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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Cardinal Mazarin

  • [Giulio Mazarini, prime minister of France; born in Italy, 1602; nuncio to France, 1634, and attached by Richelieu to French interests; cardinal, 1641; recommended by Richelieu as his successor; sole adviser of the queen-regent after the death of Louis XIII., which position he maintained, interrupted by a short banishment during the troubles of the Fronde, until his death, March, 1661.]
  • They sing, they will pay.

  • His famous mot, “Ils chantent, ils payeront,” which is quoted in different forms,—sometimes in that patois, half Italian, half French, says Fournier, which made him pronounce union “ognion,” and write “Rocofoco” for Rochefoucauld, and which in this case was “S’ils chantent la cansonette, ils pagaront.” The French received each new tax he laid upon them with satirical poems, hence called “Mazarinades.” Calm under an opposition which exhausted itself in songs, he used to say, “Let them speak, let us act” (Laissons parler et faisons). Voltaire used the same form of expression in a letter to M. Hénin, Sept. 13, 1772: “Let them speak, and allow us to act” (Laissons-les dire, et qu’ils nous laissent faire).
  • It was in reference to this singular form of opposition to Mazarin that Chamfort, in his “Characters and Anecdotes,” puts into the mouth of an anonymous wit the mot, “France is an absolute monarchy tempered by songs” (La France est une monarchie absolue tempérée par des chansons). Of the innumerable parodies of this saying, the best known is, “Russia is a despotism tempered by assassination.”
  • Is he fortunate?

  • The caution of the Italian was shown in the question he always asked before admitting a new candidate to his confidence: “What does the world think of him? Is he fortunate? Has he luck on his side?” (Est-il heureux?)
  • Twice during his career he met with the reverses inseparable from an appeal to the chances of war. In 1649 he accompanied the queen-regent and the young Louis XIV. to the temporary exile into which the half-serious skirmishes of the Fronde sent them. Two years later he was himself banished to Cologne; and having already, in 1648, closed the Thirty Years’ War by the acquisition of Alsace, he could bitterly exclaim, “The kingdom, all of whose boundaries I have extended, contains no asylum for me” (Il ne me reste pas un asile dans un royaume dont j’ai reculé toutes les frontières).
  • On being told that he had but a short time to live, Mazarin walked feebly through the magnificent picture-gallery which formed part of the treasures he had collected during a long career marked by boundless avarice. He was heard to murmur, “Must I quit all these?” The words with which, at twenty years of age, he was presented to Cardinal Barberini by his patron, Cardinal Bentivoglio, he employed to recommend, on his death-bed, to Louis XIV. the future genius of finance, Colbert: “Monseigneur, I am under heavy obligations to your illustrious family; but I consider that I cancel them all by giving you this young man.”