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Title: Women of Modern France (Illustrated) - Woman: In all ages and in all countries Vol. 7 (of 10)
Author: Hugo Paul Thieme
Language: English
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Of the University of Michigan

[Illustration 1:
After the painting by Léon Olivie_
_In the_ Heptameron _we have an accurate representation of society, its
manners and style of conversation; in it we find, also remnants of the
brutality and grossness of the Middle Ages, as well as reflections of
the higher tendencies and aspirations of the later time. In having a
thorough knowledge of the tricks, deceits, and follies of the
professional lovers of the day, and of their object in courting women,
Marguerite was able to warn her contemporaries and thus guard them
against immorality and its dangers. In her works she upheld the purity
of ideal love, exposing the questionable and selfish designs of the
clever professional seducers._]


In all ages and in all countries



Of the University of Michigan




Among the Latin races, the French race differs essentially in one
characteristic which has been the key to the success of French
women--namely, the social instinct. The whole French nation has always
lived for the present time, in actuality, deriving from life more of
what may be called social pleasure than any other nation. It has been
a universal characteristic among French people since the sixteenth
century to love to please, to make themselves agreeable, to bring joy
and happiness to others, and to be loved and admired as well. With
this instinctive trait French women have always been bountifully
endowed. Highly emotional, they love to charm, and this has become
an art with them; balancing this emotional nature is the mathematical
quality. These two combined have made French women the great leaders
in their own country and among women of all races. They have developed
the art of studying themselves; and the art of coquetry, which
has become a virtue, is a science with them. The singular power of
discrimination, constructive ability, calculation, subtle intriguing,
a clear and concise manner of expression, a power of conversation
unequalled in women of any other country, clear thinking: all these
qualities have been strikingly illustrated in the various great women
of the different periods of the history of France, and according to
these they may by right be judged; for their moral qualities have not
always been in accordance with the standard of other races.

According as these two fundamental qualities, the emotional and
mathematical, have been developed in individual women, we meet the
different types which have made themselves prominent in history. The
queens of France, in general, have been submissive and pious, dutiful
and virtuous wives, while the mistresses have been bold and frivolous,
licentious and self-assertive. The women outside of these spheres
either looked on with indifference or regret at the all-powerfulness
of this latter class, unable to change conditions, or themselves
enjoyed the privilege of the mistress.

It must be remembered that in the great social circles in France,
especially from the sixteenth to the end of the eighteenth centuries,
marriage was a mere convention, offences against it being looked upon
as matters concerning manners, not morals; therefore, much of the
so-called gross immorality of French women may be condoned. It will
be seen in this history that French women have acted banefully on
politics, causing mischief, inciting jealousy and revenge, almost
invariably an instrument in the hands of man, acting as a disturbing
element. In art, literature, religion, and business, however, they
have ever been a directing force, a guide, a critic and judge, an
inspiration and companion to man.

The wholesome results of French women's activity are reflected
especially in art and literature, and to a lesser degree in religion
and morality, by the tone of elegance, politeness, _finesse_,
clearness, precision, purity, and a general high standard which man
followed if he was to succeed. In politics much severe blame and
reproach have been heaped upon her--she is made responsible for
breaking treaties, for activity in all intrigues, participating in
and inciting to civil and foreign wars, encouraging and sanctioning
assassinations and massacres, championing the Machiavelian policy and
practising it at every opportunity.

It has been the aim of this history of French women to present the
results rather than the actual happenings of their lives, and
these have been gathered from the most authoritative and scholarly
publications on the subject, to which the writer herewith wishes to
give all credit.

Hugo Paul Thieme.

_University of Michigan._



French women of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries,
when studied according to the distinctive phases of their influence,
are best divided into three classes: those queens who, as wives,
represented virtue, education, and family life; the mistresses, who
were instigators of political intrigue, immorality, and vice; and the
authoresses and other educated women, who constituted themselves the
patronesses of art and literature.

This division is not absolute by any means; for we see that in the
sixteenth century the regent-mother (for example, Louise of Savoy and
Catherine de' Medici), in extent of influence, fills the same position
as does the mistress in the eighteenth century; though in the former
period appears, in Diana of Poitiers, the first of a long line of
ruling mistresses.

Queen-consorts, in the sixteenth as in the following centuries,
exercised but little influence; they were, as a rule, gentle and
obedient wives--even Catherine, domineering as she afterward showed
herself to be, betraying no signs of that trait until she became

The literary women and women of spirit and wit furthered all
intellectual and social development; but it was the mistresses--those
great women of political schemes and moral degeneracy--who were vested
with the actual importance, and it must in justice to them be said
that they not infrequently encouraged art, letters, and mental

Eight queens of France there were during the sixteenth century,
and three of these may be accepted as types of purity, piety, and
goodness: Claude, first wife of Francis I.; Elizabeth of France, wife
of Charles IX.; and Louise de Vaudemont, wife of Henry III. These
queens, held up to ridicule and scorn by the depraved followers of
their husbands' mistresses, were reverenced by the people; we find
striking contrasts to them in the two queens-regent, Louise of Savoy
and Catherine de' Medici, who, in the period of their power, were
as unscrupulous and brutal, intriguing and licentious, jealous and
revengeful, as the most wanton mistresses who ever controlled a
king. In this century, we find two other remarkable types: Marguerite
d'Angoulême, the bright star of her time; and her whose name comes
instantly to mind when we speak of the Lady of Angoulême--Marguerite
de Navarre, representing both the good and the doubtful, the broadest
sense of that untranslatable term _femme d'esprit_.

The first of the royal French women to whom modern woman owes a great
and clearly defined debt was Anne of Brittany, wife of Louis XII.
and the personification of all that is good and virtuous. To her
belongs the honor of having taken the first step toward the social
emancipation of French women; she was the first to give to woman an
important place at court. This precedent she established by requesting
her state officials and the foreign ambassadors to bring their wives
and daughters when they paid their respects to her. To the ladies
themselves, she sent a "royal command," bidding them leave their
gloomy feudal abodes and repair to the court of their sovereign.

Anne may be said to belong to the transition period--that period
in which the condition of slavery and obscurity which fettered the
women of the Middle Ages gave place to almost untrammelled liberty.
The queen held a separate court in great state, at Blois and Des
Tournelles, and here elegance, even magnificence, of dress was
required of her ladies. At first, this unprecedented demand caused
discontent among men, who at that time far surpassed women in
elaborateness of costume and had, consequently, been accustomed to
the use of their surplus wealth for their own purposes. Under Anne's
influence, court life underwent a complete transformation; her
receptions, which were characterized by royal splendor, became the
centre of attraction.

Anne of Brittany, the last queen of France of the Middle Ages and the
first of the modern period, was a model of virtuous conduct, conjugal
fidelity, and charity. Having complete control over her own
immense wealth, she used it largely for beneficent purposes; to her
encouragement much of the progress of art and literature in France was
due. Hers was an example that many of the later queens endeavored to
follow, but it cannot be said that they ever exerted a like influence
or exhibited an equal power of initiation and self-assertion.

The first royal woman to become a power in politics in the period that
we are considering was Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I., a type
of the voluptuous and licentious female of the sixteenth century. Her
pernicious activity first manifested itself when, having conceived
a violent passion for Charles of Bourbon, she set her heart upon
marrying him, and commenced intrigues and plots which were all the
more dangerous because of her almost absolute control over her son,
the King.

At this time there were three distinct sets or social castes at the
court of France: the pious and virtuous band about the good Queen
Claude; the lettered and elegant belles in the coterie of Marguerite
d'Angoulême, sister of Francis I.; and the wanton and libertine young
maids who formed a galaxy of youth and beauty about Louise of Savoy,
and were by her used to fascinate her son and thus distract him from
affairs of state.

Louise used all means to bring before the king beautiful women through
whom she planned to preserve her influence over him. One of these
frail beauties, Françoise de Foix, completely won the heart of the
monarch; her ascendency over him continued for a long period, in spite
of the machinations of Louise, who, when Francis escaped her control,
sought to bring disrepute and discredit upon the fair mistress.

The mother, however, remained the powerful factor in politics. With an
abnormal desire to hoard money, an unbridled temper, and a violent and
domineering disposition, she became the most powerful and dangerous,
as well as the most feared, woman of all France. During her regency
the state coffers were pillaged, and plundering was carried on on all
sides. One of her acts at this time was to cause the recall of Charles
of Bourbon, then Governor of Milan; this measure was taken as much
for the purpose of obtaining revenge for his scornful rejection of her
offer of marriage as for the hope of eventually bringing him to her

Upon the return of Charles, she immediately began plotting against
him, including in her hatred Françoise de Foix, the king's mistress,
at whom Bourbon frequently cast looks of pity which the furiously
jealous Louise interpreted as glances of love. As a matter of fact,
Bourbon, being strictly virtuous, was out of reach of temptation by
the beauties of the court, and there were no grounds for jealousy.

This love of Louise for Charles of Bourbon is said to have owed most
of its ardor to her hope of coming into possession of his immense
estates. She schemed to have his title to them disputed, hoping that,
by a decree of Parliament, they might be taken from him; the idea in
this procedure was that Bourbon, deprived of his possessions, must
come to her terms, and she would thus satisfy--at one and the same
time--her passion and her cupidity.

Under her influence the character of the court changed entirely;
retaining only a semblance of its former decency, it became utterly
corrupt. It possessed external elegance and _distingué_ manners, but
below this veneer lay intrigue, debauchery, and gross immorality. In
order to meet the vast expenditures of the king and the queen-mother,
the taxes were enormously increased; the people, weighed down by the
unjust assessment and by want, began to clamor and protest. Undismayed
by famine, poverty, and epidemic, Louise continued her depredations
on the public treasury, encouraging the king in his squanderings;
and both mother and son, in order to procure money, begged, borrowed,

Louise was always surrounded by a bevy of young ladies, selected
beauties of the court, whose natural charms were greatly enhanced by
the lavishness of their attire. Always ready to further the plans of
their mistress, they hesitated not to sacrifice reputation or honor to
gratify her smallest whim. Her power was so generally recognized that
foreign ambassadors, in the absence of the king, called her "that
other king." When war against France broke out between Spain and
England, Louise succeeded in gaining the office of constable for the
Duc d'Alençon; by this means, she intended to displace Charles of
Bourbon (whom she was still persecuting because he continued cold to
her advances), and to humiliate him in the presence of his army; the
latter design, however, was thwarted, as he did not complain.

To the caprice of Louise of Savoy were due the disasters and defeats
of the French army during the period of her power; by frequently
displacing someone whose actions did not coincide with her plans, and
elevating some favorite who had avowed his willingness to serve her,
she kept military affairs in a state of confusion.

Many wanton acts are attributed to her: she appropriated forty
thousand crowns allowed to Governor Lautrec of Milan for the
payment of his soldiers, and caused the execution of Samblancay,
superintendent of finances, who had been so unfortunate as to incur
her displeasure. It was Charles of Bourbon, who, with Marshal Lautrec,
investigated the episode of the forty thousand crowns and exposed the
treachery and perfidy of the mother of his king.

Finding that Bourbon intended to persist in his resistance to her
advances, Louise decided upon drastic measures of retaliation. With
the assistance of her chancellor (and tool), Duprat, she succeeded in
having withheld the salaries which were due to Bourbon because of the
offices held by him. As he took no notice of these deprivations, she
next proceeded to divest him of his estates by laying claim to them
for herself; she then proposed to Bourbon that, by accepting her hand
in marriage, he might settle the matter happily. The object of her
numerous schemes not only rejected this offer with contempt, but added
insult to injury by remarking: "I will never marry a woman devoid of
modesty." At this rebuff, Louise was incensed beyond measure, and when
Queen Claude suggested Bourbon's marriage to her sister, Mme. Renée
de France (a union to which Charles would have consented gladly), the
queen-mother managed to induce Francis I. to refuse his consent.

After the death of Anne of Beaujeu, mother-in-law of Charles of
Bourbon, her estates were seized by the king and transferred to
Louise while the claim was under consideration by Parliament. When
the judges, after an examination of the records of the Bourbon estate,
remonstrated with Chancellor Duprat against the illegal transfer, he
had them put into prison. This rigorous act, which was by order of
Louise, weakened the courage of the court; when the time arrived for a
final decision, the judges declared themselves incompetent to decide,
and in order to rid themselves of responsibility referred the matter
to the king's council. This great lawsuit, which was continued for a
long time, eventually forced Charles of Bourbon to flee from France.
Having sworn allegiance to Charles V. of Spain and Henry VIII. of
England against Francis I., he was made lieutenant-general of the
imperial armies.

When Francis, captured at the battle of Pavia, was taken to Spain,
Louise, as regent, displayed unusual diplomatic skill by leaguing the
Pope and the Italian states with Francis against the Spanish king.
When, after nearly a year's captivity, her son returned, she welcomed
him with a bevy of beauties; among them was a new mistress, designed
to destroy the influence of the woman who had so often thwarted the
plans of Louise--the beautiful Françoise de Foix whom the king had
made Countess of Châteaubriant.

This new beauty was Anne de Pisseleu, one of the thirty children of
Seigneur d'Heilly, a girl of eighteen, with an exceptional education.
Most cunning was the trap which Louise had set for the king. Anne was
surrounded by a circle of youthful courtiers, who hung upon her words,
laughed at her caprices, courted her smiles; and when she rather
confounded them with the extent of the learning which--with a sort of
gay triumph--she was rather fond of showing, they pronounced her "the
most charming of learned ladies and the most learned of the charming."

The plot worked; Francis was fascinated, falling an easy prey to the
wiles of the wanton Anne. The former mistress, Françoise de Foix, was
discarded, and Louise, purely out of revenge and spite, demanded the
return of the costly jewels given by the king and appropriated them

The duty assigned to the new mistress was that of keeping Francis
busy with fêtes and other amusements. While he was thus kept under the
spell of his enchantress, he lost all thought of his subjects and the
welfare of his country and the affairs of the kingdom fell into the
hands of Louise and her chancellor, Duprat. The girl-mistress, Anne,
was married by Louise to the Duc d'Etampes whose consent was gained
through the promise of the return of his family possessions which,
upon his father's departure with Charles of Bourbon, had been

The reign of Louise of Savoy was now about over; she had accomplished
everything she had planned. She had caused Charles of Bourbon, one of
the greatest men of the sixteenth century, to turn against his king;
and that king owed to her--his mother--his defeat at Pavia, his
captivity in Spain, and his moral fall. Spain, Italy, and France were
victims of the infamous plotting and disastrous intrigues of this one
woman whose death, in 1531, was a blessing to the country which she
had dishonored.

At the time of the marriage of Francis I. to Eleanor of Portugal
(one of the last acts of Louise), Europe was beginning to look upon
France as ahead of all other nations in the "superlativeness of
her politeness." The most rigid etiquette and the most punctilious
politeness were always observed, fines being imposed for any
discourtesy toward women.

After the death of Louise, the lot of managing the king and directing
his policy fell to the share of his mistress, the Duchesse d'Etampes,
who at once became all-powerful at court; her influence over him was
like that of the drug which, to the weak person who begins its use,
soon becomes an absolute necessity.

After the death of the dauphin, all the court flatteries were directed
toward Henry, the eldest son of Francis. Though his mistress, Diana
of Poitiers, ruled him, she exercised no influence politically; that
she was not lacking in diplomacy, however, was proved by her attitude
toward Henry's wife, Catherine, whom she treated with every indication
of friendship and esteem, in marked contrast to the disdain exhibited
by other ladies of the court. These two women became friends, working
together against the mistress of the king--the Duchesse d'Etampes--and
causing, by their intrigues, dissensions between father and son.

The duchess was not a bad woman; her dissuasion of Francis I. from
undertaking war with Solyman II. against Charles V. is one instance of
the use of her influence in the right direction. By some historians,
she is accused of having played the traitress, in the interest of
Emperor Charles V., during the war of Spain and England against
France. It was she who urged the Treaty of Crépy with Charles V.; by
it, through the marriage of the French king's second son, the Duke of
Orleans, to the niece of Charles V., the duchess was sure of a safe
retreat when her bitter enemy, Henry's mistress, should reign after
the king's death. Her plans, however, did not materialize, as the duke
died and the treaty was annulled.

The death of Francis I. occurred in 1547; with his reign ends the
first period of woman's activity--a period influenced mainly by Louise
of Savoy, whose relations to France were as disastrous as were those
of any mistress. The influence exerted by her may in some respects be
compared with that of Mme. de Pompadour; though, were the merits and
demerits of both carefully tested, the results would hardly be
in favor of Louise. Strong in diplomacy and intrigue, she was
unscrupulous and wanton--morally corrupt; she did nothing to further
the development of literature and art; if she favored men of genius it
was merely from motives of self-interest.

With the accession of Henry II. his mistress entered into possession
of full power. The absolute sway of Diana of Poitiers over this
weakest of French kings was due to her strong mind, great ability,
wide experience, fascination of manner, and to that exceptional beauty
which she preserved to her old age. Immediately upon coming into
power, she dispatched the Duchesse d'Etampes to one of her estates
and at the same time forced her to restore the jewels which she had
received from Francis I., a usual procedure with a mistress who knew
herself to be first in authority.

After being thus displaced, the duchess spent her time in doing
charitable work, and is said to have afforded protection to the
Protestants. Eventually, hers was the fate of almost all the
mistresses. Compelled to give up many of her possessions, miserable
and forgotten by all, her last days were most unhappy.

Early in her career, Henry made Diana Duchesse de Valentinois. So
powerful did she become that Sieur de Bayard, secretary of state,
having referred in jest to her age (she was twenty years the king's
senior), was deprived of his office, thrown into prison, and left to
die. In her management of Queen Catherine, Diana was most politic;
she never interfered, but constituted herself "the protectress of the
legitimate wife, settling all questions concerning the newly born,"
for which she received a large salary. When, while the king was in
Italy, the queen became ill, she owed her recovery to the watchful
care of the mistress. The latter appointed to the vacant estates and
positions members of her house--that of Guise. In time, this house
gained such an ascendency that it conceived the project of setting
aside all the princes of the blood royal.

Having (through one of her favorites) gained control of the royal
treasury, Diana appropriated everything--lands, money, jewels. Her
influence was so astonishing to the people that she was accused of
wielding a magic power and bewitching the king who seemed, verily,
to be leading an enchanted existence; he had but one thought, one
aim--that of pleasing and obeying his aged mistress. To make
amends for his adultery, he concluded to extirpate heretics. Such
a combination of luxury and extravagance with licentiousness and
brutality, such wholesale murder, persecution, and burning at the
stake have never been equalled, except under Nero.

Michelet reveals the character of Diana in these words: "Affected by
nothing, loving nothing, sympathizing with nothing; of the passions
retaining only those which will give a little rapidity to the
blood; of the pleasures preferring those that are mild and without
violence--the love of gain and the pursuit of money; hence, there was
absence of soul. Another phase was the cultivation of the body, the
body and its beauty uniquely cared for by virile treatment and a rigid
régime which is the guardian of life--not weakly adored as by women
who kill themselves by excessive self-love." M. Saint-Amand continues,
after quoting the above: "At all seasons of the year, Diana plunges
into a cold bath on rising. As soon as day breaks, she mounts a horse,
and, followed by swift hounds, rides through dewy verdure to her royal
lover to whom--fascinated by her mythological pomp--she seems no
more a woman but a goddess. Thus he styles her in verses of burning

  "'Hélas, mon Dieu! combien je regrette
  Le temps que j'ai perdu en ma jeunesse!
  Combien de fois je me suis souhaité
  Avoir Diane pour ma seule maîtresse.
  Mais je craignais qu'elle, qui est déesse,
  Ne se voulût abaisser jusque là.'"

[Alas, my God! how much I regret the time lost in my youth! How often
have I longed to have Diana for my only mistress! But I feared that
she who is a goddess would not stoop so low as that.]

Catherine remained quietly in the palace, preferring her position,
unpleasant as it was, to the persecution and possible incarceration in
a convent which would result from any interference on her part between
the king and his mistress. Without power or privileges, she was a
mere figurehead--a good mother looking after her family. However,
she was not idle; without taking part in the intrigues, she was
studying them--planning her future tactics; in all relations she was
diplomatic, her conversation ever displaying exquisite tact.

While France groaned under the burdens of seemingly interminable wars
and exorbitant taxes, her king revelled in excessive luxury; the aim
of his favorite mistress seemed to be to acquire wealth and spend
it lavishly for her own pleasure. Voluptuousness, cruelty, and
extravagance were the keynotes of the time. All means were used to
procure revenues, the king easing any pangs of conscience by burning a
few heretics whose estates were then quickly confiscated.

Diana, even at the age of sixty, still held Henry in her toils; an
easy prey for the wiles of the flatterer, he was kept in ignorance of
the hatred and anger heaping up against him. In the midst of riotous
festivity, Henry II. died, a victim of the lance of Montgomery;
and the twelve years' reign of debauchery, cruelty, and shameless
extravagance came to an end.

Whatever else may be said of Diana, she proved to be a liberal
patroness of art and letters; this was possible for her, since,
in addition to inherited wealth and the gifts of lands and jewels
from the king, she procured the possessions of many heretics whose
confiscated wealth was assigned to her as a faithful servant and
supporter of the church.

Her hotel at Anet was one of the most elaborate, tasteful, and elegant
in all France; there the finest specimens of Italian sculpture,
painting, and woodwork were to be seen. The king, upon making her
a duchess, presented her with the beautiful château of Chenonceaux,
which was so much coveted by Catherine. The latter attempted to make
Diana pay for the château, thus interrupting her plans for building;
upon discovering this, Henry sent his own artists and workmen to carry
out Diana's desires. Such was the power of his mistress over the weak
king that he respected her wishes far more than he did those of his
queen. This was one of those instances in which Catherine saw fit to
remain silent and plan revenge.

The death of Diana of Poitiers was that common to all women of her
position. She died in 1566, forgotten by the world--her world. In
her will she made "provision for religious houses, to be opened to
women of evil lives, as if, in the depth of her conscience, she
had recognized the likeness between their destiny and her own."
Like the former mistresses, she had been required to give up the
jewels received from Henry II.; but as this order was from Francis
II. instead of from his mistress, the gems were returned to the
crown after having passed successively through the hands of three

Catherine's time had not yet come, for she dared not interfere
when Mary Stuart (a beautiful, inexperienced, and impetuous girl of
seventeen) gained ascendency over Francis II.--a mere boy. The house
of Guise was then supreme and began its bloody campaign against its
enemies; fortunately, however, its power was short-lived, for in 1560
the king died after reigning only seventeen months. At this point,
Catherine enters upon the scene of action. Jealous of Mary Stuart
and fearing that the young king, Charles IX., then but ten years old,
might become infatuated with her and marry her, she promptly returned
the fair young woman to Scotland.

The task before the regent was no light one; her kingdom was
divided against itself, the country was overburdened with taxes, and
discontent reigned universally. All who surrounded her were full of
prejudice and actuated solely by personal aspirations--she realized
that she could trust no one.

Her first act of a political nature was to rescue the house of
Valois and solidify the royal authority. Some critics maintain that
she began her reign with moderation, gentleness, impartiality, and
reconciliation. This view finds support in the fact that during the
first years she favored Protestantism; finding, however, that the
latter was weakening royal power and that the country at large was
opposed to it, she became its most bitter enemy. To the Protestants
and their plottings she attributed all the disastrous effects of the
civil war, all thefts, murders, incests, and adulteries, as well
as the profanation of the sepulchres of the ancestors of the royal
family, the burning of the bones of Louis XI. and of the heart of
Francis II.

The Machiavellian policy was Catherine's guide; bitter experience had
robbed her of all faith in humanity--she had learned to despise it
and the judgment of her contemporaries. At first she was amiable and
polite, seemingly intent upon pleasing those with whom she talked;
in fact, it is said that she was then more often accused of excessive
mildness and moderation than of the violence and cruelty which later
characterized her. Experience having taught her how to deal with
people, she never lost her self-control.

Subsequent history shows that any gentle and conciliatory policy of
Catherine was merely a method of furthering her own interests, and
was therefore not the outcome of any inborn feeling of sympathy or
womanly tenderness. Whether her signing of the Edict of Saint-Germain,
admitting the Protestants to all employments and granting them the
privilege of Calvinistic worship in two cities of every province, and
her refusal, upon the urgent solicitations of her son-in-law, Philip
II., to persecute heretics were really snares laid for the Huguenots,
is a matter which historians have not decided.

Inasmuch as the entire history of France plays about the personality
of Catherine de' Medici, no attempt will be made to give a detailed
chronological account of her career; the results, rather than the
events themselves, will be given. M. Saint-Amand, in his work on
_French Women of the Valois Court_, presents one of the strongest
pictures drawn of Catherine. We shall follow him in the greater part
of this sketch.

According to some historians, Catherine was a mere intriguer, without
talent or ability, living but in the moment, often caught in her
own snares; according to others, by her intelligence, ability, and
strength of character she advanced a cause truly national--that of
French unity; thus, she worked either the ruin or the salvation of
France. Michelet calls her a nonentity, a stage queen with merely
the externals--the attire--of royalty, remaining exactly on a level
with the rulers of the smaller Italian principalities, contriving
everything and fearing everything, with no more heart than she had
sense or temperament. Being a female, she loved her young; she loved
the arts, but cared to cultivate only their externalities. In this,
however, Michelet goes to an extreme; for no woman ever lived who had
so great a talent for intrigues and politics as she--a very type of
the deceit and cunning which were inherent in her race. If she were
not important, had not wielded so much influence and decided the
fate of so many great men, women, and even states, she would not
be the subject of so much writing, of such fierce denunciation
and strong praise. To her family, France owes her finest palaces,
her masterpieces of art--painting, bookmaking, printing, binding,

M. Saint-Amand declares that "isolated from her contemporaries,
Catherine de' Medici is a monster; brought back within the circle of
their passions and their theories, she once more becomes a woman."
But Catherine was the instigator, the embodiment of all that is vice,
deceit, cunning, trickery, wickedness, and bold intrigue; she set
the example, and her ladies followed her in all that she did; "the
heroines bred in her school (and what woman was not in her school?)
imitate, with docility, the examples she gives them." She was not
only the type of her civilization,--brutal, gross, immoral, elegant,
polished, and _mondain_,--but she was also its leader.

Greatness of soul, real moral force, strict virtue, are not attributes
of the sixteenth-century woman--they are isolated and rare exceptions;
these Catherine did not possess. Nor was she influenced deeply by
her environments; the latter but encouraged and developed those
qualities which were hers inherently,--will, intelligence, inflexible
perseverance, tenacity of purpose, unscrupulousness, cruelty;
hence, to say "She is the victim rather than the inspiration of the
corruption of her time" is misleading, to say the least. If, upon
her arrival at court, "she at once pleased every one by her grace and
affability, modest air, and, above all, by her extreme gentleness,"
she could not have changed, say her defenders, into the perfidious,
wicked, and cruel creature she is said to have become as soon as she
stepped into power. "During the reign of Henry II., she wisely avoided
all danger; faithful to her wifely duties, she gave no cause for
scandal, and, realizing that she was not strong enough to overcome her
all-powerful rival, she bided her time. She was loved and respected by
everyone for her personal qualities and her benevolence." But why
may it not be true that all this was but part of her politics, the
politics in which she had been educated? Wise from experience, she
foresaw the future and what was in store for her if she remained
prudent and made the best of the surroundings until the time should
come when she could strike suddenly and boldly.

Brought up from infancy amidst snares, intrigues, the clash of arms,
the furious shouts of popular insurrections, tempests, and storms, she
could not escape the influence of her early environment. Her talent
for studying and penetrating the designs of her enemies, for facing or
avoiding dangers with such sublime calmness and prudence, was partly
inherited, partly acquired. That spirit she took with her to France,
where her experience was widened and her opportunities for the study
of human nature were increased.

It is not generally known that her mother was a French woman--a
Madeleine de La Tour d'Auvergne, daughter of Jean, Count of Boulogne,
and Catherine of Bourbon, daughter of the Count of Vendôme; thus, her
gentler nature was a French product. Her mother and father both died
when she was but twenty-two days old, and from that time until her
marriage she was cast about from place to place. But from the very
first she showed that talent of adapting herself to her surroundings,
living amidst intrigues and discords and yet making friends. She
has been called "the precocious heiress of the craftiness of her

In her thirteenth year, after being sought by many powerful princes,
Clement VII. (her greatuncle), in order to secure himself against the
powerful Charles V., married her to Henry, Duke of Orleans, the second
son of Francis I. Even at that early age she was fully aware of all
the dreariness and danger attached to positions of power, and knew
that the art of governing was not an easy one. She had studied
Machiavelli's famous work, _The Prince_, which had been dedicated to
her father, and it was from it, as well as from her ancestors, that
she derived her wisdom and astuteness. Her childhood had prepared
her for the work of the future, and she went at it with caution and
reserve until she was sure of her ground.

She first proceeded to study the king, Francis I., watching his
actions, extracting his secrets; a fine huntress and at his side
constantly, she pleased him and gained his favor. Brantôme says
she was subtle and diplomatic, quickly learning the craft of her
profession; she sought friends among all classes and ranks, directing
her overtures specially toward the ladies of the court, whom she soon
won and gathered about her.

In 1536 the dauphin died, and Catherine's husband became heir to
the throne of France. Though they had been married three years,
no offspring had resulted, which unfortunate circumstance made her
position a most uncertain one, especially as Diana of Poitiers was
then at the height of her power, controlling Henry absolutely. A
furious rivalry sprang up between the Duchesse d'Etampes, mistress
of Francis I., and Diana and Catherine; the two mistresses formed two
parties, and a war of slanders, calumnies, and unpleasant epigrams
ensued. Queen Eleanor, the second wife of Francis I., took no active
part, thus leaving all power in the hands of the mistress of her
husband. (It was at this time that the Emperor Charles V. gained the
Duchesse d'Etampes over to his cause.) Poets and artists, politicians
and men of genius took sides, extolling the beauty of the one they
championed. Catherine, although befriended and treated with apparent
respect by Diana, remained a good friend to both women, thus evincing
her tact. By keeping her own personality in the background, she won
the esteem of both her husband and the king.

Brantôme leaves a picture of Catherine at this time: "She was a fine
and ample figure; very majestic, yet agreeable and very gentle when
necessary; beautiful and gracious in appearance, her face fair and her
throat white and full, very white in body likewise.... Moreover, she
dressed superbly, always having some pretty innovation. In brief,
she had beauties fitted to inspire love. She laughed readily, her
disposition was jovial, and she liked to jest." M. Saint-Amand
continues: "The artistic elegance that surrounded her whole person,
the tranquil and benevolent expression of her countenance, the good
taste of her dress, the exquisite distinction of her manners, all
contributed to her charm. And then she was so humble in the presence
of her husband! She so carefully avoided whatever might have the
semblance of reproach! She closed her eyes with such complaisance!
Henry told himself that it would be difficult to find another woman
so well-disposed, another wife so faithful to her duties, another
princess so accomplished in point of instruction and intelligence. The
_ménage à trois_ (household of three) was continued, therefore, and if
the dauphin loved his mistress, he certainly had a friendship for his
wife. And, on her part, whenever she felt an inclination to complain
of her lot, Catherine bethought herself that if she quitted her
position she would probably find no refuge but the cloister, and
that--taking it all around--the court of France (in spite of the
humiliations and vexations one might experience there) was an abode
more desirable than a convent;" this, then, is the secret of her
submission. In spite of her beauty, mildness, and distinction of
manner, she could not overcome the prestige of Diana.

After nine years, Catherine was still without children and began to
fear the fate in store for her; but when she gave birth to a son in
1543, she felt assured that divorce no longer threatened her and she
resolved that as soon as she came into power she would be revenged
upon her enemies and Diana of Poitiers. When, in 1547, her husband
succeeded his father as King of France, she did not feel that the time
had yet arrived to interfere in any social or domestic arrangements
or affairs of state; not until ten years later did she show the first
sign of remarkable statesmanship or ability as a politician.

After the battle and capture of Saint-Quentin, France was in a most
deplorable state; the enemy was believed to be beneath the walls of
Paris; everybody was fleeing; the king had gone to Compiègne to muster
a new army. Catherine was alone in Paris "and of her own free will
went to the Parliament in full state, accompanied by the cardinals,
princes, and princesses; and there, in the most impressive language,
she set forth the urgent state of affairs at the moment.... With so
much sentiment and eloquence that she touched the heart of everybody,
the queen then explained to the Parliament that the king had need of
three hundred thousand livres, twenty-five thousand to be paid every
two months; and she added that she would retire from the place of
session, so as not to interfere with the liberty of discussion;
accordingly, she retired to another room. A resolution to comply with
the wishes of her majesty was voted, and the queen, having resumed her
place, received a promise to that effect. A hundred nobles of the
city offered to give at once three thousand francs apiece. The queen
thanked them in the sweetest form of words, and thus terminated this
session of Parliament--with so much applause for her majesty and such
lively marks of satisfaction at her behavior, that no idea can be
given of them. Throughout the city, nothing was spoken of but the
queen's prudence and the happy manner in which she proceeded in this
enterprise" (Guizot). From this act dates Catherine's entrance into
political consideration.

During the reign of Francis II., Catherine de' Medici exercised no
influence at court, the king being completely under the dominion
of his wife and the Duke of Guise, who was not favorable to the
queen-mother's schemes and policies. Catherine, however, was plotting;
caring little about religion so long as it did not further her plans,
she connected herself with the Huguenots; her scheme was to bring the
Guises to destruction and to form a council of regency which, while
composed of the Huguenot leaders, was to be under her guidance. As
this plan failed, bringing ruin to many princes, she deserted the
Huguenots and allied herself with the Catholics.

She is next found attempting the assassination of the Duke of Condé,
but she failed to accomplish that crime because her son, the king,
refused his consent. Soon after, Francis II. died, it is said from
the effect of poison dropped into his ear while he was sleeping; it
is probable that this crime was committed at the instigation of the
mother, since by his death and the accession of Charles IX. she became
regent (1560). She was then all-powerful and in a position to exercise
her long dormant talents.

Her first plan was to incapacitate all her children by plunging
them "into such licentious pleasure and voluptuous dissipation
that they were speedily unfitted for mental activity or exertion."
Most unprejudiced historians credit her with the Massacre of Saint
Bartholomew; she is said to have boasted about it to Catholic
governments and excused it to Protestant powers. For a number of
years, she had been planning the destruction of the Huguenot princes,
and as early as 1565 she and Charles IX. had an interview with the
Duke of Alva (representative of Philip II), to consult as to the means
of delivering France from heretics. It was decided that "this great
blessing could not have accomplishment save by the deaths of all the
leaders of the Huguenots."

That fearful crime, the bloody Massacre of Saint Bartholomew, is
familiar to everyone. The only excuse offered for this most heinous of
Catherine's many offences is her intense sentiment of national unity;
the actual reason for it is to be sought in the fact that as long
as the Protestants retained their prestige and influence, Catherine
and her Catholic party could not do as they pleased, could not
gain absolute control over the government. History holds her more
responsible than it does her weak son. The climax came on the occasion
of the wedding of Marguerite of Valois with the Prince of Navarre,
which meant the union of the branches--the Catholic and the
Protestant. This resulted in the first breach between the king and
Catherine; the latter at that time perpetrated one of her dastardly
deeds by poisoning the mother of the Prince of Navarre--Jeanne
d'Albret, her bitter enemy.

After the death of Charles IX., Henry III. was the sole survivor of
the four sons of Catherine. Although her power was limited during his
reign, she managed to continue her murderous plans and accomplished
the death of Henry of Guise and his brother the cardinal, which crime
united the majority of the Catholics of France against the king and
was the cause of his assassination in 1589. This ended the power of
Catherine de' Medici; when she died, no one rejoiced, no one lamented.
Wherever she had turned her eyes, she had seen nothing but occasions
for uneasiness and sadness; she had retired from court, feeling her
helplessness and disgrace as well as the decline in power of that son
in whom her hopes were centred. She decided to reënter the scene of
action and save Henry. The stormy scenes of the Barricades and the
League and the murder of the Duke of Guise hastened her death, which
occurred in 1589.

Catherine de' Medici may rightfully be called the initiator and
organizer of social and court etiquette and courtesy--of conventional
and social laws. However great her political activity, she made
herself deeply felt in the social and moral worlds also. She taught
her husband the secret of being king; she introduced the _lever_
audience; in the afternoon of every day, she held a reunion of all the
ladies of the court, at which the king was to be found after dinner
and every lord entertained the lady he most loved; two hours were
spent in this pleasure which was continued after supper if there were
no balls; bitter railleries and anything that passed the restrictions
of good company were forbidden.

Her ladies of honor obeyed her as they would their God. Marguerite
of Valois said of her: "I did not dare to speak to her, and when
she looked at me I trembled for fear of having done something that
displeased her." Ladies who had been delinquent were stripped and
beaten with lashes; for correction--frequently for mere pastime--she
would have them undressed and slapped vigorously with the back of
the hand. Françoise of Rohan, cousin of Jeanne d'Albret, wrote the
following poem:

  "Plus j'ai de toi souvent esté battue,
  Plus mon amour s'efforce et s'évertue
  De regretter ceste main qui me bat;
  Car ce mal-là m'estait plaisant esbat.
  Or, adieu donc la main dont la rigueur
  Je préferais à tout bien et honneur."

[The more often I have been struck by you, the more my love struggles
and strives to regret the hand that beats me; for that punishment
was a pleasant pastime for me. Now farewell to the hand whose rigor I
preferred to every fortune and honor.]

The following portrait and poetry, taken from M. Saint-Amand, does
the subject full justice: "Catherine de' Medici represented with a
sinister glance, deadly mien, mysterious and savage aspect--a spectre,
not a woman--is not true to nature. Her self-possession, cool cunning,
supreme elegance, imperturbable tranquillity, calmness, moderation,
noble serenity, and dignified poise, gave her an individuality such as
few women ever possessed. Gentle in crime and tragedy, polite like an
executioner toward his victim--this Machiavellianism which is equal
to every trial, which nothing alarms or surprises, and which
with tranquil dexterity makes sport of every law of morality and
humanity--this is the real character of Catherine de' Medici." The
following burlesque poetry was composed for her:

  "La reine qui ci-git fut un diable et un ange,
  Toute pleine de blâme et pleine de louange,
  Elle soutint l'Etat, et l'Etat mit à bas;
  Elle fit maints accords et pas moins de débats;
  Elle enfanta trois rois et trois guerres civiles,
  Fit bâtir des châteaux et ruiner des villes,
  Fit bien de bonnes lois et de mauvais édits.
  Souhaite-lui, passant, enfer et paradis."

[The queen lying here was both devil and angel, blamed and praised;
she both put down and upheld the state; she caused many an agreement
and no end of disputes; she produced three kings and three civil wars;
she built castles and ruined cities, made many good laws and many bad
decrees. Wish her, passer-by, hell and paradise.]

With the reign of Henry IV.--the first king of the house of Bourbon,
and the first king of the sixteenth century with a will of his own and
the courage to assert it--begins a period of revelling, debauch, and
the most depraved immorality. Three mistresses in turn controlled
him--morally, not politically.

Henry was master of his own will, and, had he desired to do so, could
have overcome his evil tendencies; instead, he openly countenanced and
even encouraged dissoluteness and elegant debauchery, as long as he
himself was not deprived of the lady upon whom his capricious fancy
happened to fall. His advances were but seldom repulsed; but upon
making his usual audacious proposals to the Marquise de Guercheville,
he was informed that she was of too insignificant a house to be the
king's wife and of too good a race to be his mistress; and when the
king, in spite of this rebuff, made her lady of honor to his wife,
Marie de' Medici, she continued to resist him and remained virtuous.
Such types of purity, honor, and moral courage were very exceptional
during this reign.

The three principal mistresses of this sovereign represent three
phases of influence and three periods of his life. Corisande
d'Andouins, Comtesse de Guiche and Duchesse de Gramont, fascinated him
for eight years, while he was King of Navarre (1582-1590); to her he
was deeply attached, and recompensed her for her devotion; this is
called his _chevaleresque_ period. The beautiful Gabrielle d'Estrées,
Duchesse de Beaufort, was called his mate after victory; "she refined,
sharpened, softened, and tamed his customs; she made him king of the
court instead of the field." It was she who ventured to meddle in his
politics, she whom Marguerite of Valois, his wife, so detested that
she refused to consent to a divorce as long as Gabrielle (by whom he
had several children) remained his mistress. The latter even went so
far as to demand the baptism, as a child of France, of her son by the
king. Sully, in a rage, declared there were no "children of France,"
and took the order to the king, who had it destroyed; he then asked
his minister to go to his mistress and satisfy her, "in so far as you
can." To his efforts she replied: "I am aware of all, and do not care
to hear any more; I am not made as the king is, whom you persuade that
black is white." Upon receiving this report, the king said: "Here,
come with me; I will let you see that women have not the possession
of me that certain malignant spirits say they have." Accompanied by
Sully, he immediately went to the Duchesse de Beaufort, and, taking
her by the hand, said: "Now, madame, let us go into your room, and let
nobody else enter except Rosny. I want to speak to you both and teach
you how to be good friends." Then, having closed the door, holding
Gabrielle with one hand and Rosny with the other, he said: "Good God,
madame! What is the meaning of this? So you would vex me from sheer
wantonness of heart in order to try my patience? By God, I swear to
you that, if you continue these fashions of going on, you will find
yourself very much out in your expectations! I see quite well that you
have been put up to all this pleasantry in order to make me dismiss
a servant whom I cannot do without, and who has served me loyally for
five-and-twenty years. By God, I will do nothing of the kind! And I
declare to you that if I were reduced to such a necessity as to
choose between losing one or the other, I could better do without ten
mistresses like you than one servant like him." Shortly after this
episode, Gabrielle died so suddenly that she was supposed to have been
poisoned. Immediately after her death the divorce was granted, and
Henry married Marie de' Medici.

The third mistress, Henriette de Balzac d'Entragues, Marquise de
Verneuil, who led Henry IV. along a path of the worst debauchery,
gained control over him by lewd, lascivious methods. While
negotiations were being carried on for his divorce from Marguerite,
only a few weeks after the death of Gabrielle, he signed a promise to
marry Henriette; this, however, he failed to keep. She, more than any
other of his mistresses, was the cause of national distress and of
more than one ruinous war. When, after the marriage of the king
to Marie de' Medici, Henriette began to nag, rail, intrigue, and
conspire, she was disgraced by Henry, who at least had the courage to
honor his own family above that of his mistresses. She is accused of
having had, solely from motives of revenge, a hand in the death of the

Thus, around the queens-regent and the mistresses of the kings of
France in the sixteenth century there is constant intriguing, murder,
assassination, immorality, and debauchery, jealousy and revenge,
marriage and divorce, honor and disgrace, despotism and final
repentance and misery. The greatest and lowest of these women
was Catherine de' Medici; Diana of Poitiers was famed as the most
marvellously beautiful woman in France, and she was the most powerful
and intelligent mistress until the time of Mme. de Pompadour. Amid all
this bribery and corruption, elegant and refined immorality, there
are some few types that represent education, family life, purity, and



The queens of France exerted little or no influence upon the cultural
or political development of that country. Frequently of foreign
extraction and reared in the strict religious discipline of
Catholicism, they spent their time in attending masses, aiding the
poor and, with the little money allowed them, erecting hospitals and
other institutions for the weak and needy. Thus, they are, as a rule,
types of gentleness, virtue, piety, and self-sacrifice.

The little information which history gives concerning them is confined
mainly to their matrimonial alliances. To them, marriage represented
nothing more than a contract--a union entered into for the purpose of
settling some political negotiation; thus they were often cast upon
strange and unfriendly soil where intrigues and jealousy immediately
affected them.

Seldom did they venture to interfere with the intrigues of the
mistress; in their uncertain position, any manifestation of resentment
or opposition resulted in humiliation and disgrace; if wise, they
contented themselves with quietly performing their functions as
dutiful wives. Such women were Claude, daughter of Louis XII., and
Eleanor of Spain--wives of Francis I.; lacking the power to act
politically, both passed uneventful and virtuous lives in comparative
obscurity. The wife of Charles IX.--Elizabeth of Austria, daughter of
Maximilian II.--had absolutely no control over her husband; however,
he condescended to flatter himself with having, as he said, "in an
amiable wife, the wisest and most virtuous woman not only of France
and Europe, but of the universe." Her nature is well portrayed in
the answer she gave to the remark made to her, after the death of her
husband: "Ah, Madame, what a misfortune that you have no son! Your
lot would be less pitiful and you would be queen-mother and regent."
"Alas, do not suggest such a disagreeable thing!" she replied. "As
if France had not afflictions enough without my producing another to
complete its ruin! For, if I had a son, there would be more divisions
and troubles, more seditions to obtain the administration and
guardianship during his infancy and minority; all would try to profit
themselves by despoiling the poor child--as they wanted to do with the
late king, my husband." Returning to Austria, she erected a convent,
treated the nuns as friends and refused to marry again even to ascend
the throne of Spain.

Louise de Vaudemont, wife of Henry III, was a French woman by
birth and blood. After the death of the Princess of Condé, whom he
passionately loved and desired to marry, Henry conceived an intense
affection for Louise, daughter of Nicholas of Lorraine, Count of
Vaudemont--a young lady of education and culture--"a character of
exquisite sweetness lends distinction to her beauty and her piety;
her thorough Christian modesty and humility are reflected in her
countenance." Brantôme wrote: "This princess deserves great praise;
in her married life she comported herself so wisely, chastely, and
loyally toward the king that the nuptial tie which bound her to him
always remained firm and indissoluble,--was never found loosened or
undone,--even though the king liked and sometimes procured a change,
according to the custom of the great who keep their full liberty."
Soon after the marriage, however, Henry began to make life unpleasant
for the queen, one of his petty acts being to deprive her of the moral
ladies in waiting whom she had brought with her.

Louise de Vaudemont was a striking contrast to the perverted woman of
the day; the latter, no longer charmed by the gentler emotions, sought
the exaggerated and the eccentric, extraordinary incidents, dramatic
situations, unexpected crises, finding all amusements insipid unless
they involved fighting and romantic catastrophes. "_Billets doux_ were
written in blood and ferocity reigned even in pleasure."

In the midst of this turmoil, Louise busied herself with charity,
appearing among the poor and distributing all the funds which her
father gave her for pocket money; the evils of her surroundings threw
her virtues, by contrast, into so much the brighter light. Though she
held herself aloof from intrigues and rivalries, favoring no one and
encouraging no slander, she was, strange to say, respected, admired
and honored by Protestants and Catholics alike.

Calumny and all the agitations about her did not disturb Louise in her
prayers. "The waves of the angry ocean broke at the foot of the
altar as the queen knelt; but Huguenots and Catholics, leaguers and
royalists, united to pay her homage. They were amazed to see such
purity in an atmosphere so corrupt, such gentleness in a society so
violent. Their eyes rested with satisfaction on a countenance whose
holy tranquillity was undisturbed by pride and hatred. The famous
women of the century, wretched in spite of all their amusements and
their feverish pursuit of pleasure, made salutary reflections as they
contemplated a woman still more highly honored for her virtues than
for her crown." That she was not a mother was, with her, an enduring
sorrow; even that, however, did not alter her calmness and benign

Louise de Vaudemont was indeed a bright star in a heaven of
darkness--one of the best queens of whom French history can boast;
she is an example of goodness and gentleness, of purity, charity, and
fidelity in a world of corruption, cruelty, hatred, and debauch--where
sympathy was rare and chastity was ridiculed. Although a highly
educated woman, the faithful performance of her duties as queen and
as a devout Catholic left her little time for literature and art; she
remains the type of piety and purity--an ideal queen and woman.

A heroine in the fullest sense of that word was Jeanne d'Albret, the
great champion of Protestantism; she was the mother of Henry IV. and
the wife of the Duke of Bourbon, Count of Vendôme, a direct descendant
of Saint Louis. This despotic, combative, and war-loving queen reigned
as absolute monarch, and was as autocratic and severe as Calvin
himself, confiscating church property, destroying pictures and
altars--even going so far as to forbid the presence of her subjects
at mass or in religious processions. "Her natural eloquence, the
lightning flashes from her eyes, her reputation as a Spartan matron
and an intractable Calvinist, all contributed to give her great
influence with her party. The military leaders--Coligny, La
Rochefoucauld, Rohan, La Noue--submitted their plans of campaign to

Though Jeanne was, perhaps, as fanatical, intolerant, and cruel as her
adversaries, she was driven to this by the hostility shown her by
the Catholic party--a party in which she felt she could place no
confidence. Her retreat was amid rocks and inaccessible peaks, whence
she defied both the pope and Philip II. She brought up her son--the
future Henry IV.--among the children of the people, exercising toward
him the severest discipline, and inuring him to the cold of the winter
and the heat of the summer; she taught him to be judicious, sincere,
and compassionate--qualities which she possessed to a remarkable
degree. Chaste and pure herself, she considered the court of France
a hotbed of voluptuousness and debauchery, and at every opportunity
strengthened herself against its possible influence.

The political and religious troubles of Jeanne d'Albret began when
Pope Paul IV. invested Philip II. of Spain with the sovereignty of
Navarre--her territory; she resisted, and, following the impulses of
her own nature, formally embraced Calvinism, while her weak husband
acceded to the commands of the Church, and, applying to the pope for
the annulment of his marriage, was prepared, as lieutenant-general of
the kingdom, a position he accepted from the pontiff, to deprive
his wife of her possessions. His death before the realization of his
project made it possible for Jeanne to retain her sovereignty; alone,
an absolute monarch, she declared Calvinism the established religion
of Navarre. After the assassination of Condé she remained the champion
of the Huguenots, defying her enemies and scorning the court of

So great were her power and influence over the soldiery that Catherine
de' Medici, her bitter enemy, desiring to bring her into her power,
or, at least, to conciliate her, planned a marriage between Jeanne's
son and Marguerite of Valois--sister of Charles IX. When the
suggestion that the marriage should take place came from the king of
France, Jeanne d'Albret suspected an ambush; with the determination
to supervise personally all arrangements for the nuptials, she set
out for the French court. Venerated by the Protestants, and hated but
admired by the Catholics, she had become celebrated throughout Europe
for her beauty, intelligence, and strength of mind; thus, her arrival
at Paris created a sensation.

She was so scandalized at the luxury and bold debauchery at court that
she decided to give up the marriage; she had detected the intrigues
and falsity of both the king and Catherine, and had a foreboding of
evil. She wrote to her son Henry:

"Your betrothed is beautiful, very circumspect and graceful, but
brought up in the worst company that ever existed (for I do not see
a single one who is not infected by it) ... I would not for anything
have you come here to live; this is why I desire you to marry and
withdraw yourself and your wife from this corruption which (bad as I
supposed it to be) I find still worse than I thought. Here, it is not
the men who invite the women, but the women who invite the men. If you
were here, you could not escape contamination without a great grace
from God."

In the meantime, Catherine, undecided whether to strike immediately or
to wait, was redoubling her kindness and courtesy and her affectionate
overtures; her enemies were in her hands. Although Jeanne suspected
that Catherine was capable of every perfidy, she at times believed
that her suspicions were unjust or exaggerated. The situation between
these two great women was indeed a dramatic one: both were tactful,
powerful, experienced in war and diplomacy; both were mothers with
children for whose future they sought to provide. Jeanne's hesitancy,
however, was fatal; physically exhausted from suffering and sorrow,
worry and excitement, she suddenly died, in the midst of her
preparations for the marriage. While it is not absolutely certain that
her death was due to poison, subsequent events lead strongly to the
belief that Catherine was instrumental in causing it--that, probably,
being but the first act toward the awful catastrophe she was planning.

"A few hours before her agony, Jeanne dictated the provisions of her
will. She recommended her son to remain faithful to the religion
in which she had reared him, never to permit himself to be lured by
voluptuousness and corruption, and to banish atheists, flatterers, and
libertines.... She begged him to take his sister, Catherine, under his
protection and to be, after God, her father. 'I forbid my son ever
to use severity towards his sister; I wish, to the contrary, that he
treat her with gentleness and kindness; and that--above all--he have
her brought up in Béarn, and that she shall never leave there until
she is old enough to be married to a prince of her own rank and
religion, whose morals shall be such that the spouses may live happily
together in a good and holy marriage.'" D'Aubigné wrote of her:
"A princess with nothing of a woman but sex--with a soul full of
everything manly, a mind fit to cope with affairs of moment, and a
heart invincible in adversity."

It was in deep mourning that her son, then King of Navarre, arrived at
Paris; the eight hundred gentlemen who attended him were all likewise
in mourning. "But," says Marguerite de Valois, "the nuptials took
place in a few days, with triumph and magnificence that none others,
of even my quality, had ever beheld. The King of Navarre and his troop
changed their mourning for very rich and fine clothes, I being dressed
royally, with crown and corsage of tufted ermine all blazing with
crown jewels, and, the grand blue mantle with a train four ells long
borne by three princesses. The people down below, in their eagerness
to see us as we passed, choked one another." (Thus quickly was Jeanne
d'Albret forgotten.) The ceremonies were gorgeous, lasting four days;
but when Admiral Coligny, the Huguenot leader, was struck in the hand
by a musket ball, the festive aspect of affairs suddenly changed.
On the second day after the wounding of Coligny, and before the
excitement caused by that act had subsided, Catherine accomplished
the crowning work of her invidious nature, the tragedy of Saint

Peace and quiet never appeared upon the countenance of Catherine
de' Medici--that woman who so faithfully represents and pictures the
period, the tendencies of which she shaped and fostered by her own
pernicious methods; and Charles IX., her son, was no better than his
mother. Saint-Amand, in his splendid picture of the period, gives a
truthful picture of Catherine as well: "It is interesting to observe
how curiously the later Valois represented their epoch. Francis I. had
personified the Renaissance; Charles IX. sums up in himself all the
crises of the religious wars--he is the true type of the morbid and
disturbed society where all is violent; where the blood is scorched
by the double fevers of pleasure and cruelty; where the human soul,
without guide or compass, is tossed amid storms; where fanaticism
is joined to debauchery, superstition to incredulity, cultured
intelligence to depravity of heart. This wholly unbalanced
character--which stretches evil to its utmost limits while preserving
the knowledge of what is good, which mistrusts everybody and yet
has at least the aspiration toward friendship and love, if not its
experience--is it not the symbol and living image of its time?"

Marguerite de Valois, sister of Charles IX. and wife of Henry IV., by
her own actions and intrigues exercised little influence politically;
she was, above all else, a woman of culture and may be taken as an
example of the type which was largely instrumental in developing
social life in France. Famous for her beauty, talents, and profligacy,
it seems that historians are prone to dwell too exclusively upon the
last quality, overlooking her principal rôle--that of social leader.

She first came into prominence through her relations with the Duke of
Guise who paid assiduous court to her for some time; for a while, no
topic was more discussed than that of their marriage. When, however,
Charles IX. heard that the duke had been carrying on a secret
correspondence with his sister, he exclaimed, savagely: "If it be so,
we will kill him!" Thereupon, the duke hurriedly contracted a marriage
with Catherine of Clèves. That Marguerite, at this early date, had
become the mistress of Henry of Guise is hardly likely and becomes
even less probable when it is considered how closely she was watched
by her mother, Catherine de' Medici.

Her marriage, previously mentioned, to Henry of Navarre was a mere
political match, there being absolutely no love, no affection, no
sympathy. This union was looked upon as the surest covenant of peace
between Catholicism and Protestantism and put an end to the disastrous
religious wars that had been carried on uninterruptedly for years;
both the parties to this contract lived at court, leading an existence
of pleasure and immorality. Remarkably intelligent, Marguerite was a
scholar of no mean ability; she displayed much wit and talent, but
no judgment or discretion; though conveying the impression of being
rather haughty and proud, she lacked both self respect and true
dignity. Her beauty was marvellous, but "calculated, to ruin and damn
men rather than to save them."

Henry, the husband of Marguerite, was constantly sneered at and
taunted by the Catholics; although Catholic in name he was Protestant
at heart and keenly felt his false position. During Catherine's short
term as queen-regent, he was held in captivity until the arrival
of Henry III., when he escaped to his own Béarn people; for this,
Marguerite was held responsible and kept under guard.

Although hating his religion, his wife went to live with him,
tolerating his infidelities while he refused to tolerate her religion.
The unhappiness of this marriage was not due to Marguerite alone; the
first trouble arose when she discovered his love for his mistress,
Gabrielle d'Estrées, and, thinking herself equally privileged,
she began to indulge in the same excesses. The result of so many
annoyances and debaucheries, so much vexation, was an illness; as soon
as she became convalescent, she returned to her mother at court where
she speedily gained the ill will of the king by her profligate habits,
her quarrels with both Catholics and Protestants, her intimacy with
the Duke of Guise, her plottings with her younger brother, her cutting
satires on court favorites.

She was sent back to Henry, upon the way meeting with the mishap of
being insulted by archers and, with her maids, led away prisoner. Her
husband was with difficulty persuaded to receive her, and, finding him
all attentive to his mistress, Marguerite fled to Agen, where she
made war upon him as a heretic; unable to hold her position there on
account of her licentious manner of living and the exorbitant taxes
imposed upon the inhabitants, she fled again and continued moving
from one place to another, causing mischief everywhere, "consuming the
remainder of her youth in adventures more worthy of a woman who had
abandoned her husband than of a daughter of France." At last, she was
seized and imprisoned in the fortress of Usson; here she was supported
mainly by Elizabeth of Austria, widow of Charles IX.

When her husband became King of France, he refused to liberate her
until she should renounce her rank; to this condition she refused
to accede until after the death of her rival, the mistress of
Henry--Gabrielle d'Estrées, Duchess de Beaufort. After the annulment
of the marriage, Marguerite said: "If our household has been little
noble and less bourgeois, our divorce was royal." She was permitted
to retain the title of queen, her debts were paid and other great
concessions granted. Her subsequent relations with Henry IV. were very
cordial and fraternal; she even revealed political plots to him.

When, after nearly twenty years of captivity, Marguerite returned to
Paris (1605), she gained the favor of everybody--the king, dauphin,
and court ladies. She was present at the coronation of Marie de'
Medici, and, by being tactful enough to keep apart from all intrigues,
quarrels, and jealousies, she managed to win the good will of the
king's favorites. She became the social leader, the queen inviting her
to all court ceremonies and consulting her on all disputed questions
of etiquette--even going so far as to intrust her with the reception
of the Duke of Pastrana, who had come to ask the hand of Elizabeth
of France. It is reported that in her last years she led a worse life
than in her earlier days--she had become a woman of the bad world,
resorting to every possible means to hide her age and to gain any
vantage ground. In order to be well supplied with blond wigs, she kept
fair-haired footmen who were shorn from time to time to furnish
the supply. In the latter part of her life, spent at Paris and its
vicinity, she fell a victim to hypochondria, suffering the most bitter
pangs of remorse and terrible fear at approaching death. To alleviate
this, she founded a convent where she taught the children music. She
died in 1615, in Paris, "in that blended piety and coquetry which
formed the basis of a character unable to give up gallantries and

One of the very few historians who give due credit to her social
importance and assign her the position she may rightfully command
among French women of the sixteenth century is M. Du Bled. According
to him, she was the leader of fashion, and in all its components
she showed excellent taste and judgment. Forced to marry the king of
Navarre, she said, after the ceremony: "I received from marriage all
the evil I ever received, and I consider it the greatest plague of my
life. They tell me that marriages are made in heaven; heaven did not
commit such an injustice;" and this seems to be the secret of her
"vicious life."

As soon as she discovered that the king's favorites were determined
to make life hard and disagreeable for her, she sought consolation in
love and the toilette, in balls and fêtes, in ballets and hunting, in
promenades and gallant conversations, in tennis and carousals, and in
an infinite variety of ingeniously planned pleasures. The spirit of
chivalry, the habits of exalted devotion, were again in full sway
about her. She worried little about virtue: "She had the gift of
pleasing, was beautiful, and made full use of the liberality of the
gods. Whatever may be said of her morals, it can truthfully be stated
that she showed art in her love and practised it more in spirit than
with the body." Music was a favorite art with her; she encouraged
and rewarded singing, especially in the convent which she founded and
where she spent almost all of her later days instructing the children.

Her court at Usson, where, as a prisoner, she lived for twenty years,
was the most brilliant and least material of all France; there poets,
artists, and scholars were held in high esteem, and were on familiar
footing with Marguerite; the latter showed no despotism, but, with the
most consummate skill, directed conversations and proposed subjects,
encouraging discussion, and skilfully drawing from her friends the
most brilliant repartees. She received people of distinction without

She introduced the two elements which were combined in the
eighteenth-century salon: a fine cuisine and freedom among her friends
from the restraint usually imposed by distinction. She was, also,
one of the first to have a circle--well organized according to modern
etiquette--where the highest aristocracy, men of letters, magistrates,
artists, and men of genius met on equal terms and in familiar and
social intercourse; Montaigne, Brantôme, and other great writers
dedicated their works to her. She also directed a select few, an
academy, to instruct and distract herself. It is said that every
coquette, every bourgeois woman, and almost every court lady
endeavored to imitate her. When she died, at the age of sixty-two,
poets and preachers sang and chanted her merits, and all the poor wept
over their loss; she was called the queen of the indigent. Richelieu
mentioned her devotion to the state, her style, her eloquence, the
grace of her hospitality, her infinite charity. "She remains, _par
excellence_, the one great sympathetic woman of the sixteenth century;
her admirers, during life and after death, were legion. She shared
in the lesser evils of the century, but it cannot be said that she
participated in the brutalities, grossness, or glaring immoralities
of her time; her weaknesses, compared with the great debauches of the
age, seemed like virtues."

Such is this great woman of the sixteenth century, who has received
almost universal condemnation at the hands of historians. It is to be
taken into consideration that she was forced to marry a man whom she
did not love, and to live in a country utterly uncongenial to
her nature and opposed to the religion in which she was reared;
furthermore, that her husband first defiled the marital union, thus
driving her to follow the general tendencies of the time or to seek
solace in religious activity, for which she had too much energy. After
due consideration of the extenuating circumstances, her faults and
vices, such as they were, may easily be condoned. Because she was the
wife of a powerful Protestant king, she was condemned by Catholics and
by them regarded with suspicion; and, in order to save herself, she
was forced to commit unwise acts and even follies.

In fine, whatever may be said against Marguerite de Valois, whom
despair drove to acts which are not generally pardoned, she stands
foremost among the social leaders and cultured women of the sixteenth
century, a century whose prominent women were notorious for their
licentiousness and lack of conscience rather than famous for their
virtue and womanly accomplishments. Undeniably powerful and brilliant,
these unscrupulous women were never happy; usually proud, they finally
suffered the most cruel humiliations; "voluptuous, they found anguish
underlying pleasure." Their misfortunes are, possibly more interesting
than those successes of which chagrin anxiety, and heavy hearts were
the inseparable associates.

Religion, which in the sixteenth century was so badly understood, and
practised even worse--obscured and falsified by fanaticism, disfigured
and exaggerated by passion and hatred--was the secret cause of all
downfalls crimes, horrors, intrigues, and brutality. Yet, it alone
survives, and all the important figures of history return to it after
a period of negligence and forgetfulness. In their religious aspect,
the women of the sixteenth century differ as a rule, from those of
the eighteenth, who, though equally powerful, witty, refined, sensual,
frivolous, and scoffing, were far less devout; for "'tis religion
which restores the great female sinners of the sixteenth century 'tis
religion which saves a society ploughed up by so many elements of
dissolution and so many causes of moral and material ruin, rescuing
it from barbarism, vandalism, and from irretrievable decay;" but the
women of the eighteenth century clung, to the end, to the scepticism
and material philosophy which served them as their religion, their

Among the conspicuous women of the sixteenth century to whom, thus
far, we have been able to attribute so little of the wholesome
and pleasing, the womanly or love-inspiring, there is one striking
exception in Marguerite d'Angoulême, a representative of letters, art,
culture, and morality. With the study of this character we are taken
back to the beginning of the century and carried among men of letters
especially, for she formed the centre of the literary world. She, her
mother, Louise of Savoy, and her brother, Francis I., were called a
"trinity," to the existence of which Marguerite bore witness in the

  "Such boon is mine--to feel the amity
  That God hath putten in our trinity
  Wherein to make a third, I, all unfitted
  To be that number's shadow, am admitted."

Marguerite inherited many of her qualities from her mother, "a most
excellent and a most venerable dame," though anything but moral and
conscientious; she, upon discovering that her daughter possessed rare
intellectual gifts, provided her with teachers in every branch of the
learning of the age. "At fifteen years of age, the spirit of God
began to manifest itself in her eyes, in her face, in her walk, in her
speech, and in all her actions generally." Brantôme says: "She had
a heart mightily devoted to God and she loved mightily to compose
spiritual songs. She devoted herself to letters, also, in her young
days and continued them as long as she lived, in the time of her
greatness, loving and conversing with the most learned folks of her
brother's kingdom, who honored her so greatly that they called her
their Mæcenas." Tenderness, particularly for her brother, seemed to
develop in her as a passion.

Marguerite was a rare exception in a period described by M.
Saint-Amand as one in which women were Christian in certain aspects
of their character and pagan in others, taking an active part in
every event, ruling by wit and beauty, wisdom and courage; an age of
thoughtless gaiety and morbid fanaticism, and of laughter and tears,
still rough and savage, yet with an undercurrent of subtle grace and
exquisite politeness; an age in which the extremes of elegance and
cruelty were blended, in which the most glaring scepticism and intense
superstitions were everywhere evident; an age which was religious as
well as debauched and whose women were both good and evil, innocent
and intriguing. Everything was fluctuating; there was inconstancy
even in the things most affected: pleasure, pomp, display. The natural
outcome of this undefined restlessness was dissatisfaction; and when
dissatisfaction brought in its train the inevitable reaction against
falseness and immorality, Marguerite d'Angoulême stood at the head of
the movement.

With her begins the cultural and moral development of France. It was
she who encouraged that desire for a new phase of existence,
which arose through contact with Italian culture. The men of
learning--poets, artists, scholars--who soon gathered about the French
court received immediate recognition from the king's sister, who had
studied all languages, was gay, brilliant, and æsthetic. While her
mother and brother were in harmony with the age, no better, no worse
than their environment, Marguerite aspired to the most elevated morals
and ideals; thus, she is a type of all that is refined, sensitive,
loving, noble, and generous in humanity, a woman vastly superior to
her time; in fact, the modern woman, with her highest attributes.

In Marguerite d'Angoulême contemporaries admired prudence, chastity,
moderation, piety, an invincible strength of soul, and her habit of
"hiding her knowledge instead of displaying it." "In an age wholly
depraved, she approached the ideal woman of modern times; in spite
of her virtue, she was brilliant and honored, the centre of a coterie
that delighted in music, verse, ingenious dialogues and gossip, story
telling, singing, rhyming. Deeply afflicted by the sad and odious
spectacle of the vices, abuses, and crimes which unroll before her,
she suffers through her imagination, mind and heart." Serious and
sympathetic, she was interested in every movement, feeling with those
who were persecuted on account of their religious opinions.

Various are the names by which she is known: daughter of Charles of
Orléans, Count of Angoulême, Duchesse d'Alençon through her first
marriage, and Queen of Navarre through her second, she was called
Marguerite d'Angoulême, Marguerite of Navarre, of Valois, Marguerite
de France, Marguerite des Princesses, the Fourth Grace, and the Tenth
Muse. A most appreciative and just account of her life is given by
M. Saint-Amand, which will be followed in the main outline of this

She was born in 1492, and, as already stated, received a thorough
education under the direction of her mother, Louise of Savoy. At
seventeen she was married to Charles III., Duke of Alençon; as he
did not prove to be her ideal, she sought consolation in love for her
brother, sharing the almost universal admiration for the young king,
whose tendency to favor everything new and progressive was stimulated
by her. She became his constant and best adviser in general affairs
as well as in those of state. The foreign ambassadors sought her after
having accomplished their mission, and were referred to her when
the king was busy; they were enraptured, and carried back wonderful
reports of Marguerite.

The world of art was opened to the French by a bevy of such painters
and sculptors as Leonardo da Vinci, Rosso, Primaticcio, Benvenuto
Cellini, and Bramante, and they were encouraged and fêted by
Marguerite especially. In those days a new picture from Italy by
Raphael was received with as much pomp and ceremony as, in olden
times, were accorded the holiest relics from the East.

