I take the respectful liberty of here thanking my King for the extreme kindness which he has shown to my wife, nee De Mortemart, to my son D'Antin, to his brothers and sisters, both dead and living, and also to myself, who have only been dismissed, and kept in exile:
In recognition of which I give and bequeath to his Majesty my vast chateau of Montespan, begging him to create and institute there a community of Repentant Ladies, to wear the habit of Carmelites or of the Daughters of the Conception, on the special charge and condition that he place my wife at the head of the said convent, and appoint her to be first Abbess.
I attach an annuity of sixty thousand livres to this noble institution, hoping that this will make up the deficiency, if there be any.
DE PARDAILHAN DE GONDRAN MONTESPAN, Separated, although inseparable spouse.
A family council being held to decide what I must do on this occasion, Madame de Thianges, M. de Vivonne, and M. de Blanville-Colbert decided that I must wear the same full mourning as my son D'Antin. As for this odious will, it was agreed that it should not even be spoken of, and that the notary of Saint Elix should be written to at once, to place it in the hands of a third party, of whom he would be presently notified at the place. The Marquis d'Antin at once had my equipage and his own draped. We hastened to put all our household into mourning from top to toe, and the funeral service, with full ritual, was ordered to be performed at the parish church. The very same day, as the family procession was about to set out on its way to the church, a sort of sergeant, dressed in black, handed a fresh letter to the Marquis d'Antin. It contained these words:
The notary of Saint Elix deserves a canonry in the Chapter of Charenton; it is not the Marquis de Montespan who is dead; they have played a trick on you.
The only truth in all of it is the will, of which the notary of Saint Elix has been in too great a hurry to send a copy. A thousand excuses to M. le Marquis d'Antin and his mother, Madame la Marquise.
It was necessary to send orders at once to the parish church to take away the catafalque and the drapings. The priests and the musicians were paid as if they had done what they ought to do; and my widowhood, which, at another time, might have been of such importance, was, I dare to say, indifferent to me.
The King was informed of what had just taken place in my family. He spoke of it as an extremely disagreeable affair. I answered him that it was far more disagreeable for me than for any one else. His Majesty added:
"Tell the Marquis d'Antin to go to Saint Elix and pay his respects to his father. This journey will also enable him to learn if such a ridiculous will really exists, and if your husband has reached such a pitch of independence. D'Antin will beg him, on my behalf, to tear up that document, and to earn my favour by doing so."
My son, after consulting with his Majesty, started indeed for the Pyrenees. His father at first gave him a cold welcome. The next day the Marquis discovered the secret of pleasing him; and M. de Montespan, at this full mourning, this family council, and at the catafalque in the middle of the church, promised to alter the will on condition that his 'lettre do cachet' should be revoked and quashed within the next fortnight.
The King agreed to these demands, which did not any longer affect him. I was the only person sacrificed.
The Duc du Maine Provided with the Government of Languedoc.—The Young Prince de Conti.—His Piety.—His Apostasy.—The Duc de la Feuillade Burlesqued.—The Watch Set with Diamonds.—The False Robber.—Scene amongst the Servants.
The old Duc de Verneuil, natural son of King Henri IV., died during these incidents, leaving the government of Languedoc vacant. The King summoned M. le Duc du Maine at once, and, embracing him with his usual tenderness, he said to him: "My son, though you are very young, I make you governor of Languedoc. This will make many jealous of you; do not worry about them, I am always here to defend you. Go at once to Mademoiselle's, who has just arrived at Versailles, and tell her what I have done for her adopted child."
I went to thank his Majesty for this favour, which seemed to me very great, since my son was not twelve years old. The King said to me: "Here comes the carriage of the Prince de Conti; you may be certain that he comes to ask me for this place."
In fact, those were the first words of the Prince de Conti.
"The government for which you ask," said the King, "has been for a long time promised to Madame de Maintenon for her Duc du Maine. I intend something else for you, my dear cousin. Trust in me. In giving you my beloved daughter I charged myself with your fortunes; you are on my list, and in the first rank."
The young Prince changed colour. He entreated the King to believe him worthy of his confidence and esteem, to which he imprudently added these words: "My wife was born before M. du Maine."
"And you, too," replied his Majesty; "are you any the more sober for that? There are some little youthful extravagances in your conduct which pain me. I leave my daughter in ignorance of them, because I wish her to be at peace. Endeavour to prevent her being informed of them by yourself. Govern yourself as a young man of your birth ought to govern himself; then I will hand a government over to you with pleasure."
The Prince de Conti appeared to me very much affected by this homily and disappointment. He saluted me, however, with a smile of benevolence and the greatest amenity. We learnt a short time afterwards that his wife had shed many tears, and was somewhat set against my children and myself.
This amiable Princess then was not aware that the government of Languedoc was not granted at my instance, but at the simple desire of Madame de Maintenon; the King had sufficiently explained it.
Just at this moment M. le Prince de Conti had made himself notable by his attachment or his deference towards matters of religion and piety. His superb chariot and his peach-coloured liveries were to be seen, on fete-days, at the doors of the great churches. He suddenly changed his manoeuvres, and refused to subject himself to restraints which led him no whither. He scoffed publicly at the Jesuits, the Sulpicians, and their formal lectures and confraternities; he refused to distribute the blessed bread at his parish church, and heard mass only from his chaplains and in his palace.
This ill-advised behaviour did not improve his position. Madame, his wife, continued to come to Versailles on gala-days, or days of reunion, but he and his brother appeared there less and less frequently. They were exceedingly handsome, both of them; not through their father, whose huge nose had rendered him ridiculous, but through the Princess, their mother, Anna or Felicia de Martinozzi, niece of Cardinal Mazarin. God had surpassed himself in creating that graceful head, and those eyes will never have their match in sweetness and beauty.
Free now to follow his own tastes, which only policy had induced him to dissimulate and constrain, M. de Conti allowed himself all that a young prince, rich and pleasure-loving, could possibly wish in this world. In the midst of these reunions, consecrated to pleasure, and even to debauchery, he loved to signalise his lordly liberality; nothing could stop him, nothing was too extravagant for him. His passion was to remove all obstacles and pay for everybody.
His joyous companions cried out with admiration, and celebrated, in prose and verse, so noble a taste and virtues so rare. The young orphan inhaled this incense with delight; he contracted enormous debts, and soon did not know where to turn to pay them.
The King, well informed of these excesses, commanded M. le Duc de la Feuillade to have the young man followed, and inform himself of all he did.
One day, when M. de la Feuillade himself had followed him too closely, and forced him, for the space of an hour, to scour over all Le Marais in useless and fatiguing zigzags, M. de Conti, who recognised him perfectly, in spite of his disguise, pretended that his watch, set with diamonds, had been stolen. He pointed out this man as the thief to his ready servingmen, who fell upon M. de la Feuillade, and, stripping him to find the watch, gave the Prince time to escape and reach his place of rendezvous.
The captain was ill for several days, and even in danger, in consequence of this adventure, which did not improve the credit of M. le Prince de Conti, much as it needed improvement.
His young and beautiful wife excused him in everything, ignoring, and wishing to ignore, the extent of his guilt and frivolity.
A Funeral and Diversions.—Sinister Dream.—Funeral Orations of the Queen.
It remains for me to relate certain rather curious circumstances in relation to the late Queen, after which I shall speak of her no more in these Memoirs.
She was left for ten days, lying in state, in the mortuary chapel of Versailles, where mass was being said by priests at four altars from morning till evening. She was finally removed from this magnificent Palace of Enchantment to Saint Denis. Numerous carriages followed the funeral car, and in all these carriages were the high officials, as well as the ladies, who had belonged to her. But what barbarity! what ingratitude! what a scandal! In all these mournful carriages, people talked and laughed and made themselves agreeable; and the body-guards, as well as the gendarmes and musketeers, took turns to ride their horses into the open plain and shoot at the birds.
Monsieur le Dauphin, after Saint Denis, went to lie at the Tuileries, before betaking himself to the service on the following day at Notre Dame. In the evening, instead of remaining alone and in seclusion in his apartment, as a good son ought to have done, he went to the Palais Royal to see the Princess Palatine and her husband, whom he had had with him all the day; he must have distraction, amusement, and even merry conversations, such as simple bourgeois would not permit themselves on so solemn an occasion, were it only out of decorum.
In the midst of these ridiculous and indefensible conversations, the news arrived that the King had broken his arm. The Marquis de Mosny had started on the instant in order to inform the young Prince of it; and Du Saussoi, equerry of his Majesty, arrived half an hour later, giving the same news with the details.
The King (who was hunting during the obsequies of his wife) had fallen off his horse, which he had not been able to prevent from stumbling into a ditch full of tall grass and foliage. M. Felix, a skilful and prudent surgeon, had just set the arm, which was only put out of joint. The King sent word to the Dauphin not to leave the Tuileries, and to attend the funeral ceremony on the morrow.
