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Captains Of Industry Or Men Of Business Who Did Something Besides Making Money - Paris Duverney

1. Preface

2. David Maydole

3. Ichabod Washburn

4. Elihu Burritt

5. Michael Reynolds

6. Major Robert Pike

7. George Graham

8. John Harrison

9. Peter Faneuil

10. Chauncey Jerome

11. Captain Pierre Laclede Liguest

12. Israel Putnam

13. George Flower

14. Edward Coles

15. Peter H. Burnett

16. Gerrit Smith

17. Peter Force

18. John Bromfield

19. Frederick Tudor

20. Myron Holley

21. The Founders Of Lowell

23. John Smedley

24. Richard Cobden

25. Henry Bessemer

26. John Bright

27. Thomas Edward

28. Robert Dick

29. John Duncan

30. James Lackington

31. Horace Greeley's Start

32. James Gordon Bennett

33. Three John Walters

34. George Hope

35. Sir Henry Cole

36. Charles Summers

37. William B. Astor

38. Peter Cooper

39. Paris Duverney

40. Sir Rowland Hill

41. Marie-Antoine Careme

42. Wonderful Walker

43. Sir Christopher Wren

44. Sir John Rennie

45. Sir Moses Montefiore

46. Marquis Of Worcester

47. An Old Dry-goods Merchant's Recollections



Some one has remarked that the old French monarchy was a despotism
tempered by epigrams. I take the liberty of adding that if the despotism
of the later French kings had not been frequently tempered by something
more effectual than epigrams, it would not have lasted as long as it

What tempered and saved it was, that, occasionally, by hook or by crook,
men of sterling sense and ability rose from the ordinary walks of life
to positions of influence and power, which enabled them to counteract
the folly of the ruling class.

About the year 1691 there was an inn at the foot of the Alps, near the
border line that divided France from Switzerland, bearing the sign, St.
Francis of the Mountain. There was no village near. The inn stood alone
among the mountains, being supported in part by travelers going from
France to Geneva, and in part by the sale of wine to the farmers who
lived in the neighborhood. The landlord, named Paris, was a man of
intelligence and ability, who, besides keeping his inn, cultivated a
farm; assisted in both by energetic, capable sons, of whom he had four:
Antoine, aged twenty-three; Claude, twenty-one; Joseph, seven; and Jean,
an infant. It was a strong, able family, who loved and confided in one
another, having no thought but to live and die near the spot upon which
they were born, and in about the same sphere of life.

But such was not their destiny. An intrigue of the French ministry drew
these four sons from obscurity, and led them to the high places of the
world. Pontchartrain, whose name is still borne by a lake in Louisiana,
was then minister of finance to Louis XIV. To facilitate the movements
of the army in the war then going on between France and Savoy, he
proposed to the king the formation of a company which should contract to
supply the army with provisions; and, the king accepting his suggestion,
the company was formed, and began operations. But the secretary of war
took this movement of his colleague in high dudgeon, as the supply of
the army, he thought, belonged to the war department. To frustrate and
disgrace the new company of contractors, he ordered the army destined to
operate in Italy to take the field on the first of May, several weeks
before it was possible for the contractors by the ordinary methods to
collect and move the requisite supplies. The company explained the
impossibility of their feeding the army so early in the season; but the
minister of war, not ill-pleased to see his rival embarrassed, held to
his purpose, and informed the contractors' agent that he must have
thirty thousand sacks of flour at a certain post by a certain day, or
his head should answer it.

The agent, alarmed, and at his wits' end, consulted the innkeeper of the
Alps, whom he knew to be an energetic spirit, and perfectly well
acquainted with the men, the animals, the resources, and the roads of
the region in which he lived, and through which the provisions would
have to pass. The elder sons of the landlord were in the field at the
time at work, and he told the agent he must wait a few hours till he
could talk the matter over with them. At the close of the day there was
a family consultation, and the result was that they undertook the task.
Antoine, the eldest son, went to Lyons, the nearest large city, and
induced the magistrates to lend the king the grain preserved in the
public depositories against famine, engaging to replace it as soon as
the navigation opened in the spring. The magistrates, full of zeal for
the king's service, yielded willingly; and meanwhile, Claude, the second
of the brothers, bought a thousand mules; and, in a very few days, in
spite of the rigor of the season, long lines of mules, each laden with a
sack of flour, were winding their way through the defiles of the Alps,
guided by peasants whom the father of these boys had selected.

