The Women of the French Salons
Amelia Gere Mason

Part 1 out of 5


By Amelia Gere Mason


It has been a labor of love with many distinguished Frenchmen to
recall the memories of the women who have made their society so
illustrious, and to retouch with sympathetic insight the features
which time was beginning to dim. One naturally hesitates to
enter a field that has been gleaned so carefully, and with such
brilliant results, by men like Cousin, Sainte-Beuve, Goncourt,
and others of lesser note. But the social life of the two
centuries in which women played so important a role in France is
always full of human interest from whatever point of view one may
regard it. If there is not a great deal to be said that is new,
old facts may be grouped afresh, and old modes of life and
thought measured by modern standards.

In searching through the numerous memoirs, chronicles, letters,
and original manuscripts in which the records of these centuries
are hidden away, nothing has struck me so forcibly as the
remarkable mental vigor and the far-reaching influence of women
whose theater was mainly a social one. Though society has its
frivolities, it has also its serious side, and it is through the
phase of social evolution that was begun in the salons that women
have attained the position they hold today. However beautiful,
or valuable, or poetic may have been the feminine types of other
nationalities, it is in France that we find the forerunners of
the intelligent, self-poised, clear-sighted, independent modern
woman. It is possible that in the search for larger fields the
smaller but not less important ones have been in a measure
forgotten. The great stream of civilization flows from a
thousand unnoted rills that make sweet music in their course, and
swell the current as surely as the more noisy torrent. The
conditions of the past cannot be revived, nor are they desirable.
The present has its own theories and its own methods. But at a
time when the reign of luxury is rapidly establishing false
standards, and the best intellectual life makes hopeless
struggles against an ever aggressive materialism, it may be
profitable as well as interesting to consider the possibilities
that lie in a society equally removed from frivolity and
pretension, inspired by the talent, the sincerity, and the moral
force of American women, and borrowing a new element of
fascination from the simple and charming but polite informality
of the old salons.

It has been the aim in these studies to gather within a limited
compass the women who represented the social life of their time
on its most intellectual side, and to trace lightly their
influence upon civilization through the avenues of literature and
manners. Though the work may lose something in fullness from the
effort to put so much into so small a space, perhaps there is
some compensation in the opportunity of comparing, in one
gallery, the women who exercised the greatest power in France for
a period of more than two hundred years. The impossibility of
entering into the details of so many lives in a single volume is
clearly apparent. Only the most salient points can be
considered. Many who would amply repay a careful study have
simply been glanced at, and others have been omitted altogether.
As it would be out of the question in a few pages to make an
adequate portrait of women who occupy so conspicuous a place in
history as Mme. De Maintenon and Mme. De Stael, the former has
been reluctantly passed with a simple allusion, and the latter
outlined in a brief resume not at all proportional to the
relative interest or importance of the subject.

I do not claim to present a complete picture of French society,
and without wishing to give too rose-colored a view, it has not
seemed to me necessary to dwell upon its corrupt phases. If
truth compels one sometimes to state unpleasant facts in
portraying historic characters, it is as needless and unjust as
in private life to repeat idle and unproved tales, or to draw
imaginary conclusions from questionable data. The conflict of
contemporary opinion on the simplest matters leads one often to
the suspicion that all personal history is more or less disguised
fiction. The best one can do in default of direct records is to
accept authorities that are generally regarded as the most

This volume is affectionately dedicated to the memory of my
mother, who followed the work with appreciative interest in its
early stages, hut did not live to see its conclusion.

Amelia Gere Mason
Paris, July 6, 1891


Characteristics of French Woman--Gallic Genius for Conversation
--Social Conditions--Origin of the Salons--Their Power--Their
Composition--Their Records

Mme. De Rambouillet--The Salon Bleu--Its Habitues--Its
Diversions--Corneille--Balzac--Richelieu--Romance of the
Grand Conde--the Young Bossuet--Voiture--The Duchesse de
Longueville--Angelique Paulet--Julie d'Angennes--Les
Precieuses Ridicules--Decline of the Salon--Influence upon
Literature and Manners

Salons of the Noblesse--"The Illustrious Sappho"--Her Romances--The
Samedis--Bons Mots of Mme. Cornuel--Estimate of Mlle. De Scudery

Her Character--Her Heroic Part in the Fronde--Her Exile--Literary
Diversions of her Salon--A Romantic Episode

Mme. De Sable--Her Worldly Life--Her Retreat--Her Friends--Pascal--
The Maxims of La Rochefoucauld--Last Days of the Marquise

Her Genius--Her Youth--Her Unworthy Husband--Her Impertinent
Cousin--Her love for her Daughter--Her Letters--Hotel de
Carnavalet--Mme. Duplessis Guengaud--Mme. De Coulanges--The
Curtain Falls

Her Friendship with Mme. De Sevigne--Her Education--Her
Devotion to the Princess Henrietta--Her Salon--La Rochefoucauld--
Talent as a Diplomatist--Comparison with Mme. De Maintenon--Her
Literary Work--Sadness of her Last Days--Woman in Literature

Characteristics of the Eighteenth Century--Its Epicurean
Philosophy--Anecdote of Mme. Du Deffand--The Salon an Engine of
Political Power--Great Influence of Woman--Salons Defined--Literary
Dinners--Etiquette of the Salons--An Exotic on American Soil

The Marquise de Lambert--Her "Bureau d'Esprit"--Fontenelle--
Advice to her Son--Wise Thoughts on the Education of Women--Her
Love of Consideration--Her Generosity--Influence of Women upon
the Academy

Her Capricious Character--Her Esprit--Mlle. De Launay--Clever
Portrait of her Mistress--Perpetual Fetes at Sceaux--Voltaire
and the "Divine Emilie"--Dilettante Character of this Salon

An Intriguing Chanoinesse--Her Singular Fascination--Her Salon--Its
Philosophical Character--Mlle. Aisse--Romances of Mme. De
Tencin--D'Alembert--La Belle Emilie--Voltaire--the Two Women

Cradles of the New Philosophy--Noted Salons of this Period--
Character of Mme. Geoffrin--Her Practical Education--Anecdotes
of her Husband--Composition of her Salon--Its Insidious
Influence--Her Journey to Warsaw--Her Death

Mme. De Graffigny--Baron D'Holbach--Mme. D'Epinay's Portrait of
Herself--Mlle. Quinault--Rousseau--La Chevrette--Grimm--Diderot--
The Abbe Galiani--Estimate of Mme. D'Epinay

La Marechale de Luxenbourg--The Temple--Comtesse de Boufflers--Mme.
Du Dufand--Her Convent Salon--Rupture with Mlle. De Lespinasse--Her
Friendship with Horace Walpole--Her Brilliancy
and her Ennui

A Romantic Career--Companion of Mme. Du Deffand--Rival Salons--
Association with the Encyclopedists--D'Alembert--A Heart Tragedy--
Impassioned Letters--A Type Unique in her Age

The Swiss Pastor's Daughter--Her Social Ambition--Her Friends
Mme. De Marchais--Mme. D'Houdetot--Duchesse de Lauzun--Character of
Mme. Necker--Death at Coppet--Close of the Most Brilliant Period of
the Salons

Change in the Character of the Salons--Mme. De Condorcet--Mme.
Roland's Story of her Own Life--A Marriage of Reason--Enthusiasm
for the Revolution--Her Modest Salon--Her Tragical Fate

Supremacy of Her Genius--Her Early Training--Her Sensibility--A
Mariage de Convenance--Her Salon--Anecdote of Benjamin Constant--
Her Exile--Life at Coppet--Secret Marriage--Close of a Stormy Life

A Transition period--Mme. De Montesson--Mme. De Genus--Revival
of the Literary Spirit--Mme. De Beaumont--Mme. De Remusat--Mme. De
Souza--Mme. De Duras--Mme. De Krudener--Fascination of
Mme. Recamier--Her Friends--Her Convent Salon--Chateaubriand
Decline of the Salon

Characteristics of French Woman--Gallic Genius for Conversation
--Social Conditions--Origin of the Salons--Their Power--Their
Composition--Their Records.

"Inspire, but do not write," said LeBrun to women. Whatever we
may think today of this rather superfluous advice, we can readily
pardon a man living in the atmosphere of the old French salons,
for falling somewhat under the special charm of their leaders.
It was a charm full of subtle flattery. These women were usually
clever and brilliant, but their cleverness and brilliancy were
exercised to bring into stronger relief the talents of their
friends. It is true that many of them wrote, as they talked, out
of the fullness of their own hearts or their own intelligence,
and with no thought of a public; but it was only an incident in
their lives, another form of diversion, which left them quite
free from the dreaded taint of feminine authorship. Their
peculiar gift was to inspire others, and much of the fascination
that gave them such power in their day still clings to their
memories. Even at this distance, they have a perpetual interest
for us. It may be that the long perspective lends them a certain
illusion which a closer view might partly dispel. Something also
may be due to the dark background against which they were
outlined. But, in spite of time and change, they stand out upon
the pages of history, glowing with an ever-fresh vitality, and
personifying the genius of a civilization of which they were the
fairest flower.

The Gallic genius is eminently a social one, but it is, of all
others, the most difficult to reproduce. The subtle grace of
manner, the magic of spoken words, are gone with the moment. The
conversations of two centuries ago are today like champagne which
has lost its sparkle. We may recall their tangible forms--the
facts, the accessories, the thoughts, even the words, but the
flavor is not there. It is the volatile essence of gaiety and
wit that especially characterizes French society. It glitters
from a thousand facets, it surprises us in a thousand delicate
turns of thought, it appears in countless movements and shades of
expression. But it refuses to be imprisoned. Hence the
impossibility of catching the essential spirit of the salons. We
know something of the men and women who frequented them, as they
have left many records of themselves. We have numerous pictures
of their social life from which we may partially reconstruct it
and trace its influence. But the nameless attraction that held
for so long a period the most serious men of letters as well as
the gay world still eludes us.

We find the same elusive quality in the women who presided over
these reunions. They were true daughters of a race of which Mme.
De Graffigny wittily said that it "escaped from the hands of
Nature when there had entered into its composition only air and
fire. They certainly were not faultless; indeed, some of them
were very faulty. Nor were they, as a rule, remarkable for
learning. Even the leaders of noted literary salons often lacked
the common essentials of a modern education. But if they wrote
badly and spelled badly, they had an abundance of that delicate
combination of intellect and wit which the French call ESPRIT.
They had also, in superlative measure, the social gifts which
women of genius reared in the library or apart from the world,
are apt to lack. The close study of books leads to a knowledge
of man rather than of men. It tends toward habits of
introspection which are fatal to the clear and swift vision
required for successful leadership of any sort. Social talent is
distinct, and implies a happy poise of character and intellect;
the delicate blending of many gifts, not the supremacy of one.
It implies taste and versatility, with fine discrimination, and
the tact to sink one's personality as well as to call out the
best in others. It was this flexibility of mind, this active
intelligence tempered with sensibility and the native instinct of
pleasing, that distinguished the French women who have left such
enduring traces upon their time. "It is not sufficient to be
wise, it is necessary also to please," said the witty and
penetrating Ninon, who thus very aptly condensed the feminine
philosophy of her race. Perhaps she has revealed the secret of
their fascination, the indefinable something which is as
difficult to analyze as the perfume of a rose.