The fair of Saint Laurence was being held at this moment, although the city of Paris had manifested an intention of postponing it. They were exhibiting to the curious a little wise horse which bowed, calculated, guessed, answered questions, and performed marvels. The King had strictly forbidden his family and the people of the Court to let themselves be seen at this fair. Monsieur le Dauphin, none the less, wished to contemplate, with his own eyes, this extraordinary and wonderful little horse. Consequently, he had to be taken to the Chateau des Tuileries, where he took a puerile amusement in a spectacle in itself trivial, and, at such a time, scandalous.
The poor Queen would have died of grief if the death of her son had preceded hers, against the order of nature; but the hearts of our children are not disposed like ours, and who knows how I shall be treated myself by mine when I am gone?
With regard to the King's arm, Madame d'Orleans, during the service for the Queen, was pleased to relate to the Grande Mademoiselle that, three or four days before, she had seen, in a somewhat troublesome and painful dream, the King's horse run away, and throw him upon the rocks and brambles of a precipice, from which he was rescued with a broken arm. A lady observed that dreams are but vague and uncertain indications.
"Not mine," replied Madame, with ardour; "they are not like others. Five or six days before the Queen fell ill, I told her, in the presence of Madame la Dauphine, that I had a most alarming dream. I had dreamt that I was in a large church all draped in black. I advanced to the sanctuary; a vault was opened at one side of the altar. Some kind of priests went down, and these folk said aloud, as they came up again, that they had found no place at first; that the cavity having seemed to them too long and deep, they had arranged the biers, and had placed there the body of the lady. At that point I awoke, quite startled, and not myself."
Hardly had the Princess finished her story, when the Infanta, turning pale, said to her: "Madame, you will see, the dream of the vault refers to me. At the funeral of the Queen of England I noticed, and remember, that the same difficulty occurred at Saint Denis; they were obliged to push up all the coffins, one against the other."
And, in truth, we knew, a few days afterwards, that for this poor Queen, Maria Theresa, the monks of the abbey had found it necessary to break down a strong barrier of stones in their subterranean church, to remove the first wife of Gaston, mother of Mademoiselle, and find a place for the Spanish Queen who had arrived in those regions.
There were several funeral orations on this occasion. Not a single one of these official discourses deserved to survive the Queen. There was very little to say about her, I admit; but these professional panegyrists, these liars in surplice, in black cassock, or in purple and mitre, are not too scrupulous to borrow facts and material in cases where the dead person has neglected to furnish or bequeath it them.
In my own case I congratulated myself on this sort of indifference or literary penury; an indiscreet person, sustained by zeal or talent, might have wished to mortify me in a romance combined of satire and religion.
Jean Baptiste Colbert.—His Death.—His Great Works.—His Last Advice to the Marquise.
M. Colbert had been ailing for a long time past. His face bore visible testimony against his health, to which his accumulated and incessant labour had caused the greatest injury. We had just married his son Blainville to my niece, Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, heiress of the house of Rochchouart. Since this union—the King's work—M. Colbert had somewhat tended in my favour, and I had reason to count on his good offices and kindness. I said to him one day that my quarrel with him was that he did not look after himself, that he ignored all his own worth, treated himself with no more respect than a mere clerk; that he was the indispensable man, the right hand of the King, his eye of vigilance in everything, and the pillar of his business and his finance.
Without being precisely what one would call a modest man, M. Colbert was calm of mind, and by nature without pose or presumption. He cared sincerely for the King's glory. He held his tongue on the subject of great enterprises, but employed much zeal and ability in promoting the success of good projects and ideas, such as, for instance, our Indies and Pondicherry.
He had known how to procure, without oppressing any one, the incalculable sums that had been necessitated, not only by enormous and almost universal wars, but by all those canals, all those ports in the Mediterranean or the ocean, that vast creation of vessels, arsenals, foundries, military houses and hospitals which we had seen springing up in all parts. He had procured by his application, his careful calculations, the wherewithal to build innumerable fortresses, aqueducts, fountains, bridges, the Observatory of Paris, the Royal Hospital of the Invalides, the chateaus of the Tuileries and of Vincennes, the engine and chateau of Marly, that prodigious chateau of Versailles, with its Trianon of marble, which by itself might have served as a habitation for the richest monarchs of the Orient.
He had founded the wonderful glass factories, and those of the Gobelins; he had raised, as though by a magic ring, the Royal Library over the gardens and galleries of Mazarin; and foreigners asked one another, in their surprise, what they must admire most in that monument, the interior pomp of the edifice or its rich collection of books, coins, and manuscripts.
To all these works, more than sufficient to immortalise twenty ministers, M. Colbert was adding at this moment the huge 'salpetriere' of Paris and the colonnades of the Louvre. Ruthless death came to seize him in the midst of these occupations, so noble, useful, and glorious.
The great Colbert, worn out with fatigue, watching, and constraint, left the King, his wife, his children, his honours, his well-earned riches, and displayed no other anxiety than alarm as to his salvation,—as though so many services rendered to the nation and to his prince were no more, in his eyes, than vain works in relation to eternity.
Madame de Maintenon, having become a great lady, could, not reasonably continue her office of governess to the King's children. M. Colbert, that man of vigour, that Mount Atlas, capable of supporting all things without a plaint, had been charged with the care of the two new-born princes.
Because of the third Mademoiselle de Blois, and of the little Comte de Toulouse, I saw the minister frequently, and I was one of the first to remark the change in his face and his health.
During his last illness, I visited him more often. One day, of his own accord, he said to me:
"How do you get on with Madame de Maintenon? I have never heard her complain of you; but I make you this confidence out of friendship. His Majesty complains of your attitude towards your former friend. If the frankness of your nature and the impatience of your humour have sometimes led you too far, I exhort you to moderate yourself, in your own interest and in that of your children. Madame de Maintenon is an amiable and witty person, whose society pleases the King. Have this consideration for a hard-working prince, whom intellectual recreation relaxes and diverts, and make a third at those pleasant gatherings where you shone long before this lady, and where you would never be her inferior. Go there, and frequently, instead of keeping at a distance in an attitude of resentment, which, do not doubt, is noticed and viewed unfavourably."
"But, monsieur," I answered M. Colbert, "you are not, then, aware that every time I am a third person at one of these interminable conversations, I always meet with some mark of disapproval, and sometimes with painful mortifications?"
"I have been told so," the sick man replied; "but I have also been told that you imprudently call down on yourself these outbursts of the King. What need have you to quarrel with Madame de Maintenon over a look, a word, a movement or a gesture? You seem to me persuaded that love enters into the King's friendship for the Marquise. Well, suppose you have guessed aright his Majesty's sentiments; will your dissatisfaction and your sarcasms prevent those sentiments from existing, and the prince from indulging them?
"You know, madame, that he generally gets everything he wants, and M. de Montespan experienced that when he wished to set himself against your joint wills.
"I am nearer my end and my release than my doctors think. In leaving this whirlpool of disappointments, ambitions, errors, and mutual injustice, I should like to see you free, at peace, reconciled to your real interests, and out of reach, forever, of the vicissitudes of fortune. In my eyes, your position is that of a ship-owner whom the ocean has constantly favoured, and who has reaped great riches. With moderation and prudence, it depended on himself to profit by his astonishing success, and at last to enjoy his life; but ambition and vain desire drive him afresh upon this sea, so fruitful in shipwrecks, and his last venture destroys all his prosperity and all his many labours.
"Our excellent Queen has gone to rest from her troubles and her journeys; and I, madame, am going to rest not long after her, having worn out my strength on great things that are as nothing."
The Marquis de Seignelay, eldest son of this minister, counted on succeeding to the principal offices of his father. He made a mistake. The place of secretary of state and controller-general passed to the President Pelletier, who had been chosen by M. Colbert himself; and the superintendence of buildings, gardens, and works went to swell the numerous functions of the Marquis de Louvois, who wished for and counted on it.
MM. de Blainville and Seignelay had good posts, proportioned to their capacity; the King never ceased to look upon them as the children of his dear M. Colbert.
[It mast be remembered that the young Marquis de Seignelay was already Minister of Marine, an office which remained with him.—Ed.]
Before his death, this minister saw his three daughters become duchesses. The King, who had been pleased to make these marriages, had given each of them a dowry of a million in cash.
As for the Abbe Colbert, already promoted to the Bishopric of Montpellier (to which three important abbeys were joined), he had the Archbishopric of Toulouse, with an immense revenue. It is true that he took a pleasure in rebuilding his archiepiscopal palace and cathedral out of a huge and ancient treasure, which he discovered whilst pulling down some old ruin to make a salon.
One might say that there was some force of attraction attached to this family and name of Colbert. Treasures arose from the earth to give themselves up and obey them.
Mesdemoiselles de Mazarin.—The Age of Puberty.—Madame de Beauvais.—Anger of the Queen-mother.—The Cardinal's Policy.—First Love.—Louis de Beauvais.—The Abbe de Rohan-Soubise.—The Emerald's Lying-in.—The Handsome Musketeer.—The Counterfeit of the King.
