M. de Bernis remarked, "Madame is correct in her judgment, for she has no reason to pronounce his praises; nor have I, though I agree with what she says." Madame de Pompadour never enjoyed so much influence as at the time when M. de Choiseul became one of the Ministry. From the time of the Abbe de Bernis she had afforded him her constant support, and he had been employed in foreign affairs, of which he was said to know but little. Madame made the Treaty of Vienna, though the first idea of I it was certainly furnished her by the Abbe. I have been informed by several persons that the King often talked to Madame upon this subject; for my own part, I never heard any conversation relative to it, except the high praises bestowed by her on the Empress and the Prince de Kaunitz, whom she had known a good deal of. She said that he had a clear head, the head of a statesman. One day, when she was talking in this strain, some one tried to cast ridicule upon the Prince on account of the style in which he wore his hair, and the four valets de chambre, who made the hair-powder fly in all directions, while Kaunitz ran about that he might only catch the superfine part of it. "Aye," said Madame, "just as Alcibiades cut off his dog's tail in order to give the Athenians something to talk about, and to turn their attention from those things he wished to conceal."
Never was the public mind so inflamed against Madame de Pompadour as when news arrived of the battle of Rosbach. Every day she received anonymous letters, full of the grossest abuse; atrocious verses, threats of poison and assassination. She continued long a prey to the most acute sorrow, and could get no sleep but from opiates. All this discontent was excited by her protecting the Prince of Soubise; and the Lieutenant of Police had great difficulty in allaying the ferment of the people. The King affirmed that it was not his fault. M. du Verney was the confidant of Madame in everything relating to war; a subject which he well understood, though not a military man by profession. The old Marechal de Noailles called him, in derision, the General of the flour, but Marechal Saxe, one day, told Madame that du Verney knew more of military matters than the old Marshal. Du Verney once paid a visit to Madame de Pompadour, and found her in company with the King, the Minister of War, and two Marshals; he submitted to them the plan of a campaign, which was generally applauded. It was through his influence that M. de Richelieu was appointed to the command of the army, instead of the Marechal d'Estrees. He came to Quesnay two days after, when I was with him. The Doctor began talking about the art of war, and I remember he said, "Military men make a great mystery of their art; but what is the reason that young Princes have always the most brilliant success? Why, because they are active and daring. When Sovereigns command their troops in person what exploits they perform! Clearly, because they are at liberty to run all risks." These observations made a lasting impression on my mind.
The first physician came, one day, to see Madame: he was talking of madmen and madness. The King was present, and everything relating to disease of any kind interested him. The first physician said that he could distinguish the symptoms of approaching madness six months beforehand. "Are there any persons about the Court likely to become mad?" said the King. "I know one who will be imbecile in less than three months," replied he. The King pressed him to tell the name. He excused himself for some time. At last he said, "It is M. de Sechelles, the Controller-General." "You have a spite against him," said Madame, "because he would not grant what you asked." "That is true," said he, "but though that might possibly incline me to tell a disagreeable truth, it would not make me invent one. He is losing his intellects from debility. He affects gallantry at his age, and I perceive the connection in his ideas is becoming feeble and irregular." The King laughed; but three months afterwards he came to Madame, saying, "Sechelles gives evident proofs of dotage in the Council. We must appoint a successor to him." Madame de Pompadour told me of this on the way to Choisy. Some time afterwards, the first physician came to see Madame, and spoke to her in private. "You are attached to M. Berryer, Madame," said he, "and I am sorry to have to warn you that he will be attacked by madness, or by catalepsy, before long. I saw him this morning at chapel, sitting on one of those very low little chairs, which are only meant to kneel upon. His knees touched his chin. I went to his house after mass; his eyes were wild, and when his secretary spoke to him, he said, 'Hold your tongue, pen. A pen's business is to write, and not to speak.'" Madame, who liked the Keeper of the Seals, was very much concerned, and begged the first physician not to mention what he had perceived. Four days after this, M. Berryer was seized with catalepsy, after having talked incoherently. This is a disease which I did not know even by name, and got it written down for me. The patient remains in precisely the same position in which the fit seizes him; one leg or arm elevated, the eyes wide open, or just as it may happen. This latter affair was known to all the Court at the death of the Keeper of the Seals.
When the Marechal de Belle-Isle's son was killed in battle, Madame persuaded the King to pay his father a visit. He was rather reluctant, and Madame said to him, with an air half angry, half playful:
——"Barbare! dont l'orgueil Croit le sang d'un sujet trop paye d'un coup d'oeil."
The King laughed, and said, "Whose fine verses are those?" "Voltaire's," said Madame ——. "As barbarous as I am, I gave him the place of gentleman in ordinary, and a pension," said the King.
The King went in state to call on the Marshal, followed by all the Court; and it certainly appeared that this solemn visit consoled the Marshal for the loss of his son, the sole heir to his name.
When the Marshal died, he was carried to his house on a common hand-barrow, covered with a shabby cloth. I met the body. The bearers were laughing and singing. I thought it was some servant, and asked who it was. How great was my surprise at learning that these were the remains of a man abounding in honours and in riches. Such is the Court; the dead are always in fault, and cannot be put out of sight too soon.
The King said, "M. Fouquet is dead, I hear." "He was no longer Fouquet," replied the Duc d'Ayen; "Your Majesty had permitted him to change that name, under which, however, he acquired all his reputation." The King shrugged his shoulders. His Majesty had, in fact, granted him letters patent, permitting him not to sign Fouquet during his Ministry. I heard this on the occasion in question. M. de Choiseul had the war department at his death. He was every day more and more in favour. Madame treated him with greater distinction than any previous Minister, and his manners towards her were the most agreeable it is possible to conceive, at once respectful and gallant. He never passed a day without seeing her. M. de Marigny could not endure M. de Choiseul, but he never spoke of him, except to his intimate friends. Calling, one day, at Quesnay's, I found him there. They were talking of M. de Choiseul. "He is a mere petit maitre," said the Doctor, "and, if he were handsome just fit to be one of Henri the Third's favourites." The Marquis de Mirabeau and M. de La Riviere came in. "This kingdom," said Mirabeau, "is in a deplorable state. There is neither national energy, nor the only substitute for it—money."
"It can only be regenerated," said La Riviere, "by a conquest, like that of China, or by some great internal convulsion; but woe to those who live to see that! The French people do not do things by halves." These words made me tremble, and I hastened out of the room. M. de Marigny did the same, though without appearing at all affected by what had been said. "You heard De La Riviere," said he,—"but don't be alarmed, the conversations that pass at the Doctor's are never repeated; these are honourable men, though rather chimerical. They know not where to stop. I think, however, they are in the right way; only, unfortunately, they go too far." I wrote this down immediately.
"The Comte de St. Germain came to see Madame de Pompadour, who was ill, and lay on the sofa. He shewed her a little box, containing topazes, rubies, and emeralds. He appeared to have enough to furnish a treasury. Madame sent for me to see all these beautiful things. I looked at them with an air of the utmost astonishment, but I made signs to Madame that I thought them all false. The Count felt for something in his pocketbook, about twice as large as a spectacle-case, and, at length, drew out two or three little paper packets, which he unfolded, and exhibited a superb ruby. He threw on the table, with a contemptuous air, a little cross of green and white stones. I looked at it and said, "That is not to be despised." I put it on, and admired it greatly. The Count begged me to accept it. I refused—he urged me to take it. Madame then refused it for me. At length, he pressed it upon me so warmly that Madame, seeing that it could not be worth above forty louis, made me a sign to accept it. I took the cross, much pleased at the Count's politeness and, some days after, Madame presented him with an enamelled box, upon which was the portrait of some Grecian sage (whose name I don't recollect), to whom she compared him. I shewed the cross to a jeweller, who valued it at sixty-five louis. The Count offered to bring Madame some enamel portraits, by Petitot, to look at, and she told him to bring them after dinner, while the King was hunting. He shewed his portraits, after which Madame said to him, "I have heard a great deal of a charming story you told two days ago, at supper, at M. le Premier's, of an occurrence you witnessed fifty or sixty years ago." He smiled and said, "It is rather long." "So much the better," said she, with an air of delight. Madame de Gontaut and the ladies came in, and the door was shut; Madame made a sign to me to sit down behind the screen. The Count made many apologies for the ennui which his story would, perhaps, occasion. He said, "Sometimes one can tell a story pretty well; at other times it is quite a different thing."