A history of the French salons would include the history of the
entire period of which they were so prominent a factor. It would
make known to us its statesmen and its warriors; it would trace
the great currents of thought; it would give us glimpses of every
phase of society, from the diversions of the old noblesse, with
their sprinkling of literature and philosophy, to the familiar
life of the men of letters, who cast about their intimate
coteries the halo of their own genius. These salons were closely
interwoven with the best intellectual life of more than two
hundred years. Differing in tone according to the rank, taste,
or character of their leaders, they were rallying points for the
most famous men and women of their time. In these brilliant
centers, a new literature had its birth. Here was found the fine
critical sense that put its stamp on a new poem or a new play.
Here ministers were created and deposed, authors and artists were
brought into vogue, and vacant chairs in the Academie Francaise
were filled. Here the great philosophy of the eighteenth century
was cradled. Here sat the arbiters of manners, the makers of
social success. To these high tribunals came, at last, every
aspirant for fame.

It was to the refinement, critical taste, and oral force of a
rare woman, half French and half Italian, that the first literary
salons owed their origin and their distinctive character. In
judging of the work of Mme. De Rambouillet, we have to consider
that in the early days of the seventeenth century knowledge was
not diffused as it is today. A new light was just dawning upon
the world, but learning was still locked in the brains of
savants, or in the dusty tomes of languages that were practically
obsolete. Men of letters were dependent upon the favors of noble
but often ignorant patrons, whom they never met on a footing of
equality. The position of women was as inferior as their
education, and the incredible depravity of morals was a
sufficient answer to the oft-repeated fallacy that the purity of
the family is best maintained by feminine seclusion. It is true
there were exceptions to this reign of illiteracy. With the
natural disposition to glorify the past, the writers of the next
generation liked to refer to the golden era of the Valois and the
brilliancy of its voluptuous court. Very likely they exaggerated
a little the learning of Marguerite de Navarre, who was said to
understand Latin, Italian, Spanish, even Greek and Hebrew. But
she had rare gifts, wrote religious poems, besides the very
secular "Heptameron" which was not eminently creditable to her
refinement, held independent opinions, and surrounded herself
with men of letters. This little oasis of intellectual light,
shadowed as it was with vices, had its influence, and there were
many women in the solitude of remote chateaux who began to
cultivate a love for literature. "The very women and maidens
aspired to this praise and celestial manna of good learning,"
said Rabelais. But their reading was mainly limited to his own
unsavory satires, to Spanish pastorals, licentious poems, and
their books of devotion. It was on such a foundation that Mme.
De Rambouillet began to rear the social structure upon which her
reputation rests. She was eminently fitted for this role by her
pure character and fine intelligence; but she added to these the
advantages of rank and fortune, which gave her ample facilities
for creating a social center of sufficient attraction to focus
the best intellectual life of the age, and sufficient power to
radiate its light. Still it was the tact and discrimination to
select from the wealth of material about her, and quietly to
reconcile old traditions with the freshness of new ideas, that
especially characterized Mme. De Rambouillet.

It was this richness of material, the remarkable variety and
originality of the women who clustered round and succeeded their
graceful leader, that gave so commanding an influence to the
salons of the seventeenth century. No social life has been so
carefully studied, no women have been so minutely portrayed. The
annals of the time are full of them. They painted one another,
and they painted themselves, with realistic fidelity. The lights
and shadows are alike defined. We know their joys and their
sorrows, their passions and their follies, their tastes and their
antipathies. Their inmost life has been revealed. They animate,
as living figures, a whole class of literature which they were
largely instrumental in creating, and upon which they have left
the stamp of their own vivid personality. They appear later in
the pages of Cousin and Sainte-Beuve, with their radiant features
softened and spiritualized by the touch of time. We rise from a
perusal of these chronicles of a society long passed away, with
the feeling that we have left a company of old friends. We like
to recall their pleasant talk of themselves, of their companions,
of the lighter happenings, as well as the more serious side of
the age which they have illuminated. We seem to see their faces,
not their manner, watch the play of intellect and feeling, while
they speak. The variety is infinite and full of charm.

Mme. de Sevigne talks upon paper, of the trifling affairs of
every-day life, adding here and there a sparkling anecdote, a bit
of gossip, a delicate characterization, a trenchant criticism, a
dash of wit, a touch of feeling, or a profound thought. All this
is lighted up by her passionate love of her daughter, and in this
light we read the many-sided life of her time for twenty-five
years. Mme. de La Fayette takes the world more seriously, and
replaces the playful fancy of her friend by a richer vein of
imagination and sentiment. She sketches for us the court of
which Madame (title given to the wife of the king's brother) is
the central figure--the unfortunate Princes Henrietta whom she
loved so tenderly, and who died so tragically in her arms. She
writes novels too; not profound studies of life, but fine and
exquisite pictures of that side of the century which appealed
most to her poetic sensibility. We follow the leading characters
of the age through the ten-volume romances of Mlle. de Scudery,
which have mostly long since fallen into oblivion. Doubtless the
portraits are a trifle rose-colored, but they accord, in the
main, with more veracious history. The Grande Mademoiselle
describes herself and her friends, with the curious naivete of a
spoiled child who thinks its smallest experiences of interest to
all the world. Mme. de Maintenon gives us another picture, more
serious, more thoughtful, but illuminated with flashes of
wonderful insight.

Most of these women wrote simply to amuse themselves and their
friends. It was only another mode of their versatile expression.
With rare exceptions, they were not authors consciously or by
intention. They wrote spontaneously, and often with reckless
disregard of grammar and orthography. But the people who move
across their gossiping pages are alive. The century passes in
review before us as we read. The men and women who made its
literature so brilliant and its salons so famous, become vivid
realities. Prominent among the fair faces that look out upon us
at every turn, from court and salon, is that of the Duchesse de
Longueville, sister of the Grand Conde, and heroine of the
Fronde. Her lovely blue eyes, with their dreamy languor and
"luminous awakenings," turn the heads alike of men and women, of
poet and critic, of statesman and priest. We trace her brief
career through her pure and ardent youth, her loveless marriage,
her fatal passion for La Rochefoucauld, the final shattering of
all her illusions; and when at last, tired of the world, she bows
her beautiful head in penitent prayer, we too love and forgive
her, as others have done. Were not twenty-five years of
suffering and penance an ample expiation? She was one of the
three women of whom Cardinal Mazarin said that they were "capable
of governing and overturning three kingdoms." The others were
the intriguing Duchesse de Chevreuse, who dazzled the age by her
beauty and her daring escapades, and the fascinating Anne de
Gonzague, better known as the Princesse Palatine, of whose
winning manners, conversational charm, penetrating intellect, and
loyal character Bossuet spoke so eloquently at her death. We
catch pleasant glimpses of Mme. Deshoulieres, beautiful and a
poet; of Mme. Cornuel, of whom it was said that "every sin she
confessed was an epigram"; of Mme. de Choisy, witty and piquante;
of Mme. de Doulanges, also a wit and femme d'esprit.

Linked with these by a thousand ties of sympathy and affection
were the worthy counterparts of Pascal and Arnauld, of Bossuet
and Fenelon, the devoted women who poured out their passionate
souls at the foot of the cross, and laid their earthly hopes upon
the altar of divine love. We follow the devout Jacqueline Pascal
to the cloister in which she buries her brilliant youth to die at
thirty-five of a wounded conscience and a broken heart. Many a
bruised spirit, as it turns from the gay world to the mystic
devotion which touches a new chord in its jaded sensibilities,
finds support and inspiration in the strong and fervid sympathy
of Jacqueline Arnauld, better known as Mere Angelique of Port
Royal. This profound spiritual passion was a part of the intense
life of the century, which gravitated from love and ambition to
the extremes of penitence and asceticism.

A multitude of minor figures, graceful and poetic, brilliant and
spirituelles, flit across the canvas, leaving the fragrance of an
exquisite individuality, and tempting one to extend the list of
the versatile women who toned and colored the society of the
period. But we have to do, at present, especially with those who
gathered and blended this fresh intelligence, delicate fancy,
emotional wealth, and religious fervor, into a society including
such men as Corneille, Balzac, Bossuet, Richelieu, Conde, Pascal,
Arnault, and La Rochefoucauld--those who are known as leaders of
more or less celebrated salons. Of these, Mme. de Rambouillet
and Mme. de Sable were among the best representative types of
their time, and the first of the long line of social queens who,
through their special gift of leadership, held so potent a sway
for two centuries.

Mme. de Rambouillet--The Salon Bleu--Its Habitues--Its
Diversions--Corneille--Balzac--Richelieu--Romance of the
Grand Conde--The Young Bossuet--Voiture--The Duchesse de
Longueville--Angelique Paulet--Julie d'Angennes--Les
Precieuses Ridicules--Decline of the Salon--Influence upon
Literature and Manners

The Hotel de Rambouillet has been called the "cradle of polished
society," but the personality of its hostess is less familiar
than that of many who followed in her train. This may be partly
due to the fact that she left no record of herself on paper. She
aptly embodied the kind advice of Le Brun. It was her special
talent to inspire others and to combine the various elements of a
brilliant and complex social life. The rare tact which enabled
her to do this lay largely in a certain self-effacement and the
peculiar harmony of a nature which presented few salient points.
She is best represented by the salon of which she was the
architect and the animating spirit; but even this is better known
today through its faults than its virtues. It is a pleasant task
to clear off a little dust from its memorials, and to paint in
fresh colors one who played so important a role in the history of
literature and manners.

Catherine de Vivonne was born at Rome in 1588. Her father, the
Marquis de Pisani, was French ambassador, and she belonged
through her mother to the old Roman families of Strozzi and
Savelli. Married at sixteen to the Count d'Angennes, afterwards
Marquis de Rambouillet, she was introduced to the world at the
gay court of Henry IV. But the coarse and depraved manners which
ruled there were altogether distasteful to her delicate and
fastidious nature. At twenty she retired from these brilliant
scenes of gilded vice, and began to gather round her the coterie
of choice spirits which later became so famous.

Filled with the poetic ideals and artistic tastes which had been
nourished in a thoughtful and elegant seclusion, it seems to have
been the aim of her life to give them outward expression. Her
mind, which inherited the subtle refinement of the land of her
birth, had taken its color from the best Italian and Spanish
literature, but she was in no sense a learned woman. She was
once going to study Latin, in order to read Virgil, but was
prevented by ill health. It is clear, however, that she had a
great diversity of gifts, with a basis of rare good sense and
moral elevation. "She was revered, adored," writes Mme. de
Motteville; "a model of courtesy, wisdom, knowledge, and
sweetness." She is always spoken of in the chronicles of her
time as a loyal wife, a devoted mother, the benefactor of the
suffering, and the sympathetic adviser of authors and artists.
The poet Segrais says: "She was amiable and gracious, of a sound
and just mind; it is she who has corrected the bad customs which
prevailed before her. She taught politeness to all those of her
time who frequented her house. She was also a good friend, and
kind to every one." We are told that she was beautiful, but we
know only that her face was fair and delicate, her figure tall
and graceful, and her manner stately and dignified. Her Greek
love of beauty expressed itself in all her appointments. The
unique and original architecture of her hotel,--which was
modeled after her own designs,--the arrangement of her salon,
the pursuits she chose, and the amusements she planned, were all
a part of her own artistic nature. This was shown also in her
code of etiquette, which imposed a fine courtesy upon the members
of her coterie, and infused into life the spirit of politeness,
which one of her countrymen has called the "flower of humanity."
But this esthetic quality was tempered with a clear judgment, and
a keen appreciation of merit and talent, which led her to gather
into her society many not "to the manner born." Sometimes she
delicately aided a needy man of letters to present a respectable
appearance--a kindness much less humiliating in those days of
patronage that it would be today. As may readily be imagined,
these new elements often jarred upon the tastes and prejudices of
her noble guests, but in spite of this it was considered an honor
to be received by her, and, though not even a duchess, she was
visited by princesses.