Men of letters gathered about the sister of the king, forming what
might be termed a court of sentimental metaphysics; for the questions
discussed were those of love. This refined gallantry, empty and vapid,
formed the foundation of the seventeenth-century salon, where the
language and fine points of sentiment were considered and cultivated
until sentiment acquired poise, grandeur, and an air of dignity and

The period was one in which, during times of trial and misfortune, the
presence of an underlying religious sentiment became unmistakable. In
such an atmosphere, the propensity toward mysticism, which Marguerite
had manifested as a child, grew more and more apparent. When Francis
I. was captured at the battle of Pavia, his sister immediately sought
consolation in devotion, the nature of which is well illustrated in a
letter to the captive king:

"Monseigneur, the further they remove you from us, the greater becomes
my firm hope of your deliverance and speedy return, for the hour
when men's minds are most troubled is the hour when God achieves His
masterstroke ... and if He now gives you, on one hand, a share in the
pains which He has borne for you, and, on the other hand, the grace
to bear them patiently, I entreat you, Monseigneur, to believe
unfalteringly that it is only to try how much you love Him and to give
you leisure to think how much He loves you. For He desires to have
your heart entirely, as, for love, He has given you His own; He has
permitted this trial, in order, after having united you to Him by
tribulation, to deliver you for His own glory--so that, through you,
His name may be known and sanctified, not in your kingdom alone, but
in all Christendom and even to the conversion of the infidels. Oh, how
blessed will be your brief captivity by which God will deliver so many
souls from that infidelity and eternal damnation! Alas, Monseigneur!
I know that you understand all this far better than I do; but seeing
that in other things I think only of you, as being all that God has
left me in this world,--father, brother, husband,--and not having the
comfort of telling you so, I have not feared to weary you with a
long letter, which to me is short, in order to console myself for my
inability to talk with you."

After his incarceration in the gloomy prison in Spain where he was
taken ill, Francis asked for the safe conduct of Marguerite; this
was gladly granted. Ignorant of her future duty in Spain, she wrote:
"Whatever it may be, even to the giving of my ashes to the winds to do
you a service, nothing will seem strange, difficult or painful to me,
but will be only consolation, repose, and honor." So impatient was she
to arrive at her brother's side that she could not travel fast enough.

Her presence only increased his fever and a serious crisis soon came
on, the king remaining for some time "without hearing or seeing or
speaking." Marguerite, in this critical time, implored the assistance
of God. She had an altar erected in her chamber, and all the French of
the household, great lords and domestics alike, knelt beside the
sick man's sister and received the communion from the hands of the
Archbishop of Embrun, who, drawing near the bed, entreated the king to
turn his eyes to the holy sacrament. Francis came out of his lethargy
and asked to commune likewise, saying: "It is my God who will heal my
soul and body; I entreat you that I may receive him." Then, the
Host having been divided in two, the king received one half with the
greatest devotion, and his sister the other half. The sick man felt
himself sustained by a supernatural force; a celestial consolation
descended into the soul that had been despairing. Marguerite's prayer
had not been unavailing--Francis I. was saved.

She then proceeded to visit different cities and royalties,
endeavoring to secure concessions for her brother. From the people in
the streets as well as from the lords in their houses, she received
the most unmistakable proofs of friendly feeling; in fact, her favor
was so great that Charles V. informed "the Duke of Infantado that, if
he wished to please the emperor, neither he nor his sons must speak to
Madame d'Alençon." The latter, unable to secure her brother's release,
planned a marriage between him and Eleanor of Portugal, sister of
Charles V.; her successes at court and in the family of the emperor
furthered this scheme. Brantôme says: "She spoke to the emperor so
bravely and so courteously that he was quite astonished, and she spoke
even more to those of his council with whom she had audience; there
she produced an excellent impression, speaking and arguing with an
easy grace in which she was proficient, and making herself rather
agreeable than hateful or tiresome. Her reasons were found good and
pertinent and she retained the high esteem of the emperor, his court
and council."

Although she failed in her attempts to free the king, she succeeded,
by arranging the marriage, in completely changing the rigorous
captivity to which Charles had subjected him. Finally, by giving his
two eldest sons as hostages, the king obtained his release, and in
March, 1526, he again set foot, as sovereign, on French soil. Thus the
king's life was saved and he was permitted to return to his country,
Marguerite's devotion having accomplished that in which the most
skilled diplomatist would have failed.

All historians agree that Marguerite d'Angoulême was a devout
Catholic, but that she was too broad and liberal, intelligent
and humane, to sanction the unbridled excesses of fanaticism. The
acknowledged leader of moral reform, she protected and assisted those
persecuted on account of their religious views and sympathized with
the first stages of that movement which revolted against abuses, vice,
scandals, immorality, and intrigue. With her, the question was not one
of dogma, but concerned, instead, the religion which she considered
most conducive to progress and reform. It grieved her to see her
religion defile itself by cruel and inhuman persecutions and tortures,
by intolerance and injustice. She felt for, but not with, the heretics
in their errors. "She typifies her age in all that is good and noble,
in artistic aspirations, in literary ideals, in pure politics--in
short,--in humanity; in her is not found the chaotic vagueness which
so often breaks out in license and licentiousness, cruelty, and

During the absence in Spain of Francis I. and Marguerite, the
mother-regent sought to gain the support and favor of Rome by ordering
imprisonments, confiscations, and punishments of heretics; but upon
the return of the king and his sister, the banished were recalled and
tolerance again ruled. When (in 1526) Berquin was seized and tried for
heresy, he found but one defender. Marguerite wrote to her brother,
still at Madrid:

"My desire to obey your commands was sufficiently strong without
having it redoubled by the charity you have been pleased to show poor
Berquin according to your promise; I feel that He for whom I believe
him to have suffered will approve of the mercy which, for His honor,
you have had upon His servant and your own."

Marguerite had saved Berquin and had even taken him into her service.
Her letter to the constable, Anne de Montmorency, shows her esteem of
men of genius and especially of Berquin:

"I thank you for the pleasure you have afforded me in the matter of
poor Berquin whom I esteem as much as if he were myself; and so you
may say you have delivered me from prison, since I consider in that
light the favor done me."

When on June 1, 1528, a statue of the Virgin was thrown down and
mutilated by unknown hands, a reversion of feeling arose immediately,
and even Marguerite was not able to save poor Berquin, and he was
burned at the stake. Upon learning of his imminent peril, she wrote to
Francis from Saint-Germain:

"I, for the last time, very humbly make you a request; it is that
you will be pleased to have pity upon poor Berquin, whom I know to be
suffering for nothing other than loving the word of God and obeying
yours. You will be pleased, Monseigneur, so to act that it be not
said that separation has made you forget your most humble and obedient
sister and subject, Marguerite."

Encouraged by their success in that instance, the intolerant party
began furious attacks upon her, one monk going so far as to say from
the pulpit that she should be put into a sack and thrown into the
Seine. Upon her publication of a religious poem, _Miroir de l'âme
pécheresse_, in which she failed to mention purgatory or the saints,
she was vigorously attacked by Beda, who had the verses condemned
by the Sorbonne and caused the pupils of the College of Navarre to
perform a morality in which Marguerite was represented under the
character of a woman quitting her distaff for a French translation
of the Gospels presented to her by a Fury. This was too much even for
Francis, and he ordered the principal and his actors arrested; it was
then that Marguerite showed her gentleness, mercy, and humanity by
throwing herself at her brother's feet and asking for their pardon.

After but a short respite the persecution broke out anew, and with
the full sanction of the king, who, upon finding at his door a placard
against the mass, went even so far as to sign letters patent ordering
the suppression of printing (1535). While away from the soothing
influence of his sister, Francis I. was easily persuaded to sign, for
the Catholic party, any permit of execution or cruelty. The life
of Marguerite herself was constantly in danger, but in spite of
persistent efforts to turn brother against sister, the king continued
to protect and defend the latter; and though she gradually drew closer
to Catholicism, she continued to protect the Protestants. She founded
nunneries and showed a profound devotion toward the Virgin; although
realizing the dangers and follies of the new doctrine, she had too
much humanity to encourage cruelty.

The husband whom the king forced upon her was twelve years her junior,
poor, and subsidized by Francis; by him she had a daughter, Jeanne
d'Albret, who became the champion of Protestantism. Her married life
at Pau, where she had erected beautiful buildings and magnificent
terraces, was not happy; the subjects of love that formerly had amused
her had lost their charm; and the incurable disease with which her
brother was stricken caused her constant worry and mental suffering.
When banquets, the chase, and other amusements no longer attracted
Francis, he summoned Marguerite to comfort and console him; her
devotion and goodness never failed. Unable to recover from the grief
caused by his death in 1547, she expressed her sorrow in the most
beautiful poems.

She gave the remainder of her life to religion and charity, abandoning
her literary ambitions and plans. "The life after death gave her much
trouble and many moments of perplexity and uneasiness. She survived
her brother only two years, dying in 1549; the helper and protector
of good literature, the defence, consolation, and shelter of the
distressed, she was mourned by all France more than was any other
queen." Sainte-Marthe says: "How many widows are there, how many
orphans, how many afflicted, how many old persons, whom she pensioned
every year, who now, like sheep whose shepherd is dead, wander hither
and thither, seeking to whom to go, crying in the ears of the wealthy
and deploring their miserable fate!" Poets, scholars, all learned and
professional men, commemorated their protectress in poems and funeral
orations. France was one large family in deep mourning.

[Illustration 2:
After a portion of the painting by P. P. Rubens_
_Marguerite of Valois, first wife of Henry IV, was famous for her
beauty, talents and profligacy. The marriage was a political one, but
she lived with him, tolerating his infidelities, while he refused to
tolerate her religion. Henry had her imprisoned, and refused to liberate
her until she should renounce her rank, to which she acceded, and Henry
married Marie de Medici. Marguerite retained the title of queen, became
a social leader, although continuing her profligate habits._]

Marguerite d'Angoulême must first be considered as the real power
behind the supreme authority of her period, her brother the king;
secondly, as a furtherer of the development and encouragement of
good literature, good taste, high art, and pure morals; thirdly, as
a critic of importance. She is entitled to the first consideration by
the fact that as the confidential adviser of Francis I. she moulded
his opinions and checked his evil tendencies: the affairs of the
kingdom were therefore, to a large extent, in her hands. She collected
and partly organized the chaotic mass of material thrown upon the
sixteenth-century world, leaving its moulding into a classic
French form to the next century; and by her spirit of tolerance she
endeavored to further all moral development: thus is she entitled to
the second consideration. Gifted with rare delicacy of taste, solidity
of judgment, and the ability to select, discriminate, and adapt, she
set the standards of style and tone: therefore, she is entitled to the
third consideration.

The love of Marguerite for her brother, and her unselfish devotion to
his interests, is a precedent unparalleled in French history until
the time of Madame de Sévigné. In all her letters we find the same
tenderness, gentleness, passion, inexhaustible emotion, sympathy, and
compassion that distinguished her actions.

In her _Contes_ (the _Heptameron_) _de la Reine de Navarre_ we have
an accurate representation of society, its manners and style of
conversation; in it we find, also, remnants of the brutality and
grossness of the Middle Ages, as well as reflections of the higher
tendencies and aspirations of the later time. In having a thorough
knowledge of the tricks, deceits, and follies of the professional
lovers of the day, and of their object in courting women, Marguerite
was able to warn her contemporaries and thus guard them against
immorality and its dangers. In her works she upheld the purity of
ideal love, exposing the questionable and selfish designs of the
clever professional seducers. A specimen may be cited to show her
style of writing and the trend of her thought:

"Emarsuite has just related the history of a gentleman and a young
girl who, being unable to be united, had both embraced the religious
life. When the story is ended, Hircan, instead of showing himself
affected, cries: 'Then there are more fools and mad women than there
ever were!' 'Do you call it folly,' says Oisille, 'to love honestly
in youth and then to turn all love to God?' ... 'And yet I have the
opinion,' says Parlemente, 'that no man will ever love God perfectly
who has not perfectly loved some creature in this world.' 'What do you
by loving perfectly?' asks Saffredant; 'do you call perfect lovers
who are bashful and adore ladies from a distance, without daring
to express their wishes?' 'I call those perfect lovers,' replies
Parlemente, 'who seek some perfection in what they love--whether
goodness, beauty or kindness--and whose hearts are so lofty and honest
that they would rather die than perform those base deeds which honor
and conscience forbid; for the soul which was created only to return
to its Sovereign Good cannot, while it is in the body, do otherwise
than desire to win thither; but because the senses, by which it can
have tidings of that which it seeks, are dull and carnal on account
of the sin of our first parents, they can show it only those visible
things which most nearly approach perfection; and the soul runs after
them, believing that in visible grace and moral virtues it may find
the Sovereign Grace, Beauty and Virtue. But without finding whom it
loves, it passes on like the child who, according to his littleness,
loves apples, pears, dolls and other little things--the most beautiful
that his eye can see--and thinks it riches to heap little stones
together; but, on growing larger he loves living things, and,
therefore, amasses the goods necessary for human life; but he knows,
by the greatest experiences, that neither perfection nor felicity is
attained by possessions only, and he desires true felicity and the
Maker and Source thereof.'"

In her writings, much apparent indelicacy and grossness are
encountered; but it must be remembered for whom she was writing, the
condition of morality and the taste of the public at that time, and
that she aimed faithfully to depict the society that lay before her
eyes. It is argued by some critics that these indecencies could not
have emanated from a pure, chaste woman; that Marguerite must have
experienced the sins she depicted; but such reasoning is not sound.
The expressions used by her were current in her time; there
was greater freedom of manners, and coarseness and drastic
language--examples of which are found so frequently in the writings of
Luther--were very common.

Marguerite was less remarkable for what she did than for what she
aspired to do. "She invoked, against the vices and prejudices of her
epoch, those principles of morality and justice, of tolerance and
humanity, which must be the very foundation of all stable society. She
wished to make her brother the protector of the oppressed, the support
of the learned, the crowned apostle of the Renaissance, the promoter
of salutary reforms in the morals of the clergy; in politics, he was
to follow a straight line and methodically advance the accomplishment
of the legitimate ambitions of France."

She expressed the most modern ideas on the rights of woman,
particularly on her relative rights in the married state:

"It is right that man should govern us as our head, but not that he
should abandon us or treat us ill. God has so well ordered both man
and woman, that I think marriage, if it is not abused, one of the most
beautiful and secure estates that can be in this world, and I am sure
that all who are here, no matter what pretense they make, think as
much or more; and as much as man calls himself wiser than woman, so
much the more grievously will he be punished if the fault be on his
side. Those who are overcome by pleasure ought not to call themselves
women any longer, but men, whose honor is but augmented by fury and
concupiscence; for a man who revenges himself upon his enemy and slays
him for a contradiction is esteemed a better companion for so doing;
and the same is true if he love a dozen other women besides his wife;
but the honor of woman has another foundation: it is gentleness,
patience, chastity."

Désiré Nisard says that Marguerite d'Angoulême was the first to write
prose that can be read without the aid of a vocabulary; in verse, she
excels all poets of her time in sympathy and compassion; her poetry
is "a voice which complains--a heart which suffers and which tells us
so." "It is not so much her own deep sentiment that is reflected, but
her emotion, which is both intellectual and sympathetic, volitional
and spontaneous." Her letters were epoch-making; nothing before
her time nor after her (until Madame de Sévigné) can equal them in
precision, purity of language, sincerity and frankness of expression,
passion and religious fervor.

In spite of what may be said to the contrary, her life was an
ideal one, an example of perfect moral beauty and elevation; noble,
generous, refined, pious, and sincere, she possessed qualities which
were indeed rare in her time. She was attacked for her charity, and is
to-day the victim of narrow sectarian and biased devotees. Her act of
renouncing all gorgeous dress, even the robes of gold brocade so much
worn by every princess, in order to give all her money to the poor;
her protection of the needy and persecuted; her court of poets and
scholars; her visits to the sick and stricken; even her untiring love
for her brother and her acts of clemency--all have frequently been

The greatest poets and men of letters of the sixteenth century
were encouraged financially and morally or protected by Marguerite
d'Angoulême--Rabelais, Marot, Pelletier, Bonaventure-Desperiers,
Mellin de Saint-Gelais, Lefèvre d'Etaples, Amyot, Calvin, Berquin.
Charles de Sainte-Marthe says: "In seeing them about this good lady,
you would say it was a hen which carefully calls and gathers her
chicks and shelters them with her wings."

Many critics believe that her literary work was imitative rather than
original; even if this be true, it in no measure detracts from her
importance, which is based upon the fact that she was the leading
spirit of the time and typified her environment. Her followers, and
they included all the intellectual spirits, looked up to her as
the one incentive for writing and pleasing. Her disposition was
characterized by restlessness, haste--too great eagerness to absorb
and digest and appropriate all that was unfolded before her. She
imitated the _Decameron_ and drew up for herself a _Heptameron_; her
poetry showed much skill and great ease, but little originality.
Her extreme facility, her wonderfully active mind, her power of
_causerie_, and her ability to discuss and write upon philosophical
and religious abstractions, won the deep admiration and respect of her
followers, who were not only content to be aided financially by her,
but looked to her for guidance and counsel in their own work, though
she never imposed her ideas and taste upon others. By her tact,
she was able practically to control and guide the entire literary,
artistic, and social development of the sixteenth century. Every form
of intellectual movement of this period is impregnated with the spirit
of Marguerite d'Angoulême.

With her affable and loving manners, her refined taste and superior
knowledge, she was able to influence her brother and, through him,
the government. Just as her mother controlled in politics, so
did Marguerite in arts and manners. In her are found the main
characteristics to which later French women owed their influence--a
form of versatility which included exceptional tact and enabled the
possessor to appreciate and sympathize with all forms of activity, to
deal with all classes, to manage and be managed in turn.

The writings of Marguerite are quite numerous, consisting of six
moralities or comedies, a farce, epistles, elegies, philosophical
poems, and the _Heptameron_, her principal work--a collection of prose
tales in which are reflected the customary conversation, the morals of
polite society, and the ideal love of the time. They are a medley of
crude equivocalities, of the grossness of the _fabliaux_, of Rabelais,
and of the delicate preciosity of the seventeenth century. Love is
the principal theme discussed--youth, nobility, wealth, power, beauty,
glory, love for love, the delicate sensation of feeling one's self
loved, elegant love, obsequious love; perfect love is found in those
lovers who seek perfection in what they love, either of goodness,
beauty, or grace--always tending to virtue.

Thoroughly to appreciate Marguerite d'Angoulême's position and
influence and her contributions to literature, the conditions existing
in her epoch must be carefully considered. It was in the sixteenth
century that the charms of social life and of conversation as an art
were first realized; all questions of the day were treated gracefully,
if not deeply; woman began to play an important part, to appear
at court, and, by her wit and beauty, to impress man. From the
semi-barbaric spirit of the Middle Ages to the Italian and Roman
culture of the Renaissance was a tremendous stride; in this cultural
development, Marguerite was of vital importance. In intellectual
attainments far in advance of the age, among its great women she
stands out alone in her spirit of humanity, generosity, tolerance,
broad sympathies, exemplary family life, and exalted devotion to her

Of the other literary women of the sixteenth century, mention may be
made of two who have left little or no work of importance, but who are
interesting on account of the peculiar form of their activity.

Mlle. de Gournay, _fille d'alliance_ of Montaigne, is a unique
character. Having conceived a violent passion for the philosopher
and essayist, she would have no other consort than her honor and good
books. She called the ladies of the court "court dolls," accusing
them of deforming the French language by affecting words that had
apparently been greased with oil in order to facilitate their flow.
She was one of the first woman suffragists and the most independent
spirit of the age. In 1592, to see the country of her master, she
undertook a long voyage, at a time when any trip was fraught with the
gravest dangers for a woman.

She is a striking example of the effect of sixteenth-century sympathy,
admiration, and enthusiasm; she was protected by some of the greatest
literary men of the age--Balzac, Grotius, Heinsius; the French Academy
is said to have met with her on several occasions, and she is said
to have participated in its work of purifying and fixing the French
language. Her adherence to the Montaigne cult has brought her name
down to posterity.

M. du Bled relates a droll story in connection with her meeting
Richelieu. Mlle. de Gournay was an old maid, who lived to the ripe age
of eighty. Being a pronounced _féministe_, she--like her sisters of
to-day--cultivated cats. The story runs as follows:

"Bois-Robert conducted her to the Cardinal, who paid her a compliment
composed of old words taken from one of her books; she saw the point
immediately. 'You laugh over the poor old girl, but laugh, great
genius, laugh! everybody must contribute something to your diversion.'
The Cardinal, surprised at her ready wit, asked her pardon, and said
to Bois-Robert: 'We must do something for Mlle. de Gournay. I give
her two hundred écus pension.' 'But she has servants,' suggested
Bois-Robert. 'Who?' 'Mlle. Jamyn (bastard), illegitimate daughter
of Amadis Jamyn, page of Ronsard.' 'I will give her fifty livres
annually.' 'There is still dear little Piaillon, her cat.' 'I give her
twenty livres pension, on condition that Piaillon shall have tripes.'
'But, Monseigneur, she has had kittens!' The Cardinal added a pistole
for the little kittens."

A woman of large fortune, she spent it freely in study, in her
household, and especially in alchemy. Her peculiar ideas about love
kept her from falling prey to the wealth-seeking gallants of the time.
She was one of the few women who made a profession of writing; she
compiled moral dissertations, defences of woman, and treatises on
language, all of which she published at her own expense; while they
are of no real importance, they show a remarkable frankness and

Mlle. de Gournay was, possibly, the first woman to demand the
acceptance of woman on an equal status with man; for she wrote two
treatises on woman's condition and rank, insisting upon a better
education for her, though she herself was well educated. Following the
events of the day with a careful scrutiny and interpreting them in her
writings, she showed a remarkable gift of perspective and deduction
and an intimate knowledge of politics. The fact that she was severely,
even spitefully, attacked in both poetry and prose but proves that her
writings on women were effective.

Some writers claim that the founding of the French Academy had its
inception at her rooms, where many of the members met and where, later
on, they discussed the work of the Academy. Her one desire for the
language was to have it advance and develop, preserving every word,
resorting to old ones, accepting new ones only when necessary. Thus,
among French female educators, Mlle. de Gournay deserves a prominent
place, because of her high ideals and earnest efforts in the study of
the language, for the courage with which she advanced her convictions
regarding woman, and for the high moral standard which she set by her
own conduct.

In Louise Labé--_La Belle Cordière_--we meet a warrior, as well as a
woman of letters. The great movement of the Renaissance, as it swept
northward, invaded Lyons; there Louise Labé endeavored to do what
Ronsard and the Pléiade were doing at Paris. A great part of her youth
she passed in war, wearing man's apparel and assuming the name of
"Captain Loys"; at an early age, she left home with a company of
soldiers passing through Lyons on the way to lay siege to Perpignan,
where she showed pluck, bravery, and skill. Upon her return, she
married a merchant ropemaker, whence her sobriquet--_La Belle

She soon won a reputation by gathering about her a circle of men, who
complimented her in the most elegant language and read poetry with
her. Science and literature were discussed and the praises of love
sung with passionate, inflamed eloquence. In this circle of congenial
spirits, "she gave rise to doubts as to her virtue." As her husband
was wealthy, she was able to collect an immense library and to
entertain at her pleasure; she could converse in almost any language,
and all travellers stopped at Lyons and called to see her at her
salon. Her writings consisted of sonnets, elegies, and dialogues in
prose; her influence, being too local, is not marked. Her greatest
claim to attention is that she encouraged letters in a city which was
beyond the reach of every literary movement. Such were the women of
the sixteenth century; in no epoch in French history have women played
a greater rôle; art, literature, morals, politics, all were governed
by them. They were active in every phase of life, hunting with men,
taking part in and causing duels, intriguing and initiating intrigues.
"In the midst of battle, while cannon-balls and musket-shots rained
about her, Catherine de' Medici was as brave and unconcerned as the
most valiant of men. Diana of Poitiers was called the most wondrous
woman, the woman of eternal youth, the beautiful huntress; it was
she whom Jean Goujon sculptured, nude and triumphant, embracing with
marble arms a mysterious stag, enamoured like Leda's swan."

In general, the women of that century "liked better to be feared
than loved; they inspired mad passions, insensate devotions, ecstatic
admirations. The epoch was one in which life counted for little, when
balls alternated with massacres; when virtue was befitting only
the lowly born and ugly (Brantôme recommends the beautiful to be
inconstant because they should resemble the sun who diffuses his light
so indiscriminately that everybody in the world feels it). It was the
age of beauty--a beauty that fascinated and entranced, but the glow
of which melted and killed; but this glow also reacted upon them
that caused it and they became victims of their own passions--through
either jealousy or their own weaknesses. No age was ever more
luxurious, pompous, elegant, brilliant, and wanton, yet beneath all
the glitter there were much misery and bitter repentance; amongst the
violent wickedness there were noble and pure women such as Elizabeth
of Austria and Louise de Vaudemont."

The whole century seemed to be afire and to tingle with that spirit of
liberty, imitation, and experimentation, which, so often abused, led
to much disaster. In spite of that unsettled and excited condition,
the sixteenth century attained greater development, had more avenues
of intellectual activity opened to it, imitated, thought and imagined
more and produced as much as any other century; in every field,
we find the names of its masters. As M. Faguet says, the sixteenth
century was, in France, the century _créateur par excellence_; and in
this, woman's part was, above all, political, her social, moral, and
literary influence being less marked.



In the seventeenth century, the influence exerted by the women of
France, departing from the political aspect which had characterized it
in the preceding century, became of a social, literary, religious,
and moral nature, the last predominating. Inasmuch as the reins of
government were in the hands of the king and his ministers, political
affairs were but slightly affected by the feminine element. Woman,
realizing the uselessness as well as danger of plotting against
the inviolate person and power of the king, contented herself with
scheming against those ministers whose attitudes she considered
unfavorable to her plans.

Of all social and literary movements, however, woman was the
acknowledged leader; in that institution of culture and development,
the seventeenth century salon, her undisputed supremacy placed her in
the position of patroness and protectress of men of letters. In the
general religious movement her rôle was one of secondary importance;
and as mistress, she ceased with the sixteenth century to be either
active politically or disastrous morally and became merely a temporary
recipient of capriciously bestowed wealth and favors. In order
to fully comprehend woman's position and the exact nature of her
influence in this century and the following one, the position and
constitution of the nobility before, during and after the ministry of
Richelieu, must be studied.

The great houses of Carolingian origin were those of Alençon,
Bourgogne, Bourbon, Vendôme, Kings of Navarre, Counts of Valois,
and Artois; the great gentlemen were the Dukes of Guise, Nemours,
Longueville, Chevreuse, Nevers, Bouillon, Rohan, Montmorency, and,
later, Luxembourg, Mortemart, Créqui, Noailles; names which are
constantly met with in French history. Before the time of Louis XIV.,
men of such rank, when dissatisfied or discontented, might leave
court at their will and were requested to return; but with Louis XIV.,
departure from court was considered a disgrace, and offending parties
were permitted, not asked, to return.

Outside the army, there was open to the princes of the nobility no
occupation in which they might expend their surplus energy; thus,
being free from the burden of taxes, it was but natural that they
should seek amusement in literature, society, and intrigue. The honor
of their respective houses and the fear of being damned in the next
world were their only sources of deep concern; other than these, they
assumed no responsibilities, desiring absolute freedom from care.

Legal, judicial, and ecclesiastical offices were open to them but were
little favored except as convenient means of obtaining revenues
and positions otherwise not procurable. The first requisites toward
advancement were bravery and skill, not learning; the majority of
the members of the nobility much preferred buying a regiment to being
president of a tribunal, and their primary ambition was to acquire a
reputation for magnificence, heroism, and gallantry. They fought for
glory, to show their skill and courage; the sentiment of patriotism
was but weakly developed, and war was indulged in merely for the sake
of fighting, passing the time, and being occupied. As in the preceding
century, death was but little feared; in fact, the scorn of it was
carried to the extreme. "The French went to death as though they were
to be resuscitated on the morrow."

That man went to war was not sufficient proof of his bravery; in
addition, he must, upon the smallest pretext, draw his sword, must
fight constantly, and especially with adversaries better armed and
larger in force; the love of woman was for such men only. Adventure
was the fad: it is said of one seigneur that he took pleasure in going
every night to a certain corner and, from pure malice, striking with
his sword the first person who chanced that way; this unique pastime
he continued until he himself was killed.

Marriage, until the eighteenth century, was not a union of affection,
but merely an alliance between two families and in the interest of
both; women, to preserve their identity after marriage, signed their
family names. As maturity was reached at the age of twelve, marriage
meant simply cohabitation. Until the Revolution, free marriages, or
liaisons, were recognized as natural if not legitimate institutions,
and the offspring of such unions, who were said to be more numerous
than legitimate children, were legitimatized and became heirs simply
through recognition by the father. (At first, princes were unwilling
to accept, as wives, the natural daughters of kings; however, the Duke
of Orleans and the Prince of Conti married the natural daughters
of Louis XIV.) As a rule, titles could not be transmitted through
females; when a woman married beneath her rank she lost her titles,
but they were given to her children.

In the seventeenth century, woman's influence was of a nature vastly
superior to that exerted by her in the sixteenth century, in that it
rendered sacred both her and her honor; but, in spite of the refining
restraint of the salon, brutality was still the main characteristic
of man. To express beautiful sentiments in the midst of jealousies,
rivalries, adventures, complaints, and despair, was the _savoir-vivre_
of the Catherine de' Medici type of elegance brought from Italy in the
sixteenth century. This caused the extremes of external fastidiousness
and internal grossness to be embodied in the same individual; in the
eighteenth century, man was, inwardly as well as outwardly, refined,
mild, kind, a friend of pleasure; and therein lies the fundamental
difference between the _honnête homme_ of Louis XIV. and the _homme
du monde_ of Louis XV. The seventeenth century type of man is midway
between that of the sixteenth and eighteenth--more polished and less
gross than the former, yet lacking the knowledge and culture of the

When in the seventeenth century the two all-powerful forces, brute
force and money, of the preceding century were replaced by those of
money and the pen, the decay of the impoverished and unintellectual
nobility became but a question of time. The day when great gentlemen
might scorn men of letters and learning was rapidly passing; with
the French Academy arose a new spirit, a fresh impulse was given to
intellectual attainments. Although treated as inferiors, the literary
men of the seventeenth century spoke of the aristocracy in a spirit
of raillery, but slightly veiled with respect; and the nobility while
remaining, in its way, courageous and glorious, lost its prestige,
force, and influence.

In the seventeenth century, money acquired a certain purchasing value
which procured advantages and luxuries impossible in the preceding
period when the brave man was worth infinitely more than the rich
who, scorned and considered as a rapacious Jew, was isolated and in
constant fear of being robbed or killed. As the number of government
officials increased, individual fortunes grew; men became enormously
wealthy through the various offices bought by them or given to them by
the government. The financier was a king and many marriages of princes
and dukes with daughters of men of wealth are recorded. Women of
station, however, seldom married beneath their rank, because they
lost their titles by so doing, and titles were still the only road
to social success. As a rule, titles could not be transmitted through
females; when a woman made a misalliance her titles were given to her
children. Almost all rich men of the period, from the time of Louis
XIII. to the Revolution, became nobles, as almost every brave man was
made a knight up to the seventeenth century. It was possible for
the wealthy to buy a marquisate or baronetage and give it to their
children; a grand-marshal of France was no longer so powerful as a
rich banker.

The complete change, under Louis XIV., of the customs of the time,
caused numberless petty jealousies, scandals, and intrigues in the
aristocracy, which could no longer maintain its old form and yet had
to be considered by the government. The question of reform arose--how
to restrict the number of nobles, which increased every year. Rank
was bestowed for service and, sometimes, even for wealth; the old
families, being poor, had no distinctive prestige except that given by
their privileges at court; their titles no longer distinguished them
from the newcomers, whom they gradually began to disdain, and the
result was a general lowering of the standing, importance, and
influence of nobility. Another party which gained prominence was that
of the bench; the judges, as interpreters of the king's laws, became
powerful, for law was absolute. A deadly rivalry sprang up between the
parties of rank with no money or power and of power and money without

The desire of every man of rank to be independent, to be a force in
himself instead of a part of a unit which might be useful to the
state as a whole, was one of the principal defects of the French
aristocracy; poverty crushed it, idleness robbed it of its alertness,
intriguing and gradual oppression reduced it to despair. Appointed to
offices, its members failed in the performance of their duties; the
latter fell to the under men who, while the aristocracy was busy at
fêtes, in society, at the table, became experts in the affairs of the
government--shrewd politicians and financiers. The new nobility,
that of the robe, replaced that of the sword in all interests of the
government except war; gradually, Parliament was made up of men who,
having been elevated to the rank of nobility, retained their aversion
to those who were noble by birth, recognizing only the king as their
superior and refusing precedence to even the princes of the blood.
Louis XIV., however, objecting to and fearing such a strong class as
that of the robe, employed, wherever possible, people of lower rank.
Thus it happened in the seventeenth century that the still powerful
nobility of higher rank was scorned and kept down; but in the
eighteenth century, when the gentlemen of the robe had become
all-powerful and therefore constituted a dangerous party, it was they
who became the objects of scorn and persecution, while the aristocrats
of blood, the gentlemen of the court, recovered the royal favors
through their political powerlessness.

French aristocracy really had no object, no _raison d'être_, after
its disappearance from all governmental functions; it became an
encumbrance to the state; having no particular part to play, it did
nothing; this is one of the causes of its dissolution and of the
Revolution as well. Thus France gradually passed from inequality of
classes under the sanction of custom to equality of classes before
the law: this change in the condition and constitution of the French
nobility accounts for many intrigues and scandals and explains the
social and moral actions of French women, as well as the difference
in the nature of their activities in the seventeenth and eighteenth

The seventeenth was, _par excellence_, the century which can boast
of that incomparable society the cult of which was the highest in all
things--art, religion, philosophy, poetry, politics, war, and beauty.
From the convent of the Carmelites to the Hôtel de Rambouillet, from
the Place Royale to the various châteaux and salons, we must seek only
that which is elevating and spiritual, beautiful and religious. In
the famous society which kept pace with the political reputation
and influence of France is found a coterie of women who combined
remarkable beauty and intelligence with a high moral standard, and
whose names are intimately connected with the history of France.
Where again can we find such a galaxy of beauties as that formed by
Charlotte de Montmorency, Mme. de Chevreuse, Mme. de Hautefort, Mme.
de Montbazon, Mme. de Guémené, Mme. de Châtillon, Mme. de Longueville,
Marie de Gonzague, Henriette de la Vallière, Mme. de Montespan, Mme.
de Maintenon, without enumerating such great writers and leaders of
salons as Mme. de Rambouillet, Mlle. de Scudéry, Mme. de Lambert,
Mme. de Sévigné, and Mme. de la Fayette? The seventeenth century
could tolerate no mediocrity; grandeur was in the very atmosphere;
its political movements were great movements; it produced in art
a Poussin, in letters a Corneille, in science and philosophy a

The various movements of which woman was the head may be divided into
two periods, and each period into two parts. The political women may
well be grouped about Marie de' Medici,--whose career will not be
given separate treatment, inasmuch as there was no drop of French
blood in her veins,--and the social and literary women about Mme.
de Rambouillet and her salon. In the latter half of the seventeenth
century and at the beginning of the eighteenth, politics are
represented by Mme. de Montespan--the mistress--and Mme. de
Maintenon--the wife; social life and literature have their purest
representative in Mme. de Lambert. The two queens of the seventeenth
century, Anne of Austria and Maria Theresa, were without influence;
the religious movement was represented by the galaxy of women of whom
we write in a later chapter.

After the death of Henry IV., Marie de' Medici succeeded in having
herself made queen-regent for Louis XIII., who was then but nine years
old. A woman of no particular capacity, who had in no way adapted
herself to French life and customs, she allowed herself to be governed
by an adventurer, an Italian who understood and appreciated French
ideals no more than did Marie; these two--the queen and Concini, her
minister--immediately began to concoct plans to gain control of the
state. The king was kept in virtual captivity until he reached the age
of seventeen, when, having asserted his rights, Concini was killed,
and Marie's dominant power and influence came to an abrupt end.

Louis XIII. reigned, with his minister, the Prince de Luynes, from
1617 to 1624, when he became reconciled to his mother and appointed
her favorite, Richelieu, his minister. From 1610 to about 1640,
Marie de' Medici exercised more or less influence, always of a nature
disastrous to France.

After the king's death, Anne of Austria, as queen-regent, with
Mazarin, directed the destinies of France. During the ministry of the
two cardinals, Richelieu and Mazarin, occurred the political intrigues
and astute diplomatic movements of Mme. de Chevreuse and the unwise
and short-sighted aspirations of Mme. de Longueville. These intimate
friends were women of the highest intelligence, most perfect beauty,
and uncapitulating devotion, and were working for the same cause,
though from different motives.

Mme. de Chevreuse was the daughter of M. de Rohan, Duke of Montbazon.
She had married M. de Luynes, the minister of Louis XIII., who
overthrew the power of Marie de' Medici, and who, by initiating his
wife into his secrets, gave her the schooling and experience which she
later used to such advantage. De Luynes presented her at court
with instructions to ingratiate herself with the queen--Anne of
Austria--and the king. In this design she succeeded so well that she
was soon made superintendent of the household of the queen, and became
as influential with Anne as was her husband with the king.

In 1621 M. de Luynes died; a year later his widow married Claude of
Lorraine, Duke of Chevreuse; but as that was an unhappy union,
she soon began her career as an intriguer. On the arrival of Lord
Kensington, the English ambassador, she fell in love with him, that
escapade being the first of a long series; the two proceeded to
inveigle Queen Anne into a liaison with the Duke of Buckingham, which
scheme, as history so well records, partly succeeded.

When Mme. de Chevreuse accompanied to England the new queen,
Henriette-Marie, wife of Charles I., both Buckingham and Kensington
outdid themselves in showing her attention, Richelieu, fearing her
influence and intrigues at the court of England, hastened the recall
of her husband, but she received through her friends, from the English
monarch himself, an invitation to remain; during the time, she gave
birth to a child.

Her next famous undertaking, which involved the lives of various
persons of high rank, was the scheme to persuade Monsieur the Dauphin
to refuse to marry Mlle. de Montpensier; Queen Anne was opposed to
this union, and Mme. de Chevreuse gained to their cause a number of
influential friends who were all madly in love with her. The ever
vigilant Richelieu having discovered the plot, Monsieur confessed.
In this conspiracy, M. de Chalais lost his head, other plotters lost
their positions, and some were exiled. Mme. de Chevreuse was forced
to retire to Lorraine; there she set in movement a vast plan against
Richelieu and France, allying England and various princes, but, by the
arrest of Montaigu, the plot was discovered, the alliance broken up,
and peace restored.

In 1626, by request of England, Mme. de Chevreuse returned to France.
For a time she was quiet and seemed to favor Richelieu, but she soon
captivated one of his ministers, the Marquis of Châteauneuf.
Richelieu discovered the latter's weakness, and, having captured his
correspondence, sent him to prison, where he remained for ten years.
The fair intriguer was exiled to Dampierre, the cardinal fearing to
send her out of France on account of her influence with the Duke of
Lorraine. She managed to steal into Paris at night and see the
queen; when discovered, she was sent to Touraine where she began the
dangerous task of carrying on the correspondence between the Dukes of
Savoy and Lorraine and England, and between Spain and Queen Anne. Even
when this correspondence was intercepted and the queen confessed all,
Richelieu was afraid to banish Mme. de Chevreuse; though he believed
her to be at the bottom of all the current intrigues, he knew that out
of France she would stir up the rulers of England and Spain as well as
the Duke of Lorraine and others hostile to the cardinal.

Violence being out of the question, because of her influence in
England and of the prominence of her family, he decided to win her
over by kindness; he even sent her money, but she was too shrewd to
permit Richelieu to outwit her, always paying him back in his own
coin. However, that kind of play was too dangerous for her and she
escaped to Spain. As soon as her departure became known, Richelieu
set to work every means in his power to bring her back, sending her an
urgent invitation to return and promising to pardon her past. When his
messages reached her, she was already in Madrid, where she was royally
received as the friend of the king's sister, Anne; there, by means of
her beauty and wonderful intelligence, she conquered every cavalier.
When the war broke out between France and Spain, she left for England
where she was welcomed like a visiting queen.

Richelieu, anxious for the support of the Duke of Lorraine in his
war against Spain and Austria, needed the coöperation of Mme. de
Chevreuse, and with that end in view sent ambassadors to London
to arrange for her return; but an agreement was not an easy matter
between two such astute politicians, and negotiations went on
unsuccessfully for over a year. Her subtleness, apparent docility
and invincible precautions were pitted against the artifices and
dissimulation of the cardinal; both employed all the astute manoeuvres
of diplomacy and exhausted the resources of consummate skill in
gaining the point desired by each. The cardinal failed to convince her
of her safety.

Mme. de Chevreuse soon formed about her a circle of émigrés--Marie de'
Medici, Duc La Vallette, Soubèse, La Vieuville, and many others. This
coterie was in open correspondence with Spain, Austria, and the Duke
of Lorraine. From every side, Richelieu felt the intriguing hand
and influence of Mme. de Chevreuse, and decided to put forth another
effort to get her to return, this time sending her husband; but
not sure of the latter's sincerity and in fear of him, the duchess
concluded to leave England for Flanders, and, escorted by a squad of
dukes and lords, departed like a queen.

At Brussels, she entered into open relations with Spain, drawing
over the Duke of Lorraine. She was accused of being in the plot of
Cinq-Mars and the Duke of Bouillon with Spain; when Richelieu exposed
this to Queen Anne, the latter for the first time became her enemy.
Just at this time of his triumph, Richelieu died, his death being
followed soon after by that of Louis XIII., who left a special
order for the exile forever of Mme. de Chevreuse, whom he called _Le
Diable_. The queen-regent, however, recalled her, and set at liberty
her friend, Châteauneuf, who had been imprisoned for ten years.

When Mme. de Chevreuse returned to Paris after an absence of ten
years, her beauty was still unimpaired, she possessed an experience
such as no man of the day could boast, was personally acquainted with
nearly every great statesman and aware of the weak points in every
court of Europe. While she could now count on the support of
the majority of the princes, plots were being formed about the
queen-regent, the object of which was to persuade the latter to give
up the friends who had served her faithfully for so many years. La
Rochefoucauld was sent to meet Mme. de Chevreuse and to inform her of
the change of attitude of the queen-regent; as her devoted friend, he
advised her to abandon, for the present, all hopes of governing the
queen and to devote herself entirely to regaining her favor and to
preparing for the possible fall of Mazarin.

After securing the release of her friend Châteauneuf, Mme. de
Chevreuse set to work to restore him to his former office of Guard
of the Seals, but did not succeed. She then turned her attention to
undermining the power of Mazarin, agitating all émigrés returning to
France and starting the most outspoken denunciation of the policy
of the cardinal, his injustice and tyranny against the nobility. The
cries of disapproval became so general that Mazarin was kept busy
warding off the blows aimed at him by his enemy; the latter succeeded
in placing Châteauneuf as _Chancelier des ordres du roi_ and in having
his estates restored to him, while Alexandre de Campion she placed in
the household of the queen. Mazarin, living in constant dread of her,
managed to thwart two of her cherished schemes--the restoration to
the Duke of Vendôme of the government of Brittany and the placing of
Châteauneuf in the ministry--upon the success of which depended her
own influence and power.

Finding that ruse, flattery, insinuation, and ordinary court intrigues
were of no avail, she turned to other methods. The Importants, a party
made up of adventurers and a large number of the nobility, were making
themselves felt more and more; they were opposed to Richelieu and
Mazarin, and Mme. de Chevreuse became their chief and instigator.
Failing to succeed with the cardinal's own methods, she decided to
assassinate him, but the plot was discovered, the Duke of Beaufort
was arrested and all the princes of the party of the Importants were
ordered to leave Paris. Mme. de Chevreuse was compelled to depart from
court and retire to Dampierre, and then to Touraine, where she did
everything in her power to assist the friends who had compromised
themselves for her. During her first exile she had had the consolation
of the friendship of the queen; but now she was banished by the very
friend whom she had served so well and who had up to this time been
able and willing to afford her comfort and protection. Through
Lord Goring, Count Craft, and the Commander de Jars, she opened up
correspondence and negotiations with England, but was again surprised
by the vigilant Mazarin and sent to Angoulême; determining to escape,
after many hardships, she successfully reached Liège; from there, as
head of all foreign intrigues against France, she continued to thwart
Mazarin's foreign policy.

As soon as the first signs of the Fronde broke out, Mme. de Chevreuse
became active and succeeded in attracting to her the young Marquis de
Laigues with whom, later on, she contracted a _mariage de conscience_.
As ambassador of the Fronde, she prevailed upon Spain to promise
troops and subsidies to her party. After the peace of 1649, she went
to Paris where she found almost all her friends ready to follow
her and to pay her homage. It was she who conceived the idea of an
aristocratic league which, under the auspices of the two great princes
of the blood, the Duke of Orléans and the Prince of Condé, would unite
the best part of the nobility.

Her plan was to marry her daughter to the Prince de Conti and the
young Duc d'Enghien to one of the daughters of the Duke of Orléans.
The contracts were signed and all was in readiness when Mazarin was
exiled, and the following Frondists came into power: the Duke
of Orléans at court, Condé and Turenne at the head of the army,
Châteauneuf in the Cabinet, Molé in Parliament, while Mme. de
Chevreuse and Mme. de Longueville managed to keep harmony among all.
Queen Anne in a short time annulled the marriage contracts; and on the
return of Mazarin, Mme. de Chevreuse took up her work with him, the
cardinal being wise enough to appreciate the fact that she was a
greater force with than against him.

Strange as it may seem, Mme. de Chevreuse in time became the great
acting and controlling force of royalty, winning over the Duke of
Lorraine and becoming a staunch friend to both the regent and the
cardinal; after the death of the latter, she became all-powerful, and
it may be said that she made Colbert what he was. In the fulness of
her power, she gradually retired, having seen, in turn, the passing
away or the fall of Richelieu, Mazarin, Louis XIII., Anne of Austria,
the Queen of England, Châteauneuf, the Duke of Lorraine, her daughter,
and the Marquis de Laigues. She ceased plotting, renounced politics
and intrigues, and retired to the country, where she died in 1679.

Mme. de Chevreuse was undoubtedly one of the most important political
characters of the seventeenth century, just as she was also one of its
greatest beauties--possibly the most seductive and charming woman of
her epoch. A consummate diplomat and an untiring worker, she was at
the head of more intrigues and plots, had more thrilling adventures,
controlled and ruined more men, than any other woman of her century,
if not of all French history. Thinking little of religion, she was
yet in the very midst of the Catholic party; unswerving in her
friendships, she scorned danger, opinion, fortune, for those whom she
loved or whose cause she espoused; an implacable foe, she was the most
dreaded enemy of both Richelieu and Mazarin.

With a remarkable ability for grasping the details of an antagonist's
position she combined all the other qualities of an astute politician;
thus, upon the desired consummation of her plots she brought to bear
a sagacity, finesse, and energy that baffled all her adversaries. With
her, politics became a passion and a necessity; even while in exile,
her zeal was unflagging and she intrigued over all Europe. Scorning
peril as well as all petty restraints, and characterized by courage,
loyalty, and devotion, she was without an equal among the members of
her sex.

Mme. de Hautefort, while less powerful than Mme. de Chevreuse and of
quite a different type, is associated with her in the history of the
time. Pure, beautiful, and virtuous, she everywhere inspired love and
respect; without political aspirations and seeking neither power nor
favors, she refused to deliver her soul or betray her friends for
Richelieu or Mazarin; she was their enemy, but not their rival.

Because of her desire to serve the queen, of whom she was an intimate
friend, and to further her interests, she was connected with the first
intrigues of Mme. de Chevreuse, but as an innocent and disinterested
party. Louis XIII. conceived an ardent attachment for her, and
Richelieu endeavored to win her over to his policies, but she remained
faithful to her queen and refused to sacrifice her honor to the king.

The cardinal did not rest until he had prevailed upon the king to
exile her, ostensibly for only fifteen days; and as her unselfishness
and generosity had made an impression upon the whole court, her
departure was much regretted, though no demonstration was made. When,
after the king's death, Mme. de Hautefort returned to Paris, she soon
reëstablished herself in the affection, admiration, and respect of her

As Mazarin gained ascendency over Queen Anne, that regent changed her
policy and abandoned her former friends. Mme. de Hautefort was opposed
to the queen on account of her liaison with her minister and her lack
of fidelity to those who, in time of trouble, had served her so well.
As _dame d'atours_, she was forced either to close her eyes to all
scenes between the cardinal and Anne or to combat the regent and
resign. She was not to be tempted by the honors and favors with which
the two sought to purchase her criminal connivance or her silence;
preferring poverty and exile to a guilty conscience, she soon retired
to the convent of the Daughters of Sainte-Marie, where she was
followed by her admirers, who were willing to place themselves and
their fortunes at her disposal. At the age of thirty she accepted
the hand of the Duke of Schomberg, and, away from the court and its
intrigues, lived in peace.

Indifferent to the powerful, but kind and compassionate to the poor
and oppressed, Mme. de Hautefort is a type of those great women of
the seventeenth century who stood for honor, courage, generosity,
sympathy, and virtue; fervently, even austerely, religious, she was
yet far removed from anything resembling bigotry. Among the ladies
of the Hôtel de Rambouillet, she was one of the most popular; her
vivacity, modesty, and reserve, combined with a tall figure, imposing
bearing, and large, expressive blue eyes, won the hearts of many
cavaliers, among whom the most prominent were the Dukes of Lorraine
and La Rochefoucauld.

A close second to Mme. de Chevreuse in influence and power, was Mme.
de Longueville, a woman of exquisite and aristocratic beauty, of
brilliant mind, and an adept in the art of conversation. Tender and
kind, but ambitious, she, like many others of her time and sex, had
two distinct periods--one of conquest and one of penitence and pious

Born in a prison at Vincennes during the captivity of her father,
the great Henry of Bourbon, Prince of Condé, she in time developed
remarkable personal charms. Her early days were spent at the convent
of the Carmelites and at the Hôtel de Rambouillet, her mind--in these
opposite worlds of religion and society--being divided between pious
meditations and romantic dreams. At the time of the execution at
Toulouse of her uncle, M. de Montmorency, she seriously considered
entering the Carmelite convent.

Upon making her social début, she immediately became one of the
leaders about whom all the gallants gathered. She formed a fast
friendship with Mme. de Sablé, Mme. de Rambouillet, Mme. de
Bouteville, and Mlle. du Vigean. Her beauty, which was quite
phenomenal, soon became the subject of poetry. Voltaire wrote:

  "De perles, d'astres et de fleurs,
  Bourbon, le ciel fit tes couleurs,
  Et mit dedans tout ce mélange
    L'esprit d'un ange!
  L'on jugerait par la blancheur
  De Bourbon, et par sa fraicheur,
  Qu'elle a prit naissance des lis."

[The heaven made thy colors, Bourbon, of pearls, of stars, of flowers,
and to all this mixture added the spirit of an angel. One would judge
by the whiteness and freshness of Bourbon that she was born of the

In 1642, at the age of twenty-three, she was married, against her
will, to M. de Longueville who was, after the princes of the blood,
the greatest seigneur of France; he was old and indifferent, and
enamored of another woman, while she was young and full of hopes,
ambitions, and love. His conduct, being anything but correct,
immediately set the young wife, with her instincts of refinement and
principles and habits of the _précieuses_, against her husband. The
advent of a rival in the person of Mme. de Montbazon, one of the
most noted beauties of the day, made the state of affairs even more
unpleasant, the humiliation being so much keener because it was on
account of her charms that Montbazon was preferred to the wife. The
latter's fate was a cruel one; she could not respect her husband, and,
for her, respect was the only road to love. She continued to live at
the Hôtel de Longueville and to attend all court functions, where,
through her beauty, she early became the object of much attention from
the young lords, among whom Coligny seemed to impress her more than
any other.

About this time occurred the deaths of Richelieu and Louis XIII., and
the Importants, flocking to Paris to regain their rights and to share
in the spoils of the new regency, began to make themselves felt. The
leaders expected great favors from Anne of Austria who had been forced
into obedience by the cardinal, but she was a great disappointment to
them. A born lady of leisure, she was only too glad to be relieved
of the arduous duties of government, and this her minister, Mazarin,
quickly proceeded to do; his first object was to crush the influence
of the Importants, who were very powerful in the salons, society, and

The house of Condé declared in favor of Mazarin, but at first this
did not affect Mme. de Longueville, whose kindness of heart and
indifference to politics and intrigues were generally known. Probably,
she never would have taken a part in the Fronde had it not been for
the rival who had been seeking, by every possible means, to injure her
reputation--a design which Mme. de Montbazon well-nigh accomplished by
declaring that two letters which, at a reception, had fallen from the
pocket of Coligny had been written by Mme. de Longueville. In reality,
they had been written by Mme. de Fouquerolles to the Marquis of
Maulevrier. Mme. la Princesse, mother of Mme. de Longueville demanded
full reparation, threatening that unless it was at once granted the
house of Condé would withdraw from court, and Mazarin managed to
induce the queen to compel Mme. de Montbazon to apologize publicly. It
may be of interest to give, in full, the apology, to show the nature
of court etiquette, hypocrisy, and intrigue of that day. Mme. de
Montbazon called at the hôtel of the princess and spoke the following
words, which were written on a paper attached to her fan: "Madame, I
come here to attest that I am innocent of the spitefulness of which
they accuse me, there being no person of honor capable of uttering
such a calumny; and if I had committed such a crime, I would have
submitted to the punishments that the queen would have imposed upon
me, would never have shown myself before the world again, and would
have asked your pardon. I beg you to believe that I shall never be
lacking in the respect that I owe you because of the opinion which
I have of the merit and virtue of Mme. de Longueville." To which the
princess replied: "I very willingly receive the assurance you give
me of having had no part in the spitefulness that was published,
deferring all to the order the queen has given me."

After this episode, the princess refused to be in the same place with
Mme. de Montbazon. On one occasion, Mme. de Chevreuse had invited the
queen to a collation at a place where the queen enjoyed walking; she
requested the princess to join her, giving her word of honor that Mme.
de Montbazon would not be there; she was present, however, and the
princess was about to leave when the queen ordered Mme. de Montbazon
to feign illness and retire; this she refused to do and remained,
whereupon the queen and the princess left, and shortly afterward Mme.
de Montbazon received orders to leave Paris.

This excited the Importants to fever heat and a plot was formed, with
Mme. de Chevreuse as the leader, to assassinate the cardinal. Shortly
after this, Coligny, as champion of the cause of Mme. de Longueville,
challenged the Duc de Guise to a duel. The whole court was made up
of two parties: the Importants with Mme. de Montbazon and Mme. de
Chevreuse; and Condé and Mme. de Longueville with their friends;
the result was the death of Coligny. Mme. de Longueville was a true
_précieuse_ and hardly loved Coligny, but allowed him and any other to
serve and adore her in a respectable way--a principle followed by
the better women of the age, such as Mme. de Rambouillet and Mme. de

Some time after these occurrences, Mme. de Longueville was stricken
with smallpox which, fortunately, did not impair her beauty; it was
said, on the contrary, that in taking away its first flower it left
all the brilliancy which, joined to her culture and charming
languor, made her one of the most attractive persons in France. La
Rochefoucauld has left the following picture of her: "This princess
had all the advantages of _esprit_ and beauty to as great a degree as
if nature had taken pleasure in completing, in her person, a perfect
work; but these qualities shone less brilliantly on account of one
characteristic which led her to imbibe so thoroughly the sentiments of
those who adored her that she no longer recognized her own."

After her twenty-fifth year, Mme. de Longueville became more and more
imbued with the general spirit of the seventeenth century: coquetry
and _bel esprit_ became her chief occupation. The glory of her
brother, the Duc d'Enghien, who was rapidly becoming a power, and the
probability of the house of Condé becoming dangerous, made Mazarin
realize that Mme. de Longueville was to be reckoned with, inasmuch as
she had full control over D'Enghien and was constantly instilling new
ideas into his mind and requesting from him the distribution of all
sorts of favors. Mazarin, in 1646, succeeded in causing her withdrawal
to Münster for one year; there she ruled as queen of the Congress. On
the death of her father, the Prince of Condé, and at the request
of her mother to come home for her lying-in, the husband of Mme. de
Longueville consented to her return to Paris.

In the meantime, everything was being done by the Importants to win
over the house of Condé and cause a breach between it and Mazarin.
The court at this time was in full glory; to amuse the queen-regent,
Mazarin was lavishing money on artists from Italy, and the nobility
outdid itself in its attempts to rival royalty in elegance and luxury.
Upon her return, everyone paid homage to Mme. de Longueville; it
was at this period that La Rochefoucauld, who was anxious about his
position at court, as he was accused of being in league with the
Importants and was therefore refused the favors he desired, met Mme.
de Longueville who was in the height of her glory and in full control
of the most prominent house of the time--that of the Duc d'Enghien and
the Prince de Conti, her brothers.

In order to conquer for himself what the cardinal would not grant him,
La Rochefoucauld put forth every effort to win Mme. de Longueville;
captivated by his fine appearance, his chivalry and, above all, by his
powerful intellect, she gave herself up entirely, willing to share his
destiny, to sacrifice all her interests, even those of her family, and
the deepest sentiment of her life--the tenderness for her brother.

France at this time, 1648, was in a position to gain for herself a
peace with the world at her own terms, and her future seemed to be
without a cloud. It was the Fronde that checked her growth and glory,
and the cause of this was the estrangement of the house of Condé
through the action of Mme. de Longueville in passing with her husband
over to the party of the Importants, she being the first of her family
to forsake the government. Under the leadership of La Rochefoucauld,
she cast her lot with the opposing party, allowing herself to be
identified with the interests of those who had endeavored to tarnish
her early reputation. Becoming a leader with Mme. de Chevreuse and
Mme. de Montbazon (her rival), she easily won over her young brother,
the Prince de Conti. After the imprisonment of her husband and her two
brothers, she began her real career as a woman of tactics, politics,
and generalship.

With the connivance of Mme. de Chevreuse and the Princess Palatine, a
general plan had been formed to create a new government by the union
of the aristocracy. The marriage, already spoken of, between the Duke
of Enghien and one of the daughters of the Duke of Orléans and that
arranged between the Prince of Conti and the daughter of Mme. de
Chevreuse were to have united the Fronde with the house of Condé. The
alliances, however, were declared off, and Mme. de Chevreuse went
over to the cardinal and the queen; Condé's fall and Mazarin's success
followed, being the result, mainly, of the determination of Mme. de
Chevreuse to avenge herself upon Condé for having consented to the
breaking of the marriage contracts.

Mme. de Longueville did all in her power to continue the conflict that
Condé had undertaken, but, exhausted by continual excitement and ill
success, she was compelled to retire. After this, her life, spent in
Normandy, at the Carmelites' convent and at Port Royal, became a long
penance, which increased in austerity until she died in 1679. Thus,
her career was at first one of unblemished brilliancy, then a period
of elegant and intellectual debauch, and finally one of expiation.

"Her politics," says Sainte-Beuve, "considered in the _ensemble_, are
nothing more than a desire to please, to shine--a capricious love. Her
character lacked consistency and self-will, her mind was keen, ready,
subtle, ingenious, but not reasonable."

In her convent life, her crowning virtue was humility. Her enemies did
not cease to attack her, but she received all their affronts with
the noblest resignation. The following testimonies are taken from a
Jansenist manuscript of 1685:

"She never said anything to her own advantage. She made use of as
many occasions as she could find for humiliating herself without any
affectation. What she said, she said so well that it could not be
better said. She listened much, never interrupted, and never showed
any eagerness to speak. She spoke sensibly, modestly, charitably, and
without passion. To court her was to speak with equity and without
passion of everyone and to esteem the good in all. Her whole exterior,
her voice, her face, her gestures, were a perfect music; and her mind
and body served her so well in expressing what she wished to make
heard, that she appeared the most perfect actress in the world."

Her love for La Rochefoucauld was the secret of her failure in life.
When she experienced the disappointments of her married life and
discovered that her dream of being loved by her husband could not be
realized, she looked to other sources for diversion. She was not an
intriguing woman like Mme. de Chevreuse, but one of ambitions which
were incited by her love for and interest in the objects of her
affection. Although she carried on flirtations with Coligny and the
Duke of Nemours, she really loved no one but La Rochefoucauld, to
whom she sacrificed her reputation and tranquillity, her duties and
interests. For him she took up the cause of the Fronde; for him she
was a mere slave, her entire existence being given up to his love, his
whims, his service; when he failed her, she was lost, exhausted, and
retired to a convent at the age of thirty-five and in the full bloom
of her beauty. Her professed lover simply used her as a means to an
end, seeking only his own interests in the Fronde, while she sought
his; and this is the explanation of her seeming inconsistency of
conduct. In her religious life she was happy and contented; surrounded
by her friends, she lived peacefully for over twenty years.

Thus, Marie de' Medici, a foreigner, Mme. de Chevreuse, and Mme. de
Longueville represent the political women of the first half of the
seventeenth century; Anne of Austria, who was of foreign extraction,
was a mere tool in the hands of Mazarin, and exerted little influence
in general.

One of the principal differences between the conspicuous political
women of the sixteenth and those of the seventeenth centuries lies in
the possession by the latter of less personal force than that wielded
by the former, who allowed nothing to thwart their plans. The women
of both periods were beautiful, but those of the earlier one were of a
magnetic and sensual type, "inspiring insensate passions and exciting
a feverish unrest," thus ruling man through his lower instincts. The
lack of refinement, sympathy, and charity reflected in their actions
is in glaring contrast to the dignity, repose, reserve, and womanly
modesty and grace displayed by their less masterful successors of the
seventeenth century.



At the beginning of the seventeenth century, after the death of Henry
IV., there were three classes in France,--the nobility, clergy, and
third estate,--each with a distinct field of action: the nobility
dominated customs, morality, and the government; the clergy supervised
instruction and education; the third estate furnished the funds, that
is, its work made possible the operations of the other classes.

At court, various dialects and diverse pronunciations were in use by
the representatives of the different provinces; the written language,
though understood generally, was not used. Warriors were largely
in evidence among the members of the nobility and court; entirely
indifferent to decency of expression, purity of morals, and refinement
of manners, and even boasting of their scorn of all restrictions,
they took their boisterous rudeness into the drawing room where their
influence was unlimited. The king, being of the same class, knew no
better, or, if he did, had not the moral courage to compel a change;
thus, the institution of a reformatory movement fell to the lot of

Then, however, woman was but little better than man; to gain his
esteem, she would first have to make radical changes in her own
behavior and become self-respecting. The customs of the time placed
many disadvantages in the way of her social and moral reform. As
a rule, the young girl was confined to a convent until she reached
marriageable age; when that came and with it an undesired husband, she
was ready for almost any prank that would relieve the monotony of her
uncongenial marital relations. The convents themselves were so corrupt
or so easily corruptible, that, very frequently, young girls did not
leave them with unstained purity. To certain of these institutions,
women and men of standing often bought the privilege of access at any
time, to drink, dine, sleep, or attend sacred exercises with other
persons; thus, libertinage was not uncommon within the walls of those
so-called religious establishments.

Mme. de Rambouillet felt most keenly the degradation of woman and
resolved to act against it by combating everything that could offend
taste or delicacy. As in the beginning of every great age, all things
tended to greatness. A period of discipline and coördination set
in, and elegance, grace, and refinement became the most pronounced
characteristics of the time; rough, crude, robust, vigorous, and
energetic characteristics, combined with coarseness and brutality,
were eliminated during the seventeenth century. The women who caused
this general purification of morals and language were given the name
of _précieuses_ and the movement that of _préciosité_.

The extent to which the _précieuses_ went in inventing locutions by
which they were to be recognized as elegant, is generally exaggerated;
Livet says that out of six hundred women hardly thirty could be
accused of such fatuity. The wiser and more conservative women
did adopt a large number of expressions which were necessary for
refinement of language and these classicisms were exaggerated by some
of the provincial classes who received their expressions from books
and the theatre; such authors as Corneille, etc., were studied and
their poetic licenses introduced into spoken language. These follies,
pictured by Molière, naturally afforded much amusement in cultured
circles where every event of the day was discussed, from the vital
affairs of the government to the æsthetic interests of art and

The tremendous vogue of the seventeenth century salons or drawing
rooms naturally gave a stimulus to literature; but, as they were so
numerous and as each one claimed its large coterie of literary men,
they proved to be disastrous to some while helpful to others. Two
distinct classes of writers arose: the one, serious, elevated,
thoughtful, classical, and independent of the salon, is well
represented by Molière, Pascal, Boileau; the other, light, affected,
gallant, superficial, was composed of the innumerable unimportant
writers of the day.

The salon movement must not be confounded with two other social
movements or forces--those of court and society; while at the former
all was formality, the latter was still gross and brutish. The Marquis
de Caze, at a supper seized a leg of mutton and struck his neighbor
in the face with it, sprinkling her with gravy, whereupon she laughed
heartily; the Count of Brégis, slapped by the lady with whom he was
dancing, tore off her headdress before the whole company; Louis XIII.,
noticing in the crowd admitted to see him dine a lady dressed too
_décolleté_, filled his mouth with wine and squirted the liquid into
the bosom of the unfortunate girl; the Prince of Condé, indulging in
customary brutishness, ate dung and had the ladies follow his example;
these are fair illustrations of social _elegances_.

As will be seen, nothing of this nature occurred in the salon of Mme.
de Rambouillet, whose object was to charm her leisure hours, distract
and amuse the husband whom she adored, and be agreeable to her
friends. Her amusements were most original--concerts, mythological
representations, suppers, fireworks, comedies, readings, always
something new, often in the form of a surprise or a joke. Of the
latter, the best known is the one played on the Count of Guise whose
fondness for mushrooms had become proverbial; on one occasion when he
had consumed an immense number of them at table, his valet, who had
been bribed, took in all his doublets; on trying to put them on again,
he found them too narrow by fully four inches. "What in the world is
the matter--am I all swollen--could it be due to having eaten too many
mushrooms?" "That is quite possible," said Chaudebonne; "yesterday you
ate enough of them to split." All the accomplices joined in ridiculing
him, and he began to squirm and show a somewhat livid color. Mass was
rung, and he was compelled to attend in his chamber robe. Laughing, he
said: "That would be a fine end--to die at the age of twenty-one from
having eaten too many mushrooms." In the meantime, Chaudebonne advised
the use of an antidote which he wrote and handed to the count, who
read: "Take a good pair of scissors and cut your doublet." Only then
did the victim comprehend the joke.

One day, Voiture, having met a bear trainer, took him with his animals
to the room of the Marquise de Rambouillet; she, turning at the noise,
saw four large paws resting upon her screen. She readily forgave the
author of the surprise. Du Bled relates many more of these innocent

Among the congenial people of the salons, the relations were always of
the most cordial, friendly, free, and intimate nature; they were like
the members of a large family. By them, love was not considered a
weakness but a mark of the elevation of the soul, and every man had
to be sensitive to beauty. When the Duchesse d'Aiguillon presented
to society her nephew, who later became the Duke of Richelieu, she
advised and encouraged him to complete his education and make of
himself an _honnête homme_ by association with the elder Mlle. du
Vigean and other women; the object of this procedure was to polish his
manners, elevate his instincts, and develop ease in deportment toward
the ladies. There was no hint of the vulgar or licentious pleasures
which became the characteristics of love in the eighteenth century.

The woman who inaugurated the movement toward purity of morals,
decency of language, polish of manners, and courtesy to woman, was
Mme. de Rambouillet. Cathérine de Vivonne, Marquise de Rambouillet,
whose mother was a great Roman lady and whose father had been
ambassador to Rome, inherited that pride of race and independence of
spirit for which she was so well known. In 1600, she was married, at
the age of twelve, to the Marquis de Rambouillet who was her senior by
eleven years, but who treated her with deference and respect rare at
that time. Husband and wife were perfectly congenial, and their happy
and peaceful life was a great contrast to that led by the majority of
the married couples of the day. Absolutely irreproachable in conduct,
she set a worthy example for all women who knew her.

Her high ideals, independence of character, family duties, and the
general debauchery, which was incompatible with her rigid chastity and
"precocious wisdom," caused her to withdraw from the court in 1608;
two years later, she decided to open her salon to such aristocratic
and cultured persons as appreciated womanly grace, wit, and taste. Her
familiarity with Italian and Spanish history and art placed her at
the head of intellectual as well as moral movements. She surrounded
herself with the distinguished men and women of the day, and her
salon, which in every detail was decorated and arranged for pleasure,
immediately became, through the exquisite charm with which she
presided, the one goal of the cultured; her blue room was the
sanctuary of polite society and she was its high priestess.

The highest ambition of the _habitué_ of the salon was to sing, dance,
and converse artistically and with refinement. A reaction against the
general social state immediately set in, even the brusque warriors
acquiring a refinement of speech and manners; and as conversation
developed and became a power, the great lords began to respect men
of letters and to cultivate their society. Anyone who possessed good
manners, vivacity, and wit was admitted to the salon, where a new and
more elevating sociability was the aspiration.

Mme. de Rambouillet was very particular in the choice of friends, and
they were always sincere and devoted, knowing her to be undesirous of
political favors and incapable of stooping to intrigue. Even Richelieu
could not, as compensation to him for a favor to her husband, induce
her to act as spy on some of the frequenters of her salon.