"At the beginning of this century, the Marquis de St. Gilles was Ambassador from Spain to the Hague. In his youth he had been particularly intimate with the Count of Moncade, a grandee of Spain, and one of the richest nobles of that country. Some months after the Marquis's arrival at the Hague, he received a letter from the Count, entreating him, in the name of their former friendship, to render him the greatest possible service. 'You know,' said he, 'my dear Marquis, the mortification I felt that the name of Moncade was likely to expire with me. At length, it pleased heaven to hear my prayers, and to grant me a son: he gave early promise of dispositions worthy of his birth, but he, some time since, formed an unfortunate and disgraceful attachment to the most celebrated actress of the company of Toledo. I shut my eyes to this imprudence on the part of a young man whose conduct had, till then, caused me unmingled satisfaction. But, having learnt that he was so blinded by passion as to intend to marry this girl, and that he had even bound himself by a written promise to that effect, I solicited the King to have her placed in confinement. My son, having got information of the steps I had taken, defeated my intentions by escaping with the object of his passion. For more than six months I have vainly endeavoured to discover where he has concealed himself, but I have now some reason to think he is at the Hague.' The Count earnestly conjured the Marquis to make the most rigid search, in order to discover his son's retreat, and to endeavour to prevail upon him to return to his home. 'It is an act of justice,' continued he, 'to provide for the girl, if she consents to give up the written promise of marriage which she has received, and I leave it to your discretion to do what is right for her, as well as to determine the sum necessary to bring my son to Madrid in a manner suitable to his condition. I know not,' concluded he, 'whether you are a father; if you are, you will be able to sympathise in my anxieties.' The Count subjoined to this letter an exact description of his son, and the young woman by whom he was accompanied. On the receipt of this letter, the Marquis lost not a moment in sending to all the inns in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the Hague, but in vain—he could find no trace of them. He began to despair of success, when the idea struck him that a young French page of his, remarkable for his quickness and intelligence, might be employed with advantage. He promised to reward him handsomely if he succeeded in finding the young woman, who was the cause of so much anxiety, and gave him the description of her person. The page visited all the public places for many days, without success; at length, one evening, at the play, he saw a young man and woman, in a box, who attracted his attention. When he saw that they perceived he was looking at them, and withdrew to the back of the box to avoid his observation, he felt confident that they were the objects of his search. He did not take his eyes from the box, and watched every movement in it. The instant the performance ended, he was in the passage leading from the boxes to the door, and he remarked that the young man, who, doubtless, observed the dress he wore, tried to conceal himself, as he passed him, by putting his handkerchief before his face. He followed him, at a distance, to the inn called the Vicomte de Turenne, which he saw him and the woman enter; and, being now certain of success, he ran to inform the Ambassador. The Marquis de St. Gilles immediately repaired to the inn, wrapped in a cloak, and followed by his page and two servants. He desired the landlord to show him to the room of a young man and woman, who had lodged for some time in his house. The landlord, for some time, refused to do so, unless the Marquis would give their name. The page told him to take notice that he was speaking to the Spanish Ambassador, who had strong reasons for wishing to see the persons in question. The innkeeper said they wished not to be known, and that they had absolutely forbidden him to admit anybody into their apartment who did not ask for them by name; but that, since the Ambassador desired it, he would show him their room. He then conducted them up to a dirty, miserable garret. He knocked at the door, and waited for some time; he then knocked again pretty loudly, upon which the door was half-opened. At the sight of the Ambassador and his suite, the person who opened it immediately closed it again, exclaiming that they had made a mistake. The Ambassador pushed hard against him, forced his way in, made a sign to his people to wait outside, and remained in the room. He saw before him a very handsome young man, whose appearance perfectly corresponded with the description, and a young woman, of great beauty, and remarkably fine person, whose countenance, form, colour of the hair, etc., were also precisely those described by the Count of Moncade. The young man spoke first. He complained of the violence used in breaking into the apartment of a stranger, living in a free country, and under the protection of its laws. The Ambassador stepped forward to embrace him, and said, 'It is useless to feign, my dear Count; I know you, and I do not come here to give pain to you or to this lady, whose appearance interests me extremely.' The young man replied that he was totally mistaken; that he was not a Count, but the son of a merchant of Cadiz; that the lady was his wife; and, that they were travelling for pleasure. The Ambassador, casting his eyes round the miserably furnished room, which contained but one bed, and some packages of the shabbiest kind, lying in disorder about the room, 'Is this, my dear child (allow me to address you by a title which is warranted by my tender regard for your father), is this a fit residence for the son of the Count of Moncade?' The young man still protested against the use of any such language, as addressed to him. At length, overcome by the entreaties of the Ambassador, he confessed, weeping, that he was the son of the Count of Moncade, but declared that nothing should induce him to return to his father, if he must abandon a woman he adored. The young woman burst into tears; and threw herself at the feet of the Ambassador, telling him that she would not be the cause of the ruin of the young Count; and that generosity, or rather, love, would enable her to disregard her own happiness, and, for his sake, to separate herself from him. The Ambassador admired her noble disinterestedness. The young man, on the contrary, received her declaration with the most desperate grief. He reproached his mistress, and declared that he would never abandon so estimable a creature, nor suffer the sublime generosity of her heart to be turned against herself. The Ambassador told him that the Count of Moncade was far from wishing to render her miserable, and that he was commissioned to provide her with a sum sufficient to enable her to return into Spain, or to live where she liked. Her noble sentiments, and genuine tenderness, he said, inspired him with the greatest interest for her, and would induce him to go to the utmost limits of his powers, in the sum he was to give her; that he, therefore, promised her ten thousand florins, that is to say, about twelve hundred louis, which would be given her the moment she surrendered the promise of marriage she had received, and the Count of Moncade took up his abode in the Ambassador's house, and promised to return to Spain. The young woman seemed perfectly indifferent to the sum proposed, and wholly absorbed in her lover, and in the grief of leaving him. She seemed insensible to everything but the cruel sacrifice which her reason, and her love itself, demanded. At length, drawing from a little portfolio the promise of marriage, signed by the Count, 'I know his heart too well,' said she, 'to need it.' Then she kissed it again and again, with a sort of transport, and delivered it to the Ambassador, who stood by, astonished at the grandeur of soul he witnessed. He promised her that he would never cease to take the liveliest interest in her fate, and assured the Count of his father's forgiveness. 'He will receive with open arms,' said he, 'the prodigal son, returning to the bosom of his distressed family; the heart of a father is an exhaustless mine of tenderness. How great will be the felicity of my friend on the receipt of these tidings, after his long anxiety and affliction; how happy do I esteem myself, at being the instrument of that felicity!' Such was, in part, the language of the Ambassador, which appeared to produce a strong impression on the young man. But, fearing lest, during the night, love should regain all his power, and should triumph over the generous resolution of the lady, the Marquis pressed the young Count to accompany him to his hotel. The tears, the cries of anguish, which marked this cruel separation, cannot be described; they deeply touched the heart of the Ambassador, who promised to watch over the young lady. The Count's little baggage was not difficult to remove, and, that very evening, he was installed in the finest apartment of the Ambassador's house. The Marquis was overjoyed at having restored to the illustrious house of Moncade the heir of its greatness, and of its magnificent domains. On the following morning, as soon as the young Count was up, he found tailors, dealers in cloth, lace, stuffs, etc., out of which he had only to choose. Two valets de chambre, and three laquais, chosen by the Ambassador for their intelligence and good conduct, were in waiting in his antechamber, and presented themselves, to receive his orders. The Ambassador shewed the young Count the letter he had just written to his father, in which he congratulated him on possessing a son whose noble sentiments and striking qualities were worthy of his illustrious blood, and announced his speedy return. The young lady was not forgotten; he confessed that to her generosity he was partly indebted for the submission of her lover, and expressed his conviction that the Count would not disapprove the gift he had made her, of ten thousand florins. That sum was remitted, on the same day, to this noble and interesting girl, who left the Hague without delay. The preparations for the Count's journey were made; a splendid wardrobe and an excellent carriage were embarked at Rotterdam, in a ship bound for France, on board which a passage was secured for the Count, who was to proceed from that country to Spain. A considerable sum of money, and letters of credit on Paris, were given him at his departure; and the parting between the Ambassador and the young Count was most touching. The Marquis de St. Gilles awaited with impatience the Count's answer, and enjoyed his friend's delight by anticipation. At the expiration of four months, he received this long-expected letter. It would be utterly impossible to describe his surprise on reading the following words. 'Heaven, my dear Marquis, never granted me the happiness of becoming a father, and, in the midst of abundant wealth and honours, the grief of having no heirs, and seeing an illustrious race end in my person, has shed the greatest bitterness over my whole existence. I see, with extreme regret, that you have been imposed upon by a young adventurer, who has taken advantage of the knowledge he had, by some means, obtained, of our old friendship. But your Excellency must not be the sufferer. The Count of Moncade is, most assuredly, the person whom you wished to serve; he is bound to repay what your generous friendship hastened to advance, in order to procure him a happiness which he would have felt most deeply. I hope, therefore, Marquis, that your Excellency will have no hesitation in accepting the remittance contained in this letter, of three thousand louis of France, of the disbursal of which you sent me an account.'"