Adding to this spirit of noble independence the prestige of rank,
beauty, and fortune; a temper of mingled sweetness and strength;
versatile gifts controlled by an admirable reason; a serene and
tranquil character; a playful humor, free from the caprices of a
too exacting sensibility; a perfect savoir-faire, and we have the
unusual combination which enabled her to hold her sway for so
many years, without a word of censure from even the most scandal-
loving of chroniclers.

"We have sought in vain," writes Cousin, "for that which is
rarely lacking in any life of equal or even less brilliancy, some
calumny or scandal, an equivocal word, or the lightest epigram.
We have found only a concert of warm eulogies which have run
through many generations. . . . She has disarmed Tallemant
himself. This caricaturist of the seventeenth century has been
pitiless towards the habitues of her illustrious house, but he
praises her with a warmth which is very impressive from such a

The modern spirit of change has long since swept away all
vestiges of the old Rue Saint-Thomas-du-Lourvre and the time-
honored dwellings that ornamented it. Conspicuous among these,
and not far from the Palais Royal, was the famous Hotel de
Rambouillet. The Salon Bleu has become historic. This
"sanctuary of the Temple of Athene," as it was called in the
stilted language of the day, has been illuminated for us by the
rank, beauty, and talent of the Augustan age of France. We are
more or less familiar with even the minute details of the
spacious room, whose long windows, looking across the little
garden towards the Tuileries, let in a flood of golden sunlight.
We picture to ourselves its draperies of blue and gold, its
curious cabinets, its choice works of art, its Venetian lamps,
and its crystal vases always filled with flowers that scatter the
perfume of spring.

It was here that Mme. de Rambouillet held her court for nearly
thirty years, her salon reaching the height of its power under
Richelieu, and practically closing with the Fronde. She sought
to gather all that was most distinguished, whether for wit,
beauty, talent, or birth, into an atmosphere of refinement and
simple elegance, which should tone down all discordant elements
and raise life to the level of a fine art. There was a strongly
intellectual flavor in the amusements, as well as in the
discussions of this salon, and the place of honor was given to
genius, learning, and good manners, rather than to rank. But it
was by no means purely literary. The exclusive spirit of the old
aristocracy, with its hauteur and its lofty patronage, found
itself face to face with fresh ideals. The position of the
hostess enabled her to break the traditional barriers, and form a
society upon a new basis, but in spite of the mingling of classes
hitherto separated, the dominant life was that of the noblesse.
Woman of rank gave the tone and made the laws. Their code of
etiquette was severe. They aimed to combine the graces of Italy
with the chivalry of Spain. The model man must have a keen
sense of honor, and wit without pedantry; he must be brave,
heroic, generous, gallant, but he must also possess good breeding
and gentle courtesy. The coarse passions which had disgraced the
court were refined into subtle sentiments, and women were raised
upon a pedestal, to be respectfully and platonically adored. In
this reaction from extreme license, familiarity was forbidden,
and language was subjected to a critical censorship. It was here
that the word PRECIEUSE was first used to signify a woman of
personal distinction, accomplished in the highest sense, with a
perfect accord of intelligence, good taste, and good manners.
Later, when pretension crept into the inferior circles which took
this one for a model, the term came to mean a sort of
intellectual parvenue, half prude and half pedant, who affected
learning, and paraded it like fine clothes, for effect.

"Do you remember," said Flechier, many years later, in his
funeral oration on the death of the Duchesse de Montausier, "the
salons which are still regarded with so much veneration, where
the spirit was purified, where virtue was revered under the name
of the incomparable Arthenice; where people of merit and quality
assembled, who composed a select court, numerous without
confusion, modest without constraint, learned without pride,
polished without affectation?"

Whatever allowance we may be disposed to make for the friendship
of the eminent abbe, he spoke with the authority of personal
knowledge, and at a time when the memories of the Hotel de
Rambouillet were still fresh. It is true that those who belonged
to this professed school of morals were not all patterns of
decorum. But we cannot judge by the Anglo-Saxon standards of the
nineteenth century the faults of an age in which a Ninon de
L'Enclos lives on terms of veiled intimacy with a strait-laced
Mme. de Maintenon, and, when age has given her a certain title to
respectability, receives in her salon women of as spotless
reputation as Mme. de La Fayette. Measured from the level of
their time, the lives of the Rambouillet coterie stand out white
and shining. The pure character of the Marquise and her
daughters was above reproach, and they were quoted as "models
whom all the world cited, all the world admired, and every one
tried to imitate." To be a precieuse was in itself an evidence
of good conduct.

"This salon was a resort not only for all the fine wits, but for
every one who frequented the court," writes Mme. de Motteville.
"It was a sort of academy of beaux esprits, of gallantry, of
virtue, and of science," says St. Simon; "for these things
accorded marvelously. It was a rendevous of all that was most
distinguished in condition and in merit; a tribunal with which it
was necessary to count, and whose decisions upon the conduct and
reputation of people of the court and the world, had great

Corneille read most of his dramas here, and, if report be true,
read them very badly. He says of himself:

Et l'on peut rarement m'ecouter sans ennui,
Que quand je me produis par la bouche d'autrui.

He was shy, awkward, ill at ease, not clear in speech, and rather
heavy in conversation, but the chivalric and heroic character of
his genius was quite in accord with the lofty and rather romantic
standards affected by this circle, and made him one of its
central literary figures. Another was Balzac, whose fine
critical taste did so much for the elegance and purity of the
French language, and who was as noted in his day as was his
namesake, the brilliant author of the "Comedie Humaine," two
centuries later. His long letters to the Marquise, on the
Romans, were read and discussed in his absence, and it was
through his influence, added to her own classic ideals, that
Roman dignity and urbanity were accepted as models in the new
code of manners; indeed, it was he who introduced the word
URBANITE into the language. Armand du Plessis, who aimed to be
poet as well as statesman, read here in his youth a thesis on
love. When did a Frenchman ever fail to write with facility upon
this fertile theme? After he became Cardinal de Richelieu he
feared the influence of the Hotel de Rambouillet, and sent a
request to its hostess to report what was said of him there. She
replied with consummate tact, that her guests were so strongly
persuaded of her friendship for his Eminence, that no one would
have the temerity to speak ill of him in her presence.

Even the Grand Conde courted the muses, and wrote verses which
were bad for a poet, though fairly good for a warrior. If it be
true that every man is a poet once in his life, we may infer that
this was about the time of his sad little romance with the pretty
and charming Mlle. du Vigean, who was one of the youthful
attractions of this coterie. Family ambition stood in the way of
their marriage, and the prince yielded to the wishes of his
friends. The Grande Mademoiselle tells us that this was the only
veritable passion of the brave young hero of many battles, and
that he fainted at the final separation. United to a wife he did
not love, and whom he did not scruple to treat very ill, he gave
himself to glory and, it must be added, to unworthy intrigues.
The pure-hearted young girl buried her beauty and her sorrows in
the convent of the Carmelites, and was no more heard of in the
gay world.

It is evident that the great soldier sometimes forgot the
urbanity which was so strongly insisted upon in this society. He
is said to have carried the impetuosity of his character into his
conversation. When he had a good cause, he sustained it with
grace and amiability. If it was a bad one, however, his eyes
flashed, and he became so violent that it was thought prudent not
to contradict him. It is related that Boileau, after yielding
one day in a dispute, remarked in a low voice to a friend:
"Hereafter I shall always be of the opinion of the Prince when he
is wrong."

Bossuet, when a boy of seventeen, improvised here one evening a
sermon on a given theme, which was so eloquent that it held the
company until near midnight. "I have never heard any one preach
so early and so late," remarked the witty Voiture, as he
congratulated the youthful orator at the close.

This famous bel esprit played a very prominent part here. His
role was to amuse, and his talents gave him great vogue, but at
this distance his small vanities strike one much more vividly
than the wit which flashed out with the moment, or the vers de
societe on which his fame rests. He owed his social success to a
rather high-flown love letter which he evidently thought too good
to be lost to the world. He sent it to a friend, who had it
printed and circulated. What the lady thought does not appear,
but it made the fortune of the poet. Though the son of a wine
merchant, and without rank, he had little more of the spirit of a
courtier than Voltaire, and his biting epigrams were no less
feared. "If he were one of us, he would be insupportable," said
Conde. But his caprices were tolerated for the sake of his
inexhaustible wit, and he was petted and spoiled to the end.

A list of the men of letters who appeared from time to time at
the Hotel de Rambouillet would include the most noted names of
the century, besides many which were famous in their day, but at
present are little more than historical shadows. The
conversations were often learned, doubtless sometimes
pretentious. One is inclined to wonder if these noble cavaliers
and high-born woman did not yawn occasionally over the scholarly
discourse of Corneille and Balzac upon the Romans, the endless
disputes about rival sonnets, and the long discussions on the
value of a word. "Doubtless it is a very beautiful poem, but
also very tiresome," said Mme. de Longueville, after Chapelain
had finished reading his "Pucelle"--a work which aimed to be the
Iliad of France, but succeeded only in being very long and rather

This lovely young Princess, who at sixteen had the exaltation of
a religieuse, and was with difficulty won from her dreams of
renunciation and a cloister, had become the wife of a man many
years her senior, whom she did not love, and the idol of the
brilliant world in which she lived. La Rochefoucauld had not yet
disturbed the serenity of her heart, nor political intrigues her
peace of mind. It was before the Fronde, in which she was
destined to play so conspicuous a part, and she was still content
with the role of a reigning beauty; but she was not at all averse
to the literary entertainments of this salon, in which her own
fascinations were so delightfully sung. She found the flattering
verses of Voiture more to her taste than the stately epic of
Chapelain, took his side warmly against Benserade in the famous
dispute as to the merits of their two sonnets, "Job" and "Urania,"
and won him a doubtful victory. The poems of Voiture lose much
of their flavor in translation, but I venture to give a verse in
the original, which was addressed to the charming princesse, and
which could hardly fail to win the favor of a young and beautiful

De perles, d'astres, et de fleurs,
Bourbon, le ciel fit tes couleurs,
Et mit dedans tout ce melange
L'esprit d'une ange.

But the diversions were by no means always grave or literary.
Life was represented on many sides, one secret, doubtless, of the
wide influence of this society. The daughters of Mme. de
Rambouillet, and her son, the popular young Marquis de Pisani,
formed a nucleus of youth and gaiety. To these we may add the
beautiful Angelique Paulet, who at seventeen had turned the head
of Henri IV, and escaped the fatal influence of that imperious
sovereign's infatuation by his timely, or untimely, death. Fair
and brilliant, the best singer of her time, skilled also in
playing the lute, and gifted with a special dramatic talent, she
was always a favorite, much loved by her friends and much sung by
the poets. Her proud and impetuous character, her frank and
original manners, together with her luxuriance of blonde hair,
gained her the sobriquet of La Belle Lionne. Nor must we forget
Mlle. de Scudery, one of the most constant literary lights of
this salon, and in some sense its chronicler; nor the fastidious
Mme. de Sable.

