I thought I should hear no more of it, but I was mistaken. I continued, however, to amuse myself, and my pleasure in spending freely quite prevented me from thinking about the future. The Abbe de Bernis, whom I went to see regularly once a week, told me one day that the comptroller- general often enquired how I was getting on. "You are wrong," said the abbe, "to neglect him." He advised me to say no more about my claims, but to communicate to him the means I had spoken of for increasing the revenues of the state. I laid too great store by the advice of the man who had made my fortune not to follow it. I went to the comptroller, and trusting in his probity I explained my scheme to him. This was to pass a law by which every estate, except that left by father to son, should furnish the treasury with one year's income; every deed of gift formally drawn up being subject to the same provision. It seemed to me that the law could not give offence to anyone; the heir had only to imagine that he had inherited a year later than was actually the case. The minister was of the same opinion as myself, told me that there would not be the slightest difficulty involved, and assured me that my fortune was made. In a week afterwards his place was taken by M. de Silhouette, and when I called on the new minister he told me coldly that when my scheme became law he would tell me. It became law two years afterwards, and when, as the originator of the scheme, I attempted to get my just reward, they laughed in my face.
Shortly after, the Pope died, and he was succeeded by the Venetian Rezzonico, who created my patron, the Abby de Bernis, a cardinal. However, he had to go into exile by order of the king two days after his gracious majesty had presented him with the red cap: so good a thing it is to be the friend of kings!
The disgrace of my delightful abbe left me without a patron, but I had plenty of money, and so was enabled to bear this misfortune with resignation.
For having undone all the work of Cardinal Richelieu, for having changed the old enmity between France and Austria into friendship, for delivering Italy from the horrors of war which befell her whenever these countries had a bone to pick, although he was the first cardinal made by a pope who had had plenty of opportunities for discovering his character, merely because, on being asked, he had given it as his opinion that the Prince de Soubise was not a fit person to command the French armies, this great ecclesiastic was driven into exile. The moment the Pompadour heard of this opinion of his, she decreed his banishment--a sentence which was unpopular with all classes of society; but they consoled themselves with epigrams, and the new cardinal was soon forgotten. Such is the character of the French people; it cares neither for its own misfortunes nor for those of others, if only it can extract laughter from them.
In my time epigrammatists and poetasters who assailed ministers or even the king's mistresses were sent to the Bastille, but the wits still persisted in being amusing, and there were some who considered a jest incomplete that was not followed by a prosecution. A man whose name I have forgotten--a great lover of notoriety--appropriated the following verses by the younger Crebellon and went to the Bastille rather than disown them.
"All the world's upside down! Jupiter has donned the gown--the King. Venus mounts the council stair--the Pompadour. Plutus trifles with the fair--M. de Boulogne. Mercury in mail is drest--Marechal de Richelieu. Mighty Mars has turned a priest--the Duc de Clermont, abbe of St. Germain-des-pres."
Crebillon, who was not the sort of man to conceal his writings, told the Duc de Choiseul that he had written some verses exactly like these, but that it was possible the prisoner had been inspired with precisely the same ideas. This jest was applauded, and the author of "The Sofa" was let alone.
Cardinal de Bernis passed ten years in exile, 'procul negotiis', but he was not happy, as he told me himself when I knew him in Rome fifteen years afterwards.