Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

place. It is too much to affirm that she prompted the persecution of her former fellow-religionists. But it is certain that she did not ruffle the temper of her Royal lover, by persevering remonstrance against that cruel persecution. The King, she writes to a correspondent, has been told that I was a Cala vinist. This induces me to approve measures most opposite to my sentiments.' In writing to her profligate brother in 1681, she tells him “ You cannot employ the money you receive better 'than in the purchase of an estate in Poitou. They are to be had there for nothing, in consequence of the flight of the Hugonots !! She did not venture to protect Racine against the unjust and mean resentment of the King, though it was incurred by a paper on the general distress written at her desire. The exile of Fenelon was continued during the period of her greatest power. Regards for herself prevailed, even in the last moments of the King's life. She continued her attendance on him, only as long as it was useful to him and safe to herself. Neither compassion nor gratitude betrayed her into an advance of a hairbreadth beyond these strictly calculated boundaries. On the 30th of August 1715, when the King became insensible, she immediately took refuge at St Cyr from the dreaded resentment of the populace; and it was not till two days after, that she learnt in that retirement the tidings of his death. She reaped the fruit of her character and system. She crept up from the lowest to the highest condition in society. She accumulated all the outward means of human enjoyment. According to the estimate of the world, she was the most prosperous of women. But her own descriptions betray the difference between prosperity and happiness. In looking into a fish-pond at Marly, she said to her friend, "You see how languid the carp are. They • are like me, they regret their mud!’ – What a punishment, she often bitterly exclaimed, it is to have to amuse a man who ' is no longer amusable!'

St Simon's description of the manner in which she exercised her ascendant, however tinctured by his hostile feelings, is too precious not to be presented to the reader, with a few retrenchments in the superfluities, but with no abridgement of the characteristic parts. It is a picture evidently taken from the life.

On the days of business, Mad. de Maintenon, in whose apart• ment the ministers transacted affairs with the King, sat by, read

ing or working tapestry. She quietly heard all that passed, and

rarely threw in a word. The word was still more rarely of 6 any consequence. The King often asked her advice, addressing her in a playful tone, as your solidity, or your reasonable

She answered slowly and coldly, scarcely ever betray

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

6

ness.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"ing a prepossession for any thing, and never for any person;

but the ministers had their cue. If by chance the King at first ' fixed on her candidate, it was well, the ministers were sure to agree; and they contrived to hinder the mention of

any

other. • If he showed a preference for any other, the minister read ' out his own list, rarely recommending any one directly, but

hinting at the objections to all, so as to leave the King per.. plexed. In this embarrassment, he often asked the advice of the minister, who, after again balancing the good and bad

qualities of all, showed a slight preference for one. The King 'hesitated, and frequently in that stage referred to Mad. de • Maintenon. She smiled, affected to be incapable of judging, ' said something in favour of another candidate, but at last,

sometimes slowly, as if deliberating, sometimes as if by a sudden, accidental recollection, returned to the candidate whom she had prompted the minister to recommend ; and in this manner she disposed of all favours and preferments in France.'

She appointed, removed, preferred or disgraced ministers. They consulted her pleasure in every thing. Sometimes when matters were not managed with sufficient address and artifice, the King was liable to sudden explosions of independence. When a minister or a general too openly favoured one of her relations, the Monarch resisted, and boasted of his spirit. Such a one, he would say, is a good courtier. It is not his fault that all Ma• dame's relations are not preferred.' These occasional strokes more and more taught her to be reserved and wary. Her constant answer to applications was, that she never meddled with politics. Half a dozen of her oldest friends were a creditable exception. On their behalf she prevailed over her own cowardice and selfishness, and generally succeeded in conquering the King's affectation of independence. On such occasions, warm scenes sometimes passed between them; she wept in his presence, and she was on thorns for some days. These mutinous dispositions had been shown by Louis to some of his former managers. Letellier, before he was chancellor, on the application of one of his best friends for a favour, answered, that he would do what he could. His friend murmured at what he thought a cold

• You do not know the ground,' replied the minister. « Our recommendations prevail nineteen times in twenty. We

know that we shall fail but once in twenty times. But we never “ know which recommendation is to fail. It is often that in

which we are most desirous of success. If the case be of great importance, we risk a quarrel. We show ourselves as obstinate as the King. We face the storm; and he, relieved by venting his anger, becomes more yielding than before,'

answer.

[ocr errors]