At the time when the King, still very young, was submitting without impatience to the authority of the Queen, his mother, and his godfather, the Cardinal, his strength underwent a sudden development, and this lad became, all at once, a man. The numerous nieces of Cardinal Mazarin, who were particularly dear to the Queen, were as much at the Louvre as at their own home. Anne of Austria, naturally affable, gladly released them from the etiquette which was imposed upon every one else. These young ladies played and laughed, sang or frolicked, after the manner of their years, and the young King lived frankly and gaily in their midst, as one lives with agreeable sisters, when one is happy enough to have such. He lived fraternally with these pretty Italian girls, but his intimacy stopped there, since the Cardinal and the governess watched night and day over a young man who was greatly subject to surveillance.
At the same time, there was amongst the Queen's women a rather pretty waiting-maid, well brought up, who was called Madame de Beauvais. Those brunettes, with black eyes, bright complexions, and graceful plumpness, are almost always wanton and alluring. Madame de Beauvais noticed the sudden development of the monarch, his impassioned reveries which betrayed themselves in his gaze. She thought she had detected intentions on his part, and an imperious need of explaining himself. A word, which was said to her in passing, authorised her, or seemed to authorise her, to make an almost intelligible reply. The young wooer showed himself less undecided, less enigmatic,—and the understanding was completed.
Madame de Beauvais was the recipient of the prince's first emotions, and the clandestine connection lasted for three months. Anne of Austria, informed of what was passing, wished at first to punish her first maid in waiting; but the Cardinal, more circumspect, represented to her that this connection, of which no one knew, was an occupation, not to say a safeguard, for the young King, whose fine constitution and health naturally drew him to the things of life. "Although eighteen years of age," he added, "the prince abandons the whole authority to you; whereas another, in his place, would ardently dispute it. Do not let us quarrel with him about trifles; leave him his Beauvais lady, so that he may make no attempt on my pretty nieces nor on your authority, madame, nor on my important occupations, which are for the good of the State."
Anne of Austria, who was more a Christian and a mother than a diplomatic woman, found it very painful to appreciate these arguments of the Cardinal; but after some reflection she recognised their importance, and things remained as they were.
Madame de Beauvais had a son, whom the husband (whether overconfident or not) saw brought into the world with much delight, and whom, with a wealth of royalist respect, they baptised under the agreeable name of Louis. This child, who had a fine figure and constitution, received a particularly careful education. He has something of the King about him, principally in his glance and smile. He presents, however, only the intellectual habit of his mother, and even a notable absence of grandeur and elevation. He is a very pretty waiting-woman, dressed out as a cavalier; in a word, he is that pliant and indefatigable courtier, whom we see everywhere, and whom town and Court greet by the name of Baron de Beauvais.
His sister is the Duchesse de Richelieu, true daughter of her father, as ugly, or rather as lacking in charm, as he is; but replete with subtilty and intelligence,—with that intelligence which perpetually suggests a humble origin, and which wearies or importunes, because of its ill-nature. At the age of seventeen, her freshness made her pass for being pretty. She accused the young Duc de Richelieu of having seduced her, and made her a mother; and he, in his fear of her indignation and intrigues, and of the reproaches of the Queen, hastened to confess his fault, and to repair everything by marrying her.
Baron Louis, her brother, to whom the King could hardly refuse anything, made her a lady of honour to the Dauphine. Madame de Richelieu delighted to spread a report in the world that I had procured her this office; she was deceived, and wished to be deceived. I had asked this eminent position for the Marquise de Thianges, in whom I was interested very differently. His Majesty decided that a marquise was inferior to a duchess, even when that duchess was born a De Beauvais. Another son of the monarch, well known at the Court as such, is M. l'Abbe de Rohan-Soubise, to whom the cardinal's hat is already promised. His figure, his carriage, his head, his attitude, his whole person infallibly reveal him; and the Prince de Soubise has so thoroughly recognised and understood the deceit, that he honours the young churchman with all his indifference and his respect. He acts with him as a sort of guardian; and that is the limitation of his role.
The Princesse de Soubise, who had resolved to advance her careless husband, either to the government of Brittany or to some ministry, persuaded herself that it is only by women that men can be advanced; and that in order to advance a husband, it is necessary to advance oneself. Although a little thin, and lacking that of which the King is so fond, we saw in her a very pretty woman. She knew how to persuade his Majesty that she cherished for him the tenderest love. That is, I believe, the one trap that it is possible to set for him. He is credulous on that head; he was speedily caught. And every time that M. de Rohan was away, and there was freedom at the Hotel Soubise, the Princess came in person to Saint Germain or to Versailles, to show her necklace and pendant of emeralds to the King. Such was the agreed signal.
The Abbe de Rohan was born of these emeralds. The King displays conscience in all his actions, except in his wars and conquests. When the little Soubise was grown up, his Majesty signified to the mother that this young man must enter the Church, not wishing to suffer the formation of a parasitical branch amongst the Rohans, which would have participated, without any right, in the legitimate sap. It is asserted that the Abbe de Rohan only submitted with infinite regret to a sentence which neutralised him. The King has promised him all possible consideration; he has even embraced him tenderly, an action which is almost equivalent to a "declaration of degree" made to the Parliament.
The other child alleged to the King is that handsome musketeer, who is so like him. But, judging from the King's character, which respects, and in some fashion almost admires itself, in everything which proceeds from it, I do not venture to believe in this musketeer. The King wished one day to see him close by, and even accosted him by the orange-shrubbery; but this movement seemed to me one of pure curiosity.
The resemblance, I must confess, is the most striking that I have yet seen; for it is complete, even to the tone of the voice. But a look might have operated this miracle. Instance the little negress, the daughter of the poor Queen, that Queen so timid and entirely natural, who, to her happiness, as much as to her glory, has never looked at, approached, or distinguished any one except the King.
For the rest, we shall see and know well if the King does anything for his musketeer.
The Young Nobility and the Turks.—Private Correspondence.—The Unlucky Minister and the Page of Strasburg.—The King Judged and Described in All the Documents.—The King Humiliated in His Affections.—Scandal at Court.—Grief of Fathers at Having Given Life to Such Children.—Why Prince Eugene Was Not a Bishop.—Why He Was Not a Colonel of France.—Death of the Prince de Conti.
As France was at peace at the moment when the three hundred thousand Turks swarmed over Hungary and threatened Vienna, our young princes, and a fairly large number of nobles of about the same age, took it into their heads to go and exhibit their bravery in Germany; they asked permission of M. de Louvois to join the Imperialists. This permission was granted to some amongst them, but refused to others. Those whom it was thought fit to restrain took no notice of the words of the minister, and departed as resolutely as though the King had fallen asleep. They were arrested on the road; but his Majesty, having reflected on the matter, saw that these special prohibitions would do harm to the intentions which he had with regard to his deference for Germany, and they were all allowed to go their own way.
A little later, it was discovered that there was a regular and active correspondence between these young people in Germany and others who had remained in Paris or at the Court. The first minister had a certain page, one of the most agile, pursued; he was caught up with at Strasburg; his valise was seized. The Marquis de Louvois, desiring to give the King the pleasure of himself opening these mysterious letters, handed him the budget, the seals intact, and his Majesty thanked him for this attention. These thanks were the last that that powerful minister was destined to receive from his master; his star waned from that hour, never again to recover its lustre; all his credit failed and crashed to the ground. This correspondence—spied on with so much zeal, surprised and carried off with such good fortune—informed the astonished monarch that, in the Louvois family, in his house and circle, his royal character, his manners, his affections, his tastes, his person, his whole life, were derisively censured. The beloved son-in-law of the minister, speaking with an open heart to his friends, who were travelling, and absent, represented the King to them as a sort of country-gentleman, given up now to the domestic and uniform life of the manor-house, more than ever devoted to his dame bourgeoise, and making love ecstatically at the feet of this young nymph of fifty seasons.
M. de la Roche-Guyon and M. de Liancourt, sons of La Rochefoucauld, who expressed themselves with the same boldness, went so far as to say of their ruler that he was but a stage and tinsel king. The son-in-law of Louvois accused him of being most courageous in his gallery, but of turning pale on the eve, and at the moment, of an action; and D'Alincourt, son of Villeroi, carried his outrages further still. No one knows better than myself how unjust these accusations were, and are. I was sensible of the mortification such a reading must have caused to the most sensitive, the most irritable of princes; but I rejoiced at the humiliation that the lady in waiting felt for her share in this unpardonable correspondence. The annoyance that I read for some days on her handsome face consoled me, for the time being, for her great success at my expense.
Madame la Princesse de Conti, whom the King, up to this time, had not only cherished but adored, found also, in those documents, the term of excessive favour. A letter from her to her husband said: "I have just given myself a maid of honour, wishing to spare Madame de Maintenon the trouble, or the pleasure, of giving me one herself."
She was summoned to Versailles, as she may very well have expected. The King, paying no attention to her tears, said to her: "I believed in your affection; I have done everything to deserve it; it is lamentable to me to be unable to count on it longer. Your cruel letter is in Madame de Maintenon's hands. She will let you read it again before committing it to the fire, and I beg you to inform her what is the harm she has done you."
