Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 32.djvu/239

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Law
Law
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Investments in the purchase of commodities was the last expedient tried, and it increased the already enormous prices due to a superabundant paper currency, which were paralysing trade and industry and exciting popular discontent. It has been much disputed whether the final decree which precipitated the downfall of 'The System' was planned by Law or by Law's enemies in the councils of the regent (cf. Wood, Life, p. 117; Levasseur, pp. 116, 120; Louis Blanc, i. 320–4). Dubois, then secretary of state for foreign affairs, exerted much influence there: he was devoted to the alliance with England, and the English government had now adopted Stair's policy of opposition to Law (Lord Stanhope, History of England, ed. 1853, Appendix, p. xiv). On 21 May 1720 a decree was issued directing the gradual reduction of the value of the bank-note until it reached one-half. This flagrant repudiation of the state's obligations caused a panic, which was not checked by the withdrawal of the decree on the 27th, since at the same time the bank suspended cash payments. On the 27th Law was relieved of the controller-generalship, yet was soon appointed by the regent intendant-general of commerce and director of the ruined bank. But 'The System' had fallen with a crash. In the popular commotion which followed, Law's house in Paris was attacked and himself insulted. His enemies in the regent's councils gained the upper hand, and he had to leave the country. He had invested the bulk of his fortune in the purchase of estates in France. They and whatever other property he left behind him were confiscated.

On arriving at Brussels in December 1720, Law was overtaken by an envoy of the Czar Peter, who had been sent to Paris to invite him to St. Petersburg in order to administer the finances of Russia, but he declined the offer (Lemontey, i. 342). After months of wandering in Italy and Germany, he took refuge in Copenhagen from his creditors. There he received an invitation from the English government to come to England, and he went thither in October 1721, on board the English admiral's ship. He was presented to George I on 22 Oct., but was denounced in the House of Lords for having become a Roman catholic, as well as for having countenanced the adherents of the Pretender. He was not further molested, and formally pleaded in the court of king's bench the pardon which had been sent him in 1719 for the murder of Wilson. He took lodgings near Hanover Square, and on 26 Oct. 1721 he witnessed at Drury Lane a representation of Ben Jonson's 'Alchemist,' for which an epilogue introducing Law's name had been specially written (see Gent. Mag. 1825, i. 101). He spent several years in England, and corresponded with the Duke of Orleans, by whom he expected to be recalled to France, but his hopes were not realised. He desired to leave England, but feared persecution by his creditors on the continent, especially by the new French East India Company, which had risen on the ruins of his own company. In the autumn of 1725 Walpole asked Lord Townshend to obtain for Law some sort of commission from the king to any prince or state, 'not for use but for protection.' He appears to have proceeded in that year to Italy. It is said that while in some Italian town he staked his last thousand pounds against a shilling in a wager that double sixes would not be thrown six times successively. He won, and repeated the experiment before the local authorities interfered (Wood, p. 187 n.). He died in comparative poverty, 21 March 1729, at Venice, where he had spent his last years, and he was buried there. The following epitaph appeared in the 'Mercure' in April 1729:—

Çi-gît Écossais célèbre,
Ce calculateur sans égal,
Qui par les régles de l'algèbre
A mis la France à l'hôpital.

Before leaving Scotland in 1708 Law had married Katherine Knollys, third daughter of Charles Knollys, titular third earl of Banbury, and widow of a Mr. Seignior. His widow died in London in 1747. His only daughter, Mary Katherine, was married in 1734 to her first cousin, called Viscount Wallingford. His only son, 'William Law of Lauriston,' accompanied his father in his flight from France, settled with his mother at Utrecht and Brussels, and died, a colonel of an Austrian regiment, at Maestricht in February 1734.

Law's brother, William (1675–1752), who had assisted him actively during his financial career in Paris, had two sons, who rose very high in the service of the French East India Company. A son of the elder of these, James A. B. Law (1768–1828), created Comte de Lauriston, was a distinguished general in the French army, a favourite aide-de-camp of the first Napoleon, and was made by Louis XVIII a marshal of France.

Law was a handsome man of polished and agreeable manners, and of much conversational talent. Saint-Simon, who knew him intimately, pronounced him 'innocent of greed and knavery,' and described him as 'a mild, good, respectful man whom fortune had not spoilt.' Some of the chief French historians of his times speak of him ap-