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CHAPTER XXV.: ADDITIONAL MEMOIRS. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. XII.
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The youth and beauty of Mademoiselle de Fontagne, the birth of a son, whom she bore to the king in 1680, and the title of duchess, with which she was graced, all conspired to prevent Madame de Maintenon from obtaining the first place, to which, as yet, she dared not aspire, and which she afterward possessed; but the duchess of Fontagne and her son died in 1681.
The marchioness de Montespan, having now no declared rival, was no longer able to preserve a heart wearied with her and her eternal complainings. When men are past the vigor of youth, they almost all require the company of an agreeable woman; the weight of public affairs, especially, renders such a relaxation extremely necessary. The new favorite, Madame de Maintenon, who perceived the secret power she was daily acquiring, conducted herself with that artful address which is so natural to the female sex, and is by no means displeasing to the male. She one day wrote to Madame de Frontenac, her cousin, in whom she reposed the most perfect confidence: “When he leaves me, he is always in affliction, but never in despair.” While her interest was thus increasing, and that of Madame de Montespan was drawing toward an end, the two rivals saw each other every day, sometimes with a secret uneasiness, and sometimes with a transient familiarity, which the necessity of conversing together and the fatigue of perpetual constraint obliged them to assume. They both agreed to write memoirs of all that passed at court. The work was never brought to any degree of perfection. Madame de Montespan was wont, in the latter years of her life, to divert herself in reading some of these memoirs to her friends. That spirit of devotion, which mingled itself in all these secret intrigues, contributed still more to strengthen the influence of Madame de Maintenon, and to weaken that of Madame de Montespan. The king began to reproach himself for his attachment to a married woman, and felt this scruple the more sensibly as he no longer felt the power of love. Things continued in this state of perplexity until 1685, a year rendered memorable by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Scenes of a very different nature were then presented to the public view: on the one hand, the despair and flight of a part of the nation; on the other, new feasts at Versailles, Trianon and Marly built, Nature forced in all these beautiful spots, and gardens formed with all the taste and elegance that art could bestow. The marriage of the grandson of the great Condé to Mademoiselle de Nantes, the king’s daughter by Madame de Montespan, was the last triumph of that mistress, who now began to retire from court.
The king afterward disposed in marriage of two other children whom he had by the same lady; Mademoiselle de Blois to the duke de Chartres, whom we have since seen regent of the kingdom; and the duke de Maine to Louisa Benedicta de Bourbon, granddaughter of the great Condé, and sister of the present duke, a princess distinguished by her wit, and her taste for the polite arts. Those who have approached the royal palace, or the palace de Sceaux, know that all the popular reports relating to her marriage, and retailed in so many histories, are absolutely false and groundless. You will find it reported in more than twenty different volumes, that the house of Orleans and the house of Condé rejected the proposals with indignation: you will find it written that the princess, the duke de Chartres’s mother, threatened her son; nay, that she even beat him. The “Anecdotes of the Constitution,” relates, with a very serious air, that the king having employed Abbé du Bois, sub-preceptor to the duke de Chartres, to negotiate the match, the abbé found great difficulty in succeeding; and that he asked the cardinal’s hat as a reward for his labor. Whatever relates to the court is written with as little regard to truth in several of our modern histories.
Before the marriage between the duke and Mademoiselle de Nantes was celebrated, the marquis de Seignelay gave the king an entertainment worthy of that monarch in the gardens de Sceaux, laid out by Lenôtre with as much taste and elegance as those of Versailles; and the entertainment was embellished by a representation of “L’Idylle de laPaix,” composed by Racine. There was another tournament at Versailles; and, after the marriage, the king displayed a scene of uncommon magnificence, of which Cardinal Mazarin had given the first specimen in 1656. There were placed in the hall of Marly four shops, filled with all the richest and most exquisite curiosities that the industry of the Parisian artists could produce. These four shops were so many superb decorations, representing the four seasons of the year. Madame de Montespan kept one of them with the dauphin; her rival kept another with the duke de Maine. The two newly-married noblemen had each his shop; the duke with Madame de Thiange; and the duchess, who, on account of her youth, could not decently keep a shop with a man, was with Madame de Chevereuse. The ladies and gentlemen who were named for this excursion drew by lot the jewels with which these shops were adorned. Thus the king made presents to all his court, in a manner worthy of himself. The lottery of Cardinal Mazarin was neither so ingenious nor so brilliant. These lotteries had formerly been used by the Roman emperors; but none of them ever thought of heightening their magnificence by such an air of gallantry
After the marriage of her daughter, Madame de Montespan appeared no more at court. She continued to live in Paris with great dignity. She had a large annuity settled upon her for life; the king ordered a pension of a thousand louis d’or to be paid her every month. She went yearly to drink the waters at Bourbon; and married the young women in the neighborhood, to whom she gave portions. She was now past the age when the imagination, struck with lively impressions, sends people to a nunnery. She died at Bourbon in 1707.
