It was also on this first journey to Marly that the Duchesse de Chartres, afterwards Duchesse d'Orleans, introduced into the Queen's household Mademoiselle Bertin, a milliner who became celebrated at that time for the total change she effected in the dress of the French ladies.
It may be said that the mere admission of a milliner into the house of the Queen was followed by evil consequences to her Majesty. The skill of the milliner, who was received into the household, in spite of the custom which kept persons of her description out of it, afforded her the opportunity of introducing some new fashion every day. Up to this time the Queen had shown very plain taste in dress; she now began to make it a principal occupation; and she was of course imitated by other women.
All wished instantly to have the same dress as the Queen, and to wear the feathers and flowers to which her beauty, then in its brilliancy, lent an indescribable charm. The expenditure of the younger ladies was necessarily much increased; mothers and husbands murmured at it; some few giddy women contracted debts; unpleasant domestic scenes occurred; in many families coldness or quarrels arose; and the general report was,—that the Queen would be the ruin of all the French ladies.
Fashion continued its fluctuating progress; and head-dresses, with their superstructures of gauze, flowers, and feathers, became so lofty that the women could not find carriages high enough to admit them; and they were often seen either stooping, or holding their heads out of the windows. Others knelt down in order to manage these elevated objects of ridicule with less danger.
[If the use of these extravagant feathers and head-dresses had continued, say the memoirs of that period very seriously, it would have effected a revolution in architecture. It would have been found necessary to raise the doors and ceilings of the boxes at the theatre, and particularly the bodies of carriages. It was not without mortification that the King observed the Queen's adoption of this style of dress: she was never so lovely in his eyes as when unadorned by art. One day Carlin, performing at Court as harlequin, stuck in his hat, instead of the rabbit's tail, its prescribed ornament, a peacock's feather of excessive length. This new appendage, which repeatedly got entangled among the scenery, gave him an opportunity for a great deal of buffoonery. There was some inclination to punish him; but it was presumed that he had not assumed the feather without authority.-NOTE BY THE EDITOR.]
Innumerable caricatures, exhibited in all directions, and some of which artfully gave the features of the Queen, attacked the extravagance of fashion, but with very little effect. It changed only, as is always the case, through the influence of inconstancy and time.
The Queen's toilet was a masterpiece of etiquette; everything was done in a prescribed form. Both the dame d'honneur and the dame d'atours usually attended and officiated, assisted by the first femme de chambre and two ordinary women. The dame d'atours put on the petticoat, and handed the gown to the Queen. The dame d'honneur poured out the water for her hands and put on her linen. When a princess of the royal family happened to be present while the Queen was dressing, the dame d'honneur yielded to her the latter act of office, but still did not yield it directly to the Princesses of the blood; in such a case the dame d'honneur was accustomed to present the linen to the first femme de chambre, who, in her turn, handed it to the Princess of the blood. Each of these ladies observed these rules scrupulously as affecting her rights. One winter's day it happened that the Queen, who was entirely undressed, was just going to put on her shift; I held it ready unfolded for her; the dame d'honneur came in, slipped off her gloves, and took it. A scratching was heard at the door; it was opened, and in came the Duchesse d'Orleans: her gloves were taken off, and she came forward to take the garment; but as it would have been wrong in the dame d'honneur to hand it to her she gave it to me, and I handed it to the Princess. More scratching it was Madame la Comtesse de Provence; the Duchesse d'Orleans handed her the linen. All this while the Queen kept her arms crossed upon her bosom, and appeared to feel cold; Madame observed her uncomfortable situation, and, merely laying down her handkerchief without taking off her gloves, she put on the linen, and in doing so knocked the Queen's cap off. The Queen laughed to conceal her impatience, but not until she had muttered several times, "How disagreeable! how tiresome!"
All this etiquette, however inconvenient, was suitable to the royal dignity, which expects to find servants in all classes of persons, beginning even with the brothers and sisters of the monarch.
Speaking here of etiquette, I do not allude to majestic state, appointed for days of ceremony in all Courts. I mean those minute ceremonies that were pursued towards our Kings in their inmost privacies, in their hours of pleasure, in those of pain, and even during the most revolting of human infirmities.
These servile rules were drawn up into a kind of code; they offered to a Richelieu, a La Rochefoucauld and a Duras, in the exercise of their domestic functions, opportunities of intimacy useful to their interests; and their vanity was flattered by customs which converted the right to give a glass of water, to put on a dress, and to remove a basin, into honourable prerogatives.
Princes thus accustomed to be treated as divinities naturally ended by believing that they were of a distinct nature, of a purer essence than the rest of mankind.
This sort of etiquette, which led our Princes to be treated in private as idols, made them in public martyrs to decorum. Marie Antoinette found in the Chateau of Versailles a multitude of established customs which appeared to her insupportable.
The ladies-in-waiting, who were all obliged to be sworn, and to wear full Court dresses, were alone entitled to remain in the room, and to attend in conjunction with the dame d'honneur and the tirewoman. The Queen abolished all this formality. When her head was dressed, she curtsied to all the ladies who were in her chamber, and, followed only by her own women, went into her closet, where Mademoiselle Bertin, who could not be admitted into the chamber, used to await her. It was in this inner closet that she produced her new and numerous dresses. The Queen was also desirous of being served by the most fashionable hairdresser in Paris. Now the custom which forbade all persons in inferior offices, employed by royalty, to exert their talents for the public, was no doubt intended to cut off all communication between the privacy of princes and society at large; the latter being always extremely curious respecting the most trifling particulars relative to the private life of the former. The Queen, fearing that the taste of the hairdresser would suffer if he should discontinue the general practice of his art, ordered him to attend as usual certain ladies of the Court and of Paris; and this multiplied the opportunities of learning details respecting the household, and very often of misrepresenting them.
One of the customs most disagreeable to the Queen was that of dining every day in public. Maria Leczinska had always submitted to this wearisome practice; Marie Antoinette followed it as long as she was Dauphiness. The Dauphin dined with her, and each branch of the family had its public dinner daily. The ushers suffered all decently dressed people to enter; the sight was the delight of persons from the country. At the dinner-hour there were none to be met upon the stairs but honest folks, who, after having seen the Dauphiness take her soup, went to see the Princes eat their 'bouilli', and then ran themselves out of breath to behold Mesdames at their dessert.
Very ancient usage, too, required that the Queens of France should appear in public surrounded only by women; even at meal-times no persons of the other sex attended to serve at table; and although the King ate publicly with the Queen, yet he himself was served by women with everything which was presented to him directly at table. The dame d'honneur, kneeling, for her own accommodation, upon a low stool, with a napkin upon her arm, and four women in full dress, presented the plates to the King and Queen. The dame d'honneur handed them drink. This service had formerly been the right of the maids of honour. The Queen, upon her accession to the throne, abolished the usage altogether. She also freed herself from the necessity of being followed in the Palace of Versailles by two of her women in Court dresses, during those hours of the day when the ladies-in-waiting were not with her. From that time she was accompanied only by a single valet de chambre and two footmen. All the changes made by Marie Antoinette were of the same description; a disposition gradually to substitute the simple customs of Vienna for those of Versailles was more injurious to her than she could possibly have imagined.
When the King slept in the Queen's apartment he always rose before her; the exact hour was communicated to the head femme de chambre, who entered, preceded by a servant of the bedchamber bearing a taper; she crossed the room and unbolted the door which separated the Queen's apartment from that of the King. She there found the first valet de chambre for the quarter, and a servant of the chamber. They entered, opened the bed curtains on the King's side, and presented him slippers generally, as well as the dressing-gown, which he put on, of gold or silver stuff. The first valet de chambre took down a short sword which was always laid within the railing on the King's side. When the King slept with the Queen, this sword was brought upon the armchair appropriated to the King, and which was placed near the Queen's bed, within the gilt railing which surrounded the bed. The first femme de chambre conducted the King to the door, bolted it again, and, leaving the Queen's chamber, did not return until the hour appointed by her Majesty the evening before. At night the Queen went to bed before the King; the first femme de chambre remained seated at the foot of her bed until the arrival of his Majesty, in order, as in the morning, to see the King's attendants out and bolt the door after them. The Queen awoke habitually at eight o'clock, and breakfasted at nine, frequently in bed, and sometimes after she had risen, at a table placed opposite her couch.
In order to describe the Queen's private service intelligibly, it must be recollected that service of every kind was honour, and had not any other denomination. To do the honours of the service was to present the service to a person of superior rank, who happened to arrive at the moment it was about to be performed. Thus, supposing the Queen asked for a glass of water, the servant of the chamber handed to the first woman a silver gilt waiter, upon which were placed a covered goblet and a small decanter; but should the lady of honour come in, the first woman was obliged to present the waiter to her, and if Madame or the Comtesse d'Artois came in at the moment, the waiter went again from the lady of honour into the hands of the Princess before it reached the Queen. It must be observed, however, that if a princess of the blood instead of a princess of the family entered, the service went directly from the first woman to the princess of the blood, the lady of honour being excused from transferring to any but princesses of the royal family. Nothing was presented directly to the Queen; her handkerchief or her gloves were placed upon a long salver of gold or silver gilt, which was placed as a piece of furniture of ceremony upon a side-table, and was called a gantiere. The first woman presented to her in this manner all that she asked for, unless the tirewoman, the lady of honour, or a princess were present, and then the gradation pointed out in the instance of the glass of water was always observed.
