The Memoirs of Madame de Montespan, Complete
Madame La Marquise De Montespan
Part 5 out of 8
town is taken. We come to offer to the greatest of kings the greatest
salmon that can be caught."
The King desired this speech to be instantly transcribed; and, after
having bountifully rewarded the sailors, his Majesty said to
"This man was born to be a wit; if he were younger, I would place him in
a college. There is wit at Choisy in every rank of life."
Departure of the King.--Ghent Reduced in Five Days.--Taking of
Ypres.--Peace Signed.--The Prince of Orange Is at Pains Not to Know of
I have related in what manner Charles II., suddenly pronouncing in favour
of his nephew, the Prince of Orange, had signed a league with his old
enemies, the Dutch, in order to counteract the success of the King of
France and compel him to sign a humiliating and entirely inadmissible
The King left Versailles suddenly on the 4th of February, 1678, taking,
with his whole Court, the road to Lorraine, while waiting for the troops
which had wintered on the frontiers, and were investing at once
Luxembourg, Charlemont, Namur, Mons, and Ypres, five of the strongest and
best provisioned places in the Low Countries. By this march and
manoeuvre, he wished to hoodwink the allied generals, who were very far
from imagining that Ghent was the point towards which the Conqueror's
intentions were directed.
In effect, hardly had the King seen them occupied in preparing the
defence of the above named places, when, leaving the Queen and the ladies
in the agreeable town of Metz, he rapidly traversed sixty leagues of
country, and laid siege to the town of Ghent, which was scarcely
The Spanish governor, Don Francisco de Pardo, having but a weak garrison
and little artillery, decided upon releasing the waters and inundating
the country; but certain heights remained which could not be covered, and
from here the French artillery started to storm the ramparts and the
The siege was commenced on the 4th of March; upon the 9th the town opened
its gates, and two days later the citadel. Ypres was carried at the end
of a week, in spite of the most obstinate resistance. Our grenadiers
performed prodigies, and lost all their officers, without exception. I
lost there one of my nephews, the one hope of his family; my compliments
to the King, therefore, were soon made.
He went to Versailles to take back the Queen, and returned to Ghent with
the speed and promptitude of lightning. The same evening he sent an
order to a detachment of the garrison of Maestricht to hasten and seize
the town and citadel of Leuwe, in Brabant, which was executed on the
instant. It was then that the Dutch sent their deputation, charged to
plead for a suspension of hostilities for six weeks. The King granted
it, although these blunderers hardly merited it. They undertook that
Spain should join them in the peace, and finally, after some
difficulties, settled more or less rightly, the treaty was signed on the
10th of August, just as the six weeks were about to expire.
The Prince of Orange, naturally bellicose, and, above all things,
passionately hostile to France, pretended to ignore the existence of this
peace, which he disapproved. The Marechal de Luxembourg, informed of the
treaty, gave himself up to the security of the moment; he was actually at
table with his numerous officers when he was warned that the Prince of
Orange was advancing against him. The alarm was quickly sounded; such
troops and cavalry as could be were assembled, and a terrible action
At first we were repulsed, but soon the Marshal rallied his men; he
excited their indignation by exposing to them the atrocity of M.
d'Orange, and after a terrible massacre, in which two thousand English
bit the dust, the Marechal de Luxembourg remained master of the field.
He was victorious, but in this unfortunate action we lost, ourselves, the
entire regiment of guards, that of Feuquieres, and several others
besides, with an incredible quantity of officers, killed or wounded.
The name of the Prince of Orange, since that day, was held in horror in
both armies, and he would have fallen into disgrace with the States
General themselves had it not been for the protection of the King of
England, to whom the Dutch were greatly bound.
On the following day, this monster sent a parliamentary officer to the
French generals to inform them that during the night official news of the
peace had reached him.
Mission of Madame de Maintenon to Choisy.--Mademoiselle Gives the
Principalities of Eu and Dombes in Exchange for M. de Lauzun.--He Is Set
The four or five words which had escaped Mademoiselle de Montpensier had
remained in the King's recollection. He said to me: "If you had more
patience, and a sweeter and more pliant temper, I would employ you to go
and have a little talk with Mademoiselle, in order to induce her to
explain what intentions she may have relative to my son."
"I admit, Sire," I answered him, "that I am not the person required for
affairs of that sort. Your cousin is proud and cutting; I would not
endure what she has made others endure. I cannot accept such a
commission. But Madame de Maintenon, who is gentleness itself, is
suitable--no one more so for this mission; she is at once insinuating and
respectful; she is attached to the Duc du Maine. The interests of my son
could not be in better hands."
The King agreed with me, and both he and I begged the Marquise to conduct
M. du Maine to Choisy.
Mademoiselle de Montpensier received him with rapture. He thanked her
for what she had done for him, in granting him her colours, and upon that
Mademoiselle asked his permission to embrace him, and to tell him how
amiable and worthy of belonging to the King she found him. She led him
to the hall, in which he was to be seen represented as a colonel-general
"I have always loved the Swiss," she said, "because of their great
bravery, their fidelity, and their excellent discipline. The Marechal de
Bassompierre made his corps the perfection which it is; it is for you, my
cousin, to maintain it."
She passed into another apartment, where she was to be seen represented
as Bellona. Two Loves were presenting her, one with his helm adorned
with martial plumes, the other with his buckler of gold, with the
Orleans-Montpensier arms. The laurel crown, with which Triumphs were
ornamenting her head, and the scaled cuirass of Pallas completed her
decoration. M. le Duc du Maine praised, without affectation, the
intelligence of the artist; and as for the figure and the likeness, he
said to the Princess: "You are good, but you are better." The calm and
the naivety of this compliment made Mademoiselle shed tears. Her emotion
was visible; she embraced my son anew.
"You have brought him up perfectly," she said to Madame de Maintenon.
"His urbanity is of good origin; that is how a king's son ought to act
"His Majesty," said Madame de Maintenon, "has been enchanted with your
country-house; he spoke of it all the evening. He even added that you
had ordered it all yourself, without an architect, and that M. le Notre
would not have done better."
"M. le Notre," replied the Princess, "came here for a little; he wanted
to cut and destroy, and upset and disarrange, as with the King at
Versailles. But I am of a different mould to my cousin; I am not to be
surprised with big words. I saw that Le Notre thought only of
expenditure and tyranny; I thanked him for his good intentions, and
prayed him not to put himself out for me. I found there thickets already
made, of an indescribable charm; he wanted, on the instant, to clear them
away, so that one could testify that all this new park was his. If you
please, madame, tell his Majesty that M. le Notre is the sworn enemy of
Nature; that he sees only the pleasures of proprietorship in the future,
and promises us cover and shade just at that epoch of our life when we
shall only ask for sunshine in which to warm ourselves."
She next led her guests towards the large apartments. When she had come
to her bedroom, she showed the Marquise the mysterious portrait, and
asked if she recognised it.
"Ah, my God! 'tis himself!" said Madame de Maintenon at once. "He sees,
he breathes, he regards us; one might believe one heard him speak. Why
do you give yourself this torture?" continued the ambassadress. "The
continual presence of an unhappy and beloved being feeds your grief, and
this grief insensibly undermines you. In your place, Princess, I should
put him elsewhere until a happier and more favourable hour."
"That hour will never come," cried Mademoiselle.
"Pardon me," resumed Madame de Maintenon; "the King is never inhuman and
inexorable; you should know that better than any one. He punishes only
against the protests of his heart, and, as soon as he can relent without
impropriety or danger, he pardons. M. de Lauzun, by refusing haughtily
the marshal's baton, which was offered him in despite of his youth,
deeply offended the King, and the disturbance he allowed himself to make
at Madame de Montespan's depicted him as a dangerous and wrong-headed
man. Those are his sins. Rest assured, Princess, that I am well
informed. But as I know, at the same time, that the King was much
attached to him,--and is still so, to some extent, and that a captivity
of ten years is a rough school, I have the assurance that your Highness
will not be thought importunate if you make today some slight attempt
towards a clemency."
"I will do everything they like," Mademoiselle de Montpensier said then;
"but shall I have any one near his Majesty to assist and support my
undertaking? I have no more trust in Madame de Montespan; she has
betrayed us, she will betray us again; the offence of M. de Lauzun is
always present in her memory, and she is a lady who does not easily
forgive. As for you, madame, I know that the King considers you for the
invaluable services of the education given to his children. Deign to
speak and act in favour of my unhappy husband, and I will make you a
present of one of my fine titled territories."
Madame de Maintenon was too acute to accept anything in such a case; she
answered the Princess that her generosities, to please the King, should
be offered to M. le Duc du Maine, and that, by assuring a part of her
succession to that young prince, she had a sure method of moving the
monarch, and of turning his paternal gratitude to the most favourable
concessions. The Princess, enchanted, then said to the negotiatrix:
"Be good enough to inform his Majesty, this evening, that I offer to
give, at once, to his dear and amiable child the County of Eu and my
Sovereignty of Dombes, adding the revenues to them if it is necessary."
Madame de Maintenon, who worships her pupil, kissed the hand of
Mademoiselle, and promised to return and see her immediately.
That very evening she gave an account to the King of her embassy; she
solicited the liberty of the Marquis de Lauzun, and the King commenced by
granting "the authorisation of mineral waters."
Meanwhile, Mademoiselle, presented by Madame de Maintenon, went to take
counsel with the King. She made a formal donation of the two
principalities which I have named. His Majesty, out of courtesy, left
her the revenues, and, in fine, she was permitted to marry her M. de
Lauzun, and to assure him, by contract, fifty thousand livres of income.
M. de Brisacier and King Casimir.--One Is Never so Well Praised as by
Oneself.--He Is Sent to Get Himself Made a Duke Elsewhere.
The Abbe de Brisacier, the famous director of consciences, possessed
enough friends and credit to advance young Brisacier, his nephew, to the
Queen's household, to whom he had been made private secretary. Slanderers
or impostors had persuaded this young coxcomb that Casimir, the King of
Poland, whilst dwelling in Paris in the quality of a simple gentleman,
had shown himself most assiduous to Madame Brisacier, and that he,
Brisacier of France, was born of these assiduities of the Polish prince.
When he saw the Comte Casimir raised to the elective throne of Poland, he
considered himself as the issue of royal blood, and it seemed to him that
his position with the Queen, Maria Theresa, was a great injustice of
fortune; he thought, nevertheless, that he ought to remain some time
longer in this post of inferiority, in order to use it as a ladder of
The Queen wrote quantities of letters to different countries, and
especially to Spain, but never, or hardly ever, in her own hand. One
day, whilst handling all this correspondence for the princess's
signature, the private secretary slipped one in, addressed to Casimir,
the Polish King.