While not a woman of remarkable beauty, she was the personification
of reason and virtue; her unassuming frankness, exquisite tact, and
exceptional reserve discouraged all advances on the part of those
gallants who frequented every mansion and were always prepared to lay
siege to the heart of any fair woman. Her wide culture, versatility,
modesty, goodness, fidelity, and disinterestedness caused her to be
universally sought. Mlle. de Scudéry, in her novel _Cyrus_, leaves a
fine portrait of her:

"The spirit and soul of this marvellous person surpass by far her
beauty: the first has no limits in its extent and the other has no
equal in its generosity, goodness, justice, and purity. The intellect
of Cléomire (Mme. de Rambouillet) is not like that of those whose
minds have no brilliancy except that which nature has given them, for
she has cultivated it carefully, and I think I can say that there are
no _belles connaissances_ that she has not acquired. She knows various
languages, and is ignorant of hardly anything that is worth knowing;
but she knows it all without making a display of knowing it; and one
would say, in hearing her talk, 'she is so modest that she speaks
admirably of things, through simple common sense only'; on the
contrary, she is versed in all things; the most advanced sciences
are not beyond her, and she is perfectly acquainted with the most
difficult arts. Never has any person possessed such a delicate
knowledge as hers of fine works of prose and poetry; she judges them,
however, with wonderful moderation, never abandoning _la bienséance_
(the seemliness) of her sex, though she is far above it. In the whole
court, there is not a person with any spirit and virtue that does not
go to her house. Nothing is considered beautiful if it does not
have her approval; no stranger ever comes who does not desire to see
Cléomire and do her homage, and there are no excellent artisans who
do not wish to have the glory of her approbation of their works. All
people who write in Phénicie have sung her praises; and she possesses
the esteem of everyone to such a marvellous degree that there is no
one who has ever seen her who has not said thousands of favorable
things about her--who has not been charmed likewise by her beauty,
_esprit_, sweetness, and generosity."

Mlle. de Scudéry describes the salon of Mme. de Rambouillet in the

"Cléomire (Mme. de Rambouillet) had built, according to her own
design, a place which is one of the finest in the world; she has found
the art of constructing a palace of vast extent in a situation
of mediocre grandeur. Order, harmony, and elegance are in all the
apartments, and in the furniture also; everything is magnificent,
even unique; the lamps are different from those of other palaces, her
cabinets are full of objects which show the judgment of her who chose
them. In her palace, the air is always scented; many baskets full of
magnificent flowers make a continual spring in her room, and the place
which she frequents ordinarily is so agreeable and so imaginative as
to make one feel as if she were in some enchanted place."

The very names of the frequenters of the salon of Mme. de Rambouillet
testify to the prominence of her position in the world of culture:
Mlle. de Scudéry, Mlle. du Vigean; Mmes. de Longueville, de la Vergne,
de La Fayette, de Sablé, de Hautefort, de Sévigné, de la Suze, Marie
de Gonzague, Duchesse d'Aiguillon, Mmes. des Houlières, Cornuel,
Aubry, and their respective husbands; the great literary men: Rotrou,
Scarron, Saint-Evremond, Malherbe, Racan, Chapelain, Voiture, Conrart,
Benserade, Pellisson, Segrais, Vaugelas, Ménage, Tallemant des Réaux,
Balzac, Mairet, Corneille, Bossuet, etc. In the entire period of the
French salon, no other such brilliant gathering of men and women of
social standing, princely blood, genuine intelligence, and literary
ability ever assembled from motives other than those of politics
or intrigue; here was a gathering purely social and for purposes of
mutual refinement. The nobility went through a process of polishing,
and the men of letters sharpened their intelligence and modified their
manners and customs.

Julie, Duchess of Montausier, and Angélique, daughters of Mme. de
Rambouillet, were popular, but the former lost much of her charm after
she sacrificed her independence of thought and action by becoming
governess of the children of the queen. Julie was the centre of
attraction for all perfumed rhymesters, all sighers in prose and
verse, who thronged about her. The stern and unbending Duke of
Montausier was so under her influence that in 1641 he arranged and
laid before her shrine the famous _guirlande_ which was illustrated by
Robert and to which nineteen authors contributed. After her marriage
to the duke, the Hôtel de Rambouillet may be said to have ceased to
exist, as madame, who was seventy years of age, had for a number
of years kept herself in the background, and Julie had become the
acknowledged leader.

With the outbreak of the Fronde, friends were separated by their
individual interests and the reunions at the salon were interrupted
from about 1650 to 1652. After the death of her husband, Mme. de
Rambouillet retired, to reside with her daughter, Mme. de Montausier;
after that, she seldom appeared in public. She hardly lived to see the
spirit of the salon changed to the real _préciosité_--the direction
and aim she gave to it being gradually abandoned.

In her salon, for nearly fifty years, no pedantry, no loose manners,
no questionable characters, no social or political intrigues, no
discourtesies of any kind, were recorded; hers was a reign of dignity
and grace, of purity of language, manners, and morals. She died in
1665, at the advanced age of seventy-seven, esteemed and mourned by
the entire social and intellectual world of France. Her influence
was incalculable; it was the first time in the history of France
that refined taste, intellectuality, and virtue had won importance,
influence, and power.

It must be remembered that in the first period of the salon there were
no blue-stockings, no pedants: these were later developments. It was,
primarily, a gathering which found pleasure in parties, excursions,
concerts, balls, fireworks, dramatic performances, living tableaux;
the last form of amusement very strongly influenced the development
of the art, for in the galleries there appeared a surprisingly large
number of portraits of the women of the day in character--sometimes as
a nymph, sometimes as a goddess.

The salon, in its first phase, showed and developed tolerance in
religion as well as in art and literature. It also encouraged progress
and displayed acute discrimination, keeping pace with the time in all
that was new and meritorious. It developed individual liberty, public
interest, criticism, good taste, and the elegant, clear, and precise
conversational language in which France has excelled up to the present

When about to build the Hôtel Pisani, Mme. de Rambouillet, having
no love for architects, planned its construction without their
assistance. She revolutionized the architecture of the time by
introducing large and high doors and windows and putting the stairway
to one side in order to secure a large suite of rooms. She was also
the first to decorate a room in other colors than red or tan. The
construction of her hôtel completely changed domestic architecture;
and it may be noted that when the Luxembourg was to be built,
the designers were instructed to examine, for ideas, the Hôtel de

Legouvé gives as the object and mission of Mme. de Rambouillet:
"to combat the sensualism of Rabelais, Villon, and Marot, to reform
society through love by reforming love through chastity; to place
women at the head of civilization, by beginning a crusade against vice
in the disguise of sentiment. The word 'fame' must, in the seventeenth
century, apply to both man and woman, meaning honor for the one and
purity for the other. Her ideal falls with the accession of Louis
XIV.; the dazzling luxury of royalty hardly conceals, under its
exterior elegance, the profound and deep-seated grossness of
Versailles and Marly."

To Mme. de Rambouillet, then, belongs the distinction of having
been the first to bring together men of letters and great lords on
a footing of social equality and for mutual benefit. Her salon
and friends continued in the seventeenth century what Marguerite
d'Angoulême had begun in the first part of the sixteenth--an
intellectual, social, and moral reform.

Many salons which were all more or less patterned after that of
Rambouillet sprang into existence. Among these the Academy of the
Vicomtesse d'Auchy, with Malherbe as president and tyrant, was of
little influence as far as women were concerned. The members were all
of second-rate importance, and Malherbe tolerated only the discussion
of his verses, while Mme. d'Auchy was better known for her splendid
neck than for any intellectuality. Every salon had a master of
ceremonies, who performed the rite of presentation; these men were
frequently abbés, and some of them, such as Du Buisson and Testu,
became famous.

Among the most noted of these salons was that of the celebrated
beauty, Ninon de Lenclos, she who called the _précieuses_ the
"Jansenists of love," an expression which became very popular. Her
salon was situated on the Rue des Tournelles. Ninon de Lenclos was a
woman of the most brilliant mind and exquisite taste, and it was at
her hôtel that Molière first read his _Tartuffe_ before Condé, La
Fontaine, Boileau, Lulli, Racine, and Chapelle, and it was there that
he received the principal ideas for his drama.

Ninon became famous for making staunch friends of her former lovers,
in which connection some interesting tales are told. She was the
mother of two children; upon the arrival of the first, a heated
discussion arose between Count d'Estrées and Abbé d'Effiat, both
claiming the honor of paternity. When the mother was consulted, she
made no attempt to conceal her amusement; finally, the rivals threw
dice for "father or not father."

The other child, whose father was the Marquis de Gersay, was the
victim of an unnatural passion for his mother with whom, when a young
man, he fell desperately in love, being ignorant of their relation.
While pleading his cause, he learned from her lips the secret, and, in
despair, blew out his brains, a tragedy which apparently had no effect
upon the mother. At one time, at the request of the clergy Ninon was
sent, for impiety, to the convent of the Benedictines at Lagny.

Among her friends she counted the greatest men and women of the day
and her salon was the foyer of _savoir-vivre_, of letters and art. At
the age of sixty she met the Great Condé, who dismounted to greet
her, something that he very seldom did, as he was not in the habit
of paying compliments to women. The saying: _Elle eut l'estime de
Lenclos_ [she had the esteem of Lenclos] became a popular manner of
expressing the fact that a certain woman was especially esteemed. Even
to the last (she died at the age of eighty-five), Ninon preserved
her grace, beauty, and intelligence. Colombey calls her _La mère
spirituelle de Voltaire_ [the spiritual mother of Voltaire].

The generality of women had their lovers; even the famous Mlle. de
Scudéry, in spite of her homeliness--she was a dark, large-boned,
and lean sort of old maid--had admirers galore; among the latter
was Pellisson who was said to be so ugly "that he really abused the
privilege--which man enjoys--of being homely."

The hôtel of the famous poet Scarron--Hôtel de
l'Impécuniosité--received almost all the frequenters of Ninon's salon.
At the former place there were no restrictions as to the manner of
enjoyment; after elevating and edifying conversation at the salon
of Ninon, the members would repair to that of Scarron for a feast of
_broutilles rabelaisiennes_ [Rabelaisian tidbits].

The salon of Mme. de Montbazon had its frequenters who, however, were
attracted mainly by her beauty; she was, to use the words of one of
her friends, "One of those beauties that delight the eye and provoke
a vigorous appetite." Her salon was one of suitors rather than of
intellectuality or harmless sociability.

The most famous of the men's salons was the Temple, constructed in
1667 by Jacques de Souvré and conducted from 1681 to 1720 by Phillipe
de Vendôme and his intendant, Abbé de Chaulieu. These reunions,
especially under the latter, were veritable midnight _convivia_; he
himself boasted of never having gone to bed one night in thirty years
without having been carried there dead drunk, a custom to which he
remained "faithful unto death." His boon companion was La Duchesse
de Bouillon. Most of his frequenters were jolly good persons, utterly
destitute of the sense of sufficiency in matters of carousing; the
better people declined his invitations.

After that of Mme. de Rambouillet, there were, in the seventeenth
century, but two great salons that exerted a lasting influence and
that were not saturated with the decadent _préciosité_. Of these
the salon of Mlle. de Scudéry has been called the salon of the
_bourgeoisie_, because the majority of its frequenters belonged to the
third estate, which was rapidly acquiring power and influence.

Mlle. de Scudéry, who was born in 1608 and lived through the whole
century, saw society develop, and therefore knew it better than did
any of her contemporaries. Having lost her parents early in life, her
uncle reared her and she received advantages such as fell to the lot
of few women of her condition; she was given an excellent education in
literature, art, and the languages.

Until the marriage of her brother, she was his constant and devoted
companion, exiling herself to Marseilles when he was appointed
governor of Notre Dame de La Garde, and returning to Paris with him
in 1647. She first collaborated with him in a literary production of
about eighty volumes. In their works, the brother furnished the rough
draft, the dramatic episodes, adventures, and the Romanesque part,
while she added the literary finish through charming character
sketches, conversation, sentimental analyses, and letters. With a
strong inclination toward society, and constantly fulfilling its
obligations, she would from day to day write up her conversations of
the evening before.

An interesting anecdote is told in connection with the travels and
coöperation of Mlle. de Scudéry and her brother; once, on the way to
Paris, while stopping over night at Lyons, they were discussing the
fate of one of their heroes, one proposing death and the other rescue,
one poison and the other a more cruel death; a gentleman from Auvergne
happened to overhear them and immediately notified the people of the
inn, thinking it was a question of assassinating the king; the brother
and sister were thrown into prison and only with great difficulty
were they able to explain matters the next morning. From this incident
Scribe drew the material for his drama, _L'Auberge ou les Brigands
sans le Savoir_.

At the Hôtel de Rambouillet where Mlle. de Scudéry was received early,
she won everyone by her modesty, simplicity, _esprit_, and lovable
disposition, and, in spite of her homeliness and poor figure, she
attracted many platonic lovers. She was one of the few brilliant
and famous women of the seventeenth century whose popularity was due
solely to admirable qualities of mind and soul. With her, friendship
became a cult, and it was in time of trouble that her friends received
the strongest proof of her affection. She preferred to incur disgrace
and the disfavor of Mazarin rather than forsake Condé and Madame de
Longueville; to them she dedicated the ten volumes, successively,
of her novel, _Cyrus_; the last volume was published after Mme. de
Longueville's retirement and partial disgrace.

After the brilliant society of the Hôtel de Rambouillet had been
broken up by the marriage of Julie and the operations of the Fronde,
and after her brother's marriage in 1654, Mlle. de Scudéry became
independent and established the custom of receiving her friends on
Saturday; these receptions became famous under the name of _Samedi_,
and besides the regular rather bourgeois gathering, the most brilliant
talent and highest nobility flocked to them, regardless of rank or
station, wealth or influence. Pellisson, the great master, the prince,
the Apollo of her Saturdays, was a man of wonderfully inventive
genius, and possessed in a higher degree than any of his
contemporaries the art of inventing surprises for the society that
lived on novelty. When, on account of his devotion to Fouquet, he
was imprisoned in the Bastille, Mlle. de Scudéry managed to persuade
Colbert to brighten his confinement by permitting him to see friends
and relatives. Part of every day she spent in his prison, conversing
and reading; and this is but one instance of her fidelity and

Mlle. de Scudéry, considering all men as aspirants for authority
who, when husbands, degenerate into tyrants, preferred to retain
her independence. Her ideas on love were very peculiar and were
innovations at the time: she wished to be loved, but her love must be
friendship--a pure, platonic love, in which her lover must be her all,
her confidant, the participator in her sorrows and her conversation;
and his happiness must be in her alone; he must, without feeling
passion, love her for herself, and she must have the same feeling
toward him. These sentiments are expressed in her novels, from which
the following extracts are taken:

"When friendship becomes love in the heart of a lover or when this
love is mingled with friendship without destroying it, there is
nothing so sweet as this kind of love; for as violent as it is, it is
always held somewhat more in check than is ordinary love; it is more
durable, more tender, more respectful, and even more ardent, although
it is not subject to so many tumultuous caprices as is that love which
arises without friendship. It can be said that love and friendship
flow together like two streams, the more celebrated of which obscures
the name of the other." ... "They agreed on even the conditions of
their love; for Phaon solemnly promised Sapho (Mlle. de Scudéry)--who
desired it thus--not to ask of her anything more than the possession
of her heart, and she, also, promised him to receive only him in hers.
They told each other all their thoughts, they understood them even
without confessing them. Peace, however, was not so completely
established that their affection could not become languishing or cool;
for, although they loved each other as much as one can love, they at
times complained of not being loved enough, and they had sufficient
little difficulties to always leave something new to wish for; but
they never had any troubles that were serious enough to essentially
disturb their repose."

Mlle. de Scudéry was mistress of the art of conversation, speaking
without affectation and equally well on all affairs, serious, light,
or gallant; she objected, however, to being called a _savante_, and
she was far from resembling the false _précieuses_ to whom she was
likened by her enemies. The occupations of her salon were somewhat
different from those of the salon of Mme. de Rambouillet. M. du Bled
describes them as follows:

"What they did in the salon of Mlle. de Scudéry you can guess readily:
they amused themselves as at Mme. de Rambouillet's, they joked quite
cheerfully, smiled and laughed, wrote farces in prose and
poetry. There were readings, _loteries d'esprit_, sonnet-enigmas,
_bouts-rimés_ (rhymes given to be formed into verse), _vers-échos_,
fine literary joustings, discussions between the casuists. This salon
had its talkers and speakers, those who tyrannized over the audience
and those who charmed it, those who shot off fireworks and those who
prepared them, those who had made a symphony of conversation and those
who made of it a monologue and had no flashes of silence. They did not
follow fashion there--they rather made it; in art and literature as
in toilets, smallness follows the fashion, pretension exaggerates it,
taste makes a compact with it."

A specimen of the _énigme-sonnets_ may be of interest, to show in what
intellectual playfulness and trivialities these wits indulged:

  "Souvent, quoique léger, je lasse qui me porte.
  Un mot de ma façon vaut un ample discours.
  J'ai sous Louis le Grand commencé d'avoir cours,
  Mince, long, plat, étroit, d'une étoffe peu forte.

  "Les doigts les moins savants me taillent de la sorte;
  Sous mille noms divers je parais tous les jours;
  Aux valets étourdis je suis d'un grand secours.
  Le Louvre ne voit point ma figure à sa porte.

  "Une grossière main vient la plupart du temps
  Me prendre de la main des plus honnêtes gens.
  Civil, officieux, je suis né pour la ville.

  "Dans le plus rude hiver j'ai le dos toujours nu:
  Et, quoique fort commode, à peine m'a-t-on vu,
  Qu'ausitôt négligé, je deviens inutile."

[Often, although light, I weary the person who carries me. A word in
my manner is worth a whole discourse. I began under Louis the Great to
be in vogue,--slight, long, flat, narrow, of a very slight material.

The most unskilled fingers cut me in their way; under a thousand
different forms I appear every day; I am a great aid to the astonished
valets. The Louvre does not see my face at its door.

A coarse hand most of the time receives me from the hand of the nicest
people. Civil, officious, I am born for the city.

In the coldest weather, my back is always bare; and, although quite
convenient, scarcely have they seen me, when I am neglected and
useless.--Visiting card.]

A more interesting one and one that caused no little amusement is the

  "Je suis niais et fin, honnête et malhonnête,
  Moins sincère à la cour qu'en un simple taudis.
  Je fais d'un air plaisant trembler les plus hardis,
  Le fort me laisse aller, le sage m'arrête.

  "A personne sans moi l'on ne fait jamais fête:
  J'embellis quelquefois, quelquefois, j'enlaidis.
  Je dédaigne tantôt, tantôt j'applaudis;
  Pour m'avoir en partage, il faut n'être pas bête.

  "Plus mon trône est petit, plus il a de beauté.
  Je l'agrandis pourtant d'un et d'autre côté,
  Faisant voir bien souvent des défauts dont on jase.

  "Je quitte mon éclat quand je suis sans témoins,
  Et je me puis vanter enfin d'être la chose
  Qui contente le plus et qui coûte le moins."

[I am both stupid and bright, honest and dishonest; less sincere at
court than in a simple hovel; with a pleasant air, I make the boldest
tremble, the strong let me pass, the wise stop me.

There is no joy to anyone without me; I embellish at times, at times I
distort; I disdain and I applaud; to share me, one must not be stupid.

The smaller my throne, the greater my beauty; I enlarge it, however,
on both sides, often showing defects which are made sport of.

I leave my brilliancy when I am without witness, and I can boast
of being the thing which contents the most and costs the least.--A

Critics often reproach Mlle. de Scudéry for having portrayed
herself--as Sapho--in a flattering light in her novel _Cyrus_; but it
must be remembered that at that time this was a common custom, women
of the highest quality indulging in such pastimes, there even being a
prominent salon where verbal portraiture was the sole occupation. No
one has written more or better on the condition of woman, for she,
above all, had the experience upon which to base her writings. The
idea of woman's education and aim, which was generally entertained by
the intelligent and modest women of the seventeenth century, is well
expressed by Mlle. de Scudéry in the following:

"The difficulty of knowing something with seemliness does not come to
a woman so much from what she knows as from what others do not know;
and it is, without doubt, singularity that makes it difficult to be as
others are not, without being exposed to blame. Seriously, is not the
ordinary idea of the education of women a peculiar one? They are not
to be coquettes nor gallants, and yet they are carefully taught all
that is peculiar to gallantry without being permitted to know anything
that can strengthen their virtue or occupy their minds. Don't imagine,
however, that I do not wish woman to be elegant, to dance or to sing;
but I should like to see as much care devoted to her mind as to her
body, and between being ignorant and _savante_ I should like to see
a road taken which would prevent annoyance from an impertinent
sufficiency or from a tiresome stupidity. I should like very much to
be able to say of anyone of my sex that she knows a hundred things of
which she does not boast, that she has a well-balanced mind, that she
speaks well, writes correctly, and knows the world; but I do not wish
it to be said of her that she is a _femme savante_. The best women of
the world when they are together in a large number rarely say anything
that is worth anything and are more ennuyé than if they were alone; on
the contrary, there is something that I cannot express, which makes it
possible for men to enliven and divert a company of ladies more than
the most amiable woman on earth could do."

Mlle. de Scudéry considered marriage a long slavery and preferred
virtuous celibacy enlivened by platonic gallantry. When youth and
adorers had passed away, she found consolation in interchanges of
wit, congenial conversation, and the cultivation of the mind by study.
Making of love a doctrine, a manual of morals or _savoir-vivre_, has
had a refining effect upon civilization; but the process has rendered
the emotion itself too subtle, select, narrow, enervating, and
exhausting; it has resulted in the production of splendid books
with heroes and heroines of the higher type, and has purified the
atmosphere of social life; this phase of its influence, however,
is felt by only a set of the élite, and its adherents are scattered
through every age and every country. Mlle. de Scudéry was a perfect
representative of that type, but healthy and normal rather than
morbidly æsthetic.

An opposition party soon arose, formed by those, especially, who
entertained different ideas of the sphere and duties of woman. Just
as the type of the salon of Mme. de Rambouillet degenerated among the
aristocracy into those of the Hôtel de Condé, Mme. de Sablé, and Mlle.
de Luxembourg, so the type of the salon of Mlle. de Scudéry gave rise
to a number of literary salons among the _bourgeoisie_. The aim of
the latter institutions was to imitate her example in endeavoring to
spread the taste for courtesy, elegant manners and the higher forms
of learning; all these aspirations, however, drifted into mere
affectation, while the requisites of welcome at the original salon
were simplicity, freedom from affectation, delicacy, amiability, and

As a writer, Mlle. de Scudéry occupies no mean position in the history
of French literature of the seventeenth century. Her descriptions
and anecdotes possess a wonderful charm and display unusual power of
analysis; in them, Victor Cousin recognizes a truly virile spirit. In
the history of the French novel, she forms a transition period, her
productions having both a psychological interest and a historical
value of a very high degree. Through her finesse and marvellous
feminine penetration, her truthful, delicate and fine portraitures,
which were widely imitated later, she has exerted an extensive

With Mlle. de Scudéry "we have substance, real character painting,
true psychological penetration, and realism in observation," while
previously the novel, under such men as Gomberville and La Calprenède,
was imaginative and full of fancy. Her talent, then, in that field,
lay in the analysis and development of sentiments, in delineation of
character, in the creation and reproduction of refined and ingenious
conversations, and in her reflections on subjects pertaining to
morality and literature--in all of which she displayed justness and
entire liberty and independence of thought. Her poetry, delicate
compliment or innocent gallantries, was a mere bagatelle of the salon.

Charming as well as accomplished, Mlle. de Scudéry was as intelligent,
witty, and intellectual a woman as could be found in the seventeenth
century; and in the history of that period she retains an undisputed
position as one of its great leaders of thought and progress. Her
salon, inasmuch as the salon of Mme. de Lambert was not opened until
1710, and therefore the discussion of it belongs properly to the
beginning of the eighteenth century, really closes the literary
progress of the seventeenth century.

The influence of the seventeenth century salon was of a threefold
nature--literary, moral, and social. According to the salon
conception, artistic, literary, or musical pleasure being derived
from form and mode of expression, it possessed a special and unique
interest in proportion to the efforts made and the difficulties
surmounted in attaining that form and expression: thus, woman
introduced a new standard of excellence.

_Préciosité_ treated language not as a work of art, but as a medium
for the display of individual linguistic dexterity; giving no thing
its proper name, it delighted in paraphrase, allusion, word play,
unexpected comparisons and abundance of metaphors, and revelled in
the elusive, delicate, subtle, and complex. Hence conversation turned
constantly to love and gallantry; thus woman developed to a wonderful
degree, unattainable to but few, the art of conversation, politeness
and courtesy of manners, and social relations, at the same time
purifying language and enriching it.

French women of the seventeenth century are condemned for having
treated serious things too lightly; and it is said that "in confining
the French mind to the observation of society and its attractions, she
has restricted and retarded a more realistic and larger activity."
In answer to this it may be asserted that the French mind was not
prepared for a broader field until it had passed through the process
of expurgating, refining, drilling, and disciplining. If _préciosité_
influenced politics, it was by developing diplomacy, for, from
the time that this spirit began to spread, French diplomacy became

The social influence of the movement may be better appreciated
by considering the condition of woman in earlier periods. Having
practically no position except that of housewife or mother, she was
merely a source of pleasure for man, for whom she had little or no
respect. The _précieuses_, on the contrary, exacted respect, honor,
and a place beside man, as rights that belonged to them.

As the outcome of their desire to think, feel, and act with greater
delicacy, women introduced propriety in expression, finesse in
analysis, keenness of _esprit_, psychological subtleness: qualities
that surely tended to higher standards of morality, purer social
relations, finer and more subtle diplomacy, more elegance and
precision in literature. Therefore, _préciosité_ in France had a
wholesome influence, which was possible because woman had won for
herself her rightful position, and her aspirations were toward social
and moral elevation.

In general, the women of France have always been conscious of their
duty, their importance, and their limitations, appreciating their
power and cultivating the characteristics that attract man and retain
his respect and attention: sociability, morality, _esprit_, artistic
appreciation, sensitiveness, tact. These qualities became manifest to
a remarkable degree in French women of the seventeenth century, and
created in every writer, great or unimportant, the desire to win their
favor. Thus, Corneille strove to write dramas with which he might
establish the reign of decency on a stage the liberties of which
had previously made the theatre inaccessible to woman; hence, his
characters of humanity (Cid) and politeness (Menteur).

The purpose of the French Academy itself was not different from that
of the _précieuses_. Richelieu, realizing that every great talent
accepted the discipline of these women, sought to use this power for
his own ends by interesting the world of letters in the accomplishment
of his plans for a general political unity. Thus, when the first
period of _préciosité_ had reached its highest point and was beginning
to decline, and other smaller and envious social groups were forming
about Paris and causing a conflict of ideas, Richelieu conceived
the scheme of joining all in a union, with strong ideals and with a
language as dignified as the Latin and the Greek. The result was the
formation of the French Academy. From this time begins the decline
of the authority of woman; for while she still exerted a powerful
influence, it was no longer absolute. After the decline of the Hôtel
de Rambouillet, feminine influence became more general, expending
itself in petty rivalries, gossip, intrigues, and partaking of the
nature of that court life which was filled by the young king with
parties, feasts, collations, walks, carousals, boating, concerts,
ballets, and masquerades--a mode of living that gave rise to a new
standard of politeness, which was freer and looser than that of

As the power of the young king became stronger, his favor became
the goal of all men of letters. Although woman still to some extent
controlled the destinies of those who were struggling for recognition
and reputation, her influence was of a secondary nature, that of the
king being supreme. Woman seemed to be overcoming the influence of
woman--Mme. de Montespan replaced Mlle. de La Vallière, and she was in
turn replaced by Mme. de Maintenon.

The degeneration of the king was accompanied by that of literature,
society, and morals. The characteristic inclination of the day was
eagerly to seek and grasp that which was new, and the noble, forceful,
and dignified style of language of the previous period was replaced
by one of much lighter description; many female writers directed their
efforts entirely toward amusing, pleasing, and gaining applause.

In the beginning of the eighteenth century, with Mme. de Lambert as
its leader, there was a renascence of the _préciosité_ of the Hôtel
de Rambouillet, women protesting against the prevalent grossness
and indecency of manners. The salon of Mme. de Lambert was the great
antechamber to the Academy, election to which was generally gained
through her. A new aristocracy was forming, a new society arose;
from about 1720 to 1750, libertinism and atheism, licentiousness and
intrigue, crept into the salons.

The new aristocracy was of doubtful and impure source, cynical in
manner, unbridled in habits, over-fastidious in taste, and politically
powerful. In this society woman began to be felt as a political force.
M. Brunetière said: "Mme. de Lambert made Academicians; the Marquise
de Prie made a queen of France; Mme. de Tencin made cardinals and
ambassadors." Montesquieu wrote: "There is not a person who has any
employment at the court in Paris or in the provinces, who has not
the influence (and sometimes the injustices which she can cause) of
a woman through whom all favors pass;" and M. Brunetière added: "This
woman is not his wife." The popular spirit in literature was one of
subtleness, irony, superficial observations on manners and customs.
From the beginning of the eighteenth century up to the eve of
the Revolution, woman's influence continued to increase, but that
influence was mainly in the direction of politics. Thus, in every
period in French history, a group of women effectively moulds French
thought and language, and directs intellectual activity in general.

After the death of Louis XIV., society passed under the rule of the
regent, the Duke of Orléans--the personification of gallantry and
affability, of depravity which was a mania, and of licentiousness
which was a disease. From this atmosphere the salon of Mme. de Lambert
became a refuge to those who still cherished the ideals of the good
old times of Mme. de Rambouillet; it was distinguished by its
refined sentiment and polished manners, which were like those of the
seventeenth century at its best.

Mme. de Lambert believed that the demands of the time were just the
opposite of those of the seventeenth century: "What a multitude of
tastes nowadays--the table, play, theatre! When money and luxury are
supreme, true honor loses its power. Persons seek only those houses
where shameful luxury reigns." In her own salon, none might enter who
were not of the small number of the elect.

Very little is known of the life of Mme. de Lambert. She was born in
1647, and, in spite of the unfavorable surroundings of her youth and
of a dissolute, extravagant, and unrefined mother, the observance of
decorum and honor became the actuating principle of her life. Until
her marriage (in 1666) to Henri de Lambert, Marquis de Bris en
Auxerrois, she was in the midst of the grossest licentiousness and
freedom of manners; when married, she entered a family the very
opposite of her own.

She was a woman who believed in the power of ambitious energy. To her
son she once said: "Nothing is less becoming to a young man than a
certain modesty that makes him believe that he is not capable of great
things. This modesty is a languor of the soul, which prevents it from
soaring and rapidly carrying itself to glory."

At first she lived in the Hôtel de Lambert (in the Ile Saint-Louis),
renowned for its splendidly sculptured decorations, painted ceilings,
panels, and staircases. Her famous Salon des Muses and Cabinet
d'Amours were filled with the finest works of art and the most
exquisite paintings. There the élite of all classes were entertained
until the death of her husband (1686), when the hôtel was closed; it
was not reopened until 1710.

Though left with immense wealth, her affairs were in a very
complicated state. While actively employed in untangling her
difficulties, she at the same time superintended the education of her
son and daughter. After long and trying lawsuits, she managed to put
her fortune in order and established herself at Paris, where the Duc
de Nevers ceded to her, for life, a large portion of the magnificently
furnished Palais Mazarin, now the National Library. On the completion
of her work in remodelling this palace and furnishing it with the most
costly and beautiful panel paintings by Watteau and other artists, she
inaugurated her Tuesday and Wednesday dinner parties.

One remarkable characteristic of her company was the age of her
intimate associates--the Marquis de Saint-Aulaire, Fontenelle, Mme.
Dacier, and her husband, Louis de Sacy, all of whom, as well as Mme.
de Lambert herself, had passed threescore and more; but they still
kept alive the cherished memories of the brilliant society of their
youth. Mme. de Lambert did not personally know Mme. de Rambouillet,
but she visited the latter's daughter, Julie d'Angennes, from whom
she learned the customs and etiquette in vogue at the Hôtel de

The Wednesday dinners of Mme. de Lambert were to her intimate friends,
while every Tuesday afternoon she received a general circle which
indulged in general conversation and read and discussed books which
were about to be published; gambling, which seemed to be the principal
means of entertaining in those days, had no place there. Fontenelle
says: "It was, with very few exceptions, the only house which had been
preserved from the epidemic of gambling--the only house where persons
congregated simply for the sake of talking sensibly and with _esprit_.
Those who had their reasons for considering it bad taste that
conversation was still carried on in any place, cast mean reflections,
whenever they could, against the house of Mme. de Lambert." In the
evening, she received only a few select friends with whom she talked
seriously. Her salon soon became the envy of those who were not
admitted (and they were numerous), and was the object of many
calumnies and attacks.

During this time she found leisure to write two treatises of practical
morality, _Avis d'une mère à son fils_, and _Avis d'une mère à sa
fille_, which appeared without her permission. The manuscripts, lent
to friends, fell into the hands of a publisher; and although the
authoress endeavored to prevent the distribution of the works by
buying up the entire editions, they were published outside of France.
The two works written to her children form an important contribution
to the educational literature of the time; in them the religion of the
eighteenth century is first defined.

"Above all these duties--civil and human (says the mother to her
son)--is the duty you owe to the Supreme Being. Religion is a commerce
established between God and man through the grace of God to man and
through the duty of man to God. Elevated souls have for their God
sentiments and a cult apart, which do not resemble at all those of the
people; everything issues from the heart and goes to God."

In these works, she attacked also the fad of free-thinking in vogue
among the young men of the time. She was one of the few women of that
age who could not separate themselves from reason and thought, even in
religion; the latter was a matter for the reason and the intellect to
decide, and was thus an elevated product of the mind rather than an
instinct coming from the heart, or a positive revelation as it was in
the seventeenth century. In this view, Madame de Lambert indicated the
beginning of the later eighteenth-century spirit.

Mme. de Lambert taught her children to be satisfied with nothing
but the highest attainable object. She advised her son to choose his
friends from among men above him, in order to accustom himself to
respectful and polite demeanor; "with his equals he might cultivate
negligence and his mind might become dull." She desired her children
to think differently from the people--"Those who think lowly and
commonly, and the court is filled with such." To their servants they
were to be good and kind, for humanity and Christianity make
all equal. She was the first to use those words, "humanity" and
"equality," which later became the bywords of everyone, and the first
to teach that conscience is the best guide. "Conscience is defined as
that interior sentiment of a delicate honor which assures you that you
have nothing with which to reproach yourself."

Possibly the most important and lasting effect of Mme. de Lambert's
influence resulted from the expression of her ideas on the education
of young women who "are destined to please, and are given lessons
only in methods of delighting and pleasing." She was convinced that in
order to resist temptation and be normal, women must be educated, must
learn to think. Her counsels to her daughter are remarkable for an
unusual insight into the temperament of her sex and for an extreme
fear that makes her call to her aid all precautions and resources. She
thus advises her daughter:

"Try to find resources within yourself--this is a revenue of certain
pleasures. Do not believe that your only virtue is modesty; there are
many women who know no other virtue, and who imagine that it relieves
them of all duties toward society; they believe they are right in
lacking all others and think themselves privileged to be proud and
slanderous with impunity. You must have a gentle modesty; a good
woman may have the advantages of a man's friendship without abandoning
honesty and faithfulness to her duties. Nothing is so difficult as to
please without the use of what seems like coquettishness. It is more
often by their defects than by their good qualities that women please
men; men seek to profit by the weaknesses of good and kind women,
for whose virtues they care nothing, and they prefer to be amused by
persons not very estimable than to be forced merely to admire virtuous

This is a most faithful description of the society of her time, and
it was because her treatises struck home that they were severely
criticised; but, nothing daunted, she carried out her plans in her own
way, resorting neither to intrigue nor artifice. Many of her sayings
became household maxims, such as--"It is not always faults that undo
us; it is the manner of conducting ourselves after having committed

Her reflections on women might be called the great plea, at the end
of the seventeenth century, for woman's right to use her reason. After
the severe and cruel satire of Molière, attacking women for their
innocent amusements, they gave themselves up entirely to pleasure.
"Mme. de Lambert now wrote to avenge her sex and demand for it the
honest and strong use of the mind; and this was done in the midst of
the wild orgies of the Regency."

Mme. de Lambert was not a rare beauty, but she possessed recompensing
charms. M. Colombey asserts that she became convinced of two things,
about which she became highly enthusiastic: first, that woman was more
reasonable than man; secondly, that M. Fontenelle, who presided over
or filled the functions of president of her salon, was always in the
right. He was indeed in harmony with the tone of the salon, being
considered the most polished, brilliant, and distinguished member of
the intellectual society of Paris, as well as one of the most talented
drawing room philosophers. He made the salon of Mme. de Lambert the
most sought for and celebrated, the most intellectual and moral of the

Mme. de Lambert has, possibly, exercised more influence upon men--and
especially upon the Forty Immortals of her time--than did any woman
before or after her. The Marquis d'Argenson states that "a person was
seldom received at the Academy unless first presented at her salon. It
is certain that she made at least half of our actual Academicians."

Her salon was called a _bureau d'esprit_, which was due to the fact
that it was about the only social gathering point where culture and
morality were the primary requisites. As she advanced in years, she
became even more influential. After her death in 1733, her salon
ceased to exist, but others, patterned after hers, soon sprang up; to
those, her friends attached themselves--Fontenelle frequented several,
Hénault became the leader of that of Mme. du Deffand.

The finest résumé that can be given of Mme. de Lambert, is found in
the letters of the Marquis d'Argenson: "Her works contain a complete
course in the most perfect morals for the use of the world and the
present time. Some affectation of the _préciosité_ is found; but, what
beautiful thoughts, what delicate sentiments! How well she speaks
of the duties of women, of friendship, of old age, of the difference
between actual character and reputation!"

The salon of Mme. de Lambert forms a period of transition from the
seventeenth century type in which elegance, politeness, courtesy, and
morality were the first requisites, to the eighteenth century salon in
which _esprit_ and wit were the essentials demanded. It retained the
dignity, discipline, refinement, and sentiments of morality of
the Hôtel de Rambouillet; it showed, also, the first signs of
pure intellectuality. The salons to follow, will exhibit decidedly
different characteristics.



The story of the wives and mistresses of Louis XIV., embraces that
which is most dramatic morally (or immorally dramatic) in the history
of French women. The record of the eighteenth century heroines is
essentially a tragic one, while that of those of the previous century
is essentially dramatic in its sadness, remorse, and repentance.

The mistress, as a rule, was unhappy; there were few months during the
period of her glory, in which she was entirely free from anxiety or in
which her conscience was at rest. Mme. de Montespan "was for so many
years the sick nurse of a soul worn out with pride, passion, and
glory." Mme. de Maintenon wrote to one of her friends: "Why cannot
I give you my experience? Why cannot I make you comprehend the ennui
which devours the great, and the troubles that fill their days? Do you
not see that I am dying of sadness, in a fortune the vastness of which
could not be easily imagined? I have been young and pretty; I have
enjoyed pleasures; I have spent years in intellectual intercourse;
I have attained favor; and I protest to you, my dear child, that
all such conditions leave a frightful void." She said, also, to her
brother, Count d'Aubigné: "I can hold out no longer; I would like
to be dead." It was she too, who, after her successes, made
her confession thus: "One atones heavily for the pleasures and
intoxications of youth. I find, in looking back at my life, that since
the age of twenty-two--which was the beginning of my fortune--I
have not had a moment free from sufferings which have constantly

M. Saint-Amand gives a description of the women of Louis XV. which
well applies to those of his predecessor: "These pretended mistresses,
who, in reality, are only slaves, seem to present themselves,
one after the other, like humble penitents who come to make their
apologies to history, and, like the primitive Christians, to reveal
publicly the miseries, vexations, and remorses of their souls. They
tell us to what their doleful successes amounted: even while their
triumphal chariot made its way through a crowd of flatterers, their
consciences hissed cruel accusations into their ears; like actresses
before a whimsical and variable public, they were always afraid that
the applause might change into an uproar, and it was with terror
underlying their apparent coolness that they continued to play their
sorry part.... If among these mistresses of the king there were a
single one who had enjoyed her shameful triumphs in peace, who had
called herself happy in the midst of her dearly bought luxury and
splendor, one might have concluded that, from a merely human point of
view, it is possible to find happiness in vice. But, no--there is not
even one!" Massillon, the great preacher of truth and morality,
said: "The worm of conscience is not dead; it is only benumbed. The
alienated reason presently returns, bringing with it bitter troubles,
gloomy thoughts, and cruel anxieties"--a true picture of every

The remarkable power and influence of these women, the love and
adoration accorded them, ceased with their death; the memory of them
did not survive overnight. When, during a terrible storm, the remains
of the glorious Mme. de Pompadour were being taken to Paris, the king,
seeing the funeral cortége from his window, remarked: "The Marquise
will not have fine weather for her journey."

Each one of these powerful mistresses represents a complete epoch of
society, morals, and customs. Mme. de Montespan--that woman whose
very look meant fortune or disfavor--with all her wit and wealth, her
magnificence and pomp and superb beauty--she, in all her splendor, is
a type of the triumphant France, haughty, dictatorial, scornful
and proud, licentious and decayed at the core. Voluptuousness and
haughtiness were replaced by religiosity and repentance in Mme. de
Maintenon, with her temperate character, consistency, and propriety.

The Regency was a period of scandal and wantonness, personified in the
Duchess of Berry. The licentious and extravagant, yet brilliant and
exquisite, frivolous but charming, intriguing and diplomatic, was
represented by the talented and politically influential Mme. de
Pompadour. Complete degeneracy, vice with all manner of disguise
thrown off, adultery of the lowest order, were personified in the
common Mme. du Barry, who might be classed with Louise of Savoy of
the sixteenth century, while Mme. de Pompadour might be compared with
Diana of Poitiers.

In this period the queens of France were of little importance, being
too timid and modest to assert their rights--a disposition which was
due sometimes to their restricted youth, spent in Catholic countries,
sometimes to a naturally unassuming and sensitive nature. To this rule
Maria Theresa, the wife of Louis XIV., was no exception. She inherited
her sweetness of disposition and her Christian character from her
mother, Isabella of France, the daughter of Henry IV. and Marie de'
Medici. She was pure and candid; a type of irreproachable piety and
goodness, of conjugal tenderness and maternal love; and recompensed
outraged morality for all the false pride, selfish ambition,
depravity, and scandals of court. She is conspicuous as a model wife,
one that loved her husband, her family, and her children.

Around Maria Theresa may be grouped the noble and virtuous women of
the court of Louis XIV., for she was to that age what Claude of France
was under Francis I., Elizabeth of Austria under Charles V., Louise de
Vaudemont under Henry III. However, in extolling these women, it
must be remembered that they had not, as queens, the opportunity to
participate in debauchery, licentiousness, and intrigue, as had the
mistresses of their husbands; they had no power, were not consulted on
state or social affairs, and had granted to them only those favors to
the conferring of which the mistresses did not object.

Maria Theresa was a perfect example of the self-sacrificing mother and
devoted wife. Her feelings toward the king are best expressed by the
Princesse Palatine: "She had such an affection for the king that she
tried to read in his eyes whatever would give him pleasure; providing
he looked kindly at her, she was happy all day." Mme. de Caylus
wrote: "That poor princess had such a dread of the king and such great
natural timidity that she dared neither to speak to him nor to run the
risk of a tête-à-tête with him. One day, I heard Mme. de Maintenon say
that the king having sent for the queen, the latter requested her to
go with her so that she might not appear alone in his presence: but
that she (Mme. de Maintenon) conducted her only to the door of the
room and there took the liberty of pushing her so as to make her
enter, and that she observed such a great trembling in her whole
person that her very hands shook with fright."

From about 1680, especially after the death of Mlle. de Fontanges, his
last mistress, Louis XIV. began to look with disfavor upon the women
of doubtful morality and to advance those who were noted for their
conjugal fidelity. He became more attentive to the queen--a change of
attitude which was due partly to the influence of Mme. de Maintenon
and partly to the fact that he was satiated with the excesses of his
debauches, by which his physical system had been almost wrecked. He
would not have dared to legitimatize his bastard children, had he not
been so thoroughly idolized by his greatest heroes and most powerful
ministers. As an illustration, it may be remarked that the Great Condé
proposed the marriage of his son to the king's daughter by Mlle. de La

The queen became so religious that she derived more enjoyment from
praying at the convents or visiting hospitals than from remaining
at her magnificent apartments. She waited upon the sick with her own
hands and carried food to them; she never meddled in political affairs
or took much interest in social functions.

Timidity, an instinctive shrinking from the slanders, calumnies,
and intrigues of the court, appeared to be the most pronounced
characteristic of queens who seemed to believe themselves too inferior
to their husbands to dare to offer any political counsel. While none
of them were superior intellectually, they possessed dignity, good
sense, and tact, "a reverential feeling for the sanctity of religion
and the majesty of the throne," an admirable resignation, a painful
docility and submission--qualities which might have been turned to
the advantage of their owners and the state, had the former been more

The infidelities of their husbands caused the queen-consorts constant
torture; they were forced to behold the kings' favorites becoming part
of their own households and were compelled to endure the presence,
as ladies in waiting, of those who, as their rivals, caused them to
suffer all possible torments of jealousy and outraged conjugal love.

First among the mistresses of Louis XIV. was Mlle. de La Vallière,
whom Sainte-Beuve mentions as the personification of the ideal of
a lover, combining disinterestedness, fidelity, unique and delicate
tenderness with a touching and sincere kindness. When, at the age of
seventeen, she was presented at court, the king immediately selected
her as one of his victims. Her beauty was so striking, of such an
exquisitely tender type, that no woman actually rivalled her as
queen of beauty. Distinguished by blond hair, dark blue eyes, a most
sympathetic voice, and a complexion of rare whiteness mingled
with red, she was guileless, animated, gentle, modest, graceful,
unaffected, and ingenuous; although slightly lame, she was, by
everyone, considered charming.

Mlle. de La Vallière was the mother of several children of whom Louis
XIV. was the father. On realizing that she had rivals in the favor
of the sovereign, she fled several times from the Tuileries to the
convent; on her second return, the king, about to go to battle,
recognized his daughter by her, whom he made a duchess. Remorse
overcame the mistress so deeply that she, for the third and final
time, left court. Especially on the rise to power of Mme. de Montespan
was she painfully humiliated, suffering the most intense pangs of
conscience. The evening before her final departure to the convent, she
dined with Mme. de Montespan, to drink "the cup to the dregs and
to enjoy the rejection of the world even to the last remains of its

Guizot describes this period most vividly: "When Mme. de Montespan
began to supplant her in the king's favor, the grief of Mlle. de La
Vallière was so great that she thought she would die of it. Then she
turned to God, penitent and in despair; twice she sought refuge in
a convent at Chaillot. On leaving, she sent word to the king: 'After
having lost the honor of your good graces I would have left the court
sooner, if I could have prevailed upon myself never to see you again;
but that weakness was so strong in me that hardly now am I capable
of sacrificing it to God. After having given you all my youth, the
remainder of my life is not too much for the care of my salvation.'"
The king still clung to her. "He sent M. Colbert to beg her earnestly
to come to Versailles that he might speak with her. M. Colbert
escorted her thither and the king conversed for an hour with her and
wept bitterly. Mme. de Montespan was there to meet her, with open arms
and tears in her eyes." "It is all incomprehensible," adds Mme. de
Sévigné; "some say that she will remain at Versailles and at court,
others that she will return to Chaillot; we shall see."

Mlle. de La Vallière remained three years at court, "half penitent,"
she said, humbly, detained by the king's express wish, in consequence
of the tempers and jealousies of Mme. de Montespan who felt herself
judged and condemned by her rival's repentance. Attempts were made to
turn Mlle. de La Vallière from her inclination for the Carmelites':
"Madame," said Mme. Scarron to her, one day, "here are you one
blaze of gold; have you really considered that, before long, at the
Carmelites' you will have to wear serge?" She, however, was not to
be dissuaded from her determination and was already practising, in
secret, the austerities of the convent. "God has laid in this heart
the foundation of great things," said Bossuet, who supported her in
her conflict; "the world puts great hindrances in her way, and God
great mercies; I have hopes that God will prevail; the uprightness of
her heart will carry everything before it."

"When I am in trouble at the Carmelites'," said Mlle. de La Vallière,
as for the last time she quitted the court, "I shall think of what
those people have made me suffer." "The world itself makes us sick of
the world," said Bossuet in the sermon which he preached on the day
she took the veil; "its attractions have enough of illusion, its
favors enough of inconstancy, its rebuffs enough of bitterness.
There is enough of bitterness, enough of injustice and perfidy in the
dealings of men, enough of inconsistency and capriciousness in their
intractable and contradictory humors--there is enough of it all, to
disgust us."

When, in 1675, she took the final vows, she cut off her beautiful hair
and devoted herself to the church and to charity, receiving the veil
from the queen, whose forgiveness she sought before entering the
convent. The king showed himself to be such a jealous lover, that when
Mlle. de La Vallière entirely abandoned him for God, he forgot her
absolutely, never going to the convent to see her.

She was by far the most interesting and pathetic of the three
mistresses of Louis XIV.; her heart was superior to that of either
of her successors, though her mind was inferior; she belonged to a
different atmosphere--such kindness, charity, penitence, resignation,
and absolute abandonment to God were rare among the conspicuous French
women. Sainte-Beuve says: "She loved for love, without haughtiness,
coquetry, arrogance, ambitious designs, self-interest, or vanity; she
suffered and sacrificed everything, humiliated herself to expiate her
wrong-doing, and finally surrendered herself to God, seeking in prayer
the treasures of energy and tenderness; through her heart, her mental
powers attained their complete development."

The fate of Mlle. de La Vallière was the same as that of nearly all
royal mistresses; abandoned and absolutely forgotten by her lover, she
sought refuge and consolation in religion and God's mercy. "She
was dead to me the day she entered the Carmelites'," said the king,
thirty-five years later, when the modest and fervent nun at last
expired, in 1710, without having ever relaxed the severities of her

Of an entirely different type from Mlle. de La Vallière was that
haughtiest and most supercilious of all French mistresses, Mme. de
Montespan. The picture drawn by M. Saint-Amand does her full justice:
"A haughty and opulent beauty, a forest of hair, flashing blue eyes, a
complexion of splendid carnation and dazzling whiteness, one of those
alluring and radiant countenances which shed brightness around them
wherever they appear, an incisive, caustic wit, an unquenchable thirst
for riches and pleasure, luxury and power, the manners of a goddess
audaciously usurping the place of Juno on Olympus, passion without
love, pride without true dignity, splendor without harmony--that was
Mme. de Montespan." And these qualities were the secret of her success
as well as of her fall.

From this description it can easily be divined of what nature was her
influence and how she gained and held her power over the king. She
won Louis XIV. entirely by her sensual charms, provoked him by her
imperious exactions, her ungovernable fits of temper, and her daring
sarcasm; always extravagant and unreasonable, she talked constantly of
balls and fêtes, the glories of court and its scandals. Most exacting,
yet never satisfied, she had no regard for the interests or honor of
the weak king, to whose lower nature only she appealed.

Mme. de Montespan was of noble birth, being the youngest daughter of
Rochechouart, first Duke of Mortemart. She was born in 1641, at the
grand old château of Tonnay-Charente, and was educated at the convent
of Sainte-Marie. Brought up religiously, she at first evinced a much
greater tendency toward religion than toward worldly ambition and
vanity. Mme. de Caylus, in her _Souvenirs_, wrote that "far from being
born depraved, the future favorite had a nature inherently disinclined
to gallantry and tending to virtue. She was flattered at being
mistress, not solely for her own pleasure, but on account of the
passion of the king; she believed that she could always make him
desire what she had resolved never to grant him. She was in despair at
her first pregnancy, consoled herself for the second one, and in all
the others carried impudence as far as it could go."

She was known first as Mlle. Tonnay-Charente, and was maid of honor
to the Duchess of Orléans. When, at the age of twenty-two, she married
the Marquis de Montespan and became lady in waiting to the queen, her
beauty, wit, and brilliant conversational powers at once made her the
centre of attraction; for several years, however, the king scarcely
noticed her. Upon secretly becoming his mistress in 1668 and openly
being declared as such two years later, her husband attempted to
interfere, and was unceremoniously banished to his estates; in 1676 he
was legally separated from her. She persuaded the king to legitimatize
their children, who were confided to Mme. Scarron,--afterward Mme. de
Maintenon,--who later influenced the king to abandon his mistress.

Mme. de Montespan's power, lasting fourteen years, was almost
unlimited, and was the epoch of courtiers intoxicated with passion
and consumed by vice, infatuated with the king and his mistress,
whose title as _maîtresse-en-titre_ was considered an official one,
conferring the same privileges and demanding the same ceremonies and
etiquette as did a high court position. The only opposition incurred
was from the clergy, who eventually, by uniting their forces with
the influence of Mme. de Maintenon, brought about the disgrace of the

When, in 1675, she desired to perform her Easter duties publicly at
Versailles, the priest refused to grant absolution until she should
discontinue her wanton, adulterous life. She appealed to the king, and
he referred the decision of the matter to Bossuet, who decided that
it was an imperative duty to deny absolution to public sinners of
notorious lives who refused to abandon them. This was immediately
before her legal separation from her husband.

Influenced by the preaching of men like Bourdaloue and Bossuet,
the king resolved to abandon his powerful mistress; in 1686 she was
finally separated from Louis XIV., but did not leave Versailles until
1691, when, becoming reconciled to her fate, she decided to retire
to a convent. Bossuet became her spiritual adviser, and described her
habits in the following letter to the king:

"I find Mme. de Montespan sufficiently tranquil. She occupies herself
greatly in good works. I see her much affected by the verities I
propose to her, which are the same I uttered to your majesty. To
her--as to you--I have offered the words by which God commands us
to yield our whole hearts to him; they have caused her to shed many
tears. May God establish these verities in the depths of the hearts of
both of you, in order that so many tears, so much suffering, so many
efforts as you have made to subdue yourselves, may not be in vain."

The king did not wholly abandon his mistress; from a material point of
view, she was more powerful than ever, for Louis XIV. gave orders
to his minister, Colbert, to do for Mme. de Montespan whatever she
wished, and her wishes caused a heavy drain upon the treasury. The
king continued to pay court to other favorites, such as the Princesse
de Soubèse and Mlle. de Fontanges; the latter was his third mistress,
but her career was of short duration, as one of the last acts of Mme.
de Montespan was, it is said, the poisoning of Mlle. de Fontanges;
this, however, is not generally accepted as true, although the
Princesse Palatine wrote the following which throws suspicion upon
the former favorite: "Mme. de Montespan was a fiend incarnate, but the
Fontanges was good and simple. The latter is dead--because, they say,
the former put poison in her milk. I do not know whether or not this
is true, but what I do know well is that two of the Fontanges's
people died, saying publicly that they had been poisoned." With the
increasing influence of Mme. de Maintenon, the king completely forgot
his former mistress.

Mme. de Montespan was possibly the most arrogant and despotic of all
French mistresses and she was, also, the most humiliated. She had
inspired no confidence, friendship, love, or respect in Louis XIV.,
who eventually looked with shame and remorse upon his relations with
her. It took her sixteen years to overcome her terrible passion and to
give up the court forever. Not until 1691 did she become reconciled
to departure from Versailles; thenceforth, penitence conquered immoral
desires. M. Saint-Amand says she not only "arrived at remorse, but
at macerations, fasts, and haircloths. She limited herself to the
coarsest underlinen and wore a belt and garters studded with iron
points. She came at last to give all she had to the poor;" she also
founded a hospital in which she nursed the sick.

While at the convent, she tried, in vain, to effect a reconciliation
with her husband; not until every avenue to a social life was cut
off from her, did she entirely surrender herself to charity and the
service of God. In her latest years, she was so tormented by the
horrors of death that she employed several women whose only occupation
was to watch with her at night. She died in 1707, forgotten by the
king and all her former associates; Louis XIV. formally prohibited
her children, the Duke of Maine, the Comte de Toulouse, the Comte
de Vexin, and Mlles. de Nantes, de Blois, and de Tours, from wearing
mourning for her.

A striking contrast to Mme. de Montespan in character, disposition,
morality, and birth was Mme. de Maintenon, one of the greatest and
most important women in French history. What is known of her is so
enveloped in calumny and falsehood and made so uncertain by dispute,
that to disentangle the actual facts is almost an impossibility,
despite the glowing tribute paid to her in the immense work published
recently by the Comte d'Haussonville and M. Gabriel Hanotaux.

It would seem that the more the history of Mme. de Maintenon is
studied, the more one is led away from a first impression--which
usually proves to be an erroneous one. Thus, M. Lavallée, in his
first work, _Histoire des Français_, wrote that she "was of the most
complete aridity of heart, narrow in the scope of her affections, and
meanly intriguing. She suggested fatal enterprises and inappropriate
appointments; she forced mediocre and servile persons upon the king;
she had, in fine, the major share in the errors and disasters of the
reign of Louis XIV." A few years later he wrote, in his _Histoire de
la maison royale de Saint-Cyr_: "Mme. de Maintenon gave Louis XIV.
none but salutary and disinterested counsels which were useful to
the state and instrumental in making less heavy the burdens of the

Opinion in general, especially French opinion, has been very bitter
toward her. History has even reproached her with having been a
usurper, a tyrant, and a selfish master. The great preacher, Fénelon,
wrote to her:

"They say you take too little part in affairs. Your mind is more
capable than you think. You are, perhaps, a little too distrustful
of yourself, or, rather, you are too much afraid to enter into
discussions contrary to the inclination you have for a tranquil and
meditative life."

Is this picture, left by Emile Chasles and accepted by M. Saint-Amand,
truthful? "This intelligent woman, far from being too much heeded,
was not enough so. There was in her a veritable love for the public
welfare, a true sorrow in the midst of our misfortunes. To-day, it is
necessary to retrench much from the grandeur of her worldly power and
add a great deal to that of her soul." M. Saint-Amand believes her
sincere when she wrote to Mme. des Ursins:

"In whatever way matters turn, I conjure you, madame, to regard me
as a person incapable of directing affairs, who heard them talked too
late to be skilful in them, and who hates them more than she ignores
them.... My interference in them is not desired and I do not desire
to interfere. They are not concealed from me, but I know nothing
consecutively and am often badly informed."

The opinions of her contemporaries are not always flattering, but
such are possibly due to envy and jealousy or to some purely personal
prejudice. Thus, when the Duchess of Orléans, the Princesse
Palatine, calls her "that nasty old thing, that wicked devil, that
shrivelled-up, filthy old Maintenon, that concubine of the king," and
casts upon her other gross aspersions that are unfit to be repeated,
one must remember that the calumniator was a German, the daughter of
the Elector Palatine Charles-Louis, a woman honest in her morals, but
shameless in her speech, who loved the beauties of nature more than
those of the palaces; more shocked at hypocrites than at religion or
irreligion, she took Mme. de Maintenon to be a type of the impostors
whom she detested. It was her son who became regent, and it was her
son who married one of the illegitimate daughters of Louis XIV.--an
alliance of which his mother had a horror.

The memoirs of Saint-Simon are interesting, but the odious picture
he has drawn of Mme. de Maintenon is hardly in accord with later
appreciations. M. Saint-Amand sums up the two classes of critics thus:

"The revolutionary school which likes to drag the memory of the great
king through the mire, naturally detests the eminent woman who was
that king's companion, his friend and consoler. Writers of this
school would like to make of her a type not only odious and fatal, but
ungraceful and unsympathetic, without radiance, charm or any sort of
fascination. She is too frequently called to mind under the aspect
of a worn old woman, stiff and severe, with tearless eyes and a
face without a smile. We forget that in her youth she was one of
the prettiest women of her time, that her beauty was wonderfully
preserved, and that in her old age she retained that superiority of
style and language, that distinction of manner and exquisite tact,
that gentle firmness of character, that charm and elevation of mind,
which, at every period of her life, gained her so much praise and so
many friends."

Mme. de Maintenon was born in prison. Her maiden name was Françoise
d'Aubigné. She was the granddaughter of Agrippa d'Aubigné, the
historian. Her father had planned to settle in the Carolinas, and
his correspondence with the English government, to that effect,
was treated as treason; he was thrown into prison, where his wife
voluntarily shared his fate and where the future Mme. de Maintenon
was born. After the death of her father, she was confided to her aunt,
Mme. de Villette, a Calvinist, who trained her in the principles of
Protestantism. Because of the refusal of her daughter to attend mass,
her mother put her in charge of the Countess of Neuillant who, with
great difficulty, converted Françoise back to Catholicism.

At the home of the Countess of Neuillant, she often met Scarron, the
comic poet--a paralytic and cripple--who offered her money with which
to pay for admission to a convent, a proposition which she refused;
subsequently, however, the countess sent her to the Ursulines to be
educated. When, after two years, she lost her mother and was thus left
without home, fortune, or future prospects, she consented, at the age
of seventeen, to marry the poet. Thus, born in a prison, without even
a dowry, harshly reared by a mother who was under few obligations
to life, more harshly treated in the convent, introduced as a poor
relation into the society of her aunt and to the friends of her
godmother, the Countess of Neuillant, she early learned to distrust
life and suspect man, and to restrain her ambitions.

Exceedingly beautiful, graceful, and witty, she soon won her way to
the brilliant and fashionable society of the crippled wit, buffoon,
and poet, who was coarse, profane, ungodly, and physically an
unsightly wreck. In this society, which the burlesque poet amused by
his inexhaustible wit and fancy, and his frank, Gallic gayety, she
showed an infinite amount of tact and soon made his salon the most
prominent social centre of Paris. There, Scarron, never tolerated a
stupid person, no matter of what blood or rank.

When asked what settlement he proposed to make upon his wife, he
replied: "Immortality." At another time, he remarked: "I shall not
make her commit any follies, but I shall teach her a great many." On
his deathbed he said: "My only regret is that I cannot leave anything
to my wife with whom I have every imaginable reason to be content." In
this free-and-easy salon, a young noble said, soon after the marriage
of Scarron: "If it were a question of taking liberties with the queen
or Mme. Scarron, I would not deliberate; I would sooner take them with
the queen."

The reputation made by the young Mme. Scarron gained her many
influential friends, especially among court people. At the death of
her husband, in 1660, to avoid trouble with his family, she renounced
the marriage dowry of twenty-four thousand livres. Her friends
procured her a pension of two thousand livres from the queen. Thus
freed from care, she lived according to her inclination, which tended
toward pleasing and doing good; taking good cheer and her services
voluntarily and unaffectedly to all families, she gradually made
herself a necessity among them--thus she laid the foundation of her
future greatness. She was received by the best families, grew in favor
everywhere, and even won over all her enemies. Modest, complaisant,
promptly and readily rendering a favor, prudent, practical and
virtuous, her one desire was to make friends, not so much for the
purpose of using them, but because she realized that a person in
humble circumstances cannot have too many friends.

Her portrait as a widow is admirably drawn by M. Saint-Amand: "Mme.
Scarron seeks esteem, not love. To please while remaining virtuous,
to endure, if need be, privations and even poverty, but to win
the reputation of a strong character, to deserve the sympathy and
approbation of honest persons--such is the direction of all her
efforts. Well dressed, though very simply; discreet and modest,
intelligent and _distingué_, with that patrician elegance which luxury
cannot create, but which is inborn and comes by nature only; pious,
with a sincere and gentle piety; less occupied with herself than with
others; talking well and--what is much rarer--knowing how to listen;
taking an interest in the joys and sorrows of her friends, and skilful
in amusing and consoling them--she is justly regarded as one of the
most amiable as well as one of the superior women in Paris. Economical
and simple in her tastes, she makes her accounts balance perfectly,
thanks to an annual pension of two thousand livres granted her by
Queen Anne of Austria."

When Mme. Scarron was about to leave Paris because of lack of funds
and the loss of her pension, after the death of Queen Anne, her friend
Mme. de Montespan, the king's mistress, interfered in her behalf and
had the pension renewed, thus inadvertently paving the way for her
own downfall. Three years later Mme. Scarron was established in an
isolated house near Paris, where she received the natural children
of Louis XIV. and Mme. de Montespan, as they arrived, in quick
succession, in 1669, 1670, 1672, 1673, and 1674. There, acting as
governess, she hid them from the world. This is the only blemish upon
the fair record of her life. It is maintained by her detractors that
a virtuous woman would not have undertaken the education of the
doubly adulterous children of Louis XIV. (thus, in a way, encouraging
adultery), and that she would have given up her charge upon the first
proposals of love.

However deep this stain may be considered, one must remember that
the standard of honor at the court of Louis XIV. did not encourage
delicacy in matters of love, and Mme. Scarron knew only the standard
of society; her morality was no more extraordinary than was her
intelligence, and it was to her credit that she preserved intact
her honor and her virtue. At first the king looked with much
dissatisfaction upon her appointment, not admiring the extreme gravity
and reserve of the young widow; however, the unusual order of her
talents and wisdom soon attracted his attention, and her entrance at
court was speedily followed by quarrels between the mistress and Louis
XIV. In 1674 the king, wishing to acknowledge his recognition of
her merits, purchased the estate of Maintenon for her and made her
Marquise de Maintenon.

Her primary object became the gaining of the favor of Mme. de
Montespan; for this purpose she taught herself humility, while
toward the king she directed the forces of her dignity, reserve, and
intellectual attainments. Being the very opposite of the mistress who
won and retained him by sensuous charms (in which the king was fast
losing pleasure and satisfaction), she soon effected a change
by entertaining her master with the solid attainments of her
mind--religion, art, literature.

Mme. de Maintenon was always amiable and sympathetic, kind and
thoughtful, never irritating, crossing, or censuring the king;
wonderfully judicious, modest, self-possessed, and calm, she was
irreproachable in conduct and morals, tolerating no improper advances.
Although the characteristics and general deportment of Mme. de
Montespan were entirely different from those of Mme. de Maintenon, the
latter entertained true friendship for her benefactress, displaying
astonishing tact, shrewdness, and self-control.

If Mme. de Maintenon were not, at first, loved by the king, it was
because she appeared to him too ideal, sublime, spirituelle, too
severely sensible. Then came the turning point; at forty years of age
she was "a beautiful and stately woman with brilliant dark eyes, clear
complexion, beautiful white teeth, and graceful manners;" sedate,
self-possessed, and astonished at nothing, she had learned the art of
waiting, and studied the king--showing him those qualities he desired
to see.

Her aim became to take the king from his mistress and lead him back
to the queen. After gaining his confidence by her sincerity and
trustworthiness, and making herself indispensable to him, she
succeeded in bringing about the desired separation, through the medium
of the dauphiness, whom she won over to her cause. Thus, without
perfidy, hypocrisy, intrigue, or manoeuvring, by simply being herself,
she replaced the haughty and beautiful Mme. de Montespan.

When, after the queen's death, and after having lived about the king
for fifteen years, "she had succeeded in making the devotee take
precedence of the lover, when piety had overcome passion, when
religion had effected its change, then Louis the Great offered his
hand in marriage to her who had only veneration, gratitude, and
devotion for him, but no passion or love." Reasons of state demanded
the secrecy of the marriage; for had he raised her to the throne,
political complications would have arisen and disturbed his subsequent
career; Mme. de Maintenon fully appreciated the intricacies of the
situation, and was therefore content to remain what she was.

She came to the king when he was beginning to feel the effects of his
former mode of life; he needed fidelity and friendship, and he saw
these in her. His feelings for her are well described in the following
extract by M. Saint-Amand:

"To sum up: the king's sentiment for her was of the most complex
nature. There was in it a mingling of religion and of physical love, a
calculation of reason and an impulse of the heart, an aspiration after
the mild joys of family life and a romantic inclination--a sort of
compact between French good sense, subjugated by the wit, tact, and
wisdom of an eminent woman, and Spanish imagination allured by the
fancy of having extricated this elect woman from poverty in order to
make her almost a queen. Finally, it must be noted that Louis XIV.,
always religiously inclined, was convinced that Mme. de Maintenon
had been sent to him by Heaven for his salvation, and that the pious
counsels of this saintly woman, who knew how to render devotion so
agreeable and attractive, seemed to him to be so many inspirations
from on High."

It must not be inferred, however, that the feeling for Mme. de
Maintenon was purely ideal. "He was unwilling to remarry," says
the Abbé de Choisy, "because of tenderness for his people. He had,
already, three grandsons, and wisely judged that the princes of a
second marriage might, in course of time, cause civil wars. On the
other hand, he could not dispense with a wife and Mme. de Maintenon
pleased him greatly. Her gentle and scintillating wit promised him
an agreeable intercourse which would refresh him after the cares of
royalty. Her person was still engaging and her age prevented her from
having children."

As his wife, Mme. de Maintenon took more interest in the king and his
family than she did in the affairs of the kingdom. To be the wife of
the hearth and home, to educate the princes, to rear the young Duchess
of Bourgogne, granddaughter of Louis XIV., to calm and ease the old
age of the king and to distract and amuse him, became her sole objects
in life. Her power, thus directed, became almost unbounded; she was
the dispenser of favors and the real ruler, sitting in the cabinet
of the king; and her counsels were so wise that they soon became

At court, she opposed all foolish extravagance, such as the endless
fêtes and amusements of all kinds which had become so popular
under Mme. de Montespan--a procedure which caused her the greatest
difficulties and provoked revolts and quarrels in the royal family. By
her prudence, tact, wisdom, and the loyalty of her friendship, she won
and retained the respect and favor--if not the love--of everyone. Her
reputation was never tarnished by scandal. "When one reflects that
Louis XIV. was only forty-seven years old and in the prime of life
and Mme. de Montespan in the full blaze of her marvellous beauty,
that this woman of humble birth, in her youth a Protestant, poor, a
governess, the widow of a low, comic poet, should win so proud a man
as Louis XIV., seems incredible."