The manner in which the Comte de St. Germain spoke, in the characters of the young adventurer, his mistress, and the Ambassador, made his audience weep and laugh by turns. The story is true in every particular, and the adventurer surpasses Gusman d'Alfarache in address, according to the report of some persons present. Madame de Pompadour thought of having a play written, founded on this story; and the Count sent it to her in writing, from which I transcribed it.
M. Duclos came to the Doctor's, and harangued with his usual warmth. I heard him saying to two or three persons, "People are unjust to great men, Ministers and Princes; nothing, for instance, is more common than to undervalue their intellect. I astonished one of these little gentlemen of the corps of the infallibles, by telling him that I could prove that there had been more men of ability in the house of Bourbon, for the last hundred years, than in any other family." "You prove that?" said somebody, sneeringly. "Yes," said Duclos; "and I will tell you how. The great Conde, you will allow, was no fool; and the Duchesse de Longueville is cited as one of the wittiest women that ever lived. The Regent was a man who had few equals, in every kind of talent and acquirement. The Prince de Conti, who was elected King of Poland, was celebrated for his intelligence, and, in poetry, was the successful rival of La Fare and St. Aulaire. The Duke of Burgundy was learned and enlightened. His Duchess, the daughter of Louis XIV., was remarkably clever, and wrote epigrams and couplets. The Duc du Maine is generally spoken of only for his weakness, but nobody had a more agreeable wit. His wife was mad, but she had an extensive acquaintance with letters, good taste in poetry, and a brilliant and inexhaustible imagination. Here are instances enough, I think," said he; "and, as I am no flatterer, and hate to appear one, I will not speak of the living." His hearers were astonished at this enumeration, and all of them agreed in the truth of what he had said. He added, "Don't we daily hear of silly D'Argenson, because he has a good-natured air, and a bourgeois tone? and yet, I believe, there have not been many Ministers comparable to him in knowledge and in enlightened views." I took a pen, which lay on the Doctor's table, and begged M. Duclos to repeat to me all the names he had mentioned, and the eulogium he had bestowed on each. "If," said he, "you show that to the Marquise, tell her how the conversation arose, and that I did not say it in order that it might come to her ears, and eventually, perhaps, to those of another person. I am an historiographer, and I will render justice, but I shall, also, often inflict it." "I will answer for that," said the Doctor, "and our master will be represented as he really is. Louis XIV. liked verses, and patronised poets; that was very well, perhaps, in his time, because one must begin with something; but this age will be very superior to the last. It must be acknowledged that Louis XV., in sending astronomers to Mexico and Peru, to measure the earth, has a higher claim to our respect than if he directed an opera. He has thrown down the barriers which opposed the progress of philosophy, in spite of the clamour of the devotees: the Encyclopaedia will do honour to his reign." Duclos, during this speech, shook his head. I went away, and tried to write down all I had heard, while it was fresh. I had the part which related to the Princes of the Bourbon race copied by a valet, who wrote a beautiful hand, and I gave it to Madame de Pompadour. But she said to me, "What! is Duclos an acquaintance of yours? Do you want to play the bel esprit, my dear good woman? That will not sit well upon you." The truth is, that nothing can be further from my inclination. I told her that I met him accidentally at the Doctor's, where he generally spent an hour when he came to Versailles. "The King knows him to be a worthy man," said she.
Madame de Pompadour was ill, and the King came to see her several times a day. I generally left the room when he entered, but, having stayed a few minutes, on one occasion, to give her a glass of chicory water, I heard the King mention Madame d'Egmont. Madame raised her eyes to heaven, and said, "That name always recalls to me a most melancholy and barbarous affair; but it was not my fault." These words dwelt in my mind, and, particularly, the tone in which they were uttered. As I stayed with Madame till three o'clock in the morning, reading to her a part of the time, it was easy for me to try to satisfy my curiosity. I seized a moment, when the reading was interrupted, to say, "You looked dreadfully shocked, Madame, when the King pronounced the name of D'Egmont." At these words, she again raised her eyes, and said, "You would feel as I do, if you knew the affair." "It must, then, be deeply affecting, for I do not think that it personally concerns you, Madame." "No," said she, "it does not; as, however, I am not the only person acquainted with this history, and as I know you to be discreet, I will tell it you. The last Comte d'Egmont married a reputed daughter of the Duc de Villars; but the Duchess had never lived with her husband, and the Comtesse d'Egmont is, in fact, a daughter of the Chevalier d'Orleans. At the death of her husband, young, beautiful, agreeable, and heiress to an immense fortune, she attracted the suit and homage of all the most distinguished men at Court. Her mother's director, one day, came into her room and requested a private interview; he then revealed to her that she was the offspring of an adulterous intercourse, for which her mother had been doing penance for five-and-twenty years. 'She could not,' said he, 'oppose your former marriage, although it caused her extreme distress. Heaven did not grant you children; but, if you marry again, you run the risk, Madame, of transmitting to another family the immense wealth, which does not, in fact, belong to you, and which is the price of crime.'
"The Comtesse d'Egmont heard this recital with horror. At the same instant, her mother entered, and, on her knees, besought her daughter to avert her eternal damnation. Madame d'Egmont tried to calm her own and her mother's mind. 'What can I do?' said she, to her. 'Consecrate yourself wholly to God,' replied the director, 'and thus expiate your mother's crime.' The Countess, in her terror, promised whatever they asked, and proposed to enter the Carmelites. I was informed of it, and spoke to the King about the barbarous tyranny the Duchesse de Villars and the director were about to exercise over this unhappy young woman; but we knew not how to prevent it. The King, with the utmost kindness, prevailed on the Queen to offer her the situation of Lady of the Palace, and desired the Duchess's friends to persuade her to endeavour to deter her daughter from becoming a Carmelite. It was all in vain; the wretched victim was sacrificed."