This operation being insufficient, hundreds of laborers were set to work
breaking the ice in the night, and in constructing barges, so as to be
in readiness the moment navigation was practicable.

Early in the spring two hundred barge loads were set floating down
toward the seat of war; and by the time the general in command was ready
to take the field, there was an abundance of tents, provisions,
ammunition, and artillery within easy reach.

The innkeeper and his sons were liberally recompensed; and their talents
thus being made known to the company of contractors, they were employed
again a year or two after in collecting the means required in a siege,
and in forwarding provisions to a province threatened with famine. These
large operations gave the brothers a certain distaste for their country
life, and they removed to Paris in quest of a more stirring and
brilliant career than an Alpine inn with farm adjacent could afford. One
of them enlisted at first in the king's guards, and the rest obtained
clerkships in the office of the company of contractors. By the time they
were all grown to manhood, the eldest, a man over forty, and the
youngest, eighteen or twenty, they had themselves become army
contractors and capitalists, noted in army circles for the tact, the
fidelity, and the indomitable energy with which they carried on their

The reader is aware that during the last years of the reign of Louis
XIV., France suffered a series of most disastrous defeats from the
allied armies, commanded by the great English general, the Duke of
Marlborough. It was these four able brothers who supplied the French
army with provisions during that terrible time; and I do not hesitate to
say, that, on two or three critical occasions, it was their energy and
intelligence that saved the independence of their country. Often the
king's government could not give them a single louis-d'or in money when
a famishing army was to be supplied. On several occasions they spent
their whole capital in the work and risked their credit. There was one
period of five months, as they used afterwards to say, when they never
once went to bed _sure_ of being able to feed the army the next day.
During those years of trial they were sustained in a great degree by the
confidence which they inspired in their honesty, as well as in their
ability. The great French banker and capitalist then was Samuel Bernard.
On more than one occasion Bernard saved them by lending them, on their
personal security, immense sums; in one crisis as much as three million

We can judge of the extent of their operations, when we learn that,
during the last two years of the war, they had to supply a hundred and
eighty thousand men in the field, and twenty thousand men in garrison,
while receiving from the government little besides depreciated paper.

Peace came at last; and it came at a moment when the whole capital of
the four brothers was in the king's paper, and when the finances were
in a state of inconceivable confusion. The old king died in 1715,
leaving as heir to the throne a sickly boy five years of age. The royal
paper was so much depreciated that the king's promise to pay one hundred
francs sold in the street for twenty-five francs. Then came the Scotch
inflator, John Law, who gave France a brief delirium of paper
prosperity, ending with the most woful and widespread collapse ever
known. It was these four brothers, but especially the third brother,
Joseph Paris, known in French history as Paris-Duverney, who, by labors
almost without example, restored the finances of the country, funded the
debt at a reasonable interest, and enabled France to profit by the
twenty years of peace that lay before her.

There is nothing in the whole history of finance more remarkable than
the five years' labors of these brothers after the Law-mania of 1719;
and it is hardly possible to overstate the value of their services at a
time when the kingdom was governed by an idle and dissolute regent, and
when there was not a nobleman about the court capable of grappling with
the situation. The regent died of his debaucheries in the midst of their
work. The Duke of Bourbon succeeded him; he was governed by Madame de
Prie; and between them they concocted a nice scheme for getting the
young king married, who had then reached the mature age of fifteen. The
idea was to rule the king through a queen of their own choosing, and
who would be grateful to them for her elevation.