In this letter, which from one end to the other sang the praises of the
Seigneur Brisacier, the Queen had the extreme kindness to remind the
Northern monarch of his old liaison with the respectable mother of the
young man, and her Majesty begged the prince to solicit from the King of
France the title and rank of duke for so excellent a subject.
King Casimir was not, as one knows, distrust and prudence personified; he
walked blindfold into the trap; he wrote with his royal hand to his
brother, the King of France, and asked him a brevet as duke for young
Brisacier. Our King, who did not throw duchies at people's heads, read
and re-read the strange missive with astonishment and suspicion. He
wrote in his turn to the suppliant King, and begged him to send him the
why and the wherefore of this hieroglyphic adventure. The good prince,
ignorant of ruses, sent the letter of the Queen herself.
Had this princess ever given any reason to be talked about, there is no
doubt that she would have been lost on this occasion; but there was
nothing to excite suspicion. The King, no less, approached her with
precaution, in order to observe the first results of her answers.
"Madame," he said, "are you still quite satisfied with young Brisacier,
your private secretary?"
"More or less," replied the Infanta; "a little light, a little absent;
but, on the whole, a good enough young man."
"Why have you recommended him to the King of Poland, instead of
recommending him to me directly?"
"To the King of Poland!--I? I have not written to him since I
congratulated him on his succession."
"Then, madame, you have been deceived in this matter, since I have your
last letter in my hands. Here it is; I return it to you."
The princess read the letter with attention; her astonishment was
"My signature has been used without authority," she said. "Brisacier
alone can be guilty, being the only one interested."
This new kind of ambitious man was summoned; he was easily confounded.
The King ordered him to prison, wishing to frighten him for a punishment,
and at the end of some days he was commanded to quit France and go and be
made duke somewhere else.
This event threw such ridicule upon pretenders to the ducal state, that I
no longer dared speak further to the King of the hopes which he had held
out to me; moreover, the things which supervened left me quite convinced
of the small success which would attend my efforts.
Compliment from Monsieur to the New Prince de Dombes.--Roman
History.--The Emperors Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, and Verus.--The Danger of
Monsieur, having learnt what his cousin of Montpensier had just done for
my Duc du Maine, felt all possible grief and envy at it. He had always
looked to inherit from her, and the harshest enemy whom M. de Lauzun met
with at his wedding was, undoubtedly, Monsieur. When M. le Duc du Maine
received the congratulations of all the Court on the ground of his new
dignity of Prince de Dombes, his uncle was the last to appear; even so he
could not refrain from making him hear these disobliging words,--who
would believe it?--"If I, too, were to give you my congratulation, it
would be scarcely sincere; what will be left for my children?"
Madame de Maintenon, who is never at a loss, replied: "There will be left
always, Monseigneur, the remembrance of your virtues; that is a fair
We complained of it to the King; he reprimanded him in a fine fashion. "I
gave you a condition so considerable," said he, "that the Queen, our
mother, herself thought it exaggerated and dangerous in your hands. You
have no liking for my children, although you feign a passionate affection
for their father; the result of your misbehaviour will be that I shall
grow cool to your line, and that your daughter, however beautiful and
amiable she may be, will not marry my Dauphin."
At this threat Monsieur was quite overcome, and anxious to make his
apologies to the King; he assured him of his tender affection for M. le
Duc du Maine, and would give him to understand that Madame de Maintenon
had misunderstood him.
"It is not from her that your compliment came to us; it is from M. le Duc
du Maine, who is uprightness itself, and whose mouth has never lied."
Monsieur then started playing at distraction and puerility; the
medal-case was standing opened, his gaze was turned to it. Then he came
to me and said in a whisper: "I pray you, come and look at the coin of
Marcus Aurelius; do you not find that the King resembles that emperor in
"You are joking," I answered him. "His Majesty is as much like him as
you are like me."
He insisted, and his brother, who witnessed our argument, wished to know
the reason. When he understood, he said to Monsieur: "Madame de
Montespan is right; I am not in the least like that Roman prince in face.
The one to whom I should wish to be like in merit is Trajan."
"Trajan had fine qualities," replied Monsieur; "that does not prevent me
from preferring Marcus Aurelius."
"On what grounds?" asked his Majesty.
"On the grounds that he shared his throne with Verus," replied Monsieur,
The King flushed at this reply, and answered in few words: "Marcus
Aurelius's action to his brother may, be called generous; it was none the
less inconsiderate. By his own confession, the Emperor Verus proved, by
his debauchery and his vices, unworthy, of the honour which had been done
him. Happily, he died from his excesses during the Pannonian War, and
Marcus Aurelius could only do well from that day on."
Monsieur, annoyed with his erudition and confused at his escapade, sought
to change the conversation. The King, passing into his cabinet, left him
entirely, in my charge. I scolded him for his inconsequences, and he
dared to implore me to put his daughter "in the right way," to become one
day Queen of France by marrying Monsieur le Dauphin, whom she loved
already with her whole heart.
The Benedictines of Fontevrault.--The Head in the Basin.--The Unfortunate
Delivery.--The Baptism of the Monster.--The Courageous
Marriage.--Foundation of the Royal Abbey of Fontevrault.
Two or three days after our arrival at Fontevrault, the King, who loves
to know all the geographical details of important places, asked me of the
form and particulars of the celebrated abbey. I gave him a natural
description of it.
"They are two vast communities," I told him, "which the founder, for some
inexplicable whim, united in one domain, of an extent which astonishes
The Community of Benedictine Nuns is regarded as the first, because of
the abbotorial dignity it possesses. The Community of Benedictine Monks
is only second,--a fact which surprises greatly strangers and visitors.
Both in the monastery and the convent the buildings are huge and
magnificent, the courts spacious, the woods and streams well distributed
and well kept.
"Every morning you may see a hundred and fifty to two hundred ploughs
issue from both establishments; these spread over the plain and till an
immense expanse of land. Carts drawn by bullocks, big mules, or superb
horses are ceaselessly exporting the products of the fields, the meadows,
or the orchards. Innumerable cows cover the pastures, and legions of
women and herds are employed to look after these estates.
"The aspect of Fontevrault gives an exact idea of the ancient homes of
the Patriarchs, in their remote periods of early civilisation, which saw
the great proprietors delighting in their natal hearth, and finding their
glory, as well as their happiness, in fertilising or assisting nature.
"The abbess rules like a sovereign over her companion nuns, and over the
monks, her neighbours. She appoints their officers and their temporal
prince. It is she who admits postulants, who fixes the dates of
ordinations, pronounces interdictions, graces, and penances. They render
her an account of their administration and the employment of their
revenues, from which she subtracts carefully her third share, as the
essential right of her crosier of authority."
"Have you invited the Benedictine Fathers to your fete in the wood?" the
King asked me, smiling.
"We had no power, Sire," I answered. "There are many young ladies being
educated with the nuns of Fontevrault. The parents of these young ladies
respectful as they are to these monks, would have looked askance at the
innovation. The Fathers never go in there. They are to be seen at the
abbey church, where they sing and say their offices. Only the three
secular chaplains of the abbess penetrate into the house of the nuns; the
youngest of the three cannot be less than fifty.
"The night of the feast the monks draw near our cloister by means of a
wooden theatre, which forms a terrace, and from this elevation they
participate by the eye and ear in our amusements; that is enough."
"Has Madame de Mortemart ever related to you the origin of her abbey?"
resumed the King. "Perhaps she is ignorant of it. I am going to tell
you of it, for it is extremely curious; it is not as it is related in the
books, and I take the facts from good authority. You must hear of it,
and you will see.
"There was once a Comtesse de Poitiers, named Honorinde, to whom fate had
given for a husband the greatest hunter in the world. This man would
have willingly passed his life in the woods, where he hunted, night and
day, what we call, in hunter's parlance, 'big game.' Having won the
victory over a monstrous boar, he cut off the head himself, and this
quivering and bleeding mask he went to offer to his lady in a basin. The
young woman was in the first month of her pregnancy. She was filled with
repugnance and fright at the sight of this still-threatening head; it
troubled her to the prejudice of her fruit.
"Eight, or seven and a half, months afterwards, she brought into the
world a girl who was human in her whole body, but above had the horrible
head of a wild boar! Imagine what cries, what grief, what despair! The
cure of the place refused baptism, and the Count, broken down and
desolate, ordered the child to be drowned.
"Instead of throwing it into the water, his servant scrupulously went
straight to the monastery where your sister rules. He laid down his
closed packet in the church of the monks, and then returned to his lord,
who never had any other child.
"The religious Benedictines, not knowing whence this monster came,
believed there was some prodigy in it. They baptised in this little
person all that was not boar, and left the surplus to Providence. They
brought up the singular creature in the greatest secrecy; it drank and
lapped after the manner of its kind. As it grew up it walked on its
feet, and that without the least imperfection; it could sit down, go on
its knees, and even make a courtesy. But it never articulated any
distinct words, and it had always a harsh and rough voice which howled
and grunted. Its intelligence never reached the knowledge of reading or
writing; but it understood easily all that could be said to it, and the
proof was that it replied by its actions.
"The Comte de Poitiers having died whilst hunting, Honorinde learnt of
her old serving-man in what refuge, in what asylum, he had long ago
deposited the little one. This good mother proceeded there, and the
monks, after some hesitation, confessed what had become of it. She
wished to see it; they showed it her. At its aspect she felt the same
inward commotion which had, years before, perverted nature. She groaned,
fainted, burst into tears, and never had the courage and firmness to
embrace what she had seen.
"Her gratitude was not less lively and sincere; she handed a considerable
sum to the Benedictines of Fontevrault, charging them to continue their
good work and charity.
"The reverend Prior, reflecting that his hideous inmate came of a great
family, and of a family of great property, resolved to procure it as a
wife for his nephew. He sounded the young man, who looked fixedly at his
future bride, and avowed that he was satisfied.
"She is a good Christian," he replied to his uncle, since you have
baptised her here. She is of a good family, since Honorinde has
recognised her. There are many as ugly as she is to be seen who still
find husbands. I will put a pretty mask on her, and the mask will give
me sufficient illusion. Benedicte, so far as she goes, is well-made; I
hope to have fine children who will talk.
