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

Cardinal Richelieu

  • [Armand Jean du Plessis, a French ecclesiastic and statesman; born Sept. 5, 1585; Bishop of Luçon, 1607; secretary of state, 1616; cardinal, 1622; admitted to the royal council, 1624, which he continued to direct for nearly twenty years; founded the French Academy, 1635; supported the Protestants against Austria in the Thirty Years’ War, and Holland against Spain; died Dec. 4, 1642.]
  • Show me six lines written by the most honest man in the world, and I will find enough therein to hang him (Qu’on me donne six lignes de la main du plus honnête homme, j’y trouverai de quoi le faire pendre).

  • Fournier says that the cardinal did not descend to these details of an executioner in search of victims. The story is told, that, when the cardinal made this remark to his secretaries, one of them, thinking to catch him, wrote upon a card, “One and two are three.”—“Blasphemy against the Holy Trinity,” cried Richelieu, as he read it: “One and two make one!”
  • Fournier, however, admits the authenticity of the cardinal’s maxim, “Tout par raison” (Every thing by reason), which Voltaire in a letter to M. de Taulès, March 21, 1768, calls trivial. “The policy of Henry IV.,” says Fournier, “seemed to Richelieu to be the reasonable one for France; he took it well into account, and gave himself no other task than to continue it. Henry IV. had said, ‘I wish the Spanish language to be heard only in Spain, the German only in Germany; but wherever French is spoken ought to belong to me’ (mais toute la françoise doit être ê moi). Such were to be the real boundaries of France. So Richelieu said in his turn, ‘The aim of my ministry has been this: to re-establish the natural limits of Gaul, to identify Gaul with France, and wherever ancient Gaul extended to establish a new one.’”—L’Esprit dans l’Histoire, 257.
  • Michelet discredits Richelieu’s alleged comparison between the blood of his victims and the color of his cardinal’s robe: “When I have once made up my mind, I go straight to the point. I overturn every thing, I mow down every thing, and then I cover every thing with my red cassock” (Quand une fois j’ai pris ma résolution, je vais droit à mon but, je renverse tout, je fauche tout, et ensuite je couvre tout de ma soutane rouge). “They are words,” says Michelet, “which make one shudder.”—Précis de l’Histoire de France, 237. Fournier, however, thinks that by the omission of the words, “I mow down every thing” (Je fauche tout), it becomes merely the expression of the cardinal’s indomitable will. He is more likely to have used a maxim like Grant’s injunction, “Let no guilty man escape;” which is thus attributed to him, “Let no fault go unpunished.”
  • The father of De Thou had criticised in his History of France a great-uncle of the cardinal; who said, when ordering the high-minded and virtuous companion of Cinq-Mars to execution, “Thy father put me in his history, I will put the son in mine” (Ton père m’a mis dans son histoire, je mettrai le fils dans la mienne).
  • On receiving the last sacraments, Dec. 4, 1642, he said, “I pray God to condemn me if ever I meant aught save the welfare of religion and the state.” The curé asked him if he forgave his enemies: “I have never had any,” he replied, “but those of the state” (Je n’en ai jamais eu d’autres que ceux de l’état). Fournier says the remark was true. Even the execution of Cinq-Mars and De Thou was no exception, although romance has thrown its glamour over the fate of these conspirators. The rigor which Richelieu showed on this occasion, and which was certainly pitiless, checked other plots, and saved France from dangers within, conspiring with threats from without (v. L’Esprit, 252, and note). Louis XIII. had given him full powers to administer the state; and passed voluntarily into the second rank, to allow his minister to take the first place. It was a generous abnegation of a power he felt himself unable to wield. Fournier calls it ruling by partnership,—the king furnished the power, the minister employed it, and both prepared the way for the prince (Louis XIV.) who was to govern as well as to reign. What contributed to the duration and success of this partnership between royal prerogative and ministerial efficiency was the fact that the man of genius, to whom the administration of power was confided, took pains to avoid any expression or action which might excite his sovereign’s jealousy. Only one incident exhibits any such feeling. At the close of a ball, when piqued at the amount of attention the cardinal received, the king ostentatiously made way for him to pass before himself. Richelieu seized a torch, as if he were a lackey, exclaiming, “Only thus can I precede your Majesty!”