"Madame," said Madame de Maintenon to her, when she saw her before her, "when your amiable mother left this Court, where the slightest prosperity attracts envy, I promised her to take some care of your childhood, and I have kept my word.
"I have always treated you with gentleness and consideration; whence proceeds your hate against me of to-day? Is your young heart capable of it? I believed you to be a model of gratitude and goodness."
"Madame," replied the young Princess, weeping, "deign to pardon this imprudence of mine and to reconcile me with the King, whom I love so much."
"I have not the credit which you assume me to have," replied the lady in waiting, coldly. "Except for the extreme kindness of the King you would not be where you are, and you take it ill that I should be where I am! I have neither desired nor solicited the arduous rank that I occupy; I need resignation and obedience to support such a burden." Madame de Maintenon resumed her work. The Princess, not daring to interrupt her silence, made the bow that was expected of her and withdrew.
The Marquis de Louvois, when he read what his own son-in-law dared to write of the monarch, grew pale and swooned away with grief. He cast himself several times before the feet of his master, asking now the punishment and now the pardon of a criminal and a madman.
"I believed myself to be loved by your family," cried the King. "What must I do, then, to be loved? And, great God! with what a set I am surrounded!"
All these things transpired. Soon we saw the father of the audacious De Liancourt arrive like a man bereft of his wits. He ran to precipitate himself at the feet of the King.
"M. de La Rochefoucauld," said the prince to him, "I was ignorant, until this day, that I was lacking in what is called martial prowess; but I shall at least have, on this occasion, the courage to despise the slanderous slights of these presumptuous youths. Do not talk to me of the submissions and regrets of your two sons, who are unworthy of you; let them live as far away from me as possible; they do not deserve to approach an honest man, such as their King."
The Prince de Turenne,
[The Prince de Turenne was in bad odour at Court ever since he had separated Monseigneur from his young wife by exaggerating that Princess's small failings.—MADAME DE MONTESPAN'S NOTE.]
son of the Duc de Bouillon, and Prince Eugene of Savoy, third or fourth son of the Comtesse de Soissons (Olympe Mancini), had accompanied their cousins De Conti on this knightly expedition; all these gentlemen returned at the conclusion of the war, except Prince Eugene, a violent enemy of the King.
This young Prince of the second branch, seeing his mother's disgrace since the great affair of the poison, hated me mortally. He carried his treachery so far as to attribute to me the misfortunes of Olympe, saying, and publishing all over Paris, that I had incited accusers in order to be able to deprive her forcibly of her superintendence. This post, which had been sold to me for four hundred thousand francs, had been paid for long since; that did not prevent Eugene from everywhere affirming the contrary.
Since the flight or exile of his lady mother, he had taken it into his head to dream of the episcopate, and to solicit Pere de la Chaise on the subject. But the King, who does not like frivolous or absurd figures in high offices, decided that a little man with a deformity would repel rather than attract deference at a pinnacle of dignity of the priesthood.
Refused for the episcopate, M. de Soissons thought he might offer himself as a colonel. His Majesty, who did not know the military ways of this abbe, refused him anew, both as an abbe and as a hunchback, and as a public libertine already degraded by his irregularities.
From all these refusals and mortifications there sprung his firm resolve to quit France. He had been born there; he left all his family there except his mother; he declared himself its undying enemy, and said publicly in Germany that Louis XIV. would shed tears of blood for the injury and the affront which he had offered him.
MM. de Conti, after the events in Hungary and at Vienna, returned to France covered with laurels. They came to salute the King at Versailles. His Majesty gave them neither a good nor a bad reception. The Princes left the same day for Chantilly, where M. de Conde, their paternal uncle, tried to curb their too romantic imaginations and guaranteed their good behaviour in the future.
This life, sedentary or spent in hunting, began to weary them, when overruling Providence was pleased to send them a diversion of the highest importance. M. le Prince de Conti was seized suddenly with that burning fever which announces the smallpox. Every imaginable care was useless; he died of it and bequeathed, in spite of himself, a most premature and afflicting widowhood to his young and charming spouse, who was not, till long afterwards, let into the secret of his scandalous excesses.
M. de la Roche-sur-Yon, his only brother, was as distressed at his death as though he had nothing to gain by it; he took immediately the name of Conti, and doffed the other, which he had hitherto borne as a borrowed title. The domain and county of La Roche-sur-Yon belongs to the Grande Mademoiselle. She had been asked to make this condescension when the young Prince was born. She agreed with a good grace, for the child, born prematurely, did not seem likely to live.
Ninon at Court.—The King behind the Glass.—Anxiety of the Marquise on the Subject of This Interview.—Visit to Madame de Maintenon.—Her Reply and Her Ambiguous Promise.
Mademoiselle de l'Enclos is universally known in the world for the agreeableness of her superior wit and her charms of face and person. When Madame de Maintenon, after the loss of her father, arrived from Martinique, she had occasion to make her acquaintance; and it seems that it was Ninon who, seeing her debating between the offers of M. Scarron and the cloister, succeeded in persuading her to marry the rich poet, though he was a cripple, rather than to bury herself, so young, in a convent of Ursulines or Bernardines, even were the convent in Paris.
At the death of the poet Scarron (who when he married, and when he died, possessed only a life annuity), Mademoiselle d'Aubigne, once more in poverty, found in Mademoiselle de l'Enclos a generous and persevering friend, who at once offered her her house and table. Mademoiselle d'Aubigne passed eight or ten months in the intimate society of this philosophical woman. But her conscience, or her prudery, not permitting her to tolerate longer a manner of life in which she seemed to detect license, she quitted Ninon, advising her to renounce coquetry, whilst the other was advising her to abandon herself to it.
There, where Madame Scarron found the tune of good society with wit, she looked upon herself as in her proper sphere, as long as no open scandal was brought to her notice. She consented still to remain her friend; but the fear of passing for an approver or an accomplice prevented her from remaining if there were any publicity. It was not exactly through her scruples, it was through her vanity. I have had proof of this on various occasions, and I have made no error.
The pretended amours of Mademoiselle d'Aubigne and the Marquis de Villarceaux, Ninon's friend, are an invention of malicious envy. I justified Madame Scarron on the matter before the King, when I asked her for the education of the Princes; and having rendered her this justice, from conviction rather than necessity, I shall certainly not charge her with it to-day. Madame de Maintenon possesses a fund of philosophy which she does not reveal nor confess to everybody. She fears God in the manner of Socrates and Plato; and as I have seen her more than once make game, with infinite wit, of the Abbe Gobelin, her confessor, who is a pedant and avaricious, I am persuaded that she knows much more about it than all these proud doctors in theology, and that she would be thoroughly capable of confessing her confessor.
She had remained, then, the friend of Ninon, but at heart and in recollection, without sending her news or seeing her again. Mademoiselle de l'Enclos, rich, disinterested, and proud of her independent position, learned with pleasure the triumph of her former friend, but without writing to her or congratulating her. Ninon, by the consent of all those who have come near her, is good-nature itself. One of her relations, or friends, was a candidate for a vacant post as farmer-general, and besought her to make some useful efforts for him.
"I have no one but Madame de Maintenon," she replied to this relation. And the other said to her:
"Madame de Maintenon? It is as though you had the King himself!"
Mademoiselle de l'Enclos, trimming her pen with her trusty knife, wrote to the lady in waiting an agreeable and polished letter, one of those letters, careful without stiffness, that one writes, indulging oneself a little with the intention of getting oneself read.
The letter of solicitation seemed so pretty to the lady in waiting that she made the King peruse it.
"This is an excellent opportunity for me," said the prince at once, "to see with my own eyes this extraordinary, person, of whom I have so long heard talk. I saw her one day at the opera, but just when she was getting into her carriage; and my incognito did not permit me to approach her. She seemed to me small, but well made. Her carriage drove off like a flash."
To meet this curiosity which the King displayed, it was agreed that Madame de Maintenon, on the pretext of having a better consultation, should summon Mademoiselle de l'Enclos to Versailles, and that in one of the alcoves of the chapel she should be given a place which should put her almost in front of his Majesty.
She arrived some minutes before mass. Madame de Maintenon received her with marked attention, mingled with reserve, promised her support with the ministers when the affair should be discussed, and made her promise to pass the entire day, at Versailles, for the King was obliged to visit the new gardens at Marly.
The time for mass being come, Madame de Maintenon said to the fair Epicurean, with a smile: "You are one of us, are you not? The music will be delicious in the chapel to-day; you will not have a moment of weariness."
Ninon, meeting this slight reproach with a smile of propriety, replied that she adored and respected everything which the monarch respected.
During the service, the King, tranquilly, secluded in his golden box, could see and examine the lady at his leisure, without compromising himself or embarrassing her by his gaze. As for her, her decent and quite appropriate attitude merited for her the approval of her old friend, of the King, and of the most critical eyes.
The monarch, in effect, departed, not for the Chateau of Marly, but for Trianon; and hardly had he reached there before, in a little, very close carriage, he was brought back to Versailles. He went up to Madame de Maintenon's apartments by the little staircase in the Prince's Court, and stole into the glass closet without being observed, except by a solitary lackey.