Madame took it into her head to consult a fortune-teller, called Madame Bontemps, who had told M. de Bernis's fortune, as I have already related, and had surprised him by her predictions. M. de Choiseul, to whom she mentioned the matter, said that the woman had also foretold fine things that were to happen to him. "I know it," said she, "and, in return, you promised her a carriage, but the poor woman goes on foot still." Madame told me this, and asked me how she could disguise herself, so as to see the woman without being known. I dared not propose any scheme then, for fear it should not succeed; but, two days after, I talked to her surgeon about the art, which some beggars practise, of counterfeiting sores, and altering their features. He said that was easy enough. I let the thing drop, and, after an interval of some minutes, I said, "If one could change one's features, one might have great diversion at the opera, or at balls. What alterations would it be necessary to make in me, now, to render it impossible to recognise me?" "In the first place," said he, "you must alter the colour of your hair, then you must have a false nose, and put a spot on some part of your face, or a wart, or a few hairs." I laughed, and said, "Help me to contrive this for the next ball; I have not been to one for twenty years; but I am dying to puzzle somebody, and to tell him things which no one but I can tell him. I shall come home, and go to bed, in a quarter of an hour." "I must take the measure of your nose," said he; "or do you take it with wax, and I will have a nose made: you can get a flaxen or brown wig." I repeated to Madame what the surgeon had told me: she was delighted at it. I took the measure of her nose, and of my own, and carried them to the surgeon, who, in two days, gave me the two noses, and a wart, which Madame stuck under her left eye, and some paint for the eyebrows. The noses were most delicately made, of a bladder, I think, and these, with the other disguises, rendered it impossible to recognize the face, and yet did not produce any shocking appearance. All this being accomplished, nothing remained but to give notice to the fortune-teller; we waited for a little excursion to Paris, which Madame was to take, to look at her house. I then got a person, with whom I had no connection, to speak to a waiting-woman of the Duchesse de Ruffec, to obtain an interview with the woman. She made some difficulty, on account of the Police; but we promised secrecy, and appointed the place of meeting. Nothing could be more contrary to Madame de Pompadour's character, which was one of extreme timidity, than to engage in such an adventure. But her curiosity was raised to the highest pitch, and, moreover, everything was so well arranged that there was not the slightest risk. Madame had let M. de Gontaut, and her valet de chambre, into the secret. The latter had hired two rooms for his niece, who was then ill, at Versailles, near Madame's hotel. We went out in the evening, followed by the valet de chambre, who was a safe man, and by the Duke, all on foot. We had not, at farthest, above two hundred steps to go. We were shown into two small rooms, in which were fires. The two men remained in one, and we in the other. Madame had thrown herself on a sofa. She had on a night-cap, which concealed half her face, in an unstudied manner. I was near the fire, leaning on a table, on which were two candles. There were lying on the chairs, near us, some clothes, of small value. The fortune-teller rang—a little servant-girl let her in, and then went to wait in the room where the gentlemen were. Coffee-cups, and a coffee-pot, were set; and I had taken care to place, upon a little buffet, some cakes, and a bottle of Malaga wine, having heard that Madame Bontemps assisted her inspiration with that liquor. Her face, indeed, sufficiently proclaimed it. "Is that lady ill?" said she, seeing Madame de Pompadour stretched languidly on the sofa. I told her that she would soon be better, but that she had kept her room for a week. She heated the coffee, and prepared the two cups, which she carefully wiped, observing that nothing impure must enter into this operation. I affected to be very anxious for a glass of wine, in order to give our oracle a pretext for assuaging her thirst, which she did, without, much entreaty. When she had drunk two or three small glasses (for I had taken care not to have large ones), she poured the coffee into one of the two large cups. "This is yours," said she; "and this is your friend's; let them stand a little." She then observed our hands and our faces; after which she drew a looking-glass from her pocket, into which she told us to look, while she looked at the reflections of our faces. She next took a glass of wine, and immediately threw herself into a fit of enthusiasm, while she inspected my cup, and considered all the lines formed by the dregs of the coffee she had poured out. She began by saying, "That is well—prosperity—but there is a black mark—distresses. A man becomes a comforter. Here, in this corner, are friends, who support you. Ah! who is he that persecutes them? But justice triumphs—after rain, sunshine—a long journey successful. There, do you see these little bags! That is money which has been paid—to you, of course, I mean. That is well. Do you see that arm?" "Yes." "That is an arm supporting something: a woman veiled; I see her; it is you. All this is clear to me. I hear, as it were, a voice speaking to me. You are no longer attacked. I see it, because the clouds in that direction are passed off (pointing to a clearer spot). But, stay—I see small lines which branch out from the main spot. These are sons, daughters, nephews—that is pretty well." She appeared overpowered with the effort she was making. At length, she added, "That is all. You have had good luck first—misfortune afterward. You have had a friend, who has exerted himself with success to extricate you from it. You have had law-suits—at length fortune has been reconciled to you, and will change no more." She drank another glass of wine. "Your health, Madame," said she to the Marquise, and went through the same ceremonies with the cup. At length, she broke out, "Neither fair nor foul. I see there, in the distance, a serene sky; and then all these things that appear to ascend—all these things are applauses. Here is a grave man, who stretches out his arms. Do you see?—look attentively." "That is true," said Madame de Pompadour, with surprise (there was, indeed, some appearance of the kind). "He points to something square—that is an open coffer.—Fine weather.—But, look! there are clouds of azure and gold, which surround you. Do you see that ship on the high sea? How favourable the wind is! You are on board; you land in a beautiful country, of which you become the Queen. Ah! what do I see! Look there—look at that hideous, crooked, lame man, who is pursuing you—but he is going on a fool's errand. I see a very great man, who supports you in his arms. Here, look! he is a kind of giant. There is a great deal of gold and silver—a few clouds here and there. But you have nothing to fear. The vessel will be sometimes tossed about, but it will not be lost. Dixi." Madame said, "When shall I die, and of what disease?" "I never speak of that," said she; "see here, rather—but fate will not permit it. I will shew you how fate confounds everything"—shewing her several confused lumps of the coffee-dregs. "Well, never mind as to the time, then, only tell me the kind of death." The fortune-teller looked in the cup, and said, "You will have time to prepare yourself." I gave her only two louis, to avoid doing anything remarkable. She left us, after begging us to keep her secret, and we rejoined the Duc de Gontaut, to whom we related everything that had passed. He laughed heartily, and said, "Her coffee-dregs are like the clouds—you may see what you please in them."
There was one thing in my horoscope which struck me, that was the comforter; because one of my uncles had taken great care of me, and had rendered me the most essential services. It is also true that I afterwards had an important lawsuit; and, lastly, there was the money which had come into my hands through Madame de Pompadour's patronage and bounty. As for Madame, her husband was represented accurately enough by the man with the coffer; then the country of which she became Queen seemed to relate to her present situation at Court; but the most remarkable thing was the crooked and lame man, in whom Madame thought she recognized the Duc de V——, who was very much deformed. Madame was delighted with her adventure and her horoscope, which she thought corresponded very remarkably with the truth. Two days after, she sent for M. de St. Florentin, and begged him not to molest the fortune-teller. He laughed, and replied that he knew why she interceded for this woman. Madame asked him why he laughed. He related every circumstance of her expedition with astonishing exactness; but he knew nothing of what had been said, or, at least, so he pretended. He promised Madame that, provided Bontemps did nothing which called for notice, she should not be obstructed in the exercise of her profession, especially if she followed it in secret. "I know her," added he, "and I, like other people, have had the curiosity to consult her. She is the wife of a soldier in the guards. She is a clever woman in her way, but she drinks. Four or five years ago, she got such hold on the mind of Madame de Ruffec, that she made her believe she could procure her an elixir of beauty, which would restore her to what she was at twenty-five. The Duchess pays high for the drugs of which this elixir is compounded; and sometimes they are bad: sometimes, the sun, to which they were exposed, was not powerful enough; sometimes, the influence of a certain constellation was wanting. Sometimes, she has the courage to assure the Duchess that she really is grown handsomer, and actually succeeds in making her believe it." But the history of this woman's daughter is still more curious. She was exquisitely beautiful, and the Duchess brought her up in her own house. Bontemps predicted to the girl, in the Duchess's presence, that she would marry a man of two thousand louis a year. This was not very likely to happen to the daughter of a soldier in the guards. It did happen, nevertheless. The little Bontemps married the President Beaudouin, who was mad. But, the tragical part of the story is, that her mother had also foretold that she would die in child-birth of her first child, and that she did actually die in child-birth, at the age of eighteen, doubtless under a strong impression of her mother's prophecy, to which the improbable event of her marriage had given such extraordinary weight. Madame told the King of the adventure her curiosity had led her into, at which he laughed, and said he wished the Police had arrested her. He added a very sensible remark. "In order to judge," said he, "of the truth or falsehood of such predictions, one ought to collect fifty of them. It would be found that they are almost always made up of the same phrases, which are sometimes inapplicable, and sometimes hit the mark. But the first are rarely mentioned, while the others are always insisted on."
I have heard, and, indeed, it is certainly true, that M. de Bridge lived on terms of intimacy with Madame, when she was Madame d'Etioles. He used to ride on horseback with her, and, as he is so handsome a man that he has retained the name of the handsome man, it was natural enough that he should be thought the lover of a very handsome woman. I have heard something more than this. I was told that the King said to M. de Bridge, "Confess, now, that you were her lover. She has acknowledged it to me, and I exact from you this proof of sincerity." M. de Bridge replied, that Madame de Pompadour was at liberty to say what she pleased for her own amusement, or for any other reason; but that he, for his part, could not assert a falsehood; that he had been her friend; that she was a charming companion, and had great talents; that he delighted in her society; but that his intercourse with her had never gone beyond the bounds of friendship. He added, that her husband was present in all their parties, that he watched her with a jealous eye, and that he would, not have suffered him to be so much with her if he had conceived the least suspicion of the kind. The King persisted, and told him he was wrong to endeavour to conceal a fact which was unquestionable. It was rumoured, also, that the Abbe de Bernis had been a favoured lover of hers. The said Abbe was rather a coxcomb; he had a handsome face, and wrote poetry. Madame de Pompadour was the theme of his gallant verses. He sometimes received the compliments of his friends upon his success with a smile which left some room for conjecture, although he denied the thing in words. It was, for some time, reported at Court that she was in love with the Prince de Beauvau: he is a man distinguished for his gallantries, his air of rank and fashion, and his high play; he is brother to the little Marechale: for all these reasons, Madame is very civil to him, but there is nothing marked in her behaviour. She knows, besides, that he is in love with a very agreeable woman.