Whether the Queen breakfasted in bed or up, those entitled to the petites entrees were equally admitted; this privilege belonged of right to her chief physician, chief surgeon, physician in ordinary, reader, closet secretary, the King's four first valets de chambre and their reversioners, and the King's chief physicians and surgeons. There were frequently from ten to twelve persons at this first entree. The lady of honour or the superintendent, if present, placed the breakfast equipage upon the bed; the Princesse de Lamballe frequently performed that office.
As soon as the Queen rose, the wardrobe woman was admitted to take away the pillows and prepare the bed to be made by some of the valets de chambre. She undrew the curtains, and the bed was not generally made until the Queen was gone to mass. Generally, excepting at St. Cloud, where the Queen bathed in an apartment below her own, a slipper bath was rolled into her room, and her bathers brought everything that was necessary for the bath. The Queen bathed in a large gown of English flannel buttoned down to the bottom; its sleeves throughout, as well as the collar, were lined with linen. When she came out of the bath the first woman held up a cloth to conceal her entirely from the sight of her women, and then threw it over her shoulders. The bathers wrapped her in it and dried her completely. She then put on a long and wide open chemise, entirely trimmed with lace, and afterwards a white taffety bed-gown. The wardrobe woman warmed the bed; the slippers were of dimity, trimmed with lace. Thus dressed, the Queen went to bed again, and the bathers and servants of the chamber took away the bathing apparatus. The Queen, replaced in bed, took a book or her tapestry work. On her bathing mornings she breakfasted in the bath. The tray was placed on the cover of the bath. These minute details are given here only to do justice to the Queen's scrupulous modesty. Her temperance was equally remarkable; she breakfasted on coffee or chocolate; at dinner ate nothing but white meat, drank water only, and supped on broth, a wing of a fowl, and small biscuits, which she soaked in a glass of water.
The tirewoman had under her order a principal under-tirewoman, charged with the care and preservation of all the Queen's dresses; two women to fold and press such articles as required it; two valets, and a porter of the wardrobe. The latter brought every morning into the Queen's apartments baskets covered with taffety, containing all that she was to wear during the day, and large cloths of green taffety covering the robes and the full dresses. The valet of the wardrobe on duty presented every morning a large book to the first femme de chambre, containing patterns of the gowns, full dresses, undresses, etc. Every pattern was marked, to show to which sort it belonged. The first femme de chambre presented this book to the Queen on her awaking, with a pincushion; her Majesty stuck pins in those articles which she chose for the day,—one for the dress, one for the afternoon-undress, and one for the full evening dress for card or supper parties in the private apartments. The book was then taken back to the wardrobe, and all that was wanted for the day was soon after brought in in large taffety wrappers. The wardrobe woman, who had the care of the linen, in her turn brought in a covered basket containing two or three chemises and handkerchiefs. The morning basket was called pret du jour. In the evening she brought in one containing the nightgown and nightcap, and the stockings for the next morning; this basket was called pret de la nuit. They were in the department of the lady of honour, the tirewoman having nothing to do with the linen. Nothing was put in order or taken care of by the Queen's women. As soon as the toilet was over, the valets and porter belonging to the wardrobe were called in, and they carried all away in a heap, in the taffety wrappers, to the tirewoman's wardrobe, where all were folded up again, hung up, examined, and cleaned with so much regularity and care that even the cast-off clothes scarcely looked as if they had been worn. The tirewoman's wardrobe consisted of three large rooms surrounded with closets, some furnished with drawers and others with shelves; there were also large tables in each of these rooms, on which the gowns and dresses were spread out and folded up.
For the winter the Queen had generally twelve full dresses, twelve undresses called fancy dresses, and twelve rich hoop petticoats for the card and supper parties in the smaller apartments.
She had as many for the summer; those for the spring served likewise for the autumn. All these dresses were discarded at the end of each season, unless, indeed, she retained some that she particularly liked. I am not speaking of muslin or cambric gowns, or others of the same kind—they were lately introduced; but such as these were not renewed at each returning season, they were kept several years. The chief women were charged with the care and examination of the diamonds; this important duty was formerly confided to the tirewoman, but for many years had been included in the business of the first femmes de chambre.
The public toilet took place at noon. The toilet-table was drawn forward into the middle of the room. This piece of furniture was generally the richest and most ornamented of all in the apartment of the Princesses. The Queen used it in the same manner and place for undressing herself in the evening. She went to bed in corsets trimmed with ribbon, and sleeves trimmed with lace, and wore a large neck handkerchief. The Queen's combing cloth was presented by her first woman if she was alone at the commencement of the toilet; or, as well as the other articles, by the ladies of honour if they were come. At noon the women who had been in attendance four and twenty hours were relieved by two women in full dress; the first woman went also to dress herself. The grandee entrees were admitted during the toilet; sofas were placed in circles for the superintendent, the ladies of honour, and tirewomen, and the governess of the children of France when she came there; the duties of the ladies of the bedchamber, having nothing to do with any kind of domestic or private functions, did not begin until the hour of going out to mass; they waited in the great closet, and entered when the toilet was over. The Princes of the blood, captains of the Guards, and all great officers having the entry paid their court at the hour of the toilet. The Queen saluted by nodding her head or bending her body, or leaning upon her toilet-table as if moving to rise; the last mode of salutation was for the Princes of the blood. The King's brothers also came very generally to pay their respects to her Majesty while her hair was being dressed. In the earlier years of the reign the first part of the dressing was performed in the bedchamber and according to the laws of etiquette; that is to say, the lady of honour put on the chemise and poured out the water for the hands, the tirewoman put on the skirt of the gown or full dress, adjusted the handkerchief, and tied on the necklace. But when the young Queen became more seriously devoted to fashion, and the head-dress attained so extravagant a height that it became necessary to put on the chemise from below,—when, in short, she determined to have her milliner, Mademoiselle Benin, with her whilst she was dressing, whom the ladies would have refused to admit to any share in the honour of attending on the Queen, the dressing in the bedchamber was discontinued, and the Queen, leaving her toilet, withdrew into her closet to dress.
On returning into her chamber, the Queen, standing about the middle of it, surrounded by the superintendent, the ladies of honour and tirewomen, her ladies of the palace, the chevalier d'honneur, the chief equerry, her clergy ready to attend her to mass, and the Princesses of the royal family who happened to come, accompanied by all their chief attendants and ladies, passed in order into the gallery as in going to mass. The Queen's signatures were generally given at the moment of entry into the chamber. The secretary for orders presented the pen. Presentations of colonels on taking leave were usually made at this time. Those of ladies, and, such as had a right to the tabouret, or sitting in the royal presence, were made on Sunday evenings before card-playing began, on their coming in from paying their respects. Ambassadors were introduced to the Queen on Tuesday mornings, accompanied by the introducer of ambassadors on duty, and by M. de Sequeville, the secretary for the ambassadors. The introducer in waiting usually came to the Queen at her toilet to apprise her of the presentations of foreigners which would be made. The usher of the chamber, stationed at the entrance, opened the folding doors to none but the Princes and Princesses of the royal family, and announced them aloud. Quitting his post, he came forward to name to the lady of honour the persons who came to be presented, or who came to take leave; that lady again named them to the Queen at the moment they saluted her; if she and the tirewoman were absent, the first woman took the place and did that duty. The ladies of the bedchamber, chosen solely as companions for the Queen, had no domestic duties to fulfil, however opinion might dignify such offices. The King's letter in appointing them, among other instructions of etiquette, ran thus: "having chosen you to bear the Queen company." There were hardly any emoluments accruing from this place.
The Queen heard mass with the King in the tribune, facing the grand altar and the choir, with the exception of the days of high ceremony, when their chairs were placed below upon velvet carpets fringed with gold. These days were marked by the name of grand chapel day.
The Queen named the collector beforehand, and informed her of it through her lady of honour, who was besides desired to send the purse to her. The collectors were almost always chosen from among those who had been recently presented. After returning from mass the Queen dined every Sunday with the King only, in public in the cabinet of the nobility, a room leading to her chamber. Titled ladies having the honours sat during the dinner upon folding-chairs placed on each side of the table. Ladies without titles stood round the table; the captain of the Guards and the first gentleman of the chamber were behind the King's chair; behind that of the Queen were her first maitre d'hotel, her chevalier d'honneur, and the chief equerry. The Queen's maitre d'hotel was furnished with a large staff, six or seven feet in length, ornamented with golden fleurs-de-lis, and surmounted by fleurs-de-lis in the form of a crown. He entered the room with this badge of his office to announce that the Queen was served. The comptroller put into his hands the card of the dinner; in the absence of the maitre d'hotel he presented it to the Queen himself, otherwise he only did him the honours of the service. The maitre d'hotel did not leave his place, he merely gave the orders for serving up and removing; the comptroller and gentlemen serving placed the various dishes upon the table, receiving them from the inferior servants.
