Give me your opinions on taxation."
This was the first conversation I had ever had with a monarch. I made a rapid review of the situation, and found myself much in the same position as an actor of the improvised comedy of the Italians, who is greeted by the hisses of the gods if he stops short a moment. I therefore replied with all the airs of a doctor of finance that I could say something about the theory of taxation.
"That's what I want," he replied, "for the practice is no business of yours."
"There are three kinds of taxes, considered as to their effects. The first is ruinous, the second a necessary evil, and the third invariably beneficial"
"Good! Go on."
"The ruinous impost is the royal tax, the necessary is the military, and the beneficial is the popular."
As I had not given the subject any thought I was in a disagreeable position, for I was obliged to go on speaking, and yet not to talk nonsense.
"The royal tax, sire, is that which deplenishes the purses of the subject to fill the coffers of the king."
"And that kind of tax is always ruinous, you think."
"Always, sire; it prevents the circulation of money--the soul of commerce and the mainstay of the state."
"But if the tax be levied to keep up the strength of the army, you say it is a necessary evil."
"Yes, it is necessary and yet evil, for war is an evil."
"Quite so; and now about the popular tax."
"This is always a benefit, for the monarch takes with one hand and gives with the other; he improves towns and roads, founds schools, protects the sciences, cherishes the arts; in fine, he directs this tax towards improving the condition and increasing the happiness of his people."
"There is a good deal of truth in that. I suppose you know Calsabigi?"
"I ought to, your majesty, as he and I established the Genoa Lottery at Paris seven years ago."
"In what class would you put this taxation, for you will agree that it is taxation of a kind?"
"Certainly, sire, and not the least important. It is beneficial when the monarch spends his profits for the good of the people."
"But the monarch may lose?"
"Once in fifty."
"Is that conclusion the result of a mathematical calculation?"
"Such calculations often prove deceptive."
"Not so, may it please your majesty, when God remains neutral."
"What has God got to do with it?"
"Well, sire, we will call it destiny or chance."
"Good! I may possibly be of your opinion as to the calculation, but I don't like your Genoese Lottery. It seems to me an elaborate swindle, and I would have nothing more to do with it, even if it were positively certain that I should never lose."
"Your majesty is right, for the confidence which makes the people risk their money in a lottery is perfectly fallacious."
This was the end of our strange dialogue, and stopping before a building he looked me over, and then, after a short silence, observed,--
"Do you know that you are a fine man?"
"Is it possible that, after the scientific conversation we have had, your majesty should select the least of the qualities which adorn your life guardsmen for remark?"
The king smiled kindly, and said,--
"As you know Marshal Keith, I will speak to him of you."
With that he took off his hat, and bade me farewell. I retired with a profound bow.
Three or four days after the marshal gave me the agreeable news that I had found favour in the king's eyes, and that his majesty thought of employing me.
I was curious to learn the nature of this employment, and being in no kind of hurry I resolved to await events in Berlin. The time passed pleasantly enough, for I was either with Calsabigi, Baron Treidel, or my landlady, and when these resources failed me, I used to walk in the park, musing over the events of my life.
Calsabigi had no difficulty in obtaining permission to continue the lottery on his own account, and he boldly announced that henceforward he would conduct the lottery on his own risk. His audacity was crowned with success, and he obtained a profit of a hundred thousand crowns.