. He accordingly returned in triumph, but his triumph was short. The populace was no longer to be flattered with declamations on their rights, nor was Necker prepared to adopt the sentiments of the democratic leaders, while it became now his duty to propose financial expedients that were obnoxious to the people. He that had just before been hailed as the friend of the people, was now considered as an aristocrat, and his personal safety was endangered. In this dilemma he desired to resign, offering to leave, as pledges for his integrity, the money which he had advanced to government, viz. about 80,000l. sterling, and his house and furniture. | His resignation being accepted, he left Paris, and in his retreat he was more than once insulted by the very people whu, but a few months before, had considered him as their saviour. Gibbon, who passed four days with him at this period, says, “I could have wished to have exhibited him as a warning to any aspiring youth possessed with the demon of ambition. With all the means of private happiness in his power, he is the most miserable of human beings; the past, the present, and the future, are equally odious to him. When I suggested some domestic amusements, he answered, with a deep tone of despair, * in the state in which I am, I can feel nothing but the blast which has overthrown me.‘” Shortly after this, his mind was diverted from public disappointment by the more poignant grief of domestic calamity; his wife died, after a long illness, in which he had attended her with the most affectionate assiduity. He now had recourse to hia favourite occupation of writing, and several works of different kinds were the product of his solitary hours. His principal pieces are entitled “Sur I’ Administration de M. Necker, par lui-meme;” “Reflections,” &c. which were intended to benefit the king during his captivity and trial; “Du Pouvoir Exécutif,” being an essay that contained his own ideas on the executive part of government; “Dernieres Vue’s de Politiques, et de Finance,” of which the chief object was to discuss what was the best form of government France was capable of receiving. Besides these, he published a “Course of Religious Morality,” and a novel, written at the suggestion of his daughter, entitled “The fatal Consequences of a single Fault.” Though deprived of three- fourths of his fortune, he had sufficient for all his wants, and also to indulge his benevolent disposition. He had been placed on the list of emigrants, but the directory unanimously erased his name, and when the French army entered Swisserland, he was treated by the generals with every mark of respect. His talents and conduct have been alike the subject of dispute, and perhaps the time is not yet come when the latter can. be fully understood. It is well known that all who suffered by the revolution blamed Necker as a principal cause of that event; but it may be questioned whether any talents, guided by the utmost probity and wisdom, could have averted the evils that had been prepared by so long a course of infatuation. Necker passed the latter years of his life in the rational pursuits of | a philosopher and a man of sound judgment and true taste, His only daughter, who married the baron de Stael, ambassador from Sweden to France, and who has made herself known to the literary world by several publications, published some “Memoirs of the Character and Private Life of her Father,” written in a high style of panegyric. 1


Anuual Register.—Adolphus’s Mem. of the French Revolution.— Sketch in Rees’s Cyclopædia, &c. &c. &c.