When one considers that throughout life her one aspiration was
an irreproachable conduct, that her manner of action was always
defensive, never offensive, that her chief aim was to restore the king
to the queen (who died in her arms) and not to replace his mistress,
one cannot withhold admiration and esteem from this truly great woman
who accomplished all those honorable designs.

The obstacles to be conquered before reaching her goal were indeed
numerous, but she managed them all. There were so many persons hostile
to her,--mistresses and intriguers, bishops and priests, courtesans
and valets, princes and members of the royal family,--to overcome whom
she had to be on her guard, make use of every opportunity, show a
rare knowledge of society and court, a profound skill and address,
resolution and will; and she was equal to all occasions.

Her greatest defect was the narrowness of her religious views.
Entirely in the hands of her spiritual advisers, obeying them
faithfully and blindly, she was not inclined to theological
investigation, but was sincerely devout. More interested in the
various persons than in doctrines, she showed a passion for making
bishops, abbots, and priests, as well as for negotiating compromises,
reconciling _amours propres_ and doing away with all religious hatred.
Lacking, above all else, clearness of conception, promptness and
firmness of decision, she was finally persuaded to encourage the
bigotry of Louis XIV. and his intolerance toward those who differed
from him. Hence, in 1685, she permitted that fearfully destructive
persecution of the Protestants, which caused over three hundred
thousand of France's most solid people to leave the country; and by
her fanaticism and false zeal, she caused the king to be a party to
that awful catastrophe.

"This one act of hers counterbalances nearly all her virtues, and we
remember her more as the murderess of thousands of innocents than as
the calm and virtuous governess. But we must remember the nature of
her advisers and the eternal policy of the Catholic Church, which
are ever identical with absolutism. To uphold the institutions and
opinions already established, was the one sentiment of the age;
innovation, progress, were destructive--Mme. de Maintenon became the
watchful guardian of royalty and the Church." Such is the verdict of
English opinion. M. Saint-Amand judges the affair differently:

"A woman as pious and reasonable as she was, animated always by the
noblest intentions, loving her country and always showing sympathy for
the poor people--not merely in words but in deeds as well--detesting
war and loving justice and peace, always moderate and irreproachable
in her conduct--such a woman cannot be the mischievous, crafty,
malicious, and vindictive bigot imagined by many writers; she did not
encourage such an act, nor would her nature permit to do so.... The
prayer she uttered every morning, best portrays the woman and her
rôle: 'Lord, grant me to gladden the king, to console him, to sadden
him when it must be for Thy glory. Cause me to hide from him nothing
which he ought to know through me, and which no one else would have
courage to tell him.' ... To Madame de Glapion she said: 'I would like
to die before the king; I would go to God; I would cast myself at the
foot of His throne; I would offer Him the desires of a soul that
He would have purified; I would pray Him to grant the king greater
enlightenment, more love for his people, more knowledge of the state
of the provinces, more aversion for the perfidy of the countries, more
horror of the ways in which his authority is abused: and God would
hear my prayers.'"

This pious woman was weary of life before her marriage, and but
changed the nature of her misery upon reaching the highest goal open
to a woman. Marly, Versailles, Fontainebleau were only different names
for the same servitude. When she had attained her desire, she thought
her repose assured; instead, her ennui, her disgust of life and
the world, only increased; realizing this, she began to direct her
thoughts entirely toward God and her aspirations toward things not
of this earth--hence the almost complete absence of her influence in

She was never happy, and that her life was a disappointment to her may
be gathered from the following words from her pen: "Flee from men as
from your mortal enemies; never be alone with them. Take no pleasure
in hearing that you are pretty, amiable, that you have a fine voice.
The world is a malicious deceiver which never means what it says; and
the majority of men who say such things to young girls, do it hoping
to find some means of ruining them."

Her most intense desire seemed to be to please, and be esteemed--to
receive the _honneur du monde_, which appeared to be her sole motive
for living. When in power, she did not use her influence as the
intriguing women of the epoch would have done, because she did
not possess their qualities--taste, breadth of vision, and selfish
ambitions. Her objects in life were the reform of a wicked court,
the extirpation of heresy, the elevation of men of genius, and the
improvement of the society and religion of France. After the death of
the king (in 1715), she retired to Saint-Cyr, and spent the remainder
of her life in acts of charity and devotional exercises.

After the king's death she dismissed all her servants and disposed of
her carriages as well, "unable to reconcile herself to feeding horses
while so many young girls were in need," as she said. For almost four
years she peacefully and happily lived in a very modest apartment. She
seldom went out and then only to the village to visit the sick and the
poor. On June 10, 1717, when she was eighty-one years old, Peter the
Great went to Saint-Cyr for the purpose of seeing and talking to
the greatest woman of France. He found her confined to her bed; the
chamber being but dimly lighted, he thrust aside the curtain in order
to examine the features of the woman who had ruled the destinies of
France for so many years. The Czar talked to her for some time, and
when he asked Madame de Maintenon from what she was suffering, she
replied: "From great old age." She died on August 15, 1719, and was
buried in the choir of the church of Saint-Cyr, where a modest slab of
marble indicated the spot where her body reposed until, in 1794, when
the church was being transformed into hospital wards, "the workmen
opened the vault, and took out the body and dragged it into the court
with dreadful yells and threw it, stripped and mutilated, into a hole
in the cemetery."

The greatest work of Mme. de Maintenon was the founding of the
Seminary of Saint-Cyr, which the king granted to her about the time
of their marriage and of his illness; it was probably intended as the
penance of a sick man who wished to make reparation for the wrongs
inflicted upon some of the young girls of the nobility, and as a
wedding gift to Mme. de Maintenon. There, aided by nuns, she cared
for and educated two hundred and fifty pupils, dowerless daughters of
impoverished nobles. It was "the veritable offspring of her who was
never a daughter, a wife, nor a mother." There she was happy and
content; there she recalled her own youth when she was poor and
forsaken; there she found respite from the turmoils and agitations of
Versailles; there she was supreme; there she governed absolutely and
was truly loved.

For thirty years she was queen at Saint-Cyr, visiting it every other
day and teaching the young girls for whom it was a protection against
the world. Since childhood, she had been so accustomed to serve
herself, to wait upon others and to care for the smallest details of
the management of the household, that she introduced this spirit into
society and at Saint-Cyr, where she managed every detail, from the
linen to the provisions; this showed a reasonable and well-balanced
mind, but not any high order of intelligence.

Of the young girls in her charge, she desired to make model women,
characterized by simplicity and piety; they were to be free from
morbid curiosity of mind, were to practise absolute self-denial and
to devote their lives to a practical labor. Her advice was: "Be
reasonable or you will be unhappy; if you are haughty, you will be
reminded of your misery, but if you are humble, people will recall
your birth.... Commence by making yourself loved, without which you
will never succeed. Is it not true that, had you not loved me or had
you had an aversion for me, you would not have accepted, with such
good grace, the counsels that I have given you? This is absolutely
certain--the most beautiful things when taught by persons who
displease us, do not impress but rather harden us."

A counsel that strikes home forcibly to-day, one which strongly
attacks the modern fad of neglecting home for church, is expressed
well in one of her letters: "Your piety will not be right if, when
married, you abandon your husband, your children and your servants, to
go to the churches at times when you are not obliged to go there. When
a young girl says that a woman would do better properly to raise
her children and instruct her servants, than to spend her morning in
church, one can accommodate one's self to such religion, which she
will cause to be loved and respected."

At the hour of leisure, she gave the girls those familiar talks which
were anticipated by them with so much pleasure, and extracts from
which are still cherished by the young women of France. She believed
that the aim of instruction for young girls should be to educate them
to be Christian women with well-balanced and logical minds. With her
varied experience of the ups and downs of life, she gradually came to
the conclusion that, after all, there is nothing in the world so good
as sound common sense, but one that is not enamored of itself, which
obeys established laws and knows its own limits. Her sex is intended
to obey, thus her reason was a Christian reason.

"You can be truly reasonable only in proportion as you are subservient
to God.... Never tell children fantastic stories, nor permit them to
believe them; give them things for what they are worth. Never tell
them stories of which, when they grow to independent reasoning, you
must disillusion them. You must talk to a girl of seven as seriously
and with as much reason as to a young lady of twenty. You must take
part in the pleasures of children, but never accommodate them with a
childish language or with foolish or puerile ways. You can never be
too reasonable or too sane. Religion, reason, and truth are always

To appreciate the importance of Mme. de Maintenon's position and the
revolutionary effect which her attitude produced upon the customs of
the time, one must remember with what she had to contend. Hers was a
period of passion and adventure--a period which was followed by sorrow
and disaster. The novels of Mlle. de Scudéry, which were at the
height of their popularity, had over-refined the sentiments; the
_chevaleresque_ heroes and picturesque heroines turned the heads
of young girls, who dreamed of an ideal and perfect love; their one
longing was for the romantic--for the enchantments and delights
of life. In this stilted and amorous atmosphere, Mme. de Maintenon
preserved her poise and fought vigorously against the fads of the day.
The young girls under her care were taught to love just as they were
taught to do other things--with reason. Also, she guarded against the
weaknesses of nature and the flesh. "Than Mme. de Maintenon, no one
ever better knew the evils of the world without having fallen prey to
them," says Sainte-Beuve; "and no one ever satisfied and disgusted the
world more, while charming it at the same time."

Mme. de Maintenon's ideal methods of education were not immediately
effective; there were many periods of hardship, apprehension, and
doubt. Thus, when Racine's _Esther_ (written at the request of Mme. de
Maintenon, to be presented by the pupils at Saint-Cyr) was performed,
there sprang up a taste for poetry, writing, and literature of all
kinds. The acting turned the girls' thoughts into other channels and
threatened to counteract the teachings of simplicity and reason; no
one ever showed more genuine good sense, wholesomeness of mind, and
breadth of view, than were displayed by Mme. de Maintenon in dealing
with these disheartening drawbacks.

In endeavoring to impress upon those young minds the correct use of
language and the proper style of writing, she wrote for them models
of letters which showed simplicity, precision, truth, facility, and
wonderful clearness; and these were imitated by them in their replies
to her.

She wished, above all, to make them realize that her experience
with that social and court life, for which they longed, was one of
disappointment: that was a world apart, in which amusing and being
amused was the one occupation. She had passed wearily through that
period of life, and sought repose, truth, tranquillity, and religious
resignation; to make those young spirits feel the fallacy of such
a mode of existence was her earnest desire, and her efforts in that
direction were characterized by a zeal, energy, and persistence
which were productive of wonderful results. That was one phase of her
greatness and influence.

But Mme. de Maintenon was somewhat too severe, too narrow, too
strict,--one might say, too ascetic,--in her teaching. There was
too little of that which, in this world, cheers, invigorates, and
enlivens. Her instruction was all reason, without relieving features;
it lacked what Sainte-Beuve calls the _don des larmes_ (gift of
tears). Hers was a noble, just, courageous, and delicate judgment; but
it was without the softening qualities of the truly feminine, which
calls for tears and affection, tenderness and sympathy.

She remains in educational affairs the greatest woman of the
seventeenth century, if not of all her countrywomen. M. Faguet says:
"This widow of Scarron, who was nearly Queen of France, was born
minister of public instruction." She powerfully upheld the cause of
morality, was a liberal patroness of education and learning, and all
aspiring geniuses were encouraged and financially aided by her. It was
she who impressed upon Louis XIV. the truth of the existence of a God
to whom he was accountable for his acts--a teaching which contributed
no little to the general purification of morals at court.

The writings of Mme. de Maintenon occupy a very high place in the
history of French literature; in fact, her letters have often been
compared with those of Mme. de Sévigné, although, unlike the latter,
she never wrote merely to please, but to instruct, to convert, and to
console. In her works there was no pretension to literary style; they
were sermons on morals, characterized by discretion and simplicity,
dignity and persuasiveness, seriousness and earnestness; Napoleon
placed her letters above those of Mme. de Sévigné. M. Saint-Amand
says of her writings: "More reflection than vivacity, more wisdom
than passion, more gravity than charm, more authority than grace,
more solidity than brilliancy--such are the characteristics of a
correspondence which might justify the expression, the style is the

He gives, also, the following discriminating comparison between the
two writers: "Enjoyment, Gallic animation, good-tempered gayety,
fall to the lot of Mme. de Sévigné; what marks Mme. de Maintenon is
experience, reason, profundity. The one laughs from ear to ear--the
other barely smiles. The one has pleasant illusions about everything,
admiration which borders on _naïveté_, ecstasies when in the presence
of the royal sun: the other never permits herself to be fascinated by
either the king or the court, by men, women, or things. She has seen
human grandeur too close at hand not to understand its nothingness,
and her conclusions bear the imprint of a profound sadness. At times
Mme. de Sévigné, also, has attacks of melancholy, but the cloud
passes quickly and she is again in the sunshine. Gayety--frank,
communicative, radiant gayety--is the basis of the character of this
woman who is more witty, seductive, and amusing than is any other.
Mme. de Sévigné shines by imagination--Mme. de Maintenon by judgment.
The one permits herself to be dazzled, intoxicated--the other always
preserves her indifference. The one exaggerates the splendors of
the court--the other sees them as they are. The one is more of a
woman--the other more of a saint."

Mme. de Maintenon may be called "a woman of fate," She was never
daughter, mother, or wife; as a child, she was not loved by her
mother, and her father was worthless; married to two men, both aged
beyond their years, she was, indeed, but an instrument of fate.
Truthful, candid, and discreet she was entirely free from all morbid
tendencies, and was modest and chaste from inclination as well as
from principle. Though outwardly cold, proud, and reserved, yet in
her deportment toward those who were fortunate enough to possess
her esteem, she was kind--even loving. While not intelligent to a
remarkable degree, she was prudent, circumspect, and shrewd, never
losing her self-control. When once interested, and convinced as to the
proper course, she displayed marvellous strength of will, sagacity,
and personal force. Beautiful and witty, she easily adapted herself
to any position in which she might be placed; though intolerant and
narrow in her religious views, she was otherwise gentle, charitable,
and unselfish. Therefore, it is evident that she possessed, to a
greater degree than did any other woman of her time, unusual as
well as desirable qualities--qualities that made her powerful and



The seventeenth century was, in French history, the greatest century
from the standpoint of literary perfection, the sixteenth century the
richest in naissant ideas, and the eighteenth the greatest in the way
of developing and formulating those ideas; and each century produced
great women who were in perfect harmony with and expressed the ideals
of each period of civilization.

It is not within the limits of reason to expect women to rival, in
literature, the great writers such as Corneille, Racine, Molière,
Bossuet, La Fontaine, Descartes, Pascal--most of whom were but little
influenced by femininity; there were those, however, among the sex,
who were conspicuous for elevation of thought, dignity in manner and
bearing, and brilliancy in conversation--attributes which they have
left to posterity in numberless exquisite and charming letters, in
interesting and invaluable memoirs, or in consummate psychological and
social portraitures incorporated into the form of novels. Among female
writers of letters, Mme. de Sévigné wears the laurel wreath; Mme. de
La Fayette, with Mlle. de Scudéry, is the representative of the novel;
Mme. Dacier was the great advocate of the more liberal education
of women; and the _Souvenirs_ of Mme. de Caylus made that authoress

The association of La Rochefoucauld, the Cardinal de Retz, the
Chevalier de Meré, Mme. de La Fayette, and Mme. de Sévigné, was
responsible for almost everything elevating and of interest produced
in the seventeenth century. Of that highly intellectual circle,
Mme. de Sévigné was the leading spirit by force of her extraordinary
faculty for making friends, her wonderful talent as a writer, her
originality and her charming disposition. She gave the tone to
letters; M. Faguet says that her epistles were all masterpieces of
amiable badinage, lively narration, maternal passion, true eloquence.
More than that, they are important sources of historical knowledge,
inasmuch as they contain much information concerning the politics of
the day, and furnish an excellent guide to the etiquette, fashions,
tastes, and literature of the writer's period.

Mme. de Sévigné was the most important figure of the time, being to
that third prodigiously intellectual epoch of France what Marguerite
de Navarre was to the sixteenth century, and the Hôtel de Rambouillet
to the beginning of the seventeenth century. She represented the
style, _esprit_, elegance, and _goût_ of this greatest of French
cultural periods. Her life may be considered as having had two
distinct phases--one connected with an unhappy marriage and the other
the period of a restless widowhood.

Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marchioness of Sévigné, was born at Paris,
in 1626; at the age of eighteen months she lost her father; at seven
years of age, her mother; at eight, her grandmother; at ten, her
grandfather on her mother's side; she was thus left with her paternal
grandmother, Mme. de Chantal, who had her carefully educated under
the best masters, such as Ménage and Chapelain (court favorites), from
whom she early imbibed a genuine taste for solid reading; from these
instructors she learned Spanish, Italian, and Latin.

In 1644, she was married to the Marquis Henri de Sévigné, who was
killed six years later in a duel, but who had, in the meantime,
succeeded in making a considerable gap in her immense fortune,
in spite of the precautions of her uncle, the Abbé of Coulanges.
Henceforward, her interests in life were centred in the education of
her two children; to them she wrote letters which have brought her
name down to posterity as, possibly, the greatest epistolary writer
that the history of literature has ever recorded.

Mme. de Sévigné was but nineteen years old when, after the marriage of
Julie d'Angennes, the frequenters of the Hôtel de Rambouillet began
to disperse, and she was in much demand by the successors of Mme. de
Rambouillet. While the women of the reign of Louis XIII.--Mmes.
de Hautefort, de Sablé, de Longueville, de Chevreuse, etc.--were
exceedingly talented talkers, they were poor writers: but in Mme.
de Sévigné, Mme. de La Fayette, and Mlle. de Scudéry both arts were
developed to the highest degree.

Mme. de Sévigné was on the best terms with every great writer of
her time--Pascal, Racine, La Fontaine, Bossuet, Bourdaloue, La
Rochefoucauld. She was a woman of such broad affections that numerous
friends and admirers were a necessary part of her existence. Of all
the eminent women of the seventeenth century, she had the greatest
number of lovers--suitors who frequently became her tormentors.
Ménage, her teacher, who threatened to leave her never to see her
again, was brought back to her by kind words, such as: "Farewell,
friend--of all my friends the best." The Abbé Marigny, that "delicate
epicurean, that improviser of fine triolets, ballads, vaudevilles,
that enemy of all sadness and sticklers for morality," charmed her, at
times, with sentimental ballads, such as the following:

  "Si l'amour est un doux servage,
  Si l'on ne peut trop estimer
  Les plaisirs ou l'amour engage,
  Qu'on est sot de ne pas aimer!

  "Mais si l'on se sent enflammer
  D'un feu dont l'ardeur est extrême,
  Et qu'on n'ose pas l'exprimer,
  Qu'on est sot alors que l'on aime!

  "Si dans la fleur de son bel âge,
  Une qui pourrait tout charmer,
  Vous donne son coeur en partage,
  Qu'on est sot de ne point aimer!

  "Mais s'il faut toujours s'alarmer,
  Craindre, rougir, devenir blême,
  Aussitôt qu'on s'entend nommer,
  Qu'on est sot alors que l'on aime!

  "Pour complaire au plus beau visage
  Qu'amour puisse jamais former,
  S'il ne faut rien qu'un doux langage,
  Qu'on est sot de ne pas aimer!

  "Mais quand on se voit consumer.
  Si la belle est toujours de même,
  Sans que rien la puisse animer,
  Qu'on est sot alors que l'on aime!


  "En amour si rien n'est amer,
  Qu'on est sot de ne pas aimer!
  Si tout l'est au degré suprême,
  Qu'on est sot alors que l'on aime!"

  [If love is a sweet bondage,
  If we cannot esteem too much
  The pleasures in which love engages,
  How foolish one is not to love!

  But if we feel ourselves inflamed
  With a passion whose ardor is extreme,
  And which we dare not express,
  How foolish we are, then, to love!

  If in the flower of her youth
  There is one who could charm all.
  And offers you her heart to share,
  How very foolish not to love!

  But if we must always be full of alarm--
  Fear, blush and become pallid,
  As soon as our name is spoken,
  How foolish to love!

  If to please the most beautiful countenance
  That love can ever form,
  Only a mellow language is necessary,
  How foolish not to love!

  But if we see ourselves wasting away,
  If the belle is always the same
  And cannot be animated,
  How very foolish to love!


  If in love, nothing is bitter,
  How dreadfully foolish not to love!
  If everything is so to the highest degree,
  How awfully foolish to love!]

Tréville went so far as to say that the figure of Mme. de Sévigné was
beautiful enough to set the world afire. M. du Bled divides her lovers
into three classes: the first was composed of her literary friends;
the second, of those enamored, impassioned suitors, loving her from
good motives or from the opposite, who strove to compensate her for
the unfaithfulness of her husband while alive and for the ennui of her
widowhood; the third class was composed of her Parisian friends, of
whom she had hosts, court habitués who were leaders of society.

Representatives of the second class were the Prince de Conti, the
great Turenne, various counts and marquises, and Bussy-Rabutin, who
was a type of the sensual lover and the more dangerous on account of
the privileges he enjoyed because of his close relationship to Mme. de
Sévigné. His portrait of her is interesting: "I must tell you, madame,
that I do not think there is a person in the world so generally
esteemed as you are. You are the delight of humankind; antiquity
would have erected altars to you, and you would certainly have been a
goddess of something. In our century, when we are not so lavish with
incense, and especially for living merit, we are contented to say that
there is not a woman of your age more virtuous and more amiable than
are you. I know princes of the blood, foreign princes, great lords
with princely manners, great captains, gentlemen, ministers of state,
who would be off and away for you, if you would permit them. Can you
ask any more?"

Such eulogies came not only from men like the perfidious and cruel
cousin, but from her friends everywhere. The finest of these is
the one by her friend Mme. de La Fayette, contained in one of the
epistolary portraits so much in vogue at that time, and which were
turned out, _par excellence_, in the salon of Mlle. de Luxembourg:
"Know, madame,--if by chance you do not already know it,--that your
mind adorns and embellishes your person so well that there is not
another one on earth so charming as you when you are animated in a
conversation in which all constraint is banished. Your soul is great,
noble, ready to dispense with treasures, and incapable of lowering
itself to the care of amassing them. You are sensible to glory and
ambition, and to pleasures you are less so; yet you appear to be born
for the latter, and they made for you; your person augments pleasures,
and pleasures increase your beauty when they surround you. Joy is the
veritable state of your soul, and chagrin is more unlike to you than
to anyone. You are the most civil and obliging person that ever lived,
and by a free and calm air--which is in all your actions--the simplest
compliments of seemliness appear, in your mouth, as protestations of

The originality which gained Mme. de Sévigné so many friends lay
principally in her force, wealth of resource, intensity, sincerity,
and frankness. M. Scherer said she possessed "surprises for us,
infinite energy, inexhaustible variety--everything that eternally
revives interest."

The interest of the modern world in this remarkable woman is centred
mainly in her letters. Guizot says: "Mme. de Sévigné is a friend whom
we read over and over again, whose emotions we share, to whom we go
for an hour's distraction and delightful chat; we have no desire to
chat with Mme. de Grignan (her daughter)--we gladly leave her to her
mother's exclusive affection, feeling infinitely obliged to her for
having existed, inasmuch as her mother wrote letters to her. Mme.
de Sévigné's letters to her daughter are superior to all her other
epistles, charming as they all are; when she writes to M. Pomponne, to
M. de Coulanges, to M. de Bussy, the style is less familiar, the heart
less open, the soul less stirred; she writes to her daughter as she
would speak to her--it is not a letter, it is an animated and charming
conversation, touching upon everything, embellishing everything with
an inimitable grace."

She had married her daughter to the Comte de Grignan, a man of
forty, twice married, and with children, homely, but wealthy and
aristocratic; writing to her cousin, Bussy-Rabutin, concerning this
marriage, she said: "All these women (the count's former wives) died
expressly to make room for your cousin." By marrying her daughter
to such a man she encouraged all the questionable proprieties of the
time. Mme. de Sévigné's affection for that daughter amounted almost
to idolatry; it was to her that most of the mother's letters were
written, telling her of her health, what was being done at Vichy, and
about her business and for that child the authoress gave up her life
at Paris in order to economize and thereby to help Mme. de Grignan in
her extravagance, her son-in-law being an expert in spending money.

The intensity of her nature is well reflected in her letter upon the
separation from her daughter: "In vain I seek my darling daughter; I
can no longer find her, and every step she takes removes her farther
from me. I went to St. Mary's, still weeping and dying of grief; it
seemed as if my heart and my soul were being wrenched from me and, in
truth, what a cruel separation! I asked leave to be alone; I was taken
into Mme. du Housset's room, and they made me up a fire. Agnes sat
looking at me, without speaking--that was our bargain. I stayed there
till five o'clock, without ceasing to sob; all my thoughts were mortal
wounds to me. I wrote to M. de Grignan (you can imagine in what key).
Then I went to Mme. de La Fayette's, and she redoubled my griefs by
the interest she took in them; she was alone, ill, and distressed at
the death of one of the nuns; she was just as I should have desired,
I returned hither at eight; but oh, when I came in! can you conceive
what I felt as I mounted these stairs? That room into which I always
used to go, alas! I found the doors of it open, but I saw everything
upturned, disarranged, and your little daughter, who reminded me of
mine.... The wakenings of the night were dreadful. I think of you
continuously--it is what devotees call habitual thought, such as one
should have of God, if one did one's duty. Nothing gives me diversion;
I see that carriage which is forever going on and will never come
near me. I am forever on the highways; it seems as if I were sometimes
afraid that the carriage will upset with me; the rains there for the
last three days, drove me to despair. The Rhone causes me strange
alarm. I have a map before my eyes--I know all the places where you
sleep. This evening you are at Nevers; on Sunday you will be at
Lyons where you will receive this letter. I have received only two of
yours--perhaps the third will come; that is the only comfort I desire;
as for others, I seek none."

The letters of Mme. de Sévigné contain a great number of sayings
applicable to habits and conduct, and these have had their part
in shaping the customs and in depicting the time. To be modest and
moderate, friendly, and conciliatory, to be content with one's lot and
to bow to circumstances, to be sincere, to cultivate good sense and
good grace--these counsels have been and still are, according to
French opinion, the basis of French character: and Mme. de Sévigné's
own popularity and success attest their wisdom.

She had not the gift of seeing things vividly and reproducing them in
living form; her talent was a rarer one--it induced the reader to form
a mental picture of the scene described, so vivid as to be under the
illusion of being present in reality; and this is done with so much
grace, charm, happy ease and naturalness, that to read her letters
means to love the writer. What mother or friend would not fall a
willing victim to the charm of a woman who could write the following

"You ask me, my dear child, whether I continue to be really fond of
life; I confess to you that I find poignant sorrows in it, but I am
even more disgusted with death; I feel so wretched at having to end
all thereby, that, if I could turn back again, I would ask for nothing
better, I find myself under an obligation which perplexes me; I
embark upon life without my consent, and so must I go out of it; that
overwhelms me. And how shall I go? Which way? By what door? When will
it be? In what condition? Shall I suffer a thousand, thousand pains
which will make me die desperate? Shall I have brain fever? Shall I
die of an accident? How shall I be with God? What shall I have to show
Him? Shall fear, shall necessity bring me back to Him? Shall I have
sentiment except that of dread? What can I hope? Am I worthy of
heaven? Am I worthy of hell? Nothing is such madness as to leave one's
salvation in uncertainty, but nothing is so natural. The stupid life I
lead is the easiest thing in the world to understand; I bury myself
in these thoughts and I find death so terrible that I hate life more
because it leads me thereto, than because of the thorns with which
it is planted. You will say that I want to live forever, then; not at
all; but, if my opinion had been asked, I would have preferred to die
in my nurse's arms; that would have removed me from the vexations of
spirit and would have given me heaven full surely and easily."

Mme. de Sévigné never bored her readers with her own reflections. She
differed from her contemporaries, who seemed to be dead to nature's
beauty, in her striking descriptions of nature. A close observer, she
knew how to describe a landscape; animating and enlivening it, and
making it talk, she inspired the reader with love of it.

"I am going to be alone and I am very glad. Provided they do not take
away from me the charming country, the shore of the Allier, the woods,
streams, and meadows, the sheep and goats, the peasant girls who dance
the _bourrée_ in the fields, I consent to say adieu; the country alone
will cure me.... I have come here to end the beautiful days and to say
adieu to the foliage--it is still on the trees, it has only changed
color; instead of being green, it is golden, and of so many golden
tints that it makes a brocade of rich and magnificent gold, which we
are likely to find more beautiful than the green, if only it were not
for the changing part."

If the style of her letters did not make her the greatest prose writer
of her time, it certainly entitled her to rank as one of the most
original. The prose of the seventeenth century lacked "easy suppleness
in lively movement, and imagination in the expression"--two qualities
which Mme. de Sévigné possessed in a high degree. The slow and grave
development, the just and harmonious equilibrium, the amplitude, are
in her supplanted by a quick, alert, and free _saillie_; the detail
and marvellous exactness are enriched by color, abundance of imagery,
and metaphors. M. Faguet says she is to prose what La Fontaine is to

The literary style of Mme. de Sévigné is not learned, studied, nor
labored. In an epoch in which the language was already formed, she did
what Montaigne did a century before, when, we may almost assert, he
had to create the French language. Her most striking expressions are
her own--newly coined, not taken from the vocabulary in usage. Her
style cannot be duplicated, and for this reason she has few imitators.
Her letters show that they were improvised--her pen doing, alone, the
work over which she seemed to have no control when communicating with
her daughter; to the latter she said: "I write prose with a facility
that will kill you."

Mme. de Sévigné was possibly not a beautiful woman, but she was a
charming one; broad in the scope of her affections, she found the
making of friends no difficult task. M. Vallery-Radot leaves the
following picture of her: "A blonde, with exuberant health, a
transparent complexion, blue eyes, so frank, so limpid, a nose
somewhat square, a mouth ready to smile, shoulders that seem to lend
splendor to her pearl necklace. Her gayety and goodness are so in
evidence that there is about her a kind of atmosphere of good humor."

M. du Bled most admirably sums up her character and writings in the
following: "She is the person who most resembles her writings--that
is, those that are found; for alas! many (the most confidential, the
most interesting, I think) are lost forever: in them she is reflected
as she reflects French society in them. Endowed--morally and
physically--with a robust health, she is expansive, loyal, confiding,
impressionable, loving gayety in full abundance as much as she does
the smile of the refined, as eager for the prattle of the court as
for solid reading, smitten with nobiliary pride, a captive of the
prejudices, superstitions and tastes of her caste (or of even her
coterie), with her pen hardly tender for her neighbor--her daughter
and intimates excepted. A manager and a woman of imagination, a
Frondist at the bottom of her soul, and somewhat of a Jansenist--not
enough, however, not to cry out that Louis XIV. will obscure the glory
of his predecessors because he had just danced with her--faithful to
her friends (Retz, Fouquet, Pomponne) in disgrace and detesting their
persecutors, seeking the favor of court for her children. In the
salons, she is celebrated for her _esprit_--and this at an age when
one seldom thinks about reputation, when one is like the princess who
replied to a question on the state of her soul, 'At twenty one has
no soul;' and she possesses the qualities that are so essential to
style--natural _éclat_, originality of expression, grace, color,
amplitude without pomposity and abundance without prolixity; moreover,
she invents nothing, but, knowing how to observe and to express in
perfection everything she had seen and felt, she is a witness and
painter of her century: also, she loves nature--a sentiment very rare
in the seventeenth century."

Mme. de Sévigné was endowed with the best qualities of the French
race--good will and friendliness, which influence one to judge others
favorably and to desire their esteem; of a very impressionable nature,
she was gifted with a natural eloquence which enabled her to express
her various emotions in a light or gay vein which often bordered on
irony. Affectionate and appreciative and tender and kind to everyone
in general, toward those whom she loved she was generous to a fault
and unswerving in her fidelity.

Her last years were spent in the midst of her family. She died in
1696, of smallpox, thanking God that she was the first to go, after
having trembled for the life of her daughter, whom she had nursed back
to health after a long and dangerous illness. Her son-in-law, M. de
Grignan, wrote to her uncle, M. de Coulanges:

"What calls far more for our admiration than for our regret, is the
spectacle of a brave woman facing death--of which she had no doubt
from the first days of her illness--with astounding firmness and
submission. This person, so tender and so weak towards all whom she
loved, showed nothing but courage and piety when she believed that her
hour had come; and, impressed by the use she managed to make of that
good store in the last moments of her life, we could not but remark
of what utility and of what importance it is to have the mind stocked
with the good matter and holy reading for which Mme. de Sévigné had a
liking--not to say a wonderful hunger."

In order to give an idea of the place that Mme. de Sévigné holds in
the opinion of the average Frenchman, we quote the final words of M.

"To take a place among the greatest writers, without ever having
written a book or even having thought of writing one--this is what
seems impossible, and yet this is what happened to Mme. de Sévigné.
Her contemporaries knew her as a woman distinguished for her _esprit_,
frank, playful and sprightly humor, irreproachable conduct, loyalty to
her friends, and as an idolizer of her daughter; no one suspected that
she would partake of the glory of our classical authors--and she, less
than any one. She had immortalized herself, without wishing or knowing
it, by an intimate correspondence which is, to-day, universally
regarded as one of the most precious treasures and one of the most
original monuments to French literature. To deceive the _ennui_ of
absence, she wrote to her daughter all that she had in her heart and
that came to her mind--what she did, wished to do, saw and learned,
news of court, city, Brittany, army, everything--sadly or gayly,
according to the subject, always with the most keen, ardent, delicate,
and touching sentiments of tenderness and sympathy. She amuses,
instructs, interests, moves to tears or laughter. All that passes
within or before her, passes within and before us. If she depicts
an object, we see it; if she relates an event, we are present at its
occurrence; if she makes a character talk, we hear his words, see his
gestures, and distinguish his accent. All is true, real, living: this
is more than talent--it is enchantment. Generations pass away in turn;
a single one, or, rather, a group escapes the general oblivion--the
group of friends of Mme. de Sévigné."

A woman with characteristics the very opposite of those of Mme.
de Sévigné, but who in some respects resembled her, was Mme. de La
Fayette. Of her life, very little is to be said, except in regard to
her lasting friendship and attachment for La Rochefoucauld. She
was born in 1634, and, with Mme. de Sévigné, was probably the best
educated among the great women of the seventeenth century. She was
faithful to her husband, the Count of La Fayette, who, in 1665, took
her to Paris, where she formed her lifelong attachment for the great
La Rochefoucauld, and where she won immediate recognition for her
exquisite politeness and as a woman with a large fund of common sense.

After her marriage, she seemed to have but one interest--La
Rochefoucauld, just as that of Mme. de Maintenon was Louis XIV. and
that of Mme. de Sévigné--her daughter. These three prominent
women illustrate remarkably well that predominant trait of French
women--faithfulness to a chosen cause; each one of the three
was vitally concerned in an enduring, a legitimate, and sincere
attachment, which state of affairs gives a certain distinction to the
society of the time of Louis XIV.

Mme. de La Fayette, like Mme. de Sévigné, possessed an exceptional
talent for making and retaining friends. She kept aloof from
intrigues, in fact, knew nothing about them, and consequently never
schemed to use her favor at court for purposes of self-interest. Two
qualities belonged to her more than to any of her contemporaries--an
instinct which was superior to her reason, and a love of truth in all

Compared with those of Mme. de Rambouillet, it is said that her
attainments were of a more solid nature; and while Mlle. de Scudéry
had greater brilliancy, Mme. de La Fayette had better judgment.
These qualities combined with an exquisite delicacy, fine sentiment,
calmness, and depth of reason, the very basis of her nature, are
reflected in her works. Sainte-Beuve says that "her reason and
experience cool her passion and temper the ideal with the results of
observation." She was one of the very few women playing any rôle
in French history who were endowed with all things necessary to
happiness--fortune, reputation, talent, intimate and ideal
friendship. Extremely sensitive to surroundings, she readily received
impressions--a gift which was the source of a somewhat doubtful

In her later days, notwithstanding terrible suffering, she became more
devout and exhibited an admirable resignation. A letter to Ménage will
show the mental and physical state reached by her in her last days:
"Although you forbid me to write to you, I wish, nevertheless, to tell
you how truly affected I am by your friendship. I appreciate it as
much as when I used to see it; it is dear to me for its own worth, it
is dear to me because it is at present the only one I have. Time and
old age have taken all my friends away from me.... I must tell you the
state I am in. I am, first of all, a mortal divinity, and to an excess
inconceivable; I have obstructions in my entrails--sad, inexpressible
feelings; I have no spirit, no force--I cannot read or apply myself.
The slightest things affect me--a fly appears an elephant to me; that
is my ordinary state.... I cannot believe that I can live long in this
condition, and my life is too disagreeable to permit me to fear the
end. I surrender myself to the will of God; He is the All-Powerful,
and, from all sides, we must go to Him at last. They assure me that
you are thinking seriously of your salvation, and I am very happy over

There probably never existed a more ideal friendship between two
French women, one more lasting, sincere, perfect in every way, than
that of Mme. de Sévigné and Mme. de La Fayette. The major part of
the information we possess regarding events in the life of Mme. de La
Fayette is obtained from their letters. Said Mme. de Sévigné: "Never
did we have the smallest cloud upon our friendship. Long habit had not
made her merit stale to me--the flavor of it was always fresh and new.
I paid her many attentions, from the mere promptings of my affection,
not because of the propriety by which, in friendships, we are bound. I
was assured, too, that I was her dearest consolation--which, for forty
years past, had been the case."

Shortly before her death, she wrote to Mme. de Sévigné: "Here is what
I have done since I wrote you last. I have had two attacks of fever;
for six months I had not been purged; I am purged once, I am purged
twice; the day after the second time, I sit down at the table; oh,
dear! I feel a pain in my heart--I do not want any soup. Have a little
meat, then? No, I do not wish any. Well, you will have some fruit? I
think I will. Very well, then, have some. I don't know--I think I
will have some by and by. Let me have some soup and some chicken
this evening.... Here is the evening, and there are the soup and the
chicken; I don't desire them. I am nauseated, I will go to bed--I
prefer sleeping to eating. I go to bed, I turn round, I turn back,
I have no pain, but I have no sleep either. I call--I take a book--I
close it. Day comes--I get up--I go to the window. It strikes four,
five, six--I go to bed again, I doze until seven, I get up at eight,
I sit down to table at twelve--to no purpose, as yesterday.... I lay
myself down in my bed, in the evening, to no purpose, as the night
before. Are you ill? Nay, I am in this state for three days and three
nights. At present, I am getting some sleep again, but I still eat
mechanically, horsewise--rubbing my mouth with vinegar. Otherwise, I
am very well, and I haven't so much as a pain in my head."

Her depressing melancholy kept her indoors a great deal; in fact,
after 1683, after the death of the queen, who was one of her best
friends, she was seldom seen at court. Mme. de Sévigné gives good
reason for this in her letter:

"She had a mortal melancholy. Again, what absurdity! is she not the
most fortunate woman in the world? That is what people said; it needed
that she should die to prove that she had good reason for not going
out and for being melancholy. Her reins and her heart were all
gone--was not that enough to cause those fits of despondency of which
she complained? And so, during her life she showed reason, and after
death she showed reason, and never was she without that divine reason
which was her principal gift."

Her liaison with La Rochefoucauld is the one delicate and tender point
in her life, a relation that afforded her much happiness and finally
completed the ruin of her health. M. d'Haussonville said: "It is true
that he took possession of her soul and intellect, little by little,
so that the two beings, in the eyes of their contemporaries, were
but one; for after his death (1680) she lived but an incomplete and
mutilated existence."

Some critics have ventured to pronounce this liaison one of material
love solely, others are convinced of its morality and pure friendship.
In favor of the latter view, M. d'Haussonville suggests the fact
that Mme. de La Fayette was over thirty years of age when she became
interested in La Rochefoucauld, and that at that age women rarely ally
themselves with men from emotions of physical love merely. At that age
it is reason that mutually attracts two beings; and this feeling was
probably the predominant one in that case, because her entire career
was one of the most extreme reserve, conservatism, good sense, and
propriety. However, other proofs are brought forward to show that
there was between the two a sort of moral marriage, so many examples
of which are found in the seventeenth century between people
of prominence, both of whom happened to have unhappy conjugal

French society, one must remember, was different from any in the
world; it seems to have been a large family gathering, the members of
which were as intimate, took as much interest in each other's affairs,
showed as much sympathy for one another and participated in each
other's sorrows and pleasures, as though they were children of the
same parents.

In his early days, La Rochefoucauld found it convenient, for selfish
purposes, to simulate an ardent passion for Mme. de Longueville,
of which mention has been made in the chapter relating to Mme. de
Longueville. In his later period, he had settled down to a normal
mode of life and sought the friendship of a more reasonable and less
passionate woman. He himself said:

"When women have well-informed minds, I like their conversation better
than that of men; you find, with them, a certain gentleness which is
not met with among us; and it seems to me, besides, that they express
themselves with greater clearness and that they give a more pleasant
turn to the things they say."

Mme. de La Fayette exercised a great influence upon La
Rochefoucauld--an influence that was wholesome in every way. It was
through her influential friends at court that he was helped into
possession of his property, and it was she who maintained it for him.
As to his literary work (his _Maxims_), her influence over him was
supposed to have somewhat modified his ideas on women and to have
softened his tone in general. She wrote: "He gave me wit, but I
reformed his heart." M. d'Haussonville has proved, without doubt, that
her restraint modified many of his maxims that were tinged with
the spirit of the commonplace and trivial. While Mme. de
Sablé--essentially a moralist and a deeply religious woman--was more
of a companion to him, and though his maxims were, for the greater
part, composed in her salon, Mme. de La Fayette, by her tenderness and
judgment, tempered the tone of them before they reached the public.

Mme. de La Fayette will always be known, however, as the great
novelist of the seventeenth century. Two novels, two stories, two
historical works, and her memoirs, make up her literary budget. M.
d'Haussonville claims that her memoirs of the court of France are not
reliable, because she was so often absent from court; also, in
them she shows a tendency to avenge herself, in a way, upon Mme. de
Maintenon, whose friend she was until the trouble between this lady
and Mme. de Montespan occurred. The latter was the intimate friend
of Mme. de La Fayette. As for her literary work proper, her desire to
write was possibly encouraged, if not created, by her indulgence in
the general fad of writing portraitures, in which she was especially
successful in portraying Mme. de Sévigné. Her literary effort was,
besides, a revolt of her own taste and sense against the pompous
and inflated language of the novels of the day and against the great
length of the development of the events and adventures in them. Thus,
Mme. de La Fayette inaugurated a new style of novel; to show her
influence, it will be well to consider the state of the Romanesque
novel at the period of her writing.

In the beginning of the century, D'Urfé's novels were in vogue; these
works were characterized by interminable developments, relieved by an
infinite number of historical episodes. All characters, shepherds
as well as noblemen, expressed the same sentiments and in the same
language. There was no pretension to truth in the portraying of
manners and customs.--A reaction was natural and took the form of
either a kind of parody or gross realism. These novels, of which
_Francion_ and _Berger Extravagant_ were the best known, depicted
shepherds of the Merovingian times, heroes of Persia and Rome, or
procurers, scamps, and scoundrels; but no descriptions of the manners
of decent people (_honnêtes gens_) were to be found.

The novels of Mlle. de Scudéry, while interesting as portraitures, are
not thoroughly reliable in their representation of the sentiments
and environment of the times; on the other hand, those of Mme. de La
Fayette are impersonal--no one of the characters is recognizable; yet
their atmosphere is that of the court of Louis XIV., and the language,
never so correct as to be unnatural, is that used at the time. Her
novels reflect perfectly the society of the court and the manner of
life there. "Thus," says M. d'Haussonville, "she was the first to
produce a novel of observation and sentiment, the first to paint
elegant manners as they really were."

Her first production was _La Princesse de Montpensier_ (1662); in
1670, appeared _Zayde_, it was ostensibly the work of Segrais, her
teacher and a writer much in vogue at the time; in 1678, _La Princesse
de Clèves_, her masterpiece, stirred up one of the first real quarrels
of literary criticism. For a long time after the appearance of that
book, society was divided into two classes--the pros and the cons. It
was the most popular work of the period.

M. d'Haussonville says it is the first French novel which is an
illustration of woman's ability to analyze the most subtile of human
emotions. Mme. de La Fayette was, also, the first to elevate, in
literature, the character of the husband who, until then, was a
nonentity or a booby; she makes of him a hero--sympathetic, noble, and

In no fictitious tale before hers was love depicted with such rare
delicacy and pathos. In her novel, _La Princesse de Clèves_, "a novel
of a married woman, we feel the woman who has loved and who knows what
she is saying, for she, also, has struggled and suffered." The writer
confesses her weakness and leaves us witness of her virtue. All
the soul struggles and interior combats represented in her work the
authoress herself has experienced. As an example of this we cite the
description of the sentiments of Mme. de Clèves when she realizes that
her feeling toward one of the members of the court may develop into an
emotion unworthy of her as a wife. She falls upon her knees and says:

"I am here to make to you a confession such as has never been made
to man; but the innocence of my conduct and my intentions give me
the necessary courage. It is true that I have reasons for desiring to
withdraw from court, and that I wish to avoid the perils which persons
of my age experience. I have never shown a sign of weakness, and I
would not fear of ever showing any, if you permitted me to withdraw
from court, or if I still had, in my efforts to do right, the support
of Mme. de Chartres. However dangerous may be the action I take, I
take it with pleasure, that I may be worthy of your actions, I ask a
thousand pardons; if I have sentiments displeasing to you, I shall
at least never displease you by my actions. Remember, to do what I am
doing, one must have for a husband more friendship and esteem than was
ever before had. Have pity on me and lead me away---and love me still,
if you can."

_La Princesse de Clèves_ is a novel of human virtue purely, and
teaches that true virtue can find its reward in itself and in the
austere enjoyment of duty accomplished. "It is a work that will
endure, and be a comfort as well as a guide to those who aspire to a
high morality which necessitates a difficult sacrifice."

M. d'Haussonville regards the novels of Mmes. de Charrière, de Souza,
de Duras, de Boigne, as mere imitations or as having been inspired by
that masterpiece of Mme. de La Fayette. He says: "In fact, novels in
general, that depict the struggle between passion and duty, with the
victory on the side of virtue, emanate more or less from it."

Taine wrote: "She described the events in the careers of society
women, introducing no special terms of language into her descriptions.
She painted for the sake of painting and did not think of attempting
to surpass her predecessors. She reflects a society whose scrupulous
care was to avoid even the slightest appearance of anything that might
displease or shock. She shows the exquisite tact of a woman--and a
woman of high rank."

Mme. de La Fayette is one of the very rare French writers that have
succeeded in analyzing love, passion, and moral duty, without becoming
monotonous, vulgar, brutal, or excessively realistic. Her creations
contain the most minute analyses of heart and soul emotions, but these
never become purely physiologic and nauseating, as in most novels.
This achievement on her part has been too little imitated, but it,
alone, will preserve the name of Mme. de La Fayette.

Mme. de Motteville is deserving of mention among the important
literary women of the seventeenth century. She is regarded as one
of the best women writers in French literature, and her memoirs are
considered authority on the history of the Fronde and of Anne of
Austria. The poetry of Mme. des Houlières was for a long time much
in vogue; to-day, however, it is not read. The memoirs of Mlle. de
Montpensier are more occupied with herself than with events of the
time or the numerous princes who tarried about her as longing lovers.
Guizot says: "She was so impassioned and haughty, with her head
so full of her own greatness, that she did not marry in her youth,
thinking no one worthy of her except the king and the emperor, and
they had no fancy for her." The following portrait of her was sketched
by herself:

"I am tall, neither fat nor thin, of a very fine and easy figure.
I have a good mien, arms and hands not beautiful, but a beautiful
skin--and throat, too. I have a straight leg and a well-shaped foot;
my hair is light and of a beautiful auburn; my face is long, its
contour is handsome, nose large and aquiline; mouth neither large
nor small, but chiselled and with a very pleasing expression; lips
vermilion, not fine, but not frightful, either; my eyes are blue,
neither large nor small, but sparkling, soft, and proud like my mien.
I talk a great deal, without saying silly things or using bad words. I
am a very vicious enemy, being very choleric and passionate, and that,
added to my birth, may well make my enemies tremble; but I have, also,
a noble and kindly soul. I am incapable of any base and black deed;
and so I am more disposed to mercy than to justice. I am melancholic,
and fond of reading good and solid books; trifles bore me--except
verses, and them I like, of whatever sort they may be; and undoubtedly
I am as good a judge of such things as if I were a scholar."

Possibly the greatest female scholar that France ever produced was
Mme. Dacier, a truly learned woman and one of whom French women are
proud; during her last years she enjoyed the reputation of being one
of the foremost scholars of all Europe. It was Mme. de Lambert who
wrote of her:

"I esteem Mme. Dacier infinitely. Our sex owes her much; she has
protested against the common error which condemns us to ignorance.
Men, as much from disdain as from a fancied superiority, have denied
us all learning; Mme. Dacier is an example proving that we are capable
of learning. She has associated erudition and good manners; for, at
present, modesty has been displaced; shame is no longer for vices,
and women blush over their learning only. She has freed the mind,
held captive under this prejudice, and she alone supports us in our

Tanneguy-Lefèvre, the father of Mme. Dacier, was a savant and a type
of the scholars of the sixteenth century. He brought up his sons to be
like him--instructing them in Greek, Latin, and antiquities. The young
daughter, present at all the lessons given to her brothers, acquired,
unaided, a solid education; her father, amazed at her marvellous
faculty for comprehending and remembering, soon devoted most of his
energy to her. He was, at that time, professor at the College of
Saumur; and he was conspicuous not only for the liberty he exhibited
in his pedagogical duties, but for his general catholicity.

After the death of her father, the young daughter went to Paris where
her family friends, Chapelain and Huet, encouraged her in her studies,
the latter, who was assistant preceptor to the dauphin, even going so
far as to request her to assist him in preparing the Greek text for
the use of the dauphin. She soon eclipsed all scholars of the time by
her illuminating studies of Greek authors and of the quality of
the new editions which she prepared of their works, but she was
continually pestered on account of her erudition and her religion, the
Protestant faith, to which she clung while realizing that it had been
the cause of the failure of her father's advancement.

From that time appeared her famous series of translations of Terence
and Plautus, which were the delight of the women of the period and
which gave her the reputation of being the most intellectual woman of
the seventeenth century. In 1635, when nearly thirty years of age, she
married M. Dacier, the favorite pupil of her father, librarian to
the king and translator of Plutarch--a man of no means, but one who
thoroughly appreciated the worth of Mlle. Lefèvre. This union was
spoken of by her contemporaries as "the marriage of Greek and Latin."

Two years after their marriage, after long and serious deliberation,
both abjured Protestantism, adopted the Catholic religion, and
succeeded in converting the whole town of Castres--an act which
gained them royal favor, and Louis XIV. granted them a pension of
two thousand livres. Sainte-Beuve states that their conversion was
perfectly sincere and conscientious. In all their subsequent works
were seen traces of Mme. Dacier's powerful intellect, which was much
superior to that of her husband. Boileau said: "In their production of
_esprit_, it is Mme. Dacier who is the father."

Besides her translations of the plays of Plautus, all of Terence, the
_Clouds_ and _Plutus_ of Aristophanes, she published her translation
of the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ (1711-1716), which gave her a prominent
place in the history of French literature, especially as it appeared
at the time of the "quarrels of the ancients and moderns," which
concerned the comparative merits of ancient and modern literature.

Mme. Dacier thoroughly appreciated the grandeur of Homer and knew the
almost insurmountable difficulties of a translation; therefore,
when in 1714 the _Iliad_ appeared in verse (in twelve songs by La
Motte-Houdart), preceded by a discourse on Homer, in which the author
announced that his aim was to purify and embellish Homer by ridding
him "of his barbarian crudeness, his uncivil familiarities, and his
great length," the ire of Mme. Dacier was aroused, and in defence of
her god she wrote her famous _Des Causes de la Corruption du Goût_
(Causes of the Corruption of Taste), a long defence of Homer, to which
La Motte replied in his _Réflexions de la Critique_ This rekindled the
whole controversy, and sides were immediately formed.

Mme. Dacier was not politic; although she sustained her ideas well
and displayed much erudition and depth of reason, she is said to have
injured her cause by the violence of her polemic. Her immoderate tone
and bitter assaults upon the elegant and discerning favorite only
detracted from his opponent's favor and grace. Voltaire said: "You
could say that the work of M. de La Motte was that of a woman of
_esprit_, while that of Mme. Dacier was of a _homme savant_. He
translated the _Iliad_ very poorly, but attacked very well." Mme.
Dacier's translation remained a standard for two centuries. She and
her adversary became reconciled at a dinner given by M. de Valincour
for the friends of both parties; upon that festive occasion, "they
drank to the health of Homer, and all was well."

Mme. Dacier died in 1720. "She was a _savante_ only in her study or
when with savants; otherwise, she was unaffected and agreeable
in conversation, from the character of which one would never have
suspected her of knowing more than the average woman." She was an
incessant worker and had little time for social life; in the evening,
after having worked all morning, she received visits from the literary
men of France; and, to her credit may it be added, amid all her
literary work, she never neglected her domestic and maternal duties.

A woman of an entirely different type from that of Mme. Dacier, one
who fitly closes the long series of great and brilliant women of the
age of Louis XIV., who only partly resembles them and yet does not
quite take on the faded and decadent coloring of the next age, was
Mme. de Caylus, the niece of Mme. de Maintenon. It was she who, partly
through compulsion, partly of her own free will, undertook the rearing
of the young and beautiful Marthe-Marguerite de Villette. Mme. de
Maintenon was then at the height of her power, and naturally her
beautiful, clever, and witty niece was soon overwhelmed by proposals
of marriage from the greatest nobles of France. To one of these, M. de
Boufflers, Mme. de Maintenon replied: "My niece is not a sufficiently
good match for you. However, I am not insensible to the honor you pay
me; I shall not give her to you, but in the future I shall consider
you my nephew."

She then married the innocent young girl to the Marquis de Caylus, a
debauched, worthless reprobate--a union whose only merit lay in the
fact that her niece could thus remain near her at court. At the latter
place, her beauty, gayety, and caustic wit, her adaptable and somewhat
superficial character and her freedom of manners and speech, did
not fail to attract many admirers. Her frankness in expressing her
opinions was the source of her disgrace; Louis XIV. took her at her
word when she exclaimed, in speaking of the court: "This place is so
dull that it is like being in exile to live here," and forbade her to
appear again in the place she found so tiresome. Those rash words
cost her an exile of thirteen years, and only through good behavior,
submission, and piety was she permitted to return.

She appeared at a supper given by the king, and, by the brilliancy
of her beauty and _esprit_, she attracted everyone present and soon
regained her former favor and friends. From that time she was the
constant companion of Mme. de Maintenon, until the king's death, when
she returned to Paris; at that place her salon became an intellectual
centre, and there the traditions of the seventeenth century were

Sainte-Beuve said that Mme. de Caylus perfectly exemplified what
was called urbanity--"politeness in speech and accent as well as in
_esprit_." In her youth she was famous for her extraordinary acting in
the performance, at Saint-Cyr, of Racine's _Esther_. Mme. de Sévigné
wrote: "It is Mme. de Caylus who makes Esther." Her brief and witty
_Souvenirs_ (Memoirs), showing marvellous finesse in the art of
portraiture, made her name immortal. M. Saint-Amand describes her work

"Her friends, enchanted by her lively wit, had long entreated her
to write--not for the public, but for them--the anecdotes which she
related so well. Finally, she acquiesced, and committed to paper
certain incidents, certain portraits. What a treasure are these
_Souvenirs_--so fluently written, so unpretentious, with neither dates
nor chronological order, but upon which, for more than a century, all
historians have drawn! How much is contained in this little book
which teaches more in a few lines than interminable works do in many
volumes! How feminine it is, and how French! One readily understands
Voltaire's liking for these charming _Souvenirs_. Who, than Mme. de
Caylus, ever better applied the famous precept: 'Go lightly, mortals;
don't bear too hard.'"

She belonged to that class of spontaneous writers who produce artistic
works without knowing it, just as M. Jourdain wrote prose, and who do
not even suspect that they possess that chief attribute of literary
style--naturalness. What pure, what ready wit! What good humor,
what unconstraint, what delightful ease! What a series of charming
portraits, each more lifelike, more animated, still better than all
the others! "These little miniatures--due to the brush of a woman
of the world--are better worth studying than is many a picture or



The entire religious agitation of the seventeenth century was due to
women. Port-Royal was the centre from which issued all contention--the
centre where all subjects were discussed, where the most important
books were written or inspired, where the genius of that great century
centred; and it was to Port-Royal that the greatest women of France
went, either to find repose for their souls or to visit the noble
members of their sex who had consecrated their lives to God--Mère
Angélique, Jacqueline Pascal. Never in the history of the world had
a religious sect or party gathered within its fold such an array of
great minds, such a number of fearless and determined heroines and
_esprits d'élite_. A short account of this famous convent must precede
any story of its members.

The original convent, Port-Royal des Champs, near Versailles, was
founded as early as 1204, by Mathieu of Montmorency and his wife, for
the Cistercian nuns who had the privileges of electing their abbess
and of receiving into their community ladies who, tired of the social
world, wished to retire to a religious asylum, without, however, being
bound by any religious vows. Later on, the sisters were permitted to
receive, also, young ladies of the nobility.

These privileges were used to such advantage that the institution
acquired great wealth; and through its boarders, some of whom belonged
to the most important families of France, it became influential to an
almost incalculable degree. For four centuries this convent had been
developing liberal tendencies and gradually falling away from its
primitive austerity, when, in 1605, Sister Angélique Arnauld became
abbess and undertook a thorough reform. So great was her success in
this direction that, after having effected similar changes at the
Convent of Maubuisson and then returned to Port-Royal des Champs, the
latter became so crowded that new and more commodious quarters had to
be obtained.

The immense and beautiful Hôtel de Cluny, at Paris, was procured, and
a portion of the community moved thither, establishing an institution
which became the best known and most popular of those French convents
which were patronized by women of distinction. The old abbey buildings
near Versailles were later occupied by a community of learned and
pious men who were, for the most part, pupils of the celebrated Abbé
of Saint-Cyran, who, with Jansenius, was living at Paris at the time
that Mère Angélique was perfecting her reforms; she, attracted by the
ascetic life led by the abbé, fell under his influence, and the whole
Arnauld family, numbering about thirty, followed her example.

Soon "the nuns at Paris, with their numerous and powerful connections,
and the recluses at Port-Royal des Champs, together with their pupils
and the noble or wealthy families to which the latter belonged, were
imbued with the new doctrines of which they became apostles." The
primary aim was to live up to a common ideal of Christian perfection,
and to react against the general corruption by establishing thoroughly
moral schools and publishing works denouncing, in strong terms, the
glaring errors of the time, the source of which was considered, by
both the Abbé of Saint-Cyran and Jansenius, to lie in the Jesuit
Colleges and their theology. Thus was evolved a system of education in
every way antagonistic to that of the Jesuits.

At this time the convent at Paris became so crowded that Mère
Angélique withdrew to the abbey near Versailles, the occupants of
which retired to a neighboring farm, Les Granges; there was opened
a seminary for females, which soon attracted the daughters of the
nobility. An astounding literary and agricultural activity resulted,
both at the abode of the recluses and at the seminary: by the recluses
were written the famous Greek and Latin grammars, and by the nuns, the
famous _Memoirs of the History of Port-Royal_ and the _Image of the
Perfect and Imperfect Sister_; a model farm was cultivated, and here
the peasants were taught improved methods of tillage. During the
time of the civil wars the convent became a resort where charity and
hospitality were extended to the poor peasants.

"The mode of life at Port-Royal was distinguished for austerity. The
inmates rose at three o'clock in the morning, and, after the common
prayer, kissed the ground as a sign of their self-humiliation before
God. Then, kneeling, they read a chapter from the Gospels and one from
the Epistles, concluding with another prayer. Two hours in the morning
and a like number in the afternoon were devoted to manual labor in the
gardens adjoining the convent; they observed, with great strictness,
the season of Lent." Their theories and practices, and especially
their sympathy with Jansenius, whose work _Mars Gallicus_ attacked
the French government and people, aroused the suspicions of Richelieu.
When in 1640 the Port-Royalists openly and enthusiastically received
the famous work, _Augustinus_, of Jansenius, the government became the
declared opponent of the convent. Saint-Cyran had been imprisoned
in 1638, and not until after the death of Richelieu, in 1642, was
he liberated. After the appearance, in 1643, of Arnauld's _De la
Fréquente Communion_, in which he attacked the Jesuits for admitting
the people to the Lord's Supper without due preparation, two parties
formed--the Jesuits, supported by the Sorbonne and the government, and
the Port-Royalists, supported by Parliament and illustrious persons,
such as Mme. de Longueville.

In 1644, the nuns were dispersed by order of Louis XIV., against whose
despotic caprices two Jansenist bishops had fought in support of the
rights of the pope. The Paris convent remained closed until 1669, when
it and the one at Chevreuse, near Versailles were made independent
of each other, a proceeding which resulted in the two institutions
becoming opponents. In 1708 the Convent of Port-Royal des Champs
was suppressed, and, a year later, the beautiful and once prosperous
community was destroyed, the buildings being levelled to the ground.
In 1780 the Paris convent was abolished; five years later the
structure was converted into a hospital, and in 1814 it became the
lying-in asylum of _La Maternité_.

In those two convents, which were practically one, was fomented and
developed the entire religious movement of the seventeenth century,
to which period belong the general study and development of theology,
metaphysics, and morality. Such great, good, and brilliant women as
the Countess of Maure, Mlle. de Vandy, Anne de Rohan, Mme. de Brégy,
Mme. de Hautefort, Mme. de Longueville, Mme. de Sévigné, Mme. de La
Fayette, and Mme. de Sablé were inmates of Port-Royal, or its friends
and constant visitors.

Port-Royal may have been the cause of the civil war waged by the
Frondists against the government. It did bring on the struggle between
the Jesuits, who were all-powerful in the Church, and the Jansenists.
The latter denied the doctrine of free will, and taught the absolutism
of religion, the "terrible God," the powerlessness of kings and
princes before God--a doctrine which brought down upon them the wrath
of Louis XIV., for whom their notion of virtue was too severe, their
use of the Gospel too excessive, and their Christianity impossible.

In its purest form, Port-Royalism was a return to the sanctity of the
primitive church--an attempt at the use, in French, of the whole body
of Scriptures and the writings of the Church Fathers; it aimed to
maintain a vigorous religious reaction in the shape of a reform, and
that reform was vigorously opposed by the Catholic Church.

One family that is associated with Port-Royal gave to its cause no
less than six sisters; the latter all belonged to the Convent of
Port-Royal and were attached to the Jansenist party; of them, the
Archbishop of Paris said that they were "as pure as angels, but as
proud as devils." They were related to the one great Arnauld family,
of which Antoine and his three sons--Robert, Henri, and the younger
Antoine, called "the great Antoine"--were illustrious champions of

Marie Jacqueline Angélique, the oldest among the three abbesses, was
born in 1591, and, at the early age of fourteen, was made abbess
of Port-Royal des Champs; it was she who, after having instituted
successful reforms at Port-Royal, was sent to reform the system of
the Abbey of Maubuisson, thus initiating the important movement which
later involved almost all France. She became convinced that she had
not been lawfully elected abbess and resigned, securing, however, a
provision which made the election of abbesses a triennial event. To
her belongs the honor of having made Port-Royal anew. She was a woman
capable of every sacrifice,--a wonderful type in which were blended
candor, pride, and submission,--and she exhibited indomitable strength
of will and earnest zeal for her cause.

Her sister, Agnes, but three years younger than Marie, also entered
the convent, and, at the age of fifteen, was made mistress of the
novices; during the absence of her sister, at Maubuisson, she was
at the head of the convent; from that time, she governed Port-Royal
alternately with her sister, for twenty-seven years. Her work, _The
Secret Chapter of the Sacrament_, was suppressed at Rome, but without
bringing formal censure upon her.

The last of those great abbesses was Mère Angélique, who lived through
the most troublous and critical times of Port-Royal (1624 to 1684). At
the age of twenty she became a nun, having been reared in the convent
by her aunt, Marie, who was the most perfect disciple of Saint-Cyran.
Mère Angélique was especially conspicuous for her obstinacy, and when
the nuns were forced to accept the formulary of Pope Alexander VI.,
she, alone, was excepted, because of that well known characteristic.
Upon the reopening of Port-Royal (in 1689), her powerful protectress,
Mme. de Longueville, died and the persecutions were renewed; Mère
Angélique endeavored to avert the storm, but all in vain; amidst her
efforts, she collapsed. She was also a writer, her _Memoirs of
the History of Port Royal_ being the most valuable history of that

Thus, about those three women is formed the religious movement which
involved both the development of religious liberty, free will, and
morality, and of the philosophical literature of the century--a
century which boasts such writers and theologians as Nicole, Pascal,
Racine, etc.

The mission of Port-Royal seems to have been preparation of souls for
the struggles of life, teaching how to resist oppression or to bear it
with courage, and how, for a righteous cause, to brave everything,
not only the persecutions of power--violence, prison, exile,--but
the ruses of hypocrisy and the calumny of opposing opinion. The
Port-Royalist nun combated and taught how to combat; she lacked
humility, but possessed an abundance of courage which often bordered
upon passion.

One of the most pathetic and striking illustrations of the fervent
devotion which was a characteristic product of Port-Royal, is supplied
by Jacqueline Pascal, sister of the great Blaise Pascal. Young,
_spirituelle_, very much sought after and the idol of brilliant
companions, at the age of twenty-six she abandoned the world to devote
herself to God. At thirty-six years of age she died of sorrow and
remorse for having signed an equivocal formulary of Pope Alexander
VI., "through pure deference to the authority of her superiors." The
papal decision concerning Jansenius's book, already mentioned, was
drawn up in a formula "turned with some skill, and in such a way
that subscription did not bind the conscience; however, the nuns of
Port-Royal refused to sign." Jacqueline Pascal wrote:

"That which hinders us, what hinders all the ecclesiastics who
recognize the truth from replying when the formulary is presented to
them to subscribe is: I know the respect I owe the bishops, but my
conscience does not permit me to subscribe that a thing is in a
book in which I have not seen it--and after that, wait for what will
happen. What have we to fear? Banishment and dispersion for the nuns,
seizure of temporalities, imprisonment, and death if you will; but
is not that our glory and should it not be our joy? Let us either
renounce the Gospel or faithfully follow the maxims of that Gospel
and deem ourselves happy to suffer somewhat for righteousness' sake.
I know that it is not for daughters to defend the truth, though,
unfortunately, one might say that since the bishops have the courage
of daughters, the daughters must have the courage of bishops; but,
if it is not for us to defend the truth, it is for us to die for the
truth and to suffer everything rather than abandon it."

She subscribed, "divided between her instinctive repugnance and her
desire to show herself an humble daughter of the Catholic Church."
She said: "It is all we can concede; for the rest, come what
may,--poverty, dispersion, imprisonment, death,--all those seem to
me nothing in comparison with the anguish in which I should pass the
remainder of my life, if I had been wretch enough to make a covenant
with death on the occasion of so excellent an opportunity for proving
to God the sincerity of the vows of fidelity which our lips have
pronounced." According to Mme. Périer, the health of the writer of the
above epistle was so undermined by the shock which all that commotion
had caused her, that she became dangerously ill, dying soon after.
Thus was sacrificed the first victim of the formulary.

Cousin says that few women of the seventeenth century were as
brilliantly endowed as Jacqueline Pascal; possessing the finesse,
energy, and sobriety of her brother, she was capable of the most
serious work, and yet knew perfectly how to lead in a social circle.
Also, she was most happily gifted with a talent for poetry, in
relation to which her reputation was everywhere recognized; at
the convent, she consulted her superiors as to the advisability of
continuing her verse making; and upon being told that such occupation
was not a means of winning the grace of Jesus Christ, she abandoned

Cousin maintained that the avowed principle of the Port-Royalists was
the withdrawal from all worldly pleasure and attachment. "'Marriage is
a homicide; absolute renunciation is the true régime of a Christian.'
Jacqueline Pascal is an exaggeration of Port-Royal, and Port-Royal is
an exaggeration of the religious spirit of the seventeenth century.
Man is too little considered; all movement of the physical world comes
from God; all our acts and thoughts, except those of crime and error,
come from and belong to Him. Nothing is our own; there is no free
will; will and reason have no power. The theory of grace is the source
of all truth, virtue, and merit--and for this doctrine Jacqueline
Pascal gives up her life."