The brightest ornament of the Hotel de Rambouillet, however, was
Julie d'Angennes, the petted daughter of the house, the devoted
companion and clever assistant of her mother. Her gaiety of
heart, amiable temper, ready wit, and gracious manners surrounded
her with an atmosphere of perpetual sunshine. Fertile in
resources, of fine intelligence, winning the love alike of men
and women, she was the soul of the serious conversations, as well
as of the amusements which relieved them. These amusements were
varied and often original. They played little comedies. They
had mythological fetes, draping themselves as antique gods and
goddesses. Sometimes they indulged in practical jokes and
surprises, which were more laughable than dignified. Malherbe
and Racan, the latter sighing hopelessly over the attractions of
the dignified Marquise, gave her the romantic name of Arthenice,
and forthwith the other members of the coterie took some nom de
parnasse, by which they were familiarly known. They read the
"Astree" of d'Urfe, that platonic dream of a disillusioned lover;
discussed the romances of Calprenede and the sentimental
Bergeries of Racan. Such Arcadian pictures seemed to have a
singular fascination for these courtly dames and plumed
cavaliers. They tried to reproduce them. Assuming the
characters of the rather insipid Strephons and florimels, they
made love in pastoral fashion, with pipe and lute--these rustic
diversions serving especially to while away the long summer days
in the country at Rambouillet, at Chantilly, or at Ruel. They
improvised sonnets and madrigals; they praised each other in
verse; they wrote long letters on the slightest pretext. As a
specimen of the badinage so much in vogue, I quote from a letter
written by Voiture to one of the daughters of Mme. de
Rambouillet, who was an abbess, and had sent him a present of a

"Madame, I was already so devoted to you that I supposed you knew
there was no need of winning me by presents, or trying to take me
like a rat, with a cat. Nevertheless, if there was anything in
my thought that was not wholly yours, the cat which you have sent
me has captured it." After a eulogy upon the cat, he adds: "I
can only say that it is very difficult to keep, and for a cat
religiously brought up it is very little inclined to seclusion.
It never sees a window without wishing to jump out, it would have
leaped over the wall twenty times if it had not been prevented,
and no secular cat could be more lawless or more self-willed."

The wit here is certainly rather attenuated, but the subject is
an ungrateful one. Mme. de Sevigne finds Voiture "libre, badin,
charmant," and disposes of his critics by saying, "So much the
worse for those who do not understand him." One is often puzzled
to detect this rare spirituelle quality; but it is fair to
presume that it was of the volatile sort that evaporates with

All this sentimental masquerading and exaggerated gallantry
suggests the vulnerable side of the Hotel de Rambouillet, and the
side which its enemies have been disposed to make very prominent.
Among those who tried to imitate this salon, Spanish chivalry
doubtless degenerated into a thousand absurdities, and it must be
admitted that the salon itself was not free from reproach on this
point. It became the fashion to write and talk in the language
of hyperbole. Sighing lovers were consumed with artificial
fires, and ready to die with affected languors. Like the old
poets of Provence, whose spirit they caught and whose phrases
they repeated, they were dying of love they did not feel. The
eyes of Phyllis extinguished the sun. The very nightingales
expired of jealousy, after hearing the voice of Angelique.

It would be difficult, perhaps, to find anywhere a company of
clever people bent upon amusing themselves and passing every day
more or less together, whose sayings and doings would bear to be
exactly chronicled. The literary diversions and poetic ideals of
this circle, too, gave a certain color to the charge of
affectation, among people of less refined instincts, who found
its esprit incomprehensible, its manners prudish, and its virtue
a tacit reproach; but the dignified and serious character of many
of its constant habitues should be a sufficient guarantee that it
did not greatly pass the limits of good taste and good sense.
The only point upon which Mme. de Rambouillet seems to have been
open to criticism was a certain formal reserve and an over-
fastidious delicacy; but in an age when the standards of both
refinement and morals were so low, this implies a virtue rather
than a defect. Nor does her character appear to have been at all
tinged with pretension. "I should fear from your example to
write in a style too elevated," says Voiture, in a letter to her.
But traditions are strong, and people do not readily adapt
themselves to new models. Character and manners are a growth.
That which is put on, and not ingrained, is apt to lack true
balance and proportion. Hence it is not strange that this new
order of things resulted in many crudities and exaggerations.

It is not worth while to criticize too severely the plumed
knights who took the heroes of Corneille as models, played the
harmless lover, and paid the tribute of chivalric deference to
women. The strained politeness may have been artificial, and the
forms of chivalry very likely outran the feeling, but they served
at least to keep it alive, while the false platonism and ultra-
refined sentiment were simply moral protests against the coarse
vices of the time. The prudery which reached a satirical climax
in "Les Precieuses Ridicules" was a natural reaction from the
sensuality of a Marguerite and a Gabrielle. Mme. de Rambouillet
saw and enjoyed the first performance of this celebrated play,
nor does it appear that she was at all disturbed by the keen
satire which was generally supposed to have been directed toward
her salon. Moliere himself disclaims all intention of attacking
the true precieuse; but the world is not given to fine
discrimination, and the true suffers from the blow aimed at the
false. This brilliant comedian, whose manners were not of the
choicest, was more at home in the lax and epicurean world of
Ninon and Mme. de la Sabliere--a world which naturally did not
find the decorum of the precieuses at all to its taste; the
witticism of Ninon, who defined them as the "Jansenists of love,"
is well known. It is not unlikely that Moliere shared her
dislike of the powerful and fastidious coterie whose very virtues
might easily have furnished salient points for his scathing wit.

But whatever affectations may have grown out of the new code of
manners, it had a more lasting result in the fine and stately
courtesy which pervaded the later social life of the century. We
owe, too, a profound gratitude to these women who exacted and
were able to command a consideration which with many shades of
variation has been left as a permanent heritage to their sex. We
may smile at some of their follies; have we not our own which
some nineteenth century Moliere may serve up for the delight and
possible misleading of future generations?

There is a warm human side to this daily intercourse, with its
sweet and gracious courtesies. The women who discuss grave
questions and make or unmake literary reputations in the salon,
are capable of rare sacrifices and friendships that seem quixotic
in their devotion. Cousin, who has studied them so carefully and
so sympathetically, has saved from oblivion many private letters
which give us pleasant glimpses of their everyday life. As we
listen to their quiet exchange of confidences, we catch the smile
that plays over the light badinage, or the tear that lurks in the
tender words.

A little son of Mme. de Rambouillet has the small pox, and his
sister Julie shares the care of him with her mother, when every
one else has fled. At his death, she devotes herself to her
friend Mme. de Longueville, who soon after her marriage is
attacked with the same dreaded malady. Mme. de Sable is afraid
of contagion, and refuses to see Mlle. de Rambouillet, who writes
her a characteristic letter. As it gives us a vivid idea of her
esprit as well as of her literary style, I copy it in full,
though it has been made already familiar to the English reader by
George Eliot, in her admirable review of Cousin's "Life of Mme. De

Mlle de Chalais (Dame de compagnie to the Marquise) will please
read this letter to Mme. la Marquise, out of the wind.

Madame, I cannot begin my treaty with you too early, for I am
sure that between the first proposition made for me to see you,
and the conclusion, you will have so many reflections to make, so
many physicians to consult, and so many fears to overcome, that I
shall have full leisure to air myself. The conditions which I
offer are, not to visit you until I have been three days absent
from the Hotel de Conde, to change all my clothing, to choose a
day when it has frozen, not to approach you within four paces,
not to sit down upon more than one seat. You might also have a
great fire in your room, burn juniper in the four corners,
surround yourself with imperial vinegar, rue, and wormwood. If
you can feel safe under these conditions, without my cutting off
my hair, I swear to you to execute them religiously; and if you
need examples to fortify you, I will tell you that the Queen saw
M. de Chaudebonne when he came from Mlle. de Bourbon's room, and
that Mme. d'Aiguillon, who has good taste and is beyond criticism
on such points, has just sent me word that if I did not go to see
her, she should come after me.

Mme. de Sable retorts in a satirical vein, that her friend is too
well instructed in the needed precautions, to be quite free from
the charge of timidity, adding the hope that since she
understands the danger, she will take better care of herself in
the future.

This calls forth another letter, in which Mlle. de Rambouillet
says, "One never fears to see those whom one loves. I would have
given much, for your sake, if this had not occurred." She closes
this spicy correspondence, however, with a very affectionate
letter which calms the ruffled temper of her sensitive companion.

Mme. de Sable has another friend, Mlle. d'Attichy, who figures
quite prominently in the social life of a later period, as the
Comtesse de Maure. "This lady was just leaving Paris to visit
her in the country, when she learned that Mme. de Sable had
written to Mme. de Rambouillet that she could conceive of no
greater happiness than to pass her life alone with Julie
d'Angennes. This touches her sensibilities so keenly that she
changes her plans, and refuses to visit one who could find her
pleasure away from her. Mme. de Sable tries in vain to appease
her exacting friend, who replies to her explanations by a long
letter in which she recalls their tender and inviolable
friendship, and closes with these words:

Malheurteuse est l'ignorance,
Et plus malheureux le savoir.

Having thus lost a confidence which alone rendered life
supportable to me, I cannot dream of taking the journey so much
talked of; for there would be no propriety in traveling sixty
leagues at this season, in order to burden you with a person so
uninteresting to you, that after years of a passion without
parallel you cannot help thinking that the greatest pleasure
would consist in passing life without her. I return then into my
solitude, to examine the faults which cause me so much
unhappiness, and unless I can correct them, I should have less
joy than confusion in seeing you. I kiss your hands very humbly.

How this affair was adjusted does not appear, but as they
remained devoted friends through life, unable to live apart, or
pass a day happily without seeing each other, it evidently did
not end in a serious alienation. It suggests, however, a
delicacy and an exaltation of feeling which we are apt to accord
only to love, and which go far toward disproving the verdict of
Mongaigne, that "the soul of a woman is not firm enough for so
durable a tie as friendship."

We like to dwell upon these inner phases of a famous and powerful
coterie, not only because they bring before us so vividly the
living, moving, thinking, loving women who composed it, letting
us into their intimate life with its quiet shadings, its
fantastic humors, and its wayward caprices, but because they lead
us to the fountain head of a new form of literary expression. We
have seen that the formal letters of Balzac were among the early
entertainments of the Hotel de Rambouillet, and that Voiture had
a witty or sentimental note for every occasion. Mlle. de Scudery
held a ready pen, and was in the habit of noting down in her
letters to absent friends the conversation, which ran over a
great variety of topics, from the gossip of the moment to the
gravest questions. There was no morning journal with its columns
of daily news, no magazine with its sketches of contemporary
life, and these private letters were passed from one to another
to be read and discussed. The craze for clever letters spread.
Conversations literally overflowed upon paper. A romantic
adventure, a bit of scandal, a drawing room incident, or a
personal pique, was a fruitful theme. Everybody aimed to excel
in an art which brought a certain prestige. These letters, most
of which had their brief day, were often gathered into little
volumes. Many have long since disappeared, or found burial in
the dust of old libraries from which they are occasionally
exhumed to throw fresh light upon some forgotten nook and by way
of an age whose habits and manners, virtues and follies, they so
faithfully record. A few, charged with the vitality of genius,
retain their freshness and live among the enduring monuments of
the society that gave them birth. The finest outcome of this
prevailing taste was Mme. de Sevigne, who still reigns as the
queen of graceful letter writers. Although her maturity belongs
to a later period, she was familiar with the Rambouillet circle
in her youth, and inherited its best spirit.