The Prince nearest to the crown presented water to wash the King's hands at the moment he placed himself at table, and a princess did the same service to the Queen.
The table service was formerly performed for the Queen by the lady of honour and four women in full dress; this part of the women's service was transferred to them on the suppression of the office of maids of honour. The Queen put an end to this etiquette in the first year of her reign. When the dinner was over the Queen returned without the King to her apartment with her women, and took off her hoop and train.
This unfortunate Princess, against whom the opinions of the French people were at length so much excited, possessed qualities which deserved to obtain the greatest popularity. None could doubt this who, like myself, had heard her with delight describe the patriarchal manners of the House of Lorraine. She was accustomed to say that, by transplanting their manners into Austria, the Princes of that house had laid the foundation of the unassailable popularity enjoyed by the imperial family. She frequently related to me the interesting manner in which the Ducs de Lorraine levied the taxes. "The sovereign Prince," said she, "went to church; after the sermon he rose, waved his hat in the air, to show that he was about to speak, and then mentioned the sum whereof he stood in need. Such was the zeal of the good Lorrainers that men have been known to take away linen or household utensils without the knowledge of their wives, and sell them to add the value to their contribution. It sometimes happened, too, that the Prince received more money than he had asked for, in which case he restored the surplus."
All who were acquainted with the Queen's private qualities knew that she equally deserved attachment and esteem. Kind and patient to excess in her relations with her household, she indulgently considered all around her, and interested herself in their fortunes and in their pleasures., She had, among her women, young girls from the Maison de St. Cyr, all well born; the Queen forbade them the play when the performances were not suitable; sometimes, when old plays were to be represented, if she found she could not with certainty trust to her memory, she would take the trouble to read them in the morning, to enable her to decide whether the girls should or should not go to see them,—rightly considering herself bound to watch over their morals and conduct.
During the first few months of his reign Louis XVI. dwelt at La Muette, Marly, and Compiegne. When settled at Versailles he occupied himself with a general examination of his grandfather's papers. He had promised the Queen to communicate to her all that he might discover relative to the history of the man with the iron mask, who, he thought, had become so inexhaustible a source of conjecture only in consequence of the interest which the pen of a celebrated writer had excited respecting the detention of a prisoner of State, who was merely a man of whimsical tastes and habits.
I was with the Queen when the King, having finished his researches, informed her that he had not found anything among the secret papers elucidating the existence of this prisoner; that he had conversed on the matter with M. de Maurepas, whose age made him contemporary with the epoch during which the story must have been known to the ministers; and that M. de Maurepas had assured him he was merely a prisoner of a very dangerous character, in consequence of his disposition for intrigue. He was a subject of the Duke of Mantua, and was enticed to the frontier, arrested there, and kept prisoner, first at Pignerol, and afterwards in the Bastille. This transfer took place in consequence of the appointment of the governor of the former place to the government of the latter. It was for fear the prisoner should profit by the inexperience of a new governor that he was sent with the Governor of Pignerol to the Bastille.
Such was, in fact, the truth about the man on whom people have been pleased to fix an iron mask. And thus was it related in writing, and published by M. ——- twenty years ago. He had searched the archives of the Foreign Office, and laid the real story before the public; but the public, prepossessed in favour of a marvellous version, would not acknowledge the authenticity of his account. Every man relied upon the authority of Voltaire; and it was believed that a natural or a twin brother of Louis XIV. lived many years in prison with a mask over his face. The story of this mask, perhaps, had its origin in the old custom, among both men and women in Italy, of wearing a velvet mask when they exposed themselves to the sun. It is possible that the Italian captive may have sometimes shown himself upon the terrace of his prison with his face thus covered. As to the silver plate which this celebrated prisoner is said to have thrown from his window, it is known that such a circumstance did happen, but it happened at Valzin, in the time of Cardinal Richelieu. This anecdote has been mixed up with the inventions respecting the Piedmontese prisoner.
In this survey of the papers of Louis XV. by his grandson some very curious particulars relative to his private treasury were found. Shares in various financial companies afforded him a revenue, and had in course of time produced him a capital of some amount, which he applied to his secret expenses. The King collected his vouchers of title to these shares, and made a present of them to M. Thierry de Ville d'Avray, his chief valet de chambre.
The Queen was desirous to secure the comfort of Mesdames, the daughters of Louis XV., who were held in the highest respect. About this period she contributed to furnish them with a revenue sufficient to provide them an easy, pleasant existence: The King gave them the Chateau of Bellevue; and added to the produce of it, which was given up to them, the expenses of their table and equipage, and payment of all the charges of their household, the number of which was even increased. During the lifetime of Louis XV., who was a very selfish prince, his daughters, although they had attained forty years of age, had no other place of residence than their apartments in the Chateau of Versailles; no other walks than such as they could take in the large park of that palace; and no other means of gratifying their taste for the cultivation of plants but by having boxes and vases, filled with them, in their balconies or their closets. They had, therefore, reason to be much pleased with the conduct of Marie Antoinette, who had the greatest influence in the King's kindness towards his aunts.
Paris did not cease, during the first years of the reign, to give proofs of pleasure whenever the Queen appeared at any of the plays of the capital. At the representation of "Iphigenia in Aulis," the actor who sang the words, "Let us sing, let us celebrate our Queen!" which were repeated by the chorus, directed by a respectful movement the eyes of the whole assembly upon her Majesty. Reiterated cries of 'Bis'! and clapping of hands, were followed by such a burst of enthusiasm that many of the audience added their voices to those of the actors in order to celebrate, it might too truly be said, another Iphigenia. The Queen, deeply affected, covered her eyes with her handkerchief; and this proof of sensibility raised the public enthusiasm to a still higher pitch.
The King gave Marie Antoinette Petit Trianon.
[The Chateau of Petit Trianon, which was built for Louis XV., was not remarkably handsome as a building. The luxuriance of the hothouses rendered the place agreeable to that Prince. He spent a few days there several times in the year. It was when he was setting off from Versailles for Petit Trianon that he was struck in the side by the knife of Damiens, and it was there that he was attacked by the smallpox, of which he died on the 10th of May, 1774.—MADAME CAMPAN.]
Henceforward she amused herself with improving the gardens, without allowing any addition to the building, or any change in the furniture, which was very shabby, and remained, in 1789, in the same state as during the reign of Louis XV. Everything there, without exception, was preserved; and the Queen slept in a faded bed, which had been used by the Comtesse du Barry. The charge of extravagance, generally made against the Queen, is the most unaccountable of all the popular errors respecting her character. She had exactly the contrary failing; and I could prove that she often carried her economy to a degree of parsimony actually blamable, especially in a sovereign. She took a great liking for Trianon, and used to go there alone, followed by a valet; but she found attendants ready to receive her,—a concierge and his wife, who served her as femme de chambre, women of the wardrobe, footmen, etc.
When she first took possession of Petit Trianon, it was reported that she changed the name of the seat which the King had given her, and called it Little Vienna, or Little Schoenbrunn. A person who belonged to the Court, and was silly enough to give this report credit, wishing to visit Petit Trianon with a party, wrote to M. Campan, requesting the Queen's permission to do so. In his note he called Trianon Little Vienna. Similar requests were usually laid before the Queen just as they were made: she chose to give the permissions to see her gardens herself, liking to grant these little favours. When she came to the words I have quoted she was very, much offended, and exclaimed, angrily, that there were too many, fools ready, to aid the malicious; that she had been told of the report circulated, which pretended that she had thought of nothing but her own country, and that she kept an Austrian heart, while the interests of France alone ought to engage her. She refused the request so awkwardly made, and desired M. Campan to reply, that Trianon was not to be seen for some time, and that the Queen was astonished that any man in good society should believe she would do so ill-judged a thing as to change the French names of her palaces to foreign ones.
Before the Emperor Joseph II's first visit to France the Queen received a visit from the Archduke Maximilian in 1775. A stupid act of the ambassador, seconded on the part of the Queen by the Abbe de Vermond, gave rise at that period to a discussion which offended the Princes of the blood and the chief nobility of the kingdom. Travelling incognito, the young Prince claimed that the first visit was not due from him to the Princes of the blood; and the Queen supported his pretension.
From the time of the Regency, and on account of the residence of the family of Orleans in the bosom of the capital, Paris had preserved a remarkable degree of attachment and respect for that branch of the royal house; and although the crown was becoming more and more remote from the Princes of the House of Orleans, they had the advantage (a great one with the Parisians) of being the descendants of Henri IV. An affront to that popular family was a serious ground of dislike to the Queen. It was at this period that the circles of the city, and even of the Court, expressed themselves bitterly about her levity, and her partiality for the House of Austria. The Prince for whom the Queen had embarked in an important family quarrel—and a quarrel involving national prerogatives—was, besides, little calculated to inspire interest. Still young, uninformed, and deficient in natural talent, he was always making blunders.