"The Prior commenced by marrying them; he then confided in Honorinde,
who, not daring to noise abroad this existence, was compelled to submit
to what had been done.
"The marriage of the young she-monster was not happy. She bit her
husband from morning to night. She did not know how to sit at table, and
would only eat out of a trough. She needed neither an armchair, a sofa,
nor a couch; she stretched herself out on the sand or on the pavement.
"Her husband, in despair, demanded the nullification of his marriage; and
as the courts did not proceed fast enough for his impatience, he killed
his companion, Benedicte, with a pistol-shot, at the moment when she was
biting and tearing him before witnesses.
"Honorinde had her buried at Fontevrault, and over her tomb, at the end
of the year, she built a convent, to which her immense property was
given, where she retired herself as a simple nun, and of which she was
appointed first abbess by the Pope who reigned at the time.
"There, madame," added the King, "is the somewhat singular origin of the
illustrious abbey which your sister rules with such eclat. You must have
remarked the boar's head, perfectly imitated in sculpture, in the dome;
that mask is the speaking history of the noble community of Fontevrault,
where more than a hundred Benedictine monks obey an abbess."
Fine Couples Make Fine Children.--The Dauphine of Bavaria.--She
Displeases Madame de Montespan.--First Debut Relating to Madame de
Maintenon, Appointed Lady-in-waiting.--Conversation between the Two
The King, in his moments of effusion and abandonment (then so full of
pleasantness), had said more than once: "If I have any physical beauty, I
owe it to the Queen, my mother; if my daughters have any beauty, they owe
it to me: it is only fine couples who get fine children."
When I saw him decided upon marrying Monseigneur le Dauphin, I reminded
him of his maxim. He fell to smiling, and answered me: "Chance, too,
sometimes works its miracles. My choice for my son is a decided thing;
my politics come before my taste, and I have asked for the daughter of
the Elector of Bavaria, whose portrait I will show you. She is not
beautiful, like you; she is prettier than Benedicte, and I hope that she
will not bite Monseigneur le Dauphin in her capricious transports."
The portrait that the King showed me was a flattering one, as are, in
general, all these preliminary samples. For all that, the Princess
seemed to me hideous, and even disagreeable, especially about her eyes,
that portion of the face which confirms the physiognomy and decides
"Monseigneur will never love that woman," I said to the King. "That
constrained look in the pupil, those drooping eyes,--they make my heart
"My son, happily," his Majesty answered, "is not so difficult as you and
I. He has already seen this likeness, and at the second look he was
taken; and as we have assured him that the young person is well made, he
cries quits with her face, and proposes to love her as soon as he gets
"God grant it!" I added; and the King told me, more or less in detail, of
what important personages he was going to compose his household. The
eternal Abbe Bossuet was to become first chaplain, as being the
tutor-in-chief to the Dauphin; the Duchesse de Richelieu, for her great
name, was going to be lady of honour; and the two posts of ladies in
waiting were destined for the Marquise de Rochefort, wife of the Marshal,
and for Madame de Maintenon, ex-governess of the Duc du Maine. The
gesture of disapproval which escaped me gave his Majesty pain.
"Why this air of contempt or aversion?" he said, changing colour. "Is it
to the Marechale de Rochefort or the Marquise de Maintenon that you
object? I esteem both the one and the other, and I am sorry for you if
you do not esteem them too."
"The Marechale de Rochefort," I replied, without taking any fright, "is
aged, and almost always sick; a lady of honour having her appearance will
make a contrast with her office. As to the other, she still has beauty
and elegance; but do you imagine, Sire, that the Court of Bavaria and the
Court of France have forgotten, in so short a time, the pleasant and
burlesque name of the poet Scarron?"
"Every one ought to forget what I have forgotten," replied the King, "and
what my gratitude will not, and cannot forget, I am surprised that you,
madame, should take pleasure in forgetting."
"She has taken care of my children since the cradle, I admit it with
pleasure," said I to his Majesty, without changing my tone; "you have
given her a marquisate for recompense, and a superb hotel completely
furnished at Versailles. I do not see that she has any cause for
complaint, nor that after such bounty there is more to add."
"Of eight children that you have brought into the world, madame, she has
reared and attended perfectly to six," replied the King. "The estate of
Maintenon has, at the most, recompensed the education of the Comtes de
Vegin, whose childhood was so onerous. And for the remainder of my
little family, what have I yet done that deserves mention?"
"Give her a second estate and money," I cried, quite out of patience,
"since it is money which pays all services of that nature; but what need
have you to raise her to great office, and keep her at Court? She dotes,
she says, on her old chateau of Maintenon; do not deprive her of this
delight. By making her lady in waiting, you would be disobliging her."
"She will accept out of courtesy," he said to me, putting on an air of
mockery. And as the time for the Council was noted by him on my clock,
he went away without adding more.
Since M. le Duc du Maine had grown up, and Mademoiselle de Nantes had
been confided to the Marquise de Montchevreuil, Madame de Maintenon
continued to occupy her handsome apartment on the Princes' Court. There
she received innumerable visits, she paid assiduous court to the Queen,
who had suddenly formed a taste for her, and took her on her walks and
her visits to the communities; but this new Marquise saw me rarely. Since
the affair of the vine-grower, killed on the road, she declared that I
had insulted her before everybody, and that I had ordered her imperiously
to return to my carriage, as though she had been a waiting-maid, or some
other menial. Her excessive sensibility readily afforded her this
pretext, so that she neglected and visibly overlooked me.
As she did not come to me, I betook myself to her at a tolerably early
hour, before the flood of visitors, and started her on the history of the
lady in waiting.
"His Majesty has spoken of it to me," she said, "as of a thing possible;
but I do not think there is anything settled yet in the matter."
"Will you accept," I asked her, "supposing the King to insist?"
"I should like a hundred times better," she replied, "to go and live in
independence in my little kingdom of Maintenon, and with my own hands
gather on my walls those velvet, brilliant peaches, which grow so fine in
those districts. But if the King commands me to remain at Court, and
form our young Bavarian Princess in the manners of this country, have I
the right, in good conscience, to refuse?"
"Your long services have gained you the right to desire and take your
retirement," I said to her; "in your place, I should insist upon the
necessities of my health. And the Court of France will not fall nor
change its physiognomy, even if a German or Iroquois Dauphine should
courtesy awry, or in bad taste."
Madame de Maintenon began to laugh, and assured me that "her post as lady
in waiting would be an actual burden, if the King had destined her for it
in spite of herself, and there should be no means of withdrawing from
At this speech I saw clearly that things were already fixed. Not wishing
to call upon me the reproaches of my lord, I carried the conversation no
The "Powder of Inheritance."--The Chambre Ardente.--The Comtesse de
Soissons's Arrest Decreed.--The Marquise de Montespan Buys Her
Superintendence of the Queen's Council.--Madame de Soubise.--Madame de
Maintenon and the King.
At the time of the poisonings committed by Madame de Brinvilliers, the
Government obtained evidence that a powder, called "the powder of
inheritance," was being sold in Paris, by means of which impatient heirs
shortened the days of unfortunate holders, and entered into possession
before their time.
Two obscure women, called La Vigoureuse and La Voisine, were arrested,
having been caught redhanded. Submitted to the question, they confessed
their crime, and mentioned several persons, whom they qualified as
"having bought and made use of the said powder of inheritance."
We saw suddenly the arrest of the Marechal de Luxembourg, the Princesse
de Tingry, and many others. The 'Chambre Ardente'--[The French Star
Chamber.]--issued a warrant also to seize the person of the Duchesse de
Bouillon and the Comtesse de Soissons, the celebrated nieces of the
Cardinal Mazarin, sisters-in-law, both, of my niece De Nevers, who was
dutifully afflicted thereby.
The Comtesse de Soissons had possessed hitherto an important office,
whose functions suited me in every respect,--that of the superintendence
of the Queen's household and council. I bought this post at a
considerable price. The Queen, who had never cared for the Countess, did
me the honour of assuring me that she preferred me to the other, when I
came to take my oath in her presence.
Madame la Princesse de Rohan-Soubise had wished to supplant me at that
time, and I was aware of her constant desire to obtain a fine post at
Court. She loved the King, who had shown her his favours in more than
one circumstance; but, as she had a place neither in his esteem nor in
his affection, I did not fear her. I despatched to her, very adroitly, a
person of her acquaintance, who spoke to her of the new household of a
Dauphine, and gave her the idea of soliciting for herself the place of
lady in waiting, destined for Madame de Maintenon.
The Princesse de Soubise put herself immediately amongst the candidates.
She wrote to the King, her friend, a pressing and affectionate letter, to
which he did not even reply. She wrote one next in a more majestic and
appropriate style. It was notified to her that she was forbidden to
reappear at Court.
The prince had resolutely taken his course. He wished to put Madame de
Maintenon in evidence, and what he has once decided he abandons never.
I was soon aware that costumes of an unheard-of magnificence were being
executed for the Marquise. Gold, silver, precious stones abounded. I was
offered a secret view of her robe of ceremony, with a long mantle train.
I saw this extraordinarily rich garment, and was sorry in advance for the
young stranger, whose lady in waiting could not fail to eclipse her in
I then put some questions to myself,--asked myself severely if my
disapproval sprang from natural haughtiness, which would have been
possible, and even excusable, or whether, mingled with all that, was some
little agitation of jealousy and emulation.
I collected together a crowd of slight and scattered circumstances; and
in this union of several small facts, at first neglected and almost
unperceived, I distinguished on the part of the King a gradual and
increasing attachment for the governess, and at the same time a
negligence in regard to me,--a coldness, a cooling-down, at least, and
that sort of familiarity, close parent of weariness, which comes to sight
in the midst of courtesies and attentions the most satisfying and the
The King, in the old days, never glanced towards my clock till as late as
possible, and always at the last moment, at the last extremity. Now he
cast his eyes on it a score of times in half an hour. He contradicted me
about trifles. He explained to me ingeniously the faults, or alleged
faults, of my temper and character. If it was a question of Madame de
Maintenon, she was of a birth equal and almost superior to the rest of
the Court. He forgot himself so far as to quote before me the subtilty
of her answers or the delight of her most intimate conversation. Did he
wish to describe a noble carriage, an attitude at once easy and
distinguished, it was Madame de Maintenon's. She possessed this, she
possessed that, she possessed everything.
Soon there was not the slightest doubt left to me; and I knew, as did the
whole Court, that he openly visited the Marquise, and was glad to pass
some moments there.