But it turned out quite otherwise. The king, indeed, was married, and he
was very fond of his wife, and she tried to carry out the desires of
those who had made her queen of France. But there was an obstacle in the
way; and that obstacle was the king's unbounded confidence in his tutor,
the Abbe de Fleury, a serene and extremely agreeable old gentleman past
seventy. A struggle arose between the old tutor and Madame de Prie for
the possession of the young king. The tutor won the victory. The Duke of
Bourbon was exiled to his country-seat, and Madame de Prie was sent
packing. Paris-Duverney and his first clerk were put into the Bastille,
where they were detained for two years in unusually rigorous
imprisonment, and his three brothers were exiled to their native

Another intrigue of court set them free again, and the four brothers
were once more in Paris, where they continued their career as bankers,
contractors, and capitalists as long as they lived, each of them
acquiring and leaving a colossal fortune, which their heirs were
considerate enough to dissipate. It was Paris-Duverney who suggested and
managed the great military school at Paris, which still exists. It was
he also who helped make the fortunes of the most celebrated literary men
of his time, Voltaire and Beaumarchais. He did this by admitting them to
a share in army contracts, one of which yielded Voltaire a profit of
seven hundred thousand francs, which, with good nursing, made him at
last the richest literary man that ever lived.

Paris-Duverney was as good a man and patriot as a man could well be who
had to work with and under such persons as Louis XV. and Madame de
Pompadour. By way of showing what difficulties men had to overcome who
then desired to serve their country, I will mention a single incident of
his later career.

His favorite work, the Ecole Militaire, of which he was the first
superintendent, shared the unpopularity of its early patron, Madame de
Pompadour, and long he strove in vain to bring it into favor. To use the
narrative of M. de Lomenie, the biographer of Beaumarchais:--

"He was constantly at court, laboring without cessation on behalf of the
military school, and soliciting the king in vain to visit it in state,
which would have given a sort of _prestige_. Coldly received by the
dauphin, the queen, and the princesses, he could not, as the friend of
Madame de Pompadour, obtain from the nonchalance of Louis XV. the visit
which he so much desired, when the idea struck him, in his despair, of
having recourse to the young harpist, who appeared to be so assiduous in
his attendance on the princesses, and who directed their concert every
week. Beaumarchais understood at once the advantage he might derive
from rendering an important service to a clever, rich, old financier,
who had still a number of affairs in hand, and who was capable of
bringing him both wealth and advancement. But how could a musician
without importance hope to obtain from the king what had already been
refused to solicitations of much more influence than his own?
Beaumarchais went to work like a man who had a genius for dramatic
intrigue and a knowledge of the human heart.

"We have shown that, while he was giving his time and attention to the
princesses, he never asked for anything in return. He thought that if he
were fortunate enough to persuade them, in the first instance, to pay a
visit to the Ecole Militaire, the curiosity of the king perhaps would be
excited by the narrative of what they had seen, and would lead him to do
that which he would never have been prompted to do by justice. He
accordingly represented to the princesses not only the equitable side of
the question, but also the immense interest which he himself had in
obtaining this favor for a man who might be of great use to him. The
princesses consented to visit the Ecole Militaire, and Beaumarchais was
granted the honor of accompanying them. The director received them with
great splendor; they did not conceal from him the great interest they
took in their young _protege_, and some days afterward Louis XV., urged
by his daughters, visited it himself, and thus gratified the wishes of
old Duverney.

"From this moment the financier, grateful for Beaumarchais' good
services, and delighted to find a person who could assist him as an
intermediary in his intercourse with the court, resolved to make the
young man's fortune. He began by giving him a share in one of his
speculations to the amount of sixty thousand francs, on which he paid
him interest at the rate of ten per cent.; after this, he gave him an
interest in various other affairs. 'He initiated me,' says Beaumarchais,
'into the secrets of finance, of which, as every one knows, he was a
consummate master.'"

Such was government in the good old times! I like to think of it when
things go amiss in Washington or Albany. Let our rulers do as badly as
they may, they cannot do worse than the rulers of the world did a
century and a half ago. If any good or great thing was done in those
days, it was done in spite of the government.

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