About a year after the marriage of Mademoiselle de Nantes, the prince of Condé died at Fontainebleau, in the sixty-sixth year of his age. His death was occasioned by a disease which was rendered more violent by a journey he took to visit the duchess, who was seized with smallpox. From this anxious concern for the safety of the duchess, which cost him his life, one may easily judge whether he had any aversion to the marriage of his grandson with the daughter of the king and Madame de Montespan, as has been reported by all those lying gazettes with which Holland was then overrun. We even find, in a history of the prince of Condé, produced from the same repositories of ignorance and imposture, that the king took pleasure in mortifying that prince on all occasions; and that, at the marriage of the princess of Conti, daughter to Madame de la Vallière, the secretary of state refused him the title of High and Mighty Lord, as if that were a title commonly given to the princes of the blood. But how could the author, who composed the history of Louis XIV. in Avignon, partly from these wretched memoirs, be so ignorant of the world, and of the custom of our court, as to relate the like falsehoods?
Meanwhile, after the marriage of the duchess, and the total eclipse of the mother, Madame de Maintenon, victorious over all opposition, gained such an ascendency, and inspired Louis XIV. with so much love, and so many scruples of conscience, that, by the advice of Father de la Chaise, he married her privately in the month of January, 1686, in a little chapel, which stood at the end of the apartment that was afterward possessed by the duke of Burgundy. There was no contract, nor any articles of marriage. Harlay de Chanvalon, archbishop of Paris, assisted by the confessor, gave them the nuptial benediction. Montchevreuil and Bontems, first valet de chambre, were present as witnesses. It is no longer possible to suppress this fact, which has been mentioned by so many authors, who have been mistaken, however, with regard to the names, the place, and the dates. Louis XIV. was then in his forty-eighth year, and the lady he married in her fifty-second. This king, already covered with glory, was desirous of mingling the innocent pleasures of a private life with the cares of state. The marriage did not engage him in anything unworthy of his rank; and it was always a doubtful point at court, whether Madame de Maintenon was married or not. She was respected as the choice of the king, but never treated as queen.
We are apt to consider the fate of this lady as something very surprising, though history supplies us with many instances of greater and more distinguished fortunes, which had a meaner and lower origin. The marchioness de St. Sebastian, married to Victor Amadeus, king of Sardinia, was not superior to Madame de Maintenon; Catherine, empress of Russia, was greatly inferior; and the first wife of James II., king of England, was far beneath her, according to the prejudices of Europe, unknown in other parts of the world.
She was of an ancient family, and granddaughter of Theodore-Agrippa d’Aubigné, gentleman of the bedchamber to Henry IV. Her father, Constant d’Aubigné, having formed a design of settling in Carolina, and having applied to the English for that purpose, was thrown into prison in the castle of Trompette; whence he was delivered by the daughter of the governor, whose name was de Cardillac, a gentleman of Bourdelois. Constant d’Aubigné married his benefactress in 1627, and carried her along with him to Carolina: but returning to France, in a few years after, they were both committed to custody, at Niort in Poitou, by order of the court. It was in this prison of Niort that Frances d’Aubigné was born in 1635: a woman destined by heaven to suffer all the hardships and to enjoy all the favors of fortune. Carried to America at three years of age; left on the shore by the negligence of a servant, where she was on the point of being devoured by a serpent; brought back an orphan at ten years of age; educated with great severity in the house of Madame de Neuillant, a relative, and mother of the duchess de Navailles. She was so happy as to marry, in 1651, Paul Scarron, who lived near her in Hell street. Scarron was of an ancient family belonging to the parliament, and illustrious by its great alliances; but the character of a wit, and of burlesque writer, which he bore, lessened his dignity, although it made him more generally beloved. It was, however, a very lucky incident for Mademoiselle d’Aubigné to get this man for a husband, deformed and impotent as he was, and possessed of but a small fortune. Before her marriage, she abjured the Calvinistic religion, which was her own as well as that of her ancestors. Her beauty and her wit were such that she soon began to be distinguished. Her acquaintance was eagerly courted by the best company in Paris; and this part of her youth was doubtless the happiest time of her life. After her husband’s death, in 1660, she solicited the king for a small pension of fifteen hundred livres, which Scarron had enjoyed. At last, after some years had elapsed, the king gave her a pension of two thousand; addressing her at the same time in the following strain: “Madame, I have made you wait long; but you have so many friends that I was determined to have all the merit of this action to myself.”