These things, in truth, never lacked some plausible pretext, and he chose
the time when Madame de Montchevreuil and Mademoiselle de Nantes were
presenting their homages to Madame de Maintenon.
Marie Louise, Daughter of Henrietta of England, Betrothed to the King of
Spain.--Her Affliction.--Jealousy of the King, Her Husband.
The unfortunate lady, Henrietta of England, had left, at her death, two
extremely young girls, one of them, indeed, being still in the cradle.
The new Madame was seized with good-will for these two orphans to such an
extent as to complain to the King. They were brought up with the
greatest care; they were, both of them, pretty and charming.
The elder was named Marie Louise. It was this one whom Monsieur destined
in his own mind for Monseigneur le Dauphin; and the Princess, accustomed
early to this prospect, had insensibly adapted to it her mind and hope.
Young, beautiful, agreeable, and charming as her mother, she created
already the keenest sensation at Court, and the King felt an inclination
to cherish her as much as he had loved Madame. But the excessive freedom
which this alliance would not have failed to give his brother, both with
his son-in-law and nephew, and with the Ministry, prevented his Majesty
from giving way to this penchunt for Marie Louise. On the contrary, he
consented to her marriage with the King of Spain, and the news of it was
accordingly carried to Monsieur le Duc d'Orleans. He and his wife felt
much annoyance at it. But after communications of that kind there was
scarcely any course open to be taken than that of acquiescence. Monsieur
conveyed the news to his beloved daughter, and, on hearing that she was
to be made Queen of Spain, this amiable child uttered loud lamentations.
When she went to Versailles to thank the King, her uncle, her fine eyes
were still suffused with tears. The few words which she uttered were
mingled with sighing and weeping; and when she saw the indifference of
her cousin, who felicitated her like the rest, she almost fainted with
grief and regret.
"My dear cousin," said this dull-witted young lord, "I shall count the
hours until you go to Spain. You will send me some 'touru', for I am
very fond of it?"
The King could not but find this reflection of his son very silly and out
of place. But intelligence is neither to be given nor communicated by
example. His Majesty had to support to the end this son, legitimate as
much as you like, but altogether in degree, and with a person which
formed a perpetual contrast with the person of the King. It was my Duc
du Maine who should have been in the eminent position of Monseigneur.
Nature willed it so. She had proved it sufficiently by lavishing all her
favours on him, all her graces; but the laws of convention and usage
would not have it. His Majesty has made this same reflection, groaning,
more than once.
Marie Louise, having been married by proxy, in the great Chapel of Saint
Germain, where the Cardinal de Bouillon blessed the ring in his quality
of Grand Almoner of France, left for that Spain which her young heart
Her beauty and charms rendered her precious to the monarch, utterly
melancholy and devout as he was. He did not delay subjecting her to the
wretched, petty, tiresome, and absurd etiquette of that Gothic Court.
Mademoiselle submitted to all these nothings, seeing she had been able to
submit to separation from France. She condemned herself to the most
fastidious observances and the most sore privations, which did not much
ameliorate her lot.
A young Castilian lord, almost mad himself, thought fit to find this
Queen pretty, and publicly testify his love for her. The jealousy of the
religious King flared up like a funeral torch. He conceived a hatred of
his wife, reserved and innocent though she was. She died cruelly by
poison. And Monseigneur le Dauphin probably cried, after his manner:
"What a great pity! She won't send me the touru!"
The Dauphine of Bavaria.--The Confessor with Spurs.--Madame de Maintenon
Disputes with Bossuet.--He Opposes to Her Past Ages and History.--The
Eight months after the wedding of Marie Louise, we witnessed the arrival
of Anne Marie Christine, Princess of Bavaria, daughter of the Elector
Ferdinand. The King and Monseigneur went to receive her at
Vitry-le-Francais, and then escorted her to Chalons, where the Queen was
The Cardinal de Bouillon celebrated the marriage in the cathedral church
of this third-class town. The festivities and jubilations there lasted a
The King had been very willing to charge me with the arrangement of the
baskets of presents destined for the Dauphine; I acquitted myself of this
commission with French taste and a sentiment of what was proper. When
the Queen saw all these magnificent gifts placed and spread out in a
gallery, she cried out, and said:
"Things were not done so nobly for me; and yet, I can say without vanity,
I was of a better house than she."
This remark paints the Queen, Maria Theresa, better than anything which
could be said. Can one wonder, after that, that she should have brought
into the world an hereditary prince who so keenly loves 'touru', and asks
Madame de Maintenon and M. Bossuet had gone to receive the Princess of
Schelestadt. When she was on her husband's territory, and it was
necessary, to confess her for the sacrament of matrimony, she was
strangely embarrassed. They had not remembered to bring a chaplain of
her own nation for her; and she could not confess except in the German
Madame de Maintenon, who is skilled in all matters of religion, said to
the prelate: "I really think, monsieur, that, having educated Monsieur le
Dauphin, you ought to know a little German,--you who have composed the
treatise on universal history."
The Bishop of Meaux excused himself, saying that he knew Greek, Syriac,
and even Hebrew; but that, through a fatality, he was ignorant of the
German language. A trumpeter was then sent out to ask if there was not
in the country a Catholic priest who was a German, or acquainted with the
German tongue. Luckily one was found, and Madame de Maintenon, who is
very, pedantic, even in the matter of toilet and ornaments, trembled with
joy and thanked God for it. But what was her astonishment when they came
to bring her the priest! He was in coloured clothes, a silk doublet,
flowing peruke, and boots and spurs. The lady in waiting rated him
severely, and was tempted to send him back. But Bossuet--a far greater
casuist than she--decided that in these urgent cases one need hold much
less to forms. They were contented with taking away the spurs from this
amphibious personage; they pushed him into a confessional,--the curtain
of which he was careful to draw before himself,--and they brought the
Bavarian Princess, who, not knowing the circumstances, confessed the sins
of her whole life to this sort of soldier.
Madame de Maintenon always had this general confession on her conscience;
she scolded Bossuet for it as a sort of sacrilege, and the latter, who
was only difficult and particular with simple folk, quoted historical
examples in which soldiers, on the eve of battle, had confessed to their
"Yes," said the King, on hearing these quotations from the imperturbable
man; "that must have been to the Bishop of Puy or the Bishop of Orange,
who, in effect, donned the shield and cuirass at the time of the crusades
against the Saracens; or perhaps, again, to the Cardinal de la Valette
d'Epernon, who commanded our armies under Richelieu successfully."
"No, Sire," replied the Bishop; "to generals who were simply soldiers."
"But," said the King, "were the confessions, then, null?"
"Sire," added the Bishop of Meaux, "circumstances decide everything. Of
old, in the time of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and much later still,
confessions of Christians were public,--made in a loud voice; sometimes a
number together, and always in the open air. Those of soldiers that I
have quoted to madame were somewhat of the kind of these confessions of
the primitive Church; and to-day, still, at the moment when battle is
announced, a military almoner gives the signal for confession. The
regiments confess on their knees before the Most High, who hears them;
and the almoner, raised aloft on a pile of drums, holds the crucifix in
one hand, and with the other gives the general absolution to eighty
thousand soldiers at once."
This clear and precise explanation somewhat calmed Madame de Maintenon,
and Madame la Dauphine,--displeased at what she had done on arriving,--in
order to be regular, learned to confess in French.
Pere de la Chaise.--The Jesuits.--The Pavilion of Belleville.--The
Pere de la Chaise has never done me good or ill; I have no motives for
conciliating him, no reason to slander him. I am ignorant if he were the
least in the world concerned, at the epoch of the Grand Jubilee, with
those ecclesiastical attempts of which Bossuet had constituted himself
spokesman. Pere de la Chaise has in his favour a great evenness of
temper and character; an excellent tone, which comes to him from his
birth; a conciliatory philosophy, which renders him always master of his
condition and of his metier. He is, in a single individual, the happy
combination of several men, that is to say, he is by turns, and as it may
be needful, a man indulgent or severe in his preaching; a man of
abstinence, or a good feeder; a man of the world, or a cenobite; a man of
his breviary, or a courtier. He knows that the sins of woodcutters and
the sins of kings are not of the same family, and that copper and gold
are not weighed in the same scales.
He is a Jesuit by his garb; he is much more so than they are by his
'savoir-vivre'. His companions love the King because he is the King; he
loves him, and pities him because he sees his weakness. He shows for his
penitent the circumspection and tenderness of a father, and in the long
run he has made of him a spoiled child.
This Pere de la Chaise fell suddenly ill, and with symptoms so alarming
that the cabals each wished to appropriate this essential post of
The Jansenists would have been quite willing to lay hold of it. The
Jesuits, and principally the cordons bleus, did not quit the pillow of
the sick man for an instant.
The King had himself informed of his condition every half-hour. There
was a bulletin, as there is for potentates. One evening, when the
doctors were grave on his account, I saw anxiety and affliction painted
on the visage of his Majesty.
"Where shall I find his like?" said he to me. "Where shall I find such
knowledge, such indulgence, such kindness? The Pere de la Chaise knew
the bottom of my heart; he knew, as an intelligent man, how to reconcile
religion with nature; and when duty brings me to the foot of his
tribunal, as a humble Christian, he never forgets that royalty, cannot be
long on its knees, and he accompanies with his attentions and with
deference the religious commands which he is bound to impose on me."
"I hope that God will preserve him to you," I replied to his Majesty;
"but let us suppose the case in which this useful and precious man should
see his career come to an end; will you grant still this mark of
confidence and favour to the Jesuits? All the French being your
subjects, would it not be fitting to grant this distinction sometimes to
the one and sometimes to the other? You would, perhaps, extinguish by
this that hate or animosity by which the Jesuits see themselves assailed,
which your preference draws upon them."
"I do not love the Jesuits with that affection that you seem to suggest,"
replied the monarch. "I look upon them as men of instruction, as a
learned and well-governed corporation; but as for their attachment for
me, I know how to estimate it. This kind of people, strangers to the
soft emotions of nature, have no affection or love for anything. Before
the triumph of the King my grandfather, they intrigued and exerted
themselves to bring about his fall; he opened the gates of Paris, and the
Jesuits, like the Capuchins, at once recognised him and bowed down before
him. King Henri, who knew what men are, pretended to forget the past; he
pronounced himself decidedly in favour of the Jesuits because this body
of teachers, numerous, rich, and of good credit, had just pronounced
itself in favour of him.
