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NOTES TO CHAPTER XXV. - 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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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.
LAST YEARS OF LOUIS XIV.
Louis XIV. concealed his grief from the world, and appeared in public as usual: but in private the pain of so many misfortunes pierced him to the heart, and threw him into convulsions. He met with all these domestic losses toward the conclusion of an unsuccessful war, before he was sure of obtaining a peace, and at a time when famine laid waste the kingdom; and yet he was never seen to sink under his afflictions.
The remaining part of his life was unhappy. The disordered state of the finances, which he was unable to rectify, alienated the minds of the people. The unbounded confidence he placed in Father Letellier, a man of too violent passions, completed the disgust. It is remarkable that the public, who freely forgave him his love to his mistress, could never forgive him his attachment to his confessor. He lost, during the last three years of his life, in the minds of most of his subjects, all the respect and esteem he had gained by his great and memorable actions.
Deprived of almost all his children, his love which was now redoubled to the duke of Maine and the count of Toulouse, his illegitimate sons, caused him to declare them heirs to the crown, them and their descendants, in default of princes of the blood, by an edict that was registered without opposition in 1714. He thus tempered, by the law of nature, the severity of positive laws, which deprive children born out of marriage of all right of succeeding to their father’s estate: but kings dispense with this law. He thought he might safely do for his own blood what he had done for several of his subjects. He imagined, particularly, that he might make the same establishment for two of his children, which he had caused to be made in parliament for the princes of the house of Lorraine. He afterward raised them to the same rank as princes of the blood, in 1715. The suit commenced by the princes of the blood against the legitimated princes is well known. The latter preserved for themselves and their children the honors conferred on them by Louis XIV., but the fate of their posterity must depend on time, on merit, and on fortune. Louis XIV. was seized about the middle of August, 1715, on his return from Marly, with the disease that brought him to the grave. His legs were swelled; a mortification began to appear. The earl of Stair, the English ambassador, laid a wager, according to the custom of his country, that the king would not outlive the month of September. The duke of Orleans, who in his journey to Marly had no attendants, had now the whole court about him. An empiric, in the last days of the king’s illness, gave him an elixir which revived his spirits. He ate, and the empiric affirmed he would recover. The crowds which surrounded the duke of Orleans began to diminish apace. “If the king eats a second time,” said the duke of Orleans, “I shall not have a single person in my leveé.” But the disease was mortal. Measures were taken for giving the regency, with an absolute authority, to the duke of Orleans. The king by his will, which was deposited with the parliament, had left it to him under great limitations; or rather had only appointed him the head of a council of regency, in which he would have had only the casting vote: and yet he said to him: “I have preserved to you all the rights to which you are entitled by your birth.” The reason was, that he did not believe there was a fundamental law in the kingdom which gives, during a minority, an absolute power to the presumptive heir of the crown. This supreme authority, which may be easily abused, is no doubt dangerous; but a divided authority is still more dangerous. He imagined that, having been so faithfully obeyed during his life, he would be equally so after his death, not remembering that the will of his father had been violated.
Everybody knows with what greatness of soul he beheld the approach of death. He said to Madame de Maintenon, “I imagined it was more difficult to die;” and to his servants, “Why do you weep? Did you think me immortal?” He gave orders about several things, and even about the funeral solemnity. Whoever has many witnesses of his death, always dies with courage. Louis XIII., in his last illness, set to music the psalm De Profundis, which was to be sung at his funeral. The fortitude of mind with which Louis XIV. beheld his end was divested of that glare of ostentation which covered the rest of his life. He had the courage even to acknowledge his errors. His successor has always kept under his pillow the remarkable words which that monarch spoke to him as he sat up in his bed and held him in his arms. These words are not such as have been represented in all former histories. The following is a faithful copy:
“You are soon to be the king of a great kingdom. What I would chiefly recommend to you is never to forget the obligation you are under to God. Remember that you are indebted to Him for all that you are. Endeavor to preserve peace with your neighbors. I have been too fond of war; in this do not follow my example any more than in my too expensive manner of living. Take counsel in everything. Endeavor to distinguish what is best, and always take care to pursue it. Relieve your subjects as much as you can, and do what I have been so unhappy as not to be able to do myself,” etc.