Among the great spirits of Port-Royal, the women especially were
strong in their convictions and high in their ideals. They naturally
followed the ideas of man and naturally fell into religious errors;
but their firmness, constancy, and heroism were striking indeed. Their
aspiration was the imitation of Christ, and they approached their
model as near as ever was done by man. In an age of courtesans, when
convictions were subservient to the pleasure of power, they set a
worthy example of strength of mind, firmness of will, purity, and
womanliness. M. du Bled says:

"Port-Royal was the enterprise of the middle-class aristocracy of
France; you can see here an anticipated attempt of a sort of superior
third estate to govern for itself in the Church and to establish a
religion not Roman, not aristocratic and of the court, not devout
in the manner of the simple people, but freer from vain images and
ceremonies, and freer, also, as to the temporal in the face of worldly
authority--a sober, austere, independent religion which would have
truly founded a Gallican reform. The illusion was in thinking that
they could continue to exist in Rome--that Richelieu and Louis XIV.
would tolerate the boldness of this attempt."

A celebrated woman of the seventeenth century, one who really belongs
to the circle of Mme. de Longueville and Mme. de La Fayette, but who
early in life, like Mme. de Longueville, devoted herself to religion
and retired to live at Port-Royal, and is therefore more intimately
associated with the religious movement, was Mme. de Sablé, a type of
the social-religious woman.

Mme. de Sablé is a heroine of Cousin, whom we closely follow in this
account of her career. According to that writer, she is a type of the
purely social woman, a woman who did less for herself than for others,
in aiding whom she took delight, a woman who was the inspiration of
many writers and many works.

Mlle. de Souvré married the wealthy Marquis of Sablé, of the house of
Montmorency, of whom little is known. He soon abandoned her; and she,
most unhappy over unworthy rivals, fell very ill, retired from society
for a time, and then reappeared; her career as a society woman then
began. At an early age, by force of her decided taste for the high
form of Spanish gallantry, then so much in vogue, and her inclination
to all things intellectual, she became one of the leaders of the
Hôtel de Rambouillet. She, Mmes. de Sévigné, de Longueville, and de La
Fayette formed that circle of women who idealized friendship.

Within a few years she lost her father, husband, two of her brothers,
and her second son; and after putting her financial affairs into
order, she and her friend, the Countess of Maure, took up their
quarters at the famous Place Royale; there they decided to devote
their lives to letters, and there assembled their friends, men and
women, regardless of rank or party, personal merit being the only
means of access. Mmes. de Sablé and de Rambouillet were called the
arbiters of elegance and good taste.

To her friends, Mme. de Sablé was always accommodating and showed no
partiality; well informed, she was constantly approached for counsel
and favors; discreet and trustworthy, the most important secrets were
intrusted to her--a confidence which she never betrayed. During the
Fronde she remained faithful to the queen and Mazarin, but did not
become estranged from her friends, so many of whom were Frondists, and
who chose her as their counsellor, arbitrator, and pacifier.

About 1655 she began to realize her unsettled position in the world
and to long for a place where she might, modestly and becomingly,
spend her declining years. She was then fifty-five years of age. The
ideas of Jansenism had so impressed the great people of the day, that
she decided to retire to Port-Royal, to end her days with sympathizers
of the spiritual life around her and her former friends whenever she
desired them. There she gathered about her the most exclusive and
aristocratic people of the day: La Rochefoucauld, the Prince and
Princess of Conti, Condé, Monsieur,--brother of Louis XIV.,--Mme. de
La Fayette, Mme. de Hautefort, and others.

At her apartments, not only were religious and literary affairs
discussed, but the most delicate and delicious dishes were prepared
and elixirs and remedies for disease compounded. Famous people were
led to seek her, through her reputation and influence, and through
friendship, for she seldom left her house. Mme. de Sablé possessed all
the qualities that attract and hold, nothing extraordinary or rare,
but abundant politeness and elegance.

It was not long before she began to withdraw from even her friends,
still continuing, however, her fine cuisine, the remarkable care
of her health, and her medical experiments. Her dinners became
celebrated, and invitations to them were much in demand; about them
there were no signs of opulence, but her gatherings were distinguished
for refinement and taste. Her friends were constantly asking her for
her recipes, of the preparation of which no one but herself knew the

At the salon of Mme. de Sablé originated many famous literary works,
such as the _Conférences sur le Calvinisme_, works on Cartesian
philosophy, the _Logique de Port-Royal_, _Questions sur l'Amour_, _Les
Maximes_, etc. She will be remembered as the initiator of many maxims,
in the composition of which she excelled. A number of her sayings
concerning friendship have been preserved. Two treatises, in the
form of maxims, on the education of children and on friendship,
respectively, are supposed to have come from her pen; from them La
Rochefoucauld conceived the ideas he utilized in his famous _Maxims_.

La Rochefoucauld's maxims were composed according to the chance of
conversation, which gave rise to various subjects and led to his
serious reflection upon them. Cousin even goes so far as to say that
the _Pensées_ of Pascal would never have been published in that
form had not the _Maxims_ enjoyed such favor. Pascal often visited
Port-Royal and naturally followed the general reflective tendency
of its society. His _Discours sur les Passions de l'Amour_ possibly
originated at the salon of Mme. de Sablé, because the subject of which
that work treated was one much discussed there. La Rochefoucauld was
in the habit of sending his maxims to Mme. de Sablé with the message:
"As you do nothing for nothing, I ask of you a carrot soup or mutton

When La Rochefoucauld entered the society of Mme. de Sablé, he had
seen much of life, was familiar with most of the adventures and
intrigues of the Fronde and the society of the time; he himself had
acted his part in all, and at the age of fifty was ready to put his
experience into a permanent form of reflection. His _Maxims_ created
a stir, through the clearness and elegance of their character, their
fine analyses of man as he was in the seventeenth century, and through
their truthfulness and general applicability to men of every country.
From all the illustrious women of the day, either he or Mme. de
Sablé received letters of criticism or suggestion--eulogies and
condemnations of which he took notice in his next edition. This
shows the intense interest felt in the appearance of any new literary

Cousin says that the whole literature of maxims and reflections issued
directly from the salon of a kind and good woman who had retired to a
convent with no other desire than to live over her life, to recall
her past and what she had seen and felt therein; and upon her society,
that woman impressed her own tastes, elegance, and seriousness. Her
great act of benevolence was her protection of Port-Royal. When, after
the death in 1661 of Mother Angélique Arnauld, that institution became
the object of persecution and its tenants were either imprisoned or
compelled to seek refuge in the various families of Paris, Mme. de
Sablé remained faithful to its principles; she lived with her friends,
Mme. de Longueville and Mme. de Montausier, until 1669, when, with the
coöperation of Mme. de Longueville, who exerted all her influence for
Port-Royal, she finally succeeded in bringing about its reopening. At
least, Cousin ascribes this result to Mme. de Sablé, but he may have
somewhat exaggerated her influence in this respect. From her retreat
at Port-Royal, she kept up a constant correspondence with her friends
all over France; she lived there until 1678, with but one intimate
friend, Mme. de Longueville.

Mme. de Sablé had remarkable gifts; her mission in politics, religion,
and literature seems to have been to excite to action, to stimulate
and to bring out to its fullest value, the talents and genius of
others. In her modest salon, she inspired the great and illustrious
work which will keep her memory alive as long as the _Maxims_ and
_Pensées_ are read. Her name will be connected with that of Mme.
de Longueville, because of their ideal friendship, and with that of
Port-Royal because of her ardent and self-sacrificing support of it
in the time of its direst persecution, when any exhibition of sympathy
was dangerous in the extreme; and finally, her name will always be
connected with that small circle of French society of the seventeenth
century, which was noble, moral, and elevating to an unusual degree.

Somewhat later in the century a different movement was started by a
woman, which involved many of the highest in rank at court. This took
the form of a kind of mystical enthusiasm, running into a theory of
pure love, and was instigated by Mme. Guyon, a widow, still young, and
gifted with a lofty and subtile mind. After losing her husband, whom
she had converted to her religious views, she went, in 1680, to Paris
to educate her children. Becoming interested in religion, she went
to Geneva, where she became very intimate with a priest who was
her spiritual director, and whom she soon wholly subjected to her
influence. On account of their views on sanctification, they were
ordered to leave.

After travelling over Europe for a number of years, and writing
several works, including _Spiritual Torrents_ and _Short and Easy
Method of Making Orison with the Heart_, the widow returned to Paris,
with the intention of living in retirement; but so many persons of all
ranks sought her out, that she organized, for ladies of rank, meetings
for purposes of prayer and religious conversation. The Duchess of
Beauvilliers, the Duchess of Béthune, the Countess of Guiche, the
Countess of Chevreuse, and many others, with their husbands, became
her devoted adherents.

According to Mme. Guyon, prayer should lose the character of
supplication, and become simply the silence of a soul absorbed in God.
"Why are not simple folks so taught? Shepherds, keeping their flocks,
would have the spirit of the old anchorites; and laborers, whilst
driving the plow, would talk happily with God. In a little while, vice
would be banished and the kingdom of God would be realized on earth."
Thus, her doctrine was directly opposite to the theories of the

At that time, 1687 to 1688, all religious movements, however quiet,
were condemned at Rome; and the teachings of Mme. Guyon were found to
differ very little from those of the Spanish priest Molinas. The first
arrest, that of her friend Lacombe, was soon followed by that of
Mme. Guyon herself, by royal order; she was released through the
intercession of Mme. de Maintenon, who was fascinated by her to the
extent of permitting her to teach her doctrines at Saint-Cyr, Upon the
appearance of her _Method of Prayer_, an examination was instituted
by Bossuet and Fénelon, who marked out a few passages as erroneous--a
procedure to which she submitted. However, Bossuet himself wrote a
treatise against her _Method of Prayer_, in which he cast reflections
upon her character and conduct; to that work Fénelon refused to
subscribe, which antagonistic proceeding brought on the great quarrel
between those two absolute ecclesiasts. In fact, Fénelon became imbued
with the doctrines of Mme. Guyon.

She was imprisoned at various times; and when a letter was received
from Lacombe, who had been imprisoned at Vincennes for a long time,
exhorting her to repent of their criminal intimacy, Mme. Guyon's cause
was hopeless. She was sent to the Bastille, her son was dismissed
from the army, and many of her friends were banished. In 1702 she was
released from prison and banished to Diziers; she passed the remainder
of her life in complete retirement at Blois.

Fénelon had written a treatise, _Maxims of the Saints_, which was
said to favor Mme. Guyon's doctrines, and which was sent to Rome for
examination. He defined her doctrine of divine love in the following
maxim, which was condemned at Rome:

"There is an habitual state of love of God, which is pure charity
without any taint of the motive of self-interest. Neither fear of
punishment nor desire of reward has, any longer, part in this love;
God is loved, not for the merit, but for the happiness to be found in
loving Him."

Such a doctrine made repentance unnecessary, destroyed all effort to
withstand evil, and did not acknowledge the need of a Redeemer. This
the great Bossuet foresaw; consequently, he, as the supreme religious
potentate of his inferior in rank, Fénelon, demanded the condemnation
by the latter of the works of Mme. Guyon. The refusal cost Fénelon
exile for life. To Mme. de Maintenon he wrote a letter which shows the
sincerity of his devotion to a friend in disgrace, even though his own
reputation was thereby endangered:

"So it is to secure my own reputation that I am wanted to subscribe
that a lady--my friend--would plainly deserve to be burned, with all
her writings, for an execrable form of spirituality which is the only
bond of our friendship. I tell you, madame, I would burn my friend
with my own hands, and I would burn myself joyfully, rather than
let the Church be imperilled; but here is a poor, captive woman,
overwhelmed with sorrows; there is none to defend her, none to excuse
her; all are afraid to do so. I maintain that this stroke of the pen,
given from a cowardly policy and against my conscience, would render
me forever infamous and unworthy of my ministry and my position."

Thus, in the seventeenth century, religious agitations and religious
reform were the work preëminently of women; but that reform and those
agitations were productive of good results to a far greater degree
than was any similar movement in any other century, with the possible
exception of the nineteenth. The seventeenth century was, as mentioned
before, a century of stability, one that toned down and crushed all
violations and abuses of the standard established by authority. Woman,
in her constant striving for the complete emancipation and gradual
purification of her sex, rebelled against the power of established
authority; she did not consciously or intentionally violate law and
order, but in her intense desire to act for good as she saw it, and
in her noble efforts to ameliorate all undesirable conditions, she
created commotion and confusion. The seventeenth-century woman is
conspicuous as a champion of religion, moral purity, and social
reform; therefore, her influence was mainly social, religious, moral,
and literary, while that of the woman of the sixteenth century was
mainly political. This difference was the result of the greater
advantages of education and training enjoyed by the females of the
later period.

In the beginning of the seventeenth century, young girls were granted
greater privileges and received more attention from men and society
than did their predecessors; they thus had more opportunities for
mental development, more occasion to become aware of the temptations
and injustices of life, without falling prey to them. Such young girls
as Julie d'Angennes, Mlle. d'Arquenay, and Mlle. de Pisani, took
part in the balls, fêtes, garden parties, and all amusements in which
society indulged. They met young men of their own age and became
intimately acquainted with them, morals were purer, marriages of
affection were much more frequent, and the state of married life was
much more congenial, than in any other century. Young men paid
court to the older ladies, to refine their manners and sharpen their
intellects, but not for any immoral purpose. To a certain extent
women were more world-wise when they reached the marriageable age, and
inspired respect and admiration rather than passion and desire as in
the next century.

Young girls of the seventeenth century were early placed in a convent,
and when they left it they were ready for marriage; in the meantime,
they frequently visited home and associated with their parents and
brothers; at the convents intellectual intercourse with people of high
rank and men of letters was encouraged. Yet the discipline at those
institutions was very rigid, the boarders being more carefully watched
then than later on; two nuns always accompanied them on their walks,
and when not busy with their studies, to prevent the mind from
wandering, they were kept busy with their hands; "the transports of
the soul of the young girl, as every reflection of the intelligence,
are watched and held in check, every one of her inclinations opposed,
all originality suppressed."

At first the convents were reproached for stifling all culture and
development and applying only correction and mortification of the
flesh. Mme. de Maintenon opposed such a state of affairs, but her
methods discouraged true independence. The happiness of her charges
was her one aim, but they had no voice in the matter. When of
marriageable age, they were given a trousseau and a husband; however,
they were taught to be reasonable.

In that century, the young girl, mixing more generally in society,
received greater consideration--hence, she became more active and
conspicuous. It will be seen that the rôle played by the eighteenth
century woman was not so much played by the young woman as it was
by the woman of mature years, of the mother, the counsellor--the
indispensable element of society. There were three classes of
women--young women, mature women who sought consideration, and old
women who received respect and deference, and who, as arbiters of
culture, upheld the principles already established.

A young man making his début had to find favor with one of those
classes which decided his future reputation and the extent of his
favor at court, and assigned him his place and grade, upon which
depended his marriage. All education was directed to the one
end--social success. The duty of the tutor charged with the
instruction of a young son was to give a well-rounded, general
education; by the mother, he was taught politeness, grace,
amiability--a part of his training to which more importance was
attached than to the intellectual portion. Whenever a young man was
guilty of misconduct toward a woman, his mother was notified of
the occurrence, on the same evening, and he promptly received his
reprimand. This spirit naturally fostered that rare politeness,
exquisite taste and tact in conversation, in which the eighteenth
century excels.

But where did the young girls receive the education which gave them
such prestige--that consummate art of conversation exemplified in
Mme. de Boufflers, Mme. de Luxembourg, Mme. de Sabran, the Duchess
of Choiseul, the Princess of Beauvau, the Countess of Ségur? The sons
were educated in the usages of the _bonne compagnie_ by the mothers,
but the daughters did not enjoy that attention, for, at the age of
five or six years, they were sent to the convent; there the mother's
influence could not have reached them, and they never left the convent
except to marry. The middle class imitated the higher class, and
family life became practically impossible. All men of any importance
had a charge at court or a grade in the army, and lived away from
their families. A large number of women were attached to the queen,
spending the greater part of their time at Versailles; the little time
passed at their homes was entirely occupied in preparation for the
evening _causeries_ at the salons, in reading new books, acquiring
information upon current events, and in superintending the making of
the many necessary and always elaborate gowns; as M. Perey so well
says, "as the toilettes and hairdressing took up the greater part
of the morning, they devoted the time used by the _coiffeur_, in
constructing complicated edifices that crushed down the heads of
women, to the reading of new books."

Nearly every large establishment kept open house, dining from twenty
to thirty persons every day. They dined at one, separated at three,
were at the theatre at five, and returned with as many friends as
possible--the more, the greater the reputation for hospitality and
popularity. Under such circumstances, the mother had no time for the
daughters, nor were the conversations at those dinners food for
young, innocent girls--and innocence was the first requirement of a
marriageable young woman.

The great convents were the Abbaye-aux-Bois and Penthemont, where the
daughters of the wealthiest and highest families were educated. In
those convents or seminaries, strange to say, the young girls were
taught the most practical domestic duties, as well as dancing, music,
painting, etc. Such teachers as Molé and Larrive gave instruction in
declamation and reading, and Noverre and Dauberval in dancing; the
teaching nuns were all from the best families. The most complete
costumes, scenic decorations, and other equipments of a complete
theatre were supplied, special hours being set aside for the play.
However, much intriguing went on there, and many friendships and
lifelong enmities were formed, which later led to serious troubles.

Often, from the midst of a group of young girls of from ten to fifteen
years of age, one would be notified of her coming marriage with a man
she had never seen, and whom, in all probability, she could not
love, having given her heart to another. If it turned out to be an
uncongenial marriage, a separate life would be the result, and, while
still absolutely ignorant of the world, those young married women
would fall prey to the charms of young gallants or men of quality, and
a liaison would follow.

The difference between a liaison of the seventeenth century and one
of the eighteenth led to one essential difference in the standards
of social and moral etiquette; in the former period, a liaison meant
nothing more censurable than an intimate friendship, a purely platonic
love; the lover simply paid homage to the lady of his choice; it was
an attraction of common intellectual interests and usually lasted for
life; in the eighteenth century, a liaison was essentially immoral,
rarely a union of interests, but rather one of passions and physical
propensities. Such relations developed and fostered deceit, intrigues,
infidelity, and rivalry, one woman endeavoring to allure the lover of
another; affairs of that nature were the chief topic of conversation
in social circles, and were soon reflected in every phase of the
intelligent world. This will be seen in the study of the eighteenth



In studying the vast numbers of salons of the eighteenth century,
three types are discernible, each of which was prominent and in full
sway throughout the century up to the Revolution. To the first class
belong the great literary and philosophical salons which, though not
political in nature, finally changed politics; such were the
circles of Mme. de Tencin, Mme. Geoffrin, Mme. du Deffand, Mlle. de
Lespinasse, Mme. Necker, Mme. d'Epinay, Mme. de Genlis; with these
every literary student is familiar. The second class includes the
smaller and less important literary, philosophical, and social
salons--those of Mme. de Marchais, Mme. de Persan, Mme. de Villars,
Mme. de Vaines, and of D'Alembert, D'Holbach, Helvétius. The third
class is of a social nature exclusively, good breeding and good tone
being the essentials; its conspicuous features were the dinners
and suppers of Suard, Saurin, the Abbés Raynal and Morellet, of the
Palais-Royal of Mme. de Blot, of the Temple of the Prince of Conti,
those of Mme. de Beauvau, Mme. de Gramont, M. de La Popeliniére, and

The distinctions thus made will not hold throughout, but they
facilitate the presentation of a subject that is exceedingly
complicated. It may almost be said that each generation of the
eighteenth century had a salon with a different physiognomy; those
of 1710, 1730, 1760, and 1780 were all inspired by different motives,
causes, and events, and were all led by women of different histories
and aspirations, whose common idol was man, but whose ideas of what
constituted a hero were as widely different as was the constitution of
society in the respective periods. Not until the middle of the reign
of Louis XIV. did social life become detached from Versailles, and,
spreading out and circulating in a thousand hôtels, showed itself in
all its force, splendor, and elegance. The celebrated women of the
regency--Mme. de Prie, Mme. de Parabère, Mme. de Sabran--had no salon,
while those of the Marquis d'Alluys and the Hôtels de Sully, de Duras,
de Villars, and the suppers of Mme. de Chauvelin were of a distinctly
different type from those of the earlier and the later periods.

In a certain sense, the salons changed the complexion of the age. The
eighteenth century itself was friendly and generous; it was, also,
impatient and inexperienced, seeing things not as they were but as it
wished them to be, compelling science and art to serve its purpose.
It was frank, often brutally frank, a characteristic due partly to the
conversational license of the salons. With its Fontenelle, Voltaire,
Piron, etc., it was indeed a happy century. A _bon mot_ was the event
of the day and travelled over all the civilized world.

Feeling keenly the need of a guiding principle, the need of a more
substantial foundation in education, the women of the century thought
and wrote much on that subject; such was, for the most part, the work
of the great salons, but in them the philosophical tenets of the
age were also discussed. The spirit of criticism thus created and
cultivated, which finally spread through all classes of society,
gradually conquered the new power in the state--public opinion which,
at the end of the century, ruled supreme in all its strength and
vehemence, defying every effort of the government to stifle it. The
highest form of agreeable and intellectual society which the world has
ever seen attained to its most complete development in these salons.

Every century has had its specialty: the twelfth had its crusades, the
sixteenth its religious struggles, the seventeenth its grand _goût_,
the eighteenth its conversation and love of reason, the nineteenth
its political struggles; and each one displayed the French passion for
_esprit_; the eighteenth, however, was, _par excellence_, the century
of _esprit_, and it was most remarkably developed in woman.

"Such astonishingly loquacious people as lived in Paris in the
eighteenth century! ineffective, sardonic, verbose, sociable,
intellectual, elegant, immoral--grand gentlemen and ladies, with tears
for mimic woes and none for actual ones, praise for wit, rewards
for cleverness, and absolute ignorance of the destinies they were
preparing for themselves;" such is the story of women and society of
the eighteenth century. Among these women the salon leaders will be
found the most attractive, and the most influential in literature,
theory of government, and social and moral development; to the
mistresses belongs the title of "politicians."

_La Ménagerie de Mme. de Tencin_ was one of the earliest of the
eighteenth-century salons, although, in the strict sense of the word,
Mme. de Tencin's salon was of a political rather than a literary
nature. Successively nun, mistress, mother, she was one of the
shrewdest women of the century. Born in 1681, she early became a nun;
but such was the character of her life at the convent that it was not
long before she became a mother. In 1714 she abandoned her conventual
life and went to Paris, where she rose to influence as the mistress of
Cardinal Dubois and of the regent, the Duke of Orléans. At Paris her
real activity began; she arrived at that gay capital with no other
collateral than a pretty face and an extraordinary cunning, which
soon brought her a fortune. Fertile in resources of all kinds, she
succeeded immediately, and gained for her nephew the cardinal's hat.
In 1717 was born to her the afterward famous d'Alembert, whom she left
upon the steps of the church Saint-Jean-le-Rond; afterward, when he
had become eminent and her power was waning, she unsuccessfully used
every means at her command to gain his favor and recognition; the
father of that child was the Chevalier Destouches.

About 1726, when lovers were numerous and friends plentiful, the death
of Lafresnaye occurred at her salon. In his testament he stated that
his death was caused by Mme. de Tencin; however, she was too shrewd,
cunning, and careful to be guilty of permitting any weak points to
appear in her plots, and it was not difficult for her to clear herself
of that charge by the verdict of the judges, who considered the
accusation a posthumous vengeance.

The great literary men whom Mme. de Tencin gathered about her,
Fontenelle, Montesquieu, Mairan, Marivaux, Helvétius, Marmontel, were
called her menagerie, or her _bêtes_. Among them, Marivaux received
a pension of one thousand écus from her, besides drawing at will upon
the exchequer of an old maid by the name of Saint-Jean. Marmontel,
desirous of writing tragedies, took lessons from the famous Mlle.
Clairon--at his friend's expense. To give a correct idea of the
character of woman's influence upon the literary style of that
century, the words of Marmontel may be quoted: "He who wishes to write
with precision, energy, and vigor, may live with man only; but he who
in his style wishes to have subtleness, amenity, charm, flexibility,
will do well, I think, to live with woman."

Mme. de Tencin exerted an immense influence upon the men of her
circle, especially socially; for example, she married the wealthy M.
de La Popelinière to Mlle. Dancourt. She was one of the few really
consummate diplomats; later on, she became less associated with
intrigues, and gave lessons in current diplomacy, with which she was
perfectly familiar. Her counsel to her pupils was to gain friends
among women rather than among men. "For," she would say, "we do
whatever we wish with men; they are so dissipated, or so preoccupied
with their personal interests, that to give attention to them would be
to neglect your own interests."

Every New Year's Day the _bêtes_ of her menagerie received two yards
of velvet, to make knickerbockers to be worn at her receptions; this
custom was observed up to the last year of the existence of her salon.
Her receptions were among the first of the kind in France. Like the
majority of salon leaders, she was an authoress of no mean ability.
Her novels were widely read at the time--_Le Siège de Calais_ and _Les
Malheurs de l'Amour_. Her memoirs, throwing light upon the intrigues
and plots, social animosities, and general state of the society of the
time, are historically valuable. She died in Paris, in 1749.

Among all the great salons, that of Mme. de Tencin was the only one in
which gambling was indulged in on a wholesale scale; fortunes changed
hands every evening, a large part of the gains always falling to the lot
of the hostess, as a sort of "rake off." She herself was a professional
at the business, and by receiving private information from headquarters,
through her famous friend Law, the _contrôleur-général_, and her lover
Dubois, she was able to acquire an immense fortune which she distributed
freely among her friends and favorites. Her place among the literary
salon leaders depends mainly upon her endeavors to advance the interests
of the aspiring young authors who were willing to place themselves under
her protection.

After the death of Mme. de Tencin and that of Mme. de Châtelet, who
had received many of the celebrities of the time, there remained but
two distinguished, purely literary and philosophical salons open in
Paris. By right of precedence, the _bêtes_ should have gone over to
the salon of Mme. du Deffand, as she had been established some years
when Mme. Geoffrin began to receive at her residence, which gained
its first renown through the exquisite dinners served there. But the
_bêtes_ all flocked to the _salon bourgeois_, and consequently a more
brilliant gathering never assembled in a salon; here sat, enjoying
the liberal hospitalities, Fontenelle, Montesquieu, Mairan, Marmontel,
Helvétius, Diderot, D'Alembert, Thomas, D'Holbach, Hume, Morellet,
Mlle. de Lespinasse, the Marquis de Duras, Comtesses d'Egmont and de
Brionne. Here, conversation--which, in the eighteenth century, was not
only a discussion or a dissertation, but an art--reached its highest
development; the members did not need to be eloquent, to expatiate
upon some theory or science; the conversation moved about the members,
and they had to be a part of it.

Mme. Geoffrin was born in Paris in 1699, and was the daughter of M.
Rodet, _valet de chambre_ of the dauphiness, Duchesse de Bourgogne,
mother of Louis XV. When barely fifteen she was married to the wealthy
M. Geoffrin, the so-called founder of the celebrated _Manufacture
des Glaces de Gobelins_. Through his wealth and his associations with
people of nobility who bought his ware, she was soon encouraged in
her desire to entertain the nobility; and her _esprit_, tact,
intelligence, and admirable taste in dress were all effective in
bringing about the desired results.

Her career was one of continual successes. When she opened her salon,
in 1741, she instituted the custom of receiving her friends at table,
not only men of letters, but artists, architects, builders, painters,
sculptors, all men of genius and prominence. Monday was the day
reserved for artists exclusively; Marmontel, who lived with Mme.
Geoffrin for ten years "as her tenant," and the indispensable Abbé
Morellet were the exceptions who might be present upon that day. From
the very beginning she formed the habit of permitting conversation
to go just so far, then cutting it off with her famous: _Voil qui est

Her husband was the _maître d'hôtel_, of whom many interesting
anecdotes are told; the best and one that illustrates well the
appreciation of individuals in those days is the following, which is
so admirably told by Lady Jackson that we quote from her: "For some
years, there sat at the bottom of Mme. Geoffrin's dinner and supper
table a dignified-looking, white-haired old gentleman, bland in
manner, but very modest and retiring, speaking only when spoken to,
but looking very happy when the guests seemed to enjoy the good cheer
set before them. When, at last, his customary place became vacant, and
some brilliant butterfly of madame's circle of _visiteurs flottants_,
who, perhaps, had smiled patronizingly upon the silent old gentleman,
becoming aware of his absence, would, perchance, carelessly inquire
what had become of her constant dinner guest, madame would reply:
_Mais, c'était mon mari. Hélas! il est mort, le bon homme._ [Why, that
was my husband! alas, he is dead, poor man!] Just so little was the
consideration shown this worthy creature in his own house! Yet it both
pleased and amused him to sit there silently and gaze at the throng
of rank, fashion, and learning, assembled in his wife's salon, and to
witness her social success."

After the death of Mme. Geoffrin's husband, the immense fortune passed
under her own management, whereupon began her real career as a social
arbitress, during which she is said to have tempered both opinions
and characters. Thomas said of her that "she was, in morals, like that
divinity of the ancients which maintained or reëstablished limits."
She was a great patroness of arts and her rooms were decorated with
pictures by Vanloo, Greuze, Vernet, Robert, etc. She and her salon
became, in time, the acknowledged judge and dictator of matters
literary and artistic. Whenever a financier wished to purchase a
certain work of art, it was taken to her Monday dinner, where the
artists determined its artistic value and fixed the price. Her house
was a real museum; there the precious Mariette collection was on
permanent exhibition.

Besides her Monday dinners to artists and her Wednesday dinners to the
literary world, she gave private luncheons to a select few who were
especially congenial. At those functions, such celebrities as the
Comtesses d'Egmont and de Brionne, the Marquise de Duras, and the
Prince de Rohan were frequent guests.

Mme. Geoffrin was shrewd and tactful enough to avoid politics and not
to permit discussions of a political nature at her salon--precautions
which she observed to keep the government from interfering with her
fortune and mode of living. Her salon and dinners became so famous
that every foreigner going to Paris had the ambition to be received at
Mme. Geoffrin's; when any aspirant was successful in this, she would
say to her friends: _Soyons aimables_ [Let us be kind]. She spent
freely of her immense fortune constantly seeking and aiding the poor.
Persons who refused to accept her charity found little favor with her;
Rousseau was one of these. It was her habit to go frequently to see
friends, merely to ascertain their wants and to satisfy them. The Abbé
Morellet, Thomas, D'Alembert, and Mlle. de Lespinasse (the only lady
admitted to her Wednesdays) were given liberal pensions. Upon each
New Year's Day, in commemoration of Mme. de Tencin, she sent each
Wednesday guest a velvet cap. Her motto was: _Donner et pardonner_
[Give and forgive].

Stanislas, King of Poland, her _protégé_, whom she had rescued from
the debtor's prison in Paris, and to whom she had shown many favors,
upon being elected King of Poland in 1764, said to her: _Maman, votre
fils est roi_ [Mamma, your son is king]. Two years later, when she
paid him a visit, the leading members of the Polish nobility met her
on the road, and the king had a special residence prepared for her.
As she passed through Vienna, Joseph II. received her, and the Empress
Maria entertained her at dinner. Upon her return to Paris, after this
triumphal tour through Europe, the members of the world of literature
and art, and even the ministers and the nobility, flocked to see her;
this demonstration was the more remarkable from the fact that she
wielded no political influence, her only desire and pleasure seeming
to lie in aiding her friends.

Mme. Geoffrin was too practical and had too much good common sense to
be vain. The majority of men were influenced by and favored her, and,
which seemed strange, she had few enemies among her own sex. Mme.
Necker said: "The old age of Mme. Geoffrin is like that of old trees,
whose age we know by the space they cover and the quantity of roots
they spread. She has seen all the illustrious men of the century; she
has discovered, with sagacity, their peculiarities and their defects.
She judges them by their conduct, never by their talents."

In her best years, she was intimately associated with the
Encyclopædists, to whom she paid over one hundred thousand francs for
the publication of their work. Of all the great women of that century,
she was the closest friend of the philosophers and free-thinkers,
being called _La Fontenelle des Femmes_. She was always ready with
an answer; one day a friend pointed out to her the house of the
farmer-general Bouvet, and asked her: "Have you ever seen anything as
magnificent and in better taste?" She replied: "I would have nothing
to say if Bouvet were the _frotteur_ [floor polisher] of it."

Mme. Geoffrin, more than any other woman of the salons, possessed the
three essential qualifications of a salon leader,--good sense,
tact, and intelligence. She had also _esprit_, perfect simplicity,
precision, and faultless taste; though a sceptic, she was a diplomat
who perfectly understood the art of manoeuvring. In short, Mme.
Geoffrin was an intellectual authority, a sort of minister to society,
and her salon was the great centre and rendezvous, a veritable
institution of the eighteenth century. This seems the more remarkable
when we consider that she belonged to the bourgeoisie, and that
by dint of her exquisite tact, her almost infallible judgment, her
admirable taste in dress, and her keen intelligence, she created for
herself a position which was the envy of all Europe. Such women are
rare. During the last eighteen months of her life, though suffering
from paralysis and rheumatism, which she contracted at a religious
fête at Notre-Dame, she was unremitting in her attention to her
friends and the poor; and up to her death, in 1777, her friends were
faithful to her.

That spirit, or malady, which penetrated and ruled almost every
creature in the eighteenth century found its most notable victim in
Marie de Vichy-Chamrond--Mme. du Deffand. She, so to speak, yawned
out her life in a blasé society without faith or ideal. That horrible
affliction, with all its painful symptoms, ennui, whose origin was
seen to lie in an excess and abuse of _esprit_ in a society that
based all its pleasures and happiness upon the mind without any higher
interest than the self, infected a whole century with an "irremediable
disenchantment of others and one's self." This self-cult, or life
in and for the mind, developed sagacity, justness of views, and an
incomparable penetration, but it neglected all the elements necessary
to contentment and those other pleasures, of which the first is love
for one's fellow beings. Mme. du Deffand exemplified this stage
of mental unbalance; and when she wrote of her former friend and
companion: "Mlle. de Lespinasse died to-day at two o'clock; formerly,
that would have been an event for me; to-day, it is nothing at all,"
she gave an idea of the indifference which was characteristic of the
society of the time--an indifference which developed into an incurable
malady and an all-consuming egoism, stifling the heart-beat of that
world which was weary of everything and yet was unwilling to close its

Marie de Vichy-Chamrond was born in 1697, of a noble family. She began
the same manner of life as that followed by most French women, being
reared in the Convent of Madeleine de Frénel, where, when quite young,
she evinced a strong spirit of impiety, giving expression to the most
sceptical opinions upon religious subjects, to the great dismay of
her superiors and parents. At the age of twenty she was married to the
Marquis du Deffand, who had but his brevet of colonel of a regiment of
dragoons, and whose intelligence and fortune were of a _nullité rare_.
However, her marriage was a sort of emancipation which enabled her to
enter society; and it is asserted that she soon became the mistress of
Philippe of Orléans, the regent, from whom she received six thousand
francs life income.

As the result of a disagreement, she separated from her husband, and
then began a life of pleasure among the gayest of the most fashionable
world, where, through the power of her brilliancy, wit, charm, and
fascinating beauty, she immediately became a leader. After passing
through all the phases of social life and its varied experiences--from
the society of Mme. de Prie, the type of the dissolute woman of
the Regency, from the famous suppers of the regent, whose ingenious
inventions of lewd and wanton pleasures made him notorious, from an
association with the intriguing Duchesse de Maine, to all the great
and influential social centres of Paris--in short, after pursuing
a career of fashionable dissipation, she became reconciled to her
husband, and lived with him in peace and happiness for a short time;
but six months of regular life affected her behavior toward the poor
marquis to such a degree that he thought it best to leave her. After
that episode, she returned to her lover; and, rejected by him and her
friends, and becoming the subject of the gossip of the entire city,
she sought consolation from one acquaintance after another, and was
miserable all the time.

At the age of about thirty-four, Mme. du Deffand returned to a kind
of regular life, and, in time, won a reputation for _esprit_, regained
her honorable friends and established for herself a kind of accepted
authority. Thus, when she opened a salon in 1742, she was able to
attract a brilliant company, which became famous after 1749, when she
took apartments in the Convent Saint-Joseph. Here wit and polished
manners, taste, vivacity, and good sense were the requisites;
literature, politics, and philosophy were not tolerated, but
"sparkling _bons mots_, glancing epigrams, witty verses, were the
avenues to social success."

Until her dotage this woman, who, from a natural selfishness and lack
of sympathy, was incapable of loving with the characteristic ardor
of the women of her time, by knowing how to inspire love in others,
controlled and held near her the famous men and women of her age.
When she began to realize the calamity of her failing sight, which was
probably due to her general state of restlessness and the resultant
physical decay, she received, as companion, a relative, Mlle. de
Lespinasse, who undertook the most difficult, disagreeable, and
ungrateful task of waiting on the marquise. As Mme. du Deffand arose
in time to receive at six, mademoiselle soon announced to the friends
that she herself would be visible at an earlier hour. Thus, it
happened that Marmontel, Turgot, Condorcet, and d'Alembert regularly
assembled in mademoiselle's room--a proceeding which soon led to a
rupture between the two women and a breach between Mme. du Deffand
and d'Alembert. The marquise was therefore left alone, blind, but too
proud to tolerate pity, yet by her conversation retaining her power
of fascination. It was about this time that Horace Walpole became
connected with her life. Upon the death of Mme. Geoffrin, she, hearing
of the imposing ceremonies and funeral orations, exclaimed: _Voilà
bien du bruit pour une omelette au lard_. [A great ado about a lard
omelet!] Her latter years were dragged out most miserably, being
marked by a singular feverishness and unavailing efforts toward the
acceptance of some faith. Her death, in 1780, finally brought her

The career of Mme. du Deffand actually began as early as 1730, when
she opened her establishment on the Rue de Beaune, at the time that
she became attached to the president Hénault, who presided over her
salon for more than thirty years. The famous salon Du Deffand at the
Convent Saint-Joseph was not opened until 1749; there she was very
particular as to those whom she received, and access to her salon
was a matter of difficulty. Grimm was never received, and Diderot
was present but once. The conversation was always intellectual, and
whenever she tired of French vivacity, she would spend an evening with
Mme. Necker.

A letter of Walpole to Montagu leaves, on the whole, a splendid
picture of her: "I have heard her dispute with all sorts of people,
upon all sorts of subjects, and never knew her to be in the wrong.
She humbles the learned, sets right their disciples, and finds
conversation for everybody. As affectionate as Mme. de Sévigné, she
has none of her prejudices, but a more universal taste; and with the
most delicate frame, her spirits hurry her through a life of fatigue
that would kill me were I to remain here."

The simple furnishings of her apartments, which were very spacious
and had been occupied by the famous Mme. de Montespan, stood out in
striking contrast to the elegance of her visitors. Here she gathered
about her her two lovers, _le Président_ Hénault and Pont de Veyle,
besides D'Alembert, Turgot, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Necker, Walpole,
the Abbés Barthélemy and Pernetty, the Chevalier de Lisle, de Formant,
_le Docteur_ Gatti, Hume, Gibbon, Baron de Gleichen, and many other
celebrities, including the Princesses de Beauvau, de Poix, de Talmont,
the Duchesses de Choiseul, d'Aiguillon, de Gramont, the Maréchale de
Luxembourg, the Marquises de Boufflers and du Châtelet, the Comtesses
de Rochefort, de Broglie, de Forcalquier, Mme. Necker, Lady Pembroke,
De Lauzun, and many others, all of whom were society leaders. Whenever
Mme. du Deffand had a special supper, it was said that Paris was at
Mme. du Deffand's.

Her salon, above all others, was the centre of cosmopolitanism,
where all great men, foreigners and natives, found means of social
intercourse, and where, more than in any other salon, were assembled
the great beauties of the day, represented especially by the
Countesses de Forcalquier and Choiseul-Beaupré, Duchesse de La
Vallière. Gallantry and beauty were found in the Maréchale de
Luxembourg and the Comtesse de Boufflers. The philosophical movement
of the Encyclopædists and Economists was not encouraged at all.
Thus, in Mme. du Deffand's salon, we find neither pure philosophy nor
religion, nor the air of pedants and _déclamateurs_; it was a royalist
salon without illusion, hence indifferent to all questions. It
represented the perfect type of the French model of _esprit de
finesse_,--that is, precision,--and its leader possessed a keen
insight into human character.

This wonderful woman, who, during a period of over forty years, had
held at her feet the élite of the French world, at the age of
about threescore and ten, fell desperately in love with a man of
fifty--Horace Walpole. She who had never loved with her heart, but
only with her mind, then declared it better to be dead than not to
love someone. Although her actions and letters were pitiful in
the extreme, her epistles are invaluable for their incomparable
portraitures and keen reflections upon persons and events of the time.
She attracted Walpole by the possibilities that were opened up to
him by her position in society, and by her brilliant conversation,
in which she scoffed at the clergy and the philosophers, showing a
profound insight into human nature and the society of the time as well
as into politics. Their correspondence shows one of the most pitiful,
pathetic, and lamentable love tales in the history of society. He
looked upon her friendship as a most valuable acquisition by which
he was kept in touch with all the scandals and stories of society,
of which he was so fond, and she mistook that friendship for love.
He felt himself flattered in being the one preferred by such a
distinguished old lady of high society.

All critics are at a loss for the explanation of such a love in a
woman of seventy. Was it the result of the lifetime of disappointment
of a woman who had constantly sought love but had never found it? Was
it, thus, the hallucination of the childish old age of the woman who
was physically consumed by incessant social functions and all-night
reading? Mme. du Deffand sees in Walpole her ideal, and she gives
expression to her feelings, regardless of propriety; for she is
childish and irresponsible. To a certain extent, the same was true of
Mme. de Staël, but she was still physically healthy and young enough
to enjoy life and the realization of that which she had so long
desired--an ideal affection. In the case of Mme. du Deffand, the soul
was willing, but the body failed. Her emotion can scarcely be termed
love, but is rather to be designated as a mental hallucination, an
exaggerated intellectual affection bordering upon sentimentality--the
outgrowth of that morbid imagination developed from her long suffering
from ennui.

She was a woman destined to pass by the side of happiness without ever
reaching it. She hardly had enjoyed what may be called friendship; she
was always either suspicious of it and of her friends' sentiments, or
she herself broke off relations for some trivial reason. This woman,
however, always longed to believe her friends sincere, but never
succeeded. "Her friends either leave her, they die, or they are far
away; or, if present, faithful and attached to her, she cannot believe
in their affection; her cursed scepticism deceived her heart."

Mme. du Deffand was one of the few women of the eighteenth century who
saw reality and nothing but reality, and admitted what she saw; she
was gifted with such quick penetration and such mental facility
that she stands out prominently as one of the brightest and most
intellectual of the spiritual women of her time. This quickness of
perception and tendency to follow a mere impression made it difficult
for her to examine closely, to be patient of details; too sure of
herself, too emotional, too passionate, she displayed injustice,
vehemence, over-enthusiasm; easily bored and disgusted, she was, at
the same time, susceptible to infatuation. Scherer said: "She is a
superior man in a body of a nervous and weak woman."

She was a woman dominated by her reason--a characteristic which led to
an incurable ennui, thus causing her terrible suffering, but equipping
her with a penetration which saw through the world and knew man, whom
she divided into three classes: _les trompeurs_, _les trompés_, _les
trompettes_. According to her judgment, man is either fatiguing or, if
brilliantly endowed, usually false or jealous; but she realized, also,
her own shortcomings, the incompleteness of her faculties. "The force
of her thought does not reach talent; her intelligence is active and
responsive, but fails to respond. She often shows a sovereign disdain
for herself, everybody, and everything. She arrives at a point in life
when she no longer has passion, desire, or even curiosity; she detests
life, and dreads death because she does not know that there is another
world. She is not happy enough to do without those whom she scorns,
and must therefore seek diversion in the conversation of stupid
people, preferring anything to solitude; this refers to the time when
her best friends are no more and when she herself is out of her former
_milieu_; she was too old, or lived too long; she belongs to another

By her friends she was called the feminine Voltaire, and the
celebrated philosopher and she were drawn together by a very similar
habit of mind, although, to her intimates, she scorched Voltaire; but
in writing to him she would overwhelm him with compliments, calling
him the only orthodox representative of good taste. In general, she
detested philosophers, because their hearts were cold and their minds
preoccupied with themselves.

Mme. du Deffand had an inherent passion for simplicity, frankness,
justice, and a hatred for deceit and affectation; but, strange as it
may seem, her nature required variety in her pleasure--new people, new
pursuits, new amusements, new agitations for her hungry mind; she was
too critical to be contented and to put implicit trust in her friends.
An agnostic, always endeavoring to probe into the nature of things,
the possession of a personal, living faith was yet the strongest
desire of her heart; all her life she longed for the peace that
religion affords, but this was denied her, although she had the
spiritual assistance of the most famous of the clergy, attended
church, had her oratory, her confessor, and faithfully studied the
Bible; all was vain--belief would not come to her. The marriage tie
was not sacred to her, which was the case with many of the French
women of the day, but she went further in lacking all reverence for
religious ceremony, though she respected the beliefs of others.

She was all wit and intellectuality. In order to keep her friends from
falling under the spell of ennui, she devoted herself to the culinary
art, and her suppers became famous for their rare dishes. "She is an
example of the type that was predominant in the time--one that had
lived too much and was dying from excess of knowledge and pleasure;
but she sought that which did not exist in that age,--serenity, peace,
faith. She was passionate, sensitive, and sympathetic, in a cold,
heartless, and unfeeling world. She needed variety; being bored with
society, solitude, husband, lovers, herself, nothing remained for her
but to await deliverance by death." This came to her in 1780.

[Illustration 3:
After the painting by Mme. E. Armand Leleux._
_A woman who played a prominent part in society during the Regency, but
who had no salon in the proper sense of the word, was Mme. du Châtelet,
commonly called Voltaire's Emilie. She was especially interested in
sciences, and did more than any other woman of that time to encourage
nature study. It was at her Château de Cirey that Voltaire found
protection when threatened with a second visit to the Bastille; and
there, from time to time for sixteen years, he did some of the best work
of his life. It was Mme. du Châtelet who encouraged him, sympathized
with him, and appreciated his mobile humor as well as his talent. During
these years, while he was under the influence of madame, appeared_
Mérope, Alzire, _the_ Siècle de Louis XIV, _etc._]

In matters literary, Mme. du Deffand preserved an absolute liberty
and independence of opinion. She refused to accept the verdicts of the
most competent judges; with instinctive attractions and repulsions,
she found but few writers that pleased her. Boileau, Lesage, Chamfort,
were her favorites. She said that Buffon was of an unendurable
monotony. "He knows well what he knows, but he is occupied with beasts
only; one must be something of a beast one's self in order to devote
one's self to such an occupation."

As a writer, she showed remarkable good sense, admirable sincerity,
rare judgment, justness, and precision; depth and charm were present
in a less degree than were other desirable qualities, but she
exhibited excellent _esprit_. She was probably the most subtile, and
at the same time the most fastidious person of the century. The best
portraits of her were written by her own pen; two of them we give, one
written at the beginning of her career in 1728, the other at its end
in 1774.

"Mme. la Marquise du Deffand is an enemy of all falseness and
affectation. Her talk and countenance are always the faithful
interpreters of the sentiment of her soul. Her form is not fine nor
bad. She has _esprit_, is reasonable and has a correct taste. If
vivacity at times leads her off, truth soon brings her back. After she
falls into an ennui which extinguishes all the light of her mind, she
finds that state insupportable and the cause of such unhappiness, that
she blindly embraces all that presents itself, without deliberation."

(1774.) "They believe Mme. du Deffand to possess more _esprit_ than
she really has; they praise and fear her, but she merits neither the
one nor the other. As far as her _esprit_ is concerned, she is what
she is; in regard to her form, to her birth and fortune--nothing
extraordinary, nothing distinguished. Born without great talent,
incapable of great application, she is very susceptible to ennui, and,
not finding any resource within herself, she resorts to those that
surround her and this search is often without success."

Mme. du Deffand arouses our curiosity because she was such an
exceptional character, led such a strange life, made and retained
friends in ways so different from those of the noted heroines of the
salons. In her youth, she was beautiful and fascinating, with numerous
lovers and numberless suitors, but she grew even more famous as her
age increased; when infirm and blind, and living in a convent, she
ruled by virtue of her acknowledged authority and was still able
to cope with the greatest philosophers, the chief and dean of whom,
Voltaire, wrote the following four lines:

  "Qui vous voit et qui vous entend
  Perd bientôt sa philosophie;
  Et tout sage avec Du Deffand
  Voudrait en fou passer sa vie."

  [He who sees and hears you,
  Soon loses his philosophy.
  Wise he who with Du Deffand
  Insane would pass his life.]

Living long enough to witness the reigns of three kings and one
regent, she was brilliant enough to reign over the intellectual and
social world for over fifty years, by virtue of her intellectuality,
keenness, and wit; yet, among all the great women of France, she is
truly the one who deserves genuine pity and sympathy.

The salon of Mlle. de Lespinasse, her rival, was of a different type,
being exclusively intellectual, but permitting absolute liberty of
expression of opinions. Born in 1732, at the house of a surgeon of
Lyons, she was the illegitimate daughter of the Comtesse d'Albon
and was baptized as the child of a man supposed to be named Claude
Lespinasse. From 1753 she was the constant attendant to Mme. du
Deffand, her mother's sister-in-law, for a period of ten years, until
she became completely worn out physically, morally, and mentally by
incessant care and endless all-night readings. An attempt to end her
existence with sixty grains of opium failed. Owing to the jealousy of
Mme. du Deffand, a separation ensued in 1764, when she retired some
distance from the Convent Saint-Joseph to very modest apartments,
where, by means of her friends, she was able to receive in a dignified
way. The Maréchale de Luxembourg completely fitted up her apartment,
the Duc de Choiseul succeeded in getting her an annual pension from
the king, and Mme. Geoffrin allowed her three thousand francs.

The majority of the members of her salon were from that of Mme. du
Deffand, having followed Mlle. de Lespinasse after the rupture of
the two women; besides these, there were Condorcet, Helvétius, Grimm,
Marmontel, Condillac, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, and many others. As
her hours for receiving were after five o'clock, her friends were made
to understand that her means were not such as to warrant suppers or
dinners, four o'clock being the dinner hour in those days.

Her salon immediately became known as the official encyclopædia
resort, Mme. du Deffand dubbing it _La Muse de l'Encyclopédie_.
D'Alembert was the high priest, and it was not long before he
was comfortably lodged in the third story of her house, Mlle. de
Lespinasse having nursed him through a malignant fever which the poor
man had contracted in the wretched place where he lodged. A strange
gathering, those salons! Mlle. de Lespinasse, one of the leaders
in the social world, with a prominent salon, was the illegitimate
daughter of a Comtesse d'Albon, and her presiding genius was the
illegitimate son of Mme. de Tencin; here we find the wealthiest and
most elegant of the aristocracy coming from their palaces to meet, in
friendly social and intellectual intercourse, men who lived on a mere
pittance, dressed on almost nothing, lodged in the most wretched of
dens, boarding wherever a salon or palace was opened to them. Surely,
intellect was highly valued in those days, and moral etiquette was at
a low ebb!

Mlle. de Lespinasse possessed two characteristics which were prominent
in a remarkable degree--love and friendship. She appeared to interest
herself in everybody in such a way as to make him believe that he
was the preferred of her heart; loving everybody sincerely and
affectionately, she "lacked altogether the sentimental equilibrium."
Especially pathetic was her love for two men--the Count de Mora, a
Spanish nobleman, and a Colonel Guibert, who was celebrated for his
relations with Frederick the Great; although this wore terribly on
her, consuming her physical force, she always received her friends
with the same good grace, but often, after their departure, she would
fall into a frightful nervous fit from which she could find relief
only by the use of opium.

Her love for Guibert was known to her friends, but was a secret from
her platonic lover, D'Alembert. When, after a number of years of
untold sufferings which even opium could not relieve, she died in
1776, having been cared for to the last by D'Alembert, the Duke de La
Rochefoucauld, and her cousin, the Marquis d'Enlezy, it was with these
words on her dying lips, addressed to Guibert: "Adieu, my friend!
If ever I return to life, I should like to use it in loving you;
but there is no longer any time." When D'Alembert read in her
correspondence that she had been the mistress of Guibert for sixteen
years, he was disconsolate, and retired to the Louvre, which was
his privilege as Secretary of the Academy. He left there only to go
walking in the evening with Marmontel, who tried to console him by
recalling the changeableness of humor of Mlle. de Lespinasse. "Yes,"
he would reply, "she has changed, but not I; she no longer lived for
me, but I always lived for her. Since she is no longer, I don't
know why I am living. Ah, that I must still suffer these moments of
bitterness which she knew so well how to soothe and make me forget!
Do you remember the happy evenings we used to pass? What is there now?
Instead of her, when coming home, I find only her shadow! This Louvre
lodging is itself a tomb, which I enter only with fright."

Mlle. de Lespinasse died of grief for a lover's death, but she left
a group of lovers to lament her loss. In many respects she was not
unlike Mlle. de Scudéry; exceptionally plain, her face was much
marked with smallpox, a disfigurement not uncommon in those days; her
exceedingly piercing and fine eyes, beautiful hair, tall and elegant
figure, excellent taste in dress, pleasing voice and a most brilliant
talent for conversation, combined to make her one of the most
attractive and popular women of her time. As previously stated, she
was the only female admitted to the dinners given by Mme. Geoffrin to
her men of letters.

Mme. du Deffand's friend, _le Président_ Hénault, left the following
portrait of Mlle. de Lespinasse: "You are cosmopolitan--you are
suitable to all occasions. You like company--you like solitude.
Pleasures amuse, but do not seduce you. You have very strong passions,
and of the best kind, for they do not return often. Nature, in
endowing you with an ordinary state, gave you something with which to
rise above it. You are distinguished, and, without being beautiful,
you attract attention. There is something piquant in you; one might
obstinately endeavor to turn your head, but it would be at one's own
expense. Your will must be awaited, because you cannot be made to
come. Your cheerfulness embellishes you, and relaxes your nerves,
which are too highly strung. You have your own opinion, and you leave
others their own. You are extremely polite. You have divined _le
monde_. In vain one would transplant you--you would take root
anywhere. In short, you are not an ordinary person."

The salon of Mlle. de Lespinasse was unique. Everyone was at perfect
liberty to express and sustain his own opinions upon any subject,
without danger of offending the hostess, which, as has been seen,
was not the case in the salon of Mme. Geoffrin. Her high and sane
intellectual culture permitted her to listen to all discussions and to
take part in all. She had no strong prejudices, having read--for Mme.
du Deffand--nearly everything that was read at that time; also, she
had the talent of preserving harmony among her members by drawing from
each one his best qualities.

A woman who played a prominent part in society during the Regency,
but who had no salon in the proper sense of that word, was Mme.
du Châtelet, commonly called Voltaire's Emilie. She was especially
interested in sciences, mathematics, geometry, and astronomy, and did
more than any other woman of that time to encourage nature study.
It was at her Château de Cirey that Voltaire found protection when
threatened with a second visit to the Bastille; and there, from time
to time for sixteen years, he did some of the best work of his life.
It was Mme. du Châtelet who encouraged him, sympathized with him,
and appreciated his mobile humor as well as his talent. During these
years, while he was under the influence of madame, appeared _Mérope_,
_Alzire_, the _Siècle de Louis XIV_, etc.

Mme. du Châtelet was the one great _femme savante_ of that century. In
the preface to her _Traduction des Principes Mathématiques de Newton_,
Voltaire wrote: "Never was a woman so _savante_ as she, and never did
a woman merit less the saying, _she is a femme savante_. She did
not select her friends from those circles where there was a war of
_esprit_, where a sort of tribunal was established, where they judged
their century, by which, in recompense, they were severely judged.
She lived for a long time in societies which were ignorant of what she
was, and she took no notice of this ignorance. The words precision,
justness, and force are those which correctly describe her elegance.
She would have written as Pascal and Nicole did rather than like Mme.
de Sévigné; but this severe firmness and this tendency of her _esprit_
did not make her inaccessible to the beauties of sentiment."

Maupertuis, the astronomer, wrote: "What a marvel, moreover, to have
been able to combine the fine qualities of her sex with the sublime
knowledge which we believe uniquely made for us! This enterprising
phenomenon will make her memory eternally respected."




It seems strange indeed that in a century in which the universal
impulse was toward pleasure, and sameness of personality was
visible everywhere, the types of great women showed such an absolute
dissimilarity. The contrast between the natural inclinations of Mme.
Necker, the wife of the great minister of finance, and the atmosphere
in which she lived, makes the study of her a most interesting one.
Born in Switzerland, the daughter of Curchod, a poor Protestant
minister, "with patriarchal morals, solid education, and strong
good sense," this moral and stern woman was thrown into the midst of
depraved elegance, refined licentiousness, and physical debauchery.
Sincere, chaste, enthusiastic, and essentially religious, she remained
so amidst all the corruption and physical and mental degeneracy of the

Critics have made much ado over her marriage, a union of pure love and
mutual inclinations, amidst the marriages of mere convenience and the
gallant liaisons, such as those of Mme. du Deffand and _le Président_
Hénault, and Mme. d'Epinay and Grimm. The matrimonial selection of
Susanne Curchod was natural in a girl of her serious make-up, her
moral education and her pure ancestry of the strict Protestant type.
As a girl of sixteen, she had given evidence of remarkable mental
ability and had acquired a wide knowledge--physics, Latin, philosophy,
metaphysics--when she was sent to Lausanne, possibly with the idea
of meeting a future husband with whom she could become thoroughly
acquainted before giving up her independence. There she became
the centre of a group or academy of young people, who, under her
leadership, discussed subjects of every nature. At first she showed
a tendency toward _préciosité_ and the spirit of the blue-stocking
rather than toward the seriousness and dignity which marked her later

It was at Lausanne that she met and fell in love with Gibbon, the
English historian; this love affair met with opposition from Gibbon's
father, and, after the death of the father of his fiancée, a calamity
which left her poor and necessitated her teaching for a living,
the Englishman, by his actions and manner toward her, compelled the
breaking of their engagement. When, later in life, he went to her
salon, they became intimate friends, enjoying "the intellectual union
which had been impossible for them in their earlier days."

Thus, at the age of twenty-four, Mlle. Curchod, beautiful, virtuous,
and accomplished, and at the height of her reputation in a small town
in Switzerland, was left an orphan. She was taken to Paris by Mme. de
Vermenoux, a wealthy widow, who was sought in marriage by M. Necker,
banker and capitalist; but, as she was unable to make up her mind to
a definite answer, his attention was attracted to her young companion.
The result was that, after a few months' sojourn in Paris, Mlle.
Curchod became the wife of M. Necker, an event which caused rejoicing
from Lausanne to Geneva. Their characters are well portrayed in two
letters, written by them to their friends after their marriage. M.
Necker wrote, in reply to a letter of congratulation:

"Yes, sir; your friend (Mlle. Curchod) was indeed willing to have me,
and I believe myself as happy as one can be. I cannot understand how
it can be you whom they congratulate, unless it is as my friend. Will
money always be the measure of opinion? That is pitiable! He who
wins a virtuous, kind, and sensible woman--has he not made a good
transaction, whether or not she be seated on sacks of money? Humanity,
what a poor judge you are!"

Shortly after her marriage, Mme. Necker wrote to one of her friends:
"My dear, I have married a man who, according to my ideas, is the
kindest of mortals, and I am not the only one to judge thus. I had had
a liking for him ever since I learned to know him. At present, I see,
in all nature, only my husband. I take notice of other men only in so
far as they come more or less up to the standard of my husband, and
I compare them only for the pleasure of seeing the difference." The
marital relations of this loving pair lasted throughout life; and
among great women of the eighteenth century, Mme. Necker is one of the
few examples of ideal marriage relations.

Soon after their marriage, the Neckers took up their quarters at the
Rue Michel-le-Comte, where they began to receive friends. As at that
time every day in the week was reserved by other salons,--Monday and
Wednesday at Mme. Geoffrin's, Tuesday at Helvétius's, Thursday and
Sunday at the Baron d'Holbach's,--Mme. Necker was compelled to appoint
Friday as her reception day. She soon succeeded in attracting to her
hôtel the best _esprit_ of Paris: Diderot, Suard, Grimm, Comte de
Schomberg, Marmontel, D'Alembert, Thomas, Saint-Lambert, Helvétius,
Ducis, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, the Abbés Raynal, Armand, and
Morellet, Mme. Geoffrin, Mme. du Deffand, Mme. de Marchais, Mme.
Suard, the Maréchale de Luxembourg, the Duchesse de Lauzun, the
Marquise de La Ferté-Imbault, Mme. de Boufflers.

Among these visitors, most of whom were atheists, Mme. Necker
preserved her own religious opinions and piety, although her friends
at Geneva never ceased to be concerned about her. Her admirers were
many, but they were kept within the bounds of propriety and never
attempted any gallant liberties with the hostess--except her ardent
admirer Thomas, the intensity of whose eulogies upon her she was
forced to check occasionally. It was not long before she became very
influential in filling the vacant seats of the Academy. In this and
many other respects, her salon may be compared with that of Mme. de

Mme. Necker's idea of conducting a salon and its conversation was much
the same as the management of a state; she believed that the hostess
must never join in the conversation as long as it goes on by itself,
but, ever watchful, must never permit disturbances, disagreements,
improprieties, or obstacles; she must animate it if it languish; she
must see that conversation never takes a dangerous, disagreeable, or
tiresome turn, and that it never brings into undue prominence one man
especially, as this makes others jealous and displeases the entire
society; it must always interest and include all members. The
discussions at Mme. Necker's were literary and philosophical; and to
prevent even the possibility of tedium, frequent readings were given
in their place.

It was at the salon of Mme. Necker that Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
first read his _Paul et Virginie_, which received such a cold and
indifferent welcome that the author, utterly discouraged, was on the
point of burning his manuscript, when he was prevailed upon by his
friend Vernet, the great artist, to preserve all his works. Mme.
Necker was always quite frank and outspoken, often showing a cutting
harshness and a rigor which, as was said, was little in harmony with
her bare neck and arms--a style then in vogue at court. She never
judged persons by their reputations, but by their _esprit_; thus, it
was possible for her to receive people of the most diverse tendencies.
When the Marquise de La Ferté-Imbault, one of the few virtuous women
of the time, and of the highest aristocracy, was invited to attend the
salon of Mme. Necker and was told that the Maréchale de Luxembourg,
Mme. du Deffand, Mme. de Boufflers, and Mme. Marchais were
frequenters, she said: "These four women are so discredited by
manners, and the first two are so dangerous, that for thirty years
they have been the horror of society."

The two portraits by Marmontel and Galiani are interesting, as
throwing light upon the doings of her salon. Marmontel wrote: "Mme.
Necker is very virtuous and instructed, but emphatic and stiff. She
does not know Mme. de Sévigné, whom she praises, and only esteems
Buffon and Thomas. She calculates all things; she sought men of
letters only as trumpets to blow in honor of her husband. He never
said a word; that was not very recreating."

Galiani leaves a different impression: "There is not a Friday that
I do not go to your house _en esprit_. I arrive, I find you now busy
with your headdress, now busy with this duchess. I seat myself at your
feet. Thomas quietly suffers, Morellet shows his anger aloud. Grimm
and Suard laugh heartily about it, and my dear Comte de Greuze does
not notice it. Marmontel finds the example worthy to be imitated,
and you, madame, make two of your most beautiful virtues do battle,
bashfulness and politeness, and in this suffering you find me a little
monster more embarrassing than odious. Dinner is announced. They leave
the table and in the café all speak at the same time. M. Necker thinks
everything well, bows his head and goes away."

In summer her receptions were first held at the Château de Madrid,
and, later on, in a château at Saint-Ouen; the guests were always
called for and returned in carriages supplied by the hostess. It was
in her salon, in 1770, that the plan originated to erect the statue
of Voltaire, which is to-day the famous statue of the _Palais de

When, during the stirring times before the Revolution, her salon took
on a purely political nature, Mme. Necker played a very secondary
rôle. In 1788 she and her husband were compelled to leave Paris; but
being recalled by Louis XVI., Necker managed affairs for thirteen
months, after which he retired with Mme. Necker to Coppet, where, in
1794, the latter died.

Mme. Necker never became a thorough Frenchwoman; she always lacked
the grace and charm which are the necessary qualifications of a salon
leader; intelligence was her most meritorious quality. Her dinners
were apt to become tiresome and to drag. A very interesting story is
told of her by the Marquis de Chastellux, which was reported by Mme.
Genlis, one of her intimate friends:

"Dining at Mme. Necker's, the marquis was first to arrive, and so
early that the hostess was not yet in the salon. In walking up and
down the room, he noticed a small book under Mme. Necker's chair. He
picked it up and opened it. It was a blank book, a few of the pages
of which had been written upon by Mme. Necker. Certainly, he would
not have read a letter, but, believing to find only a few spiritual
thoughts, he read without any scruples. It contained the plan for the
dinner of that day, to which he had been invited, and had been written
by Mme. Necker on the previous evening. It told what she would say to
the most prominent of the invited guests. She wrote: 'I shall speak
to the Chevalier de Chastellux about public felicity and Agatha; to M.
d'Angeviller, I shall speak of love; between Marmontel and Guibert
I shall raise some literary discussion.' After reading the note, he
hurriedly replaced the book under the chair. A moment later, a valet
entered, saying that madame had left her notebook in the salon. The
dinner was charming for M. de Chastellux, because he had the pleasure
of hearing Mme. Necker say, word for word, what she had written in her

This woman was ever preoccupied with style, and, throughout her life,
retained the solemn, studied, and academic air, as well as the simple,
rural, innocent manner and spirit of her early surroundings. A mere
bourgeoise, unaccustomed to elegance or to the manners of French
social life, upon entering Parisian society she set her mind to
observing, and immediately began to change her provincial ways and to
make over her _esprit_ for conversation, for circumstances, and for
characters; she adjusted her provincial spirit to that of Paris, thus
making of it an entirely new product. Later on, her salon became the
first of the modern political salons, but it was far from reaching the
prominence of that of Mme. Geoffrin, whose characteristics were social
prudence and strict propriety, while those of Mme. Necker were virtue
and goodness.

Mme. Necker was never in perfect sympathy with her visitors, the
philosophers, the common basis of ideas and sentiments never existing
between her and her friends as it did between Mme. Geoffrin and her
frequenters; her tie was always artificial. "She represented the Swiss
spirit in Parisian society; those serious and educated souls, virtuous
and sentimental, somewhat sad and strictly moral, were rather tiresome
to the Parisian world." Marmontel well describes her in another of his
famous portraits:

"A stranger to the customs of Paris, Mme. Necker had none of the
charms and accomplishments of the young French woman. In her manner
and language she had neither the air nor the tone of a woman reared
in the school of arts, formed at the school of high society.
Without taste in her headdress, without ease in her bearing, without
fascination in her politeness, her mind--as was her countenance--was
too properly adjusted to show grace. But a charm more worthy of her
was that of propriety, of candor, of goodness. A virtuous education
and solitary studies had given to her all that culture can add to an
excellent nature. In her, sentiment was perfect, but her thought was
often confused and vague; instead of clearing her ideas, meditation
disturbed them; in exaggerating them, she believed to enlarge them;
in order to extend them, she wandered off into abstractions and
hyperboles. She seemed to see certain objects only through a fog,
which augmented their importance in her eyes; and then her expression
became so inflated that the pomposity of it would have been laughable
if one had not known her to be entirely ingenuous."

"In summing up the character of Mme. Necker, we find," says
Sainte-Beuve, "first of all, a genuine individuality and a personality
with defects which at first impression are shocking, but which only
helped to render the woman and all her aspirations the more admirable.
Entering a Parisian society with the firm decision of becoming a woman
of _esprit_ and of being in relation with the _beaux esprits_, she was
able to preserve the moral conscience of her Protestant training, to
protest against the false doctrines about her, to give herself up to
duties in the midst of society, to found institutions for the sick and
needy,--and to leave a memory without a stain."

While, among the famous salon leaders of the eighteenth century, Mme.
Necker stands out preëminently for her strict moral integrity and
fidelity to her marriage relations, Mme. d'Epinay is unique for
the constancy of her affections for the men to whom she owes her
celebrity, Rousseau and Grimm. Born in 1725, the record of her life
runs like that of most French women. At the age of twenty she was
married to her cousin, La Live, who later took the name of d'Epinay,
from an estate his father, the wealthy M. de Bellegarde, had bought--a
man who was really in love with her for a whole month after their
marriage, but who, tiring of the pure affections of a loving wife,
soon began to lavish his time and fortune upon a _danseuse_. The
poor young wife was between two fires, the extravagance and wild
dissipations of her husband and the rigid discipline and orthodoxy of
her mother. Never was a woman treated so outrageously and insultingly
as was this woman by a man who contrived in every manner to corrupt
her morals by throwing her among his dissolute companions, Mme.
d'Artz, the mistress of the Prince de Conti, and Mlle. d'Ette, an
intriguing woman of the time; to the latter, Mme. d'Epinay confided
her troubles, and, as the result of her counsels, fell into the hands
of a M. de Francueil, handsome, clever, accomplished, but as morally
depraved as was her husband.