He went to the Jardin du Roi; M. de Buffon, who received him there, offered him a copy of his works; the Prince declined accepting the book, saying to M. de Buffon, in the most polite manner possible, "I should be very sorry to deprive you of it."
[Joseph II, on his visit to France, also went to see M. de Buffon, and said to that celebrated man, "I am come to fetch the copy of your works which my brother forgot."—NOTE BY THE EDITOR.]
It may be supposed that the Parisians were much entertained with this answer.
The Queen was exceedingly mortified at the mistakes made by her brother; but what hurt her most was being accused of preserving an Austrian heart. Marie Antoinette had more than once to endure that imputation during the long course of her misfortunes. Habit did not stop the tears such injustice caused; but the first time she was suspected of not loving France, she gave way to her indignation. All that she could say on the subject was useless; by seconding the pretensions of the Archduke she had put arms into her enemies' hands; they were labouring to deprive her of the love of the people, and endeavoured, by all possible means, to spread a belief that the Queen sighed for Germany, and preferred that country to France.
Marie Antoinette had none but herself to rely on for preserving the fickle smiles of the Court and the public. The King, too indifferent to serve her as a guide, as yet had conceived no love for her, notwithstanding the intimacy that grew between them at Choisy. In his closet Louis XVI. was immersed in deep study. At the Council he was busied with the welfare of his people; hunting and mechanical occupations engrossed his leisure moments, and he never thought on the subject of an heir.
The coronation took place at Rheims, with all the accustomed pomp. At this period the people's love for Louis XVI. burst forth in transports not to be mistaken for party demonstrations or idle curiosity. He replied to this enthusiasm by marks of confidence, worthy of a people happy in being governed by a good King; he took a pleasure in repeatedly walking without guards, in the midst of the crowd which pressed around him, and called down blessings on his head. I remarked the impression made at this time by an observation of Louis XVI. On the day of his coronation he put his hand up to his head, at the moment of the crown being placed upon it, and said, "It pinches me." Henri III. had exclaimed, "It pricks me." Those who were near the King were struck with the similarity between these two exclamations, though not of a class likely to be blinded by the superstitious fears of ignorance.
While the Queen, neglected as she was, could not even hope for the happiness of being a mother, she had the mortification of seeing the Comtesse d'Artois give birth to the Duc d'Angouleme.
Custom required that the royal family and the whole Court should be present at the accouchement of the Princesses; the Queen was therefore obliged to stay a whole day in her sister-in-law's chamber. The moment the Comtesse d'Artois was informed a prince was born, she put her hand to her forehead and exclaimed with energy, "My God, how happy I am!" The Queen felt very differently at this involuntary and natural exclamation. Nevertheless, her behaviour was perfect. She bestowed all possible marks of tenderness upon the young mother, and would not leave her until she was again put into bed; she afterwards passed along the staircase, and through the hall of the guards, with a calm demeanour, in the midst of an immense crowd. The poissardes, who had assumed a right of speaking to sovereigns in their own vulgar language, followed her to the very doors of her apartments, calling out to her with gross expressions, that she ought to produce heirs. The Queen reached her inner room, hurried and agitated; he shut herself up to weep with me alone, not from jealousy of her sister-in-law's happiness,—of that he was incapable,—but from sorrow at her own situation.
Deprived of the happiness of giving an heir to the crown, the Queen endeavoured to interest herself in the children of the people of her household. She had long been desirous to bring up one of them herself, and to make it the constant object of her care. A little village boy, four or five years old, full of health, with a pleasing countenance, remarkably large blue eyes, and fine light hair, got under the feet of the Queen's horses, when she was taking an airing in a calash, through the hamlet of St. Michel, near Louveciennes. The coachman and postilions stopped the horses, and the child was rescued without the slightest injury. Its grandmother rushed out of the door of her cottage to take it; but the Queen, standing up in her calash and extending her arms, called out that the child was hers, and that destiny had given it to her, to console her, no doubt, until she should have the happiness of having one herself. "Is his mother alive?" asked the Queen. "No, Madame; my daughter died last winter, and left five small children upon my hands." "I will take this one, and provide for all the rest; do you consent?" "Ah, Madame, they are too fortunate," replied the cottager; "but Jacques is a bad boy. I hope he will stay with you!" The Queen, taking little Jacques upon her knee, said that she would make him used to her, and gave orders to proceed. It was necessary, however, to shorten the drive, so violently did Jacques scream, and kick the Queen and her ladies.
The arrival of her Majesty at her apartments at Versailles, holding the little rustic by the hand, astonished the whole household; he cried out with intolerable shrillness that he wanted his grandmother, his brother Louis, and his sister Marianne; nothing could calm him. He was taken away by the wife of a servant, who was appointed to attend him as nurse. The other children were put to school. Little Jacques, whose family name was Armand, came back to the Queen two days afterwards; a white frock trimmed with lace, a rose-coloured sash with silver fringe, and a hat decorated with feathers, were now substituted for the woollen cap, the little red frock, and the wooden shoes. The child was really very beautiful. The Queen was enchanted with him; he was brought to her every morning at nine o'clock; he breakfasted and dined with her, and often even with the King. She liked to call him my child, and lavished caresses upon him, still maintaining a deep silence respecting the regrets which constantly occupied her heart.
[This little unfortunate was nearly twenty in 1792; the fury of the people and the fear of being thought a favourite of the Queen's had made him the most sanguinary terrorist of Versailles. He was killed at the battle of Jemappes.]
This child remained with the Queen until the time when Madame was old enough to come home to her august mother, who had particularly taken upon herself the care of her education.
The Queen talked incessantly of the qualities which she admired in Louis XVI., and gladly attributed to herself the slightest favourable change in his manner; perhaps she displayed too unreservedly the joy she felt, and the share she appropriated in the improvement. One day Louis XVI. saluted her ladies with more kindness than usual, and the Queen laughingly said to them, "Now confess, ladies, that for one so badly taught as a child, the King has saluted you with very good grace!"
The Queen hated M. de La Vauguyon; she accused him alone of those points in the habits, and even the sentiments, of the King which hurt her. A former first woman of the bedchamber to Queen Maria Leczinska had continued in office near the young Queen. She was one of those people who are fortunate enough to spend their lives in the service of kings without knowing anything of what is passing at Court. She was a great devotee; the Abbe Grisel, an ex-Jesuit, was her director. Being rich from her savings and an income of 50,000 livres, she kept a very good table; in her apartment, at the Grand Commun, the most distinguished persons who still adhered to the Order of Jesuits often assembled. The Duc de La Vauguyon was intimate with her; their chairs at the Eglise des Reollets were placed near each other; at high mass and at vespers they sang the "Gloria in Excelsis" and the "Magnificat" together; and the pious virgin, seeing in him only one of God's elect, little imagined him to be the declared enemy of a Princess whom she served and revered. On the day of his death she ran in tears to relate to the Queen the piety, humility, and repentance of the last moments of the Duc de La Vauguyon. He had called his people together, she said, to ask their pardon. "For what?" replied the Queen, sharply; "he has placed and pensioned off all his servants; it was of the King and his brothers that the holy man you bewail should have asked pardon, for having paid so little attention to the education of princes on whom the fate and happiness of twenty-five millions of men depend. Luckily," added she, "the King and his brothers, still young, have incessantly laboured to repair the errors of their preceptor."
The progress of time, and the confidence with which the King and the Princes, his brothers, were inspired by the change in their situation since the death of Louis XV., had developed their characters. I will endeavour to depict them.
The features of Louis XVI. were noble enough, though somewhat melancholy in expression; his walk was heavy and unmajestic; his person greatly neglected; his hair, whatever might be the skill of his hairdresser, was soon in disorder. His voice, without being harsh, was not agreeable; if he grew animated in speaking he often got above his natural pitch, and became shrill. The Abbe de Radonvilliers, his preceptor, one of the Forty of the French Academy, a learned and amiable man, had given him and Monsieur a taste for study. The King had continued to instruct himself; he knew the English language perfectly; I have often heard him translate some of the most difficult passages in Milton's poems. He was a skilful geographer, and was fond of drawing and colouring maps; he was well versed in history, but had not perhaps sufficiently studied the spirit of it. He appreciated dramatic beauties, and judged them accurately. At Choisy, one day, several ladies expressed their dissatisfaction because the French actors were going to perform one of Moliere's pieces. The King inquired why they disapproved of the choice. One of them answered that everybody must admit that Moliere had very bad taste; the King replied that many things might be found in Moliere contrary to fashion, but that it appeared to him difficult to point out any in bad taste?