This speech contains nothing of that meanness of spirit which is ascribed to him in some memoirs. He has been reproached for carrying some relics about him during the latter years of his life. His sentiments of religion were noble and elevated; but his confessor, who was of a different character, had subjected him to some practices little consistent with these sentiments, and now disused, in order to subject him the more absolutely to his direction.
Though the life and death of Louis XIV. were certainly glorious, yet was he less lamented than he deserved. The love of novelty; the approach of a minority, in which everyone hoped to make a fortune; the dispute about the constitution, which then exasperated the minds of the people, all conspired to make the news of his death be received with something more than indifference. We beheld the same people, who, in 1686, had importuned heaven with tears and sighs for the recovery of their sick monarch, follow his funeral procession with demonstrations of a very different nature. It is pretended that the queen, his mother, said to him when he was very young: “My son, imitate your grandfather and not your father.” The king having asked the reason, she said: “Because, the people wept at the death of Henry IV. and laughed at that of Louis XIII.”
Notwithstanding that he has been reproached with littleness of mind in his zeal against the Jansenists, with too much haughtiness to foreigners in his prosperity, with too great indulgence to several women, and too great severity in personal concerns, with wars undertaken without sufficient reason, with the burning of the Palatinate, and the persecution of the Protestants, yet his great qualities and glorious actions being placed in the scale have at last more than counterpoised all his imperfections. Time, which rectifies the opinions of mankind, has stamped his reputation with the seal of immortality; and in spite of all that has been written against him, his name will never be mentioned without respect, or without reviving the idea of an age forever memorable. If we consider him in his private character, we shall find him indeed too full of his own greatness; but withal affable, refusing his mother a share in the administration, but performing to her all the duties of a son, and observing the strictest rules of decency and decorum in his behavior to his wife; a good father, a good master, always decent in public, laborious in the cabinet, exact in the management of his affairs, thinking justly, speaking fluently, and amiable with dignity.
I have elsewhere remarked that he never spoke the words which have been ascribed to him, when the first gentleman of the bedchamber and the grand master of the wardrobe were disputing about the honor of serving him: “What does it signify which of my valets serves me?” Such a coarse expression could never be used by a man so polite and so considerate as Louis XIV., and agreed but ill with what he afterward said to one of these gentlemen when talking of his debts: “Why do you not speak to your friends?” Words of a very different meaning, and of great importance, being accompanied with a present of fifty thousand crowns.
Nor is it true, that he wrote to the duke de la Rochefoucauld: “I give you my compliments as your friend, with regard to the post of grand master of the wardrobe, which I give you as your king.” The historians have done him the honor of this letter, not remembering how very indelicate and even cruel it is to tell a man, whose master you are, that you are his master. This would be very proper were a sovereign writing to a rebellious subject; and Henry IV. might justly enough have said it to the duke of Mayenne before a reconciliation was effected. Rose, secretary of the closet, wrote the letter; but the king had too much good sense to send it. It was the same good sense that made him suppress the pompous inscriptions which Charpentier, of the French Academy, affixed to the paintings of Le Brun in the gallery of Versailles: “The Incredible Passage of the Rhine;” “The Marvellous Taking of Valenciennes,” etc. The king thought that “The Taking of Valenciennes,” and “The Passage of the Rhine,” were more expressive. Charpentier was in the right to adorn with inscriptions in our language the monuments of our country; flattery alone spoiled the execution.
Some smart answers, and witty expressions of this prince have been collected, which are reducible to a very small number. It is pretended that when he formed the design of abolishing Calvinism in France, he said: “My grandfather loved the Huguenots, and did not fear them; my father feared them, but did not love them; for my own part, I neither love nor fear them.”