This anecdote I had from Cardinal de Fleury, who took pleasure in frequently repeating it, because he said that Louis XIV. paid him the same compliment when he gave him the bishopric of Fréjus.
And yet it appears, from the letters of Madame de Maintenon herself, that she was indebted to Madame de Montespan for this small supply, which delivered her from extreme poverty. She was again noticed some years after, when there was a necessity for educating privately the duke de Maine, whom the king had in 1670 by the marchioness de Montespan. It was not surely until the year 1672 that she was chosen to superintend this private education. She says, in one of her letters, “If the children are the king’s, I will cheerfully undertake the task; but I would not willingly take the charge of Madame de Montespan’s children; the king must therefore give me orders; this is my last word.” Madame de Montespan had not two children until 1672, the duke de Maine, and the count de Vexin. Hence it is evident that the dates of Madame de Maintenon’s letters in 1670, in which she speaks of those two children, one of whom was not yet born, must necessarily be false. Almost all the dates of these printed letters are equally erroneous. This inaccuracy would give one reason to suspect the authenticity of these letters, did we not discover in them such strong marks of truth and ingenuity as it is almost impossible to counterfeit.
It is a matter of no great consequence to know in what particular year this lady undertook the care of the natural children of Louis XIV., but the attention given to these minute circumstances may serve to show with what scrupulous exactness we have related the principal events in this history.
The duke de Maine was born with a deformed foot. The first physician, d’Aquin, who was in the secret, advised sending him to the waters of Barèges. Strict search was made for a person of integrity who might be intrusted with this precious charge. The king mentioned Madame Scarron. M. de Louvois went privately to Paris to make the proposal to her. From that time she had the care of the duke de Maine’s education, being appointed to that employment by the king, and not by Madame de Montespan, as has been reported. She immediately wrote to the king, who was greatly charmed with her letters. Such was the beginning of her good fortune; her merit completed the rest.
The king, who at first could not endure her company, passed by degrees from aversion to confidence, and from confidence to love. His letters, which still remain, are a much more precious treasure than is commonly imagined: they discover the mixture of religion and gallantry, of dignity and weakness, which is so frequently to be found in the human mind, and which filled the soul of Louis XIV. The mind of Madame de Maintenon seems, at once, to be inspired with a true ambition, and a true devotion. Her confessor, Gobelin, approves equally of both: he is alike a director and a courtier. His penitent, though guilty of ingratitude to Madame de Montespan, still continues to dissemble her crime. The confessor encourages the illusion; and she calls in religion to the assistance of her superannuated charms, in order to supplant her benefactress, who has now become her rival.
This strange mixture of love and scruples on the part of the king, and of ambition and devotion on the part of the new mistress, seems to have continued from 1680 till 1686, which was the era of their marriage.
Her elevation was only a retreat. Shut up in her apartment, which was on the same floor with that of the king, she confined herself to the company of two or three ladies, who had retired like herself; and even these she saw but seldom. The king went to her chamber every day after dinner, and before and after supper, and tarried with her until midnight. He there deliberated with his ministers; while Madame de Maintenon employed herself in reading, or in needlework; never displaying the least forwardness to talk of state affairs; frequently seeming to be ignorant of them; carefully avoiding everything that might have the least appearance of cabal or intrigue; more desirous of pleasing him that governed, than of governing herself; and husbanding her interest with the greatest economy, by never employing it without extreme circumspection. She did not avail herself of her place, to make all the dignities and great employments fall into her family. Her brother, the count d’Aubigné, though an old lieutenant-general, was not even a marshal of France. A blue ribbon, and some appropriation in the farms of the public revenues, were his only fortune: hence it was said to Marshal de Vivonne, brother of Madame de Montespan, that he had received his marshal’s staff in ready money.