Now that I am on the subject of lovers, I cannot avoid speaking of M. de Choiseul. Madame likes him better than any of those I have just mentioned, but he is not her lover. A lady, whom I know perfectly well, but whom I do not choose to denounce to Madame, invented a story about them, which was utterly false. She said, as I have good reason to believe, that one day, hearing the King coming, I ran to Madame's closet door; that I coughed in a particular manner; and that the King having, happily, stopped a moment to talk to some ladies, there was time to adjust matters, so that Madame came out of the closet with me and M. de Choiseul, as if we had been all three sitting together. It is very true that I went in to carry something to Madame, without knowing that the King was come, and that she came out of the closet with M. de Choiseul, who had a paper in his hand, and that I followed her a few minutes after. The King asked M. de Choiseul what that paper was which he had in his hand. He replied that it contained the remonstrance from the Parliament.
Three or four ladies witnessed what I now relate, and as, with the exception of one, they were all excellent women, and greatly attached to Madame, my suspicions could fall on none but the one in question, whom I will not name, because her brother has always treated me with great kindness. Madame de Pompadour had a lively imagination and great sensibility, but nothing could exceed the coldness of her temperament. It would, besides, have been extremely difficult for her, surrounded as she was, to keep up an intercourse of that kind with any man. It is true that this difficulty would have been diminished in the case of an all-powerful Minister, who had constant pretexts for seeing her in private. But there was a much more decisive fact—M. de Choiseul had a charming mistress—the Princesse de R——, and Madame knew it, and often spoke of her. He had, besides, some remains of liking for the Princesse de Kinski, who followed him from Vienna. It is true that he soon after discovered how ridiculous she was. All these circumstances combined were, surely, sufficient to deter Madame from engaging in a love affair with the Duke; but his talents and agreeable qualities captivated her. He was not handsome, but he had manners peculiar to himself, an agreeable vivacity, a delightful gaiety; this was the general opinion of his character. He was much attached to Madame, and though this might, at first, be inspired by a consciousness of the importance of her friendship to his interest, yet, after he had acquired sufficient political strength to stand alone, he was not the less devoted to her, nor less assiduous in his attentions. He knew her friendship for me, and he one day said to me, with great feeling, "I am afraid, my dear Madame du Hausset, that she will sink into a state of complete dejection, and die of melancholy. Try to divert her." What a fate for the favourite of the greatest monarch in existence! thought I.
One day, Madame de Pompadour had retired to her closet with M. Berryer. Madame d'Amblimont stayed with Madame de Gontaut, who called me to talk about my son. A moment after, M. de Gontaut came in and said, "D'Amblimont, who shall have the Swiss guards?" "Stop a moment," said she; "let me call my council——, M. de Choiseul." "That is not so very bad a thought," said M. de Gontaut, "but I assure you, you are the first person who has suggested it." He immediately left us, and Madame d'Amblimont said, "I'll lay a wager he is going to communicate my idea to M. de Choiseul." He returned very shortly, and, M. Berryer having left the room, he said to Madame de Pompadour, "A singular thought has entered d'Amblimont's head." "What absurdity now?" said Madame. "Not so great an absurdity neither," said he. "She says the Swiss guards ought to be given to M. de Choiseul, and, really, if the King has not positively promised M. de Soubise, I don't see what he can do better." "The King has promised nothing," said Madame, "and the hopes I gave him were of the vaguest kind. I only told him it was possible. But though I have a great regard for M. de Soubise, I do not think his merits comparable to those of M. de Choiseul." When the King came in, Madame, doubtless, told him of this suggestion. A quarter of an hour afterwards, I went into the room to speak to her, and I heard the King say, "You will see that, because the Duc du Maine, and his children, had that place, he will think he ought to have it, on account of his rank as Prince (Soubise); but the Marechal de Bassompierre was not a Prince; and, by the bye, the Duc de Choiseul is for him to be. Her name was Romans. She was Majesty is better acquainted with the history of France than anybody," replied Madame. Two days after this, Madame de —— said to me, "I have two great delights; M. de Soubise will not have the Swiss guards, and Madame de Marsan will be ready to burst with rage at it; this is the first: and M. de Choiseul will have them; this is the greatest."
There was a universal talk of a young lady with whom the King was as much in love as it was possible for him to be. Her name was Romans. She was said to be a charming girl. Madame de Pompadour knew of the King's visits, and her confidantes brought her most alarming reports of the affair. The Marechale de Mirepoix, who had the best head in Madame's council, was the only one who encouraged her. "I do not tell you," said she, "that he loves you better than her; and if she could be transported hither by the stroke of a fairy's wand; if she could entertain him this evening at supper; if she were familiar with all his tastes, there would, perhaps, be sufficient reason for you to tremble for your power. But Princes are, above all, pre-eminently the slaves of habit. The King's attachment to you is like that he bears to your apartment, your furniture. You have formed yourself to his manners and habits; you know how to listen and reply to his stories; he is under no constraint with you; he has no fear of boring you. How do you think he could have resolution to uproot all this in a day, to form a new establishment, and to make a public exhibition of himself by so striking a change in his arrangements?" The young lady became pregnant; the reports current among the people, and even those at Court, alarmed Madame dreadfully. It was said that the King meant to legitimate the child, and to give the mother a title. "All that," said Madame de Mirepoix, "is in the style of Louis XIV.—such dignified proceedings are very unlike those of our master." Mademoiselle Romans lost all her influence over the King by her indiscreet boasting. She was even treated with harshness and violence, which were in no degree instigated by Madame. Her house was searched, and her papers seized; but the most important, those which substantiated the fact of the King's paternity, had been withdrawn. At length she gave birth to a son, who was christened under the name of Bourbon, son of Charles de Bourbon, Captain of Horse. The mother thought the eyes of all France were fixed upon her, and beheld in her son a future Duc du Maine. She suckled him herself, and she used to carry him in a sort of basket to the Bois de Boulogne. Both mother and child were covered with the finest laces. She sat down upon the grass in a solitary spot, which, however, was soon well known, and there gave suck to her royal babe. Madame had great curiosity to see her, and took me, one day, to the manufactory at Sevres, without telling me what she projected. After she had bought some cups, she said, "I want to go and walk in the Bois de Boulogne," and gave orders to the coachman to stop at a certain spot where she wished to alight. She had got the most accurate directions, and when she drew near the young lady's haunt she gave me her arm, drew her bonnet over her eyes, and held her pocket-handkerchief before the lower part of her face. We walked, for some minutes, in a path, from whence we could see the lady suckling her child. Her jet black hair was turned up, and confined by a diamond comb. She looked earnestly at us. Madame bowed to her, and whispered to me, pushing me by the elbow, "Speak to her." I stepped forward, and exclaimed, "What a lovely child!" "Yes, Madame," replied she, "I must confess that he is, though I am his mother." Madame, who had hold of my arm, trembled and I was not very firm. Mademoiselle Romans said to me, "Do you live in this neighbourhood?" "Yes, Madame," replied I, "I live at Auteuil with this lady, who is just now suffering from a most dreadful toothache." "I pity her sincerely, for I know that tormenting pain well." I looked all around, for fear any one should come up who might recognise us. I took courage to ask her whether the child's father was a handsome man. "Very handsome, and, if I told you his name, you would agree with me." "I have the honour of knowing him, then, Madame?" "Most probably you do." Madame, fearing, as I did, some rencontre, said a few words in a low tone, apologizing for having intruded upon her, and we took our leave. We looked behind us, repeatedly, to see if we were followed, and got into the carriage without being perceived. "It must be confessed that both mother and child are beautiful creatures," said Madame—"not to mention the father; the infant has his eyes. If the King had come up while we were there, do you think he would have recognised us?" "I don't doubt that he would, Madame, and then what an agitation I should have been in, and what a scene it would have been for the bystanders! and, above all, what a surprise to her!" In the evening Madame made the King a present of the cups she had bought, but she did not mention her walk, for fear Mademoiselle Romans should tell him that two ladies, who knew him, had met her there such a day. Madame de Mirepoix said to Madame, "Be assured, the King cares very little about children; he has enough of them, and he will not be troubled with the mother or the son. See what sort of notice he takes of the Comte de L——, who is strikingly like him. He never speaks of him, and I am convinced that he will never do anything for him. Again and again I tell you, we do not live under Louis XIV." Madame de Mirepoix had been Ambassadress to London, and had often heard the English make this remark.