When Mme. d'Epinay was finally convinced that her husband was untrue
to her, she felt nothing but disdain and contempt for him, and
decided to live a virtuous life; after holding for a short time to
her resolution "that a woman may have the most profound and tender
sentiment for a man and yet remain faithful to her duties," she lost
herself under the influence of the professional seducer Francueil,
and, completely carried away by that passion, she cries out, in her
memoirs: _Francueil, Francueil, tu m'as perdue, et tu disais que tu
m'aimais_ [You have undone me--and you said you loved me]! Such was
the lot, as was seen, of most women of those days, who had noble
intentions, but a woman's weakness. The century did not demand
faithfulness to the marital vows; but when a woman had once abandoned
herself to love, it required that the attachment be to a man of honor
and standing. Marriage was simply a preliminary step to freedom;
after that ceremony came the natural election of the heart and mutual
tenderness of the beings who could be mated only through the freedom
which married life afforded. A superior illegitimate liaison was
nothing unnatural--on the contrary, it was but a natural human
selection; such was the nature of the affection of Mme. d'Epinay for
this débauché Francueil.

As she enjoyed absolute liberty, her lover paid his respects to her at
Epinay; there he inaugurated amusements and took his friends. It
was he who suggested the erection of a theatre at which her friends'
productions might be offered to the world of critics. Through his
efforts, the great men who made her salon famous were gathered at "La
Chevrette," where the actors and players soon drew the attention of
literary Paris. After a year or two of attachment, Francueil became
indifferent to Mme. d'Epinay and transferred his affections to an
actress--the sister of M. d'Epinay's mistress. Thus runs the story of
the life of the average married woman. If she remained virtuous,
she usually became resigned to her fate and lived happily; if she
undertook to imitate her husband's tactics, she fell from the good
graces of one lover to those of another, ending her life in absolute

These two men--the lover and the husband--carried on with two sisters
their licentious living and extravagances to such an extent that the
injured wife demanded a separation of her fortune from that of her
husband, in which project her father-in-law aided her and gave her
thirteen thousand francs income. Mme. d'Epinay, in the midst of
success, became acquainted with Mlle. Quinault, the daughter of the
famous actor of the time, and herself a great actress. This woman
invited Mme. d'Epinay to her so-called salon, which was, possibly, the
most licentious and irreligious of the salons then in vogue, where she
met Duclos, with whom she immediately formed a strong friendship.

After the death of M. de Bellegarde, her wealth was considerably
increased, a piece of good fortune which enabled her to carry out all
her plans. It was at this time, 1755, that she induced Rousseau
to live in her cottage, "l'Hermitage;" and for about two years she
enjoyed perfect happiness with him. By a peculiar freak of fate she
fell in with Grimm, who was introduced to her by Rousseau and who had,
for some time, been on the hunt for a "faithful mistress." This German
by birth, but Frenchman in spirit, had championed her at a dinner,
where she was the object of the severest reproach. She had burned
the papers of her sister, Mme. de Jully, who had betrayed an honest
husband. Stricken with smallpox, just before dying, she confessed all
to Mme. d'Epinay. The latter owed Mme. de Jully fifty écus and the
note was among the papers of Mme. de Jully. Mme. d'Epinay was accused
of having burned the note to which it was asserted she had access; and
Grimm undertook to plead her cause, an act which so elated madame that
she turned all her affection upon her defender, whereupon Rousseau
departed. Later on, the note having been found, Mme. d'Epinay was
completely vindicated. Grimm then became her third lover.

This third marriage, so to speak, was one of reason; the first was one
of mere emancipation; the second, one of passion and genuine love.
In 1755, worn out physically, she took a trip to Switzerland, to be
treated by the famous Dr. Tronchin; there she became so ill that Grimm
was summoned. They remained together for about two years, and after
her return to Paris she reopened her salon of "La Chevrette." Her
reunions partook more of the nature of our house parties; the salon
was an immense room, in which the members would pair off and divert
themselves as they pleased; in that respect "La Chevrette" was
unique. After her fortune, which at one time was quite large, became
diminished, partly through her own extravagance and partly through
that of her son, who was the very counterpart of his father, she was
forced to rent "La Chevrette" and, later on, "La Briche," where she
had opened her second salon.

The last years of her life she spent in Paris with Grimm. She had
reached such a physical condition that her sufferings could be
relieved only by the use of opium. Financial relief came to her in
1783, when the Academy awarded her the Montyon prize, then given for
the first time, for her _Conversations d'Emilie_. She died in the same
year, surrounded by her dearest friends--Grimm, M. and Mme. Belgunce,
and Mme. d'Houdetot.

Mme. d'Epinay, in many respects, was a remarkable woman. Amid all her
social duties, with all her physical and mental troubles, she found
time to help others and to manage her own business affairs and
those of her children, took an active interest in art, music, and
literature, raised, with the utmost care, her granddaughter, produced
one of the best works of the time for children, made tapestry, and
wrote innumerable letters. Her fortune was lost through the reforms of

She was not a beautiful woman; but she was distinguished by a small,
thin figure, an abundance of rich dark hair, which brought out in
striking relief the peculiar whiteness of her skin, and large brown
eyes. Her five lovers she called her five bears: Rousseau, Grimm,
Desmoulin, Saint-Lambert, Gauffecourt. An epistle to Grimm begins

  "Moi, de cinq ours la souveraine,
  Qui leur donne et present des lois,
  Faut-il que je sois à la fois
  Et votre esclave et votre reine,
  O des tyrans le plus tyran?"

  [I, sovereign over five bears,
  Who give and prescribe laws for them--
  Must I be your slave and queen at the same time,
  O among tyrants, the greatest?]

As far as the care of the education of her children is concerned,
with its sacrifice and real application to duty, she was sometimes
called--and not unadvisedly--the type of the ideal mother. From 1757
on her ideas and thoughts ran to education. Her friends were all
of the philosophical trend, and intellectual labor was their chief
pleasure. After having passed through a career of excitement and
love's caprices, she longed for a peaceful, quiet existence; at
that point, however, her health gave way, and she entered upon a new
territory at Geneva. There she conquered Voltaire, who was profuse
with his compliments and kindnesses. Upon her return she became the
recognized leader or champion of the philosophic and foreign group
and the Encyclopædists, and was regarded as the central figure of the
philosophical movement in general.

The ideas of the philosophers had been gaining ground, and were
disseminated through all classes. The mere love of pleasure and luxury
at first found under Louis XV. gave way to more serious reflections
when society was confronted with those all-important questions which
finally culminated in the Revolution. The salon of Mme. d'Epinay grew
to be the most important and, intellectually, the most brilliant
of the time. Rousseau, Diderot, Helvétius, Duclos, Suard, the Abbés
Galiani, Raynal, the Florentine physician Gatti, Comte de Schomberg,
Chevalier de Chastellux, Saint-Lambert, Marquis de Croixmare, the
different ambassadors, counts and princes, were frequent visitors
In this brilliant circle her letters from Voltaire, read aloud, were
always eagerly awaited. Such dramas as Voltaire's _Tancred_, Diderot's
_Le Père de Famille_, were given under her patronage and discussed in
her salon; after the performance she entertained all the friends at

Upon the departure of Abbé Galiani from Paris, Mme. d'Epinay and
Diderot were intrusted with the revision and printing of his famous
_Dialogues sur les Blés_; Grimm left to them the continuance of
his _Correspondance Littéraire_. She was known for her wonderful
analytical ability and her keen power of observation--faculties which
won the esteem and respect of such men and caused her collaboration
to be anxiously sought by them; however, she never attempted to rival
them in their particular sphere. In her writings she displayed a
reactionary tendency against the educational methods of the day, her
chief work of real literary worth being mostly in the form of
sound advice to a child. Being a reasonable, careful, and sensible
woman,--in spite of the defects in her moral life,--she desired to
show the possibilities of a moral revolution against the habits and
customs of the time, of which she herself had been a most unfortunate
victim. She was relieved of actual want by means of this work, which
gained for her a pension from Catherine II. of Russia, who adopted
her methods for her own children, and the award of the Montyon prize,
which was given her in a competition with a large number of aspirants,
the most famous of whom was Mme. de Genlis. It was her ability to gain
and retain the respect of great men which won that honor for her.

The memoirs of Mme. d'Epinay leave one of the most accurate and
faithful pictures of the polished society of the France of about 1750.
"Her salon was the centre about which circled the greatest activity;
it was filled with men who ordered events, thinkers whose minds were
bent upon untangling the knotty problems of the age; it was her salon,
more than any other, that quickened the philosophical movement of
the day." Mme. d'Epinay made her reputation not so much through her
_esprit_, intelligence, or beauty, possibly, as through the strength
of her affection. Timid, irresolute, and highly impressionable,
and amiable in disposition, she was constantly influenced by
circumstances--a quality which led her on to the two principal
occupations of her later life, education and philosophy. To-day,
her name is recalled principally for its association with that of
Rousseau, whose mistress and benefactress she was; it is to her that
the world owes his famous _Nouvelle Héloïse_.

The last of the great literary and social leaders of the eighteenth
century was Mme. de Genlis, a prodigy in every respect, an amateur
performer upon nearly every instrument, an authority on intellectual
matters as well, a fine story teller, a consummate artist,
entertainer, and general charmer. Authoress, governess of
Louis-Philippe, councillor of Bonaparte, her success as a social
leader established her reputation and places her in the file of great
women, although she was not a salon leader such as Mme. Geoffrin or
Mme. du Deffand.

She was born in 1746, and at a very early age showed a remarkable
talent for music, but her general education was much neglected. At the
age of about seventeen she was married to a Comte de Genlis, who
had fallen in love with her on seeing her portrait. As his relatives
refused to welcome the young girl, she was placed in the convent of
Origny, where she remained until 1764, after which her husband took
her to his brother's estate, where they lived happily for a short
time. When, in 1765, she became a mother, her husband's family became
reconciled to his union, and, later on, took her to court.

Before her marriage, upon the departure of her father to San Domingo
to retrieve his fortunes, her mother had found an asylum for her at
the elegant home of the farmer-general M. de La Popelinière. This
occurred at the time that Paris was theatre mad, and when great actors
and actresses were the heroes and heroines of society. At this house
the young girl became the central figure in the theatrical and musical
entertainments. After passing through this schooling, she stood the
test of the court without any difficulty, and completely won the favor
of her husband's family, as well as that of the court ladies and
the members of the other distinguished households where she was
introduced. With an insatiable appetite for frolics, quite in keeping
with the customs of the time, she plunged into social life with a
vigor and an aptitude which soon attracted attention. She played all
sorts of rôles at the most fashionable houses, "through her consummate
acting and _bons mots_ drawing tears of vexation from her less gifted
sisters. She plays nine instruments, writes dramas, recasts others,
organizes and drills amateurs, besides attending to a thousand and one
other things."

Through the influence of her aunt, Mme. de Montesson, who was
secretly married to the Duke of Orléans, Mme. de Genlis was appointed
lady-in-waiting in the household of the Duchesse de Chartres, the
duke's daughter-in-law, whose salon was celebrated in Paris. She
soon won the confidence of the duchess, and became her confessor,
secretary, guide, and oracle, but did not abandon in the least her
pursuit of pleasure. She even took possession of the heart of the duke
himself, and in 1782 was made "_gouverneur_" to his children, the Duc
de Valois, later Louis-Philippe, the Duc de Montpensier, the Comte de
Beaujolais, and Mlle. Adelaïde; for the education of her pupils she
had the use of several châteaux. Many a piquant epigram and chanson
were composed for the edification of the "_gouverneur_." It is said
that she acted as panderer for the princes, especially Louis-Philippe,
of a "legitimate means of satisfying these ardent desires of which
I am being devoured," by leading them to the nuns in the convents
by means of a subterranean passage. The following passages from the
journal of Louis-Philippe show the nature of his relations with her:

(December, 1790.) "I went to dine with my mother and grandfather.
Although I am delighted to dine often with my mother, I am deeply
sorry to give only three days out of the seven to my dear Bellechasse
[that is, to Mme. de Genlis]."

(January, 1791.) "Last evening, returned to my friend [Mme. de
Genlis]; remained there until after midnight; I was the first one to
have the good fortune of wishing her a 'Happy New Year.' Nothing can
make me happier; I don't know what will become of me when I am no
longer with her."

(January, 1791.) "Yesterday, I was at the Tuileries. The queen spoke
to my father, to my brother, and said nothing to me--neither did the
king nor Monsieur, in fact, no one. I remained at my friend's until
half-past twelve. No one in the world is so agreeable to me as is
she." (February, 1791.) "I was at the assembly at Bellechasse, dined
at the Palais-Royal, I was at the Jacobins, returned to Bellechasse,
after supper went to my friend's. I remained with her alone; she
treated me with an infinite kindness; I left, the happiest man in the
world." Such language speaks for itself.

No sons of a nobleman ever received a finer, more typically modern
education than did her pupils. She was, possibly, the first teacher to
use the natural method system, teaching German, English, and Italian
by conversation. The boys were compelled to act, in the park, the
voyages of Vasco da Gama; in the dining room the great historical
tableaux were presented; in the theatre, built especially for them,
they acted all the dramas of the _Théâtre d'Education_. She taught
them how to make portfolios, ribbons, wigs, pasteboard work, to
gild, to turn, and to do carpentering. They visited museums and
manufactories, during which expeditions they were taught to observe,
criticise, and find defects. This was the first step taken in France
in the eighteenth century toward a modern education. Although it was
superficial, in consequence of its great breadth, yet this education
inculcated manliness and courage.

In 1778 Mme. de Genlis published her moral teachings in _Adèle et
Théodore_, a work which created quite a little talk at the time, but
which eventually brought upon her the condemnation of the philosophers
and Encyclopædists, because in it she opposed liberty of conscience.
When, on the occasion of the first communion of the Duc de Valois,
she wrote her _Religion Considered as the Only True Foundation of
Happiness and of True Philosophy_, all the Palais-Royal place hunters,
philosophers, and her political enemies, in a mass, opposed and
ridiculed her. Rivarol declared that she had no sex, that heaven had
refused the magic of talent to her productions, as it had refused the
charm of innocence to her childhood.

One of the best portraits of her is in the memoirs of the Baroness
d'Oberkirch (it was she who disturbed Mme. de Genlis and the Duc
d'Orléans while they were walking in the gardens one night):

"I did not like her, in spite of her accomplishments and the charm of
her conversation; she was too systematic. She is a woman who has laid
aside the flowing robes of her sex for the costume of a pedagogue.
Besides, nothing about her is natural; she is constantly in an
attitude, as it were, thinking that her portrait--physical or
moral--is being taken by someone. One of the great follies of this
masculine woman is her harp, which she carries about with her; she
speaks about it when she hasn't it--she plays on a crust of bread and
practises with a thread. When she perceives that someone is looking
at her, she rounds her arm, purses up her mouth, assumes a sentimental
expression and air, and begins to move her fingers. Gracious! what
a fine thing naturalness is!... I spent a delightful evening at the
Comtesse de La Massais's; she had hired musicians whom she paid dear;
but Mme. de Genlis sat in the centre of the assembly, commanded,
talked, commented, sang, and would have put the entire concert in
confusion, had not the Marquise de Livry very drolly picked a quarrel
with her about her harp, which she had brought to her. Decidedly, this
young D'Orléans has a singular governor. She holds too closely to her
rôle, and never forgets her _jupons_ [skirts] except when she ought
most to remember them."

During her visit to England she was petted by everyone; but even in
England there was a widespread prejudice against her--a feeling which
the mere sight of her immediately dissipated. An English lady wrote
about her:

"I saw her at first with a prejudice in her disfavor, from the cruel
reports I had heard; but the moment I looked at her it was removed.
There was a dignity with her sweetness and a frankness with her
modesty, that convinced me, beyond all power of contrary report, of
her real worth and innocence."

During the Revolution Mme. de Genlis travelled about Switzerland,
Germany, and England. At Berlin, owing to her poverty, she supported
herself by writing, making trinkets, and teaching, until she was
recalled to France, under the Consulate. In Paris she produced some of
her best works--although they were written to order. Napoleon gave
her a pension of six thousand francs and handsome apartments at the
Arsenal. To this liberal pension, the wife of his brother, Joseph
Bonaparte, added three thousand francs.

From Mme. de Genlis, Napoleon received a letter fortnightly, in which
epistle she communicated to him her opinions and observations upon
politics and current events. Upon the return to power of the Orléans
family, she was put off with a meagre pension. Like many other French
women, she became more and more melancholy and misanthropic. She was
unable to control her wrath against the philosophers and some of the
contemporary writers, such as Lamartine, Mme. de Staël, Scott, and
Byron. Her death, in 1830, was announced in these words: "Mme. de
Genlis has ceased to write--which is to announce her death."

Throughout life she was so generous that as soon as she received
her pensions, presents, or earnings from her work, the money was
distributed among the poor. When she died, she left nothing but a few
worn and homely dresses and articles of furniture. The diversity of
her works and her conduct, the politics in which she was steeped,
the satires, the perfidious accusations that have pursued her, have
contributed to leave of her a rather doubtful portrait; however,
those who have written bitterly against her have done so mostly from
personal or political animosity. She was so many-sided--a reformer,
teacher, pietist, politician, actress--that a true estimate of her
character is difficult. A woman of all tastes and of various talents,
she was a living encyclopædia and mistress of all arts of pleasing.
She had studied medicine, and took special delight in the art of
bleeding, which she practised upon the peasants, each one of whom she
would present with thirty sous (thirty cents), after the bleeding--and
she never lacked patients. Mme. de Genlis was an expert rider and
huntress; also, she was graceful, with an elegant figure, great
affability, and a talent for quickly and accurately reading character;
and these gifts were stepping-stones to popularity.

She wrote incessantly, on all things, essaying every style, every
subject. "She has discoursed for the education of princes and of
lackeys; prepared maxims for the throne and precepts for the pantry;
you might say she possessed the gift of universality. She was gifted
with a singular confidence in her own abilities, infinite curiosity,
untiring industry, and never-ending and inexhaustible energy. She
wrote nearly as much as Voltaire, and barely excelled him in the
amount of unreadable work, which, if printed, would fill over one
hundred volumes."

"Let us remember," says Mr. Dobson, "her indefatigable industry and
untiring energy, her kindness to her relatives and admirers, her
courage and patience when in exile and poverty, her great talent,
perseverance, and rare facility." In protesting vigorously against the
universal neglect of physical development, against the absence of the
gymnasium and the lack of practical knowledge in the education of
her time, in advocating the study of modern languages as a means of
culture and discipline, in applying to her pupils the principles of
the modern experimental and observational education, Mme. de Genlis
will retain a place as one of the great female educators--as a woman
pedagogue, _par excellence_, of the eighteenth century.

A great number of minor salons existed, which were partly literary,
partly social. From about 1750 to 1780 the amusements varied
constantly, from all-day parties in the country to cafés served by
the great women themselves, from playing proverbs to playing synonyms,
from impromptu compositions to questionable stories, from laughter to
tears, from Blind-man's-buff to Lotto. Some of the proverbs were quite
ingenious and required elaborate preparations; for example, at one
place Mme. de Lauzun dances with M. de Belgunce, in the simplest kind
of a costume, which represented the proverb: _Bonne renommée vaut
mieux que ceinture dorée_ [A good name is rather to be chosen than
great riches]. Mme. de Marigny danced with M. de Saint-Julien as a
negro, passing her handkerchief over her face in the various figures
of the dance, meaning _A laver la tête d'un More on perd sa lessive_
[To wash a blackamoor white].

Among the social salons, the finest was the Temple of the Prince de
Conti and his mistress, the Countess de Boufflers. It was a salon of
pleasure, liberty, and unceremonious intimacy; his _thés à l'anglaise_
were served by the great ladies themselves, attired in white aprons.
The exclusive and élite of the social world made up his company. The
most elegant assembly was that of the Maréchale de Luxembourg; it will
be considered later on. The salon of Mme. de Beauvau rivalled that
of the Maréchale de Luxembourg; she was mistress of elegance and
propriety, an authority on and model of the usages of society. A
manner perhaps superior to that of any other woman, gave Mme. de
Beauvau a particular _politesse_ and constituted her one of the women
who contributed most to the acceptance of Paris as the capital of
Europe, by well-bred people of all countries. Her _politesse_ was kind
and without sarcasm, and, by her own naturalness, she communicated
ease. She was not beautiful, but had a frank and open expression and
a marvellous gift of conversation, which was her delight and in which
she gloried. Her salon was conspicuous for its untarnished honor and
for the example it set of a pure conjugal love.

The salon of Mme. de Grammont, at Versailles, was visited at all hours
of the day and night by the highest officials, princes, lords, and
ladies. It had activity, authority, the secret doors, veiled and
redoubtable depths of a salon of the mistress of a king. Everybody
went there for counsel, submitted plans, and confided projects to this
lady who had willingly exiled herself from Paris.

The house of M. de La Popelinière, at Passy, was noted for its unique
entertainment; there the celebrated Gossec and Gaïffre conducted the
concerts, Deshayes, master of the ballet at the Comédie-Italienne,
managed the amusements. It was a house like a theatre and with all the
requisites of the latter; there artists and men of letters, virtuosos
and _danseuses_, ate, slept, and lodged as in a hotel. With Mme. de
Blot, mistress of the Duke of Orléans, as hostess, the Palais-Royal
ranked next to the Temple of the Prince de Conti; it was open only to
those who were presented; after that ceremony, all those who were thus
introduced could, without invitation, dine there on all days of the
Grand Opera. On the _petits jours_ a select twenty gathered, who, when
once invited, were so for all time. The "Salon de Pomone," of Mme.
de Marchais, received its name from Mme. du Deffand on account of the
exquisite fruits and magnificent flowers which the hostess cultivated
and distributed among her friends.

"La Paroisse," of Mme. Doublet de Persan, was the salon of the
sceptics and was under the constant surveillance of the police. All
the members arrived at the same time and each took possession of the
armchair reserved for him, above which hung his portrait. On a
large stand were two registers, in which the rumors of the day were
noted--in one the doubtful, in the other the accredited. On Saturday,
a selection was made, which went to the _Grand Livre_, which became a
journal entitled _Nouvelles à la Main_, kept by the _valet-de-chambre_
of Mme. Doublet. This book furnished the substance of the six volumes
of the _Mémoires Secrets_, which began to appear in 1770.

Besides these salons of the nobility, there were those of the
financiers, a profession which had risen into prominence within the
last half century, after the death of Louis XIV. According to the
Goncourt brothers, the greatest of these salons was that of Mme.
de Grimrod de La Reynière, who, by dint of shrewd manoeuvring, by
unheard-of extravagances, excessive opulence in the furnishings of
her salon, and by the most gorgeous and rare fêtes and suppers, had
succeeded in attracting to her establishment a number of the court and

The salon of M. de La Popelinière belonged to this class, although he
was ranked, more or less, among the nobility. There were the weekly
suppers of Mme. Suard, Mme. Saurin, the Abbé Raynal, and the luncheons
of the Abbé Morellet on the first Sunday of the month; to the latter
functions were invited all the celebrities of the other salons, as
well as artists and musicians--it was there that the famous quarrel
of the Gluck and Piccini parties originated. The Tuesday dinners of
Helvétius became famous; it was at them that Franklin was one of the
favorites; after the death of Helvétius, he attempted in vain to
put an end to the widowhood of madame. No man at that time was more
popular than Franklin or had as much public attention shown him.

There were a number of celebrated women whose reputations rest mainly
on their wit and conversational abilities; they may be classed as
society leaders, to distinguish them from salon leaders.



The belief generally prevails that devotion and constancy did not
exist among French women of the eighteenth century; but, in spite of
the very numerous instances of infidelity which dot the pages of
the history of the French matrimonial relations of those days, many
examples of rare devotion are found, even among the nobility. Love of
the king and self-eliminating devotion to him were feelings to which
women aspired; yet we have one countess, the Countess of Perigord,
who, true to her wifehood, repels the advances of the king, preferring
a voluntary exile to the dishonor of a life of royal favors and
attentions. There is also the example of Mme. de Trémoille; having
been stricken with smallpox, she was ministered to by her husband, who
voluntarily shared her fate and died with her.

It would seem that the highest types of devotion are to be found in
the families of the ministers and men of state, where the wife was
intimately associated with the fortune and the success of her husband.
The Marquis de Croisy and his wife were married forty years; M.
and Mme. de Maurepas lived together for fifty years, without being
separated one day. Instances are many in which reconciliations
were effected after years of unfaithfulness; these seldom occurred,
however, until the end of life was near. The normal type of married
life among the higher classes still remained one of most ideal and
beautiful devotion, in spite of the great number of exceptions.

It must be observed that in the middle class the young girl grew up
with the mother and was given her most tender care; surrounded with
wholesome influences, she saw little or nothing of the world, and,
the constant companion of her mother, developed much like the average
young girl of to-day. At the age of about eleven she was sent to a
convent, where--after having spent some time in the _pension_, where
instruction in religion was given her--she was instructed by the
sisters for one year.

After her confirmation and her first communion, and the home visits to
all the relatives, she was placed in a _maison religieuse_, where the
sisters taught the daughters of the common people free of charge. The
young girl was also taught dancing, music, and other accomplishments
of a like nature, but there was nothing of the feverish atmosphere of
the convent in which the daughters of the nobility were reared; these
institutions for the middle classes were peaceful, silent, and calm,
fostering a serenity and quietude. The days passed quickly, the
Sundays being eagerly looked forward to because of the visits of the
parents, who took their daughters for drives and walks and indulged
them in other innocent diversions. Such a life had its after effects:
the young girls grew up with a taste for system, discipline, piety,
and for a rigid devotion, which often led them to an instinctive need
of doctrine and sacrifice; consequently, in later life many turned to

However, the young girls of this class who were not thus educated,
because their assistance was required at home, received an early
training in social as well as in domestic affairs; they had a solid
and practical, if uncouth, foundation, combined with a worldly and,
often, a frivolous temperament. To them many privileges were opened:
they were taken to the opera, to concerts and to balls, to the salons
of painting, and it often happened that they developed a craving for
the society to which only the nobly born demoiselle was admitted. When
this craving went too far, it frequently led to seduction by some of
the chevaliers who make seduction a profession.

The marriage customs in these circles differed little from those
of to-day. The suitor asked permission to call and to continue his
visits; then followed the period of present giving. The young girl
was almost always absolute mistress of the decision; if the father
presented a name, the daughter insisted upon seeing, receiving,
and becoming intimately acquainted with the suitor, a custom quite
different from that practised among the nobility. Instead of giving
her rights as it did the girl of the nobility, marriage imposed duties
upon the girl of the middle class; it closed the world instead of
opening it to her; it ended her brilliant, gay, and easy life, instead
of beginning it, as was the case in the higher classes. This she
realized, therefore hesitated long before taking the final step which
was to bind her until death.

With her, becoming a wife meant infinitely more than it did to the
girl of the nobility; her husband had the management of her money, and
his vices were visited upon her and her children--in short, he became
her master in all things. These disadvantages she was taught to
consider deeply before entering the marriage state.

This state of affairs developed distinctive physiognomies in the
different classes of the middle-class society: thus, "the wives of the
financiers are dignified, stern, severe; those of the merchants are
seductive, active, gossiping, and alert; those of the artists are
free, easy, and independent, with a strong taste for pleasure and
gayety--and they give the tone." As we approach the end of the
century, the _bourgeoisie_ begins to assume the airs, habits,
extravagances, and even the immoralities, of the higher classes.

Below the _bourgeoise_ was the workingwoman, whose ideas were limited
to those of a savage and who was a woman only in sex. Her ideas of
morality, decency, conjugal happiness, children, education, were
limited by quarrels, profanity, blows, fights. At that time brandy was
the sole consolation for those women; it supplied their moral force
and their moral resistance, making them forget cold, hunger, fatigue,
evil, and giving them courage and patience; it was the fire that
sustained, comforted, and incited them.

These women were not much above the level of animals, but from them,
we find, often sprang the entertainers of the time, the queens of
beauty and gallantry--Laguerre, D'Hervieux, Sophie Arnould. Having
lost their virtue with maturity, these women had no sense of morality;
in them, nothing preserved the sense of honor--their religion
consisted of a few superstitious practices. The constituents of duty
and the virtue of women they could only vaguely guess; marriage itself
was presented to them under the most repugnant image of constant

It was in such an atmosphere as this that the daughters of these women
grew up. Their talents found opportunity for display at the public
dances where some of them would in time attract especial attention.
Some became opera singers, dancers, or actresses, and were very
popular; others became influential, and, through the efforts of
some lover, allured about them a circle of ambitious _débauchés_ or
aspirants for social favors. Through their adventures they made their
way up in the world to high society.

From this element of prostitution was disentangled, to a large extent,
the great gallantry of the eighteenth century. This was accomplished
by adding an elegance to debauch, by clothing vice with a sort of
grandeur, and by adorning scandal with a semblance of the glory and
grace of the courtier of old. Possessing the fascination of all gifts,
prodigalities, follies, with all the appetites and tendencies of the
time, these women attracted the society of the period--the poets,
the artists, even the scientists, the philosophers, and the nobility.
Their reputation increased with the number and standing of their
lovers. The genius of the eighteenth century circled about these
street belles--they represented the fortune of pleasure.

As the church would not countenance the marriage of an actress, she
was forced to renounce the theatre when she would marry, but once
married a permit to return to the stage was easily obtained. Society
was not so severe as the laws; it received actresses, sought out, and
even adored them; it received the women of the stage as equals, and
many of them were married by counts and dukes, given a title, and
presented at court. The regular type of the prostitute was tolerated
and even received by society; "a word of anger, malediction, or
outrage, was seldom raised against these women: on the contrary, pity
and the commiseration of charity and tenderness were felt for them
and manifested." This was natural, for many of them--through
notoriety--reached society and, as mistresses of the king, even the
throne itself. "If such women as Mme. de Pompadour were esteemed, what
principles remained in the name of which to judge without pity and to
condemn the _débauchés_ of the street," says Mme. de Choiseul, one of
the purest of women.

This class usually created and established the styles. There is a
striking contrast between the standards of beauty and fashions of the
respective periods of Louis XIV. and Louis XV.: "The stately figure,
rich costume, awe-inspiring peruke of the magnificent Louis XIV.--the
satins, velvets, embroideries, perfumes, and powder of the indolent
and handsome Louis XV., well illustrate the two epochs." The beauty of
the Louis XIV. age was more serious, more imposing, imperial, classic;
later in the eighteenth century, under Louis XV., she developed into
a charming figure of _finesse, sveltesse et gracilité_, with an
extremely delicate complexion, a small mouth and thin nose, as opposed
to the strong, plump mouth and _nez léonin_ (leonine nose). More
animated, the face was all movement, the eyes talked; the _esprit_
passed to the face. It was the type of Marivaux' comedies, with an
_esprit mobile_, animated and colored by all the coquetries of grace.

Later in the century, the very opposite type prevailed; the aspiration
then became to leave an emotion ungratified rather than to seduce;
a languishing expression was cultivated; women sought to sweeten the
physiognomy, to make it tender and mild. The style of beauty changed
from the brunette with brown eyes--so much in vogue under Louis XV.,
to the blonde with blue eyes under Louis XVI. Even the red which
formerly "dishonored France," became a favorite. To obtain the much
admired pale complexion, women had themselves bled; their dress
corresponded to their complexion, light materials and pure white being
much affected.

In these three stages of the development of beauty, fashion changed
to harmonize with the popular style in beauty. In general, styles
were influenced by an important event of the day: thus, when Marie
Leczinska, introduced the fad of quadrilles, there were invented
ribbons called "quadrille of the queen"; and many other fads
originated in the same way. French taste and fashions travelled over
entire Europe; all Europe was _à la française_, yoked and laced in
French styles, French in art, taste, industry. The domination of the
French _Galerie des Modes_ was due to the inventive minds of French
women in relation to everything pertaining to headdress, to detailed
and delicate arrangements of every phase of ornamentation.

Every country had, in Paris, its agents who eagerly waited for the
appearance of the famous doll of the Rue Saint-Honoré; this figure
was an exponent of the latest fashions and inventions, and, changing
continually, was watched and copied by all Europe. Alterations in
style frequently originated at the supper of a mistress, in the box
of a dancer or in the atelier of a fine modiste; therefore, in that
respect, that century differed little from the present one. Trade
depended largely upon foreign patronage. Fortunes were made by the
modistes, who were the great artists of the day and who set the
fashion; but the hairdresser and shoemaker, also, were artists, as was
seen, at least in name, and were as impertinent as prosperous.

An interesting illustration of the change of fashion is the following
anecdote: In 1714, at a supper of the king, at Versailles, two English
women wore low headdress, causing a scandal which came near costing
them their dismissal. The king happened to mention that if French
women were reasonable, they would not dress otherwise. The word was
spread, and the next day, at the king's mass the ladies all wore their
hair like the English women, regardless of the laughter of the women
who, being absent the previous evening, had their hair dressed high.
The compliment of the king as he was leaving mass, to the ladies with
the low headdress, caused a complete change in the mode.

It now remains but to illustrate these various classes by types--by
women who have become famous. The Duchesse de Boufflers, Maréchale de
Luxembourg, was the woman who most completely typified the spirit and
tone of the eighteenth-century _classique_ in everything that belonged
to the ancient régime which passed away with the society of 1789.
She was the daughter of the Duc de Villeroy, and married the Duc de
Boufflers in 1721; after the death of the latter in 1747, and after
having been the mistress of M. de Luxembourg for several years, she
married him in 1750. Her youth was like that of most women of the
social world. A _savante_ in intrigues at court, present at all
suppers, bouts, and pleasure trips as lady-of-the-palace to the queen,
intriguing constantly, holding her own by her sharp wit, in a society
of _roués et élégants enervés_ she soon became a leader. Mme. du
Deffand left a striking portrait of her:

"Mme. la Duchesse de Boufflers is beautiful without having the air
of suspecting it. Her physiognomy is keen and piquant, her expression
reveals all the emotions of her soul--she does not have to say
what she thinks, one guesses it. Her gestures are so natural and so
perfectly in accord with what she says, that it is difficult not to be
led to think and feel as she does. She dominates wherever she is, and
she always makes the impression she desires to make. She makes use of
her advantages almost like a god--she permits us to believe that we
have a free will while she determines us. In general, she is more
feared than loved. She has much _esprit_ and gayety. She is constant
in her engagements, faithful to her friends, truthful, discreet,
generous. If she were more clairvoyant or if men were less ridiculous,
they would find her perfect."

On one occasion M. de Tressan composed this famous couplet:

  "Quand Boufflers parut à la cour,
  On crut voir la mère d'Amour,
  Chacun s'empressait à lui plaire,
  Et chacun l'avait à son tour."

  [When Boufflers appeared at court,
  The mother of love was thought to be seen,
  Everyone became so eager to please her,
  And each one had her in his turn.]

One day Mme. de Boufflers mumbled this before M. de Tressan, saying to
him: "Do you know the author? It is so beautiful that I would not
only pardon her, but I believe I would embrace her." Whereupon he
stammered: _Eh bien! c'est moi._ She quickly dealt him two vigorous
slaps in the face. All feared her; no one equalled her in skill and
shrewdness, or in knowing and handling men.

After her marriage to the Maréchal de Luxembourg, she decided, about
1750, to open a salon in Paris; it became one of the real forces of
the eighteenth century, socially and politically. While her husband
lived, she did not enjoy the freedom she desired; after his death in
1764 she was at liberty to do as she pleased, and she then began
her career as a judge and counsellor in all social matters. She was
regarded as the oracle of taste and urbanity, exercised a supervision
over the tone and usage of society, was the censor of _la bonne
compagnie_ during the happy years of Louis XVI. This power in her was
universally recognized. She tempered the Anglomania of the time,
all excesses of familiarity and rudeness; she never uttered a bad
expression, a coarse laugh or a _tutoiement_ (thee and thou). The
slightest affectation in tone or gesture was detected and judged
by her. She preserved the good tone of society and permitted no
contamination. She retarded the reign of clubs, retained the urbanity
of French society, and preserved a proper and unique character in the
_ancien salon français_, in the way of excellence of tone.

The Marquise de Rambouillet, Mme. de La Fayette, Mme. de Maintenon,
Mme. de Caylus, and Mme. de Luxembourg are of the same type--the same
world, with little variance and no decadence; in some respects, the
last may be said to have approached nearest to perfection. "In her,
the turn of critical and caustic severity was exempt from rigidity
and was accompanied by every charm and pleasingness in her person. She
often judged [a person] by [his] ability at repartee, which she tested
by embarrassing questions across the table, judging [the person] by
the reply. She herself was never at a loss for an answer: when shown
two portraits--one of Molière and one of La Fontaine--and asked which
was the greater, she answered: 'That one,' pointing to La Fontaine,
'is more perfect in a _genre_ less perfect.'"

By the Goncourt brothers, her salon has been given its merited credit:
"The most elegant salon was that of the Maréchale de Luxembourg, one
of the most original women of the time. She showed an originality in
her judgments, she was authority in usage, a genius in taste. About
her were pleasure, interest, novelty, letters; here was formed the
true elegance of the eighteenth century--a society that held sway over
Europe until 1789. Here was formed the greatest institution of
the time, the only one that survived till the Revolution, that
preserved--in the discredit of all moral laws--the authority of one
law, _la parfaite bonne compagnie_, whose aim was a social one--to
distinguish itself from bad company, vulgar and provincial society,
by the perfection of the means of pleasing, by the delicacy of
friendship, by the art of considerations, complaisances, of _savoir
vivre_, by all possible researches and refinements of _esprit_. It
fixed everything--usages, etiquette, tone of conversation; it
taught how to praise without bombast and insipidness, to reply to
a compliment without disdaining or accepting it, to bring others to
value without appearing to protect them; it prevented all slander.
If it did not impart modesty, goodness, indulgence, nobleness of
sentiment, it at least imposed the forms, exacting the appearances
and showing the images of them. It was the guardian of urbanity and
maintained all the laws that are derived from taste. It represented
the religion of honor; it judged, and when it condemned a man he was

A type of what may be called the social mistress of the nobility--the
personification of good taste, elegance and propriety such as it
should be--was the Comtesse de Boufflers, mistress of the Prince de
Conti, intimate friend of Hume, Rousseau, and Gustave III., King of
Sweden. The countess was one of the most influential and spirituelle
members of French society, her special mission and delight being the
introduction of foreign celebrities into French society. She piloted
them, was their patroness, spoke almost all modern languages, and
visited her friends in their respective countries. She was the most
travelled and most hospitable of great French women, hence the woman
best informed upon the world in general.

She was born in Paris in 1725, and in 1746 was married to the Comte
de Boufflers-Rouvrel; soon after, becoming enamored of the Prince de
Conti, she became his acknowledged mistress. To give an idea of
the light in which the women of that time considered those who were
mistresses of great men, the following episodes may be cited: One day,
Mme. de Boufflers, momentarily forgetting her relations to the Prince
de Conti, remarked that she scorned a woman who _avait un prince du
sang_ (was mistress of a prince of the blood). When reminded of her
apparent inconsistency, she said: "I wish to give by my words
to virtue what I take away from it by my actions...." On another
occasion, she reproached the Maréchale de Mirepoix for going to see
Mme. de Pompadour, and in the heat of argument said: "Why, she
is nothing but the first _fille_ (mistress) of the kingdom!" The
maréchale replied: "Do not force me to count even unto three" (Mme.
de Pompadour, Mlle. Marquise, Mme. de Boufflers). In those days,
the position of mistress of an important man attracted little more
attention than might a petty, trivial, light-hearted flirtation

After the death of M. de Boufflers, in 1764, the all-absorbing
question of society, and one of vital importance to madame, was, Will
the prince marry her? If not, will she continue to be his mistress? In
this critical period, Hume showed his friendship and true sympathy
by giving Mme. de Boufflers most persuasive and practical advice in
reference to morals--which she did not follow. Her relations
with Rousseau showed her capable of the deepest and most profound
friendship and sympathy. According to Sainte-Beuve, it was she who,
by aid of her friends in England, procured asylum for him with Hume at
Wootton. When Rousseau's rashness brought on the quarrel which set in
commotion and agitated the intellectual circles of both continents,
Mme. de Boufflers took his part and remained faithful to him, securing
a place for him in the Château de Trie, which belonged to the Prince
de Conti.

All who came in contact with her recognized the distinction, elevation
of _esprit_, and sentiment of Mme. de Boufflers. With her are
associated the greatest names of the time; being perfectly at home
on all the political questions of the day, she was better able to
converse upon these subjects than was any other woman of the time.
When in 1762 she visited England, she was lionized everywhere. She was
fêted at court and in the city, and all conversation was upon the one
subject, that of her presence, which was one of the important events
of London life. Everyone was anxious to see the famous woman, the
first of rank to visit England in two hundred years. She even received
some special attention from the eccentric Samuel Johnson, in this
manner: "Horace Walpole had taken the countess to call on Johnson.
After the conventional time of a formal call had expired, they left,
and were halfway down stairs, when it dawned upon Johnson that it was
his duty, as host, to pay the honors of his literary residence to a
foreign lady of quality; to show himself gallant, he jumped down from
the top of the stairway, and, all agitation, seized the hand of the
countess and conducted her to her carriage."

No woman at court had more friends and fewer enemies than did Mme. de
Boufflers, because "she united to the gifts of nature and the culture
of _esprit_ an amiable simplicity, charming graces, a goodness,
kindness, and sensibility, which made her forget herself always and
constantly seek to aid those about her." She made use of her influence
over the prince in such ways as would, in a measure, recompense for
her fault, and thus recommended herself by her good actions. She was
the soul of his salon, "Le Temple." The love of these two people,
through its intimacy and public display, through its constancy,
happiness, and decency, dissipated all scandal. Always cheerful
and pleased to amuse, knowing how to pay attention to all, always
rewarding the bright remarks of others with a smile, which all sought
as a mark of approbation, no one ever wished her any ill fortune.

The last days of the Prince de Conti were cheered by the presence of
Mme. de Boufflers and the friends whom she gathered about him to help
bear his illness. The letter to her from Hume, on his deathbed, is
most pathetic, showing the influence of this woman and the nature of
the impression she left upon her friends:

"Edinburgh, 20th of August, 1776.

"Although I am certainly within a few weeks, dear Madame, and perhaps
within a few days, of my own death, I could not forbear being struck
with the death of the Prince of Conti--so great a loss in every
particular. My reflection carried me immediately to your situation in
this melancholy incident. What a difference to you in your whole plan
of life! Pray write me some particulars, but in such terms that you
need not care, in case of my decease, into whose hands your letter may
fall.... My distemper is a diarrhoea or disorder in my bowels, which
has been gradually undermining me for these two years, but within
these six months has been visibly hastening me to my end. I see death
approach gradually, without any anxiety or regret. I salute you with
great affection and regard, for the last time.

"David Hume."

Hume died five days after this letter was written.

The last years of her life she spent with her daughter-in-law, at
Auteuil, where she lived a happy life and received the best society of
Paris. When she died or under what circumstances is not known. During
the Revolution she lived in obscurity, busying herself with charitable
work; she was one of the few women of the nobility to escape the
guillotine, "This woman, who had kept the intellectual world alive
with her _esprit_ and goodness, of a sudden vanishes like a star from
the horizon; she lives on, unnoticed by everyone, and, in that new
society, no one misses her or regrets her death."

In order to fully appreciate the mistress of the eighteenth century,
her power and influence, her rise to popularity and social standing,
the general and accepted idea and nature of the sentiment called love
must be explained; for it was to the peculiar development of that
emotion that the mistress owed her fortune.

In the eighteenth century love became a theory, a cult; it developed a
language of its own. In the preceding age love was declared, it spoke,
it was a virtue of grandeur and generosity, of courage and delicacy,
exacting all proofs of decency and gallantry, patient efforts,
respect, vows, discretion, and reciprocal affection. The ideal was
one of heroism, nobleness, and bravery. In the eighteenth century this
ideal became mere desire; love became voluptuousness, which was to be
found in art, music, styles, fashions--in everything. Woman herself
was nothing more than the embodiment of voluptuousness; it made her
what she was, directing and fashioning her. Every movement she
made, every garment she wore, all the care she applied to her
appearance--all breathed this _volupté_.

In paintings it was found in impure images, coquettish immodesties, in
couples embraced in the midst of flowers, in scenes of tenderness:
all these representations were hung in the rooms of young girls, above
their beds. They grew up to know _volupté_, and, when old enough, they
longed for it. It was useless for women to try to escape its power,
and chastity naturally disappeared under these temptations. The young
girl inherited the impure instincts of the mother, and, when matured,
was ready and eager for all that could enchant and gratify the senses.

True domestic friendship and intimacy were rare, because the husband
given to a young girl had passed through a long list of mistresses,
and talked--from experience--gallant confidences which took away the
veil of illusion. She was immediately taken into society, where she
became familiar with the spicy proverbs and the salty prologues of
the theatre, where supposedly decent women were present, in curtained
boxes. At the suppers and dinners, by songs and plays, at the
gatherings where held forth Duclos and others like him, in the midst
of champagne, _ivresse d'esprit_, and eloquence, she was taught and
saw the corruption of society and marriage, the disrespect to modesty;
in such an atmosphere all trace of innocence was destroyed. She was
taught that faithfulness to a husband belonged only to the people,
that it was an evidence of stupidity. Manners, customs, and even
religion were against the preservation of innocence and purity; and in
this depravity the abbés were the leaders.

Such conditions were dangerous and disastrous not to young girls
only, they affected the young men also; the latter, amidst this
social demoralization, developed their evil tendencies, and, in a few
generations, there was formed a Paris completely debauched. Love meant
nothing more elevated than desire; for man, the paramount idea was
to have or possess; for woman, to capture. There was no longer any
mystery, any secret; the lover left his carriage at the door of
his love, as if to publish his good fortune; he regularly made his
appearance at her house, at the hour of the toilette, at dinner and at
all the fêtes; the public announcement of the liaison was made at the
theatre when he sat in her box.

There came a period when so-called love fell so low that woman no
longer questioned a man's birth, rank, or condition, and vice versa,
as long as he or she was in demand; a successful man had nearly every
woman of prominence at his feet. The men planned their attacks upon
the women whom they desired, and the women connived, posed, and set
most ingenious traps and devised most extraordinary means to captivate
their hero. As the century wore on and the vices and appetites
gradually consumed the healthy tissues, there sprang up a class of
monsters, most accomplished _roués_, consummate leaders of theoretical
and practical immorality, who were without conscience. To gain their
ends, they manipulated every medium--valets, chambermaids, scandal,
charity; their one object was to dishonor woman.

Women were no better; "a natural falseness, an acquired dissimulation,
a profound observation, a lie without flinching, a penetrating eye,
a domination of the senses--to these they owed their faculties and
qualities so much feared at the time, and which made them professional
and consummate politicians and ministers. Along with their gallantry,
they possessed a calmness, a tone of liberty, a cynicism; these were
their weapons and deadly ones they were to the man at whom they were

There were, in this century, superior women in whom was exhibited a
high form of love, but who realized that perfect love was impossible
in their age; yet they desired to be loved in an intense and
legitimate manner. This phase of womanhood is well represented by
Mlle. Aïssé and Mlle. de Lespinasse, both of whom felt an irresistible
need of loving; they proclaimed their love and not only showed
themselves to be capable of loving and of intense suffering, but
proved themselves worthy of love which, in its highest form, they felt
to be an unknown quantity at that time. Their love became a constant
inspiration, a model of devotion, almost a transfiguration of passion.
These women were products of the time; they had to be, to
compensate for the general sterility and barrenness, to equalize the
inequalities, and to pay the tribute of vice and debauch.

All the customs of the age were arrayed against pure womanhood and
offered it nothing but temptation. Inasmuch as the husband belonged
to court and to war more than to domestic felicity, he left his wife
alone for long periods. The husbands themselves seemed actually to
enjoy the infidelity of their wives and were often intimate friends of
their wives' lovers; and it was no rare thing that when the wife found
no pleasure in lovers, she did not concern herself about her husband's
mistresses (unless they were intolerably disagreeable to her), often
advising the mistress as to the best method of winning her husband.

It must be admitted that this separation in marriage, this reciprocity
of liberty, this absolute tolerance, was not a phase of the eighteenth
century marriage, but was the very character of it. In earlier times,
in the sixteenth century, infidelity was counted as such and caused
trouble in the household. If the husband abused his privileges, the
wife was obliged to bear the insult in silence, being helpless to
avenge it. If she imitated his actions, it was under the gravest
dangers to her own life and that of her lover. The honor of the
husband was closely attached to the virtue of the wife; thus, if
he sought diversion elsewhere, and his wife fell victim to the
fascinations of another, he was ridiculed. Marriage was but an
external bond; in the eighteenth century, it was a bond only as long
as husband and wife had affection for one another; when that no
longer existed, they frankly told each other and sought that emotion
elsewhere; they ceased to be lovers and became friends.

A very fertile source of so much unfaithfulness was the frequent
marriage of a ruined nobleman to a girl of fortune, but without rank.
Giving her his name was the only moral obligation; the marriage over
and the dowry portion settled, he pursued his way, considering that
he owed her no further duty. Very frequently, the husband, overcome by
jealousy or humiliated by the low standard of his wife who injured or
brought ridicule upon his name, would have her kidnapped and taken
to a convent. This right was enjoyed by the husband in spite of the
general liberty of woman. A letters-patent was obtained through proof
of adultery, and the wife was imprisoned in some convent for the rest
of her life, being deprived of her dowry which fell to her husband.

At one time, the great ambition of woman was to procure a legal
separation--an ambition which seems to have developed into a fad,
for at one period there were over three hundred applicants for legal
separation, a state of affairs which so frightened Parliament that
it passed rigid laws. A striking contrast to this was the custom
connected with mourning. At the death of the husband, the wife wore
mourning, her entire establishment, with every article of interior
furnishing, was draped in the sombre hue; she no longer went out and
her house was open only to relatives and those who came to pay visits
of condolence. Unless she married again, she remained in mourning all
her life; but it should not be understood that the veil concealed her
coquetry or prevented her from enjoying her liberty and planning her
future. Then, as to-day, there were many examples of fanaticism and
folly; one widow would endeavor to commit suicide; another lived with
the figure of her husband in wax; another conversed, for several
hours of the day, with the shade of her husband; others consecrated
themselves to the church.

This all-supreme sway of love and its attributes, left its impression
and lasting effect upon the physiognomy of the mistress; in the early
part of the century, the mistress was chosen from the respectable
aristocracy and the nobility; gradually, however, the limits of
selection were extended until they included the _bourgeoisie_ and,
finally, the offspring of the common _femme du peuple_. A woman
from any profession, from any stratum of society, by her charm and
intelligence, her original discoveries and inventions of debauch
and licentiousness, could easily become the heroine of the day, the
goddess of society, the goal and aspiration of the used-up _roués_
of the aristocracy. Under Louis XIV., such popularity was an
impossibility to a woman of that sort, but society under the Regency
seemed to have awakened from the torpor and gloom of the later years
of the monarchy to a reign of unrestrained gayety and vice.

The first woman to infect the social atmosphere of the nobility with a
new form of extravagance and licentiousness was Adrienne Le Couvreur,
who was the heroine of the day during the first years of the Regency.
She was the daughter of a hatter, who had gone to Paris about 1702;
while employed as a laundress, she often gave proof of the possession
of remarkable dramatic genius by her performances at private
theatricals. In 1717, through the influence of the great actor Baron,
she made her appearance at the Comédie Française; the reappearance of
that favorite with Adrienne Le Couvreur as companion, in the plays of
Corneille, Racine, and Voltaire, reëstablished the popularity of the
French theatre. Adrienne immediately became a favorite with the titled
class, was frequently present at Mme. de Lambert's, gave the most
sumptuous suppers herself, and was compelled to repulse lovers of the
highest nobility.

Her principal lovers were Voltaire, whom she nursed through smallpox,
spending many hours in reading to him, and Maurice of Saxony; she had
children of whom the latter was the father, and it was she who, by
selling her plate and jewelry, supplied him with forty thousand francs
in order to enable him to equip his soldiers when he proposed to
recover the principality of Courland. She was generous to prodigality;
but when she died, the Church refused to grant consecrated ground for
the reception of her remains, although it condescended to accept her
munificent gift of a hundred thousand francs to charity. Her death was
said to have been caused by her rival, the Duchesse de Bouillon,
by means of poisoned pastilles administered by a young abbé. In
the night, her body was carried by two street porters to the Rue de
Bourgogne, where it was buried. Voltaire, in great indignation at
such injustice, wrote his stinging poem _La Mort de Mademoiselle Le
Couvreur_, which was the cause of his being again obliged to leave

The popularity of the Comédie Française declined after the deaths of
Baron and Adrienne Le Couvreur, until the appearance of Mlle. Clairon,
who was one of the greatest actresses of France. Born in Flanders in
1723, at a very early age she had wandered about the provinces, from
theatre to theatre, with itinerant troupes, winning a great reputation
at Rouen. In 1738 the leading actresses were Mlle. Quinault, who
had retired to enjoy her immense fortune in private life, and Mlle.
Dumesnil, the great _tragédienne_. When Mlle. Clairon received an
offer to play alternately with the favorite, Mlle. Dumesnil, she
selected as her opening part _Phèdre_, the _rôle de triomphe_ of her

The appearance of a débutante was an event, and its announcement
brought out a large crowd; the presumption of a provincial artist
in selecting a rôle in which to rival a great favorite had excited
general ridicule, and an unusually large audience had assembled,
expecting to witness an ignominious failure. Mlle. Clairon's stately
figure, the dignity and grace of her carriage, "her finely chiselled
features, her noble brow, her air of command, her clear, deep,
impassioned voice," made an immediate impression upon the audience.
She was unanimously acknowledged as superior to Mlle. Dumesnil, and
the entire social and literary world hastened to do her homage.

Mlle. Clairon did as much for the theatre as did Adrienne Le Couvreur,
especially in discarding, in her _Phèdre_, the plumes, spangles, the
panier, the frippery, which had been the customary equipments of that
rôle. She and Lecain, the prominent actor of the day, introduced the
custom of wearing the proper costume of the characters represented.
The grace and dignity of her stage presence caused her to be sought
by the great ladies, who took lessons in her famous courtesy _grande
révérence_, which was later supplanted by the courtesy of Mme. de

Mlle. Clairon became the recipient of great favors and honors, her
most prominent slave being Marmontel, to whom she had given a room in
her hôtel after Mme. Geoffrin had withdrawn from him the privilege of
occupying an apartment in her spacious establishment. She contributed
largely to the success of his plays, as well as to those of Voltaire,
whom she visited at Ferney, performing in his private theatre. Her
success was uninterrupted until she declined to play, in the _Siège de
Calais_, with an actor who had been guilty of dishonesty; she was then
thrown into prison, and refused to reappear. When about fifty years of
age she became the mistress of the Margrave of Ansbach, at whose court
she resided for eighteen years. In 1791 she returned to Paris, where,
poor and forgotten, she died in 1803.

An actress or a singer who left a greater reputation through her wit,
the promptness and malignity of her repartee, and her extravagance,
than through her voice was Sophie Arnould, the pupil of Mlle. Clairon.
She was the daughter of an innkeeper; her first success was won
through her charming figure and her flexible voice. Some of the ladies
attached to the court of Louis XV., having heard her sing at evening
service during Passion week, had induced the royal chapel master to
employ her in the choir. There, and by the warm eulogies of Marmontel
during one of his toilette visits to Mme. de Pompadour, the attention
of the _maîtresse-en-titre_ was called to her beauty and vocal charm.

Her début was made with unusual success, but she afterward eloped with
the Comte de Lauraguais, who had made a wager that he could win the
beautiful artist. After her reappearance at Paris her career became a
long series of dissipations and unprecedented extravagances. She was
as witty as she was licentious, and many of her _bons mots_ have been
collected. It was she who characterized the great Necker and Choiseul,
on being shown a box containing their portraits: "That is receipt and
expenditure"--the credit and debit. She was one of the few prominent
women who died in favor and in comfortable circumstances.

The lowest and most depraved of this licentious class of women was
Mlle. La Guimard, the legitimate daughter of a factory inspector of
cloth. In 1758 she entered the opera as a ballet girl, but very
little is known of her during the first years of her career except in
connection with her numerous lovers. In about 1768 she was living in
most sumptuous style, her extravagances being paid for by two lovers,
the Prince de Soubise, her _amant utile_, and the farmer-general, M.
de La Borde, her _amant honoraire_.

At this period she gave three suppers weekly: one for all the great
lords at court and of distinction; the second for authors, scholars,
and artists; the third being a supper of _débauchées_, the most
seductive and lascivious girls of the opera; at the last function,
luxury and debauch were carried to unknown extremes. At her
superb country home, "Pantin," she gave private performances, the
magnificence of which was unprecedented and admission to which was an
honor as eagerly sought as was that of attendance at Versailles.

There was another side to the nature of Mlle. La Guimard: during the
terrible cold of the winter of 1768, she went about alone visiting the
poor and needy, distributing food and clothing purchased with the six
thousand livres given her by her lover, the Prince de Soubise, as
a New Year's gift. Her charity became so general that people of all
professions and classes went to her for assistance--actors and artists
to borrow the money with which to pay their debts, officers with the
same object in view. To one of the latter to whom she had just lent a
hundred louis and who was about to sign a note, she said: "Sir, your
word is sufficient. I imagine that an officer will have as much honor
as _fille d'opéra_."

Her performances at "Pantin" and her luxurious mode of life required
more money than the two lovers were able to supply; therefore, another
was accepted in the person of the Bishop of Orléans, Monseigneur de
Jarente, who supplied her with money and other necessaries. In 1771
she decided to build a hôtel with an elegant theatre which would
comfortably seat five hundred people. The opening of this Temple de
Terpsichore was the great event of the year (1772). All the nobility
was there, even the princes of the blood, and the "delicious licenses
of the presentation were fully enjoyed by those who were fortunate
enough to obtain admission."

Her costumes were of such taste and became so renowned that Marie
Antoinette consulted her in reference to her own wonderful inventions;
the dresses became known as the _Robe à la La Guimard_. Inasmuch as
the management of the Opéra supplied all gowns, the expense for this
one artist was enormous, in 1779 amounting to thirty thousand livres
for dresses alone. In 1785, being in financial straits, she sold
her hôtel on the Rue Chaussée-d'Antin by lottery, two thousand five
hundred tickets at one hundred and twenty livres each. None of the
salons of Paris could compare with hers in the "costliness of the
crystal and the plate of her table service, in the taste and elegance
of her floral decorations--choice exotics obtained from a distance,
regardless of expense."

After appearing at the Haymarket Opera House in London in 1789,
Mlle. La Guimard decided to retire to private life, and married M.
Despréaux, the ballet master, fifteen years her junior. During the
Revolution the government ceased to pay pensions, and as she had
saved very little of her wealth the two lived in the most straitened
circumstances. Her fate was similar to that of the average woman of
pleasure--forgotten, half-witted, stooping to any act of indecency to
gain a few sous.

Such were the principal heroines of the stage, opera, and ballet; they
were in harmony with the general state of that depraved society of
which they were natural products; transitory lights that shone for but
a short space of time, consumed by their own sensuous instinct, they
were forgotten with death. The royal mistresses lived the same life
and followed the same ideals, but exerted a greater and more lasting
influence in the state.



In the study of the royal mistresses of the eighteenth century,
we encounter two in particular,--Mme. de Pompadour and Mme. du
Barry,--who, though totally different types of women, both reflect the
gradual decline of ideals and morals in the first and last years of
the reign of Louis XV. The former dominated the king by means of her
intelligence, but the latter swayed the sovereign, already consumed by
his sensual excesses, through her peculiarly seductive sensuality.

During the first years of the reign of Louis XV., one of the most
influential women was Mme. de Prie, who brought about the marriage of
the king to Marie Leczinska, the daughter of the King of Poland, by
which manoeuvre she made herself _Dame de Palais de la Reine_. The
queen naturally took her and her husband into favor, regarding them
as her and her father's benefactors and as entitled to her warmest
gratitude. Mme. de Prie succeeded in winning the queen's affection
and confidence; however, these were of little value, inasmuch as the
queen's influence upon society and morals was not felt, for she led
a life of seclusion, shut up in her oratory and constantly on her
_prie-dieu_, and was an object of pity and ridicule.

Mme. de Prie and M. le Duc, having planned to deprive M. Fleury, the
minister, of his power,--he had been the king's preceptor,--suddenly
had the tables turned against them. Both were exiled, and a new
coterie of ladies came into power; the Duchesse d'Alincourt replaced
Mme. de Prie, and the king and M. Fleury themselves took up the
affairs of state.

M. Fleury, now cardinal, perceiving that a mistress was inevitable,
consented to the choice by the dissolute men and women of court
of Mme. de Mailly,--or Mlle. de Nesle,--who was supposed to be a
disinterested person. The king, who had no love for her, accepted her
as he would have accepted anything put before him by the court. The
queen was incapable of exerting any beneficial influence upon him; in
fact, the more he became alienated from her, the more humble and timid
did she appear when in his presence. The reign of Mlle. de Nesle had
lasted less than a year, when the beautiful Mme. de La Tournelle,
created Duchesse de Châteauroux, replaced her; the latter lived but
a short time, being the second mistress of Louis XV. to die within a
year. After her death the king raised the beautiful Mme. d'Etioles
to the honor of _maîtresse-en-titre_; she, as Mme. de Pompadour, was,
without doubt, the most prominent, possibly the most intelligent and
intellectual, certainly the most powerful, of all French mistresses.
It was the first time that a _bourgeoise_ of the financier class
had usurped the position of mistress--that honor having belonged
exclusively to the nobility.

After the first infidelities of the king, Marie Leczinska's life
became more and more austere and secluded; she remained indoors, far
from the noise and activity of Versailles, leaving only for charitable
purposes or for the theatre. Her mornings were entirely occupied in
prayers and moral readings, after which followed a visit to the king,
a little painting, the toilette, mass, and dinner. After dinner,
she retired to her apartments and passed the time making tapestry,
embroidering, and in charity work--no longer the recreation of
leisure, but the duty of charity which the poor expected. Her taste
for music, the guitar, the clavecin, all amusements in which
she delighted before her marriage, were abandoned. Under such
circumstances the mistress had full control of everything.

It was prophesied of Mlle. Jeanne Poisson, at the age of nine, that
she would become the mistress of Louis XV. (Mme. Lebon, who made this
pleasing prediction, was later rewarded with a pension of six hundred
livres.) Mlle. Jeanne was the natural daughter of a butcher, but
received a good education and, at the age of twenty, was married to Le
Normand d'Etioles, farmer of taxes. It was shortly after this that
she managed to attract the king's attention, at a hunting party in
the forest of Senart. With the assistance of her friends, she was
successful in winning the king, and, in April, 1754, at a supper which
lasted far into the early morning, reposing in his arms, she virtually
became the mistress of Louis XV. The actual accomplishment of this,
however, depended upon the disposal of her husband, which was easily
arranged by Louis, who ordered Le Normand d'Etioles from Paris, thus
securing her from any harm from him. The brothers De Goncourt write
thus of her talents:

"Marvellous aptitudes, a scholarly and rare education, had given to
this young woman all the gifts and virtues that made of a woman what
the eighteenth century called a virtuoso, an accomplished model of
the seductions of her time. Jeliotte had taught her singing and the
clavecin; Guibaudet, dancing; Crébillon had taught her declamation and
the art of diction; the friends of Crébillon had formed her young mind
to _finesse_, to delicacies, to lightness of sentiment, and to irony
of the _esprit_ of the time. All the talents of grace seemed to be
united in her. No woman mounted a horse better; none captured applause
more quickly than did she with her voice and instrument; none recalled
in a better way the tone of Gaussin or the accent of Clairon; none
could tell a story better. And there where others could vie with her
in coquetry, she carried off the honors by her genius of toilette, by
the graceful turn she gave to a mere rag, by the air she imparted to
a mere nothing which ornamented her, by the characteristic signature
which her taste gave to everything she wore."

To please and charm, Mme. d'Etioles had a complexion of the most
striking whiteness, lips somewhat pale, and eyes of an indescribable
color in which were blended and compounded the seduction of black
eyes, the seduction of blue eyes. She had magnificent chestnut hair,
ravishing teeth, and the most delicious smile which "hollowed her
cheeks into two dimples which the engraving of _La Jardinière_ shows;
she had a medium-sized and round waist, perfect hands, a play
of gestures lively and passionate throughout, and, above all, a
physiognomy of a mobility, of a changeableness, of a marvellous
animation, wherein the soul of the woman passed ceaselessly, and
which, constantly in process of change, showed in turn an impassioned
and imperious tenderness, a noble seriousness, or roguish graces."

In September, 1745, she was formally presented to the queen and
court as the Marquise de Pompadour, and, in October, was installed
at Fontainebleau in the apartments formerly occupied by Mme. de
Châteauroux, who had just died. Her position was not an easy one,
for all the superb jealousy and hateful scorn which the aristocracy
cherished against the power and wealth of the _bourgeoisie_ were
turned against her; but the court scandal-mongers and intriguers found
their match in Mme. de Pompadour, who showed herself so superior
in every respect to the court ladies that the hostilities gradually
ceased, but not until the public itself had expended all its efforts
against this upstart.

Her first move was to surround herself with friends, the first of whom
she wisely sought in the queen. Paying her every possible attention,
she persuaded the king to show her more consideration. The Prince
de Conti, the Paris brothers, and others of the great financiers of
France were added to her circle. After this she began her rule as
first minister, in place of the dead Fleury, by giving places and
pensions to her favorites. The reign of economy and domestic morality
came to an end with the accession of Mme. de Pompadour; in fact, it
was soon generally considered that those upon whom she did not shower
favors were her enemies. At this time the nobility of France was too
corrupt to raise any serious objections to the dispensing of favors by
the _maîtresse-en-titre_, whether she were of noble birth or not.

As mistress, her duties were many: to manipulate and manage
Versailles, please and captivate the king, make allies, win over the
highest officials and keep control of them, put her own friends in
office, attach to her favor every man of prominence,--princes and
ministers,--keep in touch with the court, appease, humor, and win the
honor of the courtiers, "attach consciences, recompense capitulations,
organize about the mistress an emulation of devotion and servility by
means of prodigality of the favors of the king and the money of the
state; but what was a more burdensome task,--she must occupy the king,
aid and agitate him, fight off constantly, from day to day and hour to
hour, ennui."

This terrible ennui, indifference, enervation, this lazy and splenetic
humor of the king, she succeeded in distracting, in soothing, and
amusing. She understood him perfectly--therein lie the great secret
of the favor of Mme. de Pompadour and the great reason of her long
domination which only death could end. She had the patience and
genius to soothe the many ills of the monarch, possessing an intuitive
understanding of his moral temperament, and a complete comprehension
of his nervous sensibility; these gifts were a science with her and
enabled her to keep alive his taste for and enjoyment of life. Mme.
de Pompadour is said to have taken possession of the very existence of
Louis XV.

"She appropriates and kills his time, robs him of the monotony of
hours, draws him through a thousand pastimes in this eternity of ennui
between morning and night, never abandoning him for a minute, not
permitting him to fall back upon himself. She takes him away from
work, disputes him to the ministers, hides him from the ambassadors.
In his face must not be seen a cloud or the slightest trace of care of
affairs; to Maurepas, in the act of reading some reports to the king,
she says: 'Come now, M. de Maurepas, you turn the king yellow....
Adieu, M. de Maurepas'; and Maurepas gone, she takes the king, she
smiles upon the lover, she cheers the man."

In 1747, two years after her installation, she interested the king in
a theatre, and inaugurated the famous representations at the Théâtre
des Petits Appartements; she herself was one of its best actresses,
singers, and musicians. All the members of the nobility vied with one
another in procuring admission to these performances, as auditors or
actors. Her contemporaries say that she was without a rival in acting,
for in that art she found opportunity to show her vivacity, her
_esprit_ of tone, and her malice of expression, the effect of which
was heightened by her voice, graceful figure, and tasteful attire,
which became the envy of every court lady.

[Illustration 4:
After the painting by A. Casanova_
_Her influence and usurpation of power bore heavily upon every
department of state; she appointed all the ministers, made all
nominations, managed the foreign policy and politics, directed the army
and even arranged the plans of battle. She was forced to receive foreign
ambassadors and ministers; she had to meet in the Cabinet de Travail and
give council to the generals who were her protégés; the clergy went to
her and laid before her their plaints, and through her the financiers
arranged their transactions with the state. She was the greatest
patroness of art that France ever possessed, giving to it the best hours
of her leisure; it was her pastime, her consolation, her extravagance,
and her ruin._]

Almost all rising young artists and men of letters were encouraged or
pensioned by Mme. de Pompadour. Her salon would have become one of
the most distinguished of the period, as she was, herself, the most
remarkably talented and beautiful woman of her time, had not lack
of moral principles and an intense love of power led her to seek the
gratification of her ambitions in the much envied position of mistress
of the king. To assist at her toilette became a favor more eagerly
desired than presence at the _petit lever_ of the king. The court
became more brilliant, the middle class rose, the prestige of the
nobility declined; the last became, in general, but a crowd of
_cordons bleus_, eager to claim the favor of any of her protégés.
Every noble house offered a daughter in marriage to her brother, whom
she made _intendant_ of public buildings, and who looked with much
displeasure upon the actions of his sister.