The marquis de Villette, her nephew, or her cousin, was only a commodore. Madame de Cailus, daughter of the marquis de Villette, had but a very small portion given her in marriage by Louis XIV. Madame de Maintenon, when she married her niece, d’Aubigné, to the son of the first marshal de Noailles, gave her but two hundred thousand livres; the king made up the rest. She endeavored to make the public excuse her elevation, in favor of her disinterestedness. The wife of the marquis de Villette, who was afterward Lady Bolingbroke, could obtain nothing from her. I have frequently heard her say that she upbraided her cousin with the little service she did her family; and that she told her in a passion: “You obstinately persist to act up to your moderate plan, and your family must be the victim of your moderation.” Madame de Maintenon forgot everything, when she was in the least apprehensive of offending Louis XIV. She had not even the courage to support Cardinal de Noailles against Father Letellier. She had a great friendship for Racine; but that friendship was not strong enough to protect him against a slight resentment of the king. One day, being deeply affected with the eloquence with which he represented the calamities of the people in 1698, calamities which are always exaggerated, but which have since been carried to a deplorable pitch, she prevailed upon her friend to draw up a memorial, pointing out the evil and the remedy. The king, having read it, and shown himself dissatisfied with the contents, she had the weakness to name the author, and to promise not to defend him. Racine, still weaker, if possible, than she, was seized with excessive grief, which brought him to the grave.
The disposition which rendered her incapable of doing a service made her likewise incapable of doing an injury. Abbé de Choisy relates that the minister Louvois fell on his knees before Louis XIV. in order to dissuade him from marrying the widow Scarron. If Abbé de Choisy knew this fact, Madame de Maintenon was not ignorant of it; and yet she not only forgave that minister, but she even appeased the first transports of passion into which the blunt behavior of the marquis de Louvois sometimes threw his master.
Hence it appears, that Louis XIV. in marrying Madame de Maintenon, only gave himself an agreeable, submissive companion. The only public distinction that discovered her private elevation was, that at mass she occupied one of those little pulpits, or gilded canopies, which seemed to be made for the king and queen. The devotion with which she had inspired the king, and which had contributed to facilitate her marriage, became by degrees a real and deep sense of religion, which was greatly strengthened by age and weariness. She had already acquired, both with the king and the court, the character of a foundress, by assembling at Noisi a number of young ladies of quality; and the king had appropriated the revenues of the abbey of St. Denis to this rising community. St. Cyr was built at the end of the park of Versailles in 1686. She gave this settlement a complete form, composed the regulations of it with Godet Desmarets, bishop of Chartres, and was herself the superior of the convent. She frequently went thither to pass a few hours; and when I say that melancholy determined her to follow these amusements, I only repeat her own words. Read what she wrote to Madame de la Maisonfort, of whom mention is made in the chapter on “Quietism.”
“Why cannot I give you my experience? Why cannot I make you sensible of the melancholy that devours the Great, and of the difficulty they have to dispose of their time? Do you not see that I die of lowness of spirits, though possessed of a more splendid fortune than ever I could have hoped to obtain? I have been young and handsome; I have tasted pleasures; I have been universally beloved. In a more advanced age, I have passed some years in the participation of intellectual pleasures; I am now arrived at the summit of fortune; and I assure you, my dear, that every condition leaves a horrid void in the soul.”
Could anything undeceive men with regard to the pleasures of an exalted station, this letter certainly would do it. Madame de Maintenon, who had no other cause of uneasiness than the uniformity of her life in the company of a great king, said one day to the count d’Aubigné, her brother, “I can bear it no longer, I wish I were dead.” The answer which her brother gave her is well known: “You have then got a promise,” said he, “of being married to the Almighty.”
Upon the king’s death, she retired wholly to St. Cyr. What is surprising is that the king left her no fixed salary. He recommended her to the duke of Orleans. She desired only a pension of eighty thousand livres. This annuity was regularly paid till her death, April 15, 1719. The author of her epitaph has affected too much to forget the name of Scarron; this name is not a disgrace, and the omission of it serves only to make one think that it is so.