Having given, in 1658, the place of first president of the Parliament of Paris to M. de Lamoignon, then master of requests, he said to him: “Had I known a worthier man, or a better subject, I would have chosen him.” He used much the same expression to Cardinal de Noailles, when he gave him the archbishopric of Paris. What constitutes the merit of these words is that they were true, and inspired a principle of virtue.
It is said that a foolish preacher having one day pointed him out at Versailles—a rashness that is not allowable toward a private man, and far less toward a king—Louis XIV. contented himself with saying to him: “Father, I like well enough to take my share of a sermon; but do not choose to be made the subject of it.” Whether he used this expression or not, it may serve as a lesson.
He always expressed himself with majesty and precision, studying in public to speak as well as to act like a sovereign. When the duke of Anjou was setting out on his journey to ascend the throne of Spain, he said to him, in order to mark the union which would for the future unite the two nations: “Remember there are now no Pyrenees.”
Nothing surely can set his character in a clearer light than the following memorial, written entirely with his own hand:
“Kings are frequently obliged to do many things contrary to their inclination, and which shock the natural humanity of their temper. They should take pleasure in doing favors, and they are often forced to punish, and even to ruin, those to whom they naturally wish well. The interest of the state should hold the first place. They must force their inclinations: they must act in every matter of importance, so as to have no cause to reproach themselves with the thought of having been able to do better: but some private interests prevented me from following this course, and engrossed that attention which I should have employed in promoting the grandeur, the happiness, and the power of the state. There are many circumstances that create uneasiness; there are some so intricate that it is difficult to unravel them. We have confused ideas; and while that is the case, we may remain long without coming to any determination; but the moment we have formed our resolution, and are convinced that it is the best, we should carry it into execution. It is to the observance of this maxim that I have frequently owed my success in several of my undertakings. The errors I have committed, and which have given me infinite pain, have been owing to complaisance, and to a too ready compliance with the advice of others. Nothing is so dangerous as weakness of every kind. To be able to command others we must raise ourselves above them; and after having heard the opinions of all parties, we must fix upon that which we judge to be best, without prejudice or partiality, always careful not to order or execute anything unworthy of ourselves, of the character we bear, or of the grandeur of the state. Princes who have good intentions, and some knowledge of their own affairs, whether by experience, study, or intense application, find so many ways of discovering their natural disposition, that they should take particular care of themselves and of all around them. We should constantly be on our guard against ourselves, our inclinations, and our natural propensities. The employment of a king is grand, noble, and agreeable, especially when he finds himself able to perform his duty; but it is not exempted from pain, fatigue, and inquietude. Uncertainty sometimes occasions despair; when, therefore, he has employed a reasonable time in examining an affair, he should come to a determination, and pursue the course which he thinks most advisable.
“When he labors for the state, he labors for himself; the welfare of the one constitutes the glory of the other. When the former is great, happy, and powerful, he who is the cause of all these advantages is glorious, and consequently should, both on his own account and that of his subjects, enjoy a greater share of all that is most pleasant and agreeable in life. When he has committed an error, he should repair it as soon as possible, and should allow no consideration to hinder him, not even good nature itself.
“In 1671 there died a man who had the post of secretary of state, being charged with the department of foreign affairs. He was a man of capacity, but not without faults. He filled that important post with great ability.
“I was some time in considering to whom I should commit this weighty charge; and, after mature deliberation, I found that a man who had long served me in the character of an ambassador was most likely to fill it with success.
“I ordered him to return home: all the world approved of my choice, which is not always the case. On his return I put him in possession of the post. I knew him only by report, and by the commissions with which I had charged him, and which he had executed with great fidelity; but the employment I had now given him was too great and too extensive for his narrow capacity. I have not availed myself of all the advantages I might have obtained, and this has always been owing to my complaisance and good nature. At last I was obliged to order him to retire, because all that passed through his hands, lost that air of grandeur and importance which should ever attend the execution of the orders of a king of France. Had I been so wise as to have removed him sooner, I should have prevented many of the misfortunes which afterward befell me, and should have had no cause to reproach myself with allowing my indulgence to him to hurt the state. These particulars I have thought proper to mention, in order to confirm the truth of what I advanced above.”