The ladies, believing themselves to be alone and at liberty, talked without ceremony or constraint, as though they had been but twenty years old. The King was very much grieved at the things which were said, but he heard, without losing a word, the following dialogue or interview:
NINON DE L'ENCLOS.—It is not my preservation which should surprise you, since from morning to night I breathe that voluptuous air of independence which refreshes the blood, and puts in play its circulation. I am morally the same person whom you came to see in the pretty little house in the Rue de Tournelles. My dressing-gown, as you well know, was my preferred and chosen garb. To-day, as then, Madame la Marquise, I should choose to place on my escutcheon the Latin device of the towns of San Marino and Lucca,—Libertas. You have complimented me on my beauty; I congratulate you upon yours, and I am surprised that you have so kept and preserved it in the midst of the constraints and servitude that grandeur and greatness involve.
MADAME DE MAINTENON.—At the commencement, I argued as you argue, and believed that I should never get to the year's end without disgust. Little by little I imposed silence upon my emotions and my regrets. A life of great activity and occupation, by separating us, as it were, from ourselves, extinguishes those exacting niceties, both of our proper sensibility, and of our self-conceit. I remembered my sufferings, my fears, and my privations after the death of that poor man;—[It was so that she commonly spoke of her husband, Scarron.]—and since labour has been the yoke imposed by God on every human being, I submitted with a good grace to the respectable labour of education. Few teachers are attached to their pupils; I attached myself to mine with tenderness, with delight. It is true that it was my privilege to find the King's children amiable and pretty, as few children are.
NINON DE L'ENCLOS.—From the most handsome and amiable man in the world there could not come mediocre offspring. M. du Maine is your idol; the King has given him his noble bearing, with his intelligence; and you have inoculated him with your wit. Is it true that Madame de Montespan is no longer your friend? That is a rumour which has credit in the capital; and if the thing is true I regret it, and am sorry for you.
MADAME DE MAINTENON.—Madame de Montespan, as all Paris knows, obtained my pension for me after the death of the Queen-mother. This service, comparable with a favour, will always remain in my heart and my memory. I have thanked her a thousand times for it, and I always shall thank her for it. At the time when the young Queen of Portugal charged herself with my fate and fortune, the Marquise, who had known me at the Hotel d'Albret, desired to retain me in France, where she destined for me the children of the King. I did what she desired; I took charge of his numerous children out of respect for my benefactor, and attachment to herself. To-day, when their first education is completed, and his Majesty has recompensed me with the gift of the Maintenon estate, the Marquise pretends that my role is finished, that I was wrong to let myself be made lady in waiting, and that the recognition due to her imposes an obligation on me to obey her in everything, and withdraw from this neighbourhood.
NINON DE L'ENCLOS.—Absolutely
MADAME DE MAINTENON.—Yes, really, I assure you.
NINON DE L'ENCLOS.—A departure? An absolute retreat? Oh, it is too much! Does she wish you, then, to resign your office?
MADAME DE MAINTINON.—I cannot but think so, mademoiselle.
NINON DE L'ENCLOS.—Speaking personally, and for my private satisfaction, I should be enchanted to see you quit the Court and return to society. Society is your element. You know it by heart; you have shone there, and there you would shine again. On reappearing, you would see yourself instantly surrounded by those delicate and (pardon the expression) sensuous minds who applauded with such delight your agreeable stories, your brilliant and solid conversation. Those pleasant, idle hours were lost to us when you left us, and I shall always remember them. At the Court, where etiquette selects our words, as it rules our attitudes, you cannot be yourself; I must confess that frankly. You do not paint your lovely face, and I am obliged to you for that, madame; but it is impossible for you to refrain from somewhat colouring your discourse, not with the King, perhaps, whose always calm gaze transparently reveals the man of honour, but with those eminences, those grandeurs, those royal and serene highnesses, whose artificial and factitious perfumes already filled your chapel before the incense of the sacrifice had wreathed its clouds round the high altar.
The King, suddenly showing himself, somewhat to the surprise of the ladies, said: "I have long wished, mademoiselle, this unique and agreeable opportunity for which I am indebted to Madame de Maintenon. Be seated, I pray you, and permit 'my Highness', slightly perfumed though I be, to enjoy for a moment your witty conversation and society. What! The atmosphere does not meet with your approval, and, in order to have madame's society, you desire to disgust her with it herself, and deprive us of her?"
"Sire," answered Ninon, "I have not enough power or authority to render my intentions formidable, and my long regrets will be excused, I hope, since, if madame left Versailles, she would cause the same grief there that she has caused us."
"One has one's detractors in every conceivable locality. If Madame de Maintenon has met with one at Versailles she would not be exempt from them anywhere else. At Paris, you would be without rampart or armour, I like to believe; but deign to grant me this preference,—I can very well protect my friends. I think the town is ill-informed, and that Madame de Montespan has no interest in separating madame from her children, who are also mine.
"You will greatly oblige me, mademoiselle, if you will adopt this opinion and publish it in your society, which is always select, though it is so numerous."
Then the King, passing to other subjects, brought up, of his own accord, the place of farmer-general, which happened to be vacant; and he said to Mademoiselle de l'Enclos: "I promise you this favour with pleasure, the first which you have ever solicited of me, and I must beg you to address yourself to Madame de Maintenon on every occasion when your relations or yourself have something to ask from me. You must see clearly, mademoiselle, that it is well to leave madame in this place, as an agent with me for you, and your particular ambassadress."
I learnt all these curious details five or six days later from a young colonel, related to me, to whom Mademoiselle de l'Enclos narrated her admission and interview at Versailles. In reproducing the whole of this scene, I have not altered the sense of a word; I have only sought to make up for the charm which every conversation loses that is reported by a third party who was not actually an eyewitness.
This confidence informed me that prejudices were springing up against me in the mind of the favourite. I went to see her, as though my visit were an ordinary one, and asked her what one was to think of Ninon's interview with the King.
"Yes," she said, "his Majesty has for a long time past had a great desire to see her, as a person of much wit, and of whom he has heard people speak since his youth. He imagined her to have larger eyes, and something a little more virile in her physiognomy. He was greatly, and, I must say, agreeably surprised, to find that he had been deceived. 'One can see eyes of far greater size,' his Majesty told me, 'but not more brilliant, more animated or amiable. Her mouth, admirably moulded, is almost as small as Madame de Montespan's. Her pretty, almost round face has something Georgian about it, unless I am mistaken. She says, and lets you understand, everything she likes; she awaits your replies without interruption; her contradictions preserve urbanity; she is respectful without servility; her pleasant voice, although not of silver, is none the less the voice of a nymph. In conclusion, I am charmed with her.'"
"Does she believe me hostile to your prosperity, my dear Marquise?" I said at once to Madame de Maintenon, who seemed slightly confused, and answered: "Mademoiselle de l'Enclos is not personally of that opinion; she had heard certain remarks to that effect in the salons of the town; and I have given her my most explicit assurance that, if you should ever cease to care for me, my inclination and my gratitude would be none the less yours, madame, so long as I should live."
"You owe me those sentiments," I resumed, with a trifle too much fire; "I have a right to count on them. But it is most painful to me, I confess, after having given all my youth to the King, to see him now cool down, even in his courtesy. The hours which he used to pass with me he gives to you, and it is impossible that this innovation should not seem startling here, since all Paris is informed of it, and Mademoiselle de l'Enclos has discussed it with you."
"I owe everything that I am to the goodness of the King," she answered me. "Would you have me, when he comes to me, bid him go elsewhere, to you or somebody else, it matters not?"
"No, but I should be glad if your countenance did not, at such a moment, expand like a sunflower; I should like you, at the risk of somewhat belying yourself, to have the strength to moderate and restrain that vein of talk and conversation of which you have given yourself the supremacy and monopoly; I wish you had the generosity to show, now and again, less wit. This sort of regime and abstinence would not destroy you off-hand, and the worst that could result to you from it would be to pass in his eyes for a woman of a variable and intermittent wit; what a great calamity!"
"Ah, madame, what is it you suggest!" the lady in waiting replied to me, almost taking offence. "I have never been eccentric or singular with any one in the world, and you want me to begin with my King! It cannot be, I assure you! Suggest to me reasonable and possible things, and I will enter into all your views with all my heart and without hesitation."
This reply shocked me to the point of irritation.
"I believed you long to be a simple and disinterested soul," I said to her, "and it was in this belief that I gave you my cordial affection. Now I read your heart, and all your projects are revealed to me. You are not only greedy of respect and consideration, you are ambitious to the point of madness. The King's widowhood has awakened all your wild dreams; you confided to me fifteen years ago that the soothsayer of the Marechale d'Albret had predicted for you a sceptre and a crown."
At these words, the governess made me a sign to lower my voice, and said to me, with an accent of candour and good faith, which it is impossible for me to forget: "I confided to you at the time that puerility of society, just as the Marechale and the Marshal (without believing it) related it to all France. But this prognostication need not alarm you, madame," she added; "a King like ours is incapable of such an extravagance, and if he were to determine on it, it would not have my countenance nor approval.