[The King, having purchased the Chateau of Rambouillet from the Duc de Penthievre, amused himself with embellishing it. I have seen a register entirely in his own handwriting, which proves that he possessed a great variety of information on the minutiae of various branches of knowledge. In his accounts he would not omit an outlay of a franc. His figures and letters, when he wished to write legibly, were small and very neat, but in general he wrote very ill. He was so sparing of paper that he divided a sheet into eight, six, or four pieces, according to the length of what he had to write. Towards the close of the page he compressed the letters, and avoided interlineations. The last words were close to the edge of the paper; he seemed to regret being obliged to begin another page. He was methodical and analytical; he divided what he wrote into chapters and sections. He had extracted from the works of Nicole and Fenelon, his favourite authors, three or four hundred concise and sententious phrases; these he had classed according to subject, and formed a work of them in the style of Montesquieu. To this treatise he had given the following general title: "Of Moderate Monarchy" (De la Monarchie temperee), with chapters entitled, "Of the Person of the Prince;" "Of the Authority of Bodies in the State;" "Of the Character of the Executive Functions of the Monarchy." Had he been able to carry into effect all the grand precepts he had observed in Fenelon, Louis XVI. would have been an accomplished monarch, and France a powerful kingdom. The King used to accept the speeches his ministers presented to him to deliver on important occasions; but he corrected and modified them; struck out some parts, and added others; and sometimes consulted the Queen on the subject. The phrase of the minister erased by the King was frequently unsuitable, and dictated by the minister's private feelings; but the King's was always the natural expression. He himself composed, three times or oftener, his famous answers to the Parliament which he banished. But in his letters he was negligent, and always incorrect. Simplicity was the characteristic of the King's style; the figurative style of M. Necker did not please him; the sarcasms of Maurepas were disagreeable to him. Unfortunate Prince! he would predict, in his observations, that if such a calamity should happen, the monarchy would be ruined; and the next day he would consent in Council to the very measure which he had condemned the day before, and which brought him nearer the brink of the precipice.—SOULAVIE, "Historical and Political Memoirs of the Reign of Louis XVI.," vol. ii.]
This Prince combined with his attainments the attributes of a good husband, a tender father, and an indulgent master.
Unfortunately he showed too much predilection for the mechanical arts; masonry and lock-making so delighted him that he admitted into his private apartment a common locksmith, with whom he made keys and locks; and his hands, blackened by that sort of work, were often, in my presence, the subject of remonstrances and even sharp reproaches from the Queen, who would have chosen other amusements for her husband.
[Louis XVI. saw that the art of lock-making was capable of application to a higher study, He was an excellent geographer. The most valuable and complete instrument for the study of that science was begun by his orders and under his direction. It was an immense globe of copper, which was long preserved, though unfinished, in the Mazarine library. Louis XVI. invented and had executed under his own eyes the ingenious mechanism required for this globe.—NOTE BY THE EDITOR.]
Austere and rigid with regard to himself alone, the King observed the laws of the Church with scrupulous exactness. He fasted and abstained throughout the whole of Lent. He thought it right that the queen should not observe these customs with the same strictness. Though sincerely pious, the spirit of the age had disposed his mind to toleration. Turgot, Malesherbes, and Necker judged that this Prince, modest and simple in his habits, would willingly sacrifice the royal prerogative to the solid greatness of his people. His heart, in truth, disposed him towards reforms; but his prejudices and fears, and the clamours of pious and privileged persons, intimidated him, and made him abandon plans which his love for the people had suggested.
Monsieur had more dignity of demeanour than the King; but his corpulence rendered his gait inelegant. He was fond of pageantry and magnificence. He cultivated the belles lettres, and under assumed names often contributed verses to the Mercury and other papers.
[During his stay at Avignon, Monsieur, afterwards Louis XVIII, lodged with the Duc de Crillon; he refused the town-guard which was offered him, saying, "A son of France, under the roof of a Crillon, needs no guard."—NOTE BY THE EDITOR.]
His wonderful memory was the handmaid of his wit, furnishing him with the happiest quotations. He knew by heart a varied repertoire, from the finest passages of the Latin classics to the Latin of all the prayers, from the works of Racine to the vaudeville of "Rose et Colas."
The Comte d'Artoisi had an agreeable countenance, was well made, skilful in bodily exercises, lively, impetuous, fond of pleasure, and very particular in his dress. Some happy observations made by him were repeated with approval, and gave a favourable idea of his heart. The Parisians liked the open and frank character of this Prince, which they considered national, and showed real affection for him.
The dominion that the Queen gained over the King's mind, the charms of a society in which Monsieur displayed his wit, and to which the Comte d'Artois—[Afterwards Charles X.]—gave life by the vivacity of youth, gradually softened that ruggedness of manner in Louis XVI. which a better-conducted education might have prevented. Still, this defect often showed itself, and, in spite of his extreme simplicity, the King inspired those who had occasion to speak to him with diffidence. Courtiers, submissive in the presence of their sovereign, are only the more ready to caricature him; with little good breeding, they called those answers they so much dreaded, Les coups de boutoir du Roi.—[The literal meaning of the phrase "coup de boutoir," is a thrust from the snout of a boar.]
Methodical in all his habits, the King always went to bed at eleven precisely. One evening the Queen was going with her usual circle to a party, either at the Duc de Duras's or the Princesse de Glumenee's. The hand of the clock was slily put forward to hasten the King's departure by a few minutes; he thought bed-time was come, retired, and found none of his attendants ready to wait on him. This joke became known in all the drawing-rooms of Versailles, and was disapproved of there. Kings have no privacy. Queens have no boudoirs. If those who are in immediate attendance upon sovereigns be not themselves disposed to transmit their private habits to posterity, the meanest valet will relate what he has seen or heard; his gossip circulates rapidly, and forms public opinion, which at length ascribes to the most august persons characters which, however untrue they may be, are almost always indelible.
NOTE. The only passion ever shown by Louis XVI. was for hunting. He was so much occupied by it that when I went up into his private closets at Versailles, after the 10th of August, I saw upon the staircase six frames, in which were seen statements of all his hunts, when Dauphin and when King. In them was detailed the number, kind, and quality of the game he had killed at each hunting party during every month, every season, and every year of his reign.
The interior of his private apartments was thus arranged: a salon, ornamented with gilded mouldings, displayed the engravings which had been dedicated to him, drawings of the canals he had dug, with the model of that of Burgundy, and the plan of the cones and works of Cherbourg. The upper hall contained his collection of geographical charts, spheres, globes, and also his geographical cabinet. There were to be seen drawings of maps which he had begun, and some that he had finished. He had a clever method of washing them in. His geographical memory was prodigious. Over the hall was the turning and joining room, furnished with ingenious instruments for working in wood. He inherited some from Louis XV., and he often busied himself, with Duret's assistance, in keeping them clean and bright. Above was the library of books published during his reign. The prayer books and manuscript books of Anne of Brittany, Francois I, the later Valois, Louis XIV., Louis XV., and the Dauphin formed the great hereditary library of the Chateau. Louis XVI. placed separately, in two apartments communicating with each other, the works of his own time, including a complete collection of Didot's editions, in vellum, every volume enclosed in a morocco case. There were several English works, among the rest the debates of the British Parliament, in a great number of volumes in folio (this is the Moniteur of England, a complete collection of which is so valuable and so scarce). By the side of this collection was to be seen a manuscript history of all the schemes for a descent upon that island, particularly that of Comte de Broglie. One of the presses of this cabinet was full of cardboard boxes, containing papers relative to the House of Austria, inscribed in the King's own hand: "Secret papers of my family respecting the House of Austria; papers of my family respecting the Houses of Stuart and Hanover." In an adjoining press were kept papers relative to Russia. Satirical works against Catherine II. and against Paul I. were sold in France under the name of histories; Louis XVIII. collected and sealed up with his small seal the scandalous anecdotes against Catherine II., as well as the works of Rhulieres, of which he had a copy, to be certain that the secret life of that Princess, which attracted the curiosity of her contemporaries, should not be made public by his means.
Above the King's private library were a forge, two anvils, and a vast number of iron tools; various common locks, well made and perfect; some secret locks, and locks ornamented with gilt copper. It was there that the infamous Gamin, who afterwards accused the King of having tried to poison him, and was rewarded for his calumny with a pension of twelve thousand livres, taught him the art of lock-making. This Gamin, who became our guide, by order of the department and municipality of Versailles, did not, however, denounce the King on the 20th December, 1792. He had been made the confidant of that Prince in an immense number of important commissions; the King had sent him the "Red Book," from Paris, in a parcel; and the part which was concealed during the Constituent Assembly still remained so in 1793. Gamin hid it in a part of the Chateau inaccessible to everybody, and took it from under the shelves of a secret press before our eyes. This is a convincing proof that Louis XVI. hoped to return to his Chiteau. When teaching Louis XVI. his trade Gamin took upon himself the tone and authority of a master. "The King was good, forbearing, timid, inquisitive, and addicted to sleep," said Gamin to me; "he was fond to excess of lock-making, and he concealed himself from the Queen and the Court to file and forge with me. In order to convey his anvil and my own backwards and forwards we were obliged to use a thousand stratagems, the history of which would: never end." Above the King's and Gamin's forges and anvils was an, observatory, erected upon a platform covered with lead. There, seated on an armchair, and assisted by a telescope, the King observed all that was passing in the courtyards of Versailles, the avenue of Paris, and the neighbouring gardens. He had taken a liking to Duret, one of the indoor servants of the palace, who sharpened his tools, cleaned his anvils, pasted his maps, and adjusted eyeglasses to the King's sight, who was short-sighted. This good Duret, and indeed all the indoor servants, spoke of their master with regret and affection, and with tears in their eyes.