Some alterations had been made in Madame de Pompadour's rooms, and I had no longer, as heretofore, the niche in which I had been permitted to sit, to hear Caffarelli, and, in later times, Mademoiselle Fel and Jeliotte. I, therefore, went more frequently to my lodgings in town, where I usually received my friends: more particularly when Madame visited her little hermitage, whither M. de Gontaut commonly accompanied her. Madame du Chiron, the wife of the Head Clerk in the War-Office, came to see me. "I feel," said she, "greatly embarrassed, in speaking to you about an affair, which will, perhaps, embarrass you also. This is the state of the case. A very poor woman, to whom I have sometimes given a little assistance, pretends to be a relation of the Marquise de Pompadour. Here is her petition." I read it, and said that the woman had better write directly to Madame, and that I was sure, if what she asserted was true, her application would be successful. Madame du Chiron followed my advice. The woman wrote she was in the lowest depth of poverty, and I learnt that Madame sent her six louis until she could gain more accurate information as to the truth of her story. Colin, who was commissioned to take the money, made inquiries of M. de Malvoisin, a relation of Madame, and a very respectable officer. The fact was found to be as she had stated it. Madame then sent her a hundred louis, and promised her a pension of sixty louis a year. All this was done with great expedition, and Madame had a visit of thanks from her poor relation, as soon as she had procured decent clothes to come in. That day the King happened to come in at an unusual hour, and saw this person going out. He asked who it was. "It is a very poor relation of mine," replied Madame. "She came, then, to beg for some assistance?" "No," said she. "What did she come for, then?" "To thank me for a little service I have rendered her," said she, blushing from the fear of seeming to boast of her liberality. "Well," said the King; "since she is your relation, allow me to have the pleasure of serving her too. I will give her fifty louis a year out of my private purse, and, you know, she may send for the first year's allowance to-morrow." Madame burst into tears, and kissed the King's hand several times. She told me this three days afterwards, when I was nursing her in a slight attack of fever. I could not refrain from weeping myself at this instance of the King's kindness. The next day, I called on Madame du Chiron to tell her of the good fortune of her protegee; I forgot to say that, after Madame had related the affair to me, I told her what part I had taken in it. She approved my conduct, and allowed me to inform my friend of the King's goodness. This action, which showed no less delicate politeness towards her than sensibility to the sufferings of the poor woman, made a deeper impression on Madame's heart than a pension of two thousand a year given to herself.
Madame had terrible palpitations of the heart. Her heart actually seemed to leap. She consulted several physicians. I recollect that one of them made her walk up and down the room, lift a weight, and move quickly. On her expressing some surprise, he said, "I do this to ascertain whether the organ is diseased; in that case motion quickens the pulsation; if that effect is not produced, the complaint proceeds from the nerves." I repeated this to my oracle, Quesnay. He knew very little of this physician, but he said his treatment was that of a clever man. His name was Renard; he was scarcely known beyond the Marais. Madame often appeared suffocated, and sighed continually. One day, under pretence of presenting a petition to M. de Choiseul, as he was going out, I said, in a low voice, that I wished to see him a few minutes on an affair of importance to my mistress. He told me to come as soon as I pleased, and that I should be admitted. I told him that Madame was extremely depressed; that she gave way to distressing thoughts, which she would not communicate; that she, one day, said to me, "The fortune-teller told me I should have time to prepare myself; I believe it, for I shall be worn to death by melancholy." M. de Choiseul appeared much affected; he praised my zeal, and said that he had already perceived some indications of what I told him; that he would not mention my name, but would try to draw from her an explanation. I don't know what he said to her; but, from that time, she was much more calm. One day, but long afterwards, Madame said to M. de Gontaut, "I am generally thought to have great influence, but if it were not for M. de Choiseul, I should not be able to obtain a Cross of St. Louis."
The King and Madame de Pompadour had a very high opinion of Madame de Choiseul. Madame said, "She always says the right thing in the right place." Madame de Grammont was not so agreeable to them; and I think that this was to be attributed, in part, to the sound of her voice, and to her blunt manner of speaking; for she was said to be a woman of great sense, and devotedly attached to the King and Madame de Pompadour. Some people pretended that she tried to captivate the King, and to supplant Madame: nothing could be more false, or more ridiculously improbable. Madame saw a great deal of these two ladies, who were extremely attentive to her. She one day remarked to the Duc d'Ayen, that M. de Choiseul was very fond of his sisters. "I know it, Madame," said he, "and many sisters are the better for that." "What do you mean?" said she. "Why," said he, "as the Duc de Choiseul loves his sister, it is thought fashionable to do the same; and I know silly girls, whose brothers formerly cared nothing about them, who are now most tenderly beloved. No sooner does their little finger ache, than their brothers are running about to fetch physicians from all corners of Paris. They flatter themselves that somebody will say, in M. de Choiseul's drawing-room, "How passionately M. de —— loves his sister; he would certainly die if he had the misfortune to lose her." Madame related this to her brother, in my presence, adding, that she could not give it in the Duke's comic manner. M. de Marigny said, "I have had the start of them all, without making so much noise; and my dear little sister knows that I loved her tenderly before Madame de Grammont left her convent. The Duc d'Ayen, however, is not very wrong; he has made the most of it in his lively manner, but it is partly true." "I forgot," replied Madame, "that the Duke said, 'I want extremely to be in the fashion, but which sister shall I take up? Madame de Caumont is a devil incarnate, Madame de Villars drinks, Madame d'Armagnac is a bore, Madame de la Marck is half mad.'" "These are fine family portraits, Duke," said Madame. The Duc de Gontaut laughed, during the whole of this conversation, immoderately. Madame repeated it, one day, when she kept her bed. M. de G—— also began to talk of his sister, Madame du Roure. I think, at least, that is the name he mentioned. He was very gay, and had the art of creating gaiety. Somebody said, he is an excellent piece of furniture for a favourite. He makes her laugh, and asks for nothing either for himself or for others; he cannot excite jealousy, and he meddles in nothing. He was called the White Eunuch. Madame's illness increased so rapidly that we were alarmed about her; but bleeding in the foot cured her as if by a miracle. The King watched her with the greatest solicitude; and I don't know whether his attentions did not contribute as much to the cure as the bleeding. M. de Choiseul remarked, some days after, that she appeared in better spirits. I told him that I thought this improvement might be attributed to the same cause.
THE MEMOIRS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI
BY THE ABBE BRANTOME
The figure of Catherine de Medici is remarkable in history as being the pivotal point for more controversy than has ever centred about any other Queen of France. Of Italian descent, she became the wife of one French monarch, the mother of three others, and the dominant force behind that glittering Court which Brantome eulogises. Both of her daughters likewise ascended thrones,—Elisabeth, became the wife of Philip II. of Spain; while Marguerite (whose memoirs are found elsewhere in this volume) wedded Henry of Navarre, the life-long rival of the ambitious Queen Mother, who was destined to become Henry IV., displacing her tottering dynasty.
Brantome's tribute to this famous Queen will be read with great interest, but it is unnecessary to caution the reader to accept it cum grana salis, for Brantome's likes and dislikes are at all times apt to run away with his historical judgment. Says Louis Moland in an introduction to the French edition of the Abbe's works: "The admiration which he professes for these grand princesses whom he has the honour of depicting so influences him that, despite his notorious credulity on this point, he shows them all, or nearly all, as perfectly virtuous." Nevertheless, his portraits, though coloured with the most favourable tints, are of great value as portraits from life. "I saw it," "I was there," are his favourite expressions in narrating an incident.
The study of Catherine is a typical example of his work. He had lived at her Court and received many favours at her hands. He now sets himself the task of answering her calumniators and paying a tribute to her memory. This spirit of chivalry is certainly admirable, albeit the results may show as more partisan than accurate. It is interesting to compare this with Honore de Balzac's more extended work, "Sur Catherine de Medicis," which is designated as a romance but is actually a careful historical portrait of the Queen.