This precious and hitherto unknown monument will serve to convince posterity of the integrity of his heart, and the greatness of his soul. We may even say that he judges himself with too much severity; and that he has no cause to reproach himself with regard to M. de Pompone, since the great services and reputation of that minister determined the prince’s choice, which was likewise confirmed by the general approbation of the public; and if he condemns himself for his choice of M. de Pompone, who at least had the happiness to serve during a glorious period, what should he say with regard to M. de Chamillard, whose ministry was so unfortunate and so universally condemned?
He had written several memoirs in this style, either with a view of keeping an account of his own conduct, or for the instruction of the dauphin, duke of Burgundy. These reflections succeeded the events: he would have attained nearer to perfection, to which his merit entitled him to aspire, had he been able to form to himself a philosophy superior to the politics and prejudices of the times—philosophy which, in the space of so many centuries, we have seen practised by so few sovereigns, and which kings are very excusable for not understanding, since it is understood by so few private men.
The following are a few of the many instructions which Louis XIV. gave to his grandson, Philip V., when he was setting out on his journey for Spain. He wrote them in haste, and with a negligence that shows the soul much better than a studied discourse. We behold in them the father and the king.
“Love the Spaniards, and all your subjects who are attached to your crown and person. Don’t prefer those that flatter you most; esteem such as, for the public good, will run the risk of displeasing you; these are your true friends.
“Promote the happiness of your subjects; and with this view never undertake a war until you are forced to it, and until you have fully weighed and examined the reasons for and against it in your council.
“Endeavor to lower your taxes; take care of the Indies, and of your fleets; give great attention to commerce, and live in a perfect union with France, nothing being so advantageous for both kingdoms as this union, which no power can resist.
“If you are obliged to make war, put yourself at the head of your army.
“Endeavor to re-establish your troops upon their former footing in all your dominions, and begin with those of Flanders.
“Never neglect business for pleasure; but form to yourself a kind of plan which will allow you proper times for amusements and diversions.
“Of these there are hardly any more innocent than hunting, and the pleasures of a country house, provided you are not too expensive in your decorations.
“Give great attention to business when anyone talks to you on that subject; hear much at first, without making any decision.
“When once you have acquired more knowledge, remember that it is your province to decide; but whatever experience you may have, be always sure to hear the opinions and reasonings of your council before you come to a decision.
“Exert your utmost sagacity and penetration, in order to find men of the greatest abilities, that so you may properly employ them.
“Take care that your viceroys and governors be always Spaniards.
“Treat everybody well; never say a disagreeable thing to anyone; but distinguish people of quality and merit.
“Show the grateful sense you have of the kindness of the late king, and all of those who have concurred in choosing you for his successor.
“Place great confidence in Cardinal Portocarrero, and let him know how much you are pleased with the conduct he has pursued.
“I think you ought to do something considerable for the ambassador who had the happiness to invite you into the kingdom, and to salute you first in the quality of a subject.
“Do not forget Bedmar, who is a man of merit, and is capable of serving you.
“Place an unreserved confidence in the duke d’Harcourt: he is a man of capacity and of honor, and will never give you any advice but what is for your interest.
“Keep all the French in order.
“Use your domestics well; but never admit them into too great a degree of familiarity, and far less of confidence. Employ them as long as they behave well; but send them back on the least fault they commit; and never support them against the Spaniards.
“Have no intercourse with the queen-dowager, but such as you cannot dispense with. See that she quits Madrid; but let her not go out of Spain. Wherever she is, observe her conduct, and never allow her to interfere in any affairs of state. Suspect the fidelity of those who have too much intercourse with her.
“Always love your relatives; remember the pain it cost them to part with you: preserve a constant intercourse with them, as well in small as in great things. Ask from us freely whatever you either want or desire to have, that is not to be found in your own country, and we will use the same freedom with you.