The charm of this literature is its spontaneity. It has no
ulterior aim, but delights in simple expression. These people
write because they like to write. They are original because they
sketch from life. There is something naive and fresh in their
vivid pictures. They give us all the accessories. They tell us
how they lived, how they dressed, how they thought, how they
acted. They talk of their plans, their loves, and their private
piques, with the same ingenuous frankness. They condense for us
their worldly philosophy, their sentiments, and their experience.
The style of these letters is sometimes heavy and stilted, the
wit is often strained and far-fetched, but many of them are
written with an easy grace and a lightness of touch as
fascinating as inimitable.

The marriage of Julie d'Angennes, in 1645, deprived the Hotel de
Rambouillet of one of its chief attractions. It was only through
the earnest wish of her family that, after a delay of thirteen
years, she yielded at last to the persevering suit of the
Marquis, afterwards the Duc de Montausier, and became his wife.
She was then thirty-eight, and he three years younger. The
famous "Guirlande de Julie," which he dedicated and presented to
her, still exists, as the unique memorial of his patient and
enduring love. This beautiful volume, richly bound, decorated
with a flower exquisitely painted on each of the twenty-nine
leaves and accompanied by a madrigal written by the Marquis
himself or by some of the poets who frequented her house, was a
remarkable tribute to the graces of the woman whose praises were
so delicately sung. The faithful lover, who was a Protestant,
gave a crowning proof of his devotion, in changing his religion.
So much adoration could hardly fail to touch the most capricious
and obdurate of hearts.

We cannot dismiss this woman, whom Cousin regards as the most
accomplished type of the society she adorned, without a word
more. Though her ambition was gratified by the honors that fell
upon her husband, who after holding many high positions was
finally entrusted with the education of the Dauphin; and though
her own appointment of dame d'honneur to the Queen gave her an
envied place at court, we trace with regret the close of her
brilliant career. As has been already indicated, she added to
much esprit a character of great sweetness, and manners facile,
gracious, even caressing. With less elevation, less
independence, and less firmness than her mother, she had more of
the sympathetic quality, the frank unreserve, that wins the
heart. No one had so many adorers; no one scattered so many
hopeless passions; no one so gently tempered these into
friendships. She knew always how to say the fitting word, to
charm away the clouds of ill humor, to conciliate opposing
interests. But this spirit of complaisance which, however
charming it may be, is never many degrees removed from the spirit
of the courtier, proved to be the misfortune of her later life.
Too amiable, perhaps too diplomatic, to frown openly upon the
King's irregularities, she was accused, whether justly or
otherwise, of tacitly favoring his relations with Mme. De
Montespan. The husband of this lady took his wife's infidelity
very much to heart, and, failing to find any redress, forced
himself one day into the presence of Madam de Montausier, and
made a violent scene which so affected her that she fell into a
profound melancholy and an illness from which she never rallied.
There is always an air of mystery thrown about this affair, and
it is difficult to fathom the exact truth; but the results were
sufficiently tragical to the woman who was quoted by her age as a
model of virtue and decorum.

In 1648, the troubles of the Fronde, which divided friends and
added fuel to petty social rivalries, scattered the most noted
guests of the Hotel de Rambouillet. Voiture was dead; Angelique
Paulet died two years later. The young Marquis de Pisani, the
only son and the hope of his family, had fallen with many brave
comrades on the field of Nordlingen. Of the five daughters,
three were abbesses of convents. The health of the Marquise,
which had always been delicate, was still further enfeebled by
the successive griefs which darkened her closing years. Her
husband, of whom we know little save that he was sent on various
foreign missions, and "loved his wife always as a lover," died in
1652. She survived him thirteen years, living to see the death
of her youngest daughter, Angelique, wife of the Comte de Grignan
who was afterwards the son-in-law of Mme. de Sevigne. She
witnessed the elevation of her favorite Julie, but was spared the
grief of her death which occurred five or six years after her
own. The aged Marquise, true to her early tastes, continued to
receive her friends in her ruelle, and her salon had a brief
revival when the Duchesse de Montausier returned from the
provinces, after the second Fronde; but its freshness had faded
with its draperies of blue and gold. The brilliant company that
made it so famous was dispersed, and the glory of the Salon Bleu
was gone.

There is something infinitely pathetic in the epitaph this much-
loved and successful woman wrote for herself when she felt that
the end was near:

Ici git Arthenice, exempte des rigueurs
Don't la rigueur du sort l'a touours poursuivie.
Et si tu veux, passant, compter tous ses malheurs,
Tu n'aura qu'a, compter les moments de sa vie.

The spirit of unrest is there beneath the calm exterior. It may
be some hidden wound; it may be only the old, old weariness, the
inevitable burden of the race. "Mon Dieu!" wrote Mme. de
Maintenon, in the height of her worldly success, "how sad life
is! I pass my days without other consolation than the thought
that death will end it all."

Mme. de Rambouillet had worked unconsciously toward a very
important end. She found a language crude and inelegant, manners
coarse and licentious, morals dissolute and vicious. Her
influence was at its height in the age of Corneille and
Descartes, and she lived almost to the culmination of the era of
Racine and Moliere, of Boileau and La Bruyere, of Bossuet and
Fenelon, the era of simple and purified language, of refined and
stately manners, and of at least outward respect for morality.
To these results she largely contributed. Her salon was the
social and literary power of the first half of the century. In
an age of political espionage, it maintained its position and its
dignity. It sustained Corneille against the persecutions of
Richelieu, and numbered among its habitues the founders of the
Academie Francaise, who continued the critical reforms begun

As a school of politeness, it has left permanent traces. This
woman of fine ideals and exalted standards exacted of others the
purity of character, delicacy of thought, and urbanity of manner,
which she possessed in so eminent a degree herself. Her code was
founded upon the best instincts of humanity, and whatever
modifications of form time has wrought its essential spirit
remains unchanged. "Politeness does not always inspire goodness,
equity, complaisance, gratitude," says La Bruyere, "but it gives
at least the appearance of these qualities, and makes man seem
externally what he ought to be internally."

It was in this salon, too, that the modern art of conversation,
which has played so conspicuous a part in French life, may be
said to have had its birth. Men and women met on a footing of
equality, with similar tastes and similar interests. Different
ranks and conditions were represented, giving a certain
cosmopolitan character to a society which had hitherto been
narrow in its scope and limited in its aims. Naturally
conversation assumed a new importance, and was subject to new
laws. To quote again from LaBruyere, who has so profoundly
penetrated the secrets of human nature: "The esprit of
conversation consists much less in displaying itself than in
drawing out the wit of others . . . Men do not like to admire
you, they wish to please; they seek less to be instructed or even
to be entertained, than to be appreciated and applauded, and the
most delicate pleasure is to make that of others." "To please
others," says La Rochefoucauld, "one must speak of the things
they love and which concern them, avoid disputes upon indifferent
maters, ask questions rarely, and never let them think that one
is more in the right than themselves."

Many among the great writers of the age touch in the same tone
upon the philosophy underlying the various rules of manners and
conversation which were first discussed at the Hotel de
Rambouillet, and which have passed into permanent though
unwritten laws--unfortunately a little out of fashion in the
present generation.

It is difficult to estimate the impulse given to intelligence and
literary taste by this breaking up of old social
crystallizations. What the savant had learned in his closet
passed more or less into current coin. Conversation gave point
to thought, clearness to expression, simplicity to language.
Women of rank and recognized ability imposed the laws of good
taste, and their vivid imaginations changed lifeless abstractions
into something concrete and artistic. Men of letters, who had
held an inferior and dependent position, were penetrated with the
spirit of a refined society, while men of the world, in a circle
where wit and literary skill were distinctions, began to aspire
to the role of a bel esprit, to pride themselves upon some
intellectual gift and the power to write without labor and
without pedantry, as became their rank. Many of them lacked
seriousness, dealing mainly with delicate fancies and trivial
incidents, but pleasures of the intellect and taste became the
fashion. Burlesques and chansons disputed the palm with madrigals
and sonnets. A neatly turned epigram or a clever letter made a
social success.

Perhaps it was not a school for genius of the first order.
Society favors graces of form and expression rather than profound
and serious thought. No Homer, nor Aeschylus, nor Milton, nor
Dante is the outgrowth of such a soil. The prophet or seer
shines by the light of his own soul. He deals with problems and
emotions that lie deep in the pulsing heart of humanity, but he
does not best interpret his generation. It is the man living
upon the level of his time, and finding his inspiration in the
world of events, who reflects its life, marks its currents, and
registers its changes. Matthew Arnold has aptly said that "the
qualities of genius are less transferable than the qualities of
intelligence, less can be immediately learned and appropriated
from their product; they are less direct and stringent
intellectual agencies, though they may be more beautiful and
divine." It was this quality of intelligence that eminently
characterized the literature of the seventeenth century. It was
a mirror of social conditions, or their natural outcome. The
spirit of its social life penetrated its thought, colored its
language, and molded its forms. We trace it in the letters and
vers de societe which were the pastime of the Hotel de
Rambouillet and the Samedis of Mlle. de Scudery, as well as in
the romances which reflected their sentiments and pictured their
manners. We trace it in the literary portraits which were the
diversion of the coterie of Mademoiselle, at the Luxembourg, and
in the voluminous memoirs and chronicles which grew out of it.
We trace it also in the "Maxims" and "Thoughts" which were polished
and perfected in the convent salon of Mme. de Sable, and were the
direct fruits of a wide experience and observation of the great
world. It would be unfair to say that anything so complex as the
growth of a new literature was wholly due to any single
influence, but the intellectual drift of the time seems to have
found its impulse in the salons. They were the alembics in which
thought was fused and crystallized. They were the schools in
which the French mind cultivated its extraordinary clearness and

As the century advanced, the higher literature was tinged and
modified by the same spirit. Society, with its follies and
affectations, inspired the mocking laughter of Moliere, but its
unwritten laws tempered his language and refined his wit. Its
fine urbanity was reflected in the harmony and delicacy of
Racine, as well as in the critical decorum of Boileau. The
artistic sentiment rules in letters, as in social life. It was
not only the thought that counted, but the setting of the
thought. The majestic periods of Bossuet, the tender
persuasiveness of Fenelon, gave even truth a double force. The
moment came when this critical refinement, this devotion to form,
passed its limits, and the inevitable reaction followed. The
great literary wave of the seventeenth century reached its
brilliant climax and broke upon the shores of a new era. But the
seeds of thought had been scattered, to spring up in the great
literature of humanity that marked the eighteenth century.

Salons of the Noblesse--"The Illustrious Sappho"--Her Romances--
The Samedis--Bon Mots of Mme. Cornuel--Estimate of Mlle. de Scudery

There were a few contemporary salons among the noblesse, modeled
more or less after the Hotel de Rambouillet, but none of their
leaders had the happy art of conciliating so many elements. They
had a literary flavor, and patronized men of letters, often
doubtless, because it was the fashion and the name of a well-
known litterateur gave them a certain eclat; but they were not
cosmopolitan, and have left no marked traces. One of the most
important of these was the Hotel de Conde, over which the
beautiful Charlotte de Montmorency presided with such dignity and
grace, during the youth of her daughter, the Duchesse de
Longueville. Another was the Hotel de Nevers, where the gifted
Marie de Gonzague, afterward Queen of Poland, and her charming
sister, the Princesse Palatine, were the central attractions of a
brilliant and intellectual society. Richelieu, recognizing the
power of the Rambouillet circle, wished to transfer it to the
salon of his niece at the Petit Luxembourg. We have a glimpse of
the young and still worldly Pascal, explaining here his
discoveries in mathematics and his experiments in physics. The
tastes of this courtly company were evidently rather serious, as
we find another celebrity, of less enduring fame, discoursing
upon the immortality of the soul. But the rank, talent, and
masterful character of the Duchesse d'Aiguillon did not suffice
to give her salon the wide influence of its model; it was tainted
by her own questionable character, and always hampered by the
suspicion of political intrigues.