6

Thus, he who was the terror of Europe, and who seemed to be the absolute master of France, was converted into a puppet moved by an old woman; and while he, in the fancied exercise of an unfettered will, issued his commands to obedient millions, the aged sorceress sat in silence and apparent humility beside him, guiding, by unseen springs, every movement of his hand and articulation of his voice, according to her pleasure. It is hard to believe that she and her creatures did not sometimes smile, at least secretly, at the timid hints, the mock discussions, the hypocritical reverence, which were the potent incantations by which these political magicians transformed their master into a slave. When he had set himself free from all outward restraints, he was the more sure of having his mind enslaved. He was disturbed by no representative assembly. He had silenced even the judicial bodies who, before and after him, had manifested a noble independence. The word People, no man in his dominions would have dared to utter. « The State,' he said, “is myself. * Dụngeons were every where prepared for the writers who could be so insane as to breathe a syllable of censure on his measures, He was not checked by the counsel of an honest minister. But having thus escaped the control of parliaments and tribunals, of a public and a press, of courageous counsellors, or an independent nobility, he fell into the toils of a Favourite. For it is a vain attempt in the greatest of human beings to rule a nation without aid. If such an attempt were in itself practicable, the very possession of absolute authority would soon weaken the mind of the posşessor too much to make it long possible for him; and the power of using him as an instrument for governing an empire, is too great a prize not to call forth a combination of talent to enslave him, more than sufficient to overpower his enfeebled spirit. When he attempts to escape the appointed lot of despots, his choice of men and measures becomes the worse for his independence. He is then, as we learn from the veteran courtier, Letellier, influenced by motives so petty or capricious, that those who know him best cannot forsee his determination. Either his caprice is nearly the same as chance, or he exchanges the ascendant of ministers and mistresses, who generally have some ability, and may often have some fear of infamy, for that of minions, who being unknown, are shameless and fearless, and who rarely have any other talent than the mean faculty of gainThe chain of power did not end in Madame de Maintenon. She, indeed, ruled the Sovereign of France; but she was her: self ruled by an humbler favourite. Nanon Balbieux, or Babbieux (the various orthography of her name in different writers is indicative of her origin and her education), had long been her only servant, and after the death of Scarron was accustomed to make their joint bed, and to dress their plate of soup, in the little bedroom which was their only dwelling. It is one of the most honourable facts in the history of Mad. de Maintenon, that this faithful servant followed her through all her changes of fortune. With the boundless prodigality which is more often practised to a favourite than to a friend, Madame de Maintenon at last bestowed on her the office of Superintendo ent of the almost Royal Household, and she ended by dictating as many promotions as she desired. Such is the ascendancy of inferior attendants, to which long habit, constant access, and the skilful use of favourable moments, so generally subject the great; or, if we look at man from another point of view, so urgent is the need which compels the coldest natures to seek, in the pleasure of feeling attachment and of seeming to inspire it, some amends for a life of joyless selfishness and painful hypocrisy.

ing favour.

* A declaration applauded in the year 1826 by the Abbé La Meganais, the eloquent advocate of the Jesuitical system.

The present publication consists of a Correspondence of Mad. de Maintenon with the Princess Ursini, or, as she was called in France, Des Ursins; a French lady who had married two husbands of the noble houses of Talleyrand and Ursini, and who was sent in her second widowhood to Madrid, to govern Philip, through the young Princess of Savoy his first Queen. The letters are correct, cold, wary, unbending; the production of a woman who never dared to express the little feeling she had, and was too sensible to make a display of talent in her correspondence. Whoever is desirous of reading letters of natural effusion, graceful ease, and sometimes agreeable negligence, occasionally lighted up by happy phrases, struck out by feeling and taste, must look elsewhere for these epistolary graces. The old politician in petticoats had her caution too constantly on the stretch to indulge herself in such elegant relaxation. The subjects are either court news, which never could have interested any but court ladies, or remarks on political events, which have long ceased to interest the general reader. But in spite of the stiff and wary writer, the former part contains some strokes of character and manners, and the latter contributes some materials for the history of the war and

A few extracts may please many who would not have patience to read the book. We shall select, in the first

the peace.

place, those which relate to Warfare and Negociations. They begin immediately after the great battle of Ramillies.

20th June 1706. — The designs of God are impenetrable. Three great and most Christian Kings appear to be abandoned.'_One of these three was the unfortunate son of James II.)— Heresy and injustice triumph.' - Villeroi is full of bitterness and despair.'

16th April 1707.— I am overjoyed that eighty Spaniards have beaten five hundred English. I naturally love the Spaniards, and the lowest of the populace cannot at present hate the English more than I do.'

4th March 1708.— The King of England is to set out on the 9th, and to embark at Dunkirk for Scotland on the 10th. The King gives him six thousand men. The Scotch lads have written repeatedly that they will receive him. If God blesses this enterprise, it will make a great division, and perhaps peace. If you have any saints in Spain, let them pray

for its success. I went to St Germains yesterday. The Queen is in a wretched state. She has gout, some fever, and a cold in the head, besides her agitation of mind.

25th March 1708,- The expedition to Scotland interests all the world. Every one here was full of consternation at the delay, and are rejoiced at the King of England's sailing.

4th April 1708. We have just had accounts of the failure of the Scotch expedition.

15th April 1708.- I am the only person of the Court who has not been at St Germains to condole with the Queen. You know her courage ; but she cannot speak a word without sighing.

5th April 1708.— I have had a fever, wbich Fagon calls Scotch fever.—No enterprise was so much applauded as that against Scotland, except (I tell you in confidence) by the King, who always had a bad opinion of it, and yielded only to the universal cry. The King of England had the measles, which detained him ten days at Dunkirk. The wind changed an hour after he set sail, which kept him twentyfour hours off Ostend. He mistook the entrance of the Frith of Edinburgh, and nothing but the ability and good fortune of Forbin saved the fleet.

28th April 1708.- An officer of one of our smaller ships of war landed in Scotland, and was told by some Highland gentlemen that they would always be ready to receive the King. Mareschal de Matignon was appointed to command the troops, not for his own merit, but from the objections to others.'

8th June 1708.— Our great want is money.'

September and October 1708.-A deep gloom covers every thing, relieved only by the gallant defence of Lisle by the Mareschal de Boufflers. The Duke of Burgundy was sent to take the nominal command of the army, with instructions to follow the advice of the Duke of Berwick. Vendome was also sent. These two Generals were of opposite character, and jealous of each other's almost equal pretensions. Vendome was one of the boldest, and Berwick was one of the most cautious of able commanders. The inexperience and timidity of the Duke of

« AnteriorContinua »