“Never forget that you are a Frenchman, nor what may possibly befall you. When you have secured the succession of Spain by children, visit your kingdoms, go to Naples and Sicily, pass over to Milan, and come to Flanders. This will give you an opportunity of paying us a visit. Meanwhile visit Catalonia, Aragon, and other places. See what improvements may be made at Ceuta.
“Throw some money to the people when you are in Spain, and especially when you enter Madrid.
“Don’t seem to be shocked at the strange figures you may see. Ridicule nothing; every country has its particular manners; and you will soon be familiarized to what at first may appear most surprising.
“Avoid, as much as possible, the granting of favors to those who give you money in order to obtain them. Give with discretion and liberality; and never receive any presents, unless they be trifles. If it should sometimes happen that you are obliged to receive them, be always sure, in a few days after, to return greater presents to those who gave them.
“Have a strong box, in which you may deposit anything particular, and keep the key of it yourself.
“I shall conclude with one of the most important advices I can give you. Do not suffer yourself to be governed. Be master yourself. Have no favorite, nor prime minister. Hear and consult your council; but decide yourself. And God, who has made you king, will give you such degrees of light and knowledge as are necessary for you, in proportion to the rectitude of your intentions.”
Louis XIV. was more remarkable for a just and noble manner of thinking than for brilliant sallies of wit. Besides, we do not expect that a king should say memorable things, but that he should do them. What is necessary for every man in power is that he should never suffer anyone to leave his presence in a bad humor; but should render himself agreeable to all who approach him. We cannot always do generous actions; but we can always say obliging things. Louis had acquired this excellent habit. Between him and his court there was a perpetual interchange of all the graces that majesty could show without being degraded; and all the arts which eagerness to serve, and solicitude to please, could show without abasement. In the company of the ladies especially, he displayed a politeness and complaisance which increased that of his courtiers; and with the men he never missed an opportunity of saying such things as flattered their self-love, at the same time that they excited their emulation, and left a deep impression on the mind.
One day the duchess of Burgundy, when she was very young, observing an officer at supper, who was remarkably disagreeable, began to jest on his ugliness with great freedom, and in a very high tone: “I think him, madam,” said the king, in a still higher tone, “one of the handsomest men in my kingdom; for he is one of the bravest.”
A general officer, a man of blunt address, and who had not polished his manners even in the court of Louis XIV., had lost an arm in an engagement, and was making his complaints to the king, who, however, had rewarded him as much as the loss of an arm could be recompensed: “I wish,” said he, “I had lost my other arm likewise, that so I might never serve your majesty more.” “I should have been extremely sorry for that,” said the king, “both on your account and my own;” and immediately granted him a considerable favor. He was so far from saying disagreeable things, which in the mouth of a prince are deadly arrows, that he never indulged himself, even in the most innocent and harmless railleries, while private men daily use the most severe and cruel.
He frequently diverted himself, and even excelled in those ingenious things called impromptus, and agreeable songs; and he sometimes composed, extempore, little parodies on the songs most in vogue, such as this:
And this other, which he made one day in dismissing the council:
These trifles serve at least to show, that the charms of wit composed one of the pleasures of his court; that he partook in these pleasures; and that he was as capable of living like a private man, as of acting the great monarch on the theatre of the world.
His letter to the archbishop of Rheims, concerning the marquis de Barbèsieux, though in a very careless style, does more honor to his heart than the most ingenious thoughts could have done to his head. He had given this youth the post of secretary of war, which had been formerly possessed by his father, the marquis de Louvois: but being soon dissatisfied with the conduct of his new secretary, he resolved to correct him, without giving him too great mortification. With this view he applied to his uncle, the archbishop of Rheims, and desired him to advise his nephew; and shows himself a master informed of everything, while he had all the tenderness of a father.
“I know,” says he, “what I owe to the memory of M. de Louvois; but if your nephew does not alter his conduct, I shall be obliged to do what I shall be sorry for; but there will be a necessity for it. He has talents; but does not make a good use of them. He spends too much time in giving entertainments to the princes, instead of minding business: he neglects the public affairs for his pleasures. He makes the officers wait too long in his antechamber; he speaks to them with haughtiness, and even sometimes with rudeness.”