There were smaller coteries, however, which inherited the spirit
and continued the traditions of the Hotel de Rambouillet.
Prominent among these was that of Madeleine de Scudery, who held
her Samedis in modest fashion in the Marais. These famous
reunions lacked the prestige and the fine tone of their model,
but they had a definite position, and a wide though not
altogether favorable influence. As the forerunner of Mme. de La
Fayette and Mme. de Sevigne, and one of the most eminent literary
women of the century with which her life ran parallel, Mlle. de
Scudery has a distinct interest for us and it is to her keen
observation and facile pen that we are indebted for the most
complete and vivid picture of the social life of the period.

The "illustrious Sappho," as she was pleased to be called,
certainly did not possess the beauty popularly accorded to her
namesake and prototype. She was tall and thin, with a long,
dark, and not at all regular face; Mme. Cornuel said that one
could see clearly "she was destined by Providence to blacken
paper, as she sweat ink from every pore." But, if we may credit
her admirers, who were numerous, she had fine eyes, a pleasing
expression, and an agreeable address. She evidently did not
overestimate her personal attractions, as will be seen from the
following quatrain, which she wrote upon a portrait made by one
of her friends.

Nanteuil, en faisant mon image,
A de son art divin signale le pouvoir;
Je hais mes yeux dans mon miroir,
Je les aime dans son ouvrage.

She had her share, however, of small but harmless vanities, and
spoke of her impoverished family, says Tallemant, "as one might
speak of the overthrow of the Greek empire." Her father belonged
to an old and noble house of Provence, but removed to Normandy,
where he married and died, leaving two children with a heritage
of talent and poverty. A trace of the Provencal spirit always
clung to Madeleine, who was born in 1607, and lived until the
first year of the following century. After losing her mother,
who is said to have been a woman of some distinction, she was
carefully educated by an uncle in all the accomplishments of the
age, as well as in the serious studies which were then unusual.
According to her friend Conrart she was a veritable encyclopedia
of knowledge both useful and ornamental. "She had a prodigious
imagination," he writes, "an excellent memory, an exquisite
judgment, a lively temper, and a natural disposition to
understand everything curious which she saw done, and everything
laudable which she heard talked of. She learned the things that
concern agriculture, gardening, housekeeping, cooking, and a life
in the country; also the causes and effects of maladies, the
composition of an infinite number of remedies, perfumes, scented
waters and distillations useful or agreeable. She wished to play
the lute, and took some lessons with success." In addition to
all this, she mastered Spanish and Italian, read extensively and
conversed brilliantly. At the death of her uncle and in the
freshness of her youth, she went to Paris with her brother who
had some pretension as a poet and dramatic writer. He even posed
as a rival of Corneille, and was sustained by Richelieu, but time
has long since relegated him to comparative oblivion. His
sister, who was a victim of his selfish tyranny, is credited with
much of the prose which appeared under his name; indeed, her
first romances were thus disguised. Her love for conversation
was so absorbing, that he is said to have locked her in her room,
and refused her to her friends until a certain amount of writing
was done. But, in spite of this surveillance, her life was so
largely in the world that it was a mystery when she did her
voluminous work.

Of winning temper and pleasing address, with this full equipment
of knowledge and imagination, versatility and ambition, she was
at an early period domesticated in the family of Mme. de
Rambouillet as the friend and companion of Julie d'Angennes. Her
graces of mind and her amiability made her a favorite with those
who frequented the house, and she was thus brought into close
contact with the best society of her time. She has painted it
carefully and minutely in the "Grand Cyrus," a romantic allegory in
which she transfers the French aristocracy and French manners of
the seventeenth century to an oriental court. The Hotel de
Rambouillet plays an important part as the Hotel Cleomire. When
we consider that the central figures were the Prince de Conde and
his lovely sister the Duchesse de Longueville, also that the most
distinguished men and women of the age saw their own portraits,
somewhat idealized but quite recognizable through the thin
disguise of Persians, Greeks, Armenians, or Egyptians, it is easy
to imagine that the ten volumes of rather exalted sentiment were
eagerly sought and read. She lacked incident and constructive
power, but excelled in vivid portraits, subtle analysis, and fine
conversations. She made no attempt at local color; her plots
were strained and unnatural, her style heavy and involved. But
her penetrating intellect was thoroughly tinged with the romantic
spirit, and she had the art of throwing a certain glamour over
everything she touched. Cousin, who has rescued the memory of
Mlle. de Scudery from many unjust aspersions, says that she was
the "creator of the psychological romance." Unquestionably her
skill in character painting set the fashion for the pen portraits
which became a mania a few years later.

She depicts herself as Sapppho, whose opinions may be supposed to
reflect her own. In these days, when the position of women is
discussed from every possible point of view, it may be
interesting to know how it was regarded by one who represented
the thoughtful side of the age in which their social power was
first distinctly asserted. She classes her critics and enemies
under several heads. Among them are the "light and coquettish
women whose only occupation is to adorn their persons and pass
their lives in fetes and amusements--women who think that
scrupulous virtue requires them to know nothing but to be the
wife of a husband, the mother of children, and the mistress of a
family; and men who regard women as upper servants, and forbid
their daughters to read anything but their prayer books."

"One does not wish women to be coquettes," she writes again, "but
permits them to learn carefully all that fits them for gallantry,
without teaching them anything which can fortify their virtue or
occupy their minds. They devote ten or a dozen years to learning
to appear well, to dress in good style, to dance and sing, for
five or six; but this same person, who requires judgment all her
life and must talk until her last sigh, learns nothing which can
make her converse more agreeably, or act with more wisdom."

But she does not like a femme savante, and ridicules, under the
name of Damophile, a character which might have been the model
for Moliere's Philaminte. This woman has five or six masters, of
whom the least learned teaches astrology. She poses as a Muse,
and is always surrounded with books, pencils, and mathematical
instruments, while she uses large words in a grave and imperious
tone, although she speaks only of little things. After many long
conversations about her, Sappho concludes thus: "I wish it to be
said of a woman that she knows a hundred things of which she does
not boast, that she has a well-informed mind, is familiar with
fine works, speaks well, writes correctly, and knows the world;
but I do not wish it to be said of her that she is a femme
savante. The two characters have no resemblance." She evidently
recognized the fact that when knowledge has penetrated the soul,
it does not need to be worn on the outside, as it shines through
the entire personality.

After some further discussion, to the effect that the wise woman
will conceal superfluous learning and especially avoid pedantry,
she defines the limit to which a woman may safely go in knowledge
without losing her right to be regarded as the "ornament of the
world, made to be served and adored."

One may know some foreign languages and confess to reading Homer,
Hesiod, and the works of the illustrious Aristee (Chapelain),
without being too learned. One may express an opinion so
modestly that, without offending the propriety of her sex, she
may permit it to be seen that she has wit, knowledge, and
judgment. That which I wish principally to teach women is not to
speak too much of that which they know well, never to speak of
that which they do not know at all, and to speak reasonably.

We note always a half-apologetic tone, a spirit of compromise
between her conscious intelligence and the traditional prejudice
which had in no wise diminished since Martial included, in his
picture of a domestic menage, a wife not too learned..." She is
not willing to lose a woman's birthright of love and devotion,
but is not quite sure how far it might be affected by her ability
to detect a solecism. Hence, she offers a great deal of subtle
flattery to masculine self-love. With curious naivete she says:

Whoever should write all that was said by fifteen or twenty women
together would make the worst book in the world, even if some of
them were women of intelligence. But if a man should enter, a
single one, and not even a man of distinction, the same
conversation would suddenly become more spirituelle and more
agreeable. The conversation of men is doubtless less sprightly
when there are no women present; but ordinarily, although it may
be more serious, it is still rational, and they can do without us
more easily than we can do without them.

She attaches great importance to conversation as "the bond of
society, the greatest pleasure of well-bred people, and the best
means of introducing, not only politeness into the world, but a
purer morality." She dwells always upon the necessity of "a
spirit of urbanity, which banishes all bitter railleries, as well
as everything that can offend the taste, " also of a certain
"esprit de joie."

We find here the code which ruled the Hotel de Rambouillet, and
the very well-defined character of the precieuse. But it may be
noted that Mlle. de Scudery, who was among the avant-coureurs of
the modern movement for the advancement of women, always
preserved the forms of the old traditions, while violating their
spirit. True to her Gallic instincts, she presented her
innovations sugar-coated. She had the fine sense of fitness
which is the conscience of her race, and which gave so much power
to the women who really revolutionized society without
antagonizing it.

Her conversations, which were full of wise suggestions and showed
a remarkable insight into human character, were afterwards
published in detached form and had a great success. Mme. de
Sevigne writes to her daughter: "Mlle. De Scudery has just sent
me two little volumes of conversations; it is impossible that
they should not be good, when they are not drowned in a great

When the Hotel de Rambouillet was closed, Mlle. de Scudery tried
to replace its pleasant reunions by receiving her friends on
Saturdays. These informal receptions were frequented by a few
men and women of rank, but the prevailing tone was literary and
slightly bourgeois. We find there, from time to time, Mme. de
Sable, the Duc and Duchesse de Montausier, and others of the old
circle who were her lifelong friends. La Rochefoucauld is there
occasionally, also Mme. de. La Fayette, Mme. de Sevigne, and the
young Mme. Scarron whose brilliant future is hardly yet in her
dreams. Among those less known today, but of note in their age,
were the Comtesse de la Suze, a favorite writer of elegies, who
changed her faith and became a Catholic, as she said, that she
"might not meet her husband in this world or the next;" the
versatile Mlle. Cheron who had some celebrity as a poet,
musician, and painter; Mlle. de la Vigne and Mme. Deshoulieres,
also poets; Mlle. Descartes, niece of the great philosopher; and,
at rare intervals, the clever Abbess de Rohan who tempered her
piety with a little sage worldliness. One of the most brilliant
lights in this galaxy of talent was Mme. Cornuel, whose bons mots
sparkle from so many pages in the chronicles of the period. A
woman of high bourgeois birth and of the best associations, she
had a swift vision, a penetrating sense, and a clear intellect
prompt to seize the heart of a situation. Mlle. De Scudery said
that she could paint a grand satire in four words. Mme. de
Sevigne found her admirable, and even the grave Pomponne begged
his friend not to forget to send him all her witticisms. Of the
agreeable but rather light Comtesse de Fiesque, she said: "What
preserves her beauty is that it is salted in folly." Of James II
of England, she remarked, "The Holy Spirit has eaten up his
understanding." The saying that the eight generals appointed at
the death of Turenne were "the small change for Turenne" has been
attributed to her. It is certainly not to a woman of such keen
insight and ready wit that one can attach any of the affectations
which later crept into the Samedis.

