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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

In the Last Days of King Louis’s Reign

By Gouverneur Morris (1752–1816)

[A Letter to Mrs. Morris of Philadelphia, May, 1789.—From The Life of Gouverneur Morris. By Jared Sparks. 1832.]

I HAD the honor to be present on the fifth of this month at the opening of the States-General; a spectacle more solemn to the mind, than gaudy to the eye. And yet, there was displayed everything of noble and of royal in this titled country. A great number of fine women, and a very great number of fine dresses, ranged round the Hall. On a kind of stage the throne; on the left of the King and a little below him the Queen; a little behind him to the right, and on chairs, the Princes of the blood; on the right and left, at some distance from the throne, the various Princesses, with the gentlemen and ladies of their retinue. Advanced on the stage, to the left of the throne, the Keeper of the Seals. Several officers of the household, richly caparisoned, strewed about in different places. Behind the throne, a cluster of guards, of the largest size, dressed in ancient costumes, taken from the times of chivalry. In front of the throne on the right, below the stage, the Ministers of State, with a long table before them. On the opposite side of the Hall some benches, on which sat the Maréchals of France, and other great officers. In front of the Ministers, on benches facing the opposite side of the Hall, sat the Representatives of the Clergy, being priests of all colors, scarlet, crimson, black, white, and gray, to the number of three hundred. In front of the Maréchals of France, on benches facing the Clergy, sat an equal number of Representatives of the Nobility, dressed in a robe of black, waistcoats of cloth of gold, and over their shoulders, so as to hang forward to their waists, a kind of lappels about a quarter of a yard wide at top, and wider at bottom, made of cloth of gold. On benches, which reached quite across the Hall, and facing the stage, sat the Representatives of the People clothed in black. In the space between the Clergy and Nobles, directly in front of the Representatives of the People, and facing the throne, stood the heralds-at-arms, with their staves and in very rich dresses.

When the King entered, he was saluted with a shout of applause. Some time after he had taken his seat, he put on a round beaver, ornamented with white plumes, the part in front turned up, with a large diamond button in the centre. He read his speech well, and was interrupted at a part, which affected his audience, by a loud shout of Vive le Roi. After this had subsided, he finished his speech, and received again an animated acclamation of applause. He then took off his hat, and after a while put it on again, at which the Nobles also put on their hats, which resembled the King’s, excepting the button. The effect of this display of plumage was fine.

The Keeper of the Seals then performed his genuflexions to the throne, and mumbled out, in a very ungraceful manner, a speech of considerable length, which nobody pretends to judge of, because nobody heard it. He was succeeded by M. Necker, who soon handed his speech to his clerk, being unable to go through with it. The clerk delivered it much better than the Minister, and that is no great praise. It was three hours long, contained many excellent things, but too much of compliment, too much of repetition, and indeed too much of everything, for it was too long by two hours, and yet fell short in some capital points of great expectation. He received, however, very repeated plaudits from the audience, some of which were merited, but more were certainly paid to his character, than to his composition. M. Necker’s long speech now comes to a close, and the King rises to depart. The Hall resounds with a long loud Vive le Roi. He passes the Queen, who rises to follow him. At this moment some one, imbued with the milk of human kindness, originates a faint Vive la Reine. She makes a humble courtesy and presents the sinking of the high Austrian spirit; a livelier acclamation in return, and to this her lowlier bending, which is succeeded by a shout of loud applause. Here drops the curtain on the first great act of this great drama, in which Bourbon gives freedom. His courtiers seem to feel, what he seems to be insensible of, the pang of greatness going off.