"It was, then, a reconciliation between power and power, and the politics
of my grandfather were to survive him and become mine, since the same
elements exist and I am encamped on the same ground. If God takes away
from me my poor Pere de la Chaise, I shall feel this misfortune deeply,
because I shall lose in him, not a Jesuit, not a priest, but a good
companion, a trusty and proved friend. If I lose him, I shall assuredly
be inconsolable for him; but it will be very necessary for me to take his
successor from the Grand Monastery of the Rue Saint Antoine. This
community knows me by heart, and I do not like innovations."
The successor of the Pere de la Chaise was already settled with the
Jesuit Fathers; but this man of the vanguard was spared marching and
meeting danger. The Court was not condemned to see and salute a new
face; the old confessor recovered his health. His Majesty experienced a
veritable joy at it, a joy as real as if the Prince of Orange had died.
Wishing to prove to the good convalescent how dear his preservation was
to him, the King released him from his function for the rest of the year,
and begged him to watch over his health, the most important of his duties
and his possessions.
Having learnt that they had neither terraces nor gardens at the grand
monastery of the Rue Saint Antoine, his Majesty made a present to his
confessor of a very agreeable house in the district of Belleville, and
caused to be transported thither all kinds of orange-trees, rare shrubs,
and flowers from Versailles. These tasteful attentions, these filial
cares, diverted the capital somewhat; but Paris is a rich soil, where the
strangest things are easily received and naturalised without an effort.
The Pare de la Chaise had his chariot with his arms on it, and his family
livery; and as the income from his benefices remained to him, joined to
his office of confessor, he continued to have every day a numerous court
of young abbes, priests well on in years, barons, countesses, marquises,
magistrates and colonels, who came to Belleville in anxiety about his
health, to congratulate themselves upon his convalescence, to ask of him,
with submission and reverence, a bishopric, an archbishopric, a
cardinal's hat, an important priory, a canonry, or an abbey.
Having myself to place the three daughters of one of my relatives, I went
to see the noble confessor at his pavilion of Belleville. He received me
with the most marked distinction, and was lavish in acts of gratitude for
all the benefits of the King.
As he crossed his salon, in order to accompany me and escort me out, he
let his white handkerchief fall; three bishops at once flung themselves
upon it, and there was a struggle as to who should pick it up to give it
back to him.
I related to the King what I had seen. He said to me: "These prelates
honour my confessor, looking upon him as a second me." In fact, the sins
of the King could only throw his confessor into relief and add to his
Mademoiselle de Fontanges.--The Pavilions of the Garden of Flora.--Rapid
Triumph of the Favourite.--Her Retreat to Val-de-grace.--Her Death.
Madame de Maintenon was already forty-four years old, and appeared to be
only thirty. This freshness, that she owed either to painstaking care or
to her happy and quite peculiar constitution, gave her that air of youth
which fascinated the eyes of the courtiers and those of the monarch
himself. I wished one day to annoy her by bringing the conversation on
this subject, which could not be diverting to her. I began by putting
the question generally, and I then named several of our superannuated
beauties who still fluttered in the smiling gardens of Flora without
having the youth of butterflies.
"There are butterflies of every age and colour in the gardens of Flora,"
said she, catching the ball on the rebound. "There are presumptuous
ones, whom the first breath of the zephyr despoils of their plumage and
discolours; others, more reserved and less frivolous, keep their glamour
and prestige for a much longer time. For the rest, the latter seem to me
to rejoice without being vain in their advantages. And at bottom, what
should any insect gain by being proud?"
"Very little," I answered her, "since being dressed as a butterfly does
not prevent one from being an insect, and the best sustained preservation
lasts at most till the day after to-morrow."
The King entered. I started speaking of a young person, extremely
beautiful, who had just appeared at Court, and would eclipse, in my
opinion, all who had shone there before her.
"What do you call her?" asked his Majesty. "To what family does she
"She comes from the provinces," I continued, "just like silk, silver, and
gold. Her parents desire to place her among the maids of honour of the
Queen. Her name is Fontanges, and God has never made anything so
As I said these words I watched the face of the Marquise. She listened
to this portrayal with attention, but without appearing moved by it, such
is her power of suppressing her natural feeling. The King only added
"This young person needs be quite extraordinary, since Madame de
Montespan praises her, and praises her with so much vivacity. However,
we shall see."
Two days afterwards, Mademoiselle de Fontanges was seen in the salon of
the grand table. The King, in spite of his composure, had looks and
attentions for no one else.
This excessive preoccupation struck the Queen, who, marking the
blandishments of the young coquette and the King's response, guessed the
whole future of this encounter; and in her heart was almost glad at it,
seeing that my turn had come.
Mademoiselle de Fontanges, given to the King by her shameless family,
feigned love and passion for the monarch, as though he had returned by
enchantment to his twentieth year.
As for him, he too appeared to us to forget all dates. I know that he
was only now forty-one years old, and having been the finest man in the
world, he could not but preserve agreeable vestiges of a once striking
beauty. But his young conquest had hardly entered on her eighteenth
year, and this difference could not fail to be plain to the most
inattentive, or most indulgent eyes.
The King, with a sort of anticipatory resignation, had for six or seven
years greatly simplified his appearance. We had seen him, little by
little, reform that Spanish and chivalric costume with which he once
embellished his first loves. The flowing plumes no longer floated over
his forehead, which had become pensive and quite serious. The diagonal,
scarf was suppressed, and the long boots, with gold and silver
embroidery, were no longer seen. To please his new divinity, the monarch
suddenly enough rejuvenated his attire. The most elegant stuffs became
the substance of his garments; feathers reappeared. He joined to them
emeralds and diamonds.
Allegorical comedies, concerts on the waters recommenced. Triumphant
horse-races set the whole Court abob and in movement. There was a fresh
carousal; there was all that resembles the enthusiasms of youthful
affection, and the deliriums of youth. The youth alone was not there, at
least in proportion, assortment, and similarity.
All that I was soliciting for twelve years, Mademoiselle de Fontanges had
only to desire for a week. She was created duchess at her debut; and the
lozenge of her escutcheon was of a sudden adorned with a ducal coronet,
and a peer's mantle.
I did not deign to pay attention to this outrage; at least, I made a
formal resolution never to say a single word on it.
The King came no less from time to time, to pay me a visit, and to talk
to me, as of old, of operas and his hunting. I endured his conversation
with a philosophical phlegm. He scarcely suspected the change in me.
At the chase, one day, his nymph, whom nothing could stop, had her knot
of riband caught and held by a branch; the royal lover compelled the
branch to restore the knot, and went and offered it to his Amazon.
Singular and sparkling, although lacking in intelligence, she carried
herself this knot of riband to the top of her hair, and fixed it there
with a long pin.
Fortune willed it that this coiffure, without order or arrangement,
suited her face, and suited it greatly. The King was the first to
congratulate her on it; all the courtiers applauded it, and this coiffure
of the chase became the fashion of the day.
All the ladies, and the Queen herself, found themselves obliged to adopt
it. Madame de Maintenon submitted herself to it, like the others. I
alone refused to sacrifice to the idol, and my knee, being once more
painful, would not bend before Baal.
With the exception of the general duties of the sovereignty, the prince
appeared to have forgotten everything for his flame. The Pere de la
Chaise, who had returned to his post, regarded this fresh incident with
his philosophic calm, and congratulated himself on seeing the monarch
healed of at least one of his passions.
I had always taken the greatest care to respect the Queen; and since my
star condemned me to stand in her shoes, I did not spare myself the
general attentions which two well-born people owe one another, and which,
at least, prove a lofty education.
The Duchesse de Fontanges, doubtless, believed herself Queen, because she
had the public homage and the King. This imprudent and conceited
schoolgirl had the face to pass before her sovereign without stopping,
and without troubling to courtesy.
The Infanta reddened with disapproval, and persuaded herself, by way of
consolation, that Fontanges had lost her senses or was on the road to
Beautiful and brilliant as the flowers, the Duchess, like them, passed
swiftly away. Her pregnancy, by reason of toilsome rides, hunting
parties, and other agitations, became complicated. From the eighth month
she fell into a fever, into exhaustion and languor. The terror that took
possession of her imagination caused her to desire a sojourn in a convent
as a refuge of health, where God would see her nearer and, perhaps, come
to her aid.
She had herself transported during the night to the House of the Ladies
of Val-de-Grace, and desired that they should place in her chamber
several relics from their altars.
Her confinement was not less laboured and sinister. When she saw that
all the assistance of art could not stop the bleeding, with which her
deep bed was flooded, she caused the King to be summoned, embraced him
tenderly, in the midst of sobs and tears, and died in the night,
pronouncing the name of God and the name of the King, the objects of her
love and of fears.
Madame de Sevigne.--Madame de Grignan.--Madame de Montespan at the
Carmelites.--Madame de la Valliere.--These Two Great Ruins Console One
Another.--An Angel of Sweetness, Goodness, and Kindness.
Fifteen or twenty days before the death of Mademoiselle de Fontanges, my
sister and I were taking a walk in the new woods of Versailles. We met
the Marquise de Sevigne near the canal; she was showing these marvellous
constructions to her daughter, the Comtesse de Grignan. They greeted us
with their charming amiability, and, after having spoken of several
indifferent matters, the Marquise said to me: "We saw, five or six days
ago, a person, madame, of whom you were formerly very fond, and who
charged us to recall her to the memory of her friends. You are still of
that number,--I like to think so, and our commission holds good where you
are concerned, if you will allow it."
Then she mentioned to me that poor Duchesse de la Valliere, to whom I was
once compelled by my unhappy star to give umbrage, and whom, in my fatal
thoughtlessness, I had afflicted without desiring it.
Tears came into my eyes; Madame de Sevigne saw them, and expressed her
regret at having caused me pain. Madame de Thianges and I asked her if
my old friend was much changed. She and Madame de Grignan assured us
that she was fresh, in good health, and that her face appeared more
beautiful. On the next day I wished absolutely to see her, and drove to
On seeing my pretty cripple, who hobbled among us with so great a charm,
I uttered a cry, which for a moment troubled her. She sank down to
salute the crucifix, as custom demands, and, after her short prayer, she
came to me. "I did not mention your name to Mesdames de Sevigne," said
she; "but, however, I am obliged to them, since they have been able to
procure me the pleasure of seeing you once more."