The poet Sarasin is the Voiture of this salon. Conrart, to whose
house may be traced the first meetings of the little circle of
lettered men which formed the nucleus of the Academie Francaise,
is its secretary; Pellisson, another of the founders and the
historian of the same learned body, is its chronicler. Chapelain
is quite at home here, and we find also numerous minor authors
and artists whose names have small significance today. The
Samedis follow closely in the footsteps of the Hotel de
Rambouillet. It is the aim there to speak simply and naturally
upon all subjects grave or gay, to preserve always the spirit of
delicacy and urbanity, and to avoid vulgar intrigues. There is a
superabundance of sentiment, some affectation, and plenty of

They converse upon all the topics of the day, from fashion to
politics, from literature and the arts to the last item of
gossip. They read their works, talk about them, criticize them,
and vie with one another in improvising verses. Pellisson takes
notes and leaves us a multitude of madrigals, sonnets, chansons
and letters of varied merit. He says there reigned a sort of
epidemic of little poems. "The secret influence began to fall
with the dew. Here one recites four verses; there, one writes a
dozen. All this is done gaily and without effort. No one bites
his nails, or stops laughing and talking. There are challenges,
responses, repetitions, attacks, repartees. The pen passes from
hand to hand, and the hand does not keep pace with the mind. One
makes verses for every lady present." Many of these verses were
certainly not of the best quality, but it would be difficult, in
any age, to find a company of people clever enough to divert
themselves by throwing off such poetic trifles on the spur of the

In the end, the Samedis came to have something of the character
of a modern literary club, and were held at different houses.
The company was less choice, and the bourgeois coloring more
pronounced. These reunions very clearly illustrated the fact
that no society can sustain itself above the average of its
members. They increased in size, but decreased in quality, with
the inevitable result of affectation and pretension.
Intelligence, taste, and politeness were in fashion. Those who
did not possess them put on their semblance, and, affecting an
intellectual tone, fell into the pedantry which is sure to grow
out of the effort to speak above one's altitude. The fine-spun
theories of Mlle. de Scudery also reached a sentimental climax in
"Clelie," which did not fail of its effect. Platonic love and the
ton galant were the texts for innumerable follies which finally
reacted upon the Samedis. After a few years, they lost their
influence and were discontinued. But Mlle. de Scudery retained
the position which her brilliant gifts and literary fame had
given her, and was the center of a choice circle of friends until
a short time before her death at the ripe age of ninety-four.
Even Tallemant, writing of the decline of these reunions, says,
"Mlle. De Scudery is more considered than ever." At sixty-four
she received the first Prix D'Eloquence from the Academie
Francaise, for an essay on Glory. This prize was founded by
Balzac, and the subject was specified. Thus the long procession
of laureates was led by a woman.

In spite of her subtle analysis of love, and her exact map of the
Empire of Tenderness, the sentiment of the "Illustrious Sappho"
seems to have been rather ideal. She had numerous adorers, of
whom Conrart and Pellisson were among the most devoted. During
the long imprisonment of the latter for supposed complicity with
Fouquet, she was of great service to him, and the tender
friendship ended only with his life, upon which she wrote a
touching eulogy at its close. But she never married. She feared
to lose her liberty. "I know," she writes, "that there are many
estimable men who merit all my esteem and who can retain a part
of my friendship, but as soon as I regard them as husbands, I
regard them as masters, and so apt to become tyrants that I must
hate them from that moment; and I thank the gods for giving me an
inclination very much averse to marriage."

It was the misfortune of Mlle. de Scudery to outlive her literary
reputation. The interminable romances which had charmed the
eloquent Flechier, the Grand Conde in his cell at Vincennes, the
ascetic d'Andilly at Port Royal, as well as the dreaming maidens
who signed over their fanciful descriptions and impossible
adventures, passed their day. The touch of a merciless criticism
stripped them of their already fading glory. Their subtle
analysis and etherealized sentiment were declared antiquated, and
fashion ran after new literary idols. It was Boileau who gave
the severest blow. "This Despreaux," said Segrais, "knows how to
do nothing else but talk of himself and criticize others; why
speak ill of Mlle. de Scudery as he has done?"

There has been a disposition to credit the founder of the Samedis
with many of the affectations which brought such deserved
ridicule upon their bourgeois imitators, and to trace in her the
original of Moliere's "Madelon." But Cousin has relieved her of
such reproach, and does ample justice to the truth and sincerity
of her character, the purity of her manners, and the fine quality
of her intellect. He calls her "a sort of French sister of
Addison." Perhaps her resemblance to one of the clearest,
purest, and simplest of English essayists is not quite apparent
on the surface; but as a moralist and a delineator of manners she
may have done a similar work in her own way.

Sainte-Beuve, who has left so many vivid and exquisite portraits
of his countrywomen, does not paint Mlle. de Scudery with his
usual kindly touch. He admits her merit, her accomplishments,
her versatility, and the perfect innocence of her life; but he
finds her didactic, pedantic, and tiresome as a writer, and
without charm or grace as a woman. Doubtless one would find it
difficult to read her romances today. She lacks the genius which
has no age and belongs to all ages. Her literary life pertains
to the first half of the seventeenth century, when style had not
reached the Attic purity and elegance of a later period. She was
teacher rather than artist; but no one could be farther from a
bas bleu, or more severe upon pedantry or pretension of any sort.
She takes the point of view of her time, and dwells always upon
the wisdom of veiling the knowledge she claims for her sex behind
the purely feminine graces. How far she practiced her own
theories, we can know only from the testimony of her
contemporaries. It is not possible to perpetuate so indefinable
a thing as personal charm, but we are told repeatedly that she
had it in an eminent degree. It is certain that no woman without
beauty, fortune, or visible rank, living simply and depending
mainly upon her own talents, could have retained such powerful
and fastidious friends, during a long life, unless she had had
some rare attractions. That she was much loved, much praised,
and much sought, we have sufficient evidence among the writers of
her own time. She was familiarly spoken of as the tenth Muse,
and she counted among her personal friends the greatest men and
women of the century. Leibnitz sought her correspondence. The
Abbe de Pure, who was not friendly to the precieuses and made the
first severe attack upon them, thus writes of her: "One may call
Mlle. de Scudery the muse of our age and the prodigy of her sex.
It is not only her goodness and her sweetness, but her intellect
shines with so much modesty, her sentiments are expressed with so
much reserve, she speaks with so much discretion, and all that
she says is so fit and reasonable, that one cannot help both
admiring and loving her. Comparing what one sees of her, and
what one owes to her personally, with what she writes, one
prefers, without hesitation, her conversation to her works.
Although she has a wonderful mind, her heart outweighs it. It is
in the heart of this illustrious woman that one finds true and
pure generosity, an immovable constancy, a sincere and solid

The loyalty of her character was conspicuously shown in her brave
devotion to the interests of the Conde family, through all the
reverses of the Fronde. In one of her darkest moments Mme. de
Longueville received the last volume of the "Grand Cyrus," which
was dedicated to her, and immediately sent her own portrait
encircled with diamonds, as the only thing she had left worthy of
this friend who, without sharing ardently her political
prejudices, had never deserted her waning fortunes. The same
rare quality was seen in her unwavering friendship for Fouquet,
during his long disgrace and imprisonment. Mme. de Sevigne,
whose satire was so pitiless toward affectation of any sort,
writes to her in terms of exaggerated tenderness.

"In a hundred thousand words, I could tell you but one truth,
which reduces itself to assuring you, Mademoiselle, that I shall
love you and adore you all my life; it is only this word that can
express the idea I have of your extraordinary merit. I am happy
to have some part in the friendship and esteem of such a person.
As constancy is a perfection, I say to myself that you will not
change for me; and I dare to pride myself that I shall never be
sufficiently abandoned of God not to be always yours . . . I
take to my son your conversations. I wish him to be charmed with
them, after being charmed myself."

Mlle. de Scudery is especially interesting to us as marking a
transition point in the history of women; as the author of the
first romances of any note written by her sex; as a moral teacher
in an age of laxity; and as a woman who combined high
aspirations, fine ideals, and versatile talents with a pure and
unselfish character. She aimed at universal accomplishments
from the distillation of a perfume to the writing of a novel,
from the preparation of a rare dish to fine conversation, from
playing the lute to the dissection of the human heart. In this
versatility she has been likened to Mme. de Genlis, whom she
resembled also in her moral teaching and her factitious
sensibility. She was, however, more genuine, more amiable, and
far superior in true elevation of character. She was full of
theories and loved to air them, hence the people who move across
the pages of her novels are often lost in a cloud of speculation.
But she gave a fresh impulse to literature, adding a fine quality
of grace, tenderness, and pure though often exaggerated
sentiment. Mme. de La Fayette, who had more clearness of mind as
well as a finer artistic sense, gave a better form to the novel
and pruned it of superfluous matter. The sentiment which casts
so soft and delicate a coloring over her romances was more subtle
and refined. It may be questioned, however, if she wrote so much
that has been incorporated in the thought of her time.

Her Character--Her Heroic Part in the Fronde--Her Exile--
Literary Diversions of her Salon--A Romantic Episode

There are certain women preeminently distinguished by diversity
of gifts, who fail to leave behind them a fame at all
commensurate with their promise. It may be from a lack of unity,
resulting from a series of fragmentary efforts, no one of which
is of surpassing excellence; it may be that the impression of
power they give is quite beyond any practical manifestation of
it; or it may be that talents in themselves remarkable are cast
into the shade by some exceptional brilliancy of position. The
success of life is measured by the harmony between its ideals and
its attainments. It is the symmetry of the temple that gives the
final word, not the breadth of its foundations nor the wealth of
its material.

It was this lack of harmony and fine proportion which marred the
career of a woman who played a very conspicuous part in the
social and political life of her time, and who belongs to my
subject only through a single phase of a stormy and eventful
history. No study of the salons would be complete without that
of the Grande Mademoiselle, but it was not as the leader of a
coterie that she held her special claim to recognition. By the
accident of birth she stood apart, subject to many limitations
that modified the character of her salon and narrowed its scope,
though they emphasized its influence. It was only an incident of
her life, but through the quality of its habitues and their
unique diversions it became the source of an important

Anne Marie Louise d'Orleans, Duchesse de Montpensier, has left a
very distinct record of herself in letters, romances, memoirs and
portraits, written out of an abounding fullness of nature, but
with infinite detail and royal contempt for precision and
orthography. She talks naively of her happy childhood, of her
small caprices, of the love of her grandmother, Marie de Medicis,
of her innocent impressions of the people about her. She dwells
with special pleasure upon a grand fete at the Palais Royal, in
which she posed as an incipient queen. She was then nineteen.
"They were three entire days in arranging my costume," she
writes. "My robe was covered with diamonds, and trimmed with
rose, black, and white tufts. I wore all the jewels of the crown
and of the Queen of England, who still had some left. No one
could be better or more magnificently attired than I was that
day, and many people said that my beautiful figure, my imposing
mien, my fair complexion, and the splendor of my blonde hair did
not adorn me less than all the riches which were upon my person."
She sat resplendent upon a raised dais, with the proud
consciousness of her right and power to grace a throne. Louis
XIV, than a child, and the Prince of Wales, afterwards Charles
II, were at her feet. The latter was a devoted suitor. "My
heart as well as my eyes regarded the prince de haut en bas," she
says. "I had the spirit to wed an emperor."

