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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Virtues and Vices of King Louis XI.
By Philippe de Commines (c. 1447–1511)
 
From the ‘Memoirs of Philippe de Comines’

THE CHIEF reason that has induced me to enter upon this subject is because I have seen many deceptions in this world, especially in servants toward their masters; and I have always found that proud and stately princes who will hear but few, are more liable to be imposed upon than those who are open and accessible: but of all the princes that I ever knew, the wisest and most dexterous to extricate himself out of any danger or difficulty in time of adversity was our master King Louis XI. He was the humblest in his conversation and habit, and the most painful and indefatigable to win over any man to his side that he thought capable of doing him either mischief or service: though he was often refused, he would never give over a man that he wished to gain, but still pressed and continued his insinuations, promising him largely, and presenting him with such sums and honors as he knew would gratify his ambition; and for such as he had discarded in time of peace and prosperity, he paid dear (when he had occasion for them) to recover them again; but when he had once reconciled them, he retained no enmity towards them for what had passed, but employed them freely for the future. He was naturally kind and indulgent to persons of mean estate, and hostile to all great men who had no need of him. Never prince was so conversable nor so inquisitive as he, for his desire was to know everybody he could; and indeed he knew all persons of any authority or worth in England, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, in the territories of the Dukes of Burgundy and Bretagne, and among his own subjects: and by those qualities he preserved the crown upon his head, which was in much danger by the enemies he had created to himself upon his accession to the throne.  1
  But above all, his great bounty and liberality did him the greatest service: and yet, as he behaved himself wisely in time of distress, so when he thought himself a little out of danger, though it were but by a truce, he would disoblige the servants and officers of his court by mean and petty ways which were little to his advantage; and as for peace, he could hardly endure the thoughts of it. He spoke slightingly of most people, and rather before their faces than behind their backs; unless he was afraid of them, and of that sort there were a great many, for he was naturally somewhat timorous. When he had done himself any prejudice by his talk, or was apprehensive he should do so, and wished to make amends, he would say to the person whom he had disobliged, “I am sensible my tongue has done me a good deal of mischief; but on the other hand, it has sometimes done me much good: however, it is but reason I should make some reparation for the injury.” And he never used this kind of apologies to any person but he granted some favor to the person to whom he made it, and it was always of considerable amount.  2
  It is certainly a great blessing from God upon any prince to have experienced adversity as well as prosperity, good as well as evil, and especially if the good outweighs the evil, as it did in the King our master. I am of opinion that the troubles he was involved in in his youth, when he fled from his father and resided six years together with Philip, Duke of Burgundy, were of great service to him; for there he learned to be complaisant to such as he had occasion to use, which was no slight advantage of adversity. As soon as he found himself a powerful and crowned king, his mind was wholly bent upon revenge; but he quickly found the inconvenience of this, repented by degrees of his indiscretion, and made sufficient reparation for his folly and error by regaining those he had injured. Besides, I am very confident that if his education had not been different from the usual education of such nobles as I have seen in France, he could not so easily have worked himself out of his troubles: for they are brought up to nothing but to make themselves ridiculous, both in their clothes and discourse; they have no knowledge of letters; no wise man is suffered to come near them, to improve their understandings; they have governors who manage their business, but they do nothing themselves: nay, there are some nobles who though they have an income of thirteen livres, will take pride to bid you “Go to my servants and let them answer you,” thinking by such speeches to imitate the state and grandeur of a prince; and I have seen their servants take great advantage of them, giving them to understand they were fools; and if afterwards they came to apply their minds to business and attempted to manage their own affairs, they began so late they could make nothing of it. And it is certain that all those who have performed any great or memorable action worthy to be recorded in history, began always in their youth; and this is to be attributed to the method of their education, or some particular blessing of God.  3
 
 
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