"The general opinion of the Court, and in the world, my dear Duchess,"
answered I, "is that I brought about your disgrace myself; and the
public, that loved you, has not ceased to reproach me with your
"The public is very kind still to occupy itself with me," she answered;
"but it is wrong in that, as in so many other matters. My retirement
from the world is not a misfortune, and I never suspected that the soul
could find such peace and satisfaction in these silent solitudes.
"The first days were painful to me, I admit it, owing to the
inexpressible difference which struck me between what I found here and
what I had left elsewhere. But just as the eye accustoms itself, little
by little, to the feeble glimmer of a vault, in the same way my body has
accustomed itself to the roughness of my new existence, and my heart to
all its great privations.
"If life had not to finish, in fulfilment of a solemn, universal, and
inevitable decree, the constraint that I have put upon myself might at
length become oppressive, and my yoke prove somewhat heavy. But all that
will finish soon, for all undertakings come to an end. I left you young,
beautiful, adored, and triumphant in the land of enchantments. But six
years have passed, and they assure me that your own afflictions have
come, and that you, yourself, have been forced to drink the bitter cup of
At these words, pronounced in a melancholy and celestial voice, I felt as
though my heart were broken, and burst into tears.
"I pity you, Athenais," she resumed. "Is, then, what I have been told
lightly, and almost in haste, only too certain for you? How is it you
did not expect it? How could you believe him constant and immutable,
after what happened to me?
"To-day, I make no secret to you of it, and I say it with the peaceful
indifference which God has generously granted me, after such dolorous
tribulations. I make no secret of it to you, Athenais; a thousand times
you plunged the sword and dagger into my heart, when, profiting by my
confidence in you, by my sense of entire security, you permitted your own
inclination to substitute itself for mine, and a young man seething with
desires to be attracted by your charms. These unlimited sufferings
exhausted, I must believe, all the sensibility of my soul. And when this
corrosive flame had completely devoured my grief, a new existence grew up
in me; I no longer saw in the father of my children other than a young
prince, accustomed to see his dominating will fulfilled in everything.
Knowing how little in this matter he is master of himself, he who knows
so well how to be master of himself in everything to do with his numerous
inferiors, I deplored the facility he enjoys from his attractions, from
his wealth, from his power to dazzle the hearts which he desires to move
"Recognise these truths, my dear Marquise," she added, "and gain, for it
is time, a just idea of your position. After the unhappiness I felt at
being loved no longer, I should have quitted the Court that very instant,
if I had been permitted to bring up and tend my poor children. They were
too young to abandon! I stayed still in the midst of you, as the swallow
hovers and flits among the smoke of the fire, in order to watch over and
save her little ones. Do not wait till disdain or authority mingles in
the matter. Do not come to the sad necessity of resisting a monarch, and
of detesting to the point of scandal that which you have so publicly
loved; pity him, but depart. This kind of intimacy, once broken, cannot
be renewed. However skilfully it may be patched up, the rent always
"My good Louise," I replied to the amiable Carmelite, "your wise counsels
touch me, persuade me, and are nothing but the truth. But in listening
to you I feel overwhelmed; and that strength which you knew how to gain,
and show to the world, your former companion will never possess.
"I see with astonished eyes the supernatural calm which reigns in your
countenance; your health seems to me a prodigy, your beauty was never so
ravishing; but this barbarous garb pierces me to the heart.
"The King does not yet hate me; he shows me even a remnant of respect,
with which he would colour his indifference. Permit me to ask from him
for you an abbey like that of Fontevrault, where the felicities of
sanctuary and of the world are all in the power of my sister. He will
ask nothing better than to take you out, be assured."
"Speak to him of me," answered Louise; "I do not oppose that; but leave
me until the end the role of obedience and humility that his fault and
mine impose on me. Why should he wish that I should command others,--I
who did not know how to command myself at an epoch when my innocence was
so dear to me, and when I knew that, in losing that, one is lost?"
As she said these words two nuns came to announce her Serene Highness,
that is to say, her daughter, the Princesse de Conti. I prayed Madame de
la Valliere to keep between ourselves the communications that had just
taken place in the intimacy of confidence. She promised me with her
usual candour. I made a profound reverence to the daughter, embraced the
mother weeping, and regained my carriage, which the Princess must have
remarked on entering.
Reflections.--The Future.--The Refuge of Foresight.--Community of Saint
Joseph.--Wicked Saying of Bossuet.
I wept much during the journey; and to save the spectacle of my grief
from the passers-by, I was at the pains to lower the curtains. I passed
over in my mind all that the Duchess had said to me. It was very easy
for me to understand that the monarch's heart had escaped me, and that,
owing to his character, all resistance, all contradiction would be vain.
The figure, as it had been supernumerary and on sufferance, which the
Duchess had made in the midst of the Court when she ceased to be loved,
returned to my memory completely, and I felt I had not the courage to
drink a similar cup of humiliation.
I reminded myself of what the prince had told me several times in those
days when his keen affection for me led him to wish for my happiness,
even in the future,--even after his death, if I were destined to survive
"You ought," he said to me, at those moments, "you ought to choose and
assure yourself beforehand of an honourable retreat; for it is rarely
that a king accords his respect or his good-will to the beloved
confidante of his predecessor."
Not wishing to ask a refuge of any one, but, on the contrary, being
greatly set upon ruling in my own house, I resolved to build myself, not
a formal convent like Val-de-Grace or Fontevrault, but a pretty little
community, whose nuns, few in number, would owe me their entire
existence, which would necessarily attach them to all my interests. I
held to this idea. I charged my intendant to seek for me a site spacious
enough for my enterprise; and when he had found it, had showed it to me,
and had satisfied me with it, I had what rambling buildings there were
pulled down, and began, with a sort of joy, the excavations and
The first blow of the hammer was struck, by some inconceivable fortuity,
at the moment when the Duchesse de Fontanges expired. Her death did not
weaken my resolutions nor slacken my ardour. I got away quite often to
cast an eye over the work, and ordered my architect to second my
impatience and spur on the numerous workmen.
The rumour was current in Paris that the example of "Soeur Louise" had
touched me, and that I was going to take the veil in my convent. I took
no notice of this fickle public, and persisted wisely in my plan.
The unexpected and almost sudden decease of Mademoiselle de Fontanges had
singularly moved the King. Extraordinary and almost incredible to
relate, he was for a whole week absent from the Council. His eyes had
shed so many tears that they were swollen and unrecognisable. He shunned
the occasions when there was an assembly, buried himself in his private
apartments or in his groves, and resembled, in every trait, Orpheus
weeping for his fair Eurydice, and refusing to be consoled.
I should be false to others and to myself if I were to say that his
extreme grief excited my compassion; but I should equally belie the truth
if I gave it to be understood that his "widowhood" gave me pleasure, and
that I congratulated myself on his sorrow and bitterness.
He came to see me when he found himself presentable, and, for the first
few days, I abstained from all reprisal and any allusion. The
innumerable labours of his State soon threw him, in spite of himself,
into those manifold distractions which, in their nature, despise or
absorb the sensibilities of the soul. He resumed, little by little, his
accustomed serenity, and, at the end of the month, appeared to have got
"What," he asked me, "are those buildings with which you are busy in
Paris, opposite the Ladies of Belle-Chasse? I hear of a convent; is it
your intention to retire?"
"It is a 'refuge of foresight,'" I answered him. "Who can count upon the
morrow? And after what has befallen Mademoiselle de Fontanges, we must
consider ourselves as persons already numbered, who wait only for the
He sighed, and soon spoke of something else.
I reminded myself that, to speak correctly, I had in Paris no habitation
worthy of my children and of my quality. That little hotel in the Rue
Saint Andre-des-Arcs I could count for no more than a little box. I
sought amongst my papers for a design of a magnificent hotel which I had
obtained from the famous Blondel. I found it without difficulty, with
full elevations and sections. The artist had adroitly imitated in it the
beautiful architecture of the Louvre; this fair palace would suit me in
My architect, at a cursory glance, judged that the construction and
completion of this edifice would easily cost as much as eighteen hundred
thousand livres. This expense being no more than I could afford, I
commissioned him to choose me a spacious site for the buildings and
gardens over by Roule and La Pepiniere.
Not caring to superintend several undertakings at once, I desired, before
everything, that my house in the Faubourg Saint Germain should be
complete and when the building and the chapel were in a condition to
receive the little colony, I dedicated my "refuge of foresight" to Saint
Joseph, the respectful spouse of the Holy Virgin and foster-father of the
Child Jesus. This agreeable mansion lacked a large garden. I felt a
sensible regret for this, especially for the sake of my inmates; but
there was a little open space furnished with vines and fruit-walls, and
one of the largest courtyards in the whole of the Faubourg Saint Germain.
Having always loved society, I had multiplied in the two principal blocks
of the sleeping-rooms and the entrance-hall complete apartments for the
lady inmates. And a proof that I was neither detested by the world nor
unconsidered is that all these apartments were sought after and occupied
as soon as the windows were put in and the painting done. My own
apartment was simple, but of a majestic dignity. It communicated with
the chapel, where my tribune, closed with a handsome window, was in face
of the altar.
I decided, once for all, that the Superior should be my nomination whilst
God should leave me in this world, but that this right should not pass on
to my heirs. The bell of honour rang for twenty minutes every time I
paid a visit to these ladies; and I only had incense at high mass, and at
the Magnificat, in my quality of foundress.
I went from time to time to make retreats, or, to be more accurate,
vacations, in my House of Saint Joseph. M. Bossuet solicited the favour
of being allowed to preach there on the day of the solemn consecration. I
begged him to preserve himself for my funeral oration. He answered
cruelly that there was nothing he could refuse me.
The Court Travels in Picardy and Flanders.--The Boudoir Navy.--Madame de
Montespan Is Not Invited.--The King Relates to Her the Delights of the
Journey.--Reflections of the Marquise.
The King, consoled as he was for the death of the Duchesse de Fontanges,
did not, on that account, return to that sweet and agreeable intimacy
which had united us for the space of eleven or twelve years. He
approached me as one comes to see a person of one's acquaintance, and it
was more than obvious that his only bond with me was his children.
Being a man who loved pomp and show, he resolved upon a journey in
Flanders,--a journey destined to furnish him, as well as his Court, with
numerous and agreeable distractions, and to give fresh alarm to his
Those "Chambers of Reunion," as they were called, established at Metz and
at Brisach, competed with each other in despoiling roundly a host of
great proprietors, under the pretext that their possessions had formerly
belonged to Alsace, and that this Alsace had been ceded to us by the last
treaties. The Prince Palatine of the Rhine saw himself stripped, on this
occasion, of the greater part of the land which he had inherited from his
ancestors, and when he would present a memoir on this subject to the
ministers, M. de Croissy-Colbert answered politely that he was in despair
at being unable to decide the matter himself; but that the Chambers of
Metz and Brisach having been instituted to take cognisance of it, it was
before these solemn tribunals that he must proceed.