The court became less gay and more serious, from the time that the king began to lead a retired life with Madame de Maintenon; and the severe fit of sickness he had in 1686 contributed still more to destroy his taste for those splendid feasts which he had hitherto celebrated almost every year. He was seized with a fistula in ano. The art of surgery, which under this reign had made greater progress in France than in all the rest of Europe, was not yet sufficiently acquainted with this condition. Cardinal de Richelieu had died of it, for want of proper treatment. The king’s danger alarmed the whole nation. The churches were filled with crowds of people, who, with tears in their eyes, implored the recovery of their sovereign. This expression of universal pity and lamentation was somewhat akin to that which happened in the present age, when his successor’s life was in danger at Metz in 1744. These two epochs will serve as perpetual monuments to remind kings of what they owe to a people who love them with such a warmth of affection.
As soon as Louis XIV. felt the first attacks of his disease, his chief surgeon, Felix, went to the hospitals to search for such patients as were in the same condition. He consulted the best surgeons; and, in conjunction with them, he invented some new instruments which abridged the operation, and rendered it less painful. The king suffered the operation without complaining: he caused his ministers to hold a council at his bedside the very same day; and that the news of his danger might occasion no change of measures in the courts of Europe, he gave audience to the foreign ambassadors next day. To this fortitude of mind may be added the generosity with which he rewarded Felix, to whom he gave an estate which was then worth fifty thousand crowns.
After this the king went no more to the public shows. The dauphiness of Bavaria, being seized with a deep melancholy, and oppressed with a lowness of spirits, which brought her to the grave in 1690, refused to join in any party of pleasure, and obstinately persisted in immuring herself in her chamber. She was fond of learning; she had composed some verses; but in her melancholy she was fond of nothing but solitude.
It was the convent of St. Cyr that revived the taste for the Polite arts. Madame de Maintenon entreated Racine, who had renounced the theatre for the court and Jansenism, to write a tragedy that might be acted by her pupils; and she desired the subject might be taken from the Bible. Racine composed “Esther.” This play, having been first represented in the convent of St. Cyr, was afterward acted several times at Versailles before the king in the winter of 1689. The prelates and Jesuits were eager to obtain permission to see this remarkable play.
It is somewhat surprising that this play was, at this time, universally approved; and that, two years after “Athalie,” which was acted by the same persons, was as universally condemned. The case was quite the reverse when they were played at Paris, long after the author’s death, and when all party distinctions were utterly abolished. “Athalie” was presented in 1717, and was received, as it deserved, with great applause; and “Esther,” which was presented in 1721, excited no other feeling in the breasts of the spectators than languor and weariness, and never appeared more. But there were now no courtiers so complaisant as to recognize Esther in Madame de Maintenon, and so malicious as to discover Vashti in Madame de Montespan, Haman in M. de Louvois, and especially the Huguenots, who were persecuted by that minister, in the proscription of the Jews. The impartial public could discover nothing in that piece but a plot without probability, and incapable of interesting the affections; and a frantic king, who had lived six months with his wife without knowing who she was, and who having, without the least pretext, given orders for butchering a whole nation, afterward caused his favorite to be hanged with as little reason. But, notwithstanding the imperfection of the plot, thirty lines of “Esther” are of more value than many tragedies which have met with great success. These ingenious amusements were revived in order to forward the education of Adelaide of Savoy, duchess of Burgundy, who was brought to France at eleven years of age.
It is one of the many contradictions in our manners, that theatrical exhibitions should be branded with a mark of infamy, and yet be considered as an amusement the most noble and most worthy of persons of royal birth. A little theatre was built in the apartments of Madame de Maintenon, on which the duchess of Burgundy and the duke of Orleans played with such persons of the court as were most remarkable for their wit and abilities. The famous actor, Baron, gave them lessons, and played with them. Most of the tragedies of Duché, valet de chambre to the king, were composed for this theatre; and Abbé Genêt, almoner to the duchess of Orleans, wrote some plays for the duchess of Maine, which that princess and her court represented.
These amusements formed the taste of and enlivened society. How could the marquis de la Fare say in his memoirs, that “after the death of the dauphiness, all was play, confusion, and impoliteness?” The courtiers frequently played in their excursions to Marly and Fontainebleau, but never in the apartment of Madame de Maintenon; and the court has always been considered as the standard of the most perfect politeness. The duchess of Orleans, then duchess of Chartres, the duchess of Maine, the princess of Conti, and Madame the duchess disproved by their conduct what the marquis de la Fare asserts. This man, in the social intercourses of life, discovered the greatest sweetness of temper, and yet his writings may almost be considered as a satire. He was dissatisfied with the government: he passed his time in a society of men who made a merit of condemning the court; and this society converted a man of a most amiable disposition into a historian who is sometimes unjust.
