Turgot, Anne-Robert-James

, a French minister of state, was born at Paris, May 10, 1727, of a very ancient Norman family. His father was, for a long time, provost of the corporation of merchants. He was intended for | the church, and went through the requisite preparatory studies; but whether he disliked the catholic religion, or objected to any peculiar doctrines, is not certain. It is generally supposed that the latter was the case, and the intimacy and correspondence he had with Voltaire, Diderot, D’Alembert, &c. afford very probable ground for believing him entirely of their opinion in matters of religion. He looked, however, to the political department, as that which was best adapted to his acquisitions, and the rer sources which he found in his ingenuity and invention. For this purpose he studied the sciences suited to his destination, and mixed experimental philosophy with mathematics, and history with political disquisition. He embraced the profession of the law, and at once displayed his views by fixing on the office of master of the requests, who is the executive officer of government, in operations of commerce and finance. His panegyrist, M. Condorcet, tells us, that a master of requests is rarely without a considerable share of influence respecting some one of the provinces, or the whole state; so that it seldom happens that his liberality or his prejudices, his virtues or his vices, do not, in the course of his life, produce great good or great mischief. About this period Turgot wrote some articles for the Encyclopedic, of which the principal were, Etymology, Existence, Expansibility, Fair, and Foundation. He had prepared several o.thers; but these five only were inserted. All these his biographer praises with more zeal than judgment; the article on Expansibility being very exceptionable, and that on Existence being little more than an ingenious commentary on the first principles of Des Cartes, and by no means deserving to be called the “only improvement in the science of the human mind since the days of Locke.

In 1761, Turgot was appointed intendant of Limoges. The intendant is the confidential officer of the government. He carries their orders on the subject of commerce and finance into execution; and has occasionally the right of making provisional decisions. In this office, which Turgot discharged with great attention and ability for thirteen years, he spent the most useful, though not the most conspicuous, part of his life. He conferred many advantages on his province, corrected many abuses, and opposed many mistaken opinions. In particular, he gave activity to the society of agriculture established at Limoges, by directing | their efforts to important subjects: he opened a mode of public instruction for female professors of midwifery: he procured for the people the attendance of able physicians during the raging of epidemic diseases: he established houses of industry, supported by charity, &c. &c. and during all this time he meditated projects of a more extensive nature, such as an equal distribution of the taxes, the construction of the roads, the regulation of the militia, the prevention of a scarcity of provisions, and the protection of commerce.

At the death of Louis XV. the public voice called M. Turgot to the first offices of government, as a man who united the experience resulting from habits of business, to all the improvement which study can procure. After being at the head of the marine department only a short time, he was, in August 1774, appointed comptroller-general of the finances. In this office he introduced a great many regulations, which were unquestionably beneficial, but it has been remarked, that he might have done more, if he had attempted less. He does not appear to have attended closely to the actual state of the public mind in France. He would have been an enlightened minister for a sovereign, where the rights of the people were felt and understood. He endeavoured, it is true, to raise them from the abject state in which they had long continued, but this was to be done at the expence of the rich and powerful. The attempt to establish municipalities probably put a period to his career. This scheme consisted in the establishment of many provincial assemblies for the internal government, whose members were elected according to the most rigorous rules of representation. These little parliaments, by their mutual contests, might, and indeed did, lay the foundation of great confusion, and created a spirit of liberty which was never understood, and passed easily into licentiousness. The nobility, whom he attempted to controul the clergy, whom he endeavoured to restrict; and the officers of the crown, whom he wished to restrain, united in their common cause. All his operations created a murmur, and all his projects experienced an opposition, which ended in his dismissal from office in 1776, after holding it about twenty months. From that period, he Jived a private and studious life, and died March 20, 1781, in the fifty-fourth year of his age. Condorcet has written | a long life of him, but it is throughout the whole a pane-­gyric His countrymen now do not seem agreed in his chara< ter. By some it is considered that he might have saved the state by others he is classed among those who precipitated the revolution. 1

1 Life by Condorcet, published in 1737, 8vo. Monthly and Crit. Reviews for that year. —Dict. Hist.