The King was born weak and delicate; but from the age of twenty-four he possessed a robust constitution, inherited from his mother, who was of the House of Saxe, celebrated for generations for its robustness. There were two men in Louis XVI., the man of knowledge and the man of will. The King knew the history of his own family and of the first houses of France perfectly. He composed the instructions for M. de la Peyrouse's voyage round the world, which the minister thought were drawn up by several members of the Academy of Sciences. His memory retained an infinite number of names and situations. He remembered quantities and numbers wonderfully. One day an account was presented to him in which the minister had ranked among the expenses an item inserted in the account of the preceding year. "There is a double charge," said the King; "bring me last year's account, and I will show it yet there." When the King was perfectly master of the details of any matter, and saw injustice, he was obdurate even to harshness. Then he would be obeyed instantly, in order to be sure that he was obeyed.
But in important affairs of state the man of will was not to be found. Louis XVI. was upon the throne exactly what those weak temperaments whom nature has rendered incapable of an opinion are in society. In his pusillanimity, he gave his confidence to a minister; and although amidst various counsels he often knew which was the best, he never had the resolution to say, "I prefer the opinion of such a one." Herein originated the misfortunes of the State.—SOULAVIE'S "Historical and Political Memoirs Of the Reign Of LOUIS XVI.," VOL ii.
The winter following the confinement of the Comtesse d'Artois was very severe; the recollections of the pleasure which sleighing-parties had given the Queen in her childhood made her wish to introduce similar ones in France. This amusement had already been known in that Court, as was proved by sleighs being found in the stables which had been used by the Dauphin, the father of Louis XVI. Some were constructed for the Queen in a more modern style. The Princes also ordered several; and in a few days there was a tolerable number of these vehicles. They were driven by the princes and noblemen of the Court. The noise of the bells and balls with which the harness of the horses was furnished, the elegance and whiteness of their plumes, the varied forms of the carriages, the gold with which they were all ornamented, rendered these parties delightful to the eye. The winter was very favourable to them, the snow remaining on the ground nearly six weeks; the drives in the park afforded a pleasure shared by the spectators.
[Louis XVI., touched with the wretched condition of the poor of Versailles during the winter of 1776, had several cart-loads of wood distributed among them. Seeing one day a file of those vehicles passing by, while several noblemen were preparing to be drawn swiftly over the ice, he uttered these memorable words: "Gentlemen, here are my sleighs!"—NOTE BY THE EDITOR.]
No one imagined that any blame could attach to so innocent an amusement. But the party were tempted to extend their drives as far as the Champs Elysees; a few sleighs even crossed the boulevards; the ladies being masked, the Queen's enemies took the opportunity of saying that she had traversed the streets of Paris in a sleigh.
This became a matter of moment. The public discovered in it a predilection for the habits of Vienna; but all that Marie Antoinette did was criticised.
Sleigh-driving, savouring of the Northern Courts, had no favour among the Parisians. The Queen was informed of this; and although all the sleighs were preserved, and several subsequent winters lent themselves to the amusement, she would not resume it.
It was at the time of the sleighing-parties that the Queen became intimately acquainted with the Princesse de Lamballe, who made her appearance in them wrapped in fur, with all the brilliancy and freshness of the age of twenty,—the emblem of spring, peeping from under sable and ermine. Her situation, moreover, rendered her peculiarly interesting; married, when she was scarcely past childhood, to a young prince, who ruined himself by the contagious example of the Duc d'Orleans, she had had nothing to do from the time of her arrival in France but to weep. A widow at eighteen, and childless, she lived with the Duc de Penthievre as an adopted daughter. She had the tenderest respect and attachment for that venerable Prince; but the Queen, though doing justice to his virtues, saw that the Duc de Penthievre's way of life, whether at Paris or at his country-seat, could neither afford his young daughter-in-law the amusements suited to her time of life, nor ensure her in the future an establishment such as she was deprived of by her widowhood. She determined, therefore, to establish her at Versailles; and for her sake revived the office of superintendent, which had been discontinued at Court since the death of Mademoiselle de Clermont. It is said that Maria Leczinska had decided that this place should continue vacant, the superintendent having so extensive a power in the houses of queens as to be frequently a restraint upon their inclinations. Differences which soon took place between Marie Antoinette and the Princesse de Lamballe respecting the official prerogatives of the latter, proved that the wife of Louis XV. had acted judiciously in abolishing the office; but a kind of treaty made between the Queen and the Princess smoothed all difficulties. The blame for too strong an assertion of claims fell upon a secretary of the superintendent, who had been her adviser; and everything was so arranged that a firm friendship existed between these two Princesses down to the disastrous period which terminated their career.
Notwithstanding the enthusiasm which the splendour, grace, and kindness of the Queen generally inspired, secret intrigues continued in operation against her. A short time after the ascension of Louis XVI. to the throne, the minister of the King's household was informed that a most offensive libel against the Queen was about to appear. The lieutenant of police deputed a man named Goupil, a police inspector, to trace this libel; he came soon after to say that he had found out the place where the work was being printed, and that it was at a country house near Yverdun. He had already got possession of two sheets, which contained the most atrocious calumnies, conveyed with a degree of art which might make them very dangerous to the Queen's reputation. Goupil said that he could obtain the rest, but that he should want a considerable sum for that purpose. Three thousand Louis were given him, and very soon afterwards he brought the whole manuscript and all that had been printed to the lieutenant of police. He received a thousand louis more as a reward for his address and zeal; and a much more important office was about to be given him, when another spy, envious of Goupil's good fortune, gave information that Goupil himself was the author of the libel; that, ten years before, he had been put into the Bicetre for swindling; and that Madame Goupil had been only three years out of the Salpetriere, where she had been placed under another name. This Madame Goupil was very pretty and very intriguing; she had found means to form an intimacy with Cardinal de Rohan, whom she led, it is said, to hope for a reconciliation with the Queen. All this affair was hushed up; but it shows that it was the Queen's fate to be incessantly attacked by the meanest and most odious machinations.
Another woman, named Cahouette de Millers, whose husband held an office in the Treasury, being very irregular in conduct, and of a scheming turn of mind, had a mania for appearing in the eyes of her friends at Paris as a person in favour at Court, to which she was not entitled by either birth or office. During the latter years of the life of Louis XV. she had made many dupes, and picked up considerable sums by passing herself off as the King's mistress. The fear of irritating Madame du Barry was, according to her, the only thing which prevented her enjoying that title openly. She came regularly to Versailles, kept herself concealed in a furnished lodging, and her dupes imagined she was secretly summoned to Court.
This woman formed the scheme of getting admission, if possible, to the presence of the Queen, or at least causing it to be believed that she had done so. She adopted as her lover Gabriel de Saint Charles, intendant of her Majesty's finances,—an office, the privileges of which were confined to the right of entering the Queen's apartment on Sunday. Madame de Villers came every Saturday to Versailles with M. de Saint Charles, and lodged in his apartment. M. Campan was there several times. She painted tolerably well, and she requested him to do her the favour to present to the Queen a portrait of her Majesty which she had just copied. M. Campan knew the woman's character, and refused her. A few days after, he saw on her Majesty's couch the portrait which he had declined to present to her; the Queen thought it badly painted, and gave orders that it should be carried back to the Princesse de Lamballe, who had sent it to her. The ill success of the portrait did not deter the manoeuvrer from following up her designs; she easily procured through M. de Saint Charles patents and orders signed by the Queen; she then set about imitating her writing, and composed a great number of notes and letters, as if written by her Majesty, in the tenderest and most familiar style. For many months she showed them as great secrets to several of her particular friends. Afterwards, she made the Queen appear to write to her, to procure various fancy articles. Under the pretext of wishing to execute her Majesty's commissions accurately, she gave these letters to the tradesmen to read, and succeeded in having it said, in many houses, that the Queen had a particular regard for her. She then enlarged her scheme, and represented the Queen as desiring to borrow 200,000 francs which she had need of, but which she did not wish to ask of the King from his private funds. This letter, being shown to M. Beranger, 'fermier general' of the finances, took effect; he thought himself fortunate in being able to render this assistance to his sovereign, and lost no time in sending the 200,000 francs to Madame de Villers. This first step was followed by some doubts, which he communicated to people better informed than himself of what was passing at Court; they added to his uneasiness; he then went to M. de Sartine, who unravelled the whole plot. The woman was sent to St. Pelagie; and the unfortunate husband was ruined, by replacing the sum borrowed, and by paying for the jewels fraudulently purchased in the Queen's name. The forged letters were sent to her Majesty; I compared them in her presence with her own handwriting, and the only distinguishable difference was a little more regularity in the letters.
This trick, discovered and punished with prudence and without passion, produced no more sensation out of doors than that of the Inspector Goupil.