This is all that I remember of this letter, which I once saw in the original. It plainly shows that Louis XIV. was not governed by his ministers, as has been reported; but that he knew how to govern them.
He was fond of praise; and it were to be wished the kings were more fond of it, so that they might endeavor to deserve it. But Louis XIV. did not always swallow it, when it was too strong and excessive. When our academy, which always gave him an account of the subjects it proposed for prizes, showed him the following, “Which of all the virtues of the king deserves the preference?” the king blushed, and would not allow the subject to be treated of. He suffered, it is true, the prologues of Quinault; but it was in the height of his glory, and at a time when the intoxication of the people was some apology for his; Virgil and Horace, from a principle of gratitude, and Ovid, from the most contemptible meanness of spirit, loaded Augustus with praises far more extravagant, and, if we consider the proscriptions, much less deserved.
Had Corneille said to any of the courtiers in Cardinal de Richelieu’s chamber, “Tell the cardinal that I understand poetry better than he,” the minister would never have forgiven him; and yet this is the very thing that Despréaux said openly to his majesty, in a dispute that happened about some verses which the king thought good, and Despréaux condemned. “He is in the right,” said the king; “he understands the subject better than I do.”
The duke de Vendôme had in his retinue a person called Villiers, one of those men of pleasure who make a merit of talking with a cynical freedom. He lodged at Versailles in the duke’s apartment: he was commonly called Villiers Vendôme. This man openly condemned the taste of Louis XIV., in music, in painting, in architecture, in gardening, and in everything else. If the king planted a grove, furnished an apartment, or built a fountain, Villiers found it to be ill-contrived, and expressed his disapprobation in very indiscreet terms. “It is strange,” said the king, “that Villiers should have chosen my house to laugh at everything I do.” Having one day met him in the garden, “Well,” said he to him, showing him at the same time one of his new performances, “has not that the good fortune to please you?” “No.” said Villiers. “And yet,” replied the king, “there are several people who do not dislike it.” “That may be,” returned Villiers; “everyone has his own way of thinking.” The king replied, with a smile, “It is impossible to please all the world.”
One day Louis XIV. playing at tick-tack, had a doubtful throw. A dispute arose, and the courtiers remained in the most profound silence. At that instant the count de Gramont arrived. “Decide this question,” said the king to him. “Sire,” said the count, “your majesty is in the wrong.” “How,” replied the king, “can you accuse me of being in the wrong before you know what the question is?” “Because,” said the count, “had the matter been in the least doubtful, all these gentlemen would have given it for your majesty.”
The duke of Antin distinguished himself in this age by a singular art, not of saying flattering things, but of doing them. The king went to pass a night at Petitbourg, when he found fault with a long alley of trees, which concealed the view of the river. The duke caused them to be cut down in the night. Next morning the king was surprised at not seeing the trees with which he had found fault. “It is,” replied the duke, “because your majesty found fault with them, that you no longer behold them.”
We have elsewhere remarked, that the same man observing that a pretty large wood at the end of the canal of Fontainebleau displeased the king, at the minute when his majesty went to take a walk in it, everything being ready for the purpose, he ordered the trees to be cut down, and in a moment they were levelled with the ground. These are the strokes of an ingenious courtier, and not of a flattering sycophant.
Louis XIV. has been accused of intolerable pride, for suffering the base of his statue in the Place des Victoires to be surrounded with slaves in fetters: but neither this statue, nor that in the Place de Vendôme was erected by him. The statue in the Place des Victoires is a monument of the greatness of soul of the first marshal de la Feuillade, and of his gratitude to his royal master. He expended on this statue five hundred thousand livres, amounting nearly to a million of our present money; and the city added as much more, to render the place regular. It seems equally unjust to impute to Louis XIV. the pride of this statue, and to find nothing but vanity and flattery in the magnanimity of the marshal.