Catherine's whole life may be said to have combined romance with history. She was the daughter of Lorenzo de Medici, that famous ruler of Florence for whom Machiavelli wrote his "Prince." Having been left an orphan at an early age, she was sent to a convent to be educated, but left there at fourteen to become the wife of the Dauphin, afterwards Henry II. of France. Her royal father-in-law was the celebrated Francis I., the life-long rival of Henry VIII. of England, on the one hand, and the Emperor Charles V., on the other. During his reign Catherine remained in obscurity, and was even threatened with divorce, as for ten years she remained childless. On hearing that Francis was considering this decree for state reasons, she planned her first bold stroke. With Italian finesse she made her way to the King at a favourable moment, threw herself at his feet, and expressed her willingness to submit to the royal will. "Do with me as you choose, sire," she said; "let me remain the dutiful wife of your son; or if it may please you to choose another, let me serve as one of her humblest attendants." Her speech won the heart of Francis, she was reinstated in favour, and finally had the happiness of bringing him grandchildren ere he died. This was one reason for the great veneration in which Catherine always held his memory, and to which Brantome alludes.
Indeed, the dominant trait with her throughout her long life was loyalty to her family and their interests,—a loyalty fine in the abstract, but which was to lead her along many doubtful and devious ways. It caused her to match prince against prince, party against party, religion against religion, until the culminating horror of St. Bartholomew's Massacre was reached,—chargeable directly to her, despite the strenuous denials of Brantome. Henry IV., the royal son-in-law who suffered so much at her hands, was broad-minded enough to palliate her offences on the ground of this family loyalty. Claude Grouard quotes him as saying to a Florentine ambassador in regard to Catherine: "I ask you what a poor woman could do, left by the death of her husband, with five little children on her arms, and two families in France who were thinking to grasp the crown,—ours and the Guiges. Was she not compelled to play strange parts to deceive first one and then the other, in order to guard, as she has done, her sons who have successively reigned through the wise conduct of that shrewd woman? I am only surprised that she never did worse.
Sainte-Beuve in his "Causeries du Lundi" gives us additional glimpses of this Queen, basing his views upon those of Mezeray, author of the older "History of France": Mezeray, who never thinks of the dramatic, nevertheless makes known to us at the start his principal personages; he shows them more especially in action, without detaching them too much from the general sentiment and interests of which they are the leaders and representatives, while, at the same time, he leaves to each his individual physiognomy.... Catherine de Medici is painted there in all her dissimulation and her network of artifices, in which she herself was often caught; ambitious of sovereign power without possessing either the force or the genius for it; striving to obtain it by craft, and using for this purpose a continual system of what we should call today 'see-sawing'—'rousing and elevating for a time one faction, putting to sleep or lowering another; uniting herself sometimes with the feeblest side out of caution, lest the stronger should crush her; sometimes with the stronger from necessity; at times standing neutral when she felt herself strong enough to command both sides, but without intention to extinguish either.' Far from being always too Catholic, there are moments when she seems to lean to the Reformed religion and to wish to grant too much to that party; and this with more sincerity, perhaps, than belonged to her naturally. The Catherine de Medici, such as she presents herself and is developed in plain truth on the pages of Mezeray is well calculated to tempt a modern writer."
It is precisely to this temptation that Balzac has yielded, in his book already mentioned. His summing-up of her character is as follows: "Catherine de Medici has suffered more from popular error than almost any other woman... and yet she saved the throne of France, she maintained the royal authority under circumstances to which more than one great prince would have succumbed. Face to face with such leaders of the factions, and ambitions of the houses of Guise and of Bourbon as the Cardinals de Lorraine and the two 'Balafres,' the two Princes de Conde, Henry IV., Montmorency, the Colignys, she was forced to put forth the rarest fine qualities, the most essential gifts of statesmanship, under the fire of the Calvinist press. These, at any rate, are indisputable facts. And to the student who digs deep into the history of the sixteenth century in France, the figure of Catherine de Medici stands out as that of a great king...
"Hemmed in between a race of princes who proclaimed themselves the heirs of Charlemagne, and a factious younger branch that was eager to bury the Constable de Bourbon's treason under the throne; obliged too, to fight down a heresy on the verge of devouring the monarchy, without friends, and aware of treachery in the chiefs of the Catholic party and of republicanism in the Calvinists, Catherine used the most dangerous but the surest of political weapons—Craft. She determined to deceive by turns the party that was anxious to secure the downfall of the house of Valois, the Bourbons who aimed at the Crown, and the Reformers.... Indeed, so long as she lived, the Valois sat on the throne. The great M. de Thou understood the worth of this woman when he exclaimed on hearing of her death: 'It is not a woman, it is Royalty that dies in her'!"
On the contrary, if one will follow the genial Dumas through the pages of his Valois Romances, he will find a French writer who, while loyal to the kingly line, does not hesitate to paint this woman in unlovely colors. She is here the low intriguer who does not stop at assassination to gain her ends. On only one point, indeed, do historians and romancers seem to agree: she is always interesting—never commonplace. She fills a definite niche in an important period, and her personal reputation must be handled as a thing apart.
This portrait of her by Brantome is one of a series of papers comprising his "Lives of Illustrious Ladies,"—or as he preferred to call it, "Book of the Ladies." Brantome himself lived an adventurous life. Born in Perigord in 1537, he was only eighteen years younger than the queen he here discusses. His family, the de Bourdeilles, was one of the oldest and most respected in that province. "Not to boast of myself," he says, "I can assert that none of my race has ever been home-keeping; they have spent as much time in travels and wars as any, no matter who they be, in France." The young Pierre had his first experience in Court life, at the Court of Marguerite, sister of Francis I., to whom his mother was lady-in-waiting. As he was the youngest of the family, he was destined for the priesthood—which he always regarded from the militant, rather than the spiritual side—and when only sixteen King Henry II. bestowed upon him the Abbey of Brantome.
The record of his life thereafter is one of travel and adventure in many lands. It is the period of the Renaissance, when wars and conquests, intrigues and romances, poetry and song flourish,—in all of which our Abbe is equally at home! He goes with the Duc de Guise to escort the young widowed Queen, Mary, back to her Scottish throne. He visits Marguerite de Valois in her retirement and is so smitten by her beauty that he dedicates all his books to her. And during his busy, adventurous life he finds time to set down many things which he sees and hears. Some of these stories smack of the scandalous, but all undoubtedly reflect the spirit and manners of the time.
After a long life, Brantome passed away in 1614, and although a clause in his will expressly related to the publication of his works they were left in MS. form, in his castle of Richemont, for half a century. They were finally published in Leyden, in 1665, and have been frequently reprinted since.
THE MEMOIRS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI
I have wondered a hundred times, and been astonished, that, with so many good writers as we have had in France in our day, none of them have been inquisitive enough to bring out some sketches on the life and deeds of the Queen-Mother, Catherine de Medici, since she has given ample material, and did as much fine work as ever was done by a queen—as once said the Emperor Charles to Paolo Giovio on his return from his triumphant voyage in the "Goulette," when wishing to declare war against King Francis, that it was only necessary to be provided with paper and ink, to supply him with any amount of work.
True it is that this Queen cut out so much work, that any clever and industrious writer might build from it a complete Iliad; but the writers have all proven lazy or ungrateful, although she was never niggardly to learned men, or those writers of her times. I could name several who derived favors from the Queen, and for this reason do I accuse them of ingratitude.
There was one, however, who did attempt to write of her, and who brought out a little book which he called "The Life of Catherine," but it is an imposture and not worthy of belief, since it is more full of lies than truth, as she herself said, when she saw the book. The errors are so glaring as to be apparent to all, and are thus easily noted and rejected.
The author wished her mortal harm, and was inimical to her name, to her station, to her life, to her honor and to her nature, and for this reason he should be rejected.
As for myself, I would that I could speak well, or that I had a fluent pen at my command that I might exalt and praise her as she deserves.
At any rate, be my pen what it may, I shall use it at all hazards.
This Queen is descended, on her father's side, from the race of the Medici, one of the noblest and most illustrious families, not only in Italy but in Christendom.
Whatever may be said, she was a foreigner to these parts, since the alliances of the royal houses cannot commonly be made with those within their kingdoms. Nor is it often for the best, since foreign marriages are often more advantageous than those made nearer home.
The House of the Medici has ever been allied with the Crown of France, and still bears the fleur-de-lys that King Louis XI granted that house as a token of alliance and perpetual confederation.