The Palatine lost, amongst other things, the entire county of Veldentz,
which was joined to the church of the Chapter of Verdun.
The King, followed by the Queen and all his Court,--by Monsieur le
Dauphin, Madame la Dauphine and the legitimate princes, whom their
households accompanied as well,--set out for Flanders in the month of
July. Madame de Maintenon, as lady in waiting, went on this journey; and
of me, superintendent of the Queen's Council, they did not even speak.
The first town at which this considerable Court stopped was at Boulogne,
in Picardy, the fortifications of which were being repaired. On the next
day the King went on horseback to visit the port of Ambleteuse; thence he
set out for Calais, following the line of the coast, while the ladies
took the same course more rapidly. He inspected the harbours and
diverted himself by taking a sail in a wherry. He then betook himself to
Dunkirk, where the Marquis de Seignelay--son of Colbert--had made ready a
very fine man-of-war with which to regale their Majesties. The Chevalier
de Ury, who commanded her, showed them all the handling of it, which was
for those ladies, and for the Court, a spectacle as pleasant as it was
novel. The whole crew was very smart, and the vessel magnificently
equipped. There was a sham fight, and then the vessel was boarded. The
King took as much pleasure in this sight as if Fontanges had been the
heroine of the fete, and our ladies, to please him, made their hands sore
in applauding. This naval fight terminated in a great feast, which left
nothing to be desired in the matter of sumptuousness and delicacy.
On the following day, there was a more formal fight between two frigates,
which had also been prepared for this amusement.
The King was in a galley as spectator; the Queen was in another. The
Chevalier de Lery took the helm of that of the King; the Capitaine de
Selingue steered that of the Queen. The sea was calm, and there was just
enough wind to set the two frigates in motion. They cannonaded one
another briskly for an hour, getting the weather gauge in turn; after
this, the combat came to an end, and they returned to the town to the
sound of instruments and the noise of cannon.
The King gave large bounties to the crew, as a token of his satisfaction.
The prince was on board his first vessel, when the Earl of Oxford, and
the Colonel, afterwards the Duke of Marlborough, despatched by the King
of England, came to pay him a visit of compliment on behalf of that
The Duke of Villa-Hermosa, Spanish Governor of the Low Countries, paid
him the same compliment in the name of his master.
Both parties were given audience on this magnificent vessel, where M. de
Seignelay had raised a sort of throne of immense height.
(All this time Mademoiselle de Fontanges lay in her coffin, recovering
from her confinement.)
From Dunkirk the Court moved to Ypres, visiting all the places on the
way, and arrived at Lille in Flanders on the 1st of August. From Lille,
where the diversions lasted five or six days, they moved to Valenciennes,
thence to Condo, meeting everywhere with the same honours, the same
tokens of gladness. They returned to Sedan by Le Quenoy, Bouchain,
Cambrai; and the end of the month of August found the Court once more at
I profited by this absence to go and breathe a little at my chateau of
Petit-Bourg, where I was accompanied by Mademoiselle de Blois, and the
young Comte de Toulouse; after which I betook myself to the mineral
waters of Bourbonne, for which I have a predilection.
On my return, the King related to me all these frivolous diversions of
frigates and vessels that I have just mentioned; but with as much fire as
if he had been but eighteen years old, and with the same cordiality as if
I might have taken part in amusements from which he had excluded me.
How is it that a clever man can forget the proprieties to such a degree,
and expose himself to the secret judgments which must be formed of him,
in spite of himself and however reluctantly?
The Duchesse d'Orleans.--The Duchesse de Richelieu.--An Epigram of Madame
de Maintenon.--An Epigram of the King to His Brother.
Madame la Dauphine brought into the world a son, christened Louis at the
font, to whom the King a few moments afterwards gave the title of the
Duke of Burgundy. We had become accustomed, little by little, to the
face of this Dauphine, who (thanks to the counsels and instruction of her
lady in waiting) adopted French manners promptly enough, succeeded in
doing her hair in a satisfactory manner, and in making an appearance
which met with general approval. Madame de Maintenon, for all her
politeness and forethought, never succeeded in pleasing her; and these
two women, obliged to see each other often from their relative positions,
suffered martyrdom when they met.
The King, who had noticed it, began by resenting it from his
daughter-in-law. The latter, proud and haughty, like all these petty
German royalties, thought herself too great a lady to give way.
Madame de Maintenon had, near the person of the young Bavarian, two
intermediaries of importance, who did not sing her praises from morn till
eve. The one was that Charlotte Elizabeth of Bavaria, whom I have
already described to the life, who, furious at her personal
monstrousness, could not as a rule forgive pretty women. The other was
the Duchesse de Richelieu, maid of honour to the Princess of Bavaria,
once the protector of Madame Scarron, and now her antagonist, probably
out of jealousy.
These two acid tongues had taken possession of the Dauphine,--a character
naturally prone to jealousy,--and they permitted themselves against the
lady in waiting all the mockery and all the depreciation that one can
permit oneself against the absent.
Insinuations and abuse produced their effect so thoroughly that Madame de
Maintenon grew disgusted with the duties of her office, and with the
consent of the monarch she no longer appeared at the house of his
daughter-in-law, except on state and gala occasions. Madame de Richelieu
related to me one day the annoyance and mortification of the new
"Madame d'Orleans came in one day," said she to me, "to Madame la
Dauphine, where Madame de Maintenon was. The Princess of the Palais
Royal, who does not put herself about, as every one knows, greeted only
the Dauphine and me. She spoke of her health, which is neither good nor
bad, and pretended that her gowns were growing too large for her, in
proof that she was going thin. 'I do not know,' she added, brusquely,
'what Madame Scarron does; she is always the same.'
"The lady in waiting answered on the spot: 'Madame, no one finds you
changed, either, and it is always the same thing.'
"The half-polite, half-bantering tone of Madame de Maintenon nonplussed
the Palatine for the moment; she wished to demand an explanation from the
lady in waiting. She took up her muff, without making a courtesy, and
retired very swiftly."
"I am scarcely, fond of Madame de Maintenon," said I to Madame de
Richelieu, "but I like her answer exceedingly. Madame is one of those
great hermaphrodite bodies which the two sexes recognise and repulse at
the same time. She is an aggressive personage, whom her hideous face
makes one associate naturally, with mastiffs; she is surly, like them,
and, like them, she exposes herself to the blows of a stick. It makes
very little difference to me if she hears from you the portrait I have
just made of her; you can tell her, and I shall certainly not give you
Monsieur, having come some days afterwards to the King, complained of
Madame de Maintenon, who, he said, had given offence to his wife.
"You have just made a great mistake," said the King; "you who pride
yourself on speaking your tongue so well, and I am going to put you
right. This is how you ought rather to have expressed yourself: 'I
complain of Madame de Maintenon, who, by ambiguous words, has given
offence, or wished to give offence to my wife.'"
Monsieur made up his mind to laugh, and said no more of it.
The Marquis de Lauzun at Liberty.--His Conduct to His Wife.--Recovery of
Mademoiselle, having by means of her donations to the Duc du Maine
obtained, at first, the release, and subsequently the entire liberty of
Lauzun, wished to go to meet him and to receive him in a superb carriage
with six horses. The King had her informed secretly that she should
manage matters with more moderation; and the King only spoke so because
he was better informed than any one of the ungrateful aversion of Lauzun
to Mademoiselle. No one wished to open her eyes, for she had refused to
see; time itself had to instruct her, and time, which wears wings,
arrived at that result quickly enough.
M. de Lauzun was, beyond gainsaying, a man of feeling and courage, but he
nourished in his heart a limitless ambition, and his head, subject to
whims and caprices, would not suffer him to follow methodically a fixed
plan of conduct. The King had just pardoned him as a favour to his
cousin; but, knowing him well, he was not at all fond of him. They had
disposed of his office of Captain of the Guards and of the other command
of the 'Becs de Corbins'. It was decided that Lauzun should not return
to his employment; but his Majesty charged Monsieur Colbert to make good
to him the amount and to add to it the arrears.
These different sums, added together, formed a capital of nine hundred
and eighty thousand francs, which was paid at once in notes on the
treasury, which were equal in value to ready cash. On news of this, he
broke into the most violent rage possible; he was tempted to throw these
notes into the fire. It was his offices which he wanted, and not these
sums, with which he could do nothing.
The King received him with an easy, kind air; he, always a flatterer with
his lips, cast himself ten times on his knees before the prince, and
gained nothing by all these demonstrations. He went to rejoin
Mademoiselle on the following day at Choisy, and dared to scold her for
having constructed and even bought this pretty pleasure-house.
"This must have cost treasures," said he. "Had you not parks and
chateaus enough? It would have been better to keep all these sums and
give them to me now."
After this exordium, he set himself to criticise the coiffure of the
Queen, on account of the coloured knots that he had remarked in it.
"But you mean, then, to satirise me personally," said the Princess to
him, "since you see my hair dressed in the same fashion, and I am older
than my cousin!
"What became of you on leaving the King?" she asked him. "I waited for
you till two hours after midnight."
"I went," said he, "to visit M. de Louvois, who is not my friend, and who
requires humouring; then to visit M. Colbert, who favours me."
"You ought to have seen Madame de Maintenon, I gave you that advice
before leaving you," she said; "it is to her, above all, that you owe
"But your Madame de Maintenon," he resumed, "is she, too, one of the
powers? Ah, my God! what a new geography since I left these regions ten
To avoid tete-a-tete, M. de Lauzun was always in a surly humour; he put
his left arm into a sling; he never ceased talking of his rheumatism and
Mademoiselle learned, now from one person, now from another, that he was
dining to-day with one fair lady, to-morrow with another, and the next
day with a third. She finally understood that she was despised and
tricked; she showed one last generosity (out of pride) towards her former
friend,--solicited for him the title of Duke, and begged him, for the
future, to arrange his life to please himself, and to let her alone.
The Marquis de Lauzun took her at her word, and never forgave her for the
cession of the principalities of Dombes and Eu to M. le Duc du Maine; he
wanted them for himself.