Mme. de Pompadour made a thorough study of the politics of Europe in
relation to the affairs of the nation--a proceeding in which she
was aided by her extraordinary intelligence, acute perception of
difficulties and conditions, domestic and foreign; by the exercise of
these qualities, she put herself in touch with the politics of France,
always consulting the best of minds and winning many friends among
them. In 1749 she succeeded in ridding herself of her pronounced
enemy, Maurepas, minister and confidential adviser of the king, and
subsequently began her reign as absolute mistress and governor of

Her life then became one of constant labor, which gradually undermined
her health. Appreciating the mental indolence of Louis, she would
place before him a clear and succinct résumé of all important
questions of state affairs, which she, better than any other, knew
how to present without wearying him. Realizing that her power depended
upon her influence over the king, and that she was surrounded by men
and women who were simply waiting for a favorable opportunity to cause
her downfall, she was constantly on the defensive. She considered it
"the business of her life to make her yoke so easy and pleasant, and
from habit so necessary to him, that an effort to shake it off would
be an effort that would cause him real pain." Her happiest hours--for
she did not love the king--were those spent with her brother, the
Marquis de Marigny, in the midst of artists, musicians, and men of

As for the queen, she was in the background, absolutely. "All the
prerogatives of a princess of a sovereign house were, at this time,
about 1750, conferred by the king upon Mme. de Pompadour, and all
the pomp and parade then deemed indispensable to rank so exalted were
fully assumed by her." At the opera, she had her _loge_ with the king,
her tribune at the chapel of Versailles where she heard mass, her
servants were of the nobility, her carriage had the ducal arms, her
etiquette was that of Mme. de Montespan, Her father was ennobled to De
Marigny, her brother to be Marquis de Vandières. The marriage of her
daughter to a son of the king and his former mistress was planned,
then with a son of Richelieu, then with others of the nobility;
fortunately, the girl died.

Mme. de Pompadour gradually amassed a royal fortune, buying the
magnificent estate of Crécy for six hundred and fifty thousand livres;
"La Celle," near Versailles, for twenty-six thousand livres; the Hôtel
d'Evreaux, at Paris, for seventy-five thousand livres--and these were
her minor expenses; her paintings, sculpture, china, pottery, etc.,
cost France over thirty-six million livres. Her imagination in art and
inventions was wonderful; she retouched and decorated the château
in which she was received by the king; she made "Choisy"--the king's
property--her own, as it were, by all the embellishments she ordered
and the expenditures which her lover lavished upon it at her request.
All the luxuries of the life at "Choisy," all the refinements even to
the smallest detail, had their origin in her inventions. It was she
who planned the fairy château with its wonderful furniture, her own

At that time, her whole life was spent in adding variety to the life
of the king and in distracting the ennui which pursued him. In her
retreats she affected the simplicity of country life; the gardens
contained sheepfolds and were free from the pomp of the conventional
French gardens; there were cradles of myrtle and jasmine, rosebushes,
rustic hiding places, statues of Cupid, and fields of jonquils filled
the air with the most intoxicating perfume. There she amused her
sovereign by appearing in various characters and acting the parts--now
a royal personage, now a gardener's maid.

However, in spite of all cunning study of the sensuous nature of
the king, in spite of this perpetual enchantment of his senses,
this favorite was obliged to fight for her power every minute of her
existence. If hers were a conquest, it was a laborious one, held only
through ceaseless activity; continual brainwork, all the countermoves
and manoeuvres of the courtesan, were required to keep Mme. de
Pompadour seated in this position, which was surrounded by snares and

To possess the time of the king, occupy his enemies, soothe his
fatigue, arouse his wearied body condemned to a milk diet, to preserve
her beauty--all these were the least of her tasks. She must be ever
watchful, see evil in every smile, danger in every success, divine
secret plots, be on guard to resist the court, the royal family,
the ministry. For her there was no moment of repose: even during
the effusions of love she must act the spy upon the king, and, with
presence of mind and calmness, must seek in the deceitful face of the
man the secrets of the master.

Every morning witnessed the opening of a new comedy: a gay smile,
a tranquil brow, a light song, must ever disguise the mind's
preoccupation and all the machinations of her fertile brain. At one
time the Comte d'Argenson, desiring to succeed Fleury as minister,
almost arrived at supplanting Mme. de Pompadour by young Mme. de
Choiseul, who, having charmed the king on one occasion, obtained
from him a promise that he would make her his mistress--which would
necessitate desertion of Mme. de Pompadour; but, by the natural
charms of which age had not robbed her and by bringing all her past
experience into play, Mme. de Pompadour once more scored a triumph and
remained the actual minister to the king. All this nervous strain was
gradually killing her, and, to overcome her physical weakness, her
weary senses, her frigid disposition, she resorted to artificial
stimulants to keep her blood at the boiling point and enable her to
satisfy the phlegmatic king.

Undoubtedly the most disgraceful act of this all-powerful woman
was the maintaining of a house of pleasure for the king, to which
establishment she allured some of the most beautiful girls of the
nobility, as well as of the _bourgeoisie_. These young women supposed
that they were being supported by a wealthy nobleman; their children
were given a pension of from three thousand to twelve thousand livres,
and the mother received one hundred thousand francs and was sent to
the provinces to marry; a father and mother were easily bought for the
child. Thus was this clandestine trade carried on by those two--the
king satisfying his utter depravity, and Mme. de Pompadour making
herself all the more secure against a possible rival.

All this time her active brain was ever planning for higher honors
and greater power. She aspired to becoming _dame de palais_, but as an
excommunicated soul, a woman living in flagrant violation of the laws
of morality and separated from her husband, she could not receive
absolution from the Church, in spite of her intriguing to that effect.
She did succeed, however, in influencing the king to make her lady
of honor to the queen; therefore, in gorgeous robes, she was ever
afterward present at all court functions.

She began to patronize the great men of the day, to make of them her
debtors, pension them, lodge them in the Palais d'Etat, secure them
from prison, and to place them in the Academy. Voltaire became her
favorite, and she made of him an Academician, historiographer of
France, ordinary gentleman of the chamber, with permission to sell
his charge and to retain the title and privileges. For these favors he
thanked her in the following poem:

          "Ainsi donc vous réunissez
  Tous les arts, tous les goûts, tous les talents de plaire;
          Pompadour vous embellissez
          La Cour, le Parnasse et Cythère,
  Charme de tous les coeurs, trésor d'un seul mortel,
          Qu'un sort si beau soit éternel!"

[Thus you unite all the arts, all the tastes, all the talents, of
pleasing; Pompadour, you embellish the court, Parnassus, and Cythera.
Charm of all hearts, treasure of one mortal, may a lot so beautiful be

Voltaire dedicated his _Tancrède_ to her; in fact, his influence and
favor were so great that he was about to receive an invitation to
the _petits soupers_ of the king, when the nobility rose up in arms
against him, and, as Louis XV. disliked him, the coveted honor was
never attained. To Crébillon, who had given her elocution lessons
in her early days and who was now in want, she gave a pension of
a hundred louis and quarters at the Louvre. Buffon, Montesquieu,
Marmontel, and many other men of note were taken under her protection.

It was Mme. de Pompadour who founded, supported, and encouraged a
national china factory; the French owe Sèvres to her, for its
artists were complimented and inspired by her inveterate zeal, her
persistency, her courage, and were assisted by her money. She brought
it into favor, established exhibits, sold and eulogized the ware
herself, until it became a favorite. Also, through her management and
zeal the Military School was founded.

The disasters of the Seven Years' War are all charged to Mme. de
Pompadour. The motive which caused her to decide in favor of an
alliance with Austria against Frederick the Great was a personal
desire for revenge; the latter monarch had dubbed her "Cotillon IV,"
and had rather scorned her, refusing to have anything to do with a
Mlle. de Poisson, "especially as she is arrogant and lacks the respect
due to crowned heads." The flattering propositions of the Austrian
ambassador, Kaunitz, who treated with her in person and won her over,
did much to set her against Germany, and induced her to influence
Louis XV. to accept her view of the situation--a scheme in which she
was victorious over all the ministers; the result was the Austrian
alliance. The letter of Kaunitz to her, in 1756, will illustrate her

"Everything done, Madame, between the two courts, is absolutely due
to your zeal and wisdom. I feel it and cannot refuse myself the
satisfaction of telling you and of thanking you for having been my
guide up to the present time. I must not even keep you ignorant of the
fact that their Imperial Majesties give you the full justice due you
and have for you all the sentiments you can desire. What has been done
must merit, it seems to me, the approbation of the impartial public
and of posterity. But what remains to be done is too great and too
worthy of you for you to give up the task of contributing and to leave
imperfect a work which cannot fail to make you forever dear to your
country. I am, therefore, persuaded that you will continue your
attention to an object so important. In this case, I look upon success
as certain and I already share, in advance, the glory and satisfaction
which must come to you, no one being able to be more sincerely and
respectfully attached to you than is your very humble and obedient
servant, the Count de Kaunitz-Rietberg."

She received her first check when, Damiens having attempted to
assassinate the king, the dauphin was regent for eleven days. She was
confined to her room and heard nothing from the king, who was in
the hands of the clergy. Among the friends who abandoned her was
her protégé Machault, the guard of the seals, who conspired with
D'Argenson to deprive her of her power and went so far as to order
her departure. After the king's recovery, both D'Argenson and Machault
were dismissed and Mme. de Pompadour became more powerful than before.

Her influence and usurpation of power bore heavily upon every
department of state; she appointed all the ministers, made all
nominations, managed the foreign policy and politics, directed the
army and even arranged the plans of battle. Absolute mistress of the
ministry, she satisfied all demands of the Austrian court, a move
which brought her the most flattering letter from Kaunitz, in which he
gives her the credit for all the transactions between the two courts.

Despite all her political duties and intrigues, she found time for art
and literature. Not one minute of the day was lost in idleness, every
moment being occupied with interviews with artists and men of letters,
with the furnishers of her numerous châteaux, architects, designers,
engineers, to whom she confided her plans for embellishing Paris.
Being herself an accomplished artist, she was able to win the respect
and attention of these men. Her correspondence was immense and of
every nature, political and personal. She was an incessant reader,
or rather student, of books on the most serious questions, which
furnished her knowledge of terms of state, precedents of history,
ancient and modern law; she was familiar with the contents of works
on philosophy, the drama, singing, and music, and with novels of all
nations; her library was large and well selected.

During the latter years of her life she was considered as the first
minister of state or even as regent of the kingdom, rather than as
mere mistress. Louis XV. looked to her for the enforcement of the laws
and his own orders. She was forced to receive, at any time, foreign
ambassadors and ministers; she had to meet in the Cabinet de Travail
and give counsel to the generals who were her protégés; the clergy
went to her and laid before her their plaints, and through her the
financiers arranged their transactions with the state.

Notwithstanding all this influence and power, the record of her last
years is a sorrowful one. More than ever queen, she was no longer
loved by the king, who went to Passy to continue his liaison with
a young girl, the daughter of a lawyer. When Louis XV. as much as
recognized a son by this woman, Mme. de Pompadour became deeply
concerned; but the king was too much a slave to her domination to
replace her, so she retained favor and confidence; the following
letter shows that she enjoyed little else:

"The more I advance in years, my dear brother, the more philosophical
are my reflections. I am quite sure that you will think the same.
Except the happiness of being with the king, who assuredly consoles me
in everything, the rest is only a tissue of wickedness, of platitudes,
of all the miseries to which poor human beings are liable. A fine
matter for reflection (especially for anyone born as meditative as
I)!..." Later on, she wrote: "Everywhere where there are human beings,
my dear brother, you will find falseness and all the vices of which
they are capable. To live alone would be too tiresome, thus we must
endure them with their defects and appear not to see them."

She realized that the king kept her only out of charity and for fear
of taking up any energetic resolution. Her greatest disappointment was
the utter failure of her political plans and aspirations, which came
to naught by the Treaty of Paris. There was absolutely no glory left
for her, and chagrin gradually consumed her. Her health had been
delicate from youth; consumption was fast making inroads and
undermining her constitution, and the numerous miscarriages of her
early years as mistress contributed to her physical ruin. For years
she had kept herself up by artificial means, and had hidden her loss
of flesh and fading beauty by all sorts of dress contrivances, rouges,
and powders. She died in 1764, at the age of forty-two.

Writers differ as to the true nature of Mme. de Pompadour, some saying
that she was bereft of all feeling, a callous, hard-hearted monster;
others maintain that she was tender-hearted and sympathetic. However,
the majority agree as to her possession of many of the essential
qualifications of an able minister of state, as well as great aptitude
for carrying on diplomatic negotiations.

She was the greatest patroness of art that France ever possessed,
giving to it the best hours of her leisure; it was her pastime, her
consolation, her extravagance, and her ruin. All eminent artists of
the eighteenth century were her clients. Artists were nourished, so
to speak, by her favors. It may truthfully be said that the
eighteenth-century art is a Pompadour product, if not a creation. The
whole century was a sort of great relic of the favorite. Fashions and
modes were slaves to her caprice, every new creation being dependent
upon her approbation for its survival--the carriage, the _cheminée_,
sofa, bed, chair, fan, and even the _étui_ and toothpick, were
fashioned after her ideas. "She is the godmother and queen of the
rococo." Such a eulogy, given by the De Goncourt brothers, is not
shared by all critics. Guizot wrote: "As frivolous as she was deeply
depraved and base-minded in her calculating easiness of virtue, she
had more ambition than comported with her mental calibre or her force
of character; she had taken it into her head to govern, by turns
promoting and overthrowing the ministers, herself proffering advice
to the king, sometimes to good purpose, but still more often with a
levity as fatal as her obstinacy."

In _The Old Régime_, Lady Jackson has given an unprejudiced estimate
of her: "She was the most accomplished and talented woman of her time;
distinguished, above all others, for her enlightened patronage of
science and of the arts, also for the encouragement she gave to the
development of improvements in various manufactures which had stood
still or were on the decline until favored by her; a fresh impulse
was given to progress, and a perfection attained which has never been
surpassed and, in fact, rarely equalled. _Les Gobelins_, the carpets
of the Savonnerie, the _porcelaine de Sèvres_, were all, at her
request, declared _Manufactures Royales_. Some of the finest specimens
of the products of Sèvres, in ornamental groups of figures, were
modelled and painted by Mme. de Pompadour, as presents to the
queen.... The name of Pompadour is, indeed, intimately associated with
a whole school of art of the Louis Quinze period--art so inimitable in
its grace and elegance that it has stood the test of time and remains
unsurpassed. Artists and poets and men of science vied with each other
in admiration of her talents and taste. And it was not mere
flattery, but simply the praise due to an enlightened patroness and a
distinguished artist."

If we consider the morals of high society, we shall scarcely find one
woman of rank who could cast a stone at Madame de Pompadour. While
admitting her moral shortcomings, it must nevertheless be acknowledged
that she showed an exceptional ability in maintaining, for twenty
years, her influence over such a man as Louis XV. Such was the power
of this woman, the daughter of a tradesman, mistress, king in all
save title. She was, however, less powerful than her successor,--that
successor who was less clever and less ambitious, who "never made
the least scrupulous blush at the lowness of her origin and the
irregularity of her life,"--Mme. du Barry.

Mme. du Barry was the natural daughter of Anne Béqus, who was
supported by M. Dumonceau, a rich banker at Paris. The child was put
into a convent, and, after passing through different phases of life,
she was finally placed in a house of pleasure, where she captivated
the Comte du Barry, at whose harem she became the favorite. The count,
who had once before tried to supply the king with a mistress, now
planned for his favorite. The king ordered the brother of Du Barry,
Guillaume, to hasten to Paris to marry a lady of the king's choice.
The girl's name had been changed officially and by the clergy, and a
dowry had been given her. Thus was it possible for the king, after
she had become the Comtesse du Barry, to take her as a mistress. Her
husband was sent back to Toulouse, where he was stationed, while his
wife was lodged at Versailles, within easy access of the king's own

After much intriguing and diplomacy on the part of her friends,
especially Richelieu, she was to be presented at court. The scene is
well described by the De Goncourt brothers, and affords a truthful
picture of court manners and customs of the latter part of the reign
of Louis XV.:

"The great day had arrived--Paris was rushing to Versailles. The
presentation was to take place in the evening, after worship. The hour
was approaching. Richelieu, filling his charge as first gentleman,
was with the king, Choiseul was on the other side. Both were waiting,
counting the moments and watching the king. The latter, ill at ease,
restless, agitated, looked every minute at his watch. He paced up and
down, uttered indistinct words, was vexed at the noise at the gates
and the avenues, the reason of which he inquired of Choiseul. 'Sire,
the people--informed that to-day Mme. du Barry is to have the honor of
being presented to Your Majesty--have come from all parts to witness
her _entrée_, not being able to witness the reception Your Majesty
will give her.' The time has long since passed--Mme. du Barry does not
appear. Choiseul (her enemy) and his friends radiate joy; Richelieu,
in a corner of the room, feels assurance failing him. The king goes
to the window, looks into the night--nothing. Finally, he decides,
he opens his mouth to countermand the presentation. 'Sire, Mme. du
Barry!' cries Richelieu, who had just recognized the carriage and the
livery of the favorite; 'she will enter if you give the order.' Just
then, Mme. du Barry enters behind the Comtesse de Béarn, bedecked with
the hundred thousand francs' worth of diamonds the king had sent her,
coifed in that superb headdress whose long scaffolding had almost made
her miss the hour of presentation, dressed in one of those triumphant
robes which the women of the eighteenth century called 'robes of
combat,' armed in that toilette in which the eyes of a blind woman
(Mme. du Deffand) see the destiny of Europe and the fate of ministers;
and it is an apparition so beaming, so dazzling, that, in the first
moments of surprise, the greatest enemies of the favorite cannot
escape the charm of the woman, and renounce calumniating her beauty."

According to reports, her beauty must have been of the ideal type of
the time. All the portraits and images that Mme. du Barry has left
of herself, in marble, engraving, or on canvas, show a _mignonne_
perfection of body and face. Her hair was long, silky, of an ashen
blonde, and was dressed like the hair of a child; her brows and lashes
were brown, her nose small and finely cut. "It was a complexion which
the century compared to a roseleaf fallen into milk. It was a
neck which was like the neck of an antique statue...." In her were
victorious youth, life, and a sort of the divinity of a Hébé; about
her hovered that charm of intoxication, which made Voltaire cry out
before one of her portraits: _L'original était fait pour les dieux!_
[The original was made for the gods!]

In her lofty position, Mme. du Barry sought to overcome the objections
of the titled class, to quell jealousies and petty quarrels; she did
not usurp any power and always endeavored not to trouble or embarrass
anyone. After some time, she succeeded in winning the favor of some of
the ladies, and, when her influence was fairly well established, she
began to plan the overthrow of her enemy, De Choiseul, minister of
Louis XV. She became the favorite of artists and musicians, and
all Europe began to talk and write about this woman whom art had
immortalized on canvas and who was then controlling the destinies of
France. She succeeded, under the apprenticeship of her lover, the
Duc d'Aiguillon, who was the outspoken enemy of De Choiseul, in
accomplishing the fall of the minister and the fortune of her friend.
This success required but a short time for its culmination, for in
1770 he was deprived of his office and was exiled to Chantilly.

Mme. du Barry was never an implacable enemy; she was too kind-hearted
for that; thus, when her friend D'Aiguillon insisted on depriving
De Choiseul of his fortune, she managed to procure for the latter
a pension of sixty-thousand livres and one million écus in cash,
in spite of the opposition of D'Aiguillon. After the fall of that
minister all the princes of the blood were glad to pay her homage. She
became almost as powerful as Mme. de Pompadour, but her influence was
not directed in the same channels.

Her life was a mere senseless dream of _femme galante_, a luxurious
revel, a constant whirl of pleasures, and extravagance in jewelry,
silks, gems, etc. A service in silver was no longer rich enough--she
had one in solid gold. To house all her gems of art, rare objects,
furniture, she caused to be constructed a temple of art, "Luciennes,"
one of the most sumptuous, exquisite structures ever fitted out. The
money for this was supplied by the _contrôleur général_, the Abbé
Ferray, whose politics, science, duty, and aim in life consisted in
never allowing Mme. du Barry to lack money. All discipline, morality,
in fact everything, degenerated.

She had no rancor or desire for vengeance; she never humiliated those
whom she could destroy; she always punished by silence, yet never won
eternal silence by letters patent; generous to a fault, giving and
permitting everything about her to be taken, she opened her purse to
all who were kind to her and to all who happened in some way to please
her. Keeping the heart of Louis XV. was no easy matter, as the case of
Mme. de Pompadour clearly showed. The majority of his friends and her
enemies endeavored to force a new mistress upon the king; surrounded
on all sides by candidates for her coveted position, Mme. du Barry
managed to hold her own. When the king was prostrated by smallpox, he
sent her away on the last day.

The reign of Mme. du Barry was not one of tyranny, nor was it a
domination in the strict sense of that word; for she was a nonentity
politically, without ideas or plans. "Study the favor of Mme. du
Barry: nothing that emanates from her belongs to her; she possesses
neither an idea nor an enemy; she controls all the historical events
of her time, without desiring them, without comprehending them....
She serves friendships and individuals, without knowing how to serve a
cause or a system or a party, and she is protected by the providential
course of things, without having to worry about an effort, intrigues,
or gratitude."

Her power and influence cannot be compared with those of her
predecessor, Mme. de Pompadour. Modes were followed, but never
invented by her. "With her taste for the pleasures of a grisette,
her patronage falls from the opera to the couplet, from paintings and
statuaries to bronzes and sculptures in wood; her _clientèle_ are
no longer artists, philosophers, poets--they are the gods of lower
domains, mimics, buffoons, dancers, comedians." She was the lowest and
most common type of woman ever influential in France.

After the death of the king, she was ordered to leave Versailles and
live with her aunt. Later on, she was permitted to reside within ten
leagues of Paris; all her former friends and admirers then returned,
and she continued to live the life of old, buying everything for which
she had a fancy and living in the most sumptuous style, never worrying
about the payment of her debts. After a few years she was entirely
forgotten, living at Luciennes with but a few intimate friends and her
lover, the Duc de Brissac.

At the outbreak of the Revolution, she was living at Luciennes in
great luxury on the fortune left her by the duke. Probably she would
have escaped the guillotine had she not been so possessed with the
idea of retaining her wealth. Four trips to England were undertaken
by her, and on her return she found her estates usurped by a man
named Grieve, who, anxious to obtain possession of her riches, finally
succeeded in procuring her arrest while her enemies were in power.
From Sainte-Pélagie they took her to the Conciergerie, to the room
which Marie Antoinette had occupied.

Accused of being the instrument of Pitt, of being an accomplice in the
foreign war, of the insurrection in La Vendée, of the disorders in the
south, the jury, out one hour, brought in a verdict of guilty, fixing
the punishment at death within twenty-four hours, on the Place de la
République. Upon hearing her sentence, she broke down completely and
confessed everything she had hidden in the garden at Luciennes. On her
way to the scaffold, she was a most pitiable sight to behold--the only
prominent French woman, victim of the Revolution, to die a coward. The
last words of this once famous and popular mistress were: "Life, life,
leave me my life! I will give all my wealth to the nation. Another
minute, hangman! _A moi! A moi!_" and the heavy iron cut short her
pitiful screams, thus ending the life of the last royal mistress.



The condition of France at the end of the reign of Louis XV. was most
deplorable--injustice, misery, bankruptcy, and instability everywhere.
The action of the law could be overridden by the use of arbitrary
warrants of arrest--_lettres de cachet_. The artisans of the towns
were hampered by the system of taxation, but the peasant had the
greatest cause for complaint; he was oppressed by the feudal dues and
many taxes, which often amounted to sixty per cent of his earnings.
The government was absolute, but rotten and tottering; the people,
oppressively and unjustly governed, were just beginning to be
conscious of their condition and to seek the cause of it, while the
educated classes were saturated with revolutionary doctrines which
not only destroyed their loyalty to the old institutions, but created
constant aspirations toward new ones.

Thus, when Louis XVI., a mere boy, began to reign, the whole French
administrative body was corrupt, self-seeking, and in the hands of
lawyers, a class that dominated almost every phase of government. In
general, inefficiency, idleness, and dishonesty had obtained a ruling
place in the governing body; the few honest men who had a minor
share in the administration either fell into a sort of disheartened
acquiescence or lost their fortunes and reputations in hopeless

Under these conditions Louis XVI. began his reign; and although peace
seemed to exist externally, the country was in revolution. France
was as much under the modern "ring rule" as any country ever was--a
condition of affairs largely due to the nature of the young
king, whose predominant characteristics might be called a supreme
awkwardness and an unpardonable lack of will power. He was a man who,
during the first part of his reign, led a pure life; he possessed good
and philanthropic intentions, but was hampered by a weak intellect and
a stubbornness which bore little resemblance to real strength of
will. Also, he entertained strong religious convictions, which were
extremely detrimental to his policy and caused disagreements with his
ministers--Turgot, on account of his philosophical principles, Necker,
on account of his Protestantism.

His wife had those qualities which he lacked, decision and strength
of character; unfortunately, she wielded no influence over him in the
beginning, and when she did gain it, she used it in a fatal manner,
because she was ignorant of the needs of France. Throughout her
career of power, she evinced headstrong wilfulness in pursuing her own
course. Thus, totally incapable of acting for himself, Louis XVI. was
practically at the mercy of his aunts, wife, courtiers, and ministers,
who fitted his policy to their own desires and notions; therefore, the
vast stream of emoluments and honors was diverted by the ministers
and courtiers into channels of their own selection. There were formed
parties and combinations which were constantly intriguing for or
against each other.

At the time of the accession of Louis XVI., when poverty was general
over the kingdom, the household of the king consisted of nearly four
thousand civilians, nine thousand military men, and relatives to the
enormous number of two thousand, the supporting of which dependents
cost France some forty-five million francs annually. Luckily there
was no mistress to govern, as under Louis XV., but, in place of
one mistress who was the dispenser of favors, there were numerous
intriguing court women who were as corrupt and frivolous as the men.
These split the court into factions. As the finances of the country
sank to the lowest ebb, odium was naturally cast upon the whole court,
without exception, by the people; hence, the wholesale slaughter of
the nobility during the Revolution.

In this period, the most critical in the history of France, the queen,
Marie Antoinette, as the central figure, the leader of society,
the model and example to whom all looked for advice upon morals and
fashions, played an important rôle. Although not of French birth, she
deserves to be ranked among the women influential in France, since
she became so thoroughly imbued with French traits and characteristics
that she forgot her native tongue. French life and spirit moulded her
in such fashion that even the French look upon her as a French woman.

Before judging this unfortunate princess who has been condemned by so
many critics, we must take into consideration the demands that were
made upon her. Parade was the primary requisite: she was obliged to
keep up the splendor and attractiveness of the French monarchy;
in this she excelled, for her manner was dignified, gracious, and
"appropriately discriminating. It is said that she could bow to
ten persons with one movement, giving, with her head and eyes, the
recognition due to each one." It is said, also, that as she passed
among the ladies of her court, she surpassed them all in the nobility
of her countenance and the dignified grace of her carriage. All
foreigners were enchanted with her, and to them she owes no small part
of her posthumous popularity.

She was reproached by French women for being exclusively devoted
to the society of a select, intimate circle. Moreover, her conduct
brought slander upon her; as her companions she chose men and women
of bad reputation, and was constantly surrounded by dissipated young
noblemen whom she permitted to come into her presence in costumes
which shocked conservative people; she encouraged gambling, frequented
the worst gambling house of the time, that of the Princesse de
Guéménée, and visited masked balls where the worst women of the
capital jostled the great nobles of the court; her husband seldom
accompanied her to these pleasure resorts.

During part of the reign of Marie Antoinette the country was waging
an expensive war and was deeply in debt, but the queen did not set an
example of economy by retrenching her expenses; although her personal
allowance was much larger than that of the preceding queen, she was
always in debt and lost heavily at gambling. Generally, she avoided
interference with the government of the state, but as the wife of so
incapable a king she was forced into an attempt at directing public
matters. Whenever she did mingle in state affairs, it was generally
fatal to her interests and popularity. She usually carried out her
wishes, for the king shrank from disappointing his wife and dreaded
domestic contentions.

He permitted her to go out as she did with the Comte d'Artois, her
brother-in-law, to masked balls, races, rides in the Bois de Boulogne,
and on expeditions to the salon of the Princesse de Guéménée, where
she contracted the ills of a chronically empty purse and late hours.
When attacked by measles, to relieve her ennui--which her ladies were
not successful in doing--she procured the consent of the king to the
presence of four gentlemen, who waited upon her, coming at seven in
the morning and not departing until eleven at night; and these were
some of the most depraved and debauched among the nobility--such as De
Besenval, the Duc de Coigny, and the Duc de Guines.

While in power, she always sided with extravagance and the court,
against economy and the nation. If we add to all these defects a vain
and frivolous disposition, a nature fond of admiration, pleasure, and
popularity, and lending a willing ear to all flattery, compliments,
and counsels of her favorites, her Austrian birth, and as "little
dignity as a Paris grisette in her escapades with the dissipated and
arrogant Comte d'Artois," we have, in general, the causes of her wide

It will be seen that as long as she was frivolous and imprudent,
she was flattered and admired; as soon as she became absolutely
irreproachable, she was overwhelmed with harsh judgments and
expressions of ill will. The first period was during the first years
of the reign of Louis XVI., while he was still all-powerful and
popular; the second phase of her character developed during the
trying days of the king's first fall into disfavor and his ultimate
imprisonment and death. From this account of her career, it will be
seen that Marie Antoinette, as dauphiness and queen, was rather the
victim of fate and the invidious intrigues of a depraved court
than herself an instigator and promulgator of the extravagance and
dissipation of which she was accused.

We must remember the atmosphere into which Marie Antoinette was thrust
upon her arrival in France. One of the first to sup with her was that
most licentious of all royal mistresses, Mme. du Barry, who asked
for the privilege of dining with the new princess--a favor which the
dissipated and weak king granted. Louis XV. was nothing more than
a slave to vice and his mistresses. The king's daughters--Mmes.
Adelaïde, Victoire, and Sophie--were pious but narrow-minded women,
resolutely hostile to Mme. du Barry and intriguing against her. The
Comtes de Provence and d'Artois were both pleasure-loving princes of
doubtful character; their sisters--Mmes. Clotilde and Elisabeth--had
no importance. The family was divided against itself, each member
being jealous of the others. The dauphin, being of a retiring
disposition and of a close and self-contained nature, did little to
add to the happiness of the young princess. Thus, she was literally
forced to depend upon her own resources for pleasure and amusement and
was at the mercy of the court, which was never more divided than in
about 1770--the time of her appearance.

At that time there were two parties--the Choiseul, or Austrian,
party, and those who opposed the policy of Choiseul, especially in
the expulsion of the Jesuits; the latter were called the party of the
_dévôts_ and were led by Chancellor Maupeau and the Duc d'Aiguillon.
This faction, with the mistress--Mme. du Barry--as the motive power,
soon broke up the power of Choiseul. The young and innocent foreign
princess, unschooled in intrigue and politics, could not escape both
political parties; upon her entrance into the French court, she was
immediately classed with one or the other of these rival factions
and thus made enemies by whatever turn she took, and was caught in a
network of intrigues from which extrication was almost impossible.

[Illustration 5:
After the painting by Émile Bayard._
_Parade was the primary requisite: she was obliged to keep up the
splendor and attractiveness of the French monarchy. In spite of the
vigorous remonstrances of her mother, the empress, she persisted in her
wild career of dissipation and extravagance, and drew upon herself more
and more the disrespect of the people, especially in appearing at places
frequented by the disreputable of both sexes, by entering into all noisy
and vulgar amusements, by her disregard and disdain of all the
conventionalities of the court. As a place in which to vent all these
emotions, these ebullitions of affections and amusements, the king
presented her with the château "Little Trianon," where she might enjoy
herself as she liked, away from the intrigues of court._]

Here, in this whirl of social excesses, her habits were formed; hers
being a lively, alert, active nature, fond of pleasure and somewhat
inclined toward raillery, she soon became so absorbed in the
many distractions of court life that little time was left her for
indulgence in reflection of a serious nature. Her manner of life at
this time in part explains her subsequent career of heedlessness,
excessive extravagance, and gayety.

At first her aunts--Mmes. Adelaïde and Sophie--succeeded in partially
estranging her from Louis XV., who had taken a strong fancy to his
granddaughter; but this influence was soon overcome--then these aunts
turned against her. Her popularity, however, increased. Innumerable
instances might be cited to show her kindness to the poor, to her
servants, to anyone in need--a quality which made her popular with the
masses. In time almost everyone at court was apparently enslaved by
her attractions and endeavored to please the dauphiness--this was
about 1774, when she was at the height of her popularity.

However, there developed a striking contrast between the dauphiness
and the queen; Burke called the former "the morning star, full of
life and splendor and joy." In fact, she was a mere girl, childlike,
passing a gay and innocent life over a road mined with ambushes and
intrigues which were intended to bring ruin upon her and destined
eventually to accomplish their purpose. By being always prompt in her
charities, having inherited her mother's devotion to the poor, she
won golden opinions on all sides; and the reputation thus gained was
augmented by her animated, graceful manner and her youthful beauty.

Little accustomed to the magnificence that surrounded her, she soon
wearied of it, craving simpler manners and the greater freedom of
private intercourse. When, as queen, she indulged these desires, she
brought upon herself the abuse and vilification of her enemies. While
dauphiness, her actions could not cause the nation's reproach or
arouse public resentment; as queen, however, her behavior was subject
to the strictest rules of etiquette, and she was responsible for
the morals and general tone of her court. This responsibility Marie
Antoinette failed to realize until it was too late.

Upon the accession of Louis XVI., a clean sweep was made of the
licentious and discredited agents of Mme. du Barry, and a new ministry
was created. The former mistress, with her lover, the Duc d'Aiguillon,
was banished, although Mme. Adelaïde succeeded in having Maurepas,
uncle of the Duc d'Aiguillon, made minister. Marie Antoinette had
little interest in the appointment after she failed to gain the honor
for her favorite, De Choiseul, who had negotiated her marriage.

The queen then proceeded to carry out her long-cherished wishes for
society dinners at which she could preside. Her every act, however,
was governed by inflexible laws of etiquette, some of which she most
impatiently suffered, but many of which she impatiently put aside.
With this manner of entertaining begins her reign as queen of taste
and fashion, for Louis XVI. left to his wife the responsibility of
organizing all entertainments, and her aspiration was to make the
court of France the most splendid in the world. From that time on, all
her movements, her apparel, her manners, to the minutest detail, were
imitated by the court ladies. This custom, of course, led to reckless
extravagance among the nobility, for whenever Marie Antoinette
appeared in a new gown, which was almost daily, the ladies of the
nobility must perforce copy it.

Tidings of these extravagances of the queen and her court in
time reached the empress-mother in Vienna. Marie Thérèse severely
reproached her daughter, writing: "My daughter, my dear daughter, the
first queen--is she to grow like this? The idea is insupportable to
me." Yet, "to speak the exact truth," said her counsellor, Mercy, when
writing to the empress-mother, "there is less to complain of in the
evil which exists than in the lack of all the good which might exist."
It is chronicled to her credit that all her expenditure was not upon
herself alone, but that she was equally lavish when she attempted

Her first political act, the removal of Turgot, was disastrous. She
thought she was humoring public opinion, which was strongly against
the minister on account of his many reforms, but her primary reason
was rather one of personal vengeance. Turgot had been openly hostile
to her friend and favorite, the Duc de Guines. She was then in the
midst of her period of dissipation; "dazzled by the glory of the
throne, intoxicated by public approval," she overstepped the bounds
of royal propriety, neglecting etiquette and forgetting that she was
secretly hated by the people because of her origin; her greatest error
was in forgetting that she was Queen of France and no longer the mere

Under the escort of her brother-in-law, the Comte d'Artois, she was
constantly occupied with pleasures and had time for little else. The
king, retiring every night at eleven and rising at five, had all the
doors locked; so the queen, who returned early in the morning, was
compelled to enter by the back door and pass through the servants'
apartments. Such behavior gave plentiful material to M. de Provence,
the king's brother, who remained at home and composed, for the
_Mercure de France_, all sorts of stories, from so-called trustworthy
information, on the king, on society, and especially on the doings of
the queen.

Marie Antoinette's fondness for the chase and the English racing fad,
for gambling, billiards, and her _petits soupers_ after the riding and
racing, gave ample opportunity to the gossipmongers and enemies. In
spite of the vigorous remonstrances of her mother, the empress, she
persisted in her wild career of dissipation and extravagance, and drew
upon herself more and more the disrespect of the people, especially in
appearing at places frequented by the disreputable of both sexes, by
entering into all noisy and vulgar amusements, by her disregard and
disdain of all the conventionalities of the court. She increased her
unpopularity by reviving the sport of sleighing; for this purpose
she had gorgeous sleighs constructed at a time when the population of
France was in misery. Such proceedings caused libels, epigrams, and
satirical chansonnettes to flow thick and fast from her enemies. Her
one idea was to seek congenial pleasures: she appeared to be wholly
oblivious to the disapproval of public opinion.

The slanderous tongues of her husband's aunts, the "jealousies and
bitter backbiting of her own intimate circle of friends," the infamous
accusations brought against her by her sisters-in-law, the attacks of
the Comte de Provence, and the indifference of the king himself, all
helped to increase her unpopularity.

Among her personal friends was the Princesse de Lamballe, whose
influence was preponderant for several years; she was not a
conspicuously wise woman, but one of spotless character. Her
ambitions, personal and for her relatives, often caused much trouble,
for she became the mouthpiece of her allies and her clients, for whom
she "solicited recommendations with as much pertinacity as if she had
been the most inveterate place hunter on her own account." Her favors
were too much in one direction to suit the queen, for, much attached
to the memory of her husband, the princess naturally sympathized with
the Orléans faction. As superintendent of the household of the queen,
replacing the Comtesse de Noailles, she gave rise to much scandal.
Her salary, through intrigues, had been raised to fifty thousand écus,
while her privileges were enormous; for instance, no lady of the queen
could execute an order given her without first obtaining the consent
of the superintendent. The displeasure and vexation which this
restriction caused among the court ladies may be imagined; complaints
became so frequent that the queen tired of them, and her affection for
her friend was thus cooled.

She sought other friends, among whom Mme. de Polignac was the favorite
and almost supplanted the Princesse de Lamballe in the regard of the
queen. To her she presented a large grant of money, the tabouret of
a duchess, the post of governess to the children of France; and her
friends received the appointments of ambassadors, and nominations to
inferior offices. She was not by nature an intriguing woman, but was
soon surrounded by a set of young men and women who made use of
her favor and took advantage of her influence; the result was the
formation of a regular Polignac set, almost all questionable persons,
but an exclusive circle, permitting no division of favor, and undoing
all who endeavored to rival them. This coterie of favorites may
be said to have caused Marie Antoinette as much unpopularity and
contributed as much to her ruin, and even to that of royalty, as did
any other cause originating at court. Mme. de Lamballe was no match
for her rival, so she retired, a move which increased the influence
of Mme. de Polignac, to whose house the whole court flocked. The queen
followed her wherever she went, made her husband duke, and permitted
her to sit in her presence.

By spending so much of her time at the salons of Mme. de Polignac
and the Princesse de Guéménée, the queen excited the displeasure
and enmity of many of the court and the people; at those places, De
Besenval, De Ligny, De Lauzun,--men of the most licentious habits and
expert spendthrifts,--seemed to enjoy her intimate friendship, a state
of affairs which caused many scandalous stories and helped to alienate
some of the greatest houses of France. This injudicious display of
preference for her own circle of friends also fostered a general
distrust and dislike among the people. The first families of France
preferred to absent themselves from her weekly balls at Versailles,
since attendance would probably result in their being ignored by the
queen, who permitted herself to be so engrossed by a bevy of favorites
and her own amusements as scarcely to notice other guests.

Her eulogists find excuse for all this in her lightness of heart and
gay spirits, as well as in the manner of her rearing, having been
brought up in the court of Louis XV., where she saw shameless vice
tolerated and even condoned. Although she preserved her virtue in the
midst of all this dissipation, she became callous to the shortcomings
of her friends and her own finer perceptions became blunted. Thus,
in the most critical years of her reign, her nobler nature suffered
deterioration, which resulted fatally.

Despite many warnings, she could not or would not do without those
friends. She excused anything in those who could make themselves
useful to her amusement: everyone who catered to her taste received
her favor. M. Rocheterie, in his admirable work, _The Life of Marie
Antoinette_, gives as the source of her great love of pleasure her
very strongly affectionate disposition,--the need of showering upon
someone the overflowing of an ardent nature,--together with the desire
for activity so natural in a princess of nineteen. As a place in
which to vent all these emotions, these ebullitions of affections and
amusements, the king presented her with the château "Little Trianon,"
where she might enjoy herself as she liked, away from the intrigues of

Marie Antoinette has become better known as the queen of "Little
Trianon" than as a queen of Versailles. At the former place she
gave full license to her creative bent. Her palace, as well as her
environments, she fashioned according to her own ideas, which were
not French and only made her stand out the more conspicuously as a
foreigner. From this sort of fairy creation arose the distinctively
Marie Antoinette art and style; she caused artists to exhaust their
fertile brains in devising the most curious and magnificent, the
newest and most fanciful creations, quite regardless of cost--and
this while her people were starving and crying for bread! The angry
murmurings of the populace did not reach the ears of the gay queen,
who, had she been conscious of them, might have allowed her bright
eyes to become dim for a time, but would have soon forgotten the
passing cloud.

There was constant festivity about the queen and her companions, but
no etiquette; there was no household, only friends--the Polignacs,
Mme. Elisabeth, Monsieur, the Comte d'Artois, and, occasionally, the
king. To be sure, the amusements were innocent--open-air balls, rides,
lawn fêtes, all made particularly attractive by the affability of
the young queen, who showed each guest some particular attention; all
departed enchanted with the place and its delights and, especially,
with the graciousness of the royal hostess. There all artists and
authors of France were encouraged and patronized--with the exception
of Voltaire; the queen refused to patronize a man whose view upon
morality had caused so much trouble.

Music and the drama received especial protection from her. The triumph
of Gluck's _Iphigénie en Aulide_, in 1774, was the first victory of
Marie Antoinette over the former mistress and the Piccini party. This
was the second musical quarrel in France, the first having occurred
in 1754, between the lovers of French and Italian music, with Mme. de
Pompadour as protectress. After Gluck had monopolized the French opera
for eight years, the Italian, Piccini, was brought from Italy in
1776. Quinault's _Roland_ was arranged for him by Marmontel and was
presented in 1778, unsuccessfully; Gluck presented his _Iphigénie en
Aulide_, and no opera ever received such general approbation. "The
scene was all uproar and confusion, demoniacal enthusiasm; women threw
their gloves, fans, lace kerchiefs, at the actors; men stamped and
yelled; the enthusiasm of the public reached actual frenzy. All did
honor to the composer and to the queen."

Marie Antoinette, however, also gave Piccini her protection. Gluck,
armed with German theories and supporting French music, maintained for
dramatic interest, the subordination of music to poetry, the union
or close relation of song and recitative; whereas, the Italian opera
represented by Piccini had no dramatic unity, no great ensembles,
nothing but short airs, detached, without connection--no substance,
but mere ornamentation. Gluck proved, also, that tragedy could be
introduced in opera, while Piccini maintained that opera could embrace
only the fable--the marvellous and fairylike. This musical quarrel
became a veritable national issue, every salon, the Academy, and all
clubs being partisans of one or the other theory; it did much to mould
the later French and German music, and much credit is due the queen
for the support given and the intelligence displayed in so important
an issue.

All singers, actors, writers, geniuses in all things, were sure of
welcome and protection from Marie Antoinette; but she permitted
her passion for the theatre to carry her to extremes unbecoming her
position, for she consorted with comedians, played their parts, and
associated with them as though they were her equals. Such conduct
as this, and her exclusiveness in court circles, encouraged calumny.
Versailles was deserted by the best families, and all the pomp
and traditions of the French monarchs were abandoned. The king, in
sanctioning these amusements at the "Little Trianon," lost the respect
and esteem of the nobility, but the queen was held responsible for all
evil,--for the deficit in the treasury, and the increase in taxes;
to such an extent was she blamed, that the tide of public popularity
turned and she was regarded with suspicion, envy, and even hatred.

In the spring of 1777 the queen's brother, the Emperor Joseph II. of
Austria, arrived in Paris for a visit to his sister and the court of
France. The relations between him and Marie Antoinette became quite
intimate; the emperor, always disposed to be critical, did not
hesitate to warn his sister of the dangers of her situation, pointing
out to her her weakness in thus being led on by her love of pleasure,
and the deplorable consequences which this weakness would infallibly
entail in the future. The queen acknowledged the justness of the
emperor's reasoning, and, though often deeply offended by his
frankness and severity, she determined upon reform. This resolution
was, to some extent, influenced by the hope of pregnancy; so, when
her expectations in that direction proved to be without foundation, so
keen was the disappointment thus occasioned, that, in order to forget
it, she plunged into dissipation to such an extent that it soon
developed into a veritable passion. Bitterly disappointed, vexed
with a husband whose coldness constantly irritated her ardent nature,
fretful and nervous, there naturally developed a morbid state of mind
which explains the impetuosity with which she attempted to escape from

In December, 1778, a daughter was born to the queen, and she welcomed
her with these words: "Poor little one, you are not desired, but you
will be none the less dear to me! A son would have belonged to the
state--you will belong to me." After this event the queen gave herself
up to thoughts and pursuits of a more serious nature. In 1779 the
dauphin was born, and from that period Marie Antoinette considered
herself no longer a foreigner.

After the death of Maurepas, minister and counsellor to the king,
the queen became more influential in court matters. She relieved the
indolent monarch of much responsibility, but only to hand it over to
her favorites. The period from 1781 to 1785 was the most brilliant of
the court of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette, one of dissipation and
extravagance, the rich _bourgeoisie_ vying with the nobility in their
luxurious style of living and in lavish expenditure. "The finest silks
that Lyons could weave, the most beautiful laces that Alençon could
produce, the most gorgeous equipages, the most expensive furniture,
inlaid and carved, the tapestry of Beauvais and the porcelain of
Sèvres--all were in the greatest demand." Necker was replaced by
incompetent ministers, the treasury was depleted, and the poor became
more and more restless and threatening. Once more, and with increased
vehemence, was heard the cry: _A bas l'Autrichienne!_

During the American war of the Revolution, Marie Antoinette was always
favorable to the Colonial cause, protecting La Fayette and encouraging
all volunteers of the nobility, who embarked for America in great
numbers. She presented Washington with a full-length portrait of
herself, loudly and publicly proclaiming her sympathy for things
American. She assured Rochambeau of her good will, and procured for La
Fayette a high command in the _corps d'armée_ which was to be sent to
America. When Necker and other ministers were negotiating for
peace, from 1781 to 1785, she persisted in asserting that American
independence should be acknowledged; and when it was declared, she
rejoiced as at no political event in her own country.

Her political adventures were few; in fact, she disliked politics and
desired to keep aloof from the intrigues of the ministers. She may
have been instrumental in the downfall of Necker--at least, she
secured the appointment, as minister of finance, of the worthless
Calonne, who, it will be remembered, brought about the ruin of
France in a short period. In time, however, the queen recognized his
worthlessness and would have nothing to do with him, thus making in
him another implacable enemy.

Events were fast diminishing the popularity of the queen. When, after
the long-disputed question of presenting the _Marriage of Figaro_, she
herself undertook to play in _The Barber of Seville_ in her theatre
at the Trianon, she overstepped the bounds of propriety. Then followed
the affair of the diamond necklace, in which the worst, most cunning,
and most notorious rogues abused the name of the queen. That was the
great adventure of the eighteenth century. Boehmer, the court jeweler,
had, in a number of years, procured a collection of stones for an
incomparable necklace. This was intended for Mme. du Barry, but
Boehmer offered it to the queen, who refused to purchase it, and he
considered himself ruined. It may be well to add that the queen had
previously purchased a pair of diamond earrings which had been ordered
by Louis XV. for his mistress; for those ornaments she paid almost
half her annual pin money, amounting to nine hundred thousand francs.
The jeweler, therefore, had good reason to hope that she would relieve
him of the necklace.

An adventuress, a Mme. de La Motte, acquainted at court and also with
the Prince Louis de Rohan, who had incurred the displeasure of the
queen, informed the cardinal that Marie Antoinette was willing to
again extend to him her favor. She counterfeited notes, and even went
so far as to appoint a meeting at midnight in the park at Versailles.
The supposed queen who appeared was no other than an English girl,
who dropped a rose with the words: "You know what that means." The
cardinal was informed that the queen desired to buy the necklace, but
that it was to be kept secret--it was to be purchased for her by a
great noble, who was to remain unknown. All necessary papers were
signed, and the necklace turned over to the Prince de Rohan, who, in
turn, intrusted it to Mme. de La Motte to be given to the queen; but
the agent was not long in having it taken apart, and soon her husband
was selling diamonds in great quantities to English jewelers.

In time, as no payments were received and no favors were shown by the
queen, an investigation followed. The result was a trial which lasted
nine months; the cardinal was declared not guilty, the signature
of the queen false, Mme. de La Motte was sentenced to be whipped,
branded, and imprisoned for life, and her husband was condemned to the
galleys. Nevertheless, much censure fell to the share of the queen. It
was the beginning of the end of her reign as a favorite whose faults
could be condoned. She was beginning to reap the fruits of her former
dissipations. In about 1787, when she least deserved it, she became
the butt of calumny, intrigues, and pamphlets.

During these years she was the most devoted of mothers; she personally
looked after her four children, watched by their bedsides when they
were ill, shutting herself up with them in the château so that they
would not communicate their disease to the children who played in the
park. In 1785 the king purchased Saint-Cloud and presented it to
the queen, together with six millions in her own right, to enjoy and
dispose of as she pleased. That act added the last straw to the burden
of resentment of the overwrought public; from that time she was known
as "Madame Deficit." Also she was accused of having sent her brother,
Joseph II., one hundred million livres in three years. She was hissed
at the opera. In 1788 there were many who refused to dance with the
queen. In the preceding year a caricature was openly sold, showing
Louis XVI. and his queen seated at a sumptuous table, while a starving
crowd surrounded them; it bore the legend: "The king drinks, the queen
eats, while the people cry!" Calonne, minister of finance, an intimate
friend of the Polignacs, but in disfavor with the queen, also made
common cause with the enemies, in songs and perfidious insinuations.
Upon his fall, in 1787, the queen's position became even worse.

The last period of the life of the queen, La Rocheterie calls the
militant period--it was one in which the joy of living was no more;
trouble, sorrows upon sorrows, and anxieties replaced the former
care-free, happy radiance of her youth. At the reunion of the
States-General, while the country at large was full of confidence and
the king was still a hero, the queen was the one dark spot; calumny
had done its work--the whole country seemed to be saturated with an
implacable hatred and prejudice against her whom they considered
the source of all evil. Throughout the ceremonies attending the
States-General, the queen was received with the same ominous silence;
no one lifted his voice to cheer her, but the Duc d'Orléans was always
applauded, to her humiliation.

Whatever may have been the faults and excesses of her youth, their
period was over and in their place arose all the noble sentiments so
long dormant. When the king was about to go to Paris as the prisoner
of the infuriated mob, La Fayette asked the queen: "Madame, what is
your personal intention?" "I know the fate which awaits me, but
my duty is to die at the feet of the king and in the arms of my
children," replied the queen. During the following days of anxiety she
showed wonderful courage and graciousness, "winning much popularity
by her serene dignity, the incomparable charm which pervaded her whole
person, and her affability."

Upon the urgent request of the queen the Polignac set departed,
and Mme. de Lamballe endeavored to do the honors for the queen, by
receptions three times a week, given to make friends in the Assembly.
At those functions all conditions of people assembled, and instead
of the witty, brilliant conversations of the old salon there were
politics, conspiracies, plots; instead of the gay and laughing faces
of the old times there were the worn and anxious faces of weary,
discouraged men and women. There was, indeed, a sad contrast between
the gay, frivolous, haughty queen of the early days, and this captive
queen--submissive, dignified, "majestic in her bearing, heroic, and
reconciled to her awful fate."

Her period of imprisonment, the cruelty, neglect, inadequate food and
garments, her torture and indescribable sufferings, the insults of
the crowd and the newspapers, her heroic death, all belong to history.
"The first crime of the Revolution was the death of the king, but
the most frightful was the death of the queen." Napoleon said: "The
queen's death was a crime worse than regicide." "A crime absolutely
unjustifiable," adds La Rocheterie, "since it had no pretext whatever
to offer as an excuse; a crime eminently impolitic, since it struck
down a foreign princess, the most sacred of hostages; a crime beyond
measure, since the victim was a woman who possessed honors without

Because Marie Antoinette played a romantic rôle in French history, it
is quite natural to find conflicting and contradictory opinions among
her biographers. The most conflicting may be summed up in these
words: the queen's influence upon the Revolution was great--her
extravagances, her haughty bearing, her scorn of the etiquette of
royalty, her enemies, her prejudices, the arrests which she caused,
etc. Then her pernicious influence upon the king, after the breaking
out of the Revolution--she caused his hesitancy, which led to such
disastrous results, and his plan of annihilating the States Assembly;
the gathering of the foreign troops and his many contradictory
and uncertain commands were all laid at her door, making of her an
important and guilty party to the Revolution. Another estimate is more
humane and, probably, is the result of cooler reflection, yet is not
always accepted by Frenchmen or the world at large. It represents her
as neither saint nor sinner, but as a pure, fascinating woman, always
chaste, though somewhat rash and frivolous. Proud and energetic, if
inconsiderate in her political actions and somewhat too impulsive in
the selection of friends upon whom to bestow her favors, she is yet
worthy of the title of queen by the very dignity of her bearing;
always a true woman, seductive and tender of heart, she became a
martyr "through the extremity of her trials and her triumphant death."

Although history makes Marie Antoinette a central figure during the
reign of Louis XVI. and the period of the Revolution, yet her personal
influence was practically limited to the domain of the social world of
customs and manners; her political influence issued mainly from or was
due to the concatenation of conditions and circumstances, the results
of her friends' doings, while her social triumphs were products of
her own activity. The two women--her intimate friends--who during
this period were of greatest prominence, who owed their elevation
and standing entirely to the queen, were women of whom little has
survived. In her time, Mme. de Polignac was an influential woman,
wielding tremendous power, contributing largely to the shaping and
climaxing of France's fate; yet this influence was centred in reality
in the Polignac set, which was composed of the most important, daring,
and consummate intriguers that the court of France had ever seen.
She escaped the guillotine, and by doing so escaped the attention of

Mme. de Lamballe, who wrote nothing, did nothing, effected nothing,
is better known to the world at large, is more respected and honored,
than is Mme. de Polignac or even the great salon leaders such as Mme.
de Genlis or Mlle. de Lespinasse. She owes this prominence to her
undying devotion to her queen, to her marvellous beauty, and to her
tragic death on the guillotine. She was not even bright or witty,
the essentials of greatness among French women--not one _bon mot_ has
survived her; but she may well be placed by the side of her queen
for one sublime virtue, too rare in those days,--chastity. She was
Princess of Sardinia; upon the request of the Duke of Penthièvre to
Louis XV. to select a wife for his son, the Prince of Lamballe, she
was chosen. A year after the marriage the prince died; and although
the marriage had not been a happy one, because of the dissolute life
of the prince, his wife forgave him, and "sorrowed for him as though
he deserved it."

When in 1768 the queen died, two parties immediately formed, the
object of both of them being to provide Louis XV. with a wife: one may
be called the reform party, striving to keep the old king in the paths
of decency; while the other was composed of the typical eighteenth
century intriguers, endeavoring to revive the "grand old times." The
candidate of the former was Mme. de Lamballe, that of the latter, the
dissolute Duchesse du Barry. This state of affairs was made possible
by the disagreement of the political and social schemes of the court
and ministry. Soon after, in 1770, the king negotiated the marriage
of Marie Antoinette and the dauphin, and from that time began the
friendship of the future queen and the Princesse de Lamballe. Entering
the unfamiliar circle of this highly debauched court, the young
dauphiness sought a sympathetic friend, and found her in the princess.
No figure in that society was more disinterested and unselfishly
devoted. In all the queen's undertakings, fêtes, and other amusements,
she was inseparable from the princess, who was indeed a rare exception
to the majority of the women of that time.

The friendship of these two women was uninterrupted, save for a period
extending from 1778 to 1785, when Mme. de Polignac and her set of
intriguers succeeded in estranging them and usurping all the favors of
the queen. When the outside world was accrediting to Marie Antoinette
every popular misfortune, when she lost by death both the dauphin
and the Princess Beatrice, when fate was against her, when the future
promised nothing but evil, she found no stauncher friend, better
consoler, more ardent admirer, than her old companion. Learning of the
removal of the royal family to the Tuileries, she rejoined the queen.
In 1791, with the escape of the royal fugitives, the princess left
for England, to seek the protection of the English government for her
royal friends.

Mr. Dobson says she was scarcely the _discrète et insinuante et
touchante Lamballe_, with a marvellous sang-froid, hardly the astute
diplomatist, that De Lescure makes her. "She was rather the quiet,
imposing Lamballe of old, interested in her friends and what she
could do for them, but never shrewd and diplomatic." In November she
returned to France, to meet her queen and to suffer death for her
sake,--and for this unswerving devotion she has a place in history.
She stands out also as the one normal woman in the crowds of
impetuous, shallow, petty, and, in many cases, pitifully debauched
women of the time. Not majestic greatness, but a direct, unaffected
sweetness and consistent goodness entitle her to rank among the great
women of France.



Many women of the revolutionary period have no claim for mention other
than a last glorious moment on the guillotine--"ennobled and endeared
by the self-possession and dignity with which they faced death, their
whole life seems to have been lived for that one moment." The society
which had brought on and stirred up the Revolution was enervated and
febrile. Paris was one large kennel of libellers and pamphleteers and
intriguers. The salon frequenters were trained conversationalists and
brilliant beauties who danced and drank, discoursed and intrigued.
It was a superficial elegance, with virtue only assumed. The art of
pleasing had been developed to perfection, but, instead of the actual
accomplishments of the old régime, there was merely the outward
appearance--luxury, dress, and magnificence; the bearing and language
were of the ambitious common people. "The great women are those who,
the day before, were taken from the cellar or garret of the salon."

During the Directorate, luxury and libertinism reigned almost as
absolutely as during the monarchy. Barras was supreme. He had his
mistress, or _maîtresse-en-titre_, in the beautiful Mme. Tallien,
the queen of beauty of the salon of _la mode_. Ease and dissolute
enjoyment were the aims of Barras, and in these his mistress was his
equal. They gave the most sumptuous dinners, prepared by the famous
chefs of the late aristocratic kitchens, while the people were
starving or living on black bread. She impudently arrayed herself in
the crown diamonds and appeared at the reception given to Napoleon.

The salons under the Empire are said to have preserved French
politeness, courtesy, and the usages of _la bonne compagnie_, but
intolerance and tyranny reigned there; the spirit of intrigue only was
obeyed. From the beginning of the Revolution to the Empire, it may be
said that the streets of Paris from one end to the other were a wild
turmoil of people in fever heat--ready for any crime or cruelty,
anxious for anything promising excitement. Where formerly the elegant
lovers of the nobility were wont to promenade, the rabid populace held
undisputed possession.

These were years, about 1780 to 1800, during which women shared the
same fate with men; and, consigned to the same prisons, ever resigned
and ready to die for principle, they knew how to die nobly. It was
truly an age of the martyrdom of woman--an age in which she lived,
through almost superhuman conditions, at the side of man. She was
all-powerful, triumphant as never before; not, however, through her
intellectual superiority as in the previous age, but through her
courage. There was not one powerful woman standing out alone,
but groups of them, hosts of them. It was during the Directorate
especially that woman controlled almost every phase of activity.

The woman who embodied all the heterogeneous vices of the past
nobility and the rising plebs was Mme. Tallien, the goddess of vice
and of the vulgar display of wealth. Her caprices were scrupulously
followed, while about her jealousy and slanders were thick. Then
immorality had no veil, but was low, brutish, and open to everyone.
With the accession of Napoleon to absolute power, there was a fusion
of the element just described with the remnant of the old régime.
Josephine soon formed a select and congenial social circle, excluding
Mme. Tallien and the Directorate adherents. Evidences of saddening
memories of the past and a general gloom were visible everywhere in
this circle. The disappointment of the nobility on returning from
their exile was somewhat lessened by the very select bi-weekly
reunions in the salon of Talleyrand, and by the brilliant suppers of
the old régime, which were revived at the Hôtel d'Anjou.

The salon of Mme. de Staël was a political debating club rather than
a purely social reunion. She being an ardent Republican, it was in
her salon that the Royalist plot to bring back the Bourbons was
overthrown. In a short time there were a number of brilliant salons,
each one showing a nature as distinct as those of the eighteenth
century. Thus, Joseph Bonaparte received the distinguished
governmentals and the intriguing women of society at the Château de
Mortfoulaine; at Lucien Bonaparte's hôtel youth and beauty assembled;
at Mme. de Permon's salon there were music and conversation, tea,
lemonade, and biscuits, twice a week. It remains but to characterize
these different ages of French social and political evolution by the
great women who, each one of her age, are the representative types.

The woman who, during the Revolution, not only added her name to the
long list of martyrs, but who also made history and contributed to the
very nature of those days of terror and uncertainty, was Mme. Roland,
whom critics both extol and condemn--the fate of all historical
characters. It would be difficult to estimate this remarkable person
and her work without some details of her life.

When a mere girl she showed signs of a tempestuous future; she
was seductive, but impulsive, with an inborn love for the common
people--which is not always credited to her--and for democracy. These
qualities were quickened during her experience at Versailles, for
while there for a few days' visit she saw the pitiless social world in
all its orgies, revelries of luxury, and wanton extravagances.
There, also, she contracted that deep-seated hatred for the queen and

There was, indeed, a long list of suitors for the hand of the
impulsive maiden; but owing to her views as to a husband and her
restless, unsettled state of mind, she could not decide upon any one
of them. To her mother, when urged to accept one, she said: "I should
not like a husband to order me about, for he would teach me only to
resist him; but neither do I wish to rule my husband. Either I am
much mistaken, or those creatures, six feet high, with beard on their
chins, seldom fail to make us feel that they are stronger; now, if the
good man should suddenly bethink himself to remind me of his strength
he would provoke me, and if he submitted to me he would make me
feel ashamed of my power." For such a woman marriage was certainly
a difficult problem. Finally, Roland de la Platières came within her
circle; and although somewhat adverse to him at first, after a number
of his visits she wrote: "I have been much charmed by the solidity of
his judgment and his cultured and interesting conversation." Just such
a man appealed to her nature and was in harmony with her views. After
months of monotonous life in the convent to which she had retired, she
at last consented to become the wife of Roland, not from expectations
of any fortune, but purely from a sense of devoting herself to the
happiness of an honorable man, to making his life sweeter.

Roland, scrupulously conscientious, painstaking, and observing, had
won the position of inspector of manufactures, which took him away on
foreign travels part of the time. He had acquired a thorough knowledge
of manufacturing and the principles of political economy. The first
years of their life were spent in each other's society exclusively,
as he was insanely jealous of her; she rarely left his side, and
they studied the same works, copied and revised his manuscripts, and
corrected his proofs. In this she was indispensable to him. But her
activity did not stop with literary work; she managed her husband's
household, and for miles around her home the peasants soon learned
to know her through her charitable deeds. She was the village doctor,
often going for miles to attend the poor in distress. With her own
hands she prepared dainty dishes with which to tempt her husband's
appetite. Thus, her best years were spent upon things for which much
less ability would have sufficed. She watched with breathless
interest the installation of Necker and the dismissal of Turgot, the
convocation of the notables, the struggles for financial recovery,
and, finally, the calling of a States-General, which had not been
in session since 1614. During the first stormy years, 1789-1790, she
wrote burning missives to her friend Bosc, at Paris, which appeared
anonymously in the _Patriote Français_, edited by Brissot, the future
Girondist leader. Soon came the commission of Roland as the first
citizen of the city of Lyons, which had a debt of forty million
francs, to acquaint the National Assembly with its affairs.

When, in 1791, Mme. Roland arrived at Paris--for she accompanied her
husband--she had already become an ardent Republican. She immediately
threw herself into the whirlwind of popular enthusiasm. Her house
became the centre of an advanced political group, which met there four
times a week to discuss state questions. There Danton, Robespierre,
Pétion, Condorcet, Buzot, and others were seen. She ably aided her
husband in all his work as commissioner to the National Assembly. She
was indefatigable in penning stirring letters and petitions to the
Jacobin societies in the different departments. A staunch friend
of Robespierre, she did much to protect him in his first efforts
in public. On returning home, after her husband had completed his
mission, she was no longer the same quiet, contented, submissive
woman; she longed for activity in the midst of excitement.

With the meeting of the Legislative Assembly, in 1791, the group of
men sent up from the Gironde immediately became the leaders, and when
Mme. Roland returned to Paris she became the centre of this circle,
exhorting and stimulating, advising and ordering. Through her friend
Brissot, who was all-powerful in the Assembly, about February,
1792, as leader of the Girondists, who were looking for men not yet
practically involved in politics, but qualified by experience for
political life, her husband was made minister of the interior, and in
March, 1792, he and his wife entered upon their duties. She was a
keen reader of human nature, at first glance giving her husband a
penetrating and generally truthful judgment of men. Being able to
comprehend the temperaments of the ministers, she managed them with
inimitable tact. Although all the Girondist ministers were supposed
friends, she readily saw how difficult it would be for a small
group of men with the same principles to act in concert. Seeing the
political machine in motion at close range, she lost some of her
enthusiasm for revolutionary leaders; above all, she recognized the
need of a great leader. As wife of the minister, installed in the
ministerial residence with no other woman present, she gave two
dinners weekly to her husband's colleagues, to the members of the
Assembly, and to political friends.

Her husband, the French Quaker of the Revolution, in all his
simplicity of dress and honesty, was being constantly duped by the
apparent good nature and sincerity of the king, against whom his wife
was constantly warning him. It was she who, convinced of the king's
duplicity and the need of a safeguard for the country, originated the
plan of a federate camp of twenty thousand men to protect Paris when
war had been declared against Austria. It was she who wrote a letter
to the king in the name of the council, but sent in Roland's own name,
imploring him not to arouse the mistrust of the nation by constantly
betraying his suspicion of it, but to show his love by adopting
measures for the welfare and safety of the country. The effect of this
letter, which became historical, was the fall of the ministers. After
their recall, her husband became more and more powerful. The political
circulars which were published by his paper, _The Sentinel_, were
composed by her. Then came the horrible massacres and executions by
the hundreds, which inspired Mme. Roland with hatred for Danton, a
feeling she communicated to the whole Girondist party. She desired
above everything to see punished the perpetrators of the September
massacres. In this plan the Girondists failed. Robespierre, Danton,
and Marat were victorious, and Mme. Roland and her party fell.

When all parties and the whole populace vied with each other in
welcoming back the victorious General Dumouriez, there seemed to be
a possibility of a reconciliation between Danton and Mme. Roland, for
when the general went to dine with her he presented her with a bouquet
of magnificent oleanders. This dinner, on October 14th, auguring good
fortune to all, was the last success of Mme. Roland. She had been
pushed to the very front of the Revolution. She coöperated in
composing and promulgating the numerous writings of her husband
by which public opinion was to be instructed. But she retained her
implacable hatred for Danton, who, when her husband, ready to resign,
was pressed to remain in office, cried out in the convention: "Why not
invite Mme. Roland to the ministry, too! everyone knows that Roland
is not alone in the office!" At this period her husband made the
fatal mistake of appropriating a chest of important state papers and
examining them himself instead of calling together a commission. As
is known, the papers turned out to be fatal to Louis XVI. Libels and
denunciations were pronounced against Roland, but his wife, called
before the convention, not only succeeded in turning aside all
accusations, but was voted the honors of the sitting.

At the time of the trial of the king, the power and influence of
the Girondists were waning; then the Rolands became the butt of many
violent and unreasonable outbursts. With the resignation of Roland on
January 22, 1792, the day of the execution of the king, the fate of
the Girondists was sealed. This time the minister was not asked to
reconsider; in fact, his exposure of the pilfering then going on among
the officials made him one of the most unpopular men in Paris. Upon
their return to private life, Mme. Roland was accused of forming the
plot to destroy the republic. When an armed force arrived one morning
at half-past five o'clock to arrest her husband, she resisted them,
herself going to the convention to expose the iniquity of such a
proceeding. Failing in this, she returned to her husband, to find him
safe with a friend. Being again arrested, she met the ordeal with her
accustomed courage; and when the officers offered to pull down the
blinds of the carriage, to shield her from the gaze of the unfriendly
public, she said: "No, gentlemen! innocence, however oppressed, should
not assume the attitude of guilt. I fear the eyes of no one, and do
not wish to escape even those of my enemies." "You have much more
character than many men," they replied; "you can calmly await
justice," "Justice!" she cried; "if it existed, I should not be
in your power! I would go to the scaffold as calmly as if sent by
iniquitous men. I fear only guilt, and despise injustice and death!"