A year after the nomination of Madame de Lamballe to the post of superintendent of the Queen's household, balls and quadrilles gave rise to the intimacy of her Majesty with the Comtesse Jules de Polignac. This lady really interested Marie Antoinette. She was not rich, and generally lived upon her estate at Claye. The Queen was astonished at not having seen her at Court earlier. The confession that her want of fortune had even prevented her appearance at the celebration of the marriages of the Princes added to the interest which she had inspired.
The Queen was full of consideration, and took delight in counteracting the injustice of fortune. The Countess was induced to come to Court by her husband's sister, Madame Diane de Polignac, who had been appointed lady of honour to the Comtesse d'Artois. The Comtesse Jules was really fond of a tranquil life; the impression she made at Court affected her but little; she felt only the attachment manifested for her by the Queen. I had occasion to see her from the commencement of her favour at Court; she often passed whole hours with me, while waiting for the Queen. She conversed with me freely and ingenuously about the honour, and at the same time the danger, she saw in the kindness of which she was the object. The Queen sought for the sweets of friendship; but can this gratification, so rare in any rank, exist between a Queen and a subject, when they are surrounded, moreover, by snares laid by the artifice of courtiers? This pardonable error was fatal to the happiness of Marie Antoinette.
The retiring character of the Comtesse Jules, afterwards Duchesse de Polignac, cannot be spoken of too favourably; but if her heart was incapable of forming ambitious projects, her family and friends in her fortune beheld their own, and endeavoured to secure the favour of the Queen.
[The Comtesse, afterwards Duchesse de Polignac, nee Polastron, Married the Comte (in 1780 the Duc) Jules de Polignac, the father of the Prince de Polignac of Napoleon's and of Charles X.'s time. She emigrated in 1789, and died in Vienna in 1793.]
The Comtesse de Diane, sister of M. de Polignac, and the Baron de Besenval and M. de Vaudreuil, particular friends of the Polignac family, made use of means, the success of which was infallible. One of my friends (Comte de Moustier), who was in their secret, came to tell me that Madame de Polignac was about to quit Versailles suddenly; that she would take leave of the Queen only in writing; that the Comtesse Diane and M. de Vaudreuil had dictated her letter, and the whole affair was arranged for the purpose of stimulating the attachment of Marie Antoinette. The next day, when I went up to the palace, I found the Queen with a letter in her hand, which she was reading with much emotion; it was the letter from the Comtesse Jules; the Queen showed it to me. The Countess expressed in it her grief at leaving a princess who had loaded her with kindness. The narrowness of her fortune compelled her to do so; but she was much more strongly impelled by the fear that the Queen's friendship, after having raised up dangerous enemies against her, might abandon her to their hatred, and to the regret of having lost the august favour of which she was the object.
This step produced the full effect that had been expected from it. A young and sensitive queen cannot long bear the idea of contradiction. She busied herself in settling the Comtesse Jules near her, by making such a provision for her as should place her beyond anxiety. Her character suited the Queen; she had merely natural talents, no pedantry, no affectation of knowledge. She was of middle size; her complexion very fair, her eyebrows and hair dark brown, her teeth superb, her smile enchanting, and her whole person graceful. She was seen almost always in a demi-toilet, remarkable only for neatness and good taste. I do not think I ever once saw diamonds about her, even at the climax of her fortune, when she had the rank of Duchess at Court.
I have always believed that her sincere attachment for the Queen, as much as her love of simplicity, induced her to avoid everything that might cause her to be thought a wealthy favourite. She had not one of the failings which usually accompany that position. She loved the persons who shared the Queen's affections, and was entirely free from jealousy. Marie Antoinette flattered herself that the Comtesse Jules and the Princesse de Lamballe would be her especial friends, and that she should possess a society formed according to her own taste. "I will receive them in my closet, or at Trianon," said she; "I will enjoy the comforts of private life, which exist not for us, unless we have the good sense to secure them for ourselves." The happiness the Queen thought to secure was destined to turn to vexation. All those courtiers who were not admitted to this intimacy became so many jealous and vindictive enemies.
It was necessary to make a suitable provision for the Countess. The place of first equerry, in reversion after the Comte de Tesse, given to Comte Jules unknown to the titular holder, displeased the family of Noailles. This family had just sustained another mortification, the appointment of the Princesse de Lamballe having in some degree rendered necessary the resignation of the Comtesse de Noailles, whose husband was thereupon made a marshal of France. The Princesse de Lamballe, although she did not quarrel with the Queen, was alarmed at the establishment of the Comtesse Jules at Court, and did not form, as her Majesty had hoped, a part of that intimate society, which was in turn composed of Mesdames Jules and Diane de Polignac, d'Andlau and de Chalon, and Messieurs de Guignes, de Coigny, d'Adhemar, de Besenval, lieutenant-colonel of the Swiss, de Polignac, de Vaudreuil, and de Guiche; the Prince de Ligne and the Duke of Dorset, the English ambassador, were also admitted.
It was a long time before the Comtesse Jules maintained any great state at Court. The Queen contented herself with giving her very fine apartments at the top of the marble staircase. The salary of first equerry, the trifling emoluments derived from M. de Polignac's regiment, added to their slender patrimony, and perhaps some small pension, at that time formed the whole fortune of the favourite. I never saw the Queen make her a present of value; I was even astonished one day at hearing her Majesty mention, with pleasure, that the Countess had gained ten thousand francs in the lottery. "She was in great want of it," added the Queen.
Thus the Polignacs were not settled at Court in any degree of splendour which could justify complaints from others, and the substantial favours bestowed upon that family were less envied than the intimacy between them and their proteges and the Queen. Those who had no hope of entering the circle of the Comtesse Jules were made jealous by the opportunities of advancement it afforded.
However, at the time I speak of, the society around the Comtesse Jules was fully engaged in gratifying the young Queen. Of this the Marquis de Vaudreuil was a conspicuous member; he was a brilliant man, the friend and protector of men of letters and celebrated artists.
The Baron de Besenval added to the bluntness of the Swiss all the adroitness of a French courtier. His fifty years and gray hairs made him enjoy among women the confidence inspired by mature age, although he had not given up the thought of love affairs. He talked of his native mountains with enthusiasm. He would at any time sing the "Ranz des Vaches" with tears in his eyes, and was the best story-teller in the Comtesse Jules's circle. The last new song or 'bon mot' and the gossip of the day were the sole topics of conversation in the Queen's parties. Wit was banished from them. The Comtesse Diane, more inclined to literary pursuits than her sister-in-law, one day, recommended her to read the "Iliad" and "Odyssey." The latter replied, laughing, that she was perfectly acquainted with the Greek poet, and said to prove it:
"Homere etait aveugle et jouait du hautbois."
(Homer was blind and played on the hautboy.)
[This lively repartee of the Duchesse de Polignac is a droll imitation of a line in the "Mercure Galant." In the quarrel scene one of the lawyers says to his brother quill: 'Ton pere etait aveugle et jouait du hautbois.']
The Queen found this sort of humour very much to her taste, and said that no pedant should ever be her friend.
Before the Queen fixed her assemblies at Madame de Polignac's, she occasionally passed the evening at the house of the Duc and Duchesse de Duras, where a brilliant party of young persons met together. They introduced a taste for trifling games, such as question and answer, 'guerre panpan', blind man's buff, and especially a game called 'descampativos'. The people of Paris, always criticising, but always imitating the customs of the Court, were infected with the mania for these childish sports. Madame de Genlis, sketching the follies of the day in one of her plays, speaks of these famous 'descampativos'; and also of the rage for making a friend, called the 'inseparable', until a whim or the slightest difference might occasion a total rupture.
The Duc de Choiseul had reappeared at Court on the ceremony of the King's coronation for the first time after his disgrace under Louis XV. in 1770. The state of public feeling on the subject gave his friends hope of seeing him again in administration, or in the Council of State; but the opposite party was too firmly seated at Versailles, and the young Queen's influence was outweighed, in the mind of the King, by long-standing prejudices; she therefore gave up for ever her attempt to reinstate the Duke. Thus this Princess, who has been described as so ambitious, and so strenuously supporting the interest of the House of Austria, failed twice in the only scheme which could forward the views constantly attributed to her; and spent the whole of her reign surrounded by enemies of herself and her house.
Marie Antoinette took little pains to promote literature and the fine arts. She had been annoyed in consequence of having ordered a performance of the "Connstable de Bourbon," on the celebration of the marriage of Madame Clotilde with the Prince of Piedmont. The Court and the people of Paris censured as indecorous the naming characters in the piece after the reigning family, and that with which the new alliance was formed. The reading of this piece by the Comte de Guibert in the Queen's closet had produced in her Majesty's circle that sort of enthusiasm which obscures the judgment. She promised herself she would have no more readings. Yet, at the request of M. de Cubieres, the King's equerry, the Queen agreed to hear the reading of a comedy written by his brother. She collected her intimate circle, Messieurs de Coigny, de Vaudreuil, de Besenval, Mesdames de Polignac, de Chalon, etc., and to increase the number of judges, she admitted the two Parnys, the Chevalier de Bertin, my father-in-law, and myself.