There were negotiations for her marriage with the Emperor of
Austria, and she thought it wise to adapt herself in advance to
his tastes. She had heard that he was religious, and immediately
began to play the part of a devote so seriously, that she was
seized with a violent desire to become a veritable religieuse and
enter the convent of the Carmelites. She could neither eat nor
sleep, and it was feared that she would fall dangerously ill. "I
can only say that, during those eight days, the empire was
nothing to me," she writes. But she confesses to a certain
feeling of vanity at her own spirit of self-sacrifice, and the
sensibility which made her weep at the thought of leaving those
she loved. This access of piety was of short duration, however,
as her father quickly put to flight all her exalted visions of a
cloister. Her dreams of an emperor for whom she lost a
prospective king were alike futile.

"She had beauty, talent, wealth, virtue, and a royal birth," says
Mme. de Motteville. "Her face was not without defects, and her
intellect was not one which always pleases. Her vivacity
deprived all her actions of the gravity necessary to people of
her rank, and her mind was too much carried away by her feelings.
As she was fair, had fine eyes, a pleasing mouth, was of good
height, and blonde, she had quite the air of a great beauty."
But it was beauty of a commanding sort, without delicacy, and
dependent largely upon the freshness of youth. The same
veracious writer says that "she spoiled all she went about by the
eagerness and impatience of her temper. She was always too hasty
and pushed things too far." What she may have lacked in grace
and charm, she made up by the splendors of rank and position.

A princess by birth, closely related to three kings, and glowing
with all the fiery instincts of her race, the Grand Mademoiselle
curiously blended the courage of an Amazon with the weakness of a
passionate and capricious woman. As she was born in 1627, the
most brilliant days of her youth were passed amid the excitements
of the Fronde. She casts a romantic light upon these trivial
wars, which were ended at last by her prompt decision and
masculine force. We see her at twenty-five, riding victoriously
into the city of Orleans at the head of her troops and, later,
ordering the cannon at the Bastile turned against the royal
forces, and opening the gates of Paris to the exhausted army of
Conde. This adventure gives us the key-note to her haughty and
imperious character. She would have posed well for the heroine
of a great drama; indeed, she posed all her life in real dramas.

At this time she had hopes of marrying the Prince de Conde, whom
she regarded as a hero worthy of her. His wife, an amiable woman
who was sent to a convent after her marriage to learn to read and
write, was dangerously ill, and her illustrious husband did not
scruple to make tacit arrangements to supply her place.
Unfortunately for these plans, and fortunately perhaps for a
certain interesting phase of literature, she recovered. Soon
afterwards, Mademoiselle found the reward of her heroic
adventures in a sudden exile to her estates at Saint Fargeau.
The country life, so foreign to her tastes, pressed upon her very
heavily at first, the more so as she was deserted by most of her
friends. "I received more compliments than visits," she writes.
"I had made everybody ill. All those who did not dare send me
word that they feared to embroil themselves with the court
pretended that some malady or accident had befallen them." By
degrees, however, she adapted herself to her situation, and in
her loneliness and disappointment betook herself to pursuits
which offered a strong contrast to the dazzling succession of
magnificent fetes and military episodes which had given variety
and excitement to her life at the Tuileries. When she grew tired
of her parrots, her dogs, her horses, her comedians and her
violin, she found solace in literature, beginning the "Memoirs,"
which were finished thirty years later, and writing romances,
after the manner of Mlle. de Scudery. The drift of the first
one, "Les Nouvelles Francaises et les Divertissements de la
Princesse Aurelie," is suggested by its title. It was woven from
the little stories or adventures which were told to amuse their
solitude by the small coterie of women who had followed the
clouded fortunes of Mademoiselle. A romance of more pretension
was the "Princesse de Paphlagonie," in which the writer pictures
her own little court, and introduces many of its members under
fictitious names. These romances have small interest for the
world today, but the exalted position of their author and their
personal character made them much talked of in their time.

It was in quite another fashion, however, that the Grande
Mademoiselle made her most important contribution to literature.
One day in 1657, while still in the country, she proposed to her
friends to make pen portraits of themselves, and set the fashion
by writing her own, with a detailed description of her physical,
mental, and moral qualities. This was followed by carefully
drawn pictures of others, among whom were Louis XIV, Monsieur,
and the Grand Conde. All were bound in honor to give the lights
and shadows with the same fidelity, though it would be hardly
wise to call them to too strict an account on this point. As may
be readily imagined, the result was something piquant and
original. That the amusement was a popular one goes without
saying. People like to talk of themselves, not only because the
subject is interesting, but because it gives them an opportunity
of setting in relief their virtues and tempering their foibles.
They like also to know what others think of them--at least, what
others say of them. It is too much to expect of human nature,
least of all, of French human nature, that an agreeable modicum
of subtle flattery should not be added under such conditions.

When Mademoiselle opened her salon in the Luxembourg, on her
return from exile, these portraits formed one of its most marked
features. The salon was limited mainly to the nobility, with the
addition of a few men of letters. Among those who frequented it
on intimate terms were the Marquise de Sable, the Comtesse de
Maure, the beautiful and pure-hearted Mme. de Hautefort, the dame
d'honneur of Anne of Austria, so hopelessly adored by Louis XIII,
and Mme. de Choisy, the witty wife of the chancellor of the Duc
d'Orleans. Its most brilliant lights were Mme. de Sevigne, Mme.
de La Fayette, and La Rochefoucauld. It was here that Mme. de La
Fayette made the vivid portrait of her friend Mme. de Sevigne.
"It flatters me," said the latter long afterwards, "but those who
loved me sixteen years ago may have thought it true." The
beautiful Comtesse de Bregy, who was called one of the muses of
the time, portrayed the Princess Henrietta and the irrepressible
Queen Christine of Sweden. Mme. de Chatillon, known later as the
Duchesse de Mecklenbourg, who was mingled with all the intrigues
of this period, traces a very agreeable sketch of herself, which
may serve as a specimen of this interesting diversion. After
minutely describing her person, which she evidently regards with
much complacence, she continues:

"I have a temper naturally cheerful and a little given to
raillery; but I correct this inclination, for fear of
displeasing. I have much esprit, and enter agreeably into
conversation. I have a pleasant voice and a modest air. I am
very sincere and do not fail my friends. I have not a trifling
mind, nor do I cherish a thousand small malices against my
neighbor. I love glory and fine actions. I have heart and
ambition. I am very sensitive to good and ill, but I never
avenge myself for the ill that has been done me, although I might
have the inclination; I am restrained by self-love. I have a
sweet disposition, take pleasure in serving my friends, and fear
nothing so much as the petty drawing-room quarrels which usually
grow out of little nothings. I find my person and my temper
constructed something after this fashion; and I am so satisfied
with both, that I envy no one. I leave to my friends or to my
enemies the care of seeking my faults."

It was under this stimulating influence that La Rochefoucauld
made the well-known pen-portrait of himself. "I will lack
neither boldness to speak as freely as I can of my good
qualities," he writes, "nor sincerity to avow frankly that I have
faults." After describing his person, temper, abilities,
passions, and tastes, he adds with curious candor: "I am but
little given to pity, and do not wish to be so at all.
Nevertheless there is nothing I would not do for an afflicted
person; and I sincerely believe one should do all one can to show
sympathy for misfortune, as miserable people are so foolish that
this does them the greatest good in the world; but I also hold
that we should be content with expressing sympathy, and carefully
avoid having any. It is a passion that is wholly worthless in a
well-regulated mind, that only serves to weaken the heart, and
should be left to people, who, never doing anything from reason,
have need of passion to stimulate their actions. I love my
friends; and I love them to such an extent that I would not for a
moment weigh my interest against theirs. I condescend to them, I
patiently endure their bad temper. But I do not make much of
their caresses, and I do not feel great uneasiness at their

It would be interesting to quote in full this sample of the close
and not always flattering self-analysis so much in fashion, but
its length forbids. Its revelation of the hidden springs of
character is at least unique.

The poet Segrais, who was attached to Mademoiselle's household,
collected these graphic pictures for private circulation, but
they were so much in demand that they were soon printed for the
public under the title of "Divers Portraits." They served the
double purpose of furnishing to the world faithful delineations
of many more or less distinguished people and of setting a
literary fashion. The taste for pen-portraits, which originated
in the romances of Mlle. de Scudery, and received a fresh impulse
from this novel and personal application, spread rapidly among
all classes. It was taken up by men of letters and men of the
world, the nobility, and the bourgeoisie. There were portraits
of every grade of excellence and every variety of people, until
they culminated, some years later in "Les Caracteres" of La
Bruyere, who dropped personalities and gave them the form of
permanent types. It is a literature peculiarly adapted to the
flexibility and fine perception of the French mind, and one in
which it has been preeminent, from the analytic but diffuse Mlle.
de Scudery, and the clear, terse, spirited Cardinal de Retz, to
the fine, penetrating, and exquisitely finished Sainte-Beuve, the
prince of modern critics and literary artists. It was this skill
in vivid delineation that gave such point and piquancy to the
memoirs of the period, which are little more than a series of
brilliant and vigorous sketches of people outlined upon a
shifting background of events. In this rapid characterization
the French have no rivals. It is the charm of their fiction as
well as of their memoirs. Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Daudet, are
the natural successors of La Bruyere and Saint-Simon.

The marriage of Louis XIV shattered one of the most brilliant
illusions of the Grande Mademoiselle, and it was about this time
that she wrote a characteristic letter to Mme. de Motteville,
picturing an Arcadia in some beautiful forest, where people are
free to do as they like. The most ardent apostle of socialism
could hardly dream of an existence more democratic or more
Utopian. These favored men and women lead a simple, pastoral
life. They take care of the house and the garden, milk the cows,
make cheese and cakes, and tend sheep on pleasant days. But this
rustic community must have its civilized amusements. They visit,
drive, ride on horseback, paint, design, play on the lute or
clavecin, and have all the new books sent to them. After reading
the lives of heroes and philosophers, the princess is convinced
that no one is perfectly happy, and that Christianity is
desirable, as it gives hope for the future. Her platonic and
Christian republic is composed of "amiable and perfect people,"
but it is quite free from the entanglements of love and the
"vulgar institution of marriage." Mme. de Motteville replies
very gracefully, accepting many of these ideas, but as it is
difficult to repress love altogether, she thinks "one will be
obliged to permit that error which an old custom has rendered
legitimate, and which is called marriage." This curious
correspondence takes its color from the Spanish pastorals which
tinged the romantic literature of the time as well as its social
life. The long letters, carefully written on large and heavy
sheets yellow with age, have a peculiarly old-time flavor, and
throw a vivid light upon the woman who could play the role of a
heroine of Corneille or of a sentimental shepherdess, as the
caprice seized her.

A tragical bit of romance colored the mature life of the Grande
Mademoiselle. She had always professed a great aversion to love,
regarding it as "unworthy of a well-ordered soul." She even went
so far as to say that it was better to marry from reason or any
other thing imaginable, dislike included, than from passion that
was, in any case, short-lived. But this princess of intrepid
spirit, versatile gifts, ideal fancies, and platonic theories,
who had aimed at an emperor and missed a throne; this amazon,
with her penchant for glory and contempt for love, forgot all her
sage precepts, and at forty-two fell a victim to a violent
passion for the Comte de Lauzun. She has traced its course to
the finest shades of sentiment. Her pride, her infatuation, her
scruples, her new-born humility--we are made familiar with them
all, even to the finesse of her respectful adorer, and the
reluctant confession of love which his discreet silence wrings
from her at last.. Her royal cousin, after much persuasion,
consented to the unequal union. The impression this affair made
upon the world is vividly shown in a letter written by Mme. de
Sevigne to her daughter:


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