On her mother's side she is descended from one of the noblest houses of France; a house truly French in race, in heart and in affection, that great house of Boulogne and of the County of Auvergne.
Thus it is difficult to say or to decide which of these two houses is the grander, or which is the more memorable by its deeds.
Here is what is said of them by the Archbishop of Bourges, he of the house of Beaune, as great a scholar and as worthy a prelate as there is in Christendom (although there are some who say that he was a trifle unsteady in belief, and of little worth in the scales of M. Saint-Michel, who weighs good Christians for the day of judgment, or so 'tis said). It is found in the funeral oration which the Archbishop made upon the said Queen at Blois.
In the days when that great captain of the Gauls, Brennus, led his forces through Italy and Greece, there were in his troop two French nobles, one named Felsinus, the other named Bono, who seeing the wicked designs of Brennus to invade and desecrate the temple of Delphos, after his great conquests, withdrew their forces and passed into Asia with their ships and followers.
They pushed on until they entered the sea of Medes, which is near Lydia and Persia.
Thence, after gaining many victories and obtaining many conquests, they retired, and while returning through Italy on their way to France, Felsinus stopped on the site of what is now Florence, beside the river Arno, a place which he saw was beautiful and commanding and situated much as another place which had pleased him much in the country of the Medes.
There he built the city which to-day is Florence.
His companion, Bono, built a second, and neighboring city which he called Bononia, the modern Bologna.
Henceforth Felsinus was called Medicus by his intimates, in commemoration of his victories and conquests among the Medes, a name that became the family name, just as we read of Paulus being surnamed Macedonicus, on account of his conquest of Macedonia from Perseus, and of Scipio being called Africanus for doing the like in Africa.
I do not know from what source M. de Beaune got his history, but it is very probable, that, speaking as he did before the King and such an august assembly, there convened for the funeral of the Queen, M. de Beaune would not have made the statement without good authority.
This descent is very different from the modern story invented and attributed without cause to the Medici family, according to that lying book on the life of the Queen, which I have mentioned.
Furthermore, continues the aforementioned Sieur de Beaune, one reads in the chronicles that a certain Everard de Medici, Sieur of Florence, many years afterwards, went with many of his subjects to the assistance of Charlemagne in his expedition in Italy against Didier, king of the Lombards, and having courageously succoured and assisted him was granted and invested with the lordship of Florence.
Many years later, one Anemond de Medici, also a Sieur of Florence, accompanied, with many of his subjects, Godefroy de Bouillon to the Holy Land, where he died at the siege of Nicaea in Asia.
Such greatness continued in that family down to the time when Florence was reduced to a republic by the internecine wars in Italy between the emperors and the people, the illustrious members of this family continually manifesting their valour and grandeur from time to time, as we see in these later days, how Cosmo de Medici, with his arms, his navy and ships struck terror into the Turks on the Mediterranean and even in the distant East; so that none since his time, no matter how great he may have been, has surpassed him in strength, valour and wealth, as has been recorded by Raffaelle Volaterano.
The temples and sacred shrines built by him, the hospitals founded by him, even as far as Jerusalem, all give ample proof of his piety and magnanimity.
Then there was Lorenzo de Medici, surnamed the Great on account of his virtuous deeds, and the two great popes, Leo and Clement, besides many cardinals and great personages of the name, including the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosmo de Medici, a wise and wary man, if there ever was one.
He succeeded in retaining his duchy, which he found invaded and in great distress when he inherited it.
In short, nothing can rob this house of the Medici of its lustre, and of its nobleness and grandeur in all ways.
As to the house of Boulogne and Auvergne, who can deny its greatness, descending as it does from that noble Eustache de Boulogne, whose brother, Godefroy de Bouillon, who bore his arms and escutcheons with that vast number of princes, seigneurs, chevaliers, and Christian soldiers even to Jerusalem and to the sepulchre of our Saviour, where he would have made himself, by his sword and by the favour of God, king, not only of Jerusalem, but also of the greater part of the East, to the confusion of Mahomet, the Saracens, and the Mahometans, to the amazement of all the rest of the world, and would have replanted Christianity in Asia when it had fallen to the lowest depths?
Besides this house had ever been sought in alliance by all the monarchies of Christendom and by the great families, such as those of France, England, Scotland, Hungary, and Portugal, which latter kingdom belonged to it of right, as I have heard President de Thou say, and as the Queen herself did me the honor to tell me at Bordeaux, when she heard of the death of King Sebastian. The Medici were even allowed to argue the justice of their claims at the last Assembly of States previous to the death of King Henry.
And it was for this reason that she armed M. de Strozzi for an invasion of Portugal, where the King of Spain had usurped the kingdom. She was prevented from carrying out her well-chosen plans by reasons which I will explain at another time.
I will leave it to you, therefore, whether the house of Boulogne was great: yea, so great it is that I once heard Pope Pius IV say, while sitting at table at a dinner he gave after he had made Ferrara and Guise cardinals, that the house of Boulogne was so great and noble he knew none in France, no matter which, that could surpass it in antiquity, valour, and grandeur.
All this is much against those malicious detractors, who have said that this Queen was a Florentine of lowly birth, as one can see the contrary to be the case.
Moreover, she was not so poor since she brought to France as portion of her marriage estates which are valued to-day twenty-six thousand livres, such as the Counties of Auvergne and Lauragais, the seigneuries of Leverons, Donzenac, Boussac, Gorreges, Hondecourt, and other lands—all inherited from her mother.
Her dowry included also more than two hundred thousand ducats, which are worth to-day over four hundred thousand; as well as great quantities of furniture, precious stones, jewels, including the finest and the largest pearls ever seen in such quantities, pearls that she afterwards gave to the Queen of Scotland [Mary Stuart], her daughter-in-law, whom I have seen wearing them. Besides all this, many manors, houses, deeds, and claims which she possessed in Italy.
But, more than all else, her marriage caused a strengthening in the fortunes of France, which had been so shaken by the imprisonment of the King and by his losses at Milan and Naples.
King Francis, it is well known, knew that such a marriage greatly helped his interests. Therefore there was given to this Queen, as a device, a rainbow, which she bore as long as she was married, with these words in Greek, phos pherei aede galaenaen, which is the equivalent of saying that just as this fire and bow in the heavens brings and signifies good weather, just so this Queen was a true sign of clearness, of serenity and of the tranquillity of peace. The Greek is thus translated: Lucem fert et serenitatem—she brings light and serenity.
After that the Emperor [Charles V] no longer dared to push forward his ambitious motto: "Ever farther." For, notwithstanding the truce which existed between himself and King Francis, he was nursing his ambition with the plan of gaining always from France whatever he could; and he was much surprised at this alliance with the Pope [Clement VII], yet recognising the latter as an able, a courageous man, but vindictive on account of his imprisonment by the imperial troops at the sack of Rome.
Such a marriage was displeasing to him so much that I have heard a truthful lady of the Court say that if he had not been married to the Empress, he would have made an alliance with the Pope himself, and espoused his niece [Catherine de Medici], as much for the help of so strong a party as because he feared the Pope would help in losing for him Naples, Milan and Genoa; for the Pope had promised King Francis, in an authentic document, when he had delivered the money of his niece's dowry and her rings and jewels, that he would make the dowry worthy of such a marriage by adding to it three pearls of inestimable value, the excessive splendour of which caused envy and covetousness among the greatest of kings, meaning the three cities of Naples, Milan and Genoa. And it cannot be doubted that if the Pope had lived the natural span of his life he would have sold out the Emperor too, and made him pay well for that imprisonment, in order to enrich his niece and the kingdom to which she was joined. But Clement VII died too soon and all these expected gains could not withstand this blow. So that our Queen, having lost her mother, Magdelaine de Boulogne, and Lorenzo de Medici, Duke of Urbino, her father, in her early life, was given in marriage to France by her uncle, Pope Clement VII, and was brought by sea in great triumph to Marseilles, where at the age of fourteen she was wedded with great ceremony.
She made herself so beloved by the King, her father-in-law, and by King Henry, her husband, that after ten years had passed and still no heir being born to her, and though many persons endeavoured to persuade the King and the Dauphin, her husband, to divorce her, neither one would consent, so greatly did they love her. But after ten years, in accordance with the nature of the women of the Medici family, who were ever slow in conceiving, she began to furnish heirs, the first being King Francis II.