"I do not think that thus far I have passed due limits; the granddaughter of a great noble, of a first gentleman of the chamber, I have been able to become a lady in waiting without offending the eyes; but the lady in waiting will never be Queen, and I give you my permission to insult me publicly when I am."
Such was this conversation, to which I have not added a word. We shall see soon how Madame de Maintenon kept her word to me, and if I am not right in owing her a grudge for this promise with a double meaning, with which it was her caprice to decoy me by her shuffling.
Birth of the Duc d'Anjou.—The Present to the Mother.—The Casket of Patience.—Departure of the King for the Army.—The King Turns a Deaf Ear.—How That Concerns Madame de Maintenon.—The Prisoner of the Bastille.—The Danger of Caricatures.—The Administrative Thermometer.—Actors Who Can neither Be Applauded nor Hissed.—Relapse of the Prisoner.—Scarron's Will.—A Fine Subject for Engraving.—Madame de Maintenon's Opinion upon the Jesuits.—The Audience of the Green Salon.—Portions from the Refectory.—Madame de Maintenon's Presence of Mind.—I Will Make You Schoolmaster.
Madame la Dauphine, greatly pleased with her new position, in that she represented the person of the Queen, had already given birth to M. le Duc de Bourgogne; she now brought into the world a second son, who was at once entitled Duc d'Anjou. The King, to thank her for this gift, made her a present of an oriental casket, which could only be opened by a secret spring, and that not before one had essayed it for half an hour. Madame la Dauphine found in it a superb set of pearls and four thousand new louis d'or. As she had no generosity in her heart, she bestowed no bounties on her entourage. The King this year made an expedition to Flanders. Before getting into his carriage he came and passed half an hour or forty minutes with me, and asked me if I should not go and pass the time of his absence at the Petit-Bourg.
"At Petit-Bourg and at Bourbon," I answered, "unless you allow me to accompany you." He feigned not to have heard me, and said: "Lauzun, who, eleven or twelve years ago, refused the baton of a marshal of France, asks to accompany me into Flanders as aide-de-camp. Purge his mind of such ideas, and give him to understand that his part is played out with me."
"What business is it of mine," I asked with vivacity, "to teach M. de Lauzun how to behave? Let Madame de Maintenon charge herself with these homilies; she is in office, and I am there no longer."
These words troubled the King; he said to me:
"You will do well to go to Bourbon until my return from Flanders."
He left on the following day, and the same day I took my departure. I went to spend a week at my little convent of Saint Joseph, where the ladies, who thought I was still in favour, received me with marks of attention and their accustomed respect. On the third day, the prioress, announcing herself by my second waiting-woman, came to present me with a kind of petition or prayer, which, I confess, surprised me greatly, as I had never commissioned any one to practise severity in my name.
A man, detained at the Bastille for the last twelve years, implored me in this document to have compassion on his sufferings, and to give orders which would strike off his chains and irons.
"My intention," he said, "was not, madame, to offend or harm you. Artists are somewhat feather-headed, and I was then only twenty." This petition was signed "Hathelin, prisoner of State." I had my horses put in my carriage at once, and betook myself to the chateau of the Bastille, the Governor of which I knew.
When I set foot in this formidable fortress, in spite of myself I experienced a thrill of terror.
The attentions of public men are a thermometer, which, instead of our own notions, is very capable of letting us know the just degree of our favour. The Governor of the Bastille, some months before, would have saluted me with his artillery; perhaps he still received me with a certain ceremony, but without putting any ardour into his politeness, or drawing too much upon himself. In such circumstances one must see without regarding these insults of meanness, and, by a contrivance of distraction, escape from vile affronts. The object of my expedition being explained, the Governor found on his register that poor Hathelin, aged thirty-two to thirty-four years, was an engraver by profession. The lieutenant-general of police had arrested him long ago for a comic or satirical engraving on the subject of M. le Marquis de Montespan and the King.
I desired to see Hathelin, quite determined to ask his pardon for all his sufferings, with which I was going to occupy myself exclusively until I was successful. The Governor, a man all formality and pride, told me that he had not the necessary authority for this communication; I was obliged to return to my carriage without having tranquillised my poor captive.
The same evening I called upon the lieutenant-general of police, and, after having eloquently pleaded the cause of this forgotten young man, I discovered that there was no 'lettre de cachet' to his prejudice, and procured his liberation.
He came to pay his respects and thanks to me, in my parlour at Saint Joseph, on the very day of his liberation. He seemed to me much younger than his age, which astonished me greatly after his misfortunes. I gave him six thousand francs, in order to indemnify him slightly for that horrible Bastille. At first he hesitated to take them.
"Let your captivity be a lesson to you," I said to him; "the affairs of kings do not concern us. When such actors occupy the scene, it is permissible neither to applaud nor to hiss."
Hathelin promised me to be good, and for the future to concern himself only with his graver and his private business. He wished me a thousand good wishes, with an expansion of heart which caused his tears and mine to flow. But artists are not made like other men; he, for all his good heart, was gifted with one of those ardent imaginations which make themselves critics and judges of notable personages, and, above all, of favourites of fortune. Barely five or six months had elapsed when Hathelin published a new satirical plate, in which Madame de Maintenon was represented as weeping, or pretending to weep, over the sick-bed of M. Scarron. The dying man was holding an open will in his hand, in which one could read these words: "I leave you my permission to marry again—a rich and serious man—more so than I am."
The print had already been widely distributed when the engraver and his plate were seized. This time Hathelin had not the honour of the Bastille; he was sent to some depot. And although his action was absolutely fresh and unknown to me, all Paris was convinced that I had inspired his unfortunate talent. Madame de Maintenon was convinced of it, and believes it still. The King has done me the honour to assure me lately that he had banished the idea from his mind; but he was so persuaded of it at first that he could not pardon me for so black an intrigue, and, but for the fear of scandal, would have hanged the engraver, Hathelin, in order to provide my gentlemen, the engravers, with a subject for a fine plate.
About the same time, the Jesuits caused Madame de Maintenon a much more acute pain than that of the ridiculous print. She endured this blow with her accustomed courage; nevertheless, she conceived such a profound aversion to the leaders of this ever-restless company, that she has never been seen in their churches, and was at the greatest pains to rob them of the interior of Saint Cyr. "They are men of intrigue," she said to Madame de Montchevreuil, her friend and confidante. "The name of Jesus is always in their mouths, he is in their solemn device, they have taken him for their banner and namesake; but his candour, his humility are unknown to them. They would like to order everything that exists, and rule even in the palaces of kings. Since they have the privilege and honour of confessing our monarch, they wish to impose the same bondage upon me. Heaven preserve me from it! I do not want rectors of colleges and professors to direct my unimportant conscience. I like a confessor who lets you speak, and not those who put words into your mouth."
With the intention of mortifying her and then of being able to publish the adventure, they charged one of their instruments to seek her out at Versailles in order to ask an audience of her, not as a Jesuit, but as a plain churchman fallen upon adversity.
The petition of this man having been admitted, he received a printed form which authorised him to appear before madame at her time of good works, for she had her regular hours for everything. He was introduced into the great green salon, which was destined, as one knows, for this kind of audience. There were many people present, and before all this company this old fox thus unfolded himself:
"Madame, I bless the Sovereign Dispenser of all things for what he has done for you; you have merited his protection from your tenderest youth. When, after your return from Martinique, you came to dwell in the little town of Niort, with your lady mother, I saw you often in our Jesuit church, which was at two paces from your house. Your modesty, your youth, your respectful tenderness towards Madame la Baronne d'Aubigne, your excellent mother, attracted the attention of our community, who saw you every day in the temple with a fresh pleasure, as you can well imagine. Madame la Baronne died; and we learnt that those tremendous lawsuits with the family not having been completed before her death, she left you, and M. Charles, your brother, in the most frightful poverty. At that news, our Fathers (who are so charitable, so compassionate) ordered me to reserve every day, for the two young orphans, two large portions from the refectory, and to bring them to you myself in your little lodging.
"To-day, being no longer, owing to my health, in the congregation of the Jesuit Fathers, I should be glad to obtain a place conformable with my ancient occupations. My good angel has inspired me with the thought, madame, to come and solicit your powerful protection and your good graces."
Madame de Maintenon, having sustained this attack with fortitude, and it was not without vigour, replied to the petitioner: "I have had the honour of relating to his Majesty, not so very long ago, the painful and afflicting circumstance which you have just recalled to me. Your companions, for one fortnight, were at the pains to send to my little brother and to me a portion of their food. Our relations; who enjoyed all our property, had reduced us to indigence. But, as soon as my position was ameliorated, I sent fifteen hundred francs to the Reverend Father Superior of the Jesuits for his charities. That manner of reimbursement has not acquitted me, and I could not see an unfortunate man begging me for assistance without remembering what your house once did for me. I do not remember your face, monsieur, but I believe your simple assertion. If you are in holy orders I will recommend you to the Archbishop of Rouen, who will find you a place suitable for you. Are you in holy orders?"