Progress of Madame de Maintenon.--The Anonymous Letter.
Since the birth of Mademoiselle de Blois, and the death of Mademoiselle
de Fontanges, the King hardly ever saw me except a few minutes
ceremoniously,--a few minutes before and after supper. He showed himself
always assiduous with Madame de Maintenon, who, by her animated and
unflagging talk, had the very profitable secret of keeping him amused.
Although equally clever, I venture to flatter myself, in the art of
manipulating speech, I could not stoop to such condescensions. You
cannot easily divert when you have a heart and are sincere--a man who
deserts you, who does not even take the trouble to acknowledge it and
The Marquise sailed, then, on the open sea, with all sail set; whilst my
little barque did little more than tack about near the shore. One day I
received the following letter; it was in a pleasant and careful
handwriting, and orthography was observed with complete regularity, which
suggested that a man had been its writer, or its editor:
The person who writes these lines, Madame la Marquise, sees you but
rarely, but is none the less attached to you. The advice which he is
going to give you in writing he would have made it a duty to come and
give you himself; he has been deterred by the fear either of appearing to
you indiscreet, or of finding you too deeply engrossed with occupations,
or with visitors, as is so often the case, in your own apartments.
These visitors, this former affluence of greedy and interested hearts,
you will soon see revealed and diminishing; probably your eyes, which are
so alert, have already remarked this diminution. The monarch no longer
loves you; coolness and inconstancy are maladies of the human heart. In
the midst of the most splendid health, our King has for some time past
experienced this malady.
In your place, I should not wait to see myself repudiated. By whatever
outward respect such an injunction be accompanied, the bottom of the cup
is always the same, and the honey at the edge is but a weak palliative.
Being no ordinary woman by birth, do not terminate like an ordinary
actress your splendid and magnificent role on this great stage. Know how
to leave before the audience is weary; while they can say, when they miss
you from the scene, "She was still fine in her role. It is a pity!"
Since a new taste or new caprice of the monarch has led his affections
away, know how to endure a fantasy which you have not the power to
remove. Despatch yourself with a good grace; and let the world believe
that sober reflections have come to you, and that you return, of your own
free will, into the paths of independence, of true glory, and of honour.
Your position of superintendent with the Queen has been from the very
first almost a sinecure. Give up to Madame de Maintenon, or to any one
else, a dignity which is of no use to you, for which you will be paid now
its full value; which, later, is likely to cause you a sensible
disappointment; for that is always sold at a loss which must be sold at a
Nature, so prodigal to you, Madame la Marquise, has not yet deflowered,
nor recalled in the least degree, those graces and attractions which were
lavished on you. Retire with the honours of war.
Annoyance, vexation, irritation, do not make your veins flow with milk
and honey; you would lose upon the field of battle all those treasures
which it is in your power to save.
This communication, though anonymous, is none the less benevolent. I
desire your peace and your happiness.
Madame de Maintenon at Loggerheads with Madame de Thianges.--The Mint of
the D'Aubigne Family.--Creme de Negresse, the Elixir of Long
Life.--Ninon's Secret for Beauty.--The King Would Remain Young or Become
So.--Good-will of Madame de Maintenon.
This letter was not, in my eyes, a masterpiece, but neither was it from a
vulgar hand. For a moment I suspected Madame de Maintenon. She was
named in it, it is true, as though by the way, but her interest in it was
easy to discover, since the writer dared to try to induce me to sell her,
to give up to her, my superintendence. I communicated my suspicions to
the Marquise de Thianges. She said to me: "We must see her,--her face
expresses her emotions very clearly; she is not good at lying; we shall
easily extract her secret, and make her blush for her stratagem."
Ibrahim, faithful to his old friendship for me, had recently sent me
stuffs of Asia and essences of the seraglio, under the pretence of
politeness and as a remembrance. I wrote two lines to the Marquise,
engaging her to come and sacrifice half an hour to me to admire with me
these curiosities. Suspecting nothing, she came to my apartments, when
she accepted some perfumes, and found all these stuffs divine. My
sister, Madame de Thianges, said to her:
"Madame, I do not wish to be the last to congratulate you on that
boundless confidence and friendship that our Queen accords you.
Assuredly, no one deserves more than you this feeling of preference; it
appears that the princess is developing, and that, at last, she is taking
a liking for choice conversation and for wit."
"Madame," answered the lady in waiting, "her Majesty does not prefer me
to any one here. You are badly informed. She has the goodness to accord
to me a little confidence; and since she finds in me some facility in the
Spanish tongue, of which she wishes to remain the idolater all her life,
she loves to speak that tongue with me, catching me up when I go wrong
either in the pronunciation or the grammar, as she desires to be
corrected herself when she commits some offence against our French."
"You were born," added Madame de Thianges, "to work at the education of
kings. It is true that few governesses or tutors are as amiable. There
is a sound in your voice which goes straight to the heart; and what
others teach rudely or monotonously, you teach musically and almost
singing. Since the Queen loves your French and your Spanish, everything
has been said; you are indispensable to her. Things being so, I dare to
propose to you, Madame, a third occupation, which will suit you better
than anything else in the world, and which will complete the happiness of
"Here is Madame de Montespan, who is growing disgusted with grandeur,
after having recognised its emptiness, who is enthusiastically desiring
to go and enjoy her House of Saint Joseph, and wishes to get rid of her
superintendence forthwith, at any cost."
"What!" said Madame de Maintenon. Then to me, "You wish to sell your
office without having first assured yourself whether it be pleasing to
the King? It appears to me that you are not acting on this occasion with
the caution with which you are generally credited."
"What need has she of so many preliminary cautions," added the Marquise,
"if it is to you that she desires to sell it? Her choice guarantees the
consent of the princess; your name will make everything easy."
"I reason quite otherwise, Madame la Marquise," replied the former
governess of the princes; "the Queen may have her ideas. It is right and
fitting to find out first her intention and wishes."
"Madame, madame," said my sister then, "everything has been sufficiently
considered, and even approved of. You will be the purchaser; you desire
to buy, it is to you that one desires to sell."
Madame de Maintenon began to laugh, and besought the Marquise to believe
that she had neither the desire nor the money for that object.
"Money," answered my sister, "will cause you no trouble on this occasion.
Money has been coined in pour family."
[Constant d'Aubigne, father of Madame de Maintenon, in his wild youth,
was said to have taken refuge in a den of comers.--Ed. Note]
Madame de Maintenon, profoundly moved, said to the Marquise:
"I thought, madame, that I had come to see Madame de Montespan, to look
at her stuffs from the seraglio, and not to receive insults. All your
teasing affects me, because up to to-day I believed in your kindly
feeling. It has been made clear to me now that I must put up with this
loss; but, whatever be your injustice towards me, I will not depart from
my customs or from my element. The superintendence of the Queen's
Council is for sale, or it is not; either way, it is all the same to me.
I have never made any claim to this office, and I never shall."
These words, of which I perceived the sincerity, touched me. I made some
trifling excuses to the lady in waiting, and, tired of all these
insignificant mysteries, I went and took the anonymous letter from my
bureau and showed it to the governess.
She read it thoughtfully. After having read it, she assured me that this
script was a riddle to her.
Madame de Maintenon, on leaving us, made quite a deep courtesy to my
sister, which caused me pain, preserving an icy gravity and exaggerating
her salutation and her courtesy.
When we were alone, I confessed to the Marquise de Thianges that her
words had passed all bounds, and that she could have reached her end by
"I cannot endure that woman," she answered. "She knows that you have
made her, that without you she would be languishing still in her little
apartment in the Maree; and when for more than a year she sees you
neglected by the King and almost deserted, she abandons you to your
destiny, and does not condescend to offer you any consolation. I have
mortified her; I do not repent of it in the least, and every time that I
come across her I shall permit myself that gratification.
"What is she thinking of at her age; with her pretensions to a fine
figure, an ethereal carriage, and beauty? And yet it must be admitted
that her complexion is not made up. She has the sheen of the lily
mingled with that of the rose, and her eyes exhibit a smiling vivacity
which leaves our great coquettes of the day far behind!"
"She is nature unadorned as far as her complexion goes, believe me," said
I to my sister. "During my constant journeys she has always slept at my
side, and her face at waking has always been as at noon and all day long.
She related to us once at the Marechale d'Albret's, where I knew her,
that at Martinique--that distant country which was her cradle--an ancient
negress, well preserved and robust, had been kind enough to take her into
her dwelling. This woman led her one day into the woods. She stripped
of its bark some shrub, after having sought it a long time. She grated
this bark and mixed it with the juice of chosen herbs. She wrapped up
all this concoction in half a banana skin, and gave the specific to the
"This mess having no nasty taste, the little girl consented to return
fifteen or twenty times into the grove, where her negress carefully
composed and served up to her the same feast.
"'Why do you care to give me this green paste?' the young creole asked
her one day.
"The old woman said: 'My dear child, I cannot wait till you have enough
sense to learn to understand these plants, for I love you as if you were
my own daughter, and I want to leave you a secret which will cause you to
live a long time. Though I look as I do, I am 138 years old already. I
am the oldest person in the colony, and this paste that I make for you
has preserved my strength and my freshness. It will produce the same
effect on my dear little girl, and will keep her young and pretty too for
a long time.'
"This negress, unhappily, fell asleep one day under a wild pear-tree in
the Savannah, and a crocodile came out of the river hard by and devoured
"I have heard tell," replied my sister, "that Mademoiselle d'Aubigne,
after the death of her mother, or husband, was bound by the ties of a
close friendship with Ninon de l'Enclos, whose beauty made such a
sensation among the gallants, and still occupies them.
"One was assured, you know, that Ninon possesses a potion, and that in
her generosity to her friend, the fair Indian, she lent her her phial of
"No, no," said I to the Marquise, "that piece of gallantry of Ninon is
only a myth; it is the composition of Martinique, or of the negress,
which is the real recipe of Madame de Maintenon. She talked of it one
day, when I was present, in the King's carriage. His Majesty said to
her: 'I am astonished that, with your natural intelligence, you have not
kept in your mind the nature of this Indian shrub and herbs; with such a
secret you would be able to-day to make many happy, and there are some
kings, who, to grow young again, would give you half their empire.'
"'I am not a worshipper of riches,' said this mistress of talk; 'bad
kings might offer me all the treasures and crowns they liked, and I would
not make them young again.'
"'And me, madame,' said the prince, 'would you consent to make me young
"'You will not need it for a long time,' she replied, cleverly, with a
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