CHAPTER I. FRANCE OF THE BOURBONS
These four factors, rare geographical advantages, racial qualities of a high order, a strongly centralized scheme of government, and a militant church, contributed largely to the prestige which France possessed among European nations in the seventeenth, century. With all these advantages she should have been the first and not the last to get a firm footing in the new continents. Historians have recorded their reasons why France did not seriously enter the field of American colonization as early as England, but these reasons do not impress one as being good. Foreign wars and internal religious strife are commonly given and accepted as the true cause of French tardiness in following up the pioneer work of Jacques Cartier and others. Yet not all the energy of nearly twenty million people was being absorbed in these troubles. There were men and money to spare, had the importance of the work overseas only been adequately realized.
The main reason why France was last in the field is to be found in the failure of her kings and ministers to realize until late in the day how vast the possibilities of the new continent really were. In a highly centralized and not over-populated state the authorities must lead the way in colonial enterprises; the people will not of their own initiative seek out and follow opportunities to colonize distant lands. And in France the authorities were not ready to lead. Sully, who stood supreme among the royal advisers in the closing years of the sixteenth century, was opposed to colonial ventures under all circumstances. "Far-off possessions," he declared, "are not suited to the temperament or to the genius of Frenchmen, who to my great regret have neither the perseverance nor the foresight needed for such enterprises, but who ordinarily apply their vigor, minds, and courage to things which are immediately at hand and constantly before their eyes." Colonies beyond the seas, he believed, "would never be anything but a great expense." That, indeed, was the orthodox notion in circles surrounding the seat of royal power, and it was a difficult notion to dislodge.
Never until the time of Richelieu was any intimation of the great colonial opportunity, now quickly slipping by, allowed to reach the throne, and then it was only an inkling, making but a slight impression and soon virtually forgotten. Richelieu's great Company of 1627 made a brave start, but it did not hold the Cardinal's interest very long. Mazarin, who succeeded Richelieu, took no interest in the New World; the tortuous problems of European diplomacy appealed far more strongly to his Italian imagination than did the vision of a New France beyond the seas. It was not until Colbert took the reins that official France really displayed an interest in the work of colonization at all proportionate to the nation's power and resources.
Colbert was admirably fitted to become the herald of a greater France. Coming from the ranks of the bourgeoisie, he was a man of affairs, not a cleric or a courtier as his predecessors in office had been. He had a clear conception of what he wanted and unwearied industry in moving towards the desired end. His devotion to the King was beyond question; he had native ability, patience, sound ideas, and a firm will. Given a fair opportunity, he would have accomplished far more for the glory of the fleur-de-lis in the region of the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes of America. But a thousand problems of home administration were crowded upon him, problems of finance, of industry, of ecclesiastical adjustment, and of social reconstruction. In the first few years of his term as minister he could still find a little time and thought for Canada, and during this short period he personally conducted the correspondence with the colonial officials; but after 1669 all this was turned over to the Minister of Marine, and Colbert himself figured directly in the affairs of the colony no more. The great minister of Louis XIV is remembered far more for his work at home than for his services to New France.