She has been deeply criticised for her letters written to her friend
Buzot while she was in prison; yet it should be remembered that there
was not the slightest chance of their meeting again, and, besides,
the letters reveal the terrible struggle through which she had passed.
While in prison, her beauty, grace, and fearlessness won and humanized
nearly all who came under her spell. She was once unexpectedly
set at liberty, but only to be sentenced to the lowest of
prisons--Sainte-Pélagie. There, in the space of about one month,
her memoirs, now among the French classics, were written. At the
Conciergerie, where the lowest criminals and the filthiest paupers
were crowded into cells with the highest of the nobility, and where
the cowardly Mme. du Barry spent her last hours, Mme. Roland, by her
quiet dignity and patient serenity, commanded silence and respect, and
calmness and peace replaced angry and pitiful wrangling. The prisoners
clung to her, crying and kissing her hand, while she spoke words of
advice and consolation to the doomed women, who "looked upon her as a
beneficent divinity." Her conduct under these circumstances alone is
sufficient to keep alive her memory. In the last days, she clung to
and upheld most passionately her principles of liberty and moderation,
and in her conversation with Beugnot it was evident that she had been
the real inspiration in the Girondist party for all that was best and
most uplifting.

The charge against her when before the bar of judgment of
Fouquier-Tinville, the terrible prosecutor, consisted in her relation
to the Girondists who had been condemned to death as traitors to the
republic. She met her death heroically, as became a woman who had
lived bravely. At the very last moment of her life, she offered
consolation to fellow victims. Her death was that of the greatest
heroine of the Revolution, the climax of a life the one ambition of
which had been to save her country and to shed her blood for it. As
she rode through the city in her pure white raiment, serenely radiant
in her own innocence, she was the embodiment of all that was highest
and purest in the Revolution--one of the best and greatest women known
to French history. She stands out as a representative of the French

There are a number of traits of Mme. Roland which should be considered
before giving a final estimate of her character, of her rôle in French
history, and of her right to be ranked among the most illustrious
women of France. Critics in general seem to show her a marked
hostility; such men as Caro assert that she had no modesty, that she
lacked sentiment, delicacy, and reserve. M. Saint-Amand said that she
reflected the vices and virtues of her age, summing up the passions
and illusions, being intellectually and morally the disciple of
Rousseau, but socially personifying the third estate, which in the
beginning asked for nothing, but later demanded all. Politics made
her cruel at times, although by nature she was good and sensible. He
declared that with her acquaintance with Buzot began her career of
love and ambition. In love, she believed herself a patriot, but all
the various phases of her public career were simply the results of her
emotions. Thus, for example, in order to see Buzot, she persuaded
her husband to return to Paris to seek his fortune and make the
realization of her dreams possible. She desired to play a rôle for
which her origin had not destined her, which made her actions appear
theatrical and affected. It is evident that she hated both the king
and the queen, and at the council for the Girondist ministry demanded
the death of the royal couple. And yet, Saint-Amand cites her as the
most beautiful of that group of martyrs who lost their lives in the
first heat of the Revolution--as the genius among them by her
force, purity, and grace--the brilliant and austere muse in all the
saintliness of martyrdom.

The two maxims which Mme. Roland followed throughout her career had
much to do with her fall: security is the tomb of liberty; indulgence
toward men in authority is the means of pushing them to despotism.
These maxims as her motto or impulse, united with the spirit of push,
energy, and at times rashness and impropriety, naturally led her to
her ruin in those days of revolutionary ideas. She was a woman of
powerful passion controlled by reason, and with frankness, devotion,
courage, and fidelity as forces impelling her to activity. But there
was one great defect which was at the bottom of her misfortunes,--a
too great ambition, which often led her into perilous paths, even to
the scaffold, which, in its turn, covered her errors.

She is said to have married M. Roland more as a theory than as
a husband, for her ideas of marriage were such as to make pure,
disinterested love impossible. Her husband was in many respects her
intellectual superior, but she excelled him in versatility. Being her
senior by twenty years, when he grew old and infirm he depended upon
her for a great deal, all of which contributed to her restlessness
and unhappiness. Then there developed in her that terrible struggle
between loyalty to her husband and passion for Buzot, in which reason
conquered. This devotion to duty was indeed rare in those days, when
passion was supreme and pure love was almost unknown. Mr. Dobson says
that this one trait by which she gave real expression of virtue is
profoundly a product of her mental self. Her instinct would have led
her to self-abandonment, so common in that day, but her "man by the
head" self was stronger than her "woman by the heart" self. These two
sides of her character, fostered by incessant reading, incited her
fearful and unrelenting hatreds as well as her passion, "masculine
enough to be mistrusted and feminine enough to be admired." These two
qualities made her a power and an attraction. Her better side will
continue to shine clearer as the horror of those days is revealed.
Whatever may be the effects of her ambitious nature and of her
unfortunate passion for Buzot, by the very virtue of her intellect and
reasoning she will remain the one great woman of the Revolution who
willingly and conscientiously sacrificed her life for her country.

A type perhaps more universally known in her relation to the
Revolution than is Mme. Roland, though no better understood, was
Charlotte Corday. Possessed of a most intense patriotism and an
unusual emotional nature, she represented better than any other woman
of her age the peculiar French trait--namely, the emotional perfectly
combined with the mathematical. She was unique; her compatriots
practised the art of studying themselves, in order to be attractive,
and thus accomplished their ends, while her ambition was not to
please merely, but to be of some real, practical value to her troubled
country. She stands out, however, as the product of the end of the
eighteenth century, a natural result of the reading of philosophy
and political pamphlets. Quite naturally, she entertained such
philosophical sentiments as this: "No one will lose in losing me,
and the country may be better off for the sacrifice. Death comes only
once, and let us use it to the good of the country or the greatest
number of people." Thus, her philosophy led her to a complete
detachment from her individual self, and fostered the idea of dying
for her country.

Her decision to rid France of Marat was arrived at by degrees of
silent brooding over the evils which beset her native land; at last
she felt herself called to some great act which would necessitate the
loss of her life. "The time brought forth desperation, intense warmth
of feeling, concentrated upon some purpose or object;" the reasoning
self seemed to be stifled by the intensity of the emotion. Yet,
reason was to conquer in her. When the Girondists returned to Caen
and described Robespierre and Marat in the darkest colors, she at once
felt moved to put forth all her efforts to rid France of that evil
blot--Marat. She was beautiful, strong, and graceful, presenting a
most striking appearance. Loved by all, she felt love and devotion
only for her country. Desperate and determined, she set out to fulfil
her mission. She was a mere expression of the conservative element
which acts only when driven by sheer necessity. Her reason impressed
her with her duty and circumstances; the time acted upon her mind.
"Easy, calm, resigned, she looked upon the angry masses of people who
cursed her," confident that she had done her country a service, and
proud that she had been the fortunate one to render it. This was her
glory, and for this she will be remembered in history.

Possibly the rarest phenomenon in the history of the illustrious women
of France is Mme. Récamier, who, by force of her beauty and social
fascination, and without intellectual gifts or even wit, won for
herself the position of queen of French society, which she held for
nearly half a century. The very name of Récamier has come to evoke a
vision of beauty, a beauty so well known to every lover of art who
has visited the Luxembourg and gazed upon the figure "so flexible
and elegant, with head well poised, brilliant complexion, little rosy
mouth with pearly teeth, black curling hair, soft expressive eyes, and
a bearing indicative of indolence and pride, yet with a face beaming
with good nature and sympathy." Her beauty has been considered
perfect, but a recent writer has proved this to be an error.
M.J. Turquan, in a new volume on Mme. Récamier, is everything but
sympathetic to the woman at whom criticism has rarely been pointed.
"Quite a contrast to her extraordinary beauty of face," he declares,
"were her hands, with big fingers square at the end and having flat
nails. The same may be said of her feet, which were not only big, but
were without the slightest trace of _finesse_ in their lines." But
though Turquan has raised numerous points in her disfavor, they
are not at all likely to detract from her unrivalled reputation for

Critics have made of her a sort of enigmatic figure, supernatural
and having only the form of the human. Thus, in Lamartine we find the
following description: "The young girl was, they say, a _sous-entendu_
of nature: she could be a wife, she could not be a mother. These are
the two mysteries we must respect, but which we must know to have been
the secret of the entire life of Mme. Récamier--a mournful and eternal
enigma which will never have its words divined,... All her looks
produced an intoxication, but brought hope to no heart. The divine
statue had not descended from its pedestal for anyone, as though such
a performance would have been too divine for a mortal." Her beauty was
so marked, so singular, that wherever she appeared--at the ball, the
theatre--it caused a sensation; all turned to look at her and admire
in subdued astonishment. Her form was said to be marvellously
elegant and supple, her neck of an exquisite perfection, her mouth
"deliciously small and pink, her teeth veritable pearls set in
coral, her arms splendidly moulded, her eyes full of sweetness
and admiration, her nose most attractive in its regularity, her
physiognomy candid and spiritual, her air indolent and haughty, and
her attitude reserved. Before this ensemble, you remained in ecstasy."
All this beauty was particularly well set off by an exquisite white
dress adorned with pearls--a style she affected the year around.

But her beauty alone could hardly have contributed to the marvellous
success of Mme. Récamier, as some critics assert. Guizot, for
instance, suspects her nature to have been less superficial than
other writers might lead one to suppose. He said: "This passionate
admiration, this constant affection, this insatiable taste for society
and conversation, won her a wide friendship. All who approached and
knew her--foreigners and Frenchmen, princes and the middle classes,
saints and worldlings, philosophers and artists, adversaries as
well as partisans--all she inspired with the ideas and causes she
espoused." Her qualities outside of her beauty were tact, generosity,
and elevation of soul, combined with an amiable grace which was
unlimited, however superficial it may have been. Knowing how to
maintain, in her salon, harmony and even cordial relations between men
of the most varied temperaments and political ideas, it was possible
for her to remain all her life an intelligent and warm-hearted bond
between the élite minds and their diverse sentiments, which she
tactfully tempered. Though ever faithful to one cause, she admitted
men and women of all parties to her salon. She was moderate and
just in the midst of the most arduous struggles, tolerant toward her
adversaries, generous toward the conquered, sympathetic to all, and
remarkably successful in conciliating all political, literary, and
philosophical opinions as well as the passions which she aroused in
her worshippers. To these qualities, as much as to her beauty, were
due the harmony of her life, the unity of her character--which were
never troubled by the turmoils of politics or the emotions of love.
She was not wife, mother, or lover; "she never belonged to anyone in
soul or sense." Always mistress of her imagination as well as of
her heart, she permitted herself to be charmed but never carried
away--receiving from all, but giving nothing in return. Her life
was brilliant, but there was lurking in the background the demon
of sadness and lassitude and the terrible disease of the eighteenth

Two splendid portraits of Mme. Récamier are left to us: one by her
passionate but unsuccessful lover, Benjamin Constant, picturing her
as the personification of attractiveness; the other by M. Lenormant,
showing that she desired constant admiration: "She lacked the
affections which bring veritable happiness and the true dignity of
woman. Her barren heart, desirous of tenderness and devotion, sought
recompense for this need of living, in the homage of passionate
admiration, the language of which pleases the ears." Mme. Récamier,
while still a child, seemed to realize the power of her beauty, and
even before her marriage in 1793 she would often say, when demanded
in marriage: "Mon Dieu! how beautiful I must be already!" A mere girl
when married, being only sixteen years of age, she felt no love for
her husband, who was her senior by twenty-five years. Soon after the
terrible times of "the Reign of Terror" she found herself one of the
most beautiful women in Paris, and her husband one of the wealthiest
of bankers. The three rival women of the times were Mme. Récamier,
Mme. Tallien, and Josephine. The terrible days of the guillotine were
succeeded by an uninterrupted reign of pleasure, "when a fever of
amusement possessed everyone, and the desire for distraction of all
kinds seemed to have been pushed to its limits." M. Turquan states
that in the reign of dissolute extravagance, immorality, and gorgeous
splendor, Mme. Récamier formed a striking contrast by her simplicity.
Her first triumph was at the church Saint-Roche, the most fashionable
of Paris, where she was selected to raise a purse for charity. On one
occasion the collection amounted to twenty thousand francs, all due to
the beauty of the woman passing the plate. She was soon invited by her
friend Barras to all the balls and fêtes under the Directorate.

In 1798 M. Récamier bought the house formerly tenanted by Necker, and
later established himself in a château at Clichy, where he received
his friends, among whom was Lucien Bonaparte, who attempted the
ruin of the beautiful hostess, but without success. Napoleon himself
attempted in vain to win her to his court as maid of honor and as an
ornament, her refusal incurring his anger, especially as she was the
height of fashion and courted by all the great men of the age. Through
her preference for the Royalists--persisting in her line of conduct
in spite of her friend Fouché--she finally incurred the enmity of
the emperor. Even the Princess Caroline endeavored to obtain Mme.
Récamier's friendship for Napoleon, "but, although the princess gave
her _loge_ twice to the favorite, and upon each occasion the emperor
went to the theatre expressly to gaze upon her, she remained firm in
her refusal, which was one of the causes of the downfall of her
banker husband, whom Napoleon might have saved had his wife been the
emperor's friend." Napoleon certainly resented her refusal, for when
requested to save Récamier's bank he replied: "I am not in love with
Mme. Récamier!" Thus, because his wife preferred the aristocracy to
the favors of Napoleon, the banker lost his fortune.

She, however, bore her misfortunes with great reserve, immediately
selling her jewels and her hôtel; after which they both retired to
small apartments, where they were even more honored and had greater
social prestige than ever. She at once made her salon the centre of
hostility against the emperor, who, according to Turquan, did not
banish her, but her friend Mme. de Staël, with whom she passed
over into Switzerland. Here began her romance with Prince August
of Prussia, who became so enamored of her that he asked her hand in
marriage. Encouraged by Mme. de Staël, she even went so far as to ask
her husband for a divorce, that she might wed the royal aspirant. Her
husband generously consented to this, but at the same time set forth
to her the peculiar position which she would occupy, an argument that
opened her eyes to her ingratitude, and she refused the prince.

Upon the fall of Napoleon, Mme. Récamier returned to Paris and, her
husband's fortune being restored, gathered about her all the great
nobles of the ancient régime. But fortune was unkind to her husband
for the second time, and she withdrew to the Abbaye-au-Bois, where she
occupied a small apartment on the third floor. Here her distinguished
friends followed her--such as Chateaubriand and the Duc de
Montmorency. Between her and the famous author of _Le Génie du
Christianisme_ there sprang up a friendship which lasted thirty years.
During this time it is said that he visited her at a certain hour
each day, the people in the neighborhood setting their clocks by his
appearance. When he was absent on missions, he wrote her of every
act of his life. Both, weary of the dissipations of society and
its flatteries, sought a pure and lofty friendship, spiritual and
affectionate, with no improper intimacy. There was mutual admiration
and mutual respect. Even Chateaubriand's wife, who was an invalid and
with whom he spent every evening, encouraged his friendship with Mme.
Récamier. When, through the fall of Charles X., Chateaubriand lost his
power, the friendship did not cease. M. Turquan insists that he did
not really care seriously for Mme. Récamier, that his visits were the
outgrowth of mere habit. But it is to be seen that throughout his book
Turquan has little sympathy for his subject, whom he pictures as
a beautiful, heartless, intriguing woman with immense hands, flat,
square fingers, and large feet.

The influence possessed by Mme. Récamier was most remarkable; for
with the new statesmen, Thiers, Guizot, Mignet, De Tocqueville,
Sainte-Beuve, as well as the nobles and princes, she was on most
cordial terms, and was received in any salon which she chose to visit.
Her unbounded sympathy, tact, and common sense made her friendship
and counsel much in demand by great men. One trait, however, her
exclusiveness, caused much discomfort in her life, such as bringing
upon her the ill will of Napoleon.

In her later years her physical beauty gradually developed into a
moral beauty. She was never a passionate woman, but rather passively
affectionate; purely unselfish, her one desire always was to make
people love her and to be happy. Her friendship with Chateaubriand in
the later days was possibly the most ideal and noble in the history of
French women. He never failed to make his appearance in the afternoon
at the _abbaye_, driven in a carriage to her threshold, where he was
placed in an armchair and wheeled to a corner by her fireplace. On one
of those visits, he asked her to marry him--he being seventy-nine, she
seventy-one--and bear his illustrious name. "Why should we marry at
our age?" Mme. Récamier replied. "There is no impropriety in my taking
care of you. If solitude is painful to you, I am ready to live in the
same house with you. The world will do justice to the purity of our
friendship. Years and blindness give me this right. Let us change
nothing in so perfect an affection." Her charm never deserted her, and
she continued to the very last to receive the greatest men and women
of the day. Still the reigning beauty and the queen of French society,
she died at the age of seventy-two, of cholera.

There is a wide difference between Mme. Récamier and Josephine, the
two women of the Napoleonic era who exerted so powerful an influence
upon the social and political fortunes of France. At the time of
Napoleon's first success, the former was only twenty-one, with
Madonna-like charms and attractiveness; the latter, thirty-five, but
with exquisite taste in dress and skill in beautifying. Possessed of
unstudied natural grace and elegance, and always attired in perfect
harmony with her beauty of face and form, she could easily stand a
comparison with the other beauties of the day, all of whom studied her
air and manner and marked the aristocratic ease and poise of her real
_noblesse_ of the old régime.

[Illustration 6:
After the painting by Adrien Moreau._
_Thus, in Lamartine we find: "The young girl was, they say, a_
sous-entendu _of nature: she could be a wife, she could not be a mother."
These are the two mysteries we must respect, but which we must know to
have been the secret of the entire life of Mme. Recamier. Knowing how to
maintain, in her salon, harmony between men of the most varied
temperaments and political ideas, it was possible for her to remain all
her life an intelligent and warm-hearted bond. She admitted men and
women of both parties to her salon.... was moderate and just in the
midst of the most arduous struggles, tolerant toward her adversaries,
generous toward the conquered, sympathetic to all, and remarkably
successful in conciliating all political, literary, and philosophical
opinions as well as the passions which she aroused in her worshippers._]

"Josephine had a faded and brown complexion, which she remedied with
rouge and powder; her small mouth concealed her bad teeth; her elegant
figure and graceful movements, refined expression, gentle voice and
dignity, all dexterously expressed with an air of coquetry, made her
delightful." The happiest part of the life of Napoleon and Josephine
was during their stay in Italy, when he was absolutely faithful
to her. As soon as Napoleon left for Egypt, Talleyrand secured the
erasure of many noble names from the list of the proscribed exiles and
soon gathered about him a large number of Royalists, who immediately
began to pay court to Josephine. Napoleon had enjoined her to keep
her salon according to the means he provided and to entertain all
influential people. To this she was equal; and all men of elevated
rank, the most distinguished artists, men of letters, orators, and
musicians, found her salon an enjoyable retreat. No greater galaxy of
talent and genius ever assembled under the old régime than was found
there,--David, Lebrun, Lesueur, Grétry, Cherubini, Méhul, J. Chénier,
Hoffman, Ducis, Désaugiers, Legouvé, and others.

But her life was not without its difficulties. She was always annoyed
by the Bonaparte family, who were jealous of her influence over
Bonaparte. Exceedingly extravagant, in fact a spendthrift, she was
always in need of money. Her virtues, however, easily offset these
defects. Josephine never offended anyone, never argued politics;
she made friends in all classes, thus conciliating Republicans and
aristocrats; therefore, her greatest influence was as a mediator
between two classes of society, by which she, more than any other
woman, unconsciously contributed to the forming of a new social
France. Napoleon was wise enough to recognize such diplomacy, and
encouraged her to intrigue like an experienced diplomat. She was the
most efficient aid and means to his future plans, and M. Saint-Amand
says that without her he would possibly never have become emperor.
When he returned from Egypt and found her away,--she had gone to meet
him, but missed him,--his suspicions were aroused as to her fidelity,
as she had been accused of many misdeeds. When the reconciliation
finally took place, after a day of sobbing and pleading, she put
to work all her tact and knowledge of Parisian society to help her
husband to the _coup d'état_.

She was always of great service to Napoleon in his relations with the
men of whom he wished to make use; fascinating them and drawing them
over to him, she charmed such persons as Barras, Gohier, Fouché,
Moreau, Talleyrand, Sièyes, and others. By her skill she kept hidden
Napoleon's plans until all was ripe for them. She was in the secret
of the 18th Brumaire; "nothing was concealed from her. In every
conference at which she was present, her discretion, gentleness,
grace, and the ready ingenuity of her delicate and cool intelligence
were of great service." During the Directorate she allayed jealousies
and appeased the differences between Republicans and Royalists. As
wife of the First Consul, she conciliated the _émigrés_. At that time
she was probably the most important figure in France. The _émigrés_
would call at her salon in the morning so as to avoid meeting her
husband, with whom they refused to associate. Her task was not easy,
but she knew so well how to say a kind word to all, and her tact was
so great that when she became empress the duties and requirements
of that office were natural to her. She won the Republicans by her
friendship with Fouché, the representative of the revolutionary
element--the aristocracy, by her dignity and refinement. Her whole
appearance had a peculiar charm.

In 1803 the conditions began to be reversed. In 1796 Josephine had
worried Napoleon on account of her inconstancy; she was then young
and beautiful, while he was penniless and ailing. In 1803 he was
thirty-four and she forty--he in his prime, wealthy and popular,
she faded and powerless, no longer able to give cause for suspicion.
However, nothing could make Napoleon reject her, because she was
useful to him. "Her kindness was a weapon against her enemies, a charm
for her friends, and the source of her power over her husband." "I
gained battles, Josephine gained me hearts," are the well-known words
of Napoleon. As empress she had every wish gratified, but she
realized that a woman of her age could not continue indefinitely her
fascination over a man as capricious as Napoleon. In the brilliant
court of Fontainebleau she held the highest place, and no one could
suspect the anxieties that tormented her, so cool and happy did she

Josephine did many things that later on gradually helped reconcile
Napoleon to a divorce: her pride, her aristocratic tendencies,
extravagance and lavishness; her objection to the marriage of Hortense
to General Duroc on the grounds of humble birth; her religious
tendencies; her difficulty in keeping secrets, which led to highly
tragic scenes between her and Bonaparte; the encouragement she gave
to the jealousies and hatred of her brothers and sisters-in-law,
who maliciously slandered her at every opportunity; and finally, her

Her career after her divorce was honorable, and to-day Josephine is
still held in the highest esteem in France and in the world at large.
Her greatness is not in having been the wife of a great emperor, but
in knowing how to adapt herself to the conditions in France into which
she was suddenly thrust. As a conciliator and a mediator between two
almost hopelessly irreconcilable classes of society, she deserves a
prominent place among great French women.



Among the unusually large number of prominent French women which the
nineteenth century produced, possibly not more than a half-dozen
names will survive,--Mme. de Staël, George Sand, Rosa Bonheur, Sarah
Bernhardt, Mme. Lebrun, and Rachel. This circumstance is, possibly,
largely due to the character of the century: its activity, its varied
accomplishments, its wide progress along so many lines, its social
development, its absolute freedom and tolerance--all of which tended
to open a field for women more extensive than in any preceding

The salon, in its old-time glory, became a thing of the past; and
the passing of this institution lessened, to a large extent, the
possibility of great influence on the part of women. In short, the
mode of life became, in the nineteenth century, unfavorable to the
absolute power exercised by woman in former times. She was now on a
level with man, enjoying more privileges and being looked upon more as
the equal and possible rival of man. It became necessary for woman to
make and establish her own position, whereas, under the old régime,
her power and position were established by custom, which regarded her
vocation as entirely distinct from that of man. The result was a host
of prominent and active women, but few really great ones. Undoubtedly
by far the most important and influential was Madame de Staël, but her
influence and work are so intimately associated with her life that
any account of her which aims at giving a true estimate of her
significance must necessarily involve much biography.

Her mother, the Mme. Necker of salon fame, endeavored to bring up her
daughter as the _chef d'oeuvre_ of natural art,--pious, modest in her
conversation, dignified in her behavior, without pride or frivolity,
but with wide knowledge. In this ambition she partly succeeded. At
the age of eleven the young girl was present at receptions, where
she listened to discussions by such men as Grimm, Buffon, Suard,
and others. Her parents took her to the theatre, and she would
subsequently compose short stories on what she had heard and seen.
Rousseau became her ideal, but she enjoyed all literature, showing an
insatiable desire for knowledge. From her early youth to her death,
her conversation was ever the result of her own impulse; consequently,
it was uncontrolled and lacked the seriousness imparted by deep

Interested in all things except Nature, which seemed mournful to her,
while solitude horrified her, society was her delight. At the age of
twenty she wrote: "A woman must have nothing to herself and must find
all power in that which she loves." Her masculine ideal was a man
of society, of success, a hero of the Academy, a superior genius,
animated more by the desire to please than to be useful. During these
early years she wrote a great deal, her work being mostly in the form
of sentimental utterances, but very little has survived her.

When she reached marriageable age, many ambitions of her parents were
frustrated by her independent will. Pitt, Mirabeau, Bonaparte, were
considered, but destiny had in store for her a Swedish ambassador,
Staël-Holstein, a man of good family, but with little money and plenty
of debts, who had been looking out for a comfortable dowry. In 1786,
at the time when Marie Antoinette was at the height of her popularity,
this girl of twenty years was married to a man seventeen years her
senior, who had no affection for her and whom she could not love.

At Paris she immediately opened a salon, which soon eclipsed, both in
beauty and wit, that of her mother; there her eloquence, enthusiasm,
and conversational gifts captivated all, but her imprudent language,
the recklessness of her conduct, her scorn of all etiquette, her
outspoken preferences, frightened away women and stunned men. Her
sympathy for her friends, Talleyrand, Narbonne, De Montmorency,
together with the approaching Revolution, drew her into politics. When
her father was called by the nation to the control of its finances,
his daughter shared his glories.

Her salon was the centre of the élite and of all literary and
political discussions; but as the majority of its frequenters were
partisans of the English constitution and expressed their views
openly and freely, her enemies became numerous. When Narbonne was made
minister of war, a great triumph for her and her party, the eloquence
of his reports was attributed to her, and when he fell into disgrace
she rescued him. However, the atmosphere of Paris was too unfriendly,
so she left in 1792 for her home at Coppet, which became an asylum
for all the proscribed. When she visited England, she began a
thorough study of its mode of life, its customs, and its parliamentary
institutions. Upon her return to Coppet she wrote _Réflexions sur le
Procès de la Reine_, to excite the commiseration of the judges. After
the death of her mother in 1794, she devoted her energies to the
education of her two boys.

After the violence of her love for Benjamin Constant, who drew
her back to politics, was somewhat cooled, she became an ardent
Republican, writing her treatise _Réflexions sur la Paix adressées
a M. Pitt et aux Anglais_, which facilitated her return in 1795 to
Paris, where she found her husband reinstalled as ambassador. Her
hôtel in the Rue de Bac was reopened, and she proceeded to form a
salon from the débris of society floating about in Paris. It was an
assembly of queer characters--elements of the old and new régime, but
not at all reconciled, converts of the Jacobin party returning for the
first time into society, surrounded by the women of the old régime,
using all imaginable efforts and flattery to obtain the _rentrée_ of
a brother, a son, or a lover; it was composed of the most moderate
Revolutionists, of former Constitutionalists, of exiles of the
Monarchy, whom she endeavored to bring over to the Republican cause.

Through the influence of Mme. de Staël, the decree of banishment was
repealed by the convention, thus opening Paris to Talleyrand. In 1795
appeared her _Réflexions sur la Paix Intérieure_; the aim of that
work being to organize the French Republic on the plan of the United
States; it strongly opposed the restoration of the Monarchy. The
Comité du Salut Publique accused her of double play, of favoring
intrigues, and, seeing the plots of the Royalists, she adopted a new
plan in her salon; politics being too dangerous, she decided to devote
herself more to literature. In her book _Les Passions_ she endeavored
to crush her calumniators; she wrote: "Condemned to celebrity, without
being able to be known I find need of making myself known by my

It was not safe for her to return to Paris until 1797, when her friend
Talleyrand was made minister of foreign affairs. Her efforts to charm
Napoleon led only to estrangement, although he appointed her friend
Benjamin Constant to the tribunate; but when he publicly announced the
advent of the tyrant Napoleon, she was accused of inciting her friends
against the government, and was again banished to Coppet, where she
wrote the celebrated work _De la Littérature Considérée sous ses
Rapports avec les Institutions Sociales_, a singular mixture of
satirical allusions to Napoleon's government and cabals against
his power; in that work she announced, also, her belief in the
regeneration of French literature by the influence of foreign
literature, and endeavored to show the relations which exist between
political institutions and literature. Thus, she was the first
to bring the message of a general cosmopolitan relationship of
literatures and literary ideas.

In 1802 she returned to Paris and began to show, on every possible
occasion, a morbid hatred for Napoleon. When her father published his
work _Dernières Vues de Politique et de Finance_, expressing a desire
to write against the tyranny of one, after having fought so long that
of the multitude, the emperor immediately accused Mme. de Staël of
instilling these ideas into her father. Her salon and forty of her
friends were put into the interdict.

After the death of her husband in 1802, she was free to marry Benjamin
Constant; and after refusing him, she wrote her novel _Delphine_ to
give vent to her feelings. The two famous lines found in almost every
work on Mme. de Staël may be quoted here, as they well express her
ideas on marriage: "A man must know how to brave an opinion, and a
woman must submit to it." This qualification Benjamin Constant lacked,
and at that time she was unable to give the submission.

Her travels in Germany, Russia, and Italy were one great succession of
triumphs; by her brilliancy, her wonderful gift of conversation, and
her quickness of comprehension, she everywhere baffled and astounded
those with whom she conversed. Schiller declared that when she left
he felt as though he were just convalescing after a long spell of
illness. One day she abruptly asked the staid old philosopher Fichte:
"M. Fichte, can you give me, in a short time, an _aperçu_ of your
system of philosophy, and tell me what you mean by your ego? I find it
very obscure." He began by translating his thoughts into French, very
deliberately. After talking for some ten minutes, in the midst of a
deep argument she interrupted him, crying out: "Enough, M. Fichte,
quite enough! I understand you perfectly; I have seen your system
in illustration--it is an adventure of Baron Münchhausen." The
philosopher assumed a tragic attitude, and a spell of silence fell
upon the audience.

The result of her visit to Italy was her novel _Corinne_, in which the
problems of the destiny of women of genius--the relative joys of love
and glory--are discussed. This work remained for a whole generation
the standard of love and ideals, and at the same time revealed Italy
to the French, After a second visit to Germany, she began to labor
seriously on her work on that country, in 1810 going _incognito_ to
Paris to have it printed. Ten thousand copies, ready for sale, were
destroyed before reaching the public. This work opened the German
world to the French; it applied, to a great nation, the doctrine of
progress, defending the independence and originality of nations, while
endeavoring to show that the future lay in the reciprocal respect
of the rights of people, declaring that nations are not at all the
arbitrary work of men or the fatal work of circumstances, and that the
submission of one people to another is contrary to nature. She wished
to make "poor and noble Germany" conscious of its intellectual
riches, and to prove that Europe could obtain peace only through
the liberation of that country. The censors accused her of lack
of patriotism in provoking the Germans to independence, and of
questionable taste in praising their literature; consequently, the
book was denounced, all the copies obtainable were destroyed, and a
vigorous search for the manuscript was undertaken. After this episode,
her friends were not permitted to visit her at Coppet.

In 1811 she was secretly married to a young Italian officer, Albert de
Rocca, a handsome man of twenty-three--she was then forty-five. In him
she realized the conditions which she described in _Delphine_, namely,
a man who braved an opinion and prejudices; and she was ready to
submit herself to him, Coppet became the centre for endless pleasures
and fêtes; Mme. de Staël began to write comedies and to forget Paris
entirely. This blissful happiness was suddenly checked by the emperor,
who determined to show his displeasure and also to give evidence
of his power by banishing Schlegel and exiling Mme. Récamier and De
Montmorency, who continued to visit Mme. de Staël. Fear for the safety
of her husband and children influenced her to leave for Russia, where
the czar ordered all Russians to honor her as the enemy of Napoleon.
Indeed, she was everywhere received like a visiting queen.

In the autumn of 1816 she returned to Paris, and spent a number of
months very happily in her old style--in the society of the salon.
Though devoured by insomnia, enervated by the use of opium, and
besieged by fear of death, she accepted all invitations, and kept
open house herself, receiving in the morning, at dinner, and in the
evening; and though at night she paced the floor for hours or
tossed about on her bed until morning, she was yet fresh for all the
pleasures of the next day. But this mode of existence was undermining
her health.

She endured this constant strain until one evening in February,
1817, when, at a ball at the Duke of Decazes's, in the midst of her
pleasure, she was stricken with paralysis. At the Rue des Mathurins,
she had all her friends come and dine with her. Chateaubriand, who
was one of the party, entered her room upon one occasion and found her
suffering intensely, but able to raise herself and say: "Bonjour, my
dear Francis! I am suffering, but that does not hinder me from loving
you." She lingered until July, when there ended a life which not only
influenced but even modified politics and the institutions of nations,
which exercised, by writings, an incalculable influence upon French
literature, opening paths which previously had not been trod.

The most important of her works is _De l'Allemagne_, in writing which
her only desire was to make Germany known to the French, to explain
it by comparison with France and to make her people admire it, and
to open new paths to poetry. According to her, Germany possessed no
classic prose, because the Germans attributed less importance to style
than did the French. German poetry, however, had a distinct charm,
being all sentiment and poetry of the soul, touching and penetrating;
whereas French poetry was all _esprit_, eloquence, reason, raillery.

In her treatise on the drama, she was the first in French literature
to use the term "romantic" and to define it; but she had not invented
the word, Wieland having used it to designate the country in which the
ancient Roman literature flourished. Her definition was: "The classic
word is sometimes taken as a synonym of perfection. I use it in
another acceptance by considering classic poetry that of the ancients
and romantic poetry that which holds in some way to the chivalresque
traditions. The literature of the ancients is a transplanted
literature with us; but romantic or chivalresque literature is
indigenous. An imitation of works coming from a political, social,
and religious midst different from ours means a literature which is
no longer in relation with us, which has never been popular, and
which will become less so every day. On the contrary, the romantic
literature is the only one which is susceptible of being perfected,
because it bears its roots from our soil and is, consequently, the
only one which can be revived and increased. It expresses our religion
and recalls our history." This opinion alone was enough to create a
revolt among her contemporaries. Almost all other interpretations of
_Faust_ were based on her conception.

At the time of its publication, her book was considered to have been
written in a political spirit, but her motive was far from that; it
was the action of a generous heart, a book as true and loyal to
the French as was ever a book written by a Frenchman. In her work
_Considérations sur la Révolution Française_ she expressed the most
advanced ideas on politics and government. The Revolution freed France
and made it prosper; "every absolute monarch enslaves his country, and
freedom reigns not in politics nor in the arts and sciences. Local and
provincial liberties have formed nations, but royalty has deformed the
nation by turning it to profit." Mme. de Staël found nothing to admire
in Louis XIV., and to Richelieu she attributed the destruction of
the originality of the French character, of its loyalty, candor,
and independence. In that work she advocated education, which she
considered a duty of the government to the people. "Schools must be
established for the education of the poor, universities for the study
of all languages, literatures, and sciences;" these ideas took root
after her death.

Mme. de Staël was a finished writer; because of its force, openness,
and seriousness, her style might be termed a masculine one; she wrote
to persuade and, as a rule, succeeded. Her grave defect seemed to be
in her inspirations, which were always superior to her ideas, and in
her sentiments, which she invariably turned to passions.

Few French writers have exercised such a great influence in so many
directions, and it became specially marked after her death; while
living, the gossip against her salon prevented her opinions from being
accepted or taking root. Her political influence was great at her
time and lasted some twenty years. Directly influenced by her were
Narbonne, De Montmorency, Benjamin Constant, and the Duc Victor de
Broglie, her son-in-law. By her and her father, the Globe, the orators
of the Academy and the tribune, and the politicians of the day, were
inspired. The greatest was Guizot, who interpreted and preached in the
spirit of Mme. de Staël. In history her influence was equally felt,
especially in Guizot's _Essays on the History of France_, and in his
_History of Civilization_, wherein civilization was considered as the
constant progress in justice, in society, and in the state. To her
Guizot owed his idea of _Amour dans le Mariage_. _The Historical
Essays on England_, by Rémusat, an ardent admirer of hers, was largely
influenced by her _Considérations_, while Tocqueville's _Ancien
Régime_ contains many of her ideas.

Literature owes even more to her works, which encouraged the study of
foreign literatures; almost all translations were due to her works.
Michelet, Quinet, Nodier, Victor Hugo, so much influenced by German
literature, owe their knowledge of it mainly to her. Too much credit
may be given her when it is stated that all Mignons, Marguerites,
Mephistopheles, etc., proceeded indirectly from her work, as well as
nearly all descriptions of travels. Lamartine undoubtedly used her _De
l'Allemagne_ and her _Des Passions_ freely. The heroine of _Jocelyn_
is called but a daughter of _Delphine_, and the same author's terrible
invective against Napoleon was inspired by her.

Mme. de Staël had an indestructible faith in human reason, liberty,
and justice; she believed in human perfection and in the hope of
progress. "From Rousseau, she received that passionate tenderness,
that confidence in the inherent goodness of man. Believing in an
intimate communion of man with God, her religion was spirit and
sentiment which had no need of pomp or symbols, of an intermediary
between God and man." She was not so much a great writer as she was a
great thinker, or rather a discoverer of new thoughts. By instituting
a new criticism and by opening new literatures to the French, she
succeeded in emancipating art from fixed rules and in facilitating the
sudden growth of romanticism in France.

In her life, her great desire was to spread happiness and to obtain
it, to love and to be loved in return. In politics it was always the
sentiment of justice which appealed to her, in literature it was the
ideal. Sincerity was manifested in everything she said and did. Pity
for the misery of her fellow beings, the sentiment of the dignity of
man and his right to independence, of his future grandeur founded
on his moral elevation, the cult of justice, and the love of
liberty--such were the prevailing thoughts of her life and works.

Mme. de Staël's chief influence will always remain in the domain of
literature; she was the first French writer to introduce and exercise
a European or cosmopolitan influence by uniting the literatures of the
north and the south and clearly defining the distinction between them.
By the expression of her idea that French literature had decayed on
account of the exclusive social spirit, and that its only means of
regeneration lay in the study and absorption of new models, she
cut French taste loose from traditions and freed literature from
superannuated conventionalities. Also, by her idea that a common
civilization must be fostered, a union of the eastern and western
ideals, and that literature must be the common expression thereof,
whose object must be the amelioration of humanity, morally and
religiously, she gave to the world at large ideas which are only now
being fully appreciated and nearing realization. In her novels she
vigorously protested against the lot of woman in modern society,
against her obligation to submit everything to opinion, against the
innumerable obstacles in the way of her development--thus heralding
George Sand and the general movement toward woman's emancipation.
France has never had a more forceful, energetic, influential,
cosmopolitan, and at the same time moral, writer than Mme. de Staël.

The events in the life of George Sand had comparatively little
influence upon her works, which were mainly the expression of her
nature. As a young girl, she was strongly influenced by her mother, an
amiable but rather frivolous woman, and by her grandmother, a serious,
cold, ceremonious old lady. Calm and well balanced, and possessing an
ardent imagination, she followed her own inclinations when, as a girl
of sixteen, she was married to a man for whom she had no love. After
living an indifferent sort of life with her husband for ten years,
they separated; and she, with her children, went to Paris to find

After a number of unsuccessful efforts of a literary nature, she
wrote _Indiana_, which immediately made her success. Her articles were
sought by the journals, and from about 1830 her life was that of the
average artist and writer of the time. Her relations with Chopin and
Alfred de Musset are too well known to require repetition. After 1850
she retired to her home, the Château de Nohant, where she enjoyed the
companionship of her son, her daughter-in-law, and her grandchildren;
she died there in 1876.

To appreciate her works, it is more important to study her nature than
her career. This has been admirably done by the Comte d'Haussonville.
George Sand is said to have possessed a dual nature, which seemed
to contradict itself, but which explains her works--a dreamy and
meditative, and a lively, frolicsome nature; the first might throw
light upon her religious crisis, the second, upon her social side.
The combination of these two phases caused the numerous conflicts
of opinions and doctrines, extending her knowledge and inciting her
curiosity; the not infrequent result was an intellectual and moral
bewilderment and the deepest melancholy, from which she with great
difficulty freed herself. Because of these peculiarities she was
constantly agitated, her strongly reflective nature keeping her awake
to all important questions of the day.

Her intellectual development may be traced in her works, which, from
1830 to 1840, were personal, lyrical, spontaneous--a direct flow from
inspiration, issuing from a common source of emotions and personal
sorrows, being the expressions of her habitual reflections, of her
moral agitations, of her real and imaginary sufferings. These first
works were a protest against the tyranny of marriage, and expressed
her conception of a woman in love--a love profound and naïve, exalted
and sincere, passionate and chaste: such is pictured in _Indiana_. In
_Valentine_ she portrays the impious and unfortunate marriage that the
sacrilegious conventions of the world have imposed, and the
results issuing therefrom. In all of these early works are seen an
inventiveness, a lively _allure_, an exquisite style, a freshness
and brilliancy, _finesse_ and grace; but they show an undisciplined
talent, giving vent to feelings that her unbounded enthusiasm would
not allow to be checked--there is emotion, but no system.

In her second period, from about 1840 to 1848, her reflection and
emotion combined produced a system and theories. The higher problems
took stronger hold on her as she matured; philosophy and religious
science in their deeper phases excited her emotive faculties,
which threw out a mere echo of what she had heard and studied.
Her inspiration thus came from without, throwing out those endless
declamatory outbursts which we meet in _Consuelo_ and in _Comtesse de
Rudolstadt_. These theory-novels were soon followed by novels dealing
with social problems, now and then relieved by delightful idyllics
such as _La Mare au Diable_ and _François le Champi_. This third
tendency M. d'Haussonville considers the least successful.

After 1850 there appeared from her pen a series of historical novels,
especially fine in the portrayal of characters, variety of situations,
movement, and intrigues; these are free from all social theories;
in these, reverting to her first tendencies, she is at her best in
elegance and clearness, in analysis of characters. Thus does the work
of George Sand change from a personal lyricism, in which the emotions,
held in check during a solitary and dreamy youth, burst forth in
brilliant and passionate fiction, to a theoretical, systematic novel,
finally reverting to the first efforts, but tempered by experience and

M. d'Haussonville says that in the strict sense of the word George
Sand had no doctrines, but possessed a powerful imagination that
manifested itself at various periods of her life. Whatever the
principles might have been at first, they were made concrete under
a sentiment with her, for her heart was her first inspiration,
her teacher in all things. The ideas are thus analyzed through her
sentiments under a threefold inspiration,--love, passion for humanity,
sentiment for Nature.

According to other novels, love is the unique affair of life; without
love we do not really live, before love enters life we do not live,
and after we cease to love there is no object in life. This love comes
directly from God, of whom George Sand had ideas peculiar to herself.
The majority of her characters have a sort of mystic, exalted love,
looking upon it as a sacred right, making of themselves great priests
rather than genuine human lovers. This love, issuing from God, is
sacred; therefore, the yielding to it is a pious act; he who resists
commits sacrilege, while he who blames others for it is impious; for
love legitimizes itself by itself. Such a theory naturally led her
to a sensual ideality, and her heroes rose to the highest phase of
fatalism and voluptuousness; this impelled her to protest against the
social laws. Jacques says:

"I do not doubt at all that marriage will be abolished if humankind
makes any progress toward justice and reason; a bond more human and
none the less sacred will replace this one and will take care of
the children which may issue from a man and woman, without ever
interfering with the liberty of either. But men are too coarse and
women are too cowardly to ask for a law more noble than the iron
law which binds them--beings without conscience--and virtue must be
burdened with heavy chains."

Yet, in none of her books did George Sand ever submit any theories as
to how such children would be cared for; apparently, such a difficulty
never troubled her, since almost all of the children of her books die
of some disease, while to one--Jacques--she gives the advice to take
his own life, so that his wife may be free to love elsewhere.

Her social theories are marked by an exaltation of sentiment, a
weakness, an incoherency in conception, caused by her ardent love for
theories and ideas, but which, in her passionate sentiment and her
loyal enthusiasm, she always confounds and confuses. From early youth
she manifested an immense goodness, a profound tenderness, and a deep
compassion for human misery. She rarely became angry, even though she
suffered cruelly. Her own law of life and her message to the world
was--be good. The only strong element within her, she said, was the
need of loving, which manifested itself under the form of tenderness
and emotion, devotion and religious ecstasy; and when this faith was
shaken, doubt and social disturbances overwhelmed her.

Throughout life her consolation was Nature. "It was half of her genius
and the surest of her inspirations." No other French novelist has
been able to "express in words the lights and shades, harmonies and
contrasts, the magic of sounds, the symphonies of color, the depth
and distances of the woods, the infinite movement of the sea and the
sky--the interior soul of Nature, that vibrates in everything and
everybody." With Lamartine and Michelet, she has best reflected and
expressed the dreams and hopes and loves of the first half of the
nineteenth century.

George Sand saw Nature, lived in her, sympathized with her, and loved
her as did few other French writers; therefore, she showed more memory
than pure imagination in her work, for she always found Nature more
beautiful in actuality than she could picture her mentally, while
other great writers, like Lamartine, saw her less beautiful in reality
than in their imagination; hence, they were disappointed in Nature,
while for George Sand she was the truest friend. The world will always
be interested in her descriptions of Nature, because with Nature she
always associated something of human life--a thought or a sentiment;
her landscapes belonged to her characters--there is always a soul
living in them, for, to George Sand, man and Nature were inseparable.

Thus, every novel of this authoress consists of a situation and a
landscape, the poetic union of which nothing can mar. "Man associated
with Nature and Nature with man is a great law of art; no painter has
practised it with instinct more delicate or sure." Because Nature,
in her early youth, was her inspiration, guide, even her God, she
returned to her later in life. M. Jules Lemaître wrote that her works
will remain eternally beautiful, because they teach us how to love
Nature as divine and good, and to find in that love peace and solace.
There are many parts of her work which show as detailed, accurate, and
realistic descriptions as those by Balzac. She constantly employed two
elements--the fanciful and the realistic.

George Sand never studied or knew how to compose a work, how to
preserve the unity of the subject or the unity in tone in characters;
hence, there was nothing calculated or premeditated--everything was
spontaneous. No preparation of plan did she ever think of--a mode of
procedure which naturally resulted in a negligent style and caused
the composition to drag. Her inspiration seemed to go so far, then
she resorted to her imagination, to the chimerical, forcing events
and characters. "There are many defects in the style--such as
the sentimental part, the romanesque in the violent expression of
sentiments or invention of situations, the exaggerated improbabilities
of events, the excessive declamation; but how many compensating
qualities are there to offset these defects!"

Her method of writing was very simple. It was the love of writing
that impelled her, almost without premeditation, to put into words
her dreams, meditations, and chimeras under concrete and living forms.
Yet, by the largeness of her sympathy and the ardor of her passions,
by the abundant inventions of stories, and by the harmonious
word-flow, she deserves to be ranked among the greatest writers
of France. Her career, taken as a whole, is one of prodigious
fecundity--a literary life that has "enchanted by its fictions or
troubled by its dreams" four or five generations. Never diminishing in
quality or inspiration, there are surprises in every new work.

No doubt George Sand has, for a generation or more, been somewhat
forgotten, but what great writer has not shared the same fate? When
the materialistic age has passed away, many famous writers of the
past will be resurrected, and with them George Sand; for her novels,
although written to please and entertain, discuss questions of
religion, philosophy, morality, problems of the heart, conscience, and
education,--and this is done in such a dramatic way that one feels all
to be true. More than that, her characters are all capable of carrying
out, to the end, a common moral and general theme with eloquence
seldom found in novels.

An interesting comparison might be made between Mme. de Staël and
George Sand, the two greatest women writers of France. Both wrote
from their experience of life, and fought passionately against the
prejudices and restrictions of social conventions; both were ideal
natures and were severely tried in the school of life, profiting
by their experiences; both possessed highly sensitive natures, and
suffered much; both were keenly enthusiastic and sympathetic, with
pardonable weaknesses; both lived through tragic wars; both evinced
a dislike for the commonplace and strove for greater freedom, but for
different publics, after unhappy marriages, both rose up as accusers
against the prevalent system of marrying young girls. But Mme. de
Staël was a virtuoso in conversation, a salon queen, and her happiness
was to be found in society alone; while George Sand found her
happiness in communion with Nature. This explains the two natures,
their sufferings, their joys, their writings.

The greatest punishment ever inflicted upon Mme. de Staël was her
exile, for it deprived her of her social life, a fact of which the
emperor was well aware. Her entire literary effort was directed to
describing her social life and the relation of society to life. "She
belongs to the moralists and to the writers who wrote of society and
man--social psychologists." Not poetic or artistic by nature, but
with an exceptional power of observation, she shows on every side the
influence of a pedagogical, literary, and social training; she was the
product of an artificial culture.

George Sand, on the contrary, was a product of Nature, reared in free
intercourse and unrestrained relation with her genius and Nature. A
powerful passion and a mighty fantasy made of her a poetess and an
artist. These two qualities were manifested in her intense and deep
feeling for the beauty of Nature, in her power of invention, in a
harmonious equilibrium between idealism and realism. Her fantasy
overbalanced her reason, impeding its development and thus relegating
it to a secondary rôle. "She is possibly the only French writer
who possessed no _esprit_ (in the sense that it is used in French
society)--that playful, epigrammatic, querulous wit of conversation."

She never enjoyed communion with others for any length of time, or the
companionship of anyone for a long period; the companions of which she
never tired were the fields and woods, birds and dogs; therefore, she
enjoyed those people most who were nearer her ideals, the peasants and
workmen, and these she best describes. Thus, her whole creation is
one of instinct rather than of reason, as it was with Mme. de Staël.
George Sand was a genius, a master-product of Nature, while Mme. de
Staël was a talent, a consummate work of the art of modern culture;
she reflects, while George Sand creates from impulse; the latter was
a true poetess, communing with Nature, while the banker's daughter was
an observing thinker, communicating with society--but both were great

Intimately associated with George Sand is Rosa Bonheur, in all
of whose canvases we find the same aim, the same spirit, the same
message, that are found in so many of the novels of George Sand.
They were two women who have contributed, through different branches,
masterworks that will be enjoyed and appreciated at all times.
"It would be difficult not to speak of _La Mare au Diable_ and the
_Meunier d'Angibault_ when recalling the fields where Rosa Bonheur
speeds the plow or places the oxen lowering their patient heads under
the yoke."

In the evening, at home, while other members of the family were
at work, one member read aloud to the rest; and George Sand was
a favorite author with the Bonheur group of artists. It was while
reading _La Mare au Diable_ that Rosa conceived the idea of the work
which by some critics is pronounced her masterpiece, _Plowing in
Nivernais_. The artist's deep sympathy was aroused by her love of
Nature, which no contemporary novelist expressed or appreciated as
did George Sand. In all her works, and throughout the long life of the
artist, there is absolutely nothing unhealthy or immoral to be found.
The novelist had theories which were inspired by her passion, and
these became unhealthy at times; she belongs first of all to France,
while Rosa Bonheur belongs first of all to the world, her message
reaching the young and old of every clime and every people. The
novelist is to be associated with the artist by virtue of her
exquisite, simple, and wholesome peasant stories.

The entire Bonheur family were artists, and all were moral and
genuinely sympathetic. As a young girl, Rosa manifested an intense
love for Nature, sunshine, and the woods; always independent in
manners, she used to caricature her teachers; and while walking
out into the country, she would draw, with charcoal or in sand, any
objects that met her eye. Her father was not long in detecting her
talent. She was wedded to her art from the very beginning, showing no
taste for or interest in any other subject. As soon as her father gave
permission to follow art as a profession, she devoted all her energy
to advancing herself in what she felt to be her life's work. For four
years the young girl could be seen every day at the Louvre, copying
the great masters and receiving principally from them her ideas of
coloring and harmony, while from her father she learned her technique.
After she had mastered these two principles, she decided to specialize
in pastoral nature.

From that time her whole life was given up to the study of Nature and
animals. Not able to study those near by, she procured a fine Beauvais
sheep, which served as her model for two years. From the very first
her work showed accuracy, purity, and an intuitive perception of
Nature, and these qualities soon placed her among the foremost artists
of the time. Her struggle for reputation and glory was not a long and
arduous one, for after 1845 her fame was established--she was then but
twenty-three years old; and after 1849, having exhibited some thirty
pictures, her reputation had become European.

In order to be able to study her models with greater ease and freedom
from the annoyance and coarse incivilities of the workmen at the
slaughter houses, farmyards, and markets that she was in the habit of
visiting, she adopted the garb of man.

Her honors in life were many, though always unsought. The Empress
Eugénie, while regent during the absence of Napoleon III., went
in person to her château and put around her neck the ribbon of the
decoration of the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, then for the
first time bestowed upon woman for merit other than bravery and
charity. The Emperor Maximilian of Mexico conferred upon her the
decoration of San Carlos; the King of Belgium created her a chevalier
of his order, the first honor won by a woman; the King of Spain made
her a Commander of the Royal Order of Isabella the Catholic; and
President Carnot created her an Officer of the Legion of Honor.

With qualities such as she possessed, Rosa Bonheur could not fail
to attain immortality. Her success was due in no small degree to the
scientific instruction which she received when a mere child; having
been taught, from the very first, how to paint directly from a model,
she supplemented this training by a period of four years of copying
great masters. In the latter period she studied Paul Potter's work
rather slavishly, but was individual enough to combine only the best
in him with the best in herself; this gave her an originality such as
possibly no other animal painter ever possessed---not even Landseer,
who is said to be "stronger in telling the story than in the manner of
telling it."

Rosa Bonheur was too independent and original to follow any particular
school or master, for her only inspiration and guide were her models,
always living near by and upon intimate terms with her. Thus, in all
her paintings, we instinctively feel that she painted from conviction,
from her own observation, nothing being added for mere artistic
effect. To some extent her pictures impress one as a perfect French
poem in which there is no superfluous word, in which no word could
be changed without destroying the effect of the whole; thus, in her
paintings there is not a superfluous brush stroke; everything is
necessary to the telling of the story; but she excels the perfect
poem, for, in French literature, it seldom has a message distinct
from its technique, while her pictures breathe the very essence
of sympathy, love, and life. We feel that she thoroughly knew her
subjects as a connoisseur; but her animals do not impress one as the
production of an artist who knew them as do horse traders and cattle
dealers, who know their stock from the purely physical standpoint; the
animals of this artist are from the brush of one who was familiar with
their habits, who loved them, had lived with and studied them--who
knew and appreciated their higher qualities. Rosa Bonheur most
harmoniously united two essential elements in art--a scientific as
well as sympathetic conception of her subject. Possibly this is the
reason that her pictures appeal to animal lovers throughout the world.

As was stated, she was independent, hence kept aloof from the
corruptions of contemporary French art and its technique lovers,
always pursuing an even tenor in her art and never permitting one of
her pictures to leave her studio in a crude or unfinished state. In
all her long career she kept her original sketches, never parting with
one, in spite of the most tempting offers; and this explains the fact
that the work of her later years exhibits the freshness and other
qualities of that of her youth. Thus, her art has gained by her
experience, even though her best work was done between about 1848 and
1860, and is especially marked by its excellence in composition,
the anatomy, the breadth of touch, the harmony of coloring, and the
action, although it is said to lack the spontaneity, the originality,
and the highly imaginative quality which are at their best in _The
Horse Fair_; the same qualities seem to have been possessed by many of
her contemporaries, such as Troyon.

Notwithstanding these apparent defects, Rosa Bonheur stands for
something higher in art than do most of her contemporaries. She was
not influenced by the skilled and often corrupt technicians; she
perfected her technique by study of the old masters and learned her
art from Nature; wisely keeping free from the ornamental, gorgeous,
and highly imaginative and exaggerated historical Romantic school, in
French art she stands out almost alone with Millet. Whatever may
be said of the more virile and masculine art of other great animal
painters, Rosa Bonheur, by her truthfulness, her science, her close
association and intimate communion with her animal world, by the glad
and healthy vigor which her paintings breathe, has taught the world
the great lesson that there are intelligence, will, love, and even
soul, in animals.

Her art and life inspired respect and admiration; we have nothing to
regret, nothing to conceal; we desire to love her for her animals, and
we must esteem her for her grand devotion to her art and family, for
her purity and charity, for her kindness to and love for those in the
lower walks of life, for her goodness and honesty. An illustration of
the last quality may be taken from her dealings with art collectors.
After having offered her _Horse Fair_, which she desired should remain
in France, to her own town for twelve thousand francs, she sold it for
forty thousand francs to Mr. Gambert, but with the condition which she
thus expressed: "I am grateful for your giving me such a noble
price, but I do not like to feel that I have taken advantage of your
liberality. Let us see how we can combine matters. You will not be
able to have an engraving made from so large a canvas; suppose I
paint you a small one of the same subject, of which I will make you a
present." Naturally, the gift was accepted, and the smaller canvas now
hangs in the National Gallery of London.

In all her dealings she showed this kindness and uprightness, sympathy
and honesty. Although numberless orders were constantly coming to
her, she never let them hurry her in her work. She was, possibly, the
highest and noblest type--certainly among great French women--of that
strong and solid virtue which constitutes the backbone and the very
essence of French national strength. The reputation of Rosa Bonheur
has never been blemished by the least touch of petty jealousy, hatred,
envy, vanity, or pride--and, among all great French women, she is one
of the few of whom this may be said. She won for herself and her noble
art the genuine and lasting sympathy of the world at large.

The only woman artist in France deserving a place beside Rosa Bonheur
belongs properly under the reign of Louis XVI., although she lived
almost to the middle of the nineteenth century. At the age of twenty,
Mme. Lebrun was already famous as the leading portrait painter; this
was during the most popular period of Marie Antoinette--1775 to 1785.
In 1775, but a young girl, admitted to all the sessions of the Academy
as recognition of her portraits of La Bruyère and Cardinal Fleury, she
made her life unhappy and gave her art a serious blow by consenting
to marry the then great art critic and collector of art, Lebrun. His
passion for gambling and women ruined her fortune and almost ended her
career as an artist. Her own conduct was not irreproachable.

Mme. Lebrun will be remembered principally as the great painter of
Marie Antoinette, who posed for her more than twenty times. The most
prominent people of Europe eagerly sought her work, while socially she
was welcomed everywhere. Her famous suppers and entertainments in
her modestly furnished hôtel, at which Garat sang, Grétry played
the piano, and Viotti and Prince Henry of Prussia assisted, were the
events of the day. Her reputation as a painter of the great ladies and
gentlemen of nobility, and her entertainments, naturally associated
her with the nobility; hence, she shared their unpopularity at the
outbreak of the Revolution and left France.

It is doubtful whether any artist--certainly no French artist--ever
received more attention and honors, or was made a member of so many
art academies, than Mme. Lebrun. It would be difficult to make any
comparison between her and Rosa Bonheur, their respective spheres of
art being so different. Only the future will speak as to the relative
positions of each in French art.

In the domain of the dramatic art of the nineteenth century, two
women have made their names well known throughout Europe and
America,--Rachel, and Sarah Bernhardt, both tragédiennes and both
daughters of Israel. While Rachel was, without question, the greatest
tragédienne that France ever produced, excelling Bernhardt in deep
tragic force, she yet lacked many qualities which our contemporary
possesses in a high degree. She had constantly to contend with a cruel
fate and a wicked, grasping nature, which brought her to an early
grave. The wretched slave of her greedy and rapacious father and
managers, who cared for her only in so far as she enriched them by her
genius and popularity, hers was a miserable existence, which detracted
from her acting, checked her development, and finally undermined her

After her critical period of apprenticeship was successfully passed
and she was free to govern herself, she rose to be queen of the French
stage--a position which she held for eighteen years, during which she
was worshipped and petted by the whole world. As a social leader,
she was received and made much of by the great ladies of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain. Her taste in dress was exquisite in its simplicity,
being in perfect harmony with the reserved, retiring, and amiable
actress herself.

Possibly no actress, singer, or other public woman ever received such
homage and general recognition. With all her great qualities as an
actress, vigor, grandeur, wild, savage energy, superb articulation,
irreproachable diction, and a marvellous sense of situations, she
lacked the one quality which we miss in Sarah Bernhardt also--a true
tenderness and compassion. As a tragédienne she can be compared to
Talma only. Her greed for money soon ended her brilliant career;
unlike her sister in art, she amassed a fortune, leaving over one
million five hundred thousand francs.

Compared with Bernhardt, Rachel is said to have been the greater in
pure tragedy, but she did not possess as many arts of fascination.
There are many points of similarity between the two actresses: Rachel
was at times artificial, wanting in tenderness and depth, while at
times she was superhuman in her passion and emotion, and often
put more into her rôle than was intended; and the acting of Sarah
Bernhardt has the same characteristics. Rachel, however, was much more
subject to moods and fits of inspiration than is Bernhardt--especially
was she incapable of acting at her best on evenings of her first
appearance in a new rôle. Her critical power was very weak in
comparison with her intellectual power, the reverse being true of her
modern rival. Rachel's greatest inspiration was _Phèdre_, and in
this rôle Bernhardt "is weak, unequal. We see all the viciousness
in _Phèdre_ and none of her grandeur. She breaks herself to pieces
against the huge difficulties of the conception and does not succeed
in moving us.... Rachel was the mouthpiece of the gods; no longer a
free agent, she poured forth every epithet of adoration that Aphrodite
could suggest, clambering up higher and higher in the intensity of her
emotions, whilst her audience hung breathless, riveted on every word,
and dared to burst forth in thunders of applause only after she had
vanished from their sight."

Both of these artists were children of the lower class, and struggled
with a fate which required grit, tenacity, and determination to
win success. The artist of to-day is no social leader--"never the
companion of man, but his slave or his despot." It is entirely her
physical charms and the outward or artificial requisites of her art
that make her what she is. According to Mr. Lynch, her tragedy "is but
one of disorder, fury, and folly--passions not deep, but unbridled and
hysterical in their intensest display. Her _forte_ lies in the ornate
and elaborate exhibition of rôles," for which she creates the most
capricious and fantastic garbs. She is a great manager,--omitting the
financial part,--quite a writer, somewhat of a painter and sculptor,
throwing her money away, except to her creditors, adored by some
and execrated by others. Her care of her physical self and her utter
disregard for money have undoubtedly contributed to her long and
brilliant career; rest and idleness are her most cruel punishments.
All nervous energy, never happy, restless, she is a true _fin de
siècle_ product.

Among the large number of women who wielded influence in the
nineteenth century, either through their salons or through their
works, Mme. Guizot was one of the most important as the author of
treatises on education and as a moralist. As an intimate friend of
Suard, she was placed, as a contributor, on the _Publiciste_, and for
ten years wrote articles on morality, society, and literature which
showed a varied talent, much depth, and justness. Fond of polemics,
she never failed to attack men like La Harpe, De Bonald, etc., thus
making herself felt as an influence to be reckoned with in matters
literary and moral.

As Mme. Guizot, she naturally had a powerful influence upon her
husband, shaping his thoughts and theories, for she immediately
espoused his principles and interests. In 1821, at the age of
forty-eight, she began her literary work again, after a period of
rest, writing novels in which the maternal love and the ardent and
pious sentiments of a woman married late in life are reflected. In
her theories of education she showed a highly practical spirit.
Sainte-Beuve said that, next to Mme. de Staël, "she was the woman
endowed with the most sagacity and intelligence; the sentiment that
she inspires is that of respect and esteem--and these terms can only
do her justice."

Mme. de Duras, in her salon, represented the Restoration, "by
a composite of aristocracy and affability, of brilliant wit and
seriousness, semi-liberal and somewhat progressive." Her credit lies
in the fact that, by her keen wit, she kept in harmony a heterogeneous
mixture of social life. She wrote a number of novels, which are,
for the most part, "a mere delicate and discreet expression of her
interior life."

Mme. Ackermann, German in her entire make-up, was, among French female
writers, one of the deepest thinkers of the nineteenth century. A
true mystic, she was, from early youth, filled with ardent, dreamy
vagaries, to which she gave expression in verse--poems which reflect
a pessimism which is rather the expression of her life's experiences,
and of twenty-four years of solitude after two years of happy wedded
state, than an actual depression and a discouraging philosophy of
life. Her poetry shows a vigor, depth, precision of form, and strength
of expression seldom found in poetry of French women.

One of the most conspicuous figures in the latter half of the
nineteenth century is Mme. Adam,--Juliette Lamber,--an unusual woman
in every respect. In 1879 she founded the _Nouvelle Revue_, on the
plan of the _Revue des Deux Mondes_, for which she wrote political
and literary articles which showed much talent. In politics she is a
Republican and something of a socialist, a somewhat sensational--but
modestly sensational--figure. She has been called "a necessary
continuator of George Sand." Her salon was the great centre for
all Republicans and one of the most brilliant and important of this
century. In literature her name is connected with the movement called
neo-Hellenism, the aim of which seems to have been to inspire a love
and sympathy for the art, religion, and literature of ancient and
modern Greece. In her works she shows a deep insight into Greek
life and art. Her name will always be connected with the Republican
movement in France; as a salon leader, _femme de lettres_, journalist,
and female politician, no woman is better known in France in the
nineteenth century.

A woman who might be called the rival of Mme. Adam, but whose
activity occurred much earlier in the century, was Mme. Emile de
Girardin,--Delphine Gay,--who ruled, at least for a short time, the
social and literary world of Paris at her hôtel in the Rue Chaillot.
Her very early precocity, combined with her rare beauty, made her
famous. In 1836, after having written a number of poems which showed
a weak sentimentality and a quite mannered emotion, she founded the
_Courrier Français_, for which she wrote articles on the questions of
the day--effusions which were written upon the spur of the moment and
were very unreliable. Her dramas were hardly successful, although they
were played by the great Rachel. Her present claim to fame is based
upon the brilliancy of her salon.

The future will possibly remember Mme. Alphonse Daudet more as the
wife of the great Daudet than as a writer, although, according to
M. Jules Lemaître, she possessed the gift of _écriture artiste_ to
a remarkable degree. According to him, sureness and exactness and a
striking truth of impressions are her characteristics as a writer. She
exercised a most wholesome power over Alphonse Daudet, taking him away
from bad influences, giving him a home, dignity, and happiness, and
saving him from brutality and pessimism; she was his guardian and
censor; she preserved his grace and noble sentiments. The nature of
her relations to him should ensure the preservation of her name to

We are accustomed to give Gyp--Sybille Gabrielle Marie Antoinette de
Riquetti de Mirabeau, Comtesse de Martel de Janville--little credit
for seriousness or morality, associating her with the average
brilliant, flippant novelists, who write because they possess the
knack of writing in a brilliant style. Her object is to show that man,
in a civilized state in society, is vain, coarse, and ridiculous. She
paints Parisian society to demonstrate that the apparently fortunate
ones of the world are not to be envied, that they are miserable in
their so-called joys and ridiculous in their pleasures and their
elegance. She has described the most _risqué_ situations and the most
delightful women, but she gives us to understand that the latter are
not to be loved. The vanity of the social world might be called her

Mme. Blanc--Thérèse de Solms--is known to us to-day as the first
woman to reveal English and American authors and habits to her
contemporaries. By advocating American customs she has done much
to ameliorate the condition of French girls, by giving them a freer
intercourse with young men and permitting them to see more of the
world before entering upon married life.

Mme. Gréville, who died recently, deserves a place among the prominent
women writers of France. No _femme de lettres_ ever received more
honors, prizes, and decorations than she; a number of her writings
were crowned by the Academy. A member of the Société des Gens de
Lettres, with all her literary work she was a domestic woman, keeping
aloof from all feminist movements. Her husband, Professor Durand, to
show his esteem and admiration for her, adopted her name--a wise act,
for it may preserve his name with that of his talented wife.

Many other names might be cited, but, as the list of prominent women
is practically without end, owing to the indefiniteness of the term
"prominent," we shall close with these names, which have become
familiar in both continents.




List of Illustrations

Marguerite d'Angoulême, Queen of Navarre, reading
the Heptameron to her brother, Francis I,             Leon Olivie.

Marguerite of Valois at the coronation of Marie de
Medici,                                               P.P. Rubens.

Mme. du Chatelet protecting Voltaire,        Mme. E. Armand Leleux.

Mme. de Pompadour and a clerical lobbyist,             A. Casanova.

A garden party under Marie Antoinette at Trianon,     Emile Bayard.

Mme. Recamier's salon,                               Adrien Moreau.

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