Charles of Orleans' melancholy, musical verse fixes in perpetuity the fragrance of the passing ideals of chivalry. Villon, closely conversant with the pathos and humours of the real, veils it gracefully and slightly in transparent artificialities. Commines, naif, for all his dignified reserve, cold wisdom, and experienced cynicism, ranks alike with those who have rediscovered the art of history, and with those who have assisted to perfect French prose. Chastelain, burdened with cumbrous rhetoric and prone to useless sermonising, can on occasion tell a stirring tale, and proves his faults to be not of himself, but of his school. For the rest, in poetry and prose, whether the tedious allegories learnt from the Roman de la Rose prevail, or the not less tedious affectations of classical imitation, or the laboured tricks of a most unhappy school of verse, there are few names that deserve to be remembered.
In the world of thought the French clung longer than other nations to the traditions of Scholasticism. But the school of Nicolas of Cusa, which represents a transitional movement from medieval to Renaissance philosophy, had its followers in France, of whom the first was Jacques le Fevre d'F^taples, and the most distinguished Carolus Bovillus.
To deal adequately with the men whose accumulated endeavours restored order, unity, and prosperity to France after the English wars would need a volume, not a chapter. Many of them, humble, obscure, energetic, faithful, escape the notice of the historian. Valuable monographs have been written upon some, but no adequate memorial exists of the most powerful French minister of the time, Georges d'Amboise, without whom nothing of moment whether good or bad was done during the best years of Louis XII. One figure stands out above all others,—Louis XI, of the four Kings the only one who both reigned and governed. Whether we condemn or whether we condone the remorseless rigour with which that King pursued his public ends, whether we regret the absolute monarchy which he established, or accept it as having been the only possible salvation of France, we cannot deny to him the name of great. Great he was in intellect and in tenacity of purpose, great in prosperity and even greater in misfortune. Whatsoever he did had its determined end, and that end was the greatness of France,—or, if the expression be preferred, of the French monarchy. The universal condemnation which he has incurred may be ascribed chiefly to two causes: the unrelenting sternness with which he visited treachery in the great, and the severity of the taxation which he found it necessary to impose. The world was shocked by the fate of Jean d'Armagnac, Jacques de Nemours, Louis de St Pol, Cardinal Balue, and by the cynical methods which achieved their ruin. Looking back without passion, we pronounce their sentence just. The burden of taxes was cruel, and the stories we read in Brantome and elsewhere of lawless and inhuman executions are probably not without foundation. These methods may be supposed to have been required to bring the enormous taxes in. The gabelle.