"No, madame," replied the ex-Jesuit; I was merely a lay brother."
"In that case," replied the Marquise, "we can offer you a position as schoolmaster; and the Jesuit Fathers, if they have any esteem for you, should have rendered you this service, for they have the power to do that, and more."
The King Takes Luxembourg Because It Is His Will.—Devastation of the Electorate of Treves.—The Marquis de Louvois.—His Portrait.—The Marvels Which He Worked.—The Le Tellier and the Mortemart.—The King Destines De Mortemart to a Colbert.—How One Manages Not to Bow.—The Dragonades.—A Necessary Man.—Money Makes Fat.—Meudon.—The Horoscope.
This journey to Flanders did not keep the King long away from his capital. And, withal, he made two fine and rich conquests, short as the space of time was. The important town of Luxembourg was necessary to him. He wanted it. The Marechal de Crequi invested this place with an army of thirty thousand men, and made himself master of it at the end of a week.
Immediately after the King marched to the Electorate of Treves, which had belonged, he said, to the former kingdom of Austrasia. He had no trouble in mastering it, almost all the imperial forces being in Hungary, Austria, and in those cantons where the Ottomans had called for them. The town of Treves humbly recognised the King of France as its lord and suzerain. Its fine fortifications were levelled at once, and our victories were, unhappily, responsible for the firing, pillage, and devastation of almost the whole Electorate. For the Duke of Crequi, faithful executor of the orders of Louvois, imagined that a sovereign is only obeyed when he proves himself stern and inflexible.
In the first years of my favour, the Marquis de Louvois enjoyed my entire confidence, and, I must admit, my highest esteem. Independently of his manners, which are, when he wishes, those of the utmost amiability, I remarked in him an industrious and indefatigable minister, an intelligent man, as well instructed in the mass as in details; a mind fertile in resources, means, and expedients; an administrator, a jurist, a theologian, a man of letters and of affairs, an artist, an agriculturist, a soldier.
Loving pleasure, yet knowing how to despise it in favour of the needs of the State and the care of affairs, this minister concentrated in his own person all the other ministries, which moved only by his impulse and guiding hand.
Did the King, followed by his whole Court, arrive in fearful weather by the side of some vast and swollen river, M. de Louvois, alighting from his carriage, would sweep the horizon with a single glance. He would designate on the spot the farms, granaries, mills, and chateaux necessary to the passage of a fastidious king on his travels. A general repast, appropriate and sufficient, issued at his voice as it had been from the bowels of the earth. An abundance of mattresses received provisionally the more or less delicate forms, stretched out in slumber or fatigue. And in the depth of the night, by the light of a thousand flaring torches, a vast bridge, constructed hastily, in spite of wind and rain, permitted the royal carriage and the host of other vehicles to cross the stream, and find on the further bank succulent dishes and voluptuous apartments.
This prodigious energy, which created results by pulverising obstacles, had rendered the minister not only agreeable but precious to a young sovereign, who, unable to tolerate delays and resistance, desired in all things to attain and succeed. The King, without looking too closely at the means, loved the results which were the consequences of such a genius, and he rewarded with a limitless confidence the intrepid and often culpable zeal of a minister who procured him hatred.
When the passions of the conqueror, owing to success, grew calm, he studied more tranquilly both his own desires and his coadjutor's. The King by nature is neither inhuman nor savage, and he knew that Louvois was like Phalaris in these points. Then he was at as much pains to repress this unpopular humour as he had shown indifference before in allowing it to act.
The Marquis de Louvois (who did not like me) had lavished his incense upon me, in order that some fumes of it might float up to the prince. He saw me beloved and, as it were, almost omnipotent; he sought my alliance with ardour. The family of Le Tellier is good enough for a judicial and legal family; but what bonds are there between the Louvois and the Mortemart? No matter: ambition puts a thick bandage over the eyes of those whom it inspires; the Marquis wished to marry his daughter to my nephew, De Mortemart!!!
I communicated this proposition to the King. His Majesty said to me: "I am delighted that he has committed the grave fault of approaching any one else than me about this marriage. Answer him, if you please, that it is my province alone to marry the daughters, and even the sons of my ministers. Louvois has thus far helped me to spend enormous sums. M. Colbert has assisted me to heap up treasure. It is for one of the Colberts that I destine your nephew; for I have made up my mind that the three sisters shall be duchesses."
In effect, his Majesty caused this marriage; and the Marquis de Louvois had the jaundice over it for more than a fortnight.
Since that time his assiduities have been enlightened. He puts respect into his reverences; and when our two coachmen carried our equipages past each other on the same, road, he read some documents in order to avoid saluting me.
In the affair of the Protestants, he caused what was at first only anxiety, religious zeal, and distrust to turn into rebellion. In order to make himself necessary, he proposed his universal and permanent patrols and dragoons. He caused certain excesses to be committed in order to raise a cry of disorder; and a measure which could have been effective without ceasing to be paternal became, in his hands, an instrument of dire persecution.
Madame de Maintenon, having learnt that Louvois, to exonerate himself, was secretly designating her as the real author of these rigorous and lamentable counsels, made complaint of it to the King, and publicly censured his own brother, who, in order to make himself agreeable to the Jesuits, to Bossuet, and to Louvois, had made himself a little hero in his provincial government.
The great talents of M. de Louvois, and the difficulty of replacing him, became his refuge and safeguard. But, from the moment that he no longer received the intimate confidence of the King, and the esteem of the lady in waiting who sits upon the steps of the throne, he can only look upon himself at Versailles as a traveller with board and lodging.
His revenues are incalculable. The people, seeing his enormous corpulence, maintain, or pretend, that he is stuffed with gold. His general administration of posts alone is worth a million. His other offices are in proportion.
His chateau of Meudon-Fleury, a magical and quite ideal site, is the finest pleasure-house that ever yet the sun shone on. The park and the gardens are in the form of an amphitheatre, and are, in my opinion, sublime, in a far different way from those of Vaux. M. Fouquet, condemned to death, in punishment for his superb chateau, died slowly in prison; the Marquis de Louvois will not, perhaps, die in a stronghold; but his horoscope has already warned that minister to be prepared for some great adversity. He knows it; sometimes he is concerned about it; and everything leads one to believe that he will come to a bad end. He has done more harm than people believe.
The Reformed Religion and Painting on Enamel—Petitot and Heliogabalus.—Theological Discussion with the Marquise.—The King's Intervention.—Louis XIV. Renders His Account to the Christian and Most Christian Painter.—The King's Word Is Not to Be Resisted.—Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
At the moment when the first edicts, were issued against the public exercise of the Reformed Religion, the famous and incomparable Petitot, refusing all the supplications of France and of Europe, executed for me, in my chateau of Clagny, five infinitely precious portraits, upon which it was his caprice only to work alternately, and which still demanded from him a very great number of sittings. One of these five portraits was that of the King, copied from that great and magnificent picture of Mignard, where he was represented at the age of twenty, in the costume of a Greek hero, in all the lustre of his youth. His Majesty had given me this little commission for more than a year, and I desired, with all my heart, to be able soon to fulfil his expectation. He destined this miniature for the Emperor of China or the Sultan.
I went to see M. Petitot at Clagny. When he saw me he came to me with a wrathful air, and, presenting me his unfinished enamel, he said to me: "Here, madame, is your Greek hero; his new edicts finish us, but, as for me, I shall not finish him. With the best intentions in the world, and all the respect that is due to him, my just resentment would pass into my brush; I should give him the traits of Heliogabalus, which would probably not delight him."
"Do you think so, monsieur?" said I to my artist. "Is it thus you speak of the King, our master,—of a King who has affection for you, and has proved it to: you so many times?"
"My memory, recalls to me all that his munificence: has done for my talent in a thousand instances," went on the painter; "but his edicts, his cruel decrees, have upset my heart, and the persecutor of the true Christians no longer merits my consideration or good-will."
I had been ignorant hitherto of the faith which this able man professed; he informed me that he worshipped God in another fashion than ours, and made common cause with the Protestants.
"Well," said I to him then, "what have you to complain of in the new edicts and decrees? They only concern, so far, your ministers,—I should say, your priests; you are not one, and are never likely to be; what do these new orders of the Council matter to you?"
"Madame," resumed Petitot, "our ministers, by preaching the holy gospel, fulfil the first of their duties. The King forbids them to preach; then, he persecutes them and us. In the thousand and one religions which exist, the cause of the priests and the sanctuary becomes the cause of the faithful. Our priests are not imbecile Trappists and Carthusians, to be reduced to inaction and silence. Since their tongues are tied, they are resolved to depart; and their departure becomes an exile which it is our duty to share. If you will entrust me with your portraits which have been commenced, with the exception of that of Heliogabalus, I will finish them in a hospitable land, and shall have the honour of sending them to you, already fired and in all their perfection."