But neither he, nor any of those who have censured Louis XIV. with so much severity, can deny that till the battle of Höchstädt, he was the most powerful, the most magnificent, and the greatest man in the world: for though there have been heroes, such as John Sobieski and the kings of Sweden, who have eclipsed him as a warrior, no one has ever been able to eclipse him as a monarch. It must also be owned that he supported and repaired his losses. He had failings; he committed faults; but would those who condemn him have been able to equal him had they been in his place?
The duchess of Burgundy improved daily in beauty and merit. The praises bestowed upon her sister in Spain inspired her with an emulation, which redoubled her talent of pleasing. She was not a perfect beauty; but she had a countenance like that of her son, an air of grandeur, and a majestic stature. These advantages were greatly embellished by her wit, and still more by her extreme desire of meriting the praises of all the world. She was, like Henrietta of England, the idol and the pattern of the court, and possessed of a still higher rank, as she was on the point of ascending the throne. France expected from the duke of Burgundy such a government as the sages of antiquity have figured to themselves, but whose austerity would be softened by the virtues and accomplishments of this princess, which were of a nature to be more sensibly felt than the philosophy of her husband. Everybody knows how these hopes were frustrated. It was the fate of Louis XIV. to see all his family in France die premature deaths; his wife in the forty-fifth year of her age; his son in the fiftieth; and in a year after he had lost his son, he saw his grandson, the dauphin, his wife, and their eldest son, the duke of Brittany carried to St. Denis in the same funeral car, in April, 1712; while the youngest of their children, who afterward mounted the throne, was in his cradle at the point of death. The duke of Berry, brother of the duke of Burgundy, followed them two years after; and at the same time his daughter was carried from her cradle to her grave.
These lamentable losses made such a deep impression on the minds of men, that I have seen several persons in the minority of Louis XV. who could not mention them without tears: but amidst so many untimely deaths, the fate of him who seemed likely to fill the throne in a short time was most to be lamented.
The same suspicions which prevailed at the death of Madame, and at that of Maria Louisa, queen of Spain, were now revived with double fury. The excess of the public grief might almost have excused the calumny, could anything have excused it. It was unreasonable to suppose that anyone would have taken off, by a violent death, so many royal persons, and yet have left alive the only one that could avenge them. The disease of which the dauphin of Burgundy and his wife and son died was an epidemic purple fever. This distemper destroyed more than five hundred persons in Paris in the space of a month. The duke of Bourbon, grandson of the prince of Condé, the duke de la Trimouille, Madame de la Vallière, and Madame de Listenai, were seized with it at court. The marquis de Gondrin, son of the duke of Antin, died of it in two days. His wife, afterward countess of Toulouse, was at the point of death. This disease overran all France. In Lorraine it carried off the eldest son and daughter of Francis, that duke of Lorraine who was destined by heaven to be one day emperor, and to raise the house of Austria from its state of depression.
Meanwhile it was sufficient that a physician called Bouden, a debauched, forward, and ignorant fellow, used the following expression: “We do not understand such diseases.” This, I say, was sufficient to make calumny rage without control.
The prince had a laboratory, and studied chemistry, as well as several other arts; this was an unanswerable proof. The clamor of the public was so terrible that one must have been a witness of it in order to believe it. Several pamphlets, and some wretched histories of Louis XIV. would eternize these suspicions, did not men who have had better opportunities of information take pains to destroy them. I will venture to say that, as I have long been sensible of the injustice of mankind, I have made several inquiries to arrive at the truth; and the following account has been frequently repeated to me by the marquis de Canillac, one of the most worthy men in the nation, and intimately connected with the suspected prince, of whom he had afterward just reason to complain. The marquis de Canillac, amidst all this public clamor, went to visit him in his palace. He found him stretched at full length on the ground, bathed in tears, and frantic with despair. His chemist, Homberg, ran to the Bastille, to surrender himself a prisoner; but no orders had been given to receive him, and accordingly he was not admitted. The prince himself—who would believe it!—in the excess of his grief, desired to be taken into custody, and to have an opportunity of clearing his innocence by a formal trial; and his mother joined him in demanding this cruel satisfaction. The lettre de cachet was made out, but was not signed; and the marquis alone, amidst this general ferment, preserved so much presence of mind as to perceive the dangerous consequences of such a desperate measure. He prevailed upon the prince’s mother to oppose this ignominious lettre de cachet. The monarch who granted it, and the prince who demanded it, were equally unhappy.