Mold read for the author. I never could satisfy myself by what magic the skilful reader gained our unanimous approbation of a ridiculous work. Surely the delightful voice of Mold, by awakening our recollection of the dramatic beauties of the French stage, prevented the wretched lines of Dorat Cubieres from striking on our ears. I can assert that the exclamation Charming! charming! repeatedly interrupted the reader. The piece was admitted for performance at Fontainebleau; and for the first time the King had the curtain dropped before the end of the play. It was called the "Dramomane" or "Dramaturge." All the characters died of eating poison in a pie. The Queen, highly disconcerted at having recommended this absurd production, announced that she would never hear another reading; and this time she kept her word.
The tragedy of "Mustapha and Mangir," by M. de Chamfort, was highly successful at the Court theatre at Fontainebleau. The Queen procured the author a pension of 1,200 francs, but his play failed on being performed at Paris.
The spirit of opposition which prevailed in that city delighted in reversing the verdicts of the Court. The Queen determined never again to give any marked countenance to new dramatic works. She reserved her patronage for musical composers, and in a few years their art arrived at a perfection it had never before attained in France.
It was solely to gratify the Queen that the manager of the Opera brought the first company of comic actors to Paris. Gluck, Piccini, and Sacchini were attracted there in succession. These eminent composers were treated with great distinction at Court. Immediately on his arrival in France, Gluck was admitted to the Queen's toilet, and she talked to him all the time he remained with her. She asked him one day whether he had nearly brought his grand opera of "Armide" to a conclusion, and whether it pleased him. Gluck replied very coolly, in his German accent, "Madame, it will soon be finished, and really it will be superb." There was a great outcry against the confidence with which the composer had spoken of one of his own productions. The Queen defended him warmly; she insisted that he could not be ignorant of the merit of his works; that he well knew they were generally admired, and that no doubt he was afraid lest a modesty, merely dictated by politeness, should look like affectation in him.
[Gluck often had to deal with self-sufficiency equal to his own. He was very reluctant to introduce long ballets into "Iphigenia." Vestris deeply regretted that the opera was not terminated by a piece they called a chaconne, in which he displayed all his power. He complained to Gluck about it. Gluck, who treated his art with all the dignity it merits, replied that in so interesting a subject dancing would be misplaced. Being pressed another time by Vestris on the same subject, "A chaconne! A chaconne!" roared out the enraged musician; "we must describe the Greeks; and had the Greeks chaconnes?" "They had not?" returned the astonished dancer; "why, then, so much the worse for them!"—NOTE BY THE EDITOR.]
The Queen did not confine her admiration to the lofty style of the French and Italian operas; she greatly valued Gretry's music, so well adapted to the spirit and feeling of the words. A great deal of the poetry set to music by Gretry is by Marmontel. The day after the first performance of "Zemira and Azor," Marmontel and Gretry were presented to the Queen as she was passing through the gallery of Fontainebleau to go to mass. The Queen congratulated Gretry on the success of the new opera, and told him that she had dreamed of the enchanting effect of the trio by Zemira's father and sisters behind the magic mirror. Gretry, in a transport of joy, took Marmontel in his arms, "Ah! my friend," cried he, "excellent music may be made of this."—"And execrable words," coolly observed Marmontel, to whom her Majesty had not addressed a single compliment.
The most indifferent artists were permitted to have the honour of painting the Queen. A full-length portrait, representing her in all the pomp of royalty, was exhibited in the gallery of Versailles. This picture, which was intended for the Court of Vienna, was executed by a man who does not deserve even to be named, and disgusted all people of taste. It seemed as if this art had, in France, retrograded several centuries.
The Queen had not that enlightened judgment, or even that mere taste, which enables princes to foster and protect great talents. She confessed frankly that she saw no merit in any portrait beyond the likeness. When she went to the Louvre, she would run hastily over all the little "genre" pictures, and come out, as she acknowledged, without having once raised her eyes to the grand compositions.
There is no good portrait of the Queen, save that by Werthmuller, chief painter to the King of Sweden, which was sent to Stockholm, and that by Madame Lebrun, which was saved from the revolutionary fury by the commissioners for the care of the furniture at Versailles.
[A sketch of very great interest made when the Queen was in the Temple and discovered many years afterwards there, recently reproduced in the memoirs of the Marquise de Tourzel (Paris, Plon), is the last authentic portrait of the unhappy Queen. See also the catalogue of portraits made by Lord Ronald Gower.]
The composition of the latter picture resembles that of Henriette of France, the wife of the unfortunate Charles I., painted by Vandyke. Like Marie Antoinette, she is seated, surrounded by her children, and that resemblance adds to the melancholy interest raised by this beautiful production.
While admitting that the Queen gave no direct encouragement to any art but that of music, I should be wrong to pass over in silence the patronage conferred by her and the Princes, brothers of the King, on the art of printing.
[In 1790 the King gave a proof of his particular good-will to the bookselling trade. A company consisting of the first Parisian booksellers, being on the eve of stopping payment, succeeded in laying before the King a statement of their distressed situation. The monarch was affected by it; he took from the civil list the sum of which the society stood in immediate need, and became security for the repayment of the remainder of the 1,200,000 livres, which they wanted to borrow, and for the repayment of which he fixed no particular time.]
To Marie Antoinette we are indebted for a splendid quarto edition of the works of Metastasio; to Monsieur, the King's brother, for a quarto Tasso, embellished with engravings after Cochin; and to the Comte d'Artois for a small collection of select works, which is considered one of the chef d'oeuvres of the press of the celebrated Didot.
In 1775, on the death of the Marechal du Muy, the ascendency obtained by the sect of innovators occasioned M. de Saint-Germain to be recalled to Court and made Minister of War. His first care was the destruction of the King's military household establishment, an imposing and effectual rampart round the sovereign power.
When Chancellor Maupeou obtained from Louis XV. the destruction of the Parliament and the exile of all the ancient magistrates, the Mousquetaires were charged with the execution of the commission for this purpose; and at the stroke of midnight, the presidents and members were all arrested, each by two Mousquetaires. In the spring of 1775 a popular insurrection had taken place in consequence of the high price of bread. M. Turgot's new regulation, which permitted unlimited trade in corn, was either its cause or the pretext for it; and the King's household troops again rendered the greatest services to public tranquillity.
I have never be enable to discover the true cause of the support given to M. de Saint-Germain's policy by the Queen, unless in the marked favour shown to the captains and officers of the Body Guards, who by this reduction became the only soldiers of their rank entrusted with the safety of the sovereign; or else in the Queen's strong prejudice against the Duc d'Aiguillon, then commander of the light-horse. M. de Saint-Germain, however, retained fifty gens d'armes and fifty light-horse to form a royal escort on state occasions; but in 1787 the King reduced both these military bodies. The Queen then said with satisfaction that at last she should see no more red coats in the gallery of Versailles.
From 1775 to 1781 were the gayest years of the Queen's life. In the little journeys to Choisy, performances frequently took place at the theatre twice in one day: grand opera and French or Italian comedy at the usual hour; and at eleven at night they returned to the theatre for parodies in which the best actors of the Opera presented themselves in whimsical parts and costumes. The celebrated dancer Guimard always took the leading characters in the latter performance; she danced better than she acted; her extreme leanness, and her weak, hoarse voice added to the burlesque in the parodied characters of Ernelinde and Iphigenie.
The most magnificent fete ever given to the Queen was one prepared for her by Monsieur, the King's brother, at Brunoy. That Prince did me the honour to admit me, and I followed her Majesty into the gardens, where she found in the first copse knights in full armour asleep at the foot of trees, on which hung their spears and shields. The absence of the beauties who had incited the nephews of Charlemagne and the gallants of that period to lofty deeds was supposed to occasion this lethargic slumber. But when the Queen appeared at the entrance of the copse they were on foot in an instant, and melodious voices announced their eagerness to display their valour. They then hastened into a vast arena, magnificently decorated in the exact style of the ancient tournaments. Fifty dancers dressed as pages presented to the knights twenty-five superb black horses, and twenty-five of a dazzling whiteness, all most richly caparisoned. The party led by Augustus Vestris wore the Queen's colours. Picq, balletmaster at the Russian Court, commanded the opposing band. There was running at the negro's head, tilting, and, lastly, combats 'a outrance', perfectly well imitated. Although the spectators were aware that the Queen's colours could not but be victorious, they did not the less enjoy the apparent uncertainty.
Nearly all the agreeable women of Paris were ranged upon the steps which surrounded the area of the tourney. The Queen, surrounded by the royal family and the whole Court, was placed beneath an elevated canopy. A play, followed by a ballet-pantomime and a ball, terminated the fete. Fireworks and illuminations were not spared. Finally, from a prodigiously high scaffold, placed on a rising ground, the words 'Vive Louis! Vive Marie Antoinette!' were shown in the air in the midst of a very dark but calm night.