Petitot, until this political crisis, had only exhibited himself to me beneath an appearance of simplicity and good-nature. Now his whole face was convulsed and almost threatening; when I looked at him he made me afraid. I did not amuse myself by discussing with him matters upon which we were, both of us, more or less ignorant. I did all that could be done to introduce a little calm into his superstitious head, and to gain the necessary time for the completion of my five portraits. I was careful not to confide to the King this qualification of Heliogabalus; but as his intervention was absolutely necessary to me, I persuaded him to come and spend half an hour at this chateau of Clagny, which he had deserted for a long time past.
"Your presence," I said to him, "will perhaps take the edge off the theological irritation of your fanatical painter. A little royal amenity, a little conversation and blandishment, a la Louis XIV., will seduce his artistic vanity. At the cost of that, your portrait, Sire, will be terminated. It would not be without."
The surprise of his Majesty was extreme when he had to learn and comprehend that the prodigious talent of Petitot was joined to a Huguenot conscience, and this talent spoke of expatriating itself. "I will go to Clagny to-morrow," replied the prince to me; and he went there, in fact, accompanied by the Marquise de Montchevreuil and Madame la Dauphine, in an elaborate neglige.
"Good-day, Monsieur Petitot," said the monarch to our artist, who rose on seeing him enter. "I come to contemplate your new masterpieces. Is my little miniature near completion?"
"Sire," replied Petitot, "it will not be for another six weeks. All these affairs and decrees have deprived me of many hours; my heart is heavy over it!"
"And why do you busy yourself with these discussions, with which your great talent has no concern?" said the King to him, gently.
"Sire, it is my religion that is more concerned than ever. I am a Christian, and my law is dear to me."
"And I am Most Christian," answered his Majesty, smiling. "I profess the religion, I keep the law that your ancestors and mine kept before the Reformation."
"Sire, this reform has been adopted by a great number of monarchs,—a proof that the Reformation is not the enemy of kings, as is said."
"Yes, in the case of wise and honest men like yourself, my good friend Petitot; but just as all your brothers have not your talents, so they have not your rectitude and loyalty, which are known to me."
"Sire, your Majesty overwhelms me; but I beg you to be persuaded that my brothers have been calumniated."
"Yes, if one is to accuse them in the mass, my dear Petitot; but there are spoil-alls amongst your theologians; intercepted correspondences depose to it. The allied princes, having been unable to crush me by their invasions and artillery, have recourse to internal and clandestine manoeuvres. Having failed to corrupt my soldiers, they have essayed to corrupt my clergy, as they did at Montauban and La Rochelle, in the days of Cardinal Richelieu."
"Sire, do not believe in any such manoeuvres; all your subjects love and admire you, whatever be their faith and communion."
"Petitot, you are an admirable painter and a most worthy man. Do not answer me, I beg you. If I believed you had as much genius and aptitude for great affairs as for the wonders of the brush, I would make you a Counsellor of State on the instant, and a half-hour spent with me and my documents and papers of importance would be sufficient to make you believe and think as I do touching what has been discussed between us. Madame de Montespan, in great alarm, has told me that you wished to leave me. You leave me, my good friend! Where will you find a sky so pure and soft as the sky of France? Where will you find a King more tenderly attached to men of merit, more particularly, to my dear and illustrious Petitot?"
At these words, pronounced with emotion, the artist felt the tears come into his eyes. He bent one knee to the ground, respectfully kissed the hand of the monarch, and promised to complete his portrait immediately.
He kept his word to us. The King's miniature and my four portraits were finished without hesitation or postponement; and Petitot also consented to copy, for his Majesty, a superb Christine of Sweden, a full-length picture, painted by Le Bourdon. But at the final revocation of the Edict of Nantes, he thought his conscience, or rather his vanity, compromised, and quitted France, although the King offered to allow him a chaplain of his communion, and a dispensation from all the oaths, to Petitot himself, to Boyer, his brother-in-law, and the chaplain whom they had retained with them.
Lovers' Vows.—The Body-guards.—Racine's Phedre.—The Pit.—Allusions.—The Duel.—M. de Monclar.—The Cowled Spy.—He Escapes with a Fright.—M. de Monclar in Jersey.—Gratitude of the Marquise.—Happy Memory.
Lovers, in the effervescence of their passion, exaggerate to themselves the strength and intensity of their sentiments. The momentary, pleasure that this agreeable weakness causes them to feel, brings them, in spite of themselves, to promise a long duration of it, so that they swear eternal fidelity, a constancy, proof against all, two days after that one which shone on their most recent infidelity. I had seen the King neglect and abandon the amiable La Valliere, and I listened to him none the less credulously and confidently when he said to me: "Athenais, we have been created for each other: if Heaven were suddenly to deprive me of the Queen, I would have your marriage dissolved, and, before the altar and the world, join your destiny, to mine."
Full of these fantastic ideas, in which my, hope and desire and credulity were centred, I had accepted those body-guards of state who never left my carriage. The poor Queen had murmured: I had disdained her murmurs. The public had manifested its disapproval: I had hardened myself and fought against the insolent opinion of that public. I could not renounce my chimera of royalty, based on innumerable probabilities, and I used my guards in anticipation, and as a preliminary.
One of them, one day, almost lost his life in following my carriage, which went along like a whirlwind. His horse fell on the high road to Versailles; his thigh was broken, and his body horribly bruised. I descended from my carriage to see after him. I confided him, with the most impressive recommendations, to the physician or surgeon of Viroflai, who lavished on him his attentions, his skill and zeal, and who sent him back quite sound after a whole month of affectionate care.
The young Baron de Monclar (such was the name of this guard) thought himself happy in having merited my favour by this accident, and he remained sincerely and finally attached to me.
At the time of the temporary triumph of Mademoiselle de Fontanges, the spell which was over my eyes was dissipated. The illusions of my youth were lost, and I saw, at last, the real distance which divided me from the steps of the throne. The health of a still youthful Queen seemed to me as firm and unalterable then as it appeared to me weak and uncertain before. The inconstancy of the monarch warned me of what might be still in store for me, and I resolved to withdraw myself, voluntarily and with prudence, within the just limits of my power.
M. le Prince de Luxembourg was one of my friends, and in command; I begged him to send me his guards no longer, but to reserve them for the reigning divinity, who had already more than once obtained them.
In these latter days, that is to say, since the eminent favour of the lady in waiting, having become the friend, and no longer the spouse of the prince, I frequently retired from this sight, so repugnant to me, and went and passed entire weeks at Paris, where the works on my large hotel, that had been suspended for divers reasons, were being resumed.
A debutante, as beautiful as she was clever, was drawing the entire capital to the Comedie Francaise. She obtained especial applause in the difficult part of Phedre. My friends spoke marvels of it, and wished to take me there with them. Their box was engaged. We arrived as the curtain was going up. As I took my seat I noticed a certain stir in the orchestra and pit. The majority of glances were directed at my box, in which my apparition had attracted curiosity. I carried my fan to my face, under the pretext of the excessive glow of the lights. Immediately several voices were to be heard: "Take away the fan, if you please." The young and foolish applauded this audacity; but all the better part disapproved.
The actress mentioned came on the scene and brought the incident to an end. Although deeply moved by what had occurred, I paid great attention to the magnificent part of Phedre, which often excited my admiration and profound pity. At some passages, which every one knows by heart, two or three insolent persons abandoned themselves to a petty war of allusions, and accenting these aggressive phrases with their applause, succeeded in directing general attention to me. Officers of the service noticed this beginning of disorder, and probably were concerned at my embarrassment. Some Gardes Francais were called within the barrier of the parterre in order to restrain the disturbers. Suddenly a very lively quarrel broke out in the centre. Two young men with great excitement had come to blows, and soon we saw them sally forth with the openly expressed intention of settling their quarrel on the field.
Was it my name, or a contest as to the talent of the actress, which caused this commotion? My nephew, De Mortemart, was concerned for me, and the Comte de Marcilly assured us that all these wrangles were solely with regard to the wife of Theseus.
Between the two pieces our company learnt that a gentleman from the provinces had insulted my name, and a body-guard, out of uniform, had taken this insult for himself; they had gone out to have an explanation.
The following day a religious minim of the House of Chaillot came to inform me of the state of affairs. The Baron de Monclar, of the body-guards of the King, had taken sanctuary in their monastery, after having killed, in lawful duel, beneath the outer walls of the Bois du Boulogne, the imprudent young man who, the night before, at the play, had exposed me to the censure of the public. M. de Monclar was quite prepared for the inflexible severity of the King, as well as for the uselessness of my efforts. He only begged me to procure him a disguise of a common sort, so that he might immediately embark from the neighbourhood of Gainville or Bordeaux, and make for England or Spain; every moment was precious.
The sad position in which M. de Monclar had put himself in my behalf filled me with sorrow. I gave a long sigh, and dried my first tears. I racked my sick and agitated head for the reply I ought to make to the good monk, and, to my great astonishment, my mind, ordinarily so prompt and active, suggested and offered me no suitable plan. This indecision, perhaps, rendered the worthy ambassador impatient and humiliated me; when, to end it, I made up my mind to request that M. de Monclar be secretly transferred from the House of Chaillot to my dwelling, where I should have time and all possible facilities to take concert with him as to the best means of action.