NOTES TO CHAPTER XXV.
Montespan.—The memoirs published under the name of Madame de Maintenon relate that she said to Madame de Montespan, in speaking of her dreams: “I dreamed that we were on the grand staircase of Versailles; I was ascending, you were descending; I mounted to the clouds, you went to Fontevraut.” This story is borrowed from the famous duke d’Épernon, who met Cardinal Richelieu on the staircase of the Louvre in 1624. The cardinal asked him: “What news?” “None,” said he, “except that you are going up, and I am coming down.” But the beauty of the allusion is destroyed by adding that from a staircase one could mount to the clouds. It is to be remarked that in most books of anecdotes, in the era, the authors always ascribe to their speakers things that have been said a century, or even several centuries before.
Montchevreuil.—And not the chevalier de Fourbin, as the “Memoirs” of Choisy assert. None are intrusted with such a secret but faithful domestics and people attached by their place to the person of their master. There was no formal act of celebration: that is only employed to prove the reality of the wedding; but the present marriage was a marriage of conscience. How could anyone have the impudence to report, that after the death of Harlay, archbishop of Paris, which happened in 1695, almost ten years after the marriage, his lackeys found the form of the marriage ceremony in his old breeches? This story, which is even too mean for lackeys, is only to be found in the “Memoirs” of Maintenon.
Maintenon.—It is said, in the pretended “Memoirs” of Maintenon (tom. i, page 216) that for a long time she lay in the same bed with the celebrated Ninon l’Enclos, according to the hearsay reports of the abbé de Châteauneuf, and of the author of the “Age of Louis XIV.” But there is not a syllable of such an anecdote to be found in the author of the “Age of Louis XIV.” nor in the remaining works of the abbé de Châteauneuf. The author of Maintenon’s “Memoirs” quotes only at random. This circumstance is mentioned nowhere, except in the “Memoirs” of the marquis de la Fare, page 190, Amsterdam edition. It was a custom, it is true, for people to share their beds with their friends; and this custom, which is now extinct, was very ancient, even at court. We find, in the “History of France,” that Charles IX., in order to save the count de Brissac from the massacre of St. Bartholomew, advised him to sleep at the Louvre in his bed; and that the duke of Guise and the prince of Condé lay together for a long time.
Maintenon.—Who would imagine, that, in the “Memoirs of Madame de Maintenon” (iii, page 237), it should be said that this minister was afraid of being poisoned by the king. Strange that in Paris we should publish horrid falsehoods at the end of so many ridiculous fables.
This stupid and shocking story is founded on a common report, which was spread abroad after the death of the marquis de Louvois. This minister was using the waters, which Seron, his physician, had prescribed for him, and which la Ligerie, his surgeon, made him drink. This is the same Ligerie who gave the public the remedy which is now called the Poudre des Chartreux. This la Ligerie has frequently told me that he apprised M. de Louvois of the great risk he ran by laboring while he drank the waters. The minister, however, continued to attend to business as usual. He died suddenly on July 16, 1691, and not in 1692, as the author of these false memoirs asserts. La Ligerie opened his body and found no other cause of his death than what he had foretold. Some people suspected that Seron had poisoned a bottle of these waters. We have seen how common these injurious suspicions then were. It was pretended that a neighboring gentleman, whom Louvois had greatly provoked and abused, bribed Seron. Some of these anecdotes are to be found in the “Memoirs of the Marquis de Fare,” page 249. The family of the marquis de Louvois did even imprison a native of Lavay, who was a menial servant in the house; but this poor man, who was perfectly innocent, was soon released. But if people suspected, though very unreasonably, that a prince, who was an enemy to France, endeavored to take away the life of a minister of Louis XIV., this surely could never be a reason for suspecting Louis himself of the same crime.