Nothing was talked of but the four slaves; though they rather represent vices subdued than nations conquered, duelling abolished, and heresy destroyed; for so the inscriptions import. They likewise celebrate the junction of the sea, and the Peace of Nimeguen: they talk of nothing but benefits; and none of the slaves has the least resemblance to the people conquered by Louis XIV. Besides, it is an ancient practice among sculptors to place slaves at the feet of the statues of kings. It would be better, indeed, to represent there free and happy subjects. But, to conclude, we see slaves at the feet of the merciful Henry IV. and of Louis XIII. at Paris: we see them at Leghorn under the statue of Ferdinand de Medici, who never, sure, enslaved any nation; and we see them at Berlin under the statue of an elector, who repulsed the Swedes, but made no conquests.
The neighbors of France, and even the French themselves, have, with great injustice, made Louis XIV. answerable for this custom. The inscription, “Viro immortali,” “to the immortal man,” has been accused of idolatry; as if that expression meant any more than the immortality of his glory. The inscription of Viviani, on his house at Florence, “Ædes a Deo datœ,” “the house given by God,” would be still more idolatrous. It is no more, however, than an allusion to the surname, Dieu-donne, and to the verse of Virgil, “Deus nobis hœc otia fecit.”
With regard to the statue in the Place de Vendôme, it was erected by the city. The Latin inscriptions, on the four sides of its base, display a more gross kind of flattery than the statue in the Place des Victoires. We there read that Louis XIV. never took arms but with reluctance. To this adulation he solemnly gave the lie on his deathbed, by those words, which will be remembered longer than these inscriptions, unknown to him, and produced by the meanness of spirit of some men of letters.
The king had set apart the houses of this square for his public library. The place was too large: it had at first three sides, which were those of an immense palace. The walls were already built, when the calamities that happened in 1701 obliged the city to build private houses on the ruins of the palace, which was already begun. Thus the Louvre was never finished. Thus the fountain and the obelisk, which Colbert intended to raise opposite to the gate of Perrault, never appeared but in embryo. Thus the beautiful gate of St. Gervais remained in obscurity; and most of the monuments of Paris fill us only with sorrow.
The nation wished that Louis XIV. had preferred his Louvre and his capital to the palace of Versailles, which the duke de Créqui called a favorite without merit. Posterity admires, with the most grateful remembrance, the great and noble things he did for the public welfare; but our admiration is mixed with censure, when we behold all the magnificence and defects that Louis XIV. has introduced into his house in the country.
From all we have said it appears that Louis XIV. loved grandeur and glory in everything. A prince who should perform as great things as he, and yet be modest and humble, would be the first of kings, and Louis only the second.
If he repented, on his deathbed, of having undertaken war without just reason, it must be owned that he did not judge by events; for, of all his wars, the most just, and the most indispensable—that in 1701—was the only unfortunate one.
He had by his queen, besides the dauphin, two sons and three daughters, who died in their infancy. His amours were more successful. There were only two of his natural children that died in the cradle: eight of them were legitimated, and five of them had children. He had likewise, by a lady who lived much with Madame de Montespan, a daughter, whom he never acknowledged, and whom he married to a gentleman near Versailles, of the name of Le Queue.
Some people suspected, and not without reason, that a certain lady in the abbey of Moret was his daughter. She was very brown, and resembled him in other respects. The king, when he placed her in the convent, gave her a portion of twenty thousand crowns. The opinion she had of her birth gave her an air of pride, of which the superiors of the convent loudly complained. Madame de Maintenon, in a journey to Fontainebleau, went to the convent of Moret; and, willing to inspire this nun with more modest sentiments, endeavored to banish the idea that nourished her pride. “Madam,” said the nun, “the trouble which a lady of your rank takes to come on purpose to tell me that I am not the king’s daughter, fully convinces me that I am.”
This anecdote the nuns of Moret remember to this day.
Such a particularity of circumstances would be irksome to a philosopher; but curiosity, that weakness so incident to mankind, ceases almost to be a weakness, when it is employed about times and personages which attract the attention of posterity.