The same author, who, in the “Memoirs of Madame de Maintenon,” has collected such a heap of falsehoods, alleges, in the same place, that the king said that he had got rid in one year of three men whom he could not endure; the marshal de la Feuillade, the marquis de Seignelay, and the marquis de Louvois. In the first place, M. de Seignelay did not die in 1691, but in 1690. In the second place, to whom did Louis XIV., who always spoke with great circumspection and like a gentleman; to whom did he address these imprudent and hateful words? To whom did he discover such a cruel and ungrateful heart? To whom could he say that he was glad that he had got rid of three men who had served him with so much zeal and fidelity? Is it lawful thus to blacken, without the least proof, without the least appearance of probability, the memory of a king, who was always known to speak with great prudence? Every sensible reader beholds with contempt and indignation this collection of lies, with which the public is surfeited.
Maintenon—The author of the “Memoirs of Madame de Maintenon” (tom. iv) in a chapter entitled “Mademoiselle Choin.” says that the dauphin was in love with one of his own sisters, and that he afterward married Mademoiselle Choin. These popular reports are known to be false by every sensible man. One should not only be a contemporary, but should be furnished with proofs before he ventures to advance such anecdotes as these. There never was the least evidence of the dauphin’s having married Mademoiselle Choin. To revive, after the expiration of sixty years, these common reports, so vague, so improbable, and so generally condemned, is not to write history; it is to compile at random the most scandalous falsehoods, in order to gain money. Upon what foundation has this writer the impudence to advance, in page 244, that the duchess of Burgundy said to her husband: “If I were dead, would you compose the third volume of your family?” He makes Louis XIV. and all the princes and ministers talk as though he had heard them. There is scarcely a page in the memoirs that is not filled with such barefaced lies as justly to excite the indignation of every virtuous person.
Louis the Great.—If greatness of soul consists in a love of pageantry, an ostentation of fastidious pomp, a prodigality of expense, an affectation of munificence, an insolence of ambition, and a haughty reserve of deportment, Louis certainly deserved the appellation of Great. Qualities which are really heroic we shall not find in the composition of his character.
Abbé Castel de St. Pierre, author of several strange performances, in which there are many things of a philosophical, but very few of a practical, nature, has left behind him some political annals, from 1658 till 1739, which are probably suppressed. He, in several places, condemns the administration of Louis XIV. with great severity; and will not, by any means, allow him the title of Louis the Great. If by Great he means perfect, this title to be sure does not belong to him; but from these memoirs written with the hand of that monarch, it appears that he had as good political principles at least as the abbé de St. Pierre.
Marquis de Canillac.—The author of the “Life of the Duke of Orleans” was the first that mentioned these cruel suspicions. He was a Jesuit of the name of La Motte, who preached at Rouen against this prince during his regency, and who afterward took refuge in Holland under the name of La Hode. He was acquainted with some public facts. He says (tom. i, p. 112) that the prince who was so unjustly suspected, offered to surrender himself a prisoner; and this is very true. La Motte had no opportunity of knowing how M. de Canillac opposed this step, which was so injurious to the prince’s innocence. All the other anecdotes he relates are false. Reboulet, who copied his, says (tom. viii, p. 143) the youngest child of the duke and duchess of Burgundy was saved by the counter-poison of Venice. There is no counter-poison of Venice that is thus given at random. Physic knows no general antidotes that cure a disease, the cause of which is unknown. All the stories which were spread abroad in the world at that unhappy time are no more than a collection of popular errors.
It is a falsehood of little consequence in the compiler of the “Memoirs of Madame de Maintenon” to say that the duke of Maine was then at the point of death. It is a childish calumny to say that the author of “The Age of Louis XIV.” rather confirms than destroys the credit of these stories.
Never was history disgraced with more absurd falsehoods than in these pretended memoirs. The author pretends to have written them in 1753. He supposes that the duke and duchess of Burgundy, and their eldest son, died of smallpox. He advances this falsehood to give himself an opportunity to speak of inoculation; an experiment that was not tried till May, 1756. Thus in the same page we find him speaking in 1753 of what happened in 1756; and he expresses himself thus: “This 24th of April, 1753, I was interrupted, an order came from the king to tear me from my family and myself.” He then relates how he was thrown into prison; and accuses persons who never saw him of having informed the government against him. The same man, in the edition of “The Age of Louis XIV.,” which he published at Frankfort in 1752, had attacked, in his notes, the memory of the duke of Orleans, on pp. 346 and 347, tom. ii of this spurious edition.
Learning has been infected with so many kinds of defamatory libels, and the Dutch have published so many false memoirs and injurious aspersions on the government and the people that it is the duty of every faithful